Was it Only a Scratch?

Isa could sit for hours staring out the window, motionless and barely breathing. 
When Ben first saw her like that, he thought she must have had a stroke. It was easy 
to think of strokes and heart attacks when confronted with middle or old age. 
Don’t give yourself a coronary, he’d say to his father, his mother, when they struggled 
with something: the hammer, the hose. But Isa, he learnt, was her own age; 
susceptible neither to strokes nor sighs. Her cane was strong, the walls of her house 
made to withstand the coastal winds, the frequent waves. Her eyes looked breakable 
though. When Ben stopped thinking the worst, when he stopped thinking heart failure 
and deep vein thrombosis, he started noticing all the lines round her eyes, 
and to imagine what would happen if all the lines were to join and form one long 
continuous line to infinity. A whirlpool, she’d say, as if she’d read his mind. And then: 
you are young, you are for the leaving, for the taking. Isa would engrave words 
on Ben as if he were the glass and she the diamond. 

Listen to Vana Manasiadis read ‘Was it Only a Scratch?


Searching for Stowaways, ink on newsprint, 1850, Anonymous. 
Four men are combing the ship’s hold. They are identically hunched, identically 
impassive. Their torsos are thick with salt-pork and swill, their legs truncated 
and merging with the floor. They could be four versions of the same man: the same 
man at different moments in time. They are concentrating. The man to the right 
is holding a flame into a hollow. The man to his left, has stopped at cracks 
in the wall. The furthest, stares into his hands over something he has found: 
a giveaway skincell, a stray hair. And the last man – or last version of the one man – 
is walking towards the stairwell. He is looking towards the light descending 
from the deck, past the chain coming down from the ceiling, the bundle of random 
necessities on the floor. He is leaving the recess wanting; pots scattered, barrels 
spilling, stowaways deficient and bored. 
Stowaway Peers Out at the Speed of Light, oil on canvas, 2000, James Rosenquist. 
    ‘A stationary spectator sees an event or fixed point differently from a spectator 
    travelling at the speed of light.’ 
Let’s say: that the viewer is the stowaway. That the Stowaway is the event. 
That we have crammed ourselves into a tight box. Like fish. That we can only look 
through gaps in the planks. That we are missing the point. That we have missed it. 


Vana Manasiadis is a Wellingtonian living in Crete. Her first collection of poetry Ithaca Island Bay Leaves will be published in December 2009 by Seraph Press. ‘Was it Only a Scratch?‘ and ‘Essay‘ are from a series of short prose pieces and poems that will form part of a collaborative piece for theatre provisionally called The Lighthouse. The quote in ‘Essay‘ is from text written for the Guggenheim Museum by Sarah Bancroft, (James Rosenquist: A retrospective, 2003), in which she says: ‘Drawing on Einstein’s theory of relativity—in which a stationary spectator sees an event or fixed point differently from a spectator travelling at the speed of light—The Stowaway addresses the limited ‘vision’ available to the viewer of an artwork.’