Dear Dispatches—

It has been a while and I won’t write a proper letter now. I’ve been meaning to, but have failed miserably for too long. Things pile up. Worlds change. Right now, or twenty minutes ago rather, a local farmer, Rajko, from over the other hill, came to sort out the electric fence for him to bring his cow and calf over to graze. Part of the fence was taken down when a couple of trees were felled behind the house.  The trees, one a huge walnut, were mostly dead, and felt like a threat all winter. They also provided easy access for the kunas (martens) that live in our loft. (Sad to say the kunas still manage to get in, scurry round up there early in the morning or late at nights, kicking up hell and having fun.) As I sat down to start this, he turned up in a strange rig, half tractor, half beach buggy (I half expected Frank O’Hara to jump out, waving his arms in a hello and talking about Lady Day). Rajko loves to talk. So we talked. If talking it could be called: my impossibly inept Slovene and his almost forgotten high school English. We communicated. He wanted a coffee, I made a Turkish coffee. He smoked and we stood and flapped arms. He prefers to stand. Something to do with his leg. He has one leg shorter than the other. Something that wasn’t discovered until he was in his thirties. Unbelievable as that sounds, since it is significantly shorter. It’s called for operations, etc. meaning for now it is sometimes easier for him to stand. (Which strikes me as strange, since from September last year I was crippled up in my own way, on crutches until Christmas, with a bad case of plantar fasciitis and heel spurs. I know, heel/bone spurs are fodder for jokes these days, what with Trump’s excuses for evading military service, etc. But there was no laughter involved as far as I was concerned. I am still having physiotherapy. Hopefully, come the autumn, I will be leaping and bounding through the woods in my search for mushrooms.)

Back to now: The work will take two hours, then he will bring the animals. Lana, my youngest, will be thrilled. She won’t be home until Tuesday, as she is at the coast in Croatia with Jasna. Lana’s best friend from St. Ives is over on holiday, near Vrsar, so they went down to see them for a few days. I stayed, mostly because Lana’s friend and her friend’s older sister, especially, drive me mad, and madness ( or madness caused by others) is something I try to avoid these days. But also because I have my 87 year old mother here and Eva. I couldn’t leave them up in these hills with no transport. When Lana gets back she will love going to see the cow and calf early every morning, and for sure will give them names. The last two were Caramel and Toffee.

Partly so the local farmer doesn’t regard me as a totally useless foreigner ( although one of my reasons for shifting out here was to become an immigrant in an age when immigrants are too often despised) I will go and finish giving a coat of paint to the tool shed outside. I started yesterday. The other reason I want to finish it is that Jasna will be pleased, and surprised. Which won’t do me any harm at all. I think originally it was built as a summer house of some sort, but that is too glorious a fate for such a construction. Jasna wants me to tear it down, but it is where we keep our tools. Farmer John that I am. Or Fake Farmer John, more like, to keep in with the duplicitous mood of the times. I don’t think I am fooling anyone in my efforts to grow much food on our ‘field’. Mind you, tomatoes, cabbage, broccoli, onions, garlic, courgettes (zucchini), beetroot (sugar beet), peas and beans. Not bad for a first crop. There might even be potatoes hiding beneath the weeds, though Avdo, the nearest neighbour, says that is unlikely. Avdo is a Kosovan Albanian, a builder, generous, friendly, insistent if you ever enter his house on pushing various homemade slivovices into your mouth, along with homemade salamis and dried meats (luckily for me I don’t eat meat, though I have been known to drink) who, on carnival day, surprised us by knocking on the door first thing in the morning decked out as Hitler, hair brushed over in perfect imitation, Chaplin moustache, authentic Second World War leather overcoat with Lugar pistol in holster, etc. Eva opened the door, if I remember correctly, and didn’t know what to make of it. A lesson in how to feel uncomfortable on your own doorstep. Old Eastern Europe, as they say. I don’t think he will drop by next year. Later that day, down in Litija, the closest town, there were several other inappropriate costumes. I’ll leave them to your imagination, aside from saying they would be illegal in Britain.

But weeds, I believe, have been my greatest success. Jasna laughed the other day, as she watched me carefully replant three little plants from pots that I grew in the greenhouse ( torn see-through plastic sheets thrown over old wire frame). I did a good, careful job, then confessed that I wasn’t sure what they were.  They’re weeds, she said. Well, if we are lucky, the mice will eat them. There are tons of mice this year, too. They eat everything, including the strawberries. ( I have picked one only from a half dozen plants.) It’s about time I figured out a way to stop them, but that’s one of too many things to do.

Saying all this, I am not even sure I have told you we have moved to Slovenia. A little place up in the hills in the centre of the country? A good 30 minutes drive from the nearest town, etc. I must have. If I haven’t, we have been here for about a year now. Just over. It’s been tough in many ways, a fight to survive, but I am happy with the move. The silence, the solitude. The hills. Jasna and Lana are, too – now. I think it’s been tougher on them. Jasna has some temporary work in a school, but it’s a distance away, so she is up at 5 most mornings and gone. She hasn’t taught full time before, so that has taken its toll as well. She still has much to prepare, etc. The job lasts until Christmas. After that, god knows. She’s been knocked back from a couple of applications more locally. Maybe private lessons, but the place we live is pretty isolated. Lana has managed brilliantly at school, made a couple of friends, kept up with dance and flute and learnt Slovene damn well. She wasn’t bilingual before; she actually knew less than I did! ( And I knew next to nothing.) A fuck up on our part, since Eva, 20 now, living in London studying medicine, was bilingual from birth (which was in Slovenia). Poor Lana being born in England just gave her the worst start possible. It tends to do that to its folk as far as languages are concerned. I’m living proof. I remember her first little friend was a shy boy, I never took to much, but I might have been being somewhat harsh on a three year old. It could have been his name, Silus. To my mind it never fitted his face. It’s a name that needs an Abe Lincoln beard at the least. Plus a hat. Jasna always felt bad speaking to Lana in Slovene in front of him and his mother, and that gradually became the norm for others too. Sadly the lad’s elder brother drowned earlier in the year, in the Atlantic off Cornwall. How things happen.

I asked Bob Arnold for your email address, since the one I had didn’t work. I saw that one was connected to your job, and remember you saying you were moving across the country. I imagine new job, new address, etc. I hope it isn’t simply a ploy to stop receiving aggravating letters from folk you used to know but have decided to cast adrift in your life. If so, it might have failed. Though I imagine you wouldn’t have to read this. It’s a free world, or so they say.

I won’t pile on more, no need. Didn’t mean to say this much. I only wanted to send you this little chapbook done as an ebook by John Martone. I thought you might not regret a gander. Or not too much. John surprised me when I sent a group of poems for him to consider choosing from for his online magazine Otata by saying he’d take them all and make an ebook out of them. All I had to do was to swop two that I felt didn’t work in the group and order them to make some sound sense. Or such was the hope.

Speaking of John, if you don’t know his recent translation from the Italian, Postcards from the Dead by Franco Arminio, do look it up. You can read it online, if need be. It’s the book of poetry that most made me recall how moved and excited I was by your own Once I Met. I think of the two books together now as my two favourite recent collections of poetry. Funny, since both are shaped in prose. Actually, I just thought, I’ll attach a pdf of the book to this, along with mine and the links just in case neither pdfs open for some reason. (David Miller wrote last night that he couldn’t open the pdf of mine I sent him.)

That’s it then. Aside from me asking how you are and things are generally? Been fishing lately? I take it you have moved across the country? Is it a secret where? Or have I forgotten? Possible, with this old head of mine. I can go weeks these days without seeing a soul, aside from Jasna and Lana. The journey to permanent silence is almost complete. Wasn’t the move for job reasons, or have you retired now? From teaching, not living, I don’t think you are that old!  Oh, I almost forgot. The last thing I read connected to you was a fine book by Amanda Berenguer, Matera Prima. I only knew her before due to the poems you put in your selection Hotel Lautréamont. Wonderful work, so congratulations to Kristin Dykstra and you for such a fine job done. It’s always a damn joy to find a swathe of work by a poet previously mostly invisible in English. I was meaning to send word, but that’s right, you went incognito on me! Not that I knew that at the time, because I never tried to send word. No need to lie about that. Intentions don’t count.

Another reason I’ve been meaning to write is that I have something here I’ve been meaning to send you for the last three years, since I was interested in what you might think of it, but I am slow. Very slow. There’s a word which is still bothering me. One day. When the time is right.

Send me word of yourself when time permits. Other than that, all good things to you and yours, Kent.

Love,
John