How Is It Done? (poem)


How Is It Done?

It's like there are these words
swimming around the inside
of my skull

& all I have to do
is be quick enough
to catch them before

they slip away beyond
the dark swift waters

swirling cascading words

catching rainbow trout
with a net

Joanne Fisher

Originally published in Spin 38

I managed to dig out this poem which was published a while ago now. A couple of years ago I published a version of this poem on this blog. I wrote it down from memory (and even got the title wrong) and came up with this:

Writing Poetry

 

It’s like I have

these words

swimming around

the insides of my

skull &

 

all I need

is be quick

enough to

grab them –

 

catching

rainbow trout

with a net

 

Joanne Fisher

I tend to prefer the second version due to the conciseness to it. Which version do you think is better?

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©️2021 Joanne Fisher

The Three Disappointments of Pedro Arturo — O at the Edges

The Three Disappointments of Pedro Arturo The difficulty lies in denying the rest, pretending the denouement remains unknotted like that length of rope looped over the branch, unable to serve its purpose. I regret nothing, but often wish that I had dangled my feet in the stream more often and felt the trout wriggle […]

The Three Disappointments of Pedro Arturo — O at the Edges

For the first time ever I’m sharing a post on WordPress. I love this poem and love reading it out loud. Robert Okaji is a brilliant poet who I follow on WordPress. I hope you love this too…

The Fall (poem)

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The Fall

 

saw a dead man today

walking past his vacant body

men & school-kids clustered

trying to revive him like

some modern Lazarus

I went home to listen

to the new CD I bought

but I think of this man

& lifeless bodies lying

on pavements

as you might imagine them

in Gaza or Hudaydah or Aleppo

though this one was solitary

perhaps his day was just like

any other –

walking to the safety & security

of home like I was

but never got there

his strong body falling

his life shattering

like glass

 

Joanne Fisher

 

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Red Riding Hood (a twisted fairy tale)

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Red Riding Hood (or at least my version of it)

 

Red took the brownies out of the oven. Once they were cooled she placed them in her wooden basket. Seeing it was quite cold outside she put on her red hooded coat and left her apartment to go and visit Grandma. She didn’t have a lot of money, but the word on the street was that Grandma had a new shipment in and at least she liked the edibles that Red baked enough to offer a trade with her.

Once she left the building she walked across the road to cut through the park to get to Grandma’s. When she came to the wooded area of the park she saw that among the trees Wolfy was standing there. Wolfy was a tall butch with closely shaved dark hair who had a reputation for being trouble. She usually wore a leather jacket but today she was wearing a long black fur coat which made her look rather strange. She leaned on a tree trunk smoking a cigarette sizing Red up.

“Hey little chapstick! I see you been baking some cookies. Wanna share?” Wolfy said as Red passed her by.

“I’m off to Grandmas. She’s got some new supplies in. I’m going to see if she’s willing to trade some for my edibles.” Red informed her.

“I hadn’t heard she got a new shipment. Maybe I should pay her a call.” Wolfy replied thoughtfully. “If she doesn’t want to trade you could always try scoring some skittles off the schoolkids.” Red just looked at her shaking her head and then continued walking. Wolfy watched her leave flicking her cigarette after her and then disappeared among the trees.

When Red finally got to Grandma’s house she climbed up the steps and knocked on the door.

“Come in!” cried out a muffled voice. Red opened the door and walked in to the hallway.

“I’ve got some brownies for you Grandma. I was hoping we could do a trade.” Red said in a loud voice. She thought she could hear some knocking from down below.

“Just put them on the table. What are you looking for hun?” said a voice from another room. Red put the basket on the table.

“I was hoping to get some beans, a little Special K, and maybe some E?” Red replied.

“How about some Snow White?” asked the voice sounding strangely high pitched.

“No it clogs my sinuses up.” Red answered. “Are you okay? You sound a bit strange.”

“I have a cold.” the voice replied.

“Where are you Grandma?” Red asked.

“I’m in my bedroom.” Red followed the voice to Grandma’s bedroom. She walked into the room to see a figure wrapped in blankets sitting on the bed.

“You must be quite sick.” Red said to the figure. The figure on the bed nodded.

“I’m just trying to keep warm since it’s so cold, but seeing you makes me feel better. I love that long red hair of yours. Why don’t you sit beside me?” Red sat down beside her feeling suspicious. The figure turned and put a hand on her leg.

“Grandma?”

“Yes my sweet?”

“What big ears you have.”

“All the better to hear your moans with.” the figure replied smiling.

“What big eyes you have!”

“All the better to take in your beauty with.” Red looked down at the hand on her leg.

“What big hands you have.”

“All the better to finger you with!” the figure replied again as her hand slowly went up Red’s leg and then leaned in for a kiss. Red dodged her head out of the way.

“What a big mouth you have!”

“All the better to eat you out with!” the figure said as she lunged towards Red, but Red was too quick for her. She quickly stood up and yanked the blanket away from the figure revealing a surprised looking Wolfy.

“Wolfy! What have you done with Grandma?” Red asked.

“Let’s just say she won’t be leaving the cellar anytime soon.” Wolfy replied arching her right eyebrow.

“You came to steal her drugs?” Red asked her incredulously.

“And to see if I could make it past first base with you.” Wolfy revealed. “It’s well known you two have a thing going on.”

“If you wanted to hang you should have just asked.” Red told her.

“Whatever. Anyway I’m so outta here.” Wolfy said as she stood up with a package in her left arm trying to get past Red.

“You’re not going anywhere with Grandma’s stash!” Red stated as she tried to get in her way. Wolfy darkly smiled and started advancing towards Red menacingly.

“And you’re going to stop me little girl?” she snarled as she came right up to Red and towered above her. Red backed away to the doorway. “That’s right chapstick. Get out of my way!”

“Help!” Red cried out. Just then the front door flew open and Jesse ran in.

“What’s going on here?” Jesse asked as she came up to Red. Jesse was wearing a plaid shirt and men’s jeans. Her hair was cut short.

“Wolfy’s trying to steal Grandma’s stash.” Red told her.

“Well if it isn’t Jesse the lumberdyke! What are you doing here?” Wolfy asked angrily.

“I wanted to get some edibles. I was just seeing if Grandma had any. When I heard Red scream I came right in.” Jesse replied as she walked right up to Wolfy. It was well known Jesse didn’t like Wolfy and Wolfy was scared of her. Wolfy began to back away.

“She also pretended to be Grandma and tried to make out with me!” Red informed Jesse.

“Is that so?” Jesse replied with rising anger while continuing to advance towards Wolfy. All of a sudden Wolfy threw the package over their heads. As their attention was diverted by the package flying over them Wolfy dodged them both and ran out of the house. Jesse chased after her.

Red went to the cellar door and unlocked it. Out came Grandma looking annoyed.

“That bitch Wolfy pushed me into the cellar and stole my stash!” Grandma fumed.

“Don’t worry! Me and Jesse stopped her.” Red informed her. “Your drugs are still here and Jesse has chased her off.” Grandma smiled at the news. She gave Red a hug and kissed her.

“You were always my favourite.” Grandma said to her.

 

Joanne Fisher

 

This story began forming in my head when I read some other people’s versions of classic fairy stories. I’m not into drugs or anything and nor do I like the drugs scene,  I just thought it was an interesting take which started with the question for what other reason was Red Riding Hood taking baked goods to Grandma? Grandma by the way is just the name others gave her as she was the local dealer. I imagined she was probably in her thirties or forties. I had fun writing this. Trying to get a woodcutter into an urban story was the sticking point until I remembered that lumberdyke is a term I came across recently. After that it all fell into place. It took me a long time to find an image I thought was okay. In the end I resorted to using a photo from the Amanda Seyfried movie.

Maybe there are some other classic tales I can despoil…

 

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Medea Confesses (poem)

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Jason and Medea by John William Waterhouse (detail)

Medea Confesses

 

you say I’m evil

what else could I be?

 

you callously tore me out

of your life & made me the villain

 

no longer talking to me

but blaming me for the silence

choosing another to love

but expecting me to be there

spreading untruths to everyone

but not caring I would hear

 

you think I hated you or was angry

but I loved you too much

I was always so naked around you

like you could see through my skin

& see how rotten my heart was

becoming

 

all I hope for is that one day

you feel the pain I was in

I want to hurt you

like you hurt me

 

maybe I am evil but you

are not blameless in this

everything I have done is

because of your treachery

you should never

anger a sorceress

 

I killed & dismembered

my own brother

creating a diversion

for our escape from Colchis

 

don’t think I wouldn’t do the same to you

 

 

Joanne Fisher

 

I’ve always been intrigued by the figure of Medea in Greek myth. Most accounts tend to show her doing terrible things but women in Ancient Greece never tended to fare well, especially in mythological stories. You could say that she is an archetype of the creative/destructive and of female revolt.

 

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Illustration by historywitch.com

 

Visit (poem)

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Visit

 

this house crumbles

in my hand

 

& you are there

 

you nonchalantly

pick up the door handle

from the ground

unable to hide

the peeling dull green paint

 

the rust remains

of your family

in the garden

 

Joanne Fisher

 

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Broken Glass (poetry)

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Broken Glass

 

I travel down to Dunedin

bearing two wineglasses

delicately hand-painted

looking like stained glass

but broken

 

& you sit cross-legged

on the bare wooden floor

trying to make something

greater than its pieces

 

another puzzle to sort out

like one of your jigsaws

like us

 

with no final pattern

discernible yet

 

imagine if there was someone

who could piece together

my own broken fragments –

 

I could be a

shining

new

object

 

Joanne Fisher

 

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a1427

 

 

 

 

Volcano City (full sequence)

I thought I would finally join all the parts of Volcano City together to show the full sequence for the first time (I added two lines by the way).

1998

 

Volcano City

(or, my adventures in Auckland)

 

1

 

my arrival was a speeding taxi

along the airport highway &

Manukau Road

with a driver from somewhere

in Eastern Europe

 

I have been here five years

& has changed so much

he says in a thick accent

 

it has been eight years since

I was passing through to Opua…

 

then my luggage is in a corridor &

the Poet appears & shakes my hand

 

we go in search of coffee

among the tangled streets –

the porn shops, tattoo parlours,

& bars of the central city

 

we talk about poetry

New Zealand & elsewhere,

its movements & cliques

we compress the literary scene

into a ball

to roll around the table

while chain-smoking cigarettes

& gazing out of windows

where the world is full

of people I have loved

 

he says:

I have lost that little voice

the little voice

inside my head

that enabled me to write

 

the next day I find a second hand copy

of his book & buy it

 

2000

 

2

 

in a car we quibble about

geological classification

Lyttelton is extinct (I say,

he disagrees)

while most of the volcanoes

in Auckland are dormant

 

there are over 30 volcanoes

in this sprawl of a city,

we only have the two

back home

I think I suffer from

volcano envy…

 

none of the volcanoes have erupted

during European colonisation

& only Rangitoto has during

Maori habitation

but I am told the real danger –

 

the real danger

is that a new one

might suddenly appear

 

imagine a volcano

coming to life

in the middle of Queen Street

or Ponsonby Road –

all those wine bars

suddenly engulfed in

liquid lava

 

2012

 

3

 

my dreams are feverish

I’m in a garden

bordered by tall

dark green cypresses

in the centre a white

marble fountain &

stone statue

 

I’m slowly unwrapping

a friend peeling off

items of her clothing

& then layer after layer

of her skin…

 

I wake stewing in

sweat-drenched sheets,

the shrill buzz-saw of

mosquitoes circling above

there are large swollen

bites all over my arms

& legs

 

outside an unending

procession of foot traffic &

a woman laughing

 

underground

underneath

the layers of earth

there are boiling

magma streams

 

4

 

I’m taken to the zenith of Mt Eden

to see a panorama of the city

the Sky Tower a giant hypodermic needle

shooting straight up into the arm

of a vibrant azure sky

 

I’m shown the cones of volcanoes:

Mt Albert, One Tree Hill, the Three Kings,

Mt Roskill, Mt Hobson, Rangitoto…

they rise like points of scar tissue

on the city’s living skin

 

I look for threads of steam

coiling up into the sky

 

2020

 

5

 

I arrive at Mataitai Bay

by ferry from central Auckland

& she is waiting for me

 

Waiheke Island

rocky coastlines & sheltered marine-blue bays

 

a group of hippies with

long dreadlocks play hacky sack

waiting to travel back

 

Waiheke Island

haven for artists, poets, & potters

 

on her veranda we have

a cup of tea & the noise from

the cicadas is deafening

 

Waiheke Island

native bush & kauri forest

 

after the ringing ends

she gives a tour of the inhabited

part of the island

 

Waiheke Island

vineyards, olive groves, & rugged farms

 

we go to a café for lunch

& I spill fresh orange juice

all over her new white pants

 

Waiheke Island

sawdust slopes & new hotels

 

2022

6

 

Christchurch has straight lines

but here everything folds in

upon itself, I try & sort out

 

the spatial geography but

the streets follow their own

logic, they spiral around

 

like quarreling serpents,

as though you have walked

into a quantum paradox or

 

Escher drawing, I may walk

down one street & end up

in a parallel universe…

 

 

7

 

the poet drives me to the airport

 

on the way I notice

a raised green hummock –

another volcano bursting

through the suburbs

 

the poet doesn’t know its name

 

I tell him I write to communicate

& I like poetry because so few

care about it now

so it doesn’t matter

what I say…

 

at the airport my luggage

is unloaded, the poet says

goodbye

 

I try to take a picture

but he turns & walks away

 

after two weeks

I miss Christchurch

& my bed

 

home is only an hour away

 

Joanne Fisher

 

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J.R.R. Tolkien

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John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was born in 1892 and died in 1973. He is best known for The Hobbit (published in 1937) and The Lord of the Rings (published 1954-55). His books have left a lasting impact on the world, both in literature as well as the popular consciousness. Since I’ve done articles on both H.P. Lovecraft and Ursula K. Le Guin, I thought it was time I wrote about my favourite author. Like the previous two this will be a discussion on how I discovered his works and how his writing has influenced me.

I think I’ve previously written that I became aware of Tolkien when I found a copy of The Hobbit in the living room bookshelf when I was seven years old and started reading it, mostly because it had a dragon on the cover. This isn’t quite the truth. The year before this my family was given a calendar of Tolkien’s drawings from The Hobbit by a family friend and that was when I first noticed Tolkien. I was particularly drawn to the picture of The Lonely Mountain with Smaug flying around it. I imagined I was there at the foot of the mountain watching the dragon flying above. It gave me chills. So when I found the copy of The Hobbit a year later I already had a good idea of what it was about.

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The Lonely Mountain by J.R.R. Tolkien

When I was 11 I began reading The Lord of the Rings, and then I tackled The Silmarillion when I was 13. I did read The Silmarillion from cover to cover then, but a lot of it did go over my head at the time. It was only when I read it again when I was older did I learn to appreciate it more. In fact my love for The Silmarillion grows ever more stronger the older I get.  Tolkien spent most of his life writing the tales that made up The Silmarillion. It was his life’s work and he began writing the first versions of it during the First World War when he was in the trenches. Tolkien was a very talented linguist. He had a knack for learning new languages, and he also at a young age began to make up his own and from that came his Elvish languages Quenya and Sindarin. Having created these languages he began writing the history of the people that spoke them and thus his world of Middle-earth was born. Many of the main stories of The Silmarillion, such as Beren and Lúthien, The Fall of Gondolin, and The Children of Húrin existed very early on his mythology. He was always striving to find a way to tell the stories of what is now known as the First Age of Middle-earth that would engage the reader. His first attempt was The Book of Lost Tales written in notebooks during the Battle of the Some in 1916. In this first version Eriol the Sailor comes to the island of Tol Eressëa and has the history of the Elves recounted to him in the Cottage of Lost Play.

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Glorund sets forth to seek Turin by J.R.R. Tolkien (1927)

 

The main problem with completing The Silmarillion was that primarily it was the major work he focused on during his creative life and he ended up writing various different versions of all the tales. Some were brief and some were expanded, but sadly, a lot were left unfinished. When Tolkien’s son Christopher came to edit a publishable version of The Silmarillion he had years of writings to go through with many different versions of the same stories. This is why the book Unfinished Tales, and the History of Middle-earth series came to be published in the 1980s and 90s, as there were so many writings and different versions left unpublished. If you read the History of Middle-earth series you can see the various different versions of The Silmarillion’s stories through the years. Unfinished Tales has a wonderful narrative of Tuor’s coming to Gondolin that cuts off rather abruptly. I really wish he had finished it. Tolkien maintained that there were four major stories in The Silmarillion: Beren and Luthien, The Children of Hurin, The Fall of Gondolin, and The Voyage of Eärendil. It’s interesting to see that three of them now have their own stand alone versions. It is unlikely that The Voyage of Eärendil will ever be published on its own however*. While Tolkien counted it as one the major stories compared to the others he didn’t write that much about it, though you could argue it was the first thing in Middle-earth he wrote about as the poem “The Voyage of Eärendel the Evening Star” was written in 1914. The name éarendel comes from Anglo-Saxon meaning “luminous wanderer” possibly referring to the morning star, what we now know is the planet Venus. Tolkien was struck by the “great beauty” of the name which is why he came to write the poem and subsequently incorporate the name and the voyage in the poem into his own mythology.

As Tolkien was always trying find a vehicle to tell the stories of the First Age of Middle-earth you could say that in a way The Lord of the Rings served that function. Through it stories are told of earlier times and there are references to earlier heroes or instances. That’s what I like about Tolkien’s writings about Middle-earth: you feel the depth of history in them. Along with the different languages and cultures you feel like it is a real place you can escape to. The history of the Elves is quite sad and tragic. Everything of beauty and power they make is stolen from them, corrupted, or used against them. Galadriel says “together through ages of the world we have fought the long defeat.” (The Lord of the Rings, p.376) which is pretty much how Elves see their own history in Middle-earth. By the Third Age, even with the Dark Lord Sauron defeated, the Elves know that they too will diminish and end up leaving Middle-earth for ever. There is an elegiac quality to these writings which is probably a reason why I connect with them so well.

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Tolkien’s drawing of Rivendell

At some point I plan to do an article on Tolkien’s other works. For me the stand out one is Smith of Wootton Major. While Tolkien has written that he dislikes allegory, this story definitely has allegorical elements about his own life. In this story Smith has a fay star stuck to his head since childhood which allows him to wander freely about the land of Faery (or you could call it Elfland or Fairyland, etc.) which he does for most of his life until one day he has to give it up. It is a bittersweet tale that Tolkien wrote in the late 1960s that you could say is also about Tolkien’s own wanderings in Faery (or Middle-earth) and that he knew it was also coming to an end. Farmer Giles of Ham is a good story too. I think it would make a really good animated film and I wonder why no one seems to have really thought about it. I’m not a great fan of film or TV adaptations of Tolkien’s works and I would prefer that cameras are kept out of Middle-earth, which probably sounds weird for someone from New Zealand to say since the films were shot here, but I think Farmer Giles is one that would work quite well as a film. It has a really interesting dragon in it too, but then again I love dragons and any dragon is interesting to me.

Another reason why I like The Lord of the Rings is that even though it is a fantasy novel I do believe it’s a story for our modern age. Which is why I think so many people have connected with it even though it’s a book set in a forgotten age of our world and has an anti-technological sentiment but is read by people living very much in a technological society. I will talk more about this in a separate article. I did begin to discuss this and 500 words on I was only partly the way through my explanation, so I have saved it and it will be an article I will work on for another day rather than make this one over three thousand words. Let’s just say here that Tolkien’s writings are often grappling with the moral dilemmas of our time which is one reason why I think people connect with it.  And there’s also escapism of course. The desire to escape the world we live in, even if it’s just for a brief moment, is often not considered important or worthy, but I think it’s an understandable desire given the world we live in.

 

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The cover for The Hobbit which Tolkien drew himself

Tolkien himself has been a great influence on me. I count him as one of the people that acts as a soul guide (for want of a better expression) for me, helping to guide me through the darkness and delineate right from wrong. In fact when times are very bleak for me that is when I tend reach for his writings. They have got me through some very dark periods of my life and for that I’m grateful I know his books. His writings teach me to be aware of corruption in all it’s forms and to not give into the darkness. Because of Tolkien I spent most of my adolescence reading my way through a large chunk of the fantasy literature that was available at the time. I don’t even know if I would have wanted to be a writer if I hadn’t encountered The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings at such an early age. His books stirred something in me and fired my imagination. Yes I have written a lot of contemporary poetry and stories but my heart truly belongs in Elfland. It was Tolkien that showed me that. And though I’m currently working on a fantasy novel, and even if I’m able to get better as a writer, I feel I’ll never be in the same league as him, not with all the power and imagination he had. All the different languages he made, the weight of history you can feel in his works, the immeasurable sadness of the world, it would be truly difficult to replicate that or do something similar, not unless I committed to it and made it a life’s work like he did, and even then…

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Tolkien beside his favourite tree. He died not long after this photograph was taken.

I feel sorry for people who say they don’t like Tolkien. I think it’s sad they will never find the joy and solace that I do in his works. But each to their own. I know it’s not for everyone. Along with music and Star Wars, Middle-earth has kept me in one piece so far. I guess you find what works for you, whatever keeps you anchored to the world and use that to get you through life’s trials. For me the works of Tolkien do this. It’s always good to know there is another world I can escape to if I have need of it. In this world there are intelligent but very dangerous dragons, Wizards, Elves living deeply in the forest, Human heroes helping to fight against the encroaching darkness, giant spiders, magic rings, tall towers and fortifications, sentient tree-like beings, giant wolves, Ringwraiths riding winged steeds, to name a few. All these things, along with a compelling story is what gets me opening a book and regularly returning to the amazing world of Middle-earth.

 

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The map from The Hobbit

 

*Foretelling is not one of my gifts. See my article on Rey and The Force Awakens for proof of this. Knowing my luck as soon as I publish this article a book for The Voyage of Eärendil and the War of Wrath will be announced in the media. Just watch.

Reference

Tolkien, J.R.R. The Lord of the Rings (Unwin Paperbacks, London, 1978)

 

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Van Gogh In Auvers (poem)

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Van Gogh, Cottages with Thatched Roofs and Figures (July, 1890)

 

Van Gogh In Auvers

 

Auvers is the end

of the journey

the final spiral

downwards

 

you wanted to be closer

to Theo, but Paris is too hectic,

too busy, so you come to

Auvers where

 

Gauguin, Pissaro, & Cezanne

preceded you

 

everything

gets a little bit

crooked

& blotched

& less precise

among the cottages with

thatched roofs & wheat fields

with crows

 

the air ripples around you

everything is shimmering

 

you slip away

 

Joanne Fisher

 

This is a poem I’ve been working on lately. I thought it was in a good enough state to publish here, but I find poetry is often never finished…

 

I consider this a companion piece to my poem The Last Days of Van Gogh.

 

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