To Berlin: Westward via Pole and Deutsche

part four in a potentially complete documentation of Keith Birthday’s travels in January: part 1, part 2, part 3 linked respectively

I had taken the tram to the outskirts of Krakow. Like many European cities I have been to, the outer edge of this city resembled American strip mall suburbs. Large stores surrounded me on all sides. Here I was supposed to wait for my ride to Berlin arranged through Mitfahrgelegenheit, an online German carpooling service. Think craigslist and carpooling. Via email, I had contacted  a man, and we had arranged for him to pick me up in this place, at a BP.

It was a simple process really. I waited at the gas station I was told to. Then a car pulled up, and out stepped a man in his late thirties and a woman in her twenties.

‘Sie sind Keith?

I put my things in the trunk and we pulled away.

I was exhausted really, having been up late in the night drinking with K and the girls from the continent of Australia. There were some Spaniards too. I drank too much, got sick. The others went out to the club. I left K a note with some postcards, asking him to mail them in the morning if he found a mailbox. Now I was in the back of a car whose make I forget, luckily without any sort of sickness. The man and the woman spoke in German in the front seats. He had a strong Polish accent. She was obviously German. I introduced myself, thanked them for picking me up. Then I fell asleep.

I awoke about an hour later, I think. They had switched to Polish. She was struggling. They noticed that I had stirred, asked if everything was okay:

‘Alles klar mit Ihnen?
‘Ja, bin nur müde. Danke.
‘Was haben Sie denn in Krakau gemacht?
‘Nur rumgeschaut. War nur kurz da. Wir können dutzen, wenn es Ihnen nicht stört.
‘Klar können wir.

[I was glad that they were okay with informal address. One thing I’ve always disliked about other languages is polite ‘you’ forms. Although the rules regarding them are pretty clear cut, I find it disturbing. I feel there’s a wall being put up. Even worse is when you learn that ‘yous’ in English turn into ‘Sies’ and ‘Выs’.]

I learned that he drove to and from Krakow on a regular basis for business. I learned that she was a German student studying abroad in Poland and heading home for a few weeks of break. I didn’t speak about myself much, I figured I had already given myself away. They didn’t really ask. I figured things were better than way. They started to converse in Polish again.

‘Tak yaswrwyzysywysywywpcy.

and so on. I fell asleep again.

I woke up as we were coming to a stop at some sort of polish roadside cafe. They went inside to get coffee and go to the bathroom. I walked a few laps around the place, stretched my legs. The man looked at me as I approached the car.

‘Was machst du in Deutschland?
‘Mache Urlaub, treffe mich mit Freunden dort. Danach fliege ich nach Neapel.
‘Wo wohnst du eigentlich?
‘Dieses Jahr, in Sibirien. Bin dort Englischdozent.

He looked a little surprised. I guess he hadn’t met many people who lived in Siberia.

‘Bist kein Deutscher?
‘Nein, Ami.
‘Heisst du bist Deutschsprechender Ami der in Sibirien Englisch unterrichtet?
‘Ja, so kann man es sagen.

[I had never really thought about my current state of being until he mentioned it. A German speaking American who currently lives in Siberia and teaches English and currently vacationing in Poland. I though it made me sound special.]

The girl came back from the bathroom. The man informed her of my state of being. We talked awhile about my time in Germany, my Swabian accent, Russia, Siberia, the Russian language, America, Polish vs. German vs. Russian. We got back into the car and continued on.

Shortly thereafter we encountered a sign saying that the main highway to Berlin was closed. There was no real detour offered. Out came the map and an intense discussion about where we needed to go. I said nothing from the back, knowing very little about Polish highways. Eventually a route was found/decided upon.

I think this route was much better than the highway one we would have taken. We ended up winding along small roads through villages. I looked out the window a lot, tried to read the signs in Polish. Every once in a while there would be some sort of reassurance from the front seat, although I really didn’t care if we were going the right way or not.

‘Wir finden es gleich, versprochen.
‘Okay. Hab es nicht eilig. Ich glaube dir.

I always find something deeply charming about small Eastern European/Russian villages. Old women with scarves tied about their heads walking with some obvious destination in mind. Children in sweaters running about, maybe laughing. Old motorcycles pouring smoke and making noises only a two-stroke engine could manage. Houses made of wooden slats with roofs that seemed to be slowly sloughing off. Faded signage on local businesses, maybe one of the chains had rusted through and the sign dangled.

Eventually we found the other highway and arrived in Berlin only a bit later than expected. They invited me to eat dinner with them, but I politely refused. I said I had some place to go. I made my way to the subway, took it to the hostel. The man at the desk recognized me, asked me how I was. I said I was fine.

[At some point the driver considered us lost, we pulled into a gas station to ask for directions. I stayed in the car while they decided to walk about. Out the window I saw another car with the morning’s snow still on it. Someone had written ‘LOL’ on the rear windshield.]


I’m Sorry I Didn’t Know You Dressed Emo

In Russia emo is this year’s cool
well more like
last year’s

Counterculture reduced from an ideal
or maybe lifestyle
these girls cuddle teddy bears on streets
call it ‘dressing emo’

The front strands of her hair are dyed black
the area around her eyes is colored black
her fingernails are painted black
her hood is on her face

She’s got an iPod
4th generation and it is black
she is at this party and she is wearing headphones
stares out windows
eats some chocolate she bought

In Russia they say ‘эмо’
sounds like eh-mo
funny to think 30-80GB of music
all of it shit


I got out of the train, stepped out into the evening cold. I was in ‘Taiga’, the city named after the forest, or perhaps vice versa. This city connects Tomsk with the Trans-Siberian line. I had two hours. I walked up onto the overhead crossing in order to snap a few shots with my cameraphone as the sun was setting. A man asked me for a cigarette and I said no. He then said something else I didn’t understand, then smiled and laughed at me when I told him I didn’t understand him. Then he said, ‘don’t worry about it, you’re still young.’ I wonder what it was that he said that I wasn’t supposed to worry about.

[I like the way snow looks as the sun is going down.]

Inside the train station, I sat and read “The Crossing” by Cormac McCarthy. I had noticed that there was a gathering of people drinking lots of milk. The women were plainly dressed, all in long skirts and without makeup. I assumed they were conservative and religious. I was right. The youngest one came and sat next to me, brown hair, freckles, glasses, face like an anthropomorphic rodent, but in a good way, like the Whos in Dr. Seuss books.

‘Hello I’m from the dsf;kahsdoiaekjadhsfkjahweoiy
‘I’m sorry I didn’t understand.
‘I’m from afsd;jkahsdfhkj christian asdkljasd. We’ve traveling to Tomsk, how about you
‘I’m going to Krasnoyarsk, for a conference.
‘Are you a teacher?
‘Yes, I’m an English teacher, in Tomsk.
‘You’re not Russian?
‘No, I’m American.

[The green of the trains became more intense under the light of the setting sun. Almost electric. They shine against the blue of the snow and the redorange of the sky.]

‘What is your religion?
‘I’m an atheist.
‘Really? Then what happens when you die? Do you go to heaven or hell.
‘I think nothing happens. I think you die, and then there’s nothing.

[I had a desire to find the center of town, I had a few hours, I could make it there and back. Looking each way on top of the metal crossover bridge was disorienting. There wasn’t one way that looked as though it lead to the center. If I wanted to find it, I would have to ask. The sun had almost set. I didn’t want to ask, so I went into the train station instead.]

They tried to convert me right then and there, the whole lot of them. Told me they have so much fun when they sing and dance and praise god together. Asked me to play the guitar with them. There were so many. They frowned when I said that Jesus was just a regular guy who happened to be convinced that he was the son of god. I still think he made major changes to the morality of westerners. That answer wasn’t good enough cause he wasn’t the son of God to me.

‘Listen, it was nice meeting you, but I have to go
‘You should give us your number.
‘So that…..
‘We can call you and invite you to our church in Tomsk.
‘No. I have to go now. Goodbye.

They all waved goodbye. It was dark outside now. I crossed the crossover bridge in darkness to get onto my train. It was hot. Everyone was sleeping. I made my bed and put on my headphones and felt the gentle rocking and shifting of the train. Two hours.

[If I ever go back to Taiga again, I swear I’ll find the center.]

I bought this record today; it is good

I went to Porchlight Coffee today to give my roommate her wallet, which she had forgotten. She made me a latte and after I drank the latte and read this week’s “Last Days”, I saw that there were records for sale in the coffee shop. I looked through a few records and found this record.

I remembered Thousands from a show my buddy AAron (who writes here as Omnibox); specifically that they made me want to quit music. I didn’t quit music, but I did choose this over a copy of Either/Or, of which I have a shitty digital copy.

My other roommate hated these guys because of how melodic they were or something, “like fucking Paul McCartney shit”. I told him to fuck off but giving the record a listen see what he means. There is something very ‘soft rock’ about Kristian’s delivery. Also, the digital image representing the album art in their website is much brighter / legible than the cover art on my record sleeve. That doesn’t really matter, however. And now I just finished the record; I’m at peace with the ‘soft rock’, or whatever.

Went to the food bank today

I wasn’t scheduled to work so went to the food bank today (oh, now it’s yesterday). This was my second trip to the food bank and my first alone. My first trip was with my roommate, a food bank veteran. She had a meeting at nine and could not make it. I decided to forge ahead, waiting outside an hour and a half for a ten minute trip to the bank. It was sort of cold. Many of the people there were older than me. There were many of them. A few of them left the line, using a bag to reserve the spot they had left. When it was time the line started moving, and I got the following things.

Tofu Summer Roll

I ate this immediately upon coming home. It was alright. It was better with the included sauce. Then I ate a pastry (not pictured).

Read More »


blog post turned story about a real life event. still consider it fiction, though.

I was just about ready to leave when the pounding started on the door. Heavy, rhythmic, coupled with my name  shouted in a heavily affected Russian accent ‘БРЕНДАН’ (pound pound pound). I opened the door.

Before me stood my downstairs neighbor, Alex. We generally don’t see each other much, we generally don’t talk much besides exchanging pleasantries on the stairs from time to time. Most of our conversations occur when the sound of people at my parties becomes unbearable for him on Friday/Saturday nights and he comes upstairs in order to ask us to be quieter. Usually he’s very civil, tonight he didn’t seem so civil and I had no people over to my apartment. I was confused.

Alex was visibly drunk. There were stains on his roughly knit shirt. He was carrying a large jar in each hand. One appeared to be filled with tomatoes; the other, with berries and a berry colored liquid that appeared alcoholic. Behind him stood a young man, early teens, pre-pubescent mustache. He was looking at the ground. On Alex’s shoulder was a cat.

-Brendan! I’ve come today to celebrate with you! I’ve brought my son and my cat!
-Alex, I was just about to head out, I’m meeting friends
-Nonsense! Today is the day of defenders of our nation, we have to drink!

Read More »

An Excerpt From ‘Слякоть’

From my current project Siberia, a collection of essays, poems, songs, and photos.


on the one hand I hate
all the ice/slush
my feet being wet

but then
there is some meltwater
makes its way through
carves a canyon
or maybe a gorge

also then
the cacophony of slush
so many wet bristles of
a sweepbroom


The men curse with their icebreakers
Faces red rough, instruments scarring the

The other men, on roofs with shovels
Push the snow till it falls
On the sidewalk in big piles

Poland II: Plz Throw Bottles Out The Window/Whoa Foxes are Big/Smoking Krakow/’Conchume’/Kinda Don’t Want to Leave

part three in a surprisingly still continuing series by Keith Birthday. who knew he would have made it past part two?

I wonder if people who lived in Europe this winter will tell their children/grandchildren about the ‘great blizzard of 2010’. Although it seemed like a relatively reasonable amount of snow to me/my travel companion K (who also has been living in Siberia), about three inches of snow rocked Polish infrastructure as we know it. Case in point: A three-four hour train ride to Krakow turned into a seven-eight hour one. We tried desperately to amuse ourselves/avoid cabin fever, but the only thing we found funny was this sticker above the door. As far as we knew, when you weren’t supposed to do something you labeled an image of said action with a red circle with a line through it. Here we just saw red circles around things, and we contemplated whether that meant we were actually supposed to perform that action.

‘Does that mean we’re supposed to throw bottles out the window’

‘Sure seems like it, at least my american conditioning is causing me to think that’

polish recycling program

Sadly, the rest of my Krakow adventures remain mostly undocumented photographically, but these are some things I remember:

-We saw a fox out of the train window. It was a lot bigger than we thought.
-I most certainly suffered from cabin fever on this train ride. At some point I know I got very angry at the polish rail system.
-We shared our hostel with two other people, two girls. One was Australian and the other a New Zealander. The Australian girl was a bitch, the New Zealander was awesome. I think I fell in love with her but then her friend pointed out that she was gay, or probably bi. Either way, she apparently is going to be on the olympic field hockey team for NZ in 2012. We’ll see. If she is, I’m sure I’ll feel special/send her a facebook message about it.

-This same Kiwi made me feel special/awkward whenever K and I had some sort of dorky conversation. She kept commenting on how smart we were.
-Probably my favorite thing about her accent was the way she said ‘consume’. Out of her mouth, it was more like ‘conchume’. This was also her word of choice during the drinking part in drinking games. Where we would say ‘drink’ she would say ‘conchume’.
-The Krakow skyline is really pretty
-I made way too many jokes about ‘smoking krakow’
-When leaving, I realized that I really should have spent more time there. I promise I’ll be back.

José Asked Me to Return the Favor and ‘Workshop’ One of His Poems

Something like a continuation of the past two posts where José and I ask each other to ‘workshop’ each other’s writing. Sort of like a bloggy circlejerk.


Trading sips, water
Tent blooms cloud
And blue
Powder and
Cars pass and stop sometimes
Somebody gets out maybe
With a kid

“These are buy one get one
“They all emit showers of sparks

This will stake your shadow
As he wanders off for another beer
He will not find the cooler
Which is all right—
So long as the beer stays cold


Gulp cigarettes in the burning car
Decide to go west
Or northwest, which is open early on Wednesdays

Is the color of the water
A runoff lagoon
Of emerald & dark algae
Because it lies under the slats of a wooden dock?

Lilies dissemble

No, the water is no such or opalescent
Creek scum
Gone the colorless water


Drinking at noon again
I wait for a shipment
Before me, your shadow sits
Rearranges a value assortment
I know there is no ‘I’
In responsblty

Who stares at the hands
On a clock
Measures the length and ‘m going

First of all, I think it’s funny that you asked me to do this. Pretty sure I haven’t ‘analyzed a poem’ since that class with had together with Pattie MacCarthy (the one where we read gertrude stein/ts el/ezra lb.) but you don’t remember me being in that class. I remember your fro/how how said good things/how you were ‘chubbier’. Apparently you thought my name was ‘Colin’. I remember getting upset at your ‘house show’ when that happened even though it was three years later.

This is a strong poem. Simple as that.

I guess my favorite thing about this poem is the fact that even though I am personally familiar with the circumstances under which you composed this poem, I still had to read it about five or six times to really ‘figure it out’. I am really into the generalization in the first stanza, how you use the fewest number of words possible to establish your setting/purpose/the status quo of your life.

Think the dialogue is ‘smart’ like the use of punctuation in both.

“Is the color of the water/A runoff lagoon/Of emerald & dark algae/…dock?” is probably my favorite part. Word selection/rhythm/line break/tone/intonation. I really like the melody of the phonemes here coupled with the natural rising intonation of the question. Maybe I’m over-dissecting it, but here’s why:

-‘color’ and ‘water’ have great rhythm that close to each other. The vowel + consonant + schwa ‘babbles’ nicely
-‘A runoff lagoon’ slows everything down, and most certainly does not appear a part of the original sentence. I see it as a sort of ‘poetic appositive’ where the speaker stops and names what he’s observing mid-thought.
-’emerald & dark algae’ has phonemic clusters that act as ‘bumps’. I feel like my tongue is climbing over them.
-long vowels in the last line establish a steady rhythm while the length of the line allows the reader time to acknowledge the question mark without it being a surprise

I really like your word choice, I think you have a strength in being able to establish multiple meanings for one word without it becoming clunky. Specifically your use of ‘cloud’ and ‘burning’.

I feel that if I were better at this I could find ‘something wrong’. Let’s leave that to the experts.

Revisiting “Revisiting A Poem I Didn’t Really Like, but Read for a Russian Audience Anyway”

The following is a response, originally submitted via email, to Keith’s post about a poem he didn’t like anymore . He sent me an email saying that I should analyze the poem, write some thoughts regarding the poem, and then post my thoughts on the poem. I guess this is sort of like a workshop that y’all are invited to.


“So, I guess you decided what you want to do.”

wtf does that mean?

HERE WE GO::::::

‘If it weren’t so cold, we’d probably have an epidemic’

This party in my apartment has been fossilized cuz
the bottles are still
all over the floor and table
the windowsill too
like an image I can’t think of but less trite than
and I’m probably too lazy to throw them out.

You see, the other ones from
the old party are sitting under the table,
where I hid them from my landlady
cuz she’s got a prying eye
that I’m trying to avoid
like something more thoughtful than
the plague
the Russians have started wearing masks again

quiet chuckle,
laughing while I collect fossils.

Overall I think this is strong. I like your line break: “the bottles are still / all over the floor and table”. I like “the windowsill too / like an image…” but I feel that “an image less trite than / memories” might be a little heavy handed. Actually not heavy handed, more that the line break emphasize ‘memories’. ‘Memories’ as a word to me is a little vague, and this vagueness is emphasized (and begins to feel awkward) under the force of the line break. This force is compounded by the fact that ‘memories’ has the line to itself. I try to avoid abstraction or at least words that refer to abstract concepts because I think my work is to talk about those abstractions, or something. I’m not sure about your comma use in the second stanza. Seems like the line break would already be doing what the comma is trying to do. I enjoy “she’s got a prying eye / that I’m trying to avoid”. That’s another great use of line break. I see the parallel between “like an image…” and “like something more thoughtful than / the plague”, but again I’m not sure if I’m getting what I should get from ‘the plague’. Or, rather, seems that ‘the plague’ is something that has been invoked so much that it’s hard to do something interesting with it. Also really enjoy “quit chuckle, / laughing while I collect fossils”. You clearly have a good ear for the sound of the lines, as saying / hypothetically verbalizing those last two lines make me feel really happy. For some reason I like your comma use in this case.

Have you read any Robert Creely? This reminds me of him. I think that’s a good thing. Here is an example

Friend Says of Job

You get to see all kinds of life
like man chasing wife
in the driveway
with their car.

Mutual property!
They want to sell their houses?

Elsewise absences,
eyes a grey blue,
tawny Austrian

hair—the voice,
speaking, there.

Hermione, in the garden,
“weeping at grief?”

Stone-statued singly woman—
eyes alive.


Creely is more succinct. Oh also. Give your poem a title!!

Here is something I have for you:


Trading sips, water
Tent blooms cloud
And blue
Powder and
Cars pass and stop sometimes
Somebody gets out maybe
With a kid

“These are buy one get one
“They all emit showers of sparks

This will stake your shadow
As he wanders off for another beer
He will not find the cooler
Which is all right—
So long as the beer stays cold


Gulp cigarettes in the burning car
Decide to go west
Or northwest, which is open early on Wednesdays

Is the color of the water
A runoff lagoon
Of emerald & dark algae
Because it lies under the slats of a wooden dock?

Lilies dissemble

No, the water is no such or opalescent
Creek scum
Gone the colorless water


Drinking at noon again
I wait for a shipment
Before me, your shadow sits
Rearranges a value assortment
I know there is no ‘I’
In responsblty

Who stares at the hands
On a clock
Measures the length and ‘m going