"Trakl’s father dies in June 1910. To everyone’s surprise, the hardware business is deeply in debt. He becomes a frequenter at local houses of pleasure. He introduces into his poetry, the idea of antiquity as a time of pure humanity, at rest in itself, while he saw contemporary society drifting inexorably toward destruction and decay." Margitt Lebert, introduction to The Poems of Georg Trakl
The Pleasure House
1911 Salzburg. In the dark a visitor has bloodied the walls of the house with rose petals. Was you, Trakl? No I’m known for my shyness, and the peculiar way I speak with my hands, elbows bent, palms facing you at shoulder height, then clenching. I stand on tiptoes, the thorns jab my finger and then I find stickers everywhere, beside the petals, tiny knives, paste, flour, and water. The dead roses study me, Trakl already drinking at dawn. Better off if you’d eaten the tripe soup and black bread. You tore up the rose bush and brought it dribbling roots and webs, you glued it here. The petals, really feathers stiffened with red gore. And those stickers, those thorns, are a wife divided into many who follows her husband at 10 paces, the jowly mutton-leg whiskered fellow seeking the pleasure girl, who awaits him on the divan. The wife takes the form of a she-fox with a pullet hen in her drooling maw, then once more a woman wearing her coat of soft rain, her voice a peaceful snow. Look, the walls ooze with old wounds; they speak of my tallness, the burnt candle. A diseased chandelier swings on the edge of the Hapsburg Empire. The swags hang from the beard of Franz Joseph, over the purpling couches and long buffet, dust thick as woman's face powder. I hear the beat of a red wing, my heart panting. The housekeeper tries to calm my restless striding. "Look!" my voice shudders. "The female monks have smeared their menses on the wall to warn us. The house of bliss is the house of blasphemy." She crosses herself, afraid of my evil eye. She sees no roses only the blemish and blush of red wine I vomited on the wall.
"Trakl enrolls at the University of Vienna in pharmacy studies. Vienna, then one of the world's five largest cities, diminishes and overwhelms him. He will grow to hate cities. Even the 'room hunt' causes panic. 'I have been in Vienna a week. My affairs are completely unsettled. I have slept for 2 days and 2 nights and still have quite a bad case of Veronal poisoning,' writes Trakl, 'I don’t know anymore how I am still alive.' "
Vienna, 1909. 2 days asleep. I awaken to blue dust. Dissolution. Outside drifts in strollers of narrow winding streets. I stand up, my knees weak. I awaken to an old Neue Freie Presse still fat with last week’s news. A Duchess with the complexion of white lilies weds in the morning, that night she drowns, an apparent suicide. Gold watch chains are on sale. I lean against the wall, pour water from the pitcher into the bowl, I must wash, shave, put on clothes. All this to buy wine. The street walks through the mind, bearing fruit trees uprooted and torn, whose leaves curl under the soiled men who bed down on them. I put on my coat. The crowds thin, the peddlers haul their smoky chestnuts into alleyways, Vienna, petrified mountain heather, the Ringstrasse, I hail a carriage, the cream-colored horse shudders under the weight, its ribs jut against its hide, I can count them. From his harnessed head a ghastly plume, a red ostrich feather flames from his forehead as if a foliage of blood. 2 days I sleep. Has your horse eaten today? I ask. No more than I have. I’ll pay for grain, I’ll see him eat. Get yourself another carriage, he hisses. The nag is my business. Vienna, the beech trees, the cafes. I stagger back to my room. The pit of my stomach is hissing. 2 days asleep. I drank gooseberries at my wet nurse’s nipple. I tossed a stone. I swallowed a stone. Now my lips parch. I taste violets. Violets seep in from the street and the piss pool of sky. When I raise my hand to my nose; the piss is on my fingers.
About Stephanie Dickinson
Stephanie Dickinson has lived in Iowa, Minnesota, Texas, Louisiana and now New York City, a state unto itself. Her work appears in Hotel Amerika, Mudfish, Weber, Fjords, Cherry Tree, Water-Stone Review, Gargoyle, Rhino, Stone Canoe, Westerly, and New Stories from the South, among others. Her novel Half Girl and novella Lust Series are published by Spuyten Duyvil, as is her Love Highway, based on the 2006 Jennifer Moore murder. Heat: An Interview with Jean Seberg, appeared in 2013 from New Michigan Press, and The Emily Fables, a hybrid collection, was recently released from ELJ Publications. Her work has received multiple distinguished story citations in the Pushcart Anthology, Best American Short Stories, and Best American Mysteries. She is the editor of Rain Mountain Press.