From My Life: Poetry and Truth - Book 1, pages 67-72

I did not need to drink it because I had been fully refreshed by the fruit. — "Now we shall play," she said as she led me to the other room. There were so many costly and fine items within that it looked like the market at Christmas time, but one had never seen anything this fine in a booth. Dolls abounded with doll clothes and doll furnishings; kitchens, livingrooms, stalls and individual toys in untold numbers. She led me to the glass cases, which preserved the artistic pieces. She closed the first case quickly and said, "This one isn't for you. I know that now, but look here. We could find some building materials and assemble walls and towers, houses, palaces, and churches to build a city, however that wouldn't interest me very much. Let's find something different that can entertain us both." — She brought out a few chests in which I saw layers of tiny warriors piled atop one another. I immediately recognized that I had never seen anything as beautiful before in my life. She didn't give me any time to examine each one individually but rather took a chest full of them under her arm while I took another. "We'll go over to the golden bridge," she said. "That's the best place to play with the soldiers. The spears give just the right direction for setting up the opposing armies." We reached the golden, transforming structure. I could hear the water rushing and the fish scooting about. I knelt down to set up my lines. They were all cavalrymen such as I had never seen before. She proudly placed the Queen of the Amazons * at the front of her female army. I had Achilles and very substantial Greek cavalrymen. The armies stood opposite one another. A person

never saw a lovelier sight. These weren't just flat lead cavalrymen like ours but round and firm men and horses finely sculpted. One would hardly believe how heavy they were. They stood up by themselves without supporting bases.

After we had examined each other's armies with great satisfaction, she explained to me the battle plan. We also had armaments in our chests. There were boxes full of small, polished marbles. At a certain distance we would face each other in battle but under no condition were we to toss our marbles any harder than necessary to knock over the figures. They were not to be damaged. Each took a turn launching a cannonball and for a while this made us both happy. However my opponent remarked that I had better aim than she and since the final victory depended upon who still had a majority standing, she went a little closer so she had an advantage to compensate for her girlish throw. She then bowled down many of my best troops and the more I protested the harder she threw. I eventually became annoyed and told her I would do the same. I drew closer to her lines and angrily tossed the marble with greater force. It wasn't long before two of her Amazon figures broke to pieces. In the heat of battle she didn't notice at first but I stood stone still as the broken pieces reassembled themselves. Amazon and horse were whole once again and now fully alive. They galloped from the golden bridge to the lime trees, careened back and forth until they reached the wall

and disappeared, but I don't know how. Once my beautiful opponent became aware of this she let out a loud cry and yelled that I had caused her greater damage than could be explained. However I was still angry and I was pleased to have distressed her. I launched a pair of my few remaining marbles directly at her army. Unfortunately I hit her queen, which until now had been excluded from our battles. She smashed to pieces along with the adjutants closest to her. They too reassembled and rode off like the first pieces, quickly galloping under the lime trees then disappearing near the wall.

My opponent scolded and insulted me as I bent over to pick up a few marbles, which had rolled over to the golden spears. In my anger I wanted to destroy her entire army. She quickly sprang at me and slapped me in the ear, which made my head buzz. I had always heard that one should respond to an ear slap from a girl by brusquely kissing her. I grabbed her by the ears and kissed her several times. She let out such a piercing scream that I was horrified. I let her go, which was lucky for me because in the next moment I'm not sure what happened. The earth began to shake beneath me. I noticed that the fence was in motion. I hadn't had time to recover myself or get to my feet so I could run. I was afraid the spears would run through me. The pikes and lances had already torn my clothes to shreds. I wasn't sure what to do,

there were so many mind-numbing sights and sounds. The fence jerked up and threw me against the foot of a lime tree. As I regained my senses my anger grew because my opponent jeered and laughed at me. Her landing on the other side had been much softer than mine. I got up and noticed that my army along with its leader, Achilles, surrounded me. The pieces had also been thrown up by the moving fence. I grabbed the leader and threw him against a tree. His reassembly and flight gave me twice the pleasure because the joy taken in another's misfortune is the most civilized feature of this world. I was tempted to send all the other Greeks after him but then the water sloshed forth from all sides from the stones and the wall, from the ground and the branches and as I turned the water lashed out at me. My light clothing, already torn to shreds, were now completely soaked. I didn't hesitate in taking them all off, throwing away my shoes and every other layer. The day was warm and I was happy to feel the water spraying over me. Totally naked, I gravitated towards the welcoming waters and found contentment. My anger cooled and I wanted nothing more than to seek reconciliation with my opponent. A while later the water stopped and I stood dripping on the soaked ground. The presence of the old man, which I hadn't noticed before, was not a welcome sight.

If I couldn't hide myself, I at least wanted to find some cover. The shame, the chills and the effort I took to cover myself made me a pitiful sight. The old man took the moment to reprimand me most soundly. "What prevents me," he scolded, "from sinching one of those green cords around your middle or even your neck?" I was irritated by this threat. "Be careful what you say and what you think," I responded, "otherwise you and your mistresses are lost!" — "And who are you to speak to me so?" he asked defiantly. — "I am a darling of the gods," I countered, "and it's up to me whether these ladies find worthy husbands and live happy lives or grow old pining away in this magic cloister." — The old man took a few steps back. "Who revealed this to you?" he hesitantly asked in astonishment.— "Three apples, three jewels," I said. — "And what do you want as a reward?" he asked. — "Above all else, the little creature who put me in this deplorable situation," I replied. — The old man threw himself to my feet despite the damp and muddy ground. Then he stood up without wiping himself off, amicably took me by the hand and led me to a room where I quickly dressed. Soon I was cleaned and combed and back in my Sunday clothing. The gatekeeper did not say another word but before he led me across the threshold he grasped me and directed my attention to a few objects on the wall over the path while at the same time pointing backwards to the gate. I understood what he intended to show me. I could use the objects to find my way back to the gateway, which

I hadn't noticed had been closed behind me. I marked it all well. Above a high wall hung the boughs of ancient nut trees, which covered a portion of the cornice. The branches extended to a stone tablet with a decorated border I recognized but I was not able to see the inscription. It rested in the corbel in a niche which held a artfully crafted fountain. Row upon row of bowls directed the water into a large basin resembling a small pond, which disappeared into the earth. Fountain, inscription, nut trees - all perpendicular to eachother. I mentally painted a picture of what I saw.

One may well understand how I spent this and the following evenings retelling the story, which I could scarcely believe, to myself. Whenever it was possible I returned to the slimey wall to refresh my memory of the markers and to look at the beautiful gate, however to my astonishment everything had changed. Nut trees still hung over the walls but they no longer stood in close proximity to each other. There was still a tablet, but it was far to the right of the trees, without a border and with legible inscription. The niche with the fountain was now to the left and it didn't resemble the one I had previously seen. I soon believed that my second adventure had been as much of a dream as the first. There was absolutely no sign of the gate. My only consolation was the observation that these three objects seemed to change location consistently. On repeated visits I seemed to notice that the nut trees sometimes drew together and the tablet and fountain seemed closer together than before.

Go to pages 73-78

Text provided by the Lockwood Library, State University of New York at Buffalo.
Imaging and translation by Susan Kriegbaum-Hanks