Fiction · 12/20/2017

Glass, You Know What I Mean

It is all of a 3:15 in Zurich, yes, Switzerland. It is a bloated July in 2004, an election year back home in the States, and I go to the Zentralbibliothek to get a German translation of Carver’s What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. It is all of a Thursday and just me and Carver and a Langenscheidt German-English dictionary that he gave me for my fortieth, and on the inside flap a poem about how he could just about never love anyone who couldn’t conjugate properly.

Ich liebe | Du liebst | Er, Sie, Es liebt | Ihr liebt | Sie lieben | Wir oh what’s the use?

I don’t say his name because saying his name is like mortar, like bricklaying — all that labor — and by now he is back with his moneyed husband, conjugating, and me with all these unfinished walls and no roof.

Paul said they will vote Bush again. I said they? And Paul said Kerry has too much of a chin to take it on. And then he said in Indonesia gunmen round up Americans from hotels.

It’s odd, isn’t it, that word: gunmen?

Dear You Whose Name I Don’t Say, In Indonesia gunmen, etc. “so love, love me do.”

The librarian at the checkout desk wears short sleeves and a checkered tie, and he is plump and white haired and has cat scratches on both forearms and is looking at the microfiche machines, at three young women, by the looks of it students, the pale green projection of old dailies haunting their faces. One of them wears gold hoop earrings that touch and lean atop her shoulders. Strange, but I have never been able to shake the feeling that the library atmosphere is filled with sexual tension: young girls, young boys, the silent young groans.

Lacan says: “What does it matter how many lovers you have if none of them gives you the universe?”

I say: I will throw myself down the stairwell if only somebody’d make me swoon.

Please make me swoon. I’ve asked nicely.

So it is 3:30. So it is a sweltering July. So me and my books go strolling along the Zähringerstrasse. The morning shift is over and bakers and bus drivers and security guards queue on the curb for the curtains across the street to open and the red lights to blink on. And Thai boys turn tricks outside the Carousel Bar or in between parked cars along Hirschgrabenstrasse. And I think everybody is okay with the economy of love.

So I go on through clammy streets and turn onto the cobblestones near Grabligasse where the sun doesn’t reach, and then on to Niederdorfstrasse where Zwingli urged reformers to lug statues of saints and other icons from the churches and smash them in the open street and there is the sun again, and girls in bikinis, their hair still wet with river, swinging coolers from their arms, and isn’t all this flesh in the middle of a city uncanny?

Freud says: “We are never so defenseless against suffering as when we love.”

My reflections stretch and leap along storefront windows.

Jesus, I am getting old, “I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled,” but in a darkening room I’m still dashing.

Dear You Whose Name I Don’t Say, It is nighttime now with only a haiku moon of light, etc.

I can take the no.14 at 3:55 or the no.7 at 4:00. The older trams groan in their rails, but the newer ones run magnificently silent.

In three days, on the Fourth of July, Paul will bring his Vietnamese ladyboy-wife onto my balcony and launch bottle rockets over the city. He will talk about the war and we will drink beer, and then we will drink beer and he will talk about his being a marriage of reparations or reciprocity, he will not remember which word. And when they leave I will go alone to my bedroom with my books and nobody hogs the covers.

Paul said Kerry will never with a chin like that.

Glass, you know what I mean.


Blas Ulibarri’s work has appeared in a number of literary journals and newspapers including The Connecticut Review and Epiphany. Born in California, he currently lives in Zurich, Switzerland, where he is a freelance writer and translator. For the past seven years he has led on-stage interviewers with writers such as V.S. Naipaul, T.C. Boyle, and Siri Hustvedt.