I don’t want to be all playing into stereotypes here, but I’m on my period and everything is pissing me off. From my dog who selectively understands English and won’t stop whining at the squirrels to my long-distance boyfriend/affairmate who I haven’t even talked to today because I’m getting frustrated with Facebook messaging my daily “good morning” to someone I haven’t seen in over eight months, so, I’m angry.

And my crotch is bleeding

And I don’t want the two to be connected, but my God biology.

Even the squirrels are pissing me off. Not because my dog keeps whining at them, though that doesn’t help, but because their chatter is loud and it might actually be coming from birds. I don’t know species’ noises that well, apparently, which makes me feel dumb and that makes me mad.

Lack of species’ sounds knowledge aside, I do know that their incessant chatter can fuck off because I’m pissed and I still don’t know why and they aren’t helping me to concentrate on writing something coherent.

Mad woman writing on her rag. That’s what I should title this. But note: there’s a space between “mad” and “woman,” and it is history’s assumption that there is no space between those two words that also pisses off. A mad woman is a hysterical madwoman because her vagina bleeds on a regular basis. Ugg.

I’m not angry at the actual period, though. Bleeding happens. The only punctuation that pisses me off is the overly and incorrectly used ellipsis. But this isn’t about punctuation, rather a period and what it might be doing to me and how I’m pissed that I feel like a cliché right now.

I don’t let my dog be a cliché. When I saw Skylar after three months of being away at a writing residency, she didn’t initially recognize my voice. We hadn’t talked in those three months because I don’t speak dog and she only knows bits of human. Ball, sit, stay, and “you fucking dog” mostly. Though once I got close enough to her and she got a whiff of the uniqueness that is a person’s smell—the scent version of a fingerprint, if you will—she lost her shit. Well, more like she lost her piss. Well, she didn’t actually pee on me because we don’t allow clichés in this family but I could tell she wanted to because that’s how excited she was.

Right now, Skylar is intermittently staring at me and whining. Not helpful. She lets out a sigh like I’ve let her down because I’m not stopping the squirrel/possibly bird chatter. Now she’s pacing. FML.

Those three letters have become so entwined with the daily workings of my life lately. Anything from poking my finger with a knitting needle to only being able to Facebook Message the boyfriend/affairmate when his wife is not around (because she knows) all just make me spit “FML” to no one in particular—to no one at all, actually, because I’m in the middle of the mountains without cell phone reception so I can’t even talk on the phone to boyfriend/affairmate, thus Facebook Messenger, so it’s just me and my pouting and angry-whining dog and the squirrel-birds out here. I swear Skylar’s going to start thinking FML is a command I’m trying to teach her because I probably say it more than her name.

Though, bright point: I’m less mad woman-ish now because it’s like I’m writing it out of me or something, though I probably sound madwoman-ish to the female haters because God forbid a woman try to figure out her inexplicable anger so as not to blame it on her wandering womb. Sexism is one of my pet peeves, btw.

You can file this next paragraph under: Memory, Semi-Related.

Playing a game with my family a few holiday seasons ago where four people looked at a card with a noun on it and described how the noun applied to their lives in such a way that the fifth person could guess what the noun thingy was that was printed on the card. In this semi-related memory, the card said, “PET PEEVE.” My mom was the guesser. I said, “Mine is when people use punctuation incorrectly such as when they use an ellipsis to make a pause when they should use—.”

“Pet peeve!” Mom shouted out.

(Notice how I didn’t use an ellipsis there because I wasn’t trailing off in thought, rather I was interrupted, thus the em dash.)

Point being: you don’t use an ellipsis when you’re interrupted—only when you’re trailing off in thought or cutting text out of a direct quote.

Other point being: Mom knows me best.

My phone just vibrated twice—Facebook Messenger, probably from the boyfriend/affairmate because I haven’t said good morning yet. A long-distance relationship can be challenging. Having a long-distance relationship/affair with a married man can be challenging-er. Having a long-distance relationship/affair with a married man during a pandemic means I haven’t gotten laid in eight months. These are indeed trying times. Because there is no bumping and grinding with your boyfriend/affairmate when he’s lockdown-ed in a house that he’s been trying to sell for a year with a woman he no longer “loves like that” and with his 20-year-old son who is also stuck at home with his parents’ long-splintering marriage because his college is closed due to The Coronies.

Note: I recommend you not admit your infidelity to your wife while you are in a forced lockdown together. (It sounded like a good idea—stop lying, face life, let wife know that, for reals, the divorce they’ve been trying to have for the past handful of years long before The Other Woman—me—stepped in to fuck things up [literally] is for reals ending). She’s a mad woman who is probably turning into a madwoman and rightfully so. Her anger is justified, unlike mine.

What all this means is that although I’m fucking a married man, I haven’t been fucking him lately because a global pandemic is putting everyone on lockdown which makes having a long-distance affair more than kinda hard to maintain.

Maybe that’s why I’m mad, too—this succumbing to two stereotypes. Both of these are even more of a pet peeve than incorrect punctuation: 1) I’m not only the hysterical menstruating madwoman, but b) I’m also the mad woman who just needs to get some lovin’ to smash that frustrated feeling out of her.

“FML,” I say.

Skylar stops with the pouting face, stops with the pacing, looks at me, tilts her head, then sits down real pretty.


A Smaller Heart

By María José Navia 
Translated by Lily Meyer

Why does his family piss him off so badly? No clue. All he knows is that he wants to scream. He nestles each fly into his tackle box. In the kitchen, his wife makes tuna-and-tomato sandwiches, their fish smell pervading the living room. She fills Ziploc bags with carrot sticks, washes a matched pair of apples. Once, he would’ve helped her. Once upon a time in their youth. Now, Caro is eight months pregnant, and José, if he’s being perfectly honest, can’t spend a single hour alone with her. He finds it unbearable. Not that he can tell her that. Lately, he has so much he can’t tell her, he feels the words clogging his throat.

Caro smiles at him from the kitchen. Her feet and face are swollen. This pregnancy, she’s really let herself go. Look at her packing him a healthy snack, when she’s wolfing fries in front of the TV every chance she gets. José leans his rods by the door, sets his fishing hat on a chair. Tomás is reading at the kitchen table. He didn’t want to come. No persuading him. Caro even tried chiming in, but no luck. Tomás wanted to sit here, face hidden, buried in books. Shielded completely. A little bunker inside a family on the brink of collapse.

This is the seventh day of their vacation, everyone tripping over each other in their little cabin. Caro faking sick, Tomás reading nonstop, Sofía roaming the house in search of attention. She appears now in full princess regalia, a little Snow White with snarled hair.

“Can I come?”

He’d like to tell her a hard no. His afternoon’s shot the second she gets bored. José’s mind runs in a furious present tense. He has an urge to jump in the car and drive to Santiago, though the city’s steaming hot and he loves it here. But Caro is looking at him, wide-eyed and hopeful.

“How about it, José? Could you take her?”

Sofi launches into a made-up ballet, pirouetting from one parent to the other. She flutters between Caro and José, doing little jetés, waving her magic wand so it sheds glitter all over the floorboards.

For the rest of their vacation, bright specks of glitter will cling to their shoes, their sandals, the webs of their toes.


José is not a bad father. He loves his little girl. But, right this second, he wants to leave her here, watching cartoons with her mom. Now that Tomás has refused to go fishing with him, he’s decided he deserves alone time, too. Time alone with Mario the fishing guide, anyway. Mario, who owns the boat, and who will be here to pick him up any minute.

Caro sets a bag on the table. It holds plenty of sandwiches for two people, even three. (Did she know Sofi would ask this? Did she put her up to it?)

“Can I come, Daddy? Can I?”

Sofi leans on his knees, batting her green eyes. The Snow White dress is a little too big. José can’t help smiling, and Sofi takes the smile to mean yes, yes, you can come, what could be better than fishing with my little daughter? He only realizes what he’s done when it’s too late. All he can do now is ask her to put on different clothes. Princesses don’t like to fish.

Caro smiles, too. José translates her smile as thank you! I love you! Caro only meant please, please take her. A day alone with her oldest child is a whole new world. She can pretend to be invisible. Tomás will read in the living room while Caro takes an endless nap. Caro and her planetary belly. 

A few minutes, which feel to José like an eternity, pass before Sofi returns in her fishing costume: a shirt with a sequined fish (sequins that will end up in the bottom of the boat, catching the sun through smears of fish blood), jean shorts, and Little Mermaid sandals given to her by José’s father-in-law, who bought them on his last trip to Miami (lucky bastard, vacationing at Disney World). Caro handles sunscreen, rubbing viscous lotion on their daughter’s arms and legs. She squirts some on Sofi’s hand, telling her to do her own face. Sofi obeys with disgust. She hates how sunblock feels on her fingers, and she’s scared to get it in her eyes. Tears roll down her cheeks.

This will be a nightmare.

This will be great.

This will be.

Mario pulls up in his pickup, and Caro tugs a dress on and helps carry the tackle box, hats, and lunch bag to the car. As Mario begins driving away, she calls, “Did you bring bug spray?” but José acts like he didn’t hear. He’s in the back seat with Sofi, head tilted to the window, already looking sorry for himself. Their beaming daughter flaps her right hand goodbye. Tomás keeps his nose in his book.

Caro shuts the door.

Finally. She and Tomás are alone.


Mario talks to Sofi for the whole drive, though he seems no more pleased than José to have her along. He asks which princesses she likes best (Snow White; Belle; Ariel) and what her favorite foods are (chocolate ice cream; strawberries). He even wants to hear the poems she has to memorize in school. Sofi is thrilled. No one has asked her this many questions, or looked at her this many times, in days. She radiates pure delight.

Mario smiles, too, but his smile conveys a different message: the boat’s going to be cramped, Sofi’s going to shriek if there are horseflies, she’s going to turn lobster-red no matter how much sunscreen she’s got on.

He looks in the rearview. José is silent. It really is a gorgeous day.


Caro brings Tomás avocado toast and milky tea. He barely thanks her, which is fine. She’s proved herself to be a good mother who nourishes her son properly, which means she can now shut herself in her room. Tomás won’t miss her. Hundreds of pages of peace. Caro closes the bedroom door, then opens the windows, letting in the deliciously cool morning breeze. She could read, but she’s not in the mood. She’d rather lie on her back and stare at the ceiling.

Eduardo moves, which hurts her ribs. She can barely breathe. She feels completely invaded. She thinks Eduardo sounds too adult, so, secretly, she calls him Ed. Eduardo was his paternal grandfather. José never talked about his dad much, but the moment he saw the pregnancy test’s two bright lines, he asked Caro if this baby could be named Eduardo.

“What if it’s a girl?”

“If it’s a girl,” her husband told her, “you pick.”

Now Ed kicks her constantly. He won’t let her sleep. The kids are getting anxious, knowing he could be here any day.

Caro hauls herself to the bathroom and splashes water on her face, avoiding her reflection. She hasn’t wanted to see herself in months. Water runs down her cheek and neck, splashing her pajama shirt. She doesn’t care. The dampness is refreshing. She peeks into the living room: Tomás’s plate is empty, and steam no longer rises from his mug. She can’t tell if he drank the tea or not.

Without Sofía and José, the cabin is calm. Guiltily, Caro thinks how much she likes it this way. Right now, she means. She’s not in the mood to fuss over lunch, or over José. Cheering him up is exhausting. Smoothing his world out before he loses his temper at the kids. She stops him from badgering Tomás to go for a run or kick a soccer ball with him. Persuades him to let Sofía sing her princess songs for the hundredth out-of-key time. Nobody said he had to like her voice, but couldn’t he fake it? A bit?

In bed at night, Caro reminds José that the kids can sense his mood. When he’s anxious or mad, it affects them. José never says much in response, and Caro can feel Ed reacting to his dad’s silence. Even the unborn baby can see the problem. Even a blind person would.


“Sofi, sit down—slowly! From now on, you do exactly what I tell you. Okay?”

Jose tries to muster his best smile. Sofía grins back. She’s not saying okay, Daddy! but, on the bright side, she’s sitting down, Disney-princess backpack beside her. She hauls that backpack everywhere. He has no idea what it holds. Toys? Colored pencils? She never unzips it, but she always has it with her, like Linus and his blanket in Peanuts.

José sits in front of her. Mario takes the oars.

“No touching the water,” José says. “Not unless I say so. Understand?”

Sofi beams. It’s a hot day, sun beating down, but a soft breeze is blowing. José opens his tackle box. Instantly, Sofi reaches for the flies.

“Sofi!” he shouts. “Careful!” His smile is gone. “Watch out. These are sharp.”

She eyes the lures, unsettled. “I have to be careful with the ones with pretty feathers? And the colors? And the sparkly bugs? All of them are sharp?”

José produces a pink fly and shows it to her. Cautiously, she brushes her tiny finger over its feathers. “So soft.”

He brings his smile back. “Yes, very soft. I can make a soft one for you when we get home, if you want. One with no sharp part.”

Mario does not contribute to the conversation. He hasn’t been around kids for a long time. His own are adults now, living in Santiago, and summer people tend not to bring children on his boat, unless you count the odd zitty teen. The river is low, which worries him. He hopes the fishing is good. That should brighten the day. José is the type of client who brings his catch home to eat. Not like the gringo sport fishermen who expect to be sainted for tossing a trout back, as if the poor fish could live a full life with its jaw shredded. As if it were delighted to swallow a hook so a gringo could drag it from the water, take a picture, and throw it back, wounded, for another gringo to catch. José is a good client. Mario just hopes the little girl behaves herself, and manages not to cry if she’s bored.

He rows on.


Caro listens to music. Nothing cool. Giggly pop songs; weepy ballads. She started wearing headphones to avoid waking José, and now they make her feel strangely safe, as if the songs formed a protective shield.

Sometimes, in Santiago, she takes herself to the movies. A risky pastime, but she knows the danger she’s assuming. She knows some movies will remind her how easy, relatively speaking, she has it; how many families are more dysfunctional than hers. Others, though, refuse to let her forget how sad her situation has gotten. If Caro’s life, right now, were a movie, it would be one where the characters barely speak. A movie where the viewer knows every character is completely alone. Where not much happens, but, in the long, silent shots of people watching TV, sorrow pools till it’s deep enough to wade in. After watching a movie like that, Caro has to return to fashion magazines for a few days. Magazines never ask tricky questions. Their pages are safe terrain: beautiful women, frivolous things.

Caro takes her headphones off. She goes over to Tomás, whose eyes stay on his book. He still reads with his finger, which Caro finds sweet. “Tomi,” she says. “What do you feel like for lunch?”

She rarely asks, but today she’s in a generous mood. She’d even take him to a restaurant in town. Why not? She has the car, and José and Sofi won’t be back till the afternoon.

Tomás still hasn’t looked at her.

“We could go out. See if that new Argentine place in town is good. What do you think?”

Tomás sets his book on the table. She knows he’s not happy. If she wanted to be honest, she would admit that he hasn’t been happy. Not today; not on this trip.

After a while, he says, “Your call.”

“We could go to the lake. It’s so nice out.”

“Mom. You know I don’t like to swim.”

Caro sits beside her son, and he scoots away. Uncomfortable.


José whistles an old song while he waits for a bite. He’s been waiting a long time, testing different size and color flies. So far, Sofi has behaved like a queen. She’s been looking around quietly, all but hypnotized by the river and trees. Maybe the water soothes her. He, too, feels calmest by the ocean, or at the bottom of a pool.

Mario casts using his own flies. He’s had some bites, but hasn’t landed a fish. When the line jerks, Sofi tenses, stiffening in her seat. José suspects she’s been holding her breath. Her little nails are polished bright pink. Caro’s work, he assumes. He dislikes it. For some reason, he’s never liked painted nails.

José feels a tug underwater and rises. The fish on his hook is ready to fight. Mario offers help, but José says not to worry. He’s got it. He reels patiently, careful not to snap the line. He wants to land this fish for Sofi. Make her proud of her dad. Already, the fish is rising to the surface. A little one, not a keeper. If he pulls much harder, the hook will tear right through its jaw.

Sofi starts shrieking. José thinks she’s excited at first, but soon realizes she’s terrified. “You’re hurting him, Daddy!” she cries, standing to claw at his arm. Pink sequins pop from her shirt, landing at the bottom of the boat. “You’re hurting him!”

“Sofi, sit down,” José snaps. He tugs the line once more, and the little trout lands between them. Carefully, Mario scoops it up.

The fish’s mouth is torn. It flails wildly. Look, Daddy, you hurt him, put him back, let him go. Mario frees the hook, and the fish vaults from his hands, flopping frantically. Sofi shrieks even louder. Christ. Could she shut up?

But she’s out of control. Tears pour down her cheeks. Her face is scarlet with disappointment and rage.

She clings to her seat, terrified of touching the little trout as it turns and thrashes, beating itself against the bag that holds their tuna sandwiches, their carrot sticks, their perfect pair of apples.

María José Navia was born in Santiago, Chile in 1982. She holds an MA in Humanities & Social thought from NYU and a PhD in Spanish Literature and Cultural Studies from Georgetown and is now a professor in the Facultad de Letras at the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile. She is the author of the novels SANT and Kintsugi, as well as the story collections Instrucciones para ser felizLugar, and Una música futura. She was shortlisted for the 2022 Ribera del Duero Award for her unpublished collection Todo lo que aprendimos en las películas. 

Lily Meyer is a writer, translator, critic and PhD candidate at the University of Cincinnati. Her translations include Claudia Ulloa Donoso’s story collections Little Bird and Ice for Martians

Disappearing in Goethe House: Johann’s Sleep

No matter how long a journey is, and though it begins with eagerness and excitement, my heart aches the night before going back home for the narrow streets I had walked on for many days; the harmony of the unknown language, stores, coffees and restaurants, the rustle of women’s skirts sweeping the ground, the cheeping of children leaving school, and the murmur of cars. On the threshold of saying goodbye or farewell and still remembering the taste of food, I long to stay one more day despite homesickness. It doesn’t matter whether the journey is short or long because there is no such thing as a bad escape. Going back home means returning to reality, existing in the detached routine and work. Organizing and turning back to the writings, tidying the house, helping people, living… How sacred it is that time stops during a journey, and I spent it wandering through books in unknown languages. I was bestowed the pleasure of unhurriedly beholding the works of painters and sculptors of the region and the chance to rewrite stories. Soon to become tomorrow’s passenger, I think of all this all night.

The Letter in Abeyance

Staring at the ceiling of the room I rented in Frankfurt, I sought pretexts to stay. It would take a few minutes to change the ticket. I could talk to the landlady to let me stay one more night. Dive back into the magic of Heidelberg. One more morning walk. What about the next night? Other nights? Other cities? The broken wing of time was a passage to sleep for me.

In the morning, I put on my broad-brimmed hat and rolling my suitcase behind me, I rang the bell for Ingeborg. As she always did, she smiled and said, “Good morning.” She asked me whether I wanted a cup of coffee before leaving and handed me a piece of paper. “This came for you last night, but I didn’t want to wake you up.” I was surprised by the letter. It was an old-styled letter, sealed and written on parchment paper. But who wrote it? Why? Why a letter instead of email, phone call, or a text message? Moreover, it was sent to the house I temporarily stayed at. Even my family didn’t know the address! I grumbled in Turkish, how? Ingeborg asked whether I wanted milk. “No,” I said. “How did it come here?”

Lifting her eyebrows, she said a man with a triangular hat brought it. She thought it was from a friend living in Frankfurt or hereabouts.

With a knife, I scratched the seal and unfolded the letter. I tried reading the messy handwriting, but it was in vain. It was in German, so I needed Ingeborg’s help, and she was curiously looking from behind my shoulders. I was about to ask whether she could translate the letter when I glanced at the signature. It couldn’t be true; I must be hallucinating.

Ingeborg squinted and read out loud:

“Dear Fräulein,

I’ve been watching you pass by my house for days. I’ve been expecting you to lift your hat and smile at me or knock at the door, wondering why the house is here. But you walk in a hurry each time and don’t smile at me. I wistfully look at you. I know you will go back home tomorrow morning. Stay one more day for my sake and come here immediately. I need you.

Address: Großer Hirschgraben No: 23–25

Waiting wistfully,

Johann Goethe”

Ingeborg burst into laughter. She gave me the letter, sat down on the couch, and kept on laughing.

“It’s not that funny, I guess,” I murmured.

She wiped her tears and said, “Someone is making fun of you, Fräulein!” I stood up, took the letter, and approached the door with my suitcase.

“No, Frau Ingeborg,” I shouted as I went down the stairs. “No one is making fun of anyone; it is just an overdue letter! Tschüss!”

I hurriedly walked towards the main street, hailed a taxi, and whispered Goethe House to the driver who I thought was probably a Turk.

It is the Call of Johann

I could see his silhouette standing behind the curtain. I bowed my hat and smiled; the silhouette backed away. I paid the entrance fee to the house that was a museum and left my suitcase at the entrance. I passed by the entrance paved with new stones and stopped before the majestic old wooden door at the end of the hall where floor tiles were worn out.

Which Johann was waiting for me? Which Goethe called for me? Was it the brokenhearted young man who left Lotte and went back to Frankfurt or the genius who finally finished Faust with an aching heart and gray hair? I lifted the lock and pushed open the door. I first saw the hand holding the handrail at the top of the wide, curved stairs on the left. I heard the rattles. Watching him come down the stairs, one by one, took my breath away. The dim light from the wide saloon behind the stairs illuminated his body. The embossed embroidery and brocaded edges of his jacket reaching his knees shined. Above the jabot of his shirt, partly hanging down from the tight pants, his neck was white. The light fell upon his sharp jaw. I saw his thin but characteristic lips, shapely nose, blazing eyes, and pure white forehead. He tied his brown hair back with a black ribbon. The curls over his ears were vivid. At the last step, he took his hand away from the handrail and reached it out towards me.

“I’m glad you accepted my invitation, Fräulein.”

His cheeks were burning as if he had gotten out of a lake after long hours of riding. They were burning with excitement, passion, and, mostly, youthfulness. Perhaps like shortly before writing Werther or at the exact moment of writing it. He was in front of me. Young Johann Goethe!

He held my hand and brought it to his lips. After saying how he was afraid I would leave the city without receiving the letter, he pulled me close to him, as if he were embracing a friend he hadn’t seen for centuries. We stood before the console with a giant mirror, at the saloon. He seemed to be wondering why the traveler who went to cities of many authors didn’t come to his house, I intuited. I smiled at his reflection. “Herr Goethe,” I said. “Perhaps I was startled by your notoriety on libertinism. Or I was not ready to resist The Sorrows of Young Johann. Or I might be afraid of meeting Mephistopheles. Do not ask.”

He held my chin, turned me towards himself. “Even the greatest blessings perish on earth, but only the impression we make through our thoughts beyond the time is there, it stays in eternity. Now stay here and share my loneliness of centuries in the rooms of this empty house.”[1]

What were my options? Going back to the ones who expect me, or living a carefree life? I asked him to tell the servant to bring in my suitcase.

The Days in Goethe House

It was only us in the great triplex house. He wanted me to stay in the lit room facing the street. The furniture in the room was only a bed with a brass headboard, a small table, and a dressing mirror. It was enough. In the writing room, where the floors squeaked as we sat down with candles and oil lamps at night, he told me to select a book I liked from the library. Regardless of the language of the book, he translated and read me incredible stories. We talked about Central Asia, the history of prophets, and, mostly, the forests. He insisted on going to the Black Forest together: “Let us go and surrender ourselves to the soil, hear the insects. Let us collect plants and put them inside our notebooks. Let us drink more and ride horses along the Main River.”

The days passed quickly. I forgot about my life in my country, abandoning myself to the smooth, idle rhythm of the house, the small garden, and the expansive yard. I felt spoiled when I touched the soft Persian carpets with my bare feet in the room where we studied early in the mornings. I wandered about in the libraries with a tattered chemise I found in a closet. I watched Johann from behind his shoulder as he wrote sonnets. “Must it ever be thus, that the source of our happiness must also be the fountain of our misery?” I feared losing my ghost, my Johann, and willed myself to refuse that moment when it would be time to go home. Thinking about all the women admiring Johann, I suppressed not to disguise myself as an infatuated woman turned into huge boils on my skin.

In the morning after a night he had drunk so much and fallen asleep, I read a passage I found while tidying up the papers on his desk. “The full and ardent sentiment which animated my heart with the love of nature, overwhelming me with a torrent of delight, and which brought all paradise before me, has now become an insupportable torment, a demon which perpetually pursues and harasses me. When in bygone days I gazed from these rocks upon yonder mountains across the river, and upon the green, flowery valley before me, and saw all nature budding and bursting around; the hills clothed from foot to peak with tall, thick forest trees; the valleys in all their varied windings, shaded with the loveliest woods; and the soft river gliding along amongst the lisping reeds, mirroring the beautiful clouds which the soft evening breeze wafted across the sky, — when I heard the groves about me melodious with the music of birds, and saw the million swarms of insects dancing in the last golden beams of the sun, whose setting rays awoke the humming beetles from their grassy beds, whilst the subdued tumult around directed my attention to the ground, and I there observed the arid rock compelled to yield nutriment to the dry moss, whilst the heath flourished upon the barren sands below me, all this displayed to me the inner warmth which animates all nature, and filled and glowed within my heart. I felt myself exalted by this overflowing fullness to the perception of the Godhead, and the glorious forms of an infinite universe became visible to my soul! … It is as if a curtain had been drawn from before my eyes, and, instead of prospects of eternal life, the abyss of an ever open grave yawned before me. Can we say of anything that it exists when all passes away?”[2]

I folded the paper and put it in my brassiere. I went to the backyard and waited for the cold to sober me up.

Goethe House… The poet’s house was behind the old well before me. It was the eternal grave of my ghost and my temporary residence. The place where the great author put his head on the pillow and said to his wife Charlotte von Stein, “I own two Gods only: you and the god of sleep. You heal everything in me which was capable of healing and drive out the evil spirits.”[3] It was the first time I really looked at the house: his magical energy ever present. I passed by the well and entered the house. I stopped in the hall where I first saw him. I looked at the yellow- and blue-painted saloons and the kitchen to the right.

I wandered the blue saloon where Johann wrote Götz of the Iron Hand on the round dining table. They were there: his father Caspar, his mother, and his sister and only confidant) Cornelia.

The lace pillows were made by his mother, and the rococo objects in the showcase were bought from the best manufacturers of the time. The yellow saloon, or the Weimar Saloon, was where his mother stored everything she bought in Weimar. The kitchen to the right was filled with cake molds, cauldrons, and pots. A cook and two servant girls worked in the kitchen. Calluna bundles were hung on the window facing the backyard. A pump brought cold water to the dining table from the well in the cellar. A big oven, where everything was cooked, warmed the entrance. The lanterns on the kitchen cabinet were lit to welcome the gentlemen home at night.

I felt as if everyone who ever passed through the house touched my skin. I trembled. I began climbing the stairs that made up nearly one third of the house. I touched the curved wrought-iron handrails, then the letters JCG and CEG carved on them—the first letters of Johann’s mother and father.

At the top of the stairs, the clothes of the family hung in closets resembling a big ghost The clothes were many because only three days a year were laundry days in Goethe House. Perhaps Johann’s love of Italy arose from the copper Rome engravings on the walls behind the closets. His father Caspar Goethe made them in 1740. They often drank and had parties, meetings in the Red Saloon because of its Chinese wallpaper. During the Seven Years War, the lieutenant of the king of France, Thoranc, stayed in this saloon, although Caspar Goethe, who supported Prussia, was not pleased with this. Still, a portrait of Thoranc greets people in the next room. The Goethe family was keen on music: father Caspar Goethe played oud, Johann played cello, and Cornelia played piano. Johann’s mother accompanied them by singing. An oil painting above the red clavichord drew a bittersweet portrait of the family. The Goethe family smiles at the peaceful scenery in the painting made by Johann Corvad Seekatz. Five babies are behind them‑they symbolized the five siblings who died at an early age.

I climbed to the second floor and entered the room where Johann was said to be born. Near the window, the Frankfurter Frag newspaper was framed with the issue from 29th of August in 1749, the date of his baptism. The next room was his mother’s, filled with small porcelain objects. The walls were covered in various paintings in gold frames. This room led to the library. The foundation of the library was laid when Johann’s father created a treasure of 2,000 volumes for him because he liked reading at home—that’s how Johann learned about the stories of Dr. Faust.

Third floor welcomed people with another waiting room. One of the rooms on the floor housed a puppet theater where Johann prepared shadow plays and created miniature worlds. The puppet theater was a gift to the family and became famous through its depiction in Johann’s The Theatrical Mission of Wilhelm Meister. Beyond the theater room was the poet’s room—where there was an eternal dominance by paper and ink! Poems, dramas, satires, musical plays. Young Werther! The walls were decorated with drawings, the images of his Lotte, and a portrait of Cornelia. What was on his mind while drawing, figuring all his characters? He spoke with them and created an ink community out of silhouettes. He slept on a small couch, brought in from the waiting room, when he was tired.

Looking at the Poet from a Distance

I glanced at the sleeping poet whose head slightly fell over his arm on the couch. It was like he aged within a few days. His slightly open mouth was growling. I contemplated on his life once again. His journey to Italy, the frustration of the love in Italy, the deadlock of his love for Charlotte von Stein, the failure of achieving social reforms according to the principles of Enlightenment at Weimar Princedom.

But I was with young Johann. There was something that comforted me in his steady breath which calmly welcomed the wrinkles on his face. Young Goethe… Goethe, who clearly revealed the social obstacles before self-improvement through his complicated thoughts about the contradiction between personality and society, saw feudal stratification as obstacle to self-improvement and sharply criticized the social order of his time—with the help of satire.

I thought about what George Lukacs said of Werther. “Young Werther is considered a love story…Is that correct? Yes. Werther is one of the greatest love stories in world literature. But like every really great poetic expression of erotic tragedy Werther provides much more than a mere tragedy of love. Werther’s tragedy of love is a tragic explosion of all those passions. Young Goethe succeeded in introducing organically into this love-conflict all the great problems of the struggle for the development of personality.”[4] The wave of admiration after publishing Werther prevented Caspar Goethe from seeing his son merely as a lawyer, and he accepted him as an author (it was not a surprise, then, that Johann’s most productive period began after Werther).

After coming to Weimar in 1775, Goethe dealt with politics and became the special mentor of the Duke. The Duke continued working on the interpretation of the Quran, with which he first met in 1771, and he was the first man of literature to show a positive approach to Islam in Germany.

Resisting aristocracy, Goethe’s ethics in the council of ministers were evaluated in a different way by the literati. Some authors describe Goethe as a reformist politician who struggled to free the peasantry from oppressive and heavy taxes. Others describe Goethe as being supportive of children’s mandatory entry into the army of Prussia and precautions regarding the limitation of freedom of speech. Goethe is described as voting for the death sentence of a mother who killed her baby out of desperation and then—in contrast with his beliefs—he treated his merciful behavior in Gretchen’s Tragedy (however, there is no information available about whether it was his personal opinion or if he surrendered to the majority opinion).

He was tired of his relationship with Stein. He had adventures in his journey to Italy, became famous with his libertinism, fell in love with Christiane Vilpius, and struggled to have society accept “the little vamp” by marrying her. He was the tired poet. He invited unrest after his death by writing. Though he was forgotten for a while, he was declared as the greatest author of Germany. His bones may be lost beneath the soil, but what about his soul?

His soul, which couldn’t leave the house he spent his life and wrote Werther in, insisted on staying away from the moment of death every day. He was with me. Sleeping.

The Sleep of Goethe

I had to leave him as is because I got lost in the tremble of lips and his eyes that saw gondolas passing by misty canals and experienced the magic of the theatres in Venice. I was not afraid of becoming a ghost, becoming a visitor living out of a suitcase in the huge house, being gossiped about by the servants in the kitchen, or the possibility of Johann’s family to come. I was neither afraid of the possibility of Lotte, Stein, nor Vilpius. Rather, I had to leave because I had escaped from the arms of literature.

Being unable to leave the stories and tales I heard in various languages every new day, enjoying the traces of history in each room of this house, becoming addicted to climbing down the stairs within the arms of Johann as we danced, loving the man who vividly told me of the East, being unable to shorten the bridles of the horse I would ride towards Black Forest with him… Were these fears? By degrading the affinity through his words, sentences and narrations, did I try to escape from his magic, his great character and his heart, yearning for nature like mine? Why did I want to run away from Goethe House instead of having inspiration and writing everything in detail when I went back home?

Because I knew what he wrote, I ran away from it.

“Why dost thou waken me, O spring? Thy voice woos me, exclaiming, I refresh thee with heavenly dews; but the time of my decay is approaching, the storm is nigh that shall whither my leaves. Tomorrow the traveller shall come, he shall come, who beheld me in beauty: his eye shall seek me in the field around, but he shall not find me.”[5]

He moved, put his arm below his head. The pink light of the fading day reflected on his brown hair from between the curtains. I approached, quietly pulled the black ribbon on his hair and tied it around my neck. I caressed the forelocks on his cheek with my fingers. He grumbled, but he didn’t wake up. I wanted Goethe’s sleep to remain in this moment. It was illuminated and bright.

I took off the chemise, folded it and left it on the working table. I left the house as I had entered it, to go back home, with my small suitcase rolling behind me.


[1] Goethe Diyor Ki – Doğu Batı Publishing

[2] The Sorrows of Young Werther – J.W. von Goethe (Translated by R.D. Boylan)

[3] Goethe Diyor Ki – Doğu Batı Publishing

[4] Goethe and His Age, George Lukacs, Merlin Press, 1968.

[5] The Sorrows of Young Werther – J.W. von Goethe (Translated by R.D. Boylan)

Photo at the top of the page: “Goethes Gartenhaus” by Tobi NDH is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.