Iowa Review

After the Fact: Scripts & Postscripts, #37–42

After the Workshop

Mr. Vonnegut, a woman said before the last workshop, I've never seen a dead body. The novelist replied, Just wait. Meanwhile the janitor, an economist by training, vacuumed the stairwell in the parking garage, cursing the dry wind coming off the mountain, thick with dust and the voices of the missionaries lost on a star-crossed expedition—three old men who could not keep up with the reconnaissance team sent out at dusk to guide the planes dropping humanitarian supplies behind enemy lines; their prayers reminded the janitor of the equations corrected by his thesis director, which were in fact connected to the laws of supply and demand. Try again, the professor advised—words the janitor repeated as he emptied the vacuum cleaner. There was nothing more to say about the story of the lost mission—the woman realized that, yes, it was only a sketch, an idea to be developed, perhaps, in another medium—and so the novelist dismissed the class. The students made their way outside in time to see the funeral cortege of a soldier killed by friendly fire begin to circle the block. A trumpet blew, the crowd emerging from the church surged toward the riot police at the entrance to the park, and over the base of the monument to the unknown a priest poured from a silver bowl the blood of the lambs. Just wait, he said.

Luxury of Circumstance

He began to believe he might not have been present when the revolutionary army came down from the mountains to occupy the island capital, since the age of naiveté was by now so far past that his saying he knew nothing of the situation when he went there for the erotic exoticism for which youth pines now seemed like fictive music for an imagined life. In those times, a revolution lived in difficult terrain, launching forays into the cities only to confirm the desperation of the populace. Victorious rebellions, whether velvet or sandpaper in character, were but seeds in the soil of mass graves of dissenters. The arts were a lilt and a laugh, government by catharsis. Thus he was at hand when the army was ordered into the streets, and, when the tenant across the hall was dragged off by soldiers, he caught the last plane out. How could he, of all people, have been in Cuba, in Serbia, in Nicaragua when the earth shook? He seemed always to be appearing at the edge of some precipice. As when, in a seaside village of southern Spain, the members of the Guardia Civil, posted at the corner with Uzis, ran their fingers through his son's hair in delight while the landlady asserted that Franco was already dead but didn't know it. One must acknowledge that native revolutionaries do not commit suicide. It is the soldiers of the invading armies who take their own lives. How had he been an army officer during an improvident war, and the soldiers volunteering for a lost cause? He thinks he betrayed his mind by trying to make other people's sense. Comparisons are odious, and ignorance is bliss.


Iowa Review

The following excerpts were published in The Iowa Review, Volume 45, Issue 1, in Spring 2015.

The Iowa Review online


Editor's Note

The following are entries #37–42 from Merrill and Bell's project After the Fact: Scripts & Postscripts , which began as a sequence of sixty paragraphs written back-and-forth over a period of fifteen months during 2011 and 2012. "Having written sixty," notes Bell, "we decided to go on to a second section. Hence the subtitle Scripts & Postscripts. We began the project thinking of our work as prose poetry. It was an editor who first recognized that these paragraphs are a form of poetic nonfiction."
     While Bell sent his paragraphs from Iowa City, Iowa; Port Townsend, Washington; and Sag Harbor, New York, Merrill, who undertakes cultural diplomacy for the State Department, sent his from Afghanistan, Cambodia, Chile, Mozambique, Russia, the Congo, Uruguay, Uzbekistan, Vietnam, and Zimbabwe.
     "Given the nature of Chris's experiences and my predilections," writes Bell, "as the sequence pushed ahead it took up matters philosophical, sociopolitical, and aesthetic. The title After the Fact, as well as the original working title, Everything at Once, now seem apt characterizations of the international, postmodernist character of a digital age."

The latest of Marvin Bell's books are Vertigo: The Living Dead Man Poems (Copper Canyon); Whiteout, a collaboration with photographer Nathan Lyons (Lodima); and a children's book based on the poem "A Primer about the Flag" (Candlewick). He lives in Iowa City, Iowa, and Port Townsend, Washington.

Christopher Merrill's recent books include Boat (poetry), Necessities (prose poetry), and The Tree of the Doves: Ceremony, Expedition, War. He directs the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa.

After the Fact: Scripts and Postscripts is available at

White Pine Press

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