Excerpt from The Research Report (Part 4 in a series)

Chapter 4

Thursday, February 7th, 1980


Antonio didn’t come. Jäcki knew he wouldn’t.

He remembered a song from just after the war, one he’d sung as a child:

..Es fährt mit seiner Troika

…..Mister Blah blah blah mit der Balalaika

…..Am Schwarzen Meer

…..Wohl hin und her

…..Und singt das Lied vom…

Jäcki waiting on the beach to the left of the hotel.

–Maybe he’s too scared to come here on account of the dogs.

Jäcki went back to the wooden house.

Short long short short short long short

Short short long short short short short short short short long short

Short long short long

Short long short long

Short long short long short…

–Not short long–stressed unstressed. What’s the difference? ἤδη γάρ ποτ΄ ἐγὼ γενόμην κοῦρός τε κόρη τε θάμνος, tree, straw, bush, τ΄ οἰωνός τε καὶ ἔξαλος ἔλλοπος ἰχθύς.

Jäcki felt the stings all over his body. On his glans. In his intestines. In his diaphragm.

–It’s worse when you get what you want. When you’re disappointed you get over it more easily.

Dulu had written out the verse from Empedocles for him on graph paper, a glossary underneath. Writing it out by heart, she made but a single mistake.

Θαμνος isn’t “plant,” it’s “bush, tree.”

Οἰωνός is “bird of prey.”

He translated it once more with a dictionary: For once I was already boy and girl, thicket, bird of prey, and silent fish in salty seas….

Diels has it as “salty surge.”  In his account of his origins, Empedocles means he was nothing more than a fish in the ocean.

–A dumb fish.

–Both ἔλλοπος the fish and ἰχθύς the fish.

–We could have taken a bus to Tallahassee or gone to Tlatelolco.

–I have to go see Frank.

–I’m just schlepping the movie money around for nothing now.

One of the woodcutters came by, his axe on his shoulder.

He put the axe down and pulled a coconut out of his bag.

He offered some to Jäcki.

Jäcki saw that the woodcutter was quite young, thirteen maybe.

He smiled at Jäcki.

–That smile has no date. It predates science. Here comes Herodotus with his botanist’s canister.  Herodotus astonished that they wear wool caps here. Making notes on the Libyans’ wool caps for his files. The Libyans set out to find the end of the world, gnawing thirstily on the sacred bush. Seized by tiny black men and spirited away to Timbuktu. A moment later, here’s an F. C. Gundlach photo of their wool caps in the source catalog. I have to go see Frank.

Jäcki smiled back and accepted the coconut.

The boy shouldered his axe.

–Now I’ve got a coconut too.

The woodcutter rubbed his thumb and forefinger together and said:

–Thank you.

–Like in Libya.

Jäcki gave him some of Antonio’s movie money.

–The axe.

–The slag.

–The huts of Ogum.

–Dogeaters. Maneaters. Testicle eaters.


–Hello, Jack, Frank called.

Such a stupid Yankee custom, reducing one’s name to its first syllable.

Jäcki looked at Frank’s face, ravaged by alcohol, and decided not to lecture him on these linguistic indignities.

Frank would just go back to fixing outboard motors and fly-screens, go back to sucking up to tourists by aping their vulgar behavior, stiffly declining their scotch whiskey while working on their yachts, drinking himself stupid on rotgut in the discos of Dangriga on Saturday nights.

With or without an admonition from Jäcki.

–People here suffer from inflammation, Frank said.

–Mental illness, too.

–They drink the soil.

–The ancestors show how they’re angry.

–The dead don’t go hungry.

–For me it was much different.

–I was standing on the roof of the hotel, straddling the roof. I had just finished patching it.

–The owner, Mister Borggrave, was sitting right there, over there, talking to me.

–I jumped from the roof and my feet landed on the last rung of the ladder and I broke both my heels.  Just look at them!

Frank took off his shoe and showed Jäcki his left foot, sheathed in a clean, off-white, darned sock.

Bandages. Brace. Clips. Capped.

A prosthetic foot.

A sandal in a white sock.

–It was my mother, Frank said.

–After she died I was supposed to hold a wake for her within a certain amount of time.

–I cooked up all the food she liked.

–People brought drums.

–We drummed with crates and boxes.

–It wasn’t enough.

–A wake, and some tea.

–She wanted more.

–I was standing on the roof of the hotel with my legs spread. I had tied down the last of the lathing, I threw down my hammer and box of nails.  The owner, Mister Borggrave, sat right there, over there, he was talking to me.

–I jumped off the roof.

–She held me up in the air for five minutes.

–Mister Borggrave was sitting right over there.

–He saw it.

–Then she let me fall, and I landed on the last rung of the ladder and broke both my heels.

–Just look at them.

Frank put his shoe back on.

Frank fell silent.

Jäcki said goodbye.

He left quickly.

He was afraid Frank might recant his testimony.


–The thieving magpie brought back my underwear back, but it’s not my underwear. Such witless pilfering. I’m not going to say anything more about it.

Jäcki sat down on the bed.

He turned on the ceiling fan.

He repeated Frank’s words.


–He’s full of it.

–Maybe it was some sort of cleverly executed mystification, all the parataxis and the rest of it, generated from an interrogation by a novelist-cum-religious scholar who thought he was pumping Frank for information. –Or maybe he really did fly?

–Let’s go swimming, Irma said.

The sea was calm.

Fish jumping.

A flotilla of the boys out collecting wood paddling over to catch them.

Irma and Jäcki tried to swim.

Their toes scraping the bottom.

They waded far out into the water.

The water never got any deeper.

Torsos wet, they shivered in the wind.

They crawled back to the beach on all fours in order to stay submerged in the tepid water.

Frank was standing there.

–The buyei is expecting you at the temple this afternoon at four. I talked to her. I’ll take you there. We should leave around 3:30. I’ll be done work by then. I’ll ask Mister Borggrave if I can take you there.

Jäcki tried to appear blasé.

Crawling in the placid water.

The buyei‘s invitation.

–So what? Anything important is over and done with.

–I’d rather not go back to the temple, Jäcki said as he dried his back.

–Why not?

–Frank told me that his mother held him in the air for five minutes and then threw him down on a ladder. He broke both his heels. If it’s true. I think that if Frank’s account is genuine, then I’d like to think about his story for a bit.

–I can’t photograph a story. I need to take pictures of the temple.

–I know.


When they were ready to head out at 3:30, Frank was nowhere to be found.

–Oh, of course. And so begins the great derailment, the sacred peek-a-boo. At the hotel they all play the welcoming Black Carib, but when it comes to the dugu, the hide-and-seek begins.

–We can play too, go to the temple and not bother with the Pelican Beach. Who knows what sorts of bodies are stashed in the cupboard between the priest’s attendants and the buyei.

Irma lugging her lenses, Jäcki lugging Irma’s photo book on Afro-American religions.

The hottest time of the day.

The Black Caribs sleeping between the stilts under their houses.

The bars and the discotheques locked up tight.

Men sitting propped up in the doorways.

–They’re waiting around for them to open up so they can start drinking.

–The old women still hidden away in their rooms.

Just before Irma and Jäcki turned off the main street, they found an open bar.

They went inside.

–Do you have orange juice?

–From a can.

–Coca Cola?

–No, just rum. Maybe some 7-Up.

–7-Up for me then.

Irma and Jäcki sat at one of the rickety toy tables.

Two drunks started babbling at Irma.

Jäcki watched the waitress.

Her skin was light.

She’d woven her graying African hair into corkscrews. Shabby boozers came in and laid their money on the counter.

The elegant middle-aged woman pouring them half-bottles of rotgut in silence, serving them across the bar with an outstretched arm.

–She has contempt for the drunks because they’re sinners, but it’s thanks to them she can make a living here and corkscrew her hair.

–She can barely dismiss the first one with that “rotgut-swilling pig” gesture before the next one comes and hands her more crumpled bills.

Irma and Jäcki turned down the dirt path.

The drums hit them in the face.

It wasn’t the temporary tabernacle that Schneider had described, built just for the dugu and torn down at the end of it.

They walked up to a single-story barn, gray with age.

The drums made Jäcki’s heart race.

–It’s almost making me nauseous.

Frank came around the corner on a bicycle, as if trying to race past them for the temple.

–Look at him!

He was wearing a yellow plastic crash helmet.

Flattened hair. His face like that of a bloated, cacao-colored child.

Frank wore glasses with bright blue plastic frames.

His plastic crash helmet was smeared with blood.

Frank looked at Jäcki from beneath the helmet, the visor, the sunglasses:

–I can’t stay long. Mister Borggrave wants me to take care of something for him. Don’t be angry with me.

He introduced Irma and Jäcki to a white-haired man working in the backyard beside a fire, some stones, and some aluminum pots.

Then Frank rode away.

The spirit-helper greeted Irma and Jäcki solemnly and left them standing there.

–So this is the dugu ritual.

–So this is the dugu ritual.

–Mister Borggrave can’t be happy with Frank, bringing all the tourists here. Mister Borggrave is losing fifteen dollars times two for his “Dangriga by Night” excursion: the enchanting Caribs! Minimum number of participants: five. Length: two hours.

–Where is the buyei?

–The buyei doesn’t seem to be expecting us.

–I don’t think I should be taking pictures.

Jäcki felt as though he’d been deserted by everyone, even by Irma, preoccupied with her film.

–These are Indians, he tried to remind himself: they’re not Negroes, even though they’re black.

–Here’s the fire.

–The drums are inside.

–Here am I.

–That’s it. Nothing else.

–The drums are pounding, Jäcki thought.

–It’s true. They’re not like the singing drums of Africans.

–The drums are pounding.

He repeated the sentence again and again.

All of Jäcki bristled at this world, all his disgust and anger at being lured into this culture, to stand among black kitchen-workers, holding a photo album, a blazing white rectangle–Jäcki’s annoyance with research, with formulae, with hypotheses, with assertions, with questionnaires, with being patronized, it all got shoved into this sentence, a sentence one might find in Jerry Cotton, on the case in New York or Cambodia, or in Montaigne.

Irma and Jäcki looked through a hole into the barn-like temple.

–Maybe I’ve grown incapable of grasping the details, of recognizing the crucial detail. Even if I am more thorough than Schneider. In my lectures I have to caulk over the holes. As if the students even notice.

–I’m just a puppet, all potbelly and pop eyes.

–I never wanted to work on Indians.

–I don’t know Tahahumara.

–The drums are pounding.

–This muffled, monotonous, endless pounding.

–Three large drums pounded by hand.

–Pounded by hand.



–Arm position.

–A rite: Eighteen volumes.

–The ones in the middle are the biggest.

–Buckets and cardboard boxes in the middle of the hall.

–Filled with things.

–Offerings, I presume.


–I didn’t miscount.

–Eight. Two cubed.

–Six women, give or take, dancing in alternating directions around the buckets and boxes.

–Can they change direction? Of course, of course.

–I haven’t described the hall.

–The hall. A barn. Like always.

–The roof: a corrugated tin roof, of course. From the joists on down…very precise: joists! From those things there, those things that holds up the corrugated tin, the studs, the vertical supports. Shelving hung horizontally on the studs, a rickety mezzanine for the utensils.

–I look through a hole.

–The burden of memory.

–The dancers move like Candomblé women when they sing the verses for the sea goddess Jemanha.

–Singing the verses to the sea goddess Jemanha.

–The snakiness of the snake god.

–In front of the drums, backs to the hall, six women rocking to the pulse.

–Rocking to the pulse.


–What does rocking mean?

–Is there a pulse?

–On the benches, along the wall.

–Along three walls, along three and a half walls: fifty people.

–Old women. Four men. Five children.


–Standing? Squatting? Sitting?

–Not on their heads.

The drumming slowed down.

Old women looked around at Irma and Jäcki, gestured for them to come into the barn and made room for them on the bench.

–As usual.

–We’re the only whites.

–As usual.

–Explosions of friendliness from these gaunt, bony faces.



–Yes, gaunt. Thin doesn’t mean anything. You can always say gaunt.

–Leave the adjectives out.

–Explosions of friendliness.

–Leave it all out.

The elderly Black Caribs smiling at Irma and Jäcki.

–That might be a solution.

–How are you today? the old women asked.

–Maybe in New York they got this “today” from Dangriga.

–Do you like the ritual, the old women said.


–You come from Germany? By bus?

–Ships that hauled them off from Africa to St. Vincent, and ships that hauled them from St. Vincent to Belize.

–The drummers are starting up again.

–The same thing again.

Irma took a camera from her bag and hung it around her neck.

–Like a crab, like an iguana that the roving confidence artist keeps tied around his neck.

–Leave it.

–It’s for my peace of mind.

–Leave that too.

Irma’s camera isn’t going to set anything off.

–None of that “No! Absolutely not! This is a religious service.” Like in Bahia.

— None of that “Take my picture.” Like in Africa. At the mental institution.

A Carib boy led in two blonde men who quickened their gum chewing in time to the rhythm of the drums and left after five minutes of standing around stiffly chewing.

–That short woman.

–She’s not the buyei. She’s the assistant.



–Marching the children around.

–Smoothing the cloth covering the offering.

–Utter indifference.

–The short woman motioned Jäcki and Irma into the sanctuary.

–Across from the entry.


–They’re not interested in me.

–A lapse.

–I can’t change it.

–Like dust blown through a crack.


–Shafts of light.


–Gleaming saints.

–Johnson’s baby powder.

–Lazarus and the puppy.

–And so on.

–The ubiquitous bi-continental altar.

–What’s so particularly Caribbean about it?

–Right, Benjamin Nicholas’ painting.

–I knew that the painter painted for the temple.

–You can hardly tell. More Naples yellow, Fra Angelico blue and cacao.

–A woman.

–A portrait of the priestess, the buyei.

–I have an appointment with the painter. I have to go.

–Where is the buyei, Jäcki asked the short woman.

–She’s shrugging, looking disingenuously at the cover. She’s not just shrugging, she’s shrugging with both shoulders. I don’t know.

–I’m having scheduling difficulties.

–I’m supposed to be at Benjamin Nicholas’ at four.

–At five I’m supposed to meet Doctor Andersson.

–We’re waiting for the buyei.

–I’m already too late.

–The spirit-helper….

–How are you supposed to identify all the different echelons for researchers? The spirit-helper doesn’t see himself as a spirit-helper. But here he is, helping.

–The spirit-helper uncovering the baskets, the buckets, the cardboard boxes at the center of the temple.

–A “happening.”

–After the assembly at the altar, a happening.

–Loaves of cassava bread piled in the vessels, the colorful cloth, hundreds of leaves, pale and angular, peeking out.

–Like thick communion wafers.

–The short Black Carib woman in tennis shoes walking around the receptacles, puffing a triangular cigar, bending over the bread and puffing the smoke across the pale loaves, crawling over to the next container, bending, puffing, puffing, crawling, bending, round and round.

–Full out but quiet.


–Forceful verbs.


–The spirit-helper covering the bread again, tucking it away in the mezzanine under the corrugated tin.

–The old women dancing as before.

–When you’re afraid you look at your opponent’s feet.

–A sideboard in the Jesuit museum in Cartagena filled with hands–angels’ hands, Mary’s hands, Jesus’ hands.

–Lopped off by disappointed worshippers.

–Pins on the wrists.

–Paper labels and numbers.

–The old women coming from the beach.

–The sacred immersion.

–They didn’t wash their feet afterwards.

–Bits of mussel shell and sand stuck to their skin from the salt water.

Jäcki looked for his glasses.

–Pince-nez, Albers called it.

–Lopped off at the eyes.

–Frank lopped off at the feet.

–I don’t want to see how it is anymore.

–That’s it.

Jäcki put on his glasses.

–They’ve washed their feet.

–No bits of mussel shell stuck to their skin from the salt water.

–Hormonal imbalance.

–Worms. Hookworm.



–My eyes cast down at an oblique angle, like the Jesuits.

–Some of the old women wearing tennis shoes.

–Left behind by some Methodist at the Pelican Beach Hotel.

–Varicose veins.

–Open veins.



–Open legs.

–Torn tennis shoes.

–One of them so oddly hunched.

–One skinny leg shorter than the other.

–She’s making up the difference by bending back the sole when she puts her foot in.

–High heels.

–Irma’s daughter in Jourdan heels.

–Irma’s beautiful Ferragamo coat.



–Fleece so finely woven it starts to look worn after one season.

–Fewer and fewer old women.

–The drummers tying the cloth that tied up their drums to their hips.

–They’re setting the drums down.

–They’re covering the drumheads with the cloths.

–The buyei is coming.



Jäcki sitting in Dr. Andersson’s lobby.

He heard laughter in the doctor’s office.

–Caribbean laughter. Light. Arrogant. Like on a warm night.

He’d heard that laughter while waiting before, in Grenada.

Dr. Andersson and his laugh took their time.

–Irma is waiting in the temple.

–Benjamin Nicholas is waiting for me to buy a painting from him.

–I’m late.

Jäcki was uncomfortable sitting in the fake baroque chair.

He couldn’t concentrate on the interview.

After an hour Dr. Andersson emerged from his office with a younger man.

–John Marquez, psychiatrist. What was your name again?

–In London?

–No, Belize City.

Ah…now that would be a subject. A psychiatric history of Belize City.

–Unfortunately I’ve got to catch a cab.

The interview proceeded without a pause.

–Three doctors in Dangriga.

–Two of them at the hospital.

–Around ten thousand people in the district of Dangriga.


–High blood pressure.


–No plague.

–No leprosy.

–No schistosomiasis.

–Chagas? What is chagas? Dr. Andersson asked.

–It’s a tropical disease, Jäcki said. I don’t know what it is exactly. By the time you know you have it it’s too late. We all could have chagas. It’s a parasite. It goes into the organs, the soft tissues, the heart. Horses get chagas.

Jäcki thought to himself: Lamarca had chagas. Lamarca was captured in Bahia and tortured to death. Irma went to the morgue. Pithex said, I can’t let you take any pictures. He was holding Lamarca’s death certificate. The last sentence in the autopsy results: Lamarca had chagas.

Jäcki had to laugh.

Dr. Andersson probably thought Jäcki was laughing at him, and looked it up.

–Chagas, of course. No, no chagas.

–Amoebic dysentery, mostly.

–Some leptospirosis.

–Is that treatable?


–Should I be concerned?

–No, we don’t see it that often. I think they’ve got something for it now.

–In the past year just three cases of malaria.

–In the temple I saw a note from the Health Office, Jäcki said. Two cases of ediles aegyptica.

In Cartagena de Indias at the time of San Pedro Claver everyone said that ediles mosquitos spread yellow fever, Jäcki thought. Yellow eyes might have made them call malaria yellow fever. Ediles aegyptica killed Jesuits by the truckload. What if Egyptian mosquitoes in the dugu temple cause yellow fever?  Are they streaming out of the swamps by the Pelican Beach Hotel?

–Thanks to mosquito control people have been getting careless, Dr. Andersson said.

–Malaria is on the increase again.

–There’s gastroenteritis.

–A case of hepatitis last week.

–Venereal diseases are epidemic.

–Antonio, Jäcki thought, and then asked:

–What does that mean?

–There’s been an avalanche of cases.

–Which ones?


–It’s the promiscuity. The parents go off to the United States to work, and the grandparents can’t keep today’s young people in line.

–The girls in the bars on Saturday nights?

–Yes…and all the illegitimate children. Their fathers acknowledge them; they take the father’s name.  Nothing more.


–Contraception is available; they’re using it more and more.

–Pills, shots.

Jäcki hadn’t been mistaken. With the doctors it always went like clockwork.

Jäcki was disappointed. This he could deliver like a lecture to his students. He had the feeling all they wanted from him anyway were interviews. But this one was like walking on glass. He couldn’t get any traction with his questions. It was an interview that could have taken place anywhere in Central America.

It might have been that after chagas Dr. Andersson didn’t want to expand on his answers because he was fearful of showing more gaps in his knowledge.

–Or maybe he was deliberately falsifying all of his statements a little bit.

Or was it Jäcki’s fault?

Was he asking overly general questions so as not to dilute Frank’s story with other material?

–I just hope that the buyei stays where the pepper grows. That’s not so far from Belize.

–Homosexuality, Jäcki said glumly.

–Homosexuality occurs. But it’s frowned upon.

–It’s closeted.

–But it does occur.

–However, it is illegal. People go to jail for it.

–Incest, Jäcki asked the doctor, deflecting him.

–Incest occurs.


–Not infrequently.

–It’s punishable by a lengthy prison sentence.

From Dr. Andersson, Jäcki felt, he would learn nothing about the pregnancy mimicry among the woodcutters, or the ritual prostitution among the shamans.

The doctor’s assistant handed Jäcki a piece of paper.

The psychiatrist had given him his address in Belize City.


When Jäcki left the doctor’s lobby, he avoided the painter’s house.

–Coming late is more offensive than not coming at all.


–You just don’t want to do the research.

–Bumming around.

He was back on the paved road.

He knew that he had broken his word to the painter and his family.

–It hurts like a broken rib.


The temple was deserted.

Just Irma standing by the window looking outside.

–Did the buyei come?

–No. How did your interview go?

–Water off a duck’s back. He’d never heard of chagas.

Jäcki went into the barn.

In the center stood a stainless steel folding cot.

A Black Carib woman was lying in it, asleep under a quilt.

–She’s not going to freeze.

–You missed something. They spent a half an hour setting up the cot. The old woman, a fat man, and that one sleeping there. First they unfolded one end of the cot. The fat man sat on it and it collapsed. Then they folded the legs open at the one end again, and the old woman sat on it and it collapsed. Then that one, the one sleeping. She’s from New York. The old woman realized that you have to unfold the legs at both ends. It stayed open. The fat man lay on it, and it stayed open. The woman from New York lay on it. The fat man pushed her off. He pushed the legs of the cot in a little bit–it wouldn’t stay open–and then he lay on it again. The cot folded up around him. The old woman pushed it open again.  Okay. The legs were folded out a little bit. She tried to lie on it again, but the fat man pushed the legs back in, and the cot folded up around her.

–So the woman from New York unfolded the cot again. She pushed the legs in a little bit, and then she and the cot fell over. Then the fat man folded the cot open. He pushed the legs open. The old woman lay on it. It stayed open. The woman from New York got the quilt and tried to sleep. So the new folding cot from New York stayed open. The fat man pulled her off the cot and pushed the metal legs back in. The woman from New York lay down on it again. She’s lived in the United States for a long time. She flew down here by herself for the dugu. I showed her my photos. I couldn’t really understand what she was saying. I got this much out of her: she’s the niece of the buyei. Tomorrow morning the buyei will take part in the ceremony. It starts at four. The fishermen will sail out to catch the sacrificial offerings. When she saw my photo of the basin with the blood in it she said, I’ve done that in New York. Eighth Avenue, 14th Street. I’ve never been able to find out if they do it here. They used to sacrifice children.

–Like Theodor Storm in The Rider on the White Horse, Jäcki said:

–You’re not happy. You didn’t take any pictures.

–I didn’t want any mistakes.

–They don’t seem hostile. Borggrave has gotten them used to tourists with cameras, and Schneider talks about how they’ll bend over backwards for white visitors.

–But the buyei didn’t come.

–That’s her job. The shaman is supposed to be unpredictable. Like a section editor at a magazine. Fickle. She’s not supposed to keep a rendezvous. She’s underwater somewhere, or making chit-chat with the gods over lunch. The old woman took us into the sanctuary. That’s significant.


–And this buyei‘s niece who knows you’re a photographer, she knows you publish books–she practically invited you to come see the fishermen tomorrow morning.

–It’s all so contradictory.


After dinner at the hotel the bartender stopped at their table and bared his teeth.

–Did you see the dugu?

–Yes, we did. Thank you for the tip.

The bartender wilted. The play of muscles beneath the black fabric of his pants slackened.

–We’ll be leaving very early tomorrow morning, Jäcki said.

–All right. Leave the key in the lobby and the night watchman will take care of it.

He walked away in silence.

–With any luck he’ll let word get around the hotel that we’ll be gone first thing in the morning. Maybe their opinion of us will improve and the waitresses won’t complain when we get back from the dugu late for breakfast.


Jäcki waiting for the fever.

It hadn’t come.

–If there’s no fever then you’re fine.

Was Irma waiting?

–How does a woman show that she wants it?

–My hands are bony and dry.

–But I can’t touch her body with clammy swollen fingers either.

He laid his head on her shoulder and caressed her.

–Men don’t spend that much time caressing.

Then he remembered the joke the editor-in-chief of the Swiss magazine told him: The costs are enormous. The sensation is not unpleasant. The postures are ridiculous.

–That’s what almost everybody does in their hotel rooms every night, and then they come down for muesli for breakfast.

He felt it like a blow.

He knelt.

Almost sitting back on his calves.

He lifted Irma up then pulled her down onto him.

The sensation of betrayal occurred for an instant, the notion that his lust was promising something his body could not provide.

–I never think about suicide when I’m with Irma.

–I’m fucking Irma sitting down, Jäcki thought. The way the Somali fucked me in the Hanseat, sitting down.

In St. Pauli Jäcki couldn’t understand why the black sailor knelt before him and hoisted him up.

Maybe the Somali felt the blow too.

–What about Irma?

–A question of gymnastics?

–I see the archaic form of the Somali with the steatopygia in the Hanseat. That huge black cock like a cartoon, like some ithyphallic stone.

–The ithyphallus.

–Long short long short long short or up down and so on.

Jäcki was used to hurried transactions between men more attentive to what made other men come.

Lifting her up and pulling her down again.

Trying to tell from Irma’s cries whether he was thrusting deeper than usual.


–Frank jumped off the roof. His mother held him in the air with one hand. Five minutes. She hurled him down on the last rung of the ladder, and he broke both his heels.

Jäcki heard explosions in the distance, the whine of reconnaissance planes, the shouts of soldiers from literacy campaign, the choking of the dogs, the impact of bombs on the wetlands, and the final sand-muffled footfalls in front of the hotel.





–The cock.

–El huevo, Antonio said. The egg. He’d confused his words. He didn’t mean balls, he meant cock.




–For once I was already boy and girl, thicket, bird of prey, and silent fish in salty seas.



Hubert Fichte

Self-identified as half-Jewish, illegitimate, and bisexual, the German writer Hubert Fichte (1935-1986) lived in Hamburg for most of his life. After spending part of the war in a Catholic orphanage, he later worked as a child actor on the Hamburg stage, an apprentice agronomist, a shepherd in Provence, and a counselor at a home for juvenile delinquents in Sweden. He turned to writing full time in his late twenties. His first novel, Das Waisenhaus (1965) (translated as The Orphanage by Martin Chalmers), was a critical success; his second, Die Palette (1968) was a succès de scandale and a bestseller. While continuing to publish novels, plays, essays, and journalism, Fichte spent the remainder of his life exploring syncretic religious practices among peoples of African descent in the New World (e.g., santería, voudun, candomblé, etc.). This “poetic ethnography,” as he called it, resulted in more than a half dozen volumes (none translated into English): Xango, Petersilie, Lazarus und die Waschmaschine, Explosion, Das Haus der Mina in São Luiz de Maranhão, and the novel from which this excerpt is taken, Forschungsbericht, which is also one of the high points of his posthumously published projected nineteen-volume roman-fleuve, Die Geschichte der Empfindlichkeit (A History of Sensitivity).

Adam Siegel

Adam Siegel is Languages and Linguistics Librarian at the University of California, Davis. His translations from the German, Russian, Czech, and Polish have appeared in publications such as Conjunctions, Context, InTranslation, and elsewhere.

Forschungsbericht. Copyright (c) S. Fischer Verlag GmbH, Frankfurt am Main, 1989. English translation copyright (c) Adam Siegel, 2013.