Counting People

I’d met John at my friend’s place a year earlier; then I started seeing him at the library. He is at the library almost every day. When our friendship started, I’d just found a book about Norbert Weiner in the Business, Science and Industry section, I left the second level to find the book called Cybernetics when John had set up a game of chess. We always say hello. I said hello and went back to the computerized card catalog. He asked if I wanted to play chess after I’d turned away from the computer.

We played two games every day for about two weeks. A person can use chess as a lens.

In the first chess days, the goal was to somehow move. This was not easy; I’d get headaches from holding my breath. I was not used to spending time in public with people. Everybody’s got some hang up and this may be mine: going outside and being with people.

In chess, obviously, the player moves towards the action in the middle of the board. Towards the battle; probably I am defensive though lately have not bothered, defending. Living between states of perception: machine or animal, bug or bear, so to speak. These are the things on my mind. To somehow make myself over from a cone of light or travel in an equation. I was and still am living in my imagination. My spirit exists in my imagination, primarily, and also sometimes in physical senses. I think spirit is one’s will to love things and the force behind your choices.

I think about chess every day in a transposed way. I have my own magnetic set. I hope to play again on Saturday and Sunday rain or shine. In playing chess, a person confronts their own mind in the form of their strategy. Are you more likely to attack or defend? Are your captures/attacks to clear space, exchange, or take a move away from the other player? I am a beginner so my assessments are facile. What I read on Monday about lines of power: realize the lines of power; see across the board. I will speak no more of technicalities.

I’ve often read about the importance of having a plan. “Have a Plan!”, they say, “Even a BAD PLAN is Better than no Plan at all.” My day’s are made usually in the form of lists. My goals are big (in my opinion): they involve spectacle and text. Goals are not plans, though. And there is the business of taking care of oneself: being functional. I had to get a job again.

I took the Census test in February. I was hired in April. Census training takes place in a church basement which is cold and damp. We get fingerprinted and sign an oath.

The challenges were: sitting still, not getting overwhelmed by the loudness and smell of it all. The basement seemed to amplify everyone’s voice. I had headaches all through training: the table clothes had a petroleum smell; there was not enough ventilation.

The US Census began in 1790, it’s purpose is to count the people of each region so that a proportional number of Representatives can stand up for their interests in Congress. People’s participation provides the statistics that will bring services to their neighborhoods. If a neighborhood is under-enumerated, they may not get the funding for important services for their community: Health Centers, street maintenance, etc.

In the process of doing this job I have been meeting my neighbors. So far, everyone seems okay. They care for their house, their family, friends and endeavors. I see how we are similar.

Being an Enumerator

One learns to follow the script; to not take liberties with the questionnaire.

Put the power in the lines.

Concentrate on reading the questionnaire believably to people.

To avoid being robotic, modulate the voice: tone, rhythm, and emphasis.

Create a feedback loop with oneself.

When not delivering lines, be attentive to the respondent.

The strategy is to be really attentive.

The goal is to count people.

Ish Klein‘s book, Union!, came out April 2009 through the Canarium Press. Her next book, For the New Manchurians, will come out from the Canarium Press in 2011. Her poems have been published in The Canary, Gare du Nord, The Hat, Make Magazine, Tammy, Satellite Telephone, and Lungfull! among others and are upcoming in The Recluse, Lo-Ball and hopefully some other magazines. See the videos:
She makes movies and lives in Philadelphia.

On Daydreamers from A Filmmaker’s Handbook

I woke up this morning with the sense of yesterday,
that while I slept something had happened, set course.
Something unknown to me had begun to move. It will
affect me greatly. Something that in time will reveal itself,
with great anticipation I fell back asleep to uncover the event.
I dreamt of rooms and furniture, many and for the first time.
Something is on its way. The actress walks into the kitchen,
puts the kettle on and stops to look out the window. Absorbed
in the sounds from her neighbor’s kitchen, she stands watch.
Where does she go? The kettle whistles. She enters three rooms
for the first time. I enjoy characters that sense things that can not
be proven. For the reason that they see more, a hyper sensitivity
to their surroundings or that they believe this, whether true or not,
creates questions and dimensions to the character that can be
accessed, played and explored by the actor in a plethora of ways.
It creates surprises for the film and for us living near the film.

Stefania Irene Marthakis received her BA in Poetry & Theater from Columbia College Chicago and her MFA in Poetry & Poetics from Naropa University. From 2005-2007, she interned at The Poetry Project in NYC. Some of her poems can be found in Columbia Poetry Review, New American Writing, Bombay Gin and The Recluse.

On Music in Film from A Filmmaker’s Handbook

No other art form is as closely related to memory as music
is for me. Music is heard, the new sound is played over and over.
It collects all that is going on at the time. Years later when heard,
it brings along the memory that was recorded. The sense of the
memory is so strong that I have to stop and exist fully in the other
time, let it play out before I can return. I like music to exist as
a character in a film. The actor acknowledges the sound, brings it
into the story. She walks to the counter. Dreamin’ Man is playing.
She sings along as she hands the money to the waitress. Or she pays,
leaves the diner, later we see her in a bookstore singing “I’m a dreamin’
man. Yes, that’s my problem.” Another character overhears and speaks.

I also like music to exist as setting. The music is not acknowledged
by the characters but by the landscape. The music is picked for the
apple orchard, the 1950s Formica kitchen table or for the lamp’s low
light hitting the tools in the garage. For the shadows they cast,
music is played so that they might tell their story.

Stefania Irene Marthakis received her BA in Poetry & Theater from Columbia College Chicago and her MFA in Poetry & Poetics from Naropa University. From 2005-2007, she interned at The Poetry Project in NYC. Some of her poems can be found in Columbia Poetry Review, New American Writing, Bombay Gin and The Recluse.

On Truth from A Filmmaker’s Handbook

The point in film where there is no eraser, an action, something occurs and everything after a result of the moment, the severity of a choice, right after frightens and interests me. Not the moment of the murder, of the birth, the affair or the telling of it. The right after as you watch it reach the muscles of the face. Called the irreversible, inescapable or unforgettable. The point that demands, that demands more choices, courses of action. Which course? Time moves quicker now, the weight of things increases. What I want to film: the movement after the accident; the secret told or realized, whether a welcomed or negative surprise. A witness to that moment…well, that stands out to me.

Stefania Irene Marthakis received her BA in Poetry & Theater from Columbia College Chicago and my MFA in Poetry & Poetics from Naropa University. From 2005-2007, she interned at The Poetry Project in NYC. Some of her poems can be found in Columbia Poetry Review, New American Writing, Bombay Gin and The Recluse.

On Time Travel from A Filmmaker’s Handbook

So if tried and trusted are drunk in the corner of the bar and I take off my babushka and walk outside. Ride the donkey to pick the lemons and olives with my father in Kiveri, when I come back, since honey keeps, have you rearranged the tracks? Would you sing me a new version of a song from the 40s about being true? I would talk about time-travel with toasted bread and messy hair. How would I film, how would a character enter the flashback of her great-grandmother? Maybe I would start with sound, a sound that one can smell. I like the sound of dishes and cutlery when they come into contact with each other or other things like wood or tile. It makes me think that there is a family nearby and a crowded kitchen scene comes in. The lighting and small gestures come next.

Stefania Irene Marthakis received her BA in Poetry & Theater from Columbia College Chicago and my MFA in Poetry & Poetics from Naropa University. From 2005-2007, she interned at The Poetry Project in NYC. Some of her poems can be found in Columbia Poetry Review, New American Writing, Bombay Gin and The Recluse.

A Thousand Pink Arrows to the Wrist


Everything past this chokes on a spoon: Walter and Mary touched each other.

“Where are you?” asked Mary. There is a feather bed she wants.

Every week is more or less the same: Mary assumes a new regional dialect, buys a pie and puts flour on her cheeks to pretend she made said pie for Walter. Mary diets on pineapple and cottage cheese, finds some new object to covet. This week, a feather bed. (The same feather bed Rita Hayward sleeps on.) Next week, Mary will want something less tangible—something akin to the very things she might already have if she bothered to look in Walter’s ear or at the way he often rubs the space between her forefinger and thumb; a space that hadn’t felt anything before he noticed it.

That is to say, there’s a lot Mary doesn’t notice.


Walter folds his glasses and puts them into his pocket. After reading a book about vision, Walter decided it mattered more what you think you see than what you see. Without his glasses, Walter thinks he sees halos and is certain that is more desirable than living in a world where you see just what is in front of you and nothing more.

His glasses don’t have lenses, but there is something about the frame on his nose and the practice of folding and unfolding wire to read the paper, a menu, a woman’s face; there is something about looking at a child from behind spectacles that makes Walter feel comfortable knowing he is watching everything pass him or he is passing everything by getting older and slower.

“You’ll want a new bed next week. You’ll suddenly take up bowling and want no bed at all, an alley in the house.”

The glasses feel good in his breast pocket and he taps his chest twice. He remembers, in the vision book, learning that humans have underdeveloped eyes. And, for more than a moment, he wishes he was a lizard, a bird, something with a moveable lid to purify the stain he sees when he looks at Mary.

He isn’t sure if it is a stain. Maybe it is a different kind of halo.

Maybe it’s disappointment. Walter remembers Mary when she didn’t want anything at all—when she only wanted to wear his flannel shirts, to acquire the scent of him and feel small in all of his things.


“Are you available to look at the bed tonight?” She isn’t looking at him so she doesn’t see him looking at her. She is looking at her wrist, which has a brown spot. This is new, she thinks. This is like what her mother said about Irish women: they show their age in the hands first. At that moment she wants to cut into the brown spot and pull it out in full. She imagines it is attached to some root and, if she can just get that root out of her she will stop watching everything change.

Walter considers not responding, but he cant stop looking at Mary. He wants to tell her it’s going to snow and they should consider staying in for the night, sharing something warm. “No.”


“What are you doing?” She folds her hands and pretends civility. She folds her hands and imagines a new quilt for her new bed; maybe new diningware to match her new quilt.

Mary doesn’t even like the idea of purchasing a new bed, but she likes the idea of needing something. She likes the idea of uncoupling the house: the matching candlesticks, the stove and the fridge, the mugs whose handles all face the same way. She likes the idea of standing before a completely uncoupled house in the woolliness of August and becoming the bridewell to all objects in the house.

Of course, Mary is not thinking any of this. At least, she is not knowingly thinking any of this. Instead, Mary is layering sweater on top of sweater to build an austere sincerity. She looks at Walter with a look that is so hybrid a sentiment nobody can be stirred to thinking Mary is feeling one way or the other way about Walter, the feather bed, or her expired egg yolks.

“The usual thing. Standing in line. Sitting with a newspaper. Buttoning and unbuttoning my coat.” Finally, Walter looks away from her. There’s a stray cat in the yard and this makes him remember that he wanted a whole fact and it is always half fact.


It is strange to begin and we have to begin telling the story somewhere because Mary and Walter are really real, and at least one of them is really desiring featherbeds and truths.

There is so much time spent not speaking—Walter is quiet in front of TV and Mary is quiet when she is talking for the sake of talking to her friend Irene, her cousin Babs. It is quiet because they live in Buffalo and, everyone knows, there is a silence so deep in the rust belt, so deep and so unable to come to terms with a history still beautiful only in the architecture of the place.

There is snow. There is a lake. There is nostalgia that keeps people’s toes curled into their feet.

If Walter and Mary say something, that something is said and it might be repeated. If they say something, it is always unrecorded. More often, they are thinking of saying something they’ve never been able to say. No sooner than the thought is born, the thought becomes more impossible to say.

The combination of s and h gets mixed with c and h. And pain is never easy to say completely.


A boy down the street, who later becomes the boy Mary’s first child is named after, uses the word “unawares.” Almost everything is plural when he says it. Mary is not sure she recalls a time of singularity, but when she thinks about it logically, there is only one butcher in town, one tailor, and one baker who is worth any flour.

There might be one of her at times.

She is never with Walter in bed anymore. She is at the vanity chair, watching her hands brown.


In the earliest hour, Walter is calling her apple cheeks.

He asks Mary questions he expects her to say yes to:                                                      
                 “Do you think it will rain today?”
                 “Do you want me to bring home a baguette?”
                 “Do you believe you’ll have time to get a breath?”
                 “Do you wonder if I really do love you?”


At the same time, Mary is having a daydream about Joan.

Joan is the animal whose skin is used for fashion or furniture; the animal who, with a good deal of quaintness, decays at the end of October after a fever that was almost like a romance. Mary has never met Joan, but her sheep’s skin coat makes a noise that sounds like Joan’s voice and, suddenly, there is a desire to clean the table.

“Can I clear this?” Mary asks, but she has already taken the tea kettle and the open book Walter wanted to read but never started reading.

                 (Nothing can make desire a true thing.)


There is a child in Mary’s stomach: an unreal pining. A tight shadow put to the needle in her dull home. At least, the child fantasizes about a needle and has tried to suck her own eyeballs out, which is physically impossible. At this stage,the child is the same as a pig fetus.

Later, the child will act like a trout.

                 The way out of this world is to have a mother,   
                 a moment to say what you need. Mary needs
                 breakfast, but she’ll drop two laxatives instead.

“Oh, Olivia,” she says on the phone, “I’ve added a pencil and powder. It takes just a few minutes. You see, we are round inside and experiencing higher in volume calls.”


Walter and Mary share a bird, but only Walter is strong enough to wring its neck.

When Walter imagines being a father, he remembers the accident of an icicle to his eye. The other accident: a snake in his sleeping bag in Germany. And even one more: loving someone who was not Mary on top of a hundred pillows:

In a hat box, not-Mary keeps pocket knives, pocket mirrors, and pictures of Walter. He is very handsome in pictures. Not-Mary cuts inside herself to see what it was that made him leave her next to sheep.

“Is my voice so out of tune? Was there a meteor I called a star? Did I slip on ice and tear my meniscus?” She incessantly lists questions and it is painful to be around not-Mary or to look at any part of her. Even her wrist is physically less so.

The chickens are bound to her, the sheep left after feeling not-Mary’s nothingness and her eyes on him.

At the moment, the only thing inside of her is a hermaphrodite; a pretty brunette with a jaundiced eye. It might be considered lucky that nobody knows this is inside of her and nobody ever will.

“I can stretch on the couch, sleep sideways in the bed, and turn in the kitchen without worrying someone will be there. But sometimes, with the knife and the cauliflower, I want to turn a tight corner and mistakenly gash Walter in the face.”


Secretly, Walter keeps a groan in the china cabinet. His groin remembers not-Mary. The doctor says, “Just take two aspirins.” In addition to the aspirin, he takes bourbon. Walter tells the doctor, reminds his liver, “There is too much fondness.”

He pinches Mary’s stomach because there is nothing round on him.

Kristen Orser is the author of Folded Into Your Midwestern Thunderstorm (Greying Ghost Press); Winter, Another Wall (blossombones, 2008); Fall Awake (Taiga Press, 2008); Squint (Dancing Girl Press, 2009); and E AT I, illustrated by James Thomas Stevens (Wyrd Tree Press, 2009). She is certain about being uncertain and she might forget to return your phone calls.