4 Short essays by Don Krieger

By sculpture I mean that which is fashioned by the effort of cutting away …
I  saw the angel in the marble and carved till I set him free. 
– Michelangelo

That Which Is Missing

If a critic describes a piece as difficult, maybe it is and maybe it isn’t, but surely he means that he understands it.

If a publisher says … when you have a preformed view you wish to express … then you are not creating art … and further …  creativity is a form of problem-solving, and if you already know the solution, then you never had a problem     and so you aren’t being creative …  and further still … the purpose of all art is … and therefore … or even … we just want to know that you understand what you are doing … , if a publisher says any of these, surely the discussion is over. 

If I am repeatedly asked to reconcile irreconcilable things, I put the piece down unfinished. That is not because I think it is bad or because I am impatient. Rather it is part of my aesthetic     that what I read should make sense – – I am not a trusting person.

I write sentences, correctly formed and lucid to the extent I can; I then begin removing things.

I remove syntactic elements to highlight the voice of the piece.

I remove words and phrases to simplify the language, to tighten the ideas, to elevate the music.

I remove bits of information to avoid telling the reader what to think, how to feel.

I write because I have something to say. I remove things because I want that something to move you because it moved me, because I want you to know the art that came from what I carry.

Tribute to The Class of 66

On Holocaust Remembrance Day, we drove for a poetry reading to the Riverdale Jewish Home in New York. We arrived early, worked through the afternoon in the solarium while those who live there went about their lives. Many live in wheel chairs or with walkers, many with hired care givers, most of them just a generation younger and most with Caribbean accents.

They gathered at two o’clock, listened to a talk of remembrance and the miracle of their grandchildren. Then one at a time, the survivors among them were named and stood if they could.

Later that evening when it came my turn, no one turned away and no one complained, not when I reminded them of the murders at the Tree of Life in Pittsburgh, not when I raised a picture of Colin Kaepernick and asked that we learn to celebrate the dead one at a time, and not when I reminded them that though they had faced their own murders, it is cowardice to forget the murders of others.

Just this weekend, a Facebook post from an old classmate portrayed immigrants as vermin, an image etched in the minds of any who know Nazi propaganda and anyone with common sense. Several liked the post; several more rejected my protests as politics, the most moving, ... could we just post pictures of our families, our graduation, the carhops at The Hut? What a contrast to those ancients who willingly heard! My old friends, what happened to you?

Curly Red Hair

Dad asked for my savings to help with the rent; I was proud to give it to him. After that I got five dollars a week for cafeteria money, and when I needed something more, I just had to ask.

Carol had freckles, a pug nose, curly red hair. She was born early, perfect but absent toenails and eye lashes, long and thin, adopted. After school and nights, Susie and I tended her. That was a bright time for me. Mom lived on the couch in her underwear.

Carol was three months old when Dad took a traveling job. After that we saw him alternate weekends. He called sometimes too.

Mom found a new house in Lake Clark with a swimming pool, and it was close to my friend, Bob. I don’t remember Dad ever being there, just Mom and Carol, Susie and me.

Carol was crawling; Mom said she could get to the pool and drown. We put up a little fence and kept the doors closed and even locked, but Mom couldn’t sleep. The old place hadn’t sold yet, so she moved us back, sold the pool house, and used the profit to buy a new couch. 

I was mad and stopped coming home after school. One day she got in my face, then swung on me. I caught her wrists and pushed – it was just a little, I swear, but she went down screaming. I got out of there and called Dad; he told me, It’s ok, Don, just do good in school. The next time he was in town, he took me to his boat. Janine was there with her children – they had freckles and curly red hair.

A New World

I gashed my knee, my head too, maybe a broken rib. Someone at work offered a bed so he could check me through the night. As a kid I often fell, a stone under a skate, a bike crash. When a scrape bled      or that time they found me head against a tree root, no one said a word or seemed to care; I didn’t either. If they see my frailty though, how long will I hold my job? How much safer to look good, now that I’m old. 

At the Giant Eagle, an old man stares at the pay pad till the clerk presses the button for him. I use cash so I won’t look like that. Outside, they walk by laughing, hand in hand, or just looking at each other. I don’t notice their color, only that they’re young and have accents I don’t understand. 

At the Lotto counter we wait, our faces and posture, American, surrendered to hope and chance, like trees. We could do something with life in it, look at each other      or at least at those faces on the street. Is that why we hate them, saying what they please, acting like they’re free?

Lately people talk faster than I can listen, like I’m sitting on a bench and they’re running by. Maybe I’m listening too deep to keep up because under the talk, I see the vitality of their thought and hear our shared humanity. It’s getting worse and I’m often near tears, but it feels like freedom.

About the contributor

Don Krieger is a biomedical researcher whose focus is the electric activity within the brain. His full-length collection, "Discovery," is forthcoming from Cyberwit. He is a 2020 Creative Nonfiction Fellow. His work has appeared in Neurology, Live Mag!, Seneca Review, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and The Asahi Shimbun, Entropy, and others.

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