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The Undoing by Marcia Aldrich

The Undoing by Marcia Aldrich

The Undoing
(The Great Michigan Ice Storm)
Marcia Aldrich

12/21, 10:42 p.m.: the power goes out—

Comes on, goes out, comes on,

Goes out for good. We wait.

Freezing rain pelts the skylights above us, holes to the night sky, no moon. Trees along the river creak and groan, black branches twisted in ice, hiss and split, undoing themselves all through the night. 500 pounds per quarter inch of ice for this glaze event, this silver thaw. The weight breaks whole trees, snaps them like tinder. Sometimes one bad thing happens after another, everything I touch and everything that touches me is a poison, a toxic thistle no one should brush up against much less eat, an invasive species that can’t be stopped. I want to pull this bad spell out at the root, yank it to kingdom come but there is no at the root; the tendrils of misfortune, spiny and studded and tenacious, have spread underground all the way to the river and neither fire nor flood nor ice can destroy them.


12/22, 7:59 a.m.: with trackers strapped to our boots, we walk the iced-over ground, find post-apocalyptic trees ripped open, gaping, split down the middle the way my mother’s hair turned grey in one streak of lightening after her husband died, caught in a collapsed steel mine.  A million little matchsticks are strewn across the frozen wastes, dogwoods and serviceberries bowed down and sunk into the snow. There’s something about not being able to do a thing that makes me let go, step out of myself, give over and give up the idea that I control anything. I am at the mercy of the storm; I am not entitled to a happy life, to food or warmth or berries at my feet. I can make nothing happen.  I am but an honored guest at the ice buffet.

Begin descent

from the plateau of yard

down the canal of railway ties

cut into the snow-crusted hill;

slide unceremoniously

in an epic push

to stand on the frozen river,

a new birth story;

See the gap between

the river’s ice


exposed tree roots—

a thaw zone.

A rusty drain pipe

2 feet in width

down the side of a yard

hangs over the river’s edge

a frozen waterfall

stillbirth in its mouth;

uprooted trees sprung free

sprawl across ice:

abandoned vessels.

One winter when I was seven, skating on the river below our house with kids from the neighborhood, Mike’s dog Rusty fell into a hole, a thaw zone, near the stone bridge. I fell in after him, the ice splintering all around me as I tried to pull us out. The hole got bigger and bigger until no one could reach us and the kids receded to the banks.

We see no one on the river—it is as if we are the last people alive, the last couple. No one ventures out to survey the damage, to clear the glass trees lit through with sunlight, to see the spun, blown glass arching over the river. The field’s maize-colored grasses, heavy with ice, kneel over—whole fields of them bowed in submission. We walk on the river, not the land. Why do I feel melancholy walking in the middle of the Red Cedar River? Has my mood been created by my memory or has the river created it? I remember what it was like to swim under the ice, to be unable to touch bottom, to wait for rescue.

Too cold, the footing too treacherous.  Not even the squirrels are out and the deer are bedded together deep wherever deer go in a storm front. They aren’t ready to venture out yet. Not more than a week ago, when I was washing dishes, I looked up from the sink and saw a herd of deer across the river in the snow-filled woods.  They were running in wide circles, looping round and round the horizon.  No one was chasing them, but the chase was in their blood.

There, the concrete remains of an abandoned bridge: a face to be written on.

Under the new bridge on Dobie Road, a carcass of a deer. Recently enough killed that the blood still mixes in the snow and ice: mess of fur, bare leg bones, and a fleshless rib cage. No stink in this cold. Was it hit by a car, did it limp to the river to die or did it fall through the ice and drown? The coyotes found it—the coyotes whose existence some people dispute here in mid-Michigan—but I’ve seen at least one coyote running on the edge of the bank by the river, an outlier. Sometimes the deer want to cross from one side of the river to the other. Last winter one stood at the edge of our yard for the longest time looking out at the river. She wanted to cross—I could feel it. I wanted to cross over too. She was wondering if the river was frozen enough to support her. The snow had formed a bed over the ice, making it hard to tell how thick the ice was. If she ventured across she would fall in and then I would fall in too.

12/22, 5:03 p.m.: darkness falls. House lit with candles. Standing at the sink in the faintly-lit dark, I feel something outside my windows in the backyard.  Sometimes before seeing I feel a change in vibrations, a rearrangement of the atoms in the air. I walk outside to the balcony and below me a large herd of deer, come out of hiding at the end of the day, gather and look up at me in a strange kind of healing on this winter night.  A motley crew, scruffy and winter-dark—the edges of their separate bodies disintegrate, undone by the night.  Waiting for a sign that the storm is over, that the creaking and groaning and splitting will cease, they look to me as if I am their patron saint.

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23 Questions for Jonas Kaufmann by Alison Kinney

23 Questions for Jonas Kaufmann by Alison Kinney
Featured in Issue 1 of Madcap Review

Besides English and Italian, Isabella speaks French and Spanish, hates big groups.  What kind of big groups? Carola asked.  This kind, Isabella said, waving her hand to indicate the Viennese Opera Ball.—Donald Barthelme

Dazzling audiences as a post-apocalyptic holy fool, gunshot bandit, or lovestruck suicide, operatic tenor Jonas Kaufmann is no stranger to catastrophe.  After losing his voice while performing a bit part in Parsifal, he struggled to transform himself from an airy lyric tenor to a master of the French, Italian, and Wagnerian dramatic roles.  Kaufmann’s singing is baritonal and darkly colored, with seemingly effortless top notes and ethereal pianissimi.  While some critics feel distanced by his originalist interpretations—and the box-office vaunting of his Byronic good looks—others are seduced by his musicianship and soaring lyricism.  Placido Domingo has called him “one of the best singers I ever heard.” We discover the real Jonas Kaufmann:

Q:  Before pursuing your vocal career, you studied mathematics.  Think fast, Kaufmann!:  If the accursed Kundry mocked Christ in 33 A.D., how old was she when Parsifal baptized her?  If Arizona Governor Jan Brewer proclaimed “Jonas Kaufmann Day” on February 24, 2013, how many Not-Jonas-Kaufmann Days will elapse by the 2063 quinquagenary (including leap years!)?  Multiply by the number of times Anthony Tommasini of the New York Times has called your voice “virile”?….  Well.  Wasn’t it smart to follow your strengths?

Q:  Paris Opera’s 2007 La Traviata imagined you and Christine Schäfer as 1960s chanteur Théo Sarapo and his wife, Édith Piaf.  With Sarapo’s journey from adenoidal hairdresser to pop superstar so suggestive of your own career, can you discuss the possibility that God gave us your dusky, distinctive voice to resuscitate Sarapo’s oeuvre?  If not in Théo:  L’Opéra—which you of all people, Bayerischer Kammersänger, could totally commission—then in a song cycle, capitalizing on your success with Winterreise?  From Schubert’s “Gefrorne Tropfen fallen / Von meinen Wangen ab: / Ob es mir denn entgangen, / Daß ich geweinet hab’?” to Sarapo’s “A quoi ça sert, l’amour?”:  an organic progression, nein?

Q:   Why, sure, you have other options.  Having already portrayed so many innocently smoldering virgins—Parsifal, Lohengrin, Werther—might you consider bypassing Otello and Tannhäuser to steer straight for the dirty old man roles?  Milan may be gunning for a Kaufmann Don Pasquale, but I envision you as Rosenkavalier‘s Baron Ochs, fondling Sophie:  “Tender as a pullet!  Not very plump—no matter—but so white.”  You may not be a bass now, but we’re talking five-year plans.

Q:  Or…in the William Kentridge production of The Nose, Paulo Szot nearly got upstaged by the strutting papier-mâché nose.  Only imagine:  Jonas Kaufmann as The Nose, the rare artist to transition successfully from opera to mime!  Shouldn’t you be considering your place in the annals of opera history, and not just coasting on Werther?

Q:  Werther:  a young man who kills himself for love of a married woman.  The Act III aria, “Pourquoi me réveiller?”—that’s what I ask the cat every morning.  You sing it like you have a cat, too:  “Why awaken me, o breath of spring,” a lilacs-out-of-the-dead-land lament for one’s meaningless existence, fed and then blighted by vain hope, ringing the rafters with agony, then whispering, beseechingly, for it to desist.  There’s no way you don’t have a cat.

Q:  You debuted as Siegmund in Robert Lepage’s production of the Ring, mingling demigodly vigor (that high A!) with the balmy, vernal tenderness of “Winterstürme.”  Tell us about the time that Deborah Voigt (a gleaming, irrepressible Brünnhilde) sneaked you backstage for a midnight ride on The Great Metropolitan Scream Machine, that glitch-prone, 45-ton, seesawing set piece that morphed from Rhine to Rainbow Bridge to flying cavalry:  HOJOTOHO, HOJOTOHO, HEIAHA!….  Get out!  Lepage told you to get off his fence?  Doesn’t he realize that you’re J-Kau, and you can fly like a Walküre any time you damn well please?

Q:  Elizabeth Peyton’s many paintings of you, in balsam-and-ether-flowing-through-your-veins mode, joined those of Bowie, Kurt Cobain, and Leonardo DiCaprio at Gavin Brown’s enterprise last year.  Critic Peter Schjeldahl called them “points of ardor in the cold world.”  Yet, can we agree that the showstoppers were Peyton’s portraits of Met General Manager Peter Gelb, whose Valhallan exorbitance and avidity for under-65 audiences shone from every lick of rosy, nacreous flesh?  Didn’t his potency hammer all the rest of you into Nibelungen insignificance?  I messengered him a silver rose once, but he never responded, so I tried poisoned violets.

Q:  Do heldentenors avoid the Lohengrin “Bridal Chorus” if they marry, lest they raise hopes that they’ll divulge their true identities as Grail Knights, get stabby, and vanish in their feathery boats, because, let’s face it, no bride wants an ordinary wedding night when she could have, instead, a Bayreuth-debut-worthy “Mein lieber Schwan” of floating, otherworldly pensiveness yielding to burnished sensuality and regret?

Q:  La Scala made you wade in a marsh for Act III of Lohengrin.  Parsifal featured a lake of blood; can it be an accident that The New Yorker‘s Alex Ross said you “gave a fluid but disappointingly indistinct account of the title role”?  Emphasis mine.  Don’t you get waterlogged?  Oh, prosthetic feet—like The Lord of the Rings?….  I hadn’t considered, but your sound does have a Númenórean muscularity, and there’s your lovechild-of-Frodo-and-Aragorn hair….  Well, writing opera-hobbit slash fiction isn’t my bailiwick….  Of course, constantly stuck in airports, you’d need creative outlets….  Sure, “Au fond du temple saint” has some hot Björling/Merrill/Galadriel threesome potential, but do you mind if we get back to discussing craft?

Q:  The intimacy of your stage presence is simultaneously its strength and drawback.  We’ve witnessed your earnest, minutely observed correlations of line to action, more introspective and natural than traditionally operatic, in the unhinged grin belying Don José’s pleas to Carmen (Royal Opera 2006); the unfocused gaze of Florestan, imprisoned in the dark (Fidelio, Lucerne 2010); and Don Carlo’s teasing grab of his portrait from Elisabetta (Salzburg 2013).  How about the Met Shrug, that masculine, New Yorky gesture separating the boys from the men?  Every time a hero does a heroine wrong at Lincoln Center—in Norma, Rigoletto, Tosca, Les Troyens—he shrugs:  whaddya want?  Notably, Peter Seiffert as Tristan, accused of invading Isolde’s country, murdering her fiancé, and kidnapping her to marry his uncle, retorted, “That was resolved,” and did the Met Shrug!  With mounting anticipation of your debut as Tristan, what will you bring to this acting challenge?  Will you play it big or small, adding the hapless whole-head wobble or the defensive chin jut?

Q:  A BMW promo shows you driving and singing “La fleur que tu m’avais jetée,” sounding like anybody who sings in the car and happens to be the International Opera Awards Best Male Singer of 2013.  Does it embarrass friends when you join in on “Happy Birthday”?  Do you karaoke?….  I can’t believe that the man who sang Faust and Siegmund back-to-back is scared of karaoke!  Look, we’ll hit Koreatown, and we’ll start you easy, with a duet:  “Ebony and Ivory,”  “I Got You Babe,” “Leather and Lace”….  You can be Stevie Nicks; I’ll be Don Henley.  Or vice versa!  Don’t be silly:  either way, you’ll acquit yourself like a Meistersinger.

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