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Book Extract: Diane Brown, writing in Berlin

An extract from Here Comes Another Vital Moment (Godwit 2006), written when Diane accompanied her husband, Philip Temple, who had the Creative NZ Berlin Fellowship in 2003.


Auguststrasse 69

In Grosse Hamburger Strasse down the road from the cemetery there is an empty space between two buildings. The Missing House is an art installation, an expensive one on account of the unclaimed rent. The street was once known as Tolerance Lane. People of all sorts lived here. On the walls of the spared houses either side, names, occupations, dates of birth stencilled in large letters; tailor, butcher, bricklayer, doctor, housewife, widow—a record of the people who once lived in the missing house. Some escaped overseas, having seen the writing on the wall; some sent to the ghettos, others still there when the bombs rained down one night.

Three weeks before we notice the words stencilled above the entrance of our building.

I AM AWARE OF WHO YOU ARE 
AND WHAT YOU DO.

I’m alone in the flat when the buzzer rings. There’s a man I’ve never seen before standing in the foyer. He is young, younger than me anyway. He is immaculately dressed in pink shirt and tie. His hair is short and arranged. I suspect he is gay. He is not smiling. In his hand he is holding the notice I sellotaped on the door, identifying who lives here. ‘We don’t have names. There are no names here, it is not allowed,’ he says in English. ‘But I’m expecting a delivery, a chair for my sore back. How will they know where to go?’ ‘This not a private house. They must go to the office. In the past there has been trouble with names.’ Is he talking recent past or history?

I am aware 
of who you are 
and what you do.

Is it true? No one here 
has asked who I am
and I do not know this man 

standing on my doorstep.
He has not bothered 
with introductions 

and now he is walking 
away holding my name 
in his hand. 

Diane Brown is a novelist, memoirist and poet who runs her own creative writing school, Creative Writing Dunedin. Her publications include two collections of poetry, Before The Divorce We Go To Disneyland and Learning to Lie Together; a novel, If The Tongue Fits; a verse novel, Eight Stages of Grace; a travel memoir, Liars and Lovers; a prose/poetic memoir, Here Comes Another Vital Moment; and a poetic family memoir, Taking My Mother To The Opera. A long narrative poem, Every Now and Then I Have Another Child, will be published by Otago University Press in 2020.

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