Friday, August 18, 2017

Cares of a Family Man: Finding Hitler's Moustache

I wrote this story about finding Hitler's moustache a few months ago. I think it is time to post it here. 


Cares of a Family Man
by Gary Barwin

            We found it upstairs in the attic, huddled against the eaves. It was frightened and alone. A sad little squirrel, a little lost mouse. We didn’t know how it got in, perhaps when the weather turned cold, it squeezed through a hole in the roof. The soffit or fascia, though we didn’t remember what they were exactly, they likely needed repair. It was an old house.  It was all we could do to cover the basics. Work, cook, shovel the walk, feed the dog.
            We approached cautiously. It was small but it was scared and we knew fear could cause it to try to hurt us. My wife suggested a broom, just in case, but I thought that might make things worse.
            “Let me talk to it,” I said. “My voice is reassuring.”
            “Yeah,” she said, but I didn’t know what she meant.
            “Hey,” I said, softly. “Hey, there. Don’t be scared.” It moved slightly, pulling itself in a bit. I could see some quivering.
            “Maybe we should offer it food,” my wife said.
            “Sure. What?”
We didn’t know. We tried cheese, pieces of bread, nuts. Then I remembered we had some leftover sausage—bratwurst—wrapped in brown paper at the back of the fridge. We’d been saving it for the dog. I tore it into appropriate bite-size chunks and rolled them close.
            “Here,” I said. “You’ll like this.” There was some uncertain rustling and then it edged slowly forward. It didn’t eat, but nuzzled against the sausage as if proximity gave it comfort. Bratwurst, my familiar, my own.
            “Shh,” I said. “Everything’s ok.” My wife and I crouched beneath the slope of the roof, trying to be quiet and still. I could hear breathing. Our intimate and shared concern.     “Give it time,” I said. “It’s scared.” After about ten minutes it moved further into the room, pressing close and nervously against the next piece of sausage.
            “There you are,” my wife said. “See? It’s alright.”
            “There’s lots of sausage,” I said. “You’re safe here.”
While my wife watched and reassured, I went downstairs, found a shoebox and tissue paper. I punched holes in the lid. I remembered grade school. The things we found. Injured birds, baby rabbits, worms, a broken toy soldier, an escaped hamster.
            We weren’t sure if we should touch it, but finally, my wife slipped the lid of the shoebox underneath it and slid it into the nest of tissue paper.
            “What it is?” I asked.
            “Not sure,” she said. “I have ideas.  I’ve seen things.”
I carried it carefully downstairs in its box and put it on the desk beside the computer. My wife sat down and began typing.
            “I thought so,” she said. “I knew it.”
            I had my own ideas, but I didn’t trust them. It seemed too unlikely. “What?”
            “It’s a moustache,” she said. “That we know. And look. It’s Hitler’s moustache.” She pointed at an image on the screen. The edges, the little bristles, the shape. It wasn’t the same colour, but it had been many years. We read about how it had gone missing after Hitler married Eva Braun in the Bunker and before they committed suicide. It was mentioned in a few accounts. There was a note from Martin Bormann, and among Goering’s papers, a sentence or two. They were surprised when it disappeared, that it escaped the notice of the guards outside the Fuhrerbunker and then at the door of the Vorbunker which led to the Reich Chancellery stairs. But it was small and dark and perhaps in those last intense days of the war, a sense of looming dread, and madness upon all of them, they had been distracted. Hitler fulminated about many things as he lost his grip, stormed about, raved and then fell silent, despondent and hopeless. And then soon after, his suicide on the couch in his private room. Cyanide for Eva, gun to the head for Adolf. A moustache could find an opportunity, and disappear.
            Where had the moustache been all these years? Certainly there had been a network, from Argentina to Canada, many places for the moustache to hide, to begin a new life, to assume a new name. Pictures of the moustache at a London men’s club, trimmed, and brushed. A snapshot of the moustache on a boat in the Adriatic, holidaying with a sheik and an industry titan. The moustache at the wedding of its granddaughter somewhere in Rio, waxed into curls. It had been a happy life, a life of conviviality and friendship, one it seemed, with few regrets. But who knew the moustache’s private moments, the middle of the night awakenings, the early morning beach walks, the trembling, the rage. Had the moustache changed? Was that even possible? Was its escape simply self-preservation, a Himmel- or Goering-like loss of confidence and desire for surrender or a new regime, or was it more? What had the moustache been thinking, all those years under Hitler’s nose, spackled with saliva as his lip convulsed with apoplexy and mania?
            “What do we do now?” I asked.
            “Now?” my wife said.
            “I mean, what next? Do we speak to the authorities?”
Instead we got some food, plopped down on the couch and turned on the TV. The moustache was between us, a bowl of popcorn on top of the box’s lid. We scanned the channels. Sports. News. History. Nature. Movies. A few seconds on each, a tiny cross section of complete scenes: bodies moving, trees swaying, a train crash.
            “Wait,” I said and went back to the History channel. Charcoal bombers flickered through a pockmarked grey sky. A documentary about the Battle of Britain. “Maybe it’ll recognize something,” I said. “Maybe it’ll react and…”
            “What?” my wife said.
            “A clue.”
            “About what next?”
            “Yes,” I said.
The expected drone of engines, the indistinct cityscape, pale citizens in rubble, the stentorian voice of the narrator detailing the devastation, the losses, the gumption, the heroism. I listened carefully to the box. A few times the moustache readjusted its position, an indistinct scratching which soon subsided.
            “Nothing,” I said.
            “What were you expecting?”
            “Not sure.”
Weeping, an admission, denunciations, apology, prayer? I was not sure what I anticipated.  I had thought the sounds of battle might cause the moustache to respond. Had it no regrets? Did it live in a self-contained world of certainty, self-congratulation and delusion? Or was it simply too old, frightened, lonely, and hard of hearing?
            I muted the TV. I lifted the lid a few inches. The moustache had balled up the tissue paper into a corner and was mostly hidden underneath. Cautiously, I rested my upturned finger on the floor of the other end of the box.
            “Don’t be scared,” I whispered. “Don’t be scared.”
            The moustache pulled itself completely under the tissue paper.
            “I’m not here to judge you,” I said and then was silent. As we waited, my wife began changing channels, scanning through channels on the muted TV.
            After a while, some of the moustache appeared from beneath the paper. Rippling greens and blues from the screen. The moustache crept carefully across the box and then, after a moment’s hesitation, lay against my finger. I could feel the warm bristles and a kind of breathing or trembling. I stayed still. Then the moustache climbed onto my finger, turned carefully around, and lay down. I didn’t risk moving but remained motionless. My wife had stopped looking through channels and the screen glowed an aquatic blue white. I could hear my wife breathing beside me, my own breathing, the low electric hum of the muted television.
            “What now?” she whispered.
We waited. Then I moved aside the lid and raised my hand as smoothly and slowly as I could. I brought the moustache closer and closer. I bent my head down.
            We were inches away in the undulating light. I touched the moustache to my lip and it held on as if it were my own.

            “It’s a new life,” I said.

from a series of palindromic rabbi's beards.


Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Audiobook of Yiddish for Pirates, CD edition.

I didn't even know that you could get actual CD copies of audiobooks anymore. I was delighted to receive this in the mail from Audible. My dog appears less excited though he walked with me many miles as I listened to pirate stories on my phone in preparation for writing the book.

I assume the MP in MP3, means "Meshugenah Pirate."

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

“A boy writes inside a bucket”: Hebrew Palindromes

So surprisingly like West coast Indigenous art, although I just stacked a bunch of the Hebrew letter "bet" or "vet" rightway up, backwards, upsidedown and backwards-and-upsidedown in a very standard font. The letter Bet is the letter with the dot in it.

This image is from a palindrome project that I'm working on. All the images have visual elements of the palindrome. I've learned (from Wikipedia) that there is a Hebrew palindrome which goes:

Perhaps we all have felt that we're writing from inside a bucket from time to time...

Friday, August 11, 2017

James Lindsay of Open Book Interviews Me.

From books evaluating how well you read them and microflora and language to forest rangers and repopulating poems with other words, James Lindsay asks me many intriguing questions about my most recent poetry book, No TV for Woodpeckers.

Friday, August 04, 2017

Audiiobook excerpt!

Gevalt! Here is an 11 minute excerpt from the Audible audiobook of Yiddish for Pirates narrated by the great Peter Berkrot. (This is the audiobook for the US and everywhere else in the world except Canada. The Canadian version is due this fall with another narrator.)

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Gary Barwin and Stuart Ross perform Sound Poetry.

Stuart Ross and I performed our sound poetry reunion after 26 years at the great Zula Present Something Else Festival last month. Below is an excerpt. Thanks to Taien Ng-Chan for the recording. Our last performance in 1991 is below.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Discovered Review of I, Dr. Greenblatt, Orthodontist, 251-1457

cover idea for Greenblatt (which was mislabelled as poems)

For Barwin, the ordinary and the extraordinary are never far apart—and that’s very good indeed.

Somehow I missed this entire review of I, Dr. Greenblatt, Orthodontist, 251-1457 (Anvil Press) when it originally came out in Canadian Literature. Thanks, Joel Deshaye!

Thursday, July 06, 2017

Sunshine Kvetches: My Leacock Medal for Humour Speech.

I was so delighted that Yiddish for Pirates won the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour. I was shortlisted with Amy Jones and Drew Hayden Taylor, both fantastic writers, and it was really fun (maybe, in retrospect, more for me than for them...) to get to spend the weekend with them. We were driven around in a 1911 Model T Ford so we could wave at the good people of Orillia, Ontario. We were treated extremely well and the entire event had a lovely small town feel. Many former Leacock winners were present -- all extraordinarily warm people. We toured the Leacock House, saw the Leacock collection at the beautiful new local library, went to a garden party and had the gala by the lake at the YMCA camp/conference centre.

As part of winning the Leacock Medal, I was asked to give a 15-minute speech and so, in addition to thanking people, I said some things about humour and made a bunch of terrible jokes. I called the speech, Sunshine Kvetches of a Little Parrot (borrowing the title from a quip made by my friend Stuart Ross.)

The Leacock Associates posted the speech here. Next week, I'm going into Penguin Random House to record it as it will be a "bonus feature" for the Canadian version of the audiobook that they are doing, so it'll be really fun to get to record something on the audiobook. I'm very glad about the actor that they chose (I got to be in on the decision, too) and more details about that later, but part of me wanted to get to record the audiobook as I've had such a great time hamming it up in readings.

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Nonhuman animals and nearhuman nonanimals

Just received this intriguing anthology which I'm very happy to appear in along some fascinating nonnonhuman writers including one of my favourite writers, Gabriel Gudding, and e
edited by A. Marie Houser for Faunary Press. My piece, "The Sky Above Chairs" is from my book, I, Dr. Greenblatt, Orthodontist, 251-1457 (Anvil Press.)

The anthology is a fiction anthology, but I wrote a little statement about my piece which didn't end up in the anthology and so I thought I'd share it here.

Chair. Coffeemaker. Car. Horse. Deer. Swallow.

I think about how our modern notion of what is 'other' blurs inanimate objects with animals and vice versa. For much of culture, outside the hospitable firecircle of the human, the light fades quickly, only a few animals allowed as pets or as marvellous outliers of the non-human to sit by us.  (And this not to mention, the humans we leave out in the cold,
which is another discussion.)

I have the idea that much of modern culture places animals into the same category as robots or other automatons-- task-accomplishing machines with only the illusion of agency and/or emotion.

Since the animal is commodified in the way of the inanimate, it is easy to place it in the same category as these other emotion-simulation machines.

But, further, we even look on our other non-objects with such love, intimacy, and affection. They may as well as living beings that we love. Our emotional connection, our heartaching being-longing for our shoes, toasters, chairs, designer table is often so palpable and powerful, that the categories between animate and in-animate often begin to blur.

And though our toaster doesn't have agency, we may feel that we love it like a non-human living thing. In the past, we gave names to swords that they loved. Names to ships. Now we feel some of our objects pass into our emotionally intimate world. How different is a deer leaping over the fence into the garden than a sullen, left-slouching shed, a silent chair,
innocent and blinkless, forlorn, discovered in early morning in the shadow by the hedge?

This is the capitalist non-human spirit world. We are like consumer shamans, surrounded by the non-human ghosts of things we may love and own.

Chair. Coffeemaker. Car. Horse. Deer. Swallow.

They are more than arbitrary linguistic categories. We are able to colonize the animals and objects of the world with our tenderness, our hunger, our desire.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

The Pope, His Toe, and the Afterlife: a videopoem

I created a short videopoem based on my recent poem (see post from a couple of days ago.) Lots of clouds.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Touring China with the International Festival of Authors.

I'm delighted to be doing a four-city book tour of China with the International Festival of Authors beginning this Monday. I'm not sure of the details yet but the above poster is one event on the tour. I will be going to Shanghai, Beijing, Nanjing, and Suzhou. I'm very excited and so looking forward to this.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Light, the Pope, his Toe and the Afterlife: Two Poems written along with my students in Poetry Class

The Pope, his Toe and the Afterlife

everything you say is bleeped out by birds
you threaten some guy on the ISIS listserve
and all he hears is chickens
but it’s ok, all of ISIS sounds like chickadee-dee-dee

what does the Pope say when he stubs his toe?
(lets get back to that later)
when two continents collide, it sounds like blackbirds
and the bomb that destroyed my village is a hummingbird

even these words are incomprehensible
the entire poem, hollow-boned, hovering
I live by the light of the new philosophy
and all that can be heard is squawks

and maybe it’s not what the Pope says but
what his parrot says when Papa stubs his toe
was is it? that’s easy, the same thing as the Pope:
Soon, goddammit, this’ll all be cloud


A form of darkness that isn’t visible. 

Here’s how. Imagine it’s not your eyelids, but the rest of you which opens. Where? Close. You’re always close. If there are colours beyond the visible spectrum, ultraviolet, infrared, there are other forms of dark. Colour is fast sound just as sound is slow colour. Silence creeps like sunlight on your skin, and you aged eight, lying in the garden, and your mother calls from the side door, come inside soon it’ll all be gone.


The above are two more poems that I wrote as my students wrote in creative writing class. The first one is based on David McGimpsey's "chubby sonnets" and inspired by his investigations into narrative, the self, and popular culture.

The second was inspired by Bhanu Kapil's interventions into the Urban Dictionary where she inserts her own poetic, obliquely narrative "definitions" into