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Den Bauen ohne Schatten (2001)

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Den Bauen ohne Schatten (2001)
I do not want to see this. I do not want to see this. Look away, Rafi. Pay attention to your score. Kein, kein, you only have one aria in this whole goddam opera and you could sing it backwards. Don’t give a shit. Study the Frau and Amme scene. Write “chopsticks” on the cue score. Just don’t look up.
Rafi was trying every trick he could to think of to keep his eyes anywhere but pointing right as the Northeast Regional made its way past Kearny, New Jersey. Kearny, where a chemical fire two years ago had agitated his sinuses two years ago and almost aborted his opera career before it started. Kearny, where the superhighway that was I-95 split like a banana getting the knife before being filled with ice cream of the recipient’s choice. Kearny, where the great outcroppings left enormous tableaux for graffiti of turf, of macho, of crushes, of misplaced civic pride. On the left – Fort Lee, where Paul (no, Sol is my brother) Zim officiated at a congregation into which Rafi’s nominal employer could fit in the foyer. On the right, industrial Northern New Jersey, all the same until that rock outcropping. Rafi would not look up.
E. Rutherford was deep in the recesses of the train’s memory. This E. Rutherford whose Swamplands, that is, Meadowlands, in which so much Philadelphia history had happened, especially the inexplicable implosion of the New York Giants on the last play of a football game in 1978. Since Rafi had moved to Philadelphia in 1998, he was well aware of the phrase, “The Miracle at the Meadowlands.” Bye, E. Rutherford. L’hitraot. Who ever came up with that word “implode” for the performance of a football team? Rafi the polyglot certainly knew that the word was appropriate. Just on this trip, between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur 5762, the word was poisoned. Poisoned with about three thousand sets of Jewish, Christian, Moslem, Hindu, Sikh, atheist hands. Not doing the Devil’s work, they were doing America’s work, and now they were indistinguishable as human remains because, well, because the Towers had imploded.
How does a word leave the level of lexicon and simply become icon? Rafi  wondered if the classic middle part of the Tolkien trilogy would be lost to posterity because no one would be able to hear the name, “The Two Towers” without thinking of THOSE two towers. Or, conversely, would everyone refer to the book by the name that had, in eleven days, ground itself like fixed type into a rotating plate, “the Twin Towers?”
For Tolkien, the birds were nighthawks. In the opera Rafi would be performing in a few hours, the King would inextricably bound to a falcon. For Daphne du Maurier, and then Alfred Hitchcock, it was just “The Birds.” For One and Two World Trade Center, it was the airplanes. Rafi wondered as The Curve approached, “lu hayu b’El Al,” what if the planes would have been El Al? No, no chance. Nobody had hijacked an Israeli plane since Entebbe in 1976. And then…
No announcement.
No commemoration.
No warning.
Only a smoking, steaming pit where those shiny silver welcoming beacons once stood. Ten stories of external facing, a literal Twenty-First Century Western Wall, tied up with netting so that it wouldn’t crash and add dozens of salvage and demolition workers to the death bin Laden’s victims. Fragments of Building Seven that had met its death as secondary trauma, like the spouse who dies with no apparent cause days after the partner falls to heart attack, mortal injury, or murder. Worse yet, the sky still bore testament to the moment. Harei ba-Gilboa, al tal v’al matar. Al tal, al matar Aleichem, harei Gilboa. Milhaud had set these lines in the opera, Le Roi Davide, which Rafi had sung in Hebrew to earn the role of the King in this production of Die Frau ohne Schatten, the Woman without a Shadow. “Behold, on Gilboa there is neither dew nor rain. No dew, no rain on you, mountains of Gilboa!” 
Rafi’s eyes turned slowly, imperceptibly, opposite the motion of the train, fixed like searchlights to the unthinkable wreck that, mercifully, disappeared behind Midtown after an eternity. Rafi’s König would be very much in character tonight. Strauss did not say that the king could not be Milhaud’s King David.

About Ronald FIschman

I am a public school teacher who had a prior career as a cantor, opera singer, and composer. My greatest notoriety comes from my settings of Dylan Thomas's "Vision and Prayer" and Percy Byssshe Shelley's "Ozymandias" for singers and large instrumental ensemble. My first poetry collection, "Generations," honors the roles of son, husband, and father, and is available at

4 responses »

  1. For some reason the first paragraph reminded me of the moment when people are just not ready to let go of something that is causing them so much pain. I love the way you write

  2. Hi, I found your blog through facebook. I have a few questions I'd like to ask about your writing:1. Is this the first chapter? If not, my apologies. If so, could you please write a number in the title, thanks2. There's a lot of back-history and fascinating information, but not a lot of action. I'm not sure if this has been covered but is it possible to have Rafi show the reader instead of telling them about it? Like a flashback or remembering the feeling of chocking on smoke and the smell of fire? It's entirely up to you though. Your writing is really enjoyable and very engaging. Keep up the good work, just needs a few tweaks 🙂

  3. Julia, thanks for the read. This chapter is well into the novel. Mostly, Rafi is unable to act in this situation; the description is supposed to make the reader feel the helplessness associated with 9/11. Rafi, out of the three protagonists, is the character who is obsessed with history. I hope you'll read more. The novel is organizedinto 60 tableaux in which the action is mostly self-contained. Ichose the structure to allow for the experience that you just had! If you enjoyed it, come again.

  4. Doc Chi,Thanks for the read. I know the NJT line to New York,and there isn't a person on it who doesn't look up when you pass East Rutherford and go around the rock that masks the NYC skyline. I was on the train right after 9/11, so I got to experience this first hand.Thanks for dropping by, and I hope you come again!


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