Wednesday, December 26, 2012

- Scott Snyder, Rafael Albuquerque
American Vampire

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

- Chris Ware
The Acme Novelty Date Book 1986-1995
Dearest Jane:
   In an unmoored life like mine, sleep and hunger and work arrange themselves to suit themselves, without consulting me. I'm just as glad they haven't consulted me about the tiresome details. What they have worked out is this: I awake at 5:30, work until 8:00, eat breakfast at home, work until 10:00, walk a few blocks into town, do errands, go to the nearby municipal swimming pool, which I have all to myself, and swim for half an hour, return home at 11:45, read the mail, eat lunch at noon. In the afternoon I do schoolwork, either teach or prepare. When I get home from school at about 5:30, I numb my twanging intellect with several belts of Scotch and water ($5.00/fifth at the State Liquor store, the only liquor store in town. There are loads of bars, though.), cook supper, read and listen to jazz (lots of good music on the radio here), slip off to sleep at ten. I do pushups and sit-ups all the time, and feel as though I am getting lean and sinewy, but maybe not. Last night, time and my body decided to take me to the movies. I saw The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, which I took very hard. To an unmoored, middle-aged man like myself, it was heart-breaking. That's all right. I like to have my heart broken.

- Kurt Vonnegut

Monday, December 24, 2012


Madame Gabrielle, were you really French?
And what were those heavy books
You made them balance on top of their heads,
Young women with secret aspirations,
We saw strolling past the row of windows
In the large room above Guido's barbershop?

On the same floor was the office of an obscure
Weekly preaching bloody revolution.
Men with raised collars and roving eyes
Wandered in and out. When they conspired
They spat and pulled down the yellow shades,
Not to raise them or open the windows again

Until the summer heat came and your students
Wore dresses with their shoulders bared
As they promenaded with books on their heads,
And the bald customer in the barbershop
Sat sweating while overseeing in the mirror
His three remaining hairs being combed.

- Charles Simic
   Louisa sang as she came over the crest of the hill from the white folks' kitchen. Her skin was the color of oak leaves on young trees in fall. Her breasts, firm and up-pointed like ripe acorns. And her singing had the low murmur of winds in fig trees. Bob Stone, younger son of the people she worked for, loved her. By the way the world reckons things, he had won her. By measure of that warm glow which came into her mind at thought of him, he had won her. Tom Burwell, whom the whole town called Big Boy, also loved her. But working in the fields all day, and far away from her, gave him no chance to show it. Though often enough of evenings he tried to. Somehow, he never got along. Strong as he was with hands upon the ax or plow, he found it difficult to hold her. Or so he thought. But the fact was that he held her to factory town more firmly than he thought for. His black balanced, and pulled against, the white of Stone, when she thought of them. And her mind was vaguely upon them as she came over the crest of the hill, coming from the white folks' kitchen. As she sang softly at the evil face of the full moon.

- Jean Toomer

Sunday, December 16, 2012

   I returned to my father's sagging chair, in the silent living room, and sat looking at my mother as she remained upright and unmoving in her corner of the couch. Despite the change I sensed in her, since out time on the porch, she seemed calm, in her way, sitting there with the afghan on her lap. It was like the old days, when I would come home from wherever I was and my mother would take up her position exactly there, in the corner of the couch, with a book and her reading glasses, while my father graded papers in his study and I sat in the armchair with a book of my own. I had liked coming home, liked sitting in that chair with the sound of pages turning and of children playing in the street, liked, above all, the sense of something peaceful from childhood still flowing through the house, and I wondered how it was that I had let it all slip away. And as I sat there, in the drowsy warmth, I seemed to hear a humming sound, a spectral tune, drifting up out of my childhood. It was something my mother used to sing, a song from her own girlhood. "I remember," I said, because I wanted to talk to my mother, I wanted to tell her that I remembered a tune she had once hummed, when I was a boy, but the sound of the humming crept into my words, and only then did I realize that my mother was sitting there humming that tune. And I was stirred that she was humming a tune from our two childhoods, as she sat in the darkening room with her eyes closed, a tune that ascended in three leaps and then came slowly down, like a feather falling, but at the same time I wanted her to stop humming that tune so that I could speak to her, before I was no longer there. After all, it was only a short visit. When my mother stopped humming I said, "I know I haven't been back for a while, but if we could just talk a little, a little talk, talk to me - " The words sounded louder than I had intended, as if I had shouted them in an empty house.

- Steven Millhauser
"Sons and Mothers"

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

   It was hard to understand the Brain because he really was a brain. He knew all kinds of big scientific words. He read Scientific American magazine, and had a small chemistry laboratory. The reason we called him Agony Flea was that he always seemed depressed about something, we never knew what. He was always moping around like a sad sack, and when he talked he always whined. He put on an English accent, too. A whiny English accent. But he was very smart. He showed us lots of chemistry tricks and made small bombs for us. Some chemical that when you spilled it somewhere it didn't go off for about fifteen minutes. It just sat there like some water or something. It didn't do anything. But after some time went by it exploded into flames and set everything around it on fire. We had a lot of fun with that chemical.
   Brain also insisted that he could make an atomic bomb if he had enough money to get the parts. We believed him and planned someday to raise the money for him so he could build the big one.
   Brain spoke: "Here is our report. The first thing we did was assemble all the old Captain Marvel comics we could find. A considerable quantity, I must say. Fifty-five editions, covering most of the period between 1940 and 1948. The significant issues all came out during that period. C.C. Beck maintained control of the operation until the PTA got after Fawcett Publications."
   "Yeaahhh, scream, yell."
   "There is no better source, as I am sure you are all aware, than Captain Marvel comics for matters, uh, occult, shall we call them? OK, now, Captain Marvel comics did have several stories about Satan in them. I place them here as exhibit A for your inspection."
   "Hooray, scream, yell."
   "We also went to the library and found numerous entries under 'Satan'..."
   "Oh yeah," some kid yelled. "Who is this 'we' you're talking about?"
   We all loved to tease the Brain. And he enjoyed it.
   "Oh, alright," the Brain answered, "if you insist then, it was I, just I. Nobody would go with me and help me. Honestly, I don't know why I come to these club meetings."
   "Neither do we, Brain. Why do you come?" some kid yelled.

- John Fahey

Sunday, December 9, 2012

...and, as usual when I drift off, I was joined by a tiny Gypsy girl in the form of the Milky Way, the quiet, innocent Gypsy girl who was the love of my youth and used to wait for me with one foot slightly forward and off to the side, like a ballet dancer in one of the positions, the beautiful, long-forgotten beauty of my youth.
     Her body was covered with sweat and a gamey musk-and-pomade-scented grease that coated my fingers when I stroked her, and she always wore the same dress covered with soup and gravy stains in the front and whitewash and woodworm stains - from carrying rotten boards she found among the rubble - in the back. I met her near the end of the war when, on my way home from Horky's where I'd had a few beers, she latched onto me, tagged along, so that I had to turn and talk to her over my shoulder, and she never tried to pass me, she just toddled noiselessly behind, and when we came to the first intersection I said, "Well, good-bye, I've got to be going," but she said she was going in the same direction, and when we got to the end of Ludmila Street I said, "Well, good-bye, I've got to be going home," and she said she was going in the same direction, so on we went, and I purposely walked all the way to Sacrifice and held out my hand to her and said, "I've got to be going home now," but she said she was going in the same direction, and on we went until we came to the Dam of Eternity, and I said I was home now and we'd have to say good-bye, and when I stopped at the gas lamp in front of my door and said, "Well, good-bye now, this is where I live," she said she lived there, too, so I unlocked the door and motioned for her to go in ahead of me, but she refused and told me to go in first, and since the hall was dark, I did, and then I went down the stairs and into the yard and up to the door of my room, and when I'd unlocked it, I turned and said, "Well, good-bye, this is my room," and she said it was her room, too, and she came in and shared my bed with me, and when I woke up in a bed still warm with her, she was gone. But the next day, and every day thereafter, the moment I set foot in the yard I saw her sitting on the steps in front of my door and some white boards and sawed-off beams lying under the window, and when I unlocked the door, she would leap up like a cat and scamper into my room, neither of us saying a word. Then I went for a beer with my big, five-liter pitcher, and the Gypsy girl would light the old cast-iron stove, which boomed even with the door open, because the room had once been a blacksmith's shop and had a high ceiling and a huge fireplace, and she would make supper, which was always the same potato goulash with horse salami, then sit by the stove, feeding it with wood, and it was so hot that her lap glowed gold and gold sweat covered her hands, neck, and constantly changing profile, while I lay on the bed, getting up only to quench my thirst from the pitcher, after which I handed it to her, and she would hold the giant pitcher in both hands and drink in such a way that I heard her throat move, heard it moaning quietly like a pump in the distance. At first I thought she put so much wood on the fire just to win me over, but then I realized it was in her, the fire was in her, she couldn't live without fire.
     So we went on living together even though I never really knew her name and she never knew or wanted or needed to know mine; we went on meeting every night, even though I never gave her the keys and sometimes stayed out late, until midnight, but the moment I unlocked the main door I would see a shadow slip past, and there she was, striking a match, setting fire to some paper, and a flame would sputter and flare in the stove, which she kept going with the month's supply of wood she'd laid in under the window. And later in the evening, while we ate our silent supper, I would turn on the light bulb and watch her break her bread as if she were taking Communion and gather up all the crumbs from her dress and toss them reverently into the fire. Then we switched off the bulb and lay on our backs, looking up at the ceiling and the shimmer of shadow and light, and the trip to the pitcher on the table was like wading through an aquarium filled with algae and other marine flora or stalking throught a thick wood on a moonlit night, and as I drank I always turned and looked at my naked Gypsy girl lying there looking back at me, the whites of her eyes glowing in the dark - we looked at each other more in the dark than by the light of day. I always loved twilight: it was the only time I had the feeling that something important could happen. All things were more beautiful bathed in twilight, all streets, all squares, and all the people walking through them; I even had the feeling that I was a handsome young man, and I liked looking at myself in the mirror, watching myself in the shop windows as I strode along, and even when I touched my face, I felt no wrinkles at my mouth or forehead. Yes, with twilight comes beauty. By the flames in the stove's open door the Gypsy girl stood up, naked, and as she moved, I saw her body outlined in a yellow halo like the halo emanating from the Ignatius of Loyola cemented to the facade of the church in Charles Square, and when she added some wood to the fire and came back and lay down on top of me, she turned her head to have a look at my profile and ran her finger around my nose and mouth. She hardly ever kissed me, nor I her; we said everything with our hands and then lay there looking at the sparks and flickers in the battered old cast-iron stove, curls of light from the death of the wood. All we wanted was to go on living like that forever. It was as if we had said everything there was to say to each other, as if we had been born together and never parted.
     During the last autumn of the war I bought some blue wrapping paper, a ball of twine, and glue, and while the Gypsy girl kept my glass filled with beer, I spent a whole Sunday on the floor making a kite, balancing it carefully so it would rise, and I tacked on a long tail of tiny paper doves strung together by the Gypsy girl under my tutelage, and then we went up to Round Bluff, and after flinging the kite to the heavens and letting the cord run free for a while, I held it back and gave it a few tugs to make it straighten up and stand motionless in the sky so that only the tail rippled, S-like, and the Gypsy girl covered her face to her eyes, eyes wide with amazement. Then we sat down and I handed it to her, but she cried out that it would carry her up to heaven - she could feel herself ascending like the Virgin Mary - so I put my hands on her shoulders and said if that was the case we'd go together, but she gave me back the ball of twine and we just sat there, her head on my shoulder, and suddenly I got the idea to send a message, and handed the kite to the Gypsy girl again, but again she froze and said it would fly away with her and she'd never see me again, so I pushed the stick with the twine into the ground, tore a a page out of my memo pad, and attached it to the tail, and as soon as the twine was back in my hands, she started screaming and reaching after the message as it jerked its way up to the sky, each burst of wind traveling through my fingers to my whole body, I even felt the message making contact with the tip of the kite, and suddenly I shuddered all over, because suddenly the kite was God and I was the Son of God, and the cord was the Holy Spirit which puts man in contact, in dialogue with God. And once we'd flown the kite a few more times, the Gypsy girl screwed up her courage and took over the twine - trembling as I had trembled, trembling to see the kite tremble in the gusty wind - and, winding the twine around her finger, she cried out in rapture.
     One evening I came home to find her gone. I switched on my light and went back and forth to the street until morning, but she didn't come, not that day or the next or ever again, though I looked everywhere for her. My childlike little Gypsy, simple as unworked wood, as the breath of the Holy Spirit - all she ever wanted was to feed the stove with the big, heavy boards and beams she brought on her back, crosslike, from the rubble, all she ever wanted was to make potato goulash with horse salami, feed her fire with wood, and fly autumn kites. Later I learned that she had been picked up by the Gestapo and sent with a group of Gypsies to a concentration camp, and whether she was burned to death at Majdanek or asphyxiated in an Auschwitz gas chamber, she never returned. The heavens are not humane, but I still was at the time. When she failed to return at the end of the war, I burned the kite and twine and the long tail she had decorated, a tiny Gypsy girl whose name I'd never quite known.

- Bohumil Hrabal
Too Loud a Solitude

Friday, October 26, 2012

Monday, October 22, 2012

"Fairchild Tropical Garden"

My fifth-grade teacher took our class on a tour of a potato-chip factory. Her uncle was a manager there and made sure we got the best treatment - a free bag of Red Dot Chips for each of us, along with a red Red Dot baseball cap, a red Red Dot balloon, and a red round Red Dot plastic change purse you squeezed to open and close. We saw crates of potatoes poured into machines that washed, peeled, sliced, and sent the glistening discs on conveyor belts to boiling vats of oil. We saw fried chips draining and drying. The men and women who worked there were so covered with grease - it misted the air - that they seemed ready for frying themselves. Not doing what they had dreamed of doing as children, they took no pleasure in being observed by us. They understood that we kids were hoping we would never be them. Our teacher had arranged the tour to get herself out of the classroom in which her own dream was dying. She had always wanted to be beloved by her students. But none of us did love her - her gestures were stiff, her voice failed in the afternoons, her eyes wandered out the windows as often as ours did. Now, in the chip factory, as our cheeks swelled and reddened from humidity and oil, she nibbled at a new strategy, displaying the consequences of indifference to teachers and their lessons. You grew up and took readings on grease vats while kids watched.

- Lawrence Sutin
A Postcard Memoir

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Hardcastle Crags

Flintlike, her feet struck
Such a racket of echoes from the steely street,
Tacking in moon-blued crooks from the black
Stone-built town, that she heard the quick air ignite
Its tinder and shake

A firework of echoes from wall
To wall of the dark, dwarfed cottages.
But the echoes died at her back as the walls
Gave way to fields and the incessant seethe of grasses
Riding in the full

Of the moon, manes to the wind,
Tireless, tied, as a moon-bound sea
Moves on its root. Though a mist-wraith wound
Up from the fissured valley and hung shoulder-high
Ahead, it fattened

To no family-featured ghost,
Nor did any word body with a name
The blank mood she walked in. Once past
The dream-peopled village, her eyes entertained no dream,
And the sandman's dust

Lost lustre under her footsoles.
The long wind, paring her person down
To a pinch of flame, blew its burdened whistle
In the whorl of her ear, and like a scooped-out pumpkin crown
Her head cupped the babel.

All the night gave her, in return
For the paltry gift of her bulk and the beat
Of her heart, was the humped indifferent iron
Of its hills, and its pastures bordered by black stone set
On black stone. Barns

Guarded broods and litters
Behind shut doors; the dairy herds
Knelt in the meadow mute as boulders;
Sheep drowsed stoneward in their tussocks of wool, and birds,
Twig-sleeping, wore

Granite ruffs, their shadows
The guise of leaves. The whole landscape
Loomed absolute as the antique world was
Once, in its earliest sway of lymph and sap,
Unaltered by eyes,

Enough to snuff the quick
Of her small heat out, but before the weight
Of stones and hills of stones could break
Her down to mere quartz grit in the stony light
She turned back.

- Sylvia Plath

Sunday, October 7, 2012

   Dwayne's only companion at night was a Labrador retriever named Sparky. Sparky could not wag his tail - because of an automobile accident many years ago, so he had no way of telling other dogs how friendly he was. He had to fight all the time. His ears were in tatters. He was lumpy with scars.

- Kurt Vonnegut
Breakfast of Champions

Friday, October 5, 2012

     Trout asked himself out loud what the people did for amusement, and the driver told him a queer story about a night he spent in West Virginia, in the cab of his truck, near a windowless building which droned monotonously.
     "I'd see folks go in, and I'd see folks come out," he said, "but I couldn't figure out what kind of a machine it was that made the drone. The building was a cheap old frame thing set up on cement blocks, and it was out in the middle of nowhere. Cars came and went, and the folks sure seemed to like whatever was doing the droning," he said.
     So he had a look inside. "It was full of folks on rollerskates," he said. "They just went around and around. Nobody smiled. They just went around and around."

- Kurt Vonnegut
Breakfast of Champions

Thursday, October 4, 2012


The apartment on Francis Avenue
We lived in for three years in graduate school
In the nicest - or maybe second nicest - part of Cambridge,
On the third floor of Joe and Annie's house

Just up the street from the Divinity School.
John Kenneth Galbraith lived next door;
Julia Child's Kitchen was across a backyard fence
I'd hang around trying to look hungry,

And emulating her we rented a meat locker at Savanor's,
Where I'd stop to pick up a pot roast or a steak
Before coming home to Jeepers waiting for me in the window.
Everything happened then, in two or three years

That seemed a lifetime at the time:
The War and SDS and music; the confusion in the streets
And Nixon; poetry and art and science, philosophy and immunology,
The dinners at Bill and Willy's loft in Soho -

Yet what still stays with me is the summer of 1973,
The summer before we moved to Milwaukee, with my dissertation done
And time to kill, suspended on the brink of real life.
I would read the first draft of "Self-Portrait"

John had let me copy, and Gravity's Rainbow,
And every afternoon I'd ride my bike to Bob's house
Where I'd watch the hearings on TV. And on a Saturday in June,
With the living room awash in the late yellow light

That filtered through the western dormer window,
We watched, just out of curiosity, this horse I'd read about
- And what I knew about the Sport of Kings was nil -
Turn what till then had been an ordinary day

Into one as permanent as anything in sports or art or life,
As Secretariat came flying through the turn with the announcer crying
"He's all alone - he's moving like a tremendous machine,"
And Susan shouting "Look at that horse! Look at that horse!"

The summer sort of dribbled away. We took a last trip to New York,
John and Rebecca stopped over on their way to somewhere,
James and Lisa too, whom I hadn't seen in years,
And then we packed our stuff and took the cat and drove away.

Nixon hung on for a while, and then - but that's history,
Real history, not this private kind that monitors the unimportant
For what changes, for what doesn't change. Here I am,
Living in Milwaukee twenty-nine years later.

Susan lives about a mile away, and just last Saturday
The latest wonder horse, War Emblem, stumbled in the Belmont Stakes.
What makes a life, if not the places and the things that make it up?
I know that I exist, but what about that place we lived? Is it still real?

- Of course it is. It just gets harder to see
As time goes by, but it's still all there. Last month in Rome
The first thing Lisa said was that I looked just like myself, but with
    white hair.
And there it is: look at the tiny strawberries and the

Flowers blooming in the garden of the house next door.
Look at John Dean, still testifying on that little screen, and Rogers,
Who died in May, still talking in our small blue dining room.
Look at Savanor's, the unkempt lawn, the mailbox by the back porch,

Jeepers waiting for me in the window. Look at that horse!

- John Koethe

Sunday, September 23, 2012


Should I get married? Should I be good?
Astound the girl next door with my velvet suit and faustus hood?
Don't take her to movies but to cemeteries
tell all about werewolf bathtubs and forked clarinets
then desire her and kiss her and all the preliminaries
and she going just so far and I understanding why
not getting angry saying You must feel! It's beautiful to feel!
Instead take her in my arms lean against an old crooked tombstone
and woo her the entire night the constellations in the sky -

When she introduces me to her parents
back straightened, hair finally combed, strangled by a tie,
should I sit knees together on their 3rd degree sofa
and not ask Where's the bathroom?
How else to feel other than I am,
often thinking about Flash Gordon soap -
O how terrible it must be for a young man
seated before a family and the family thinking
We never saw him before! He wants our Mary Lou!
After tea and homemade cookies they ask What do you do for a

Should I tell them: Would they like me then?
Say All right get married, we're losing a daughter
but we're gaining a son - 
And should I then ask Where's the bathroom?

O God, and the wedding! All her family and her friends
and only a handful of mine all scroungy and bearded
just wait to get at the drinks and food - 
And the priest! he looking at me as if I masturbated
asking me Do you take this woman for your lawful wedded wife?
And I trembling what to say say Pie Glue!
I kiss the bride all those corny men slapping me on the back
She's all yours, boy! Ha-ha-ha!
And in their eyes you could see some obscene honeymoon going 
                                                                                                               on -

Then all that absurd rice and clanky cans and shoes
Niagara Falls! Hordes of us! Husbands! Wives! Flowers!

All streaming into cozy hotels
All going to do the same thing tonight
The indifferent clerk he knowing what was going to happen
The lobby zombies they knowing what
The whistling elevator man he knowing
The winking bellboy knowing
Everybody knowing! I'd be almost inclined not to do anything!
Stay up all night! Stare that hotel clerk in the eye!
Screaming: I deny honeymoon! I deny honeymoon!
running rampant into those almost climactic suites
yelling Radio belly! Cat shovel!
O I'd live in Niagara forever! in a dark cave beneath the Falls
I'd sit there the Mad Honeymooner
devising ways to break marriages, a scourge of bigamy
a saint of divorce - 

But I should get married I should be good
How nice it'd be to come home to her
and sit by the fireplace and she in the kitchen
aproned young and lovely wanting my baby
and so happy about me she burns the roast beef
and comes crying to me and I get up from my big papa chair
saying Christmas teeth! Radiant brains! Apple deaf!
God what a husband I'd make! Yes, I should get married!
So much to do! like sneaking into Mr Jones' house late at night
and cover his golf clubs with 1920 Norwegian books
Like hanging a picture of Rimbaud on the lawnmower
like pasting Tannu Tuva postage stamps all over the picket fence
like when Mrs Kindhead comes to collect for the Community Chest
grab her and tell her There are unfavorable omens in the sky!
And when the mayor comes to get my vote tell him
When are you going to stop killing whales!
And when the milkman comes leave him a note in the bottle
Penguin dust, bring me penguin dust, I want penguin dust - 

Yet if I should get married and it's Connecticut and snow
and she gives birth to a child and I am sleepless, worn,
up for nights, head bowed against a quiet window, the past behind

finding myself in the most common of situations a trembling man
knowledged with responsibility not twig-smear nor Roman coin
                                                                                                                 soup -

O what would that be like!
Surely I'd give it for a nipple a rubber Tactitus
For a rattle a bag of broken Bach records
Tack Della Francesca all over its crib
Sew the Greek alphabet on its bib
And build for its playpen a roofless Parthenon

No, I doubt I'd be that kind of father
not rural not snow no quiet window
but hot smelly tight New York City
seven flights up, roaches and rats in the walls
a fat Reichian wife screeching over potatoes Get a job!
And five nose running brats in love with Batman
And the neighbors all toothless and dry haired
like those hag masses of the 18th century
all wanting to come in and watch TV
The landlord wants his rent
Grocery store Blue Cross Gas & Electric Knights of Columbus
Impossible to lie back and dream Telephone snow, ghost parking - 
No! I should not get married I should never get married!
But - imagine If I were married to a beautiful sophisticated woman
tall and pale wearing an elegant black dress and long black gloves
holding a cigarette holder in one hand and a highball in the other
and we lived high up in a penthouse with a huge window
from which we could see all of New York and ever farther on
                                                                                                        clearer days
No, can't imagine myself married to that pleasant prison dream -

O but what about love? I forget love
not that I'm incapable of love
it's just that I see love as odd as wearing shoes -
I never wanted to marry a girl who was like my mother
And Ingrid Bergman was always impossible
And there's maybe a girl now but she's already married
And I don't like men and - 
but there's got to be somebody!
Because what if I'm 60 years old and not married,
all alone in a furnished room with pee stains on my underwear
and everybody else is married! All the universe married but me!

Ah, yet well I know that were a woman possible as I am possible
then marriage would be possible -
Like SHE in her lonely alien gaud waiting her Egyptian lover
so I wait -  bereft of 2,000 years and the bath of life.

- Gregory Corso

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Lines & Circularities

on hearing Casals' recording of the Sixth Suite

Deep in a time that cannot come again
Bach thought it through, this lonely and immense
Reflexion wherein our sorrows learn to dance.
And deep in the time that cannot come again
Casals recorded it. Playing it back,
And bending now over the instrument,
I watch the circling stillness of the disc,
The tracking inward of the tone-arm, enact
A mystery wherein the music shares:
How time, that comes and goes and vanishes
Never to come again, can come again.

How many silly miracles there are
That will not save us, neither will they save
The world, and yet they are miraculous:
The tone-arm following the spiral path
While moving inward on a shallow arc,
Making the music that companions it
Through winding ways to silence at the close;
The delicate needle that navigates these canyons
By contact with the edges, not the floor;
Black plastic that has memorized and kept
In its small striations whatever it was told
By the master's mind and hand and bow and box,
Making such definite shudderings in the air
That Bach's intent arises from the tomb . . .
The Earth, that spins around upon herself
In the simple composition of Light and Dark,
And varying her distance on the Sun
Makes up the Seasons and the Years, and Time
Itself, whereof the angels make record;
The Sun, swinging his several satellites
Around himself and slowly round the vast
Galactic rim and out to the unknown
Past Vega at the apex of his path;
And all this in the inward of the mind,
Where the great cantor sings his songs to God . . .

The music dances to its inner edge
And stops. The tone-arm lifts and cocks its head
An instant, as if listening for something
That is no longer there but might be; then
Returns to rest, as with a definite click
The whole strange business turns itself off.

- Howard Nemerov

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Wood-Weasel

emerges daintily, the skunk -
don't laugh - in sylvan black and white chipmunk
regalia. The inky thing
adaptively whited with glistening
goat-fur, is wood-warden. In his
ermined well-cuttlefish-inked wool, he is
determination's totem. Out-
lawed? His sweet face and powerful feet go about
in chieftain's coat of Chilcat cloth.
He is his own protection from the moth,

noble little warrior. That
otter-skin on it, the living pole-cat,
smothers anything that stings. Well, -
this same weasel's playful and his weasel
associates are too. Only
Wood-weasels shall associate with me.


A Jelly-Fish

Visible, invisible,
   a fluctuating charm
an amber-tinctured amethyst
   inhabits it, your arm
approaches and it opens
   and it closes; you had meant
to catch it and it quivers;
   you abandon your intent.

- Marianne Moore

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Country Fair

If you didn't see the six-legged dog,
It doesn't matter.
We did and he mostly lay in the corner.
As for the extra legs,

One got used to them quickly
And thought of other things.
Like, what a cold, dark night
To be out at the fair.

Then the keeper threw a stick
And the dog went after it
On four legs, the other two flapping behind,
Which made one girl shriek with laughter.

She was drunk and so was the man
Who kept kissing her neck.
The dog got the stick and looked back at us.
And that was the whole show.


Little Unwritten Book

Rocky was a regular guy, a loyal friend.
The trouble was he was only a cat.
Let's practice, he'd say, and he'd pounce
On his shadow on the wall.
I have to admit, I didn't learn a thing.
I often sat watching him sleep.
If the birds tried to have a bit of fun in the yard,
He opened one eye.
I even commended him for good behavior.

He was black except for the white gloves he wore.
He played the piano in the parlor
By walking over its keys back and forth.
With exquisite tact he chewed my ear
If I wouldn't get up from my chair.
Then one day he vanished. I called.
I poked in the bushes.
I walked far into the woods.

The mornings were the hardest. I'd put out
A saucer of milk at the back door.
Peekaboo, a bird called out. She knew.
At one time we had ten farmhands working for us.
I'd make a megaphone with my hands and call.
I still do, though it's been years.
Rocky, I cry!
And now the bird is silent too.


In the Planetarium

Never-yet-equaled, wide-screen blockbuster
That grew more and more muddled
After a spectacular opening shot.
The pace, even for the most patient
Killingly slow despite the promise
Of a show-stopping, eye-popping ending:
The sudden shriveling of the whole
To its teensy starting point, erasing all -
Including this bag of popcorn we are sharing.

Yes, an intriguing but finally irritating
Puzzle with no answer forthcoming tonight
From the large cast of stars and galaxies
In what may be called a prodigious
Expenditure of time, money and talent.
"Let's get the fuck out of here," I said
Just as her upraised eyes grew moist
And she confided to me, much too loudly,
"I have never seen anything so beautiful."

- Charles Simic

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

But a day or two passed and the Major was still at the Majestic. By now he had succeeded in doing something about the most obvious sources of misery (finding sheets, avoiding morning prayers by having breakfast in his room), but there was a sadness hanging in the empty rooms and corridors like an invisible gas which one could not help breathing.
            Angela remained behind a closed door (it was impossible to tell which, there were so many) and was quite certainly ill, though nobody said so. Indeed, nobody made any reference to her at all in his presence. Perhaps they thought he would "understand"; perhaps they thought he had not even noticed that she was not there; perhaps this was the Spencers' method of dealing with unhappiness, by simply failing to mention it, as, in one of Angela's letters, a reference to the dog called Spot (who had presumably been carried off by distemper) had been omitted. At this moment, for all the Major knew, Edward was compiling lists of the living beings at the Majestic which failed to mention his daughter Angela.
            One day, passing through the Palm Court on his way to the Imperial Bar, which he had taken to sharing with the tortoiseshell cat, he heard an elderly lady, a new arrival, asking in a ringing whisper if that was poor Angela's unfortunate young man. Turning involuntarily, he had been met by a battery of pitying, interested glances.
            Once or twice again (in truth, several times), before or after meals, he had met the cook on the stairs carrying the invalid's tray. Whether she was struggling up or down the stairs it seemed to make very little difference, he noticed, to the amount of food on the plate. Only, coming down, the meat and vegetables might be somewhat disarranged, mixed up together, one might suppose, by a listless hand. And a fork might be lying on the plate, though the knife was rarely touched; most often, on the way down, it lay beside the plate, clean and shining as it had been on the way up. Similarly, the apple on the tray usually made the return journey with its skin unflawed; if baked, though, with custard, it might be squashed a little or the meat dug out of the skin and spattered with the yellow, viscous fluid; if stewed and sprinkled with brown sugar as much as half of it might disappear. Apples--after all, there was a mountain of them in the apple house which had to be eaten--played a significant part in the diet of those living at the Majestic. One day, however, he noticed a raw apple travelling upstairs that looked so fresh and shining that it might even have been an early arrival of the new season's crop. On the way down it was still there on the tray but one despairing bite had been taken out of it. He could see the marks of small teeth that had clipped a shallow oval furrow from its side, the exposed white flesh already beginning to oxidize and turn brown, like an old photograph or love-letter. He was extremely moved by this single bite and wanted to say something. He paused and almost spoke, but the cook, as in fear, was already hastening clumsily down the stairs away from him. Every time they met on the stairs now she would nervously avoid his eye and once or twice she even blushed deeply, as if she had caught him doing something indecent. And it was true that he had become fascinated with this tray and often tried to be on the stairs when it was going up or down. Usually, though, he tried to limit himself to one casual, greedy glance that would note everything.

- J.G. Farrell

Monday, August 13, 2012

Futures in Lilacs

"Tender little Buddha," she said
Of my least Buddha-like member.
She was probably quoting Allen Ginsberg,
Who was probably paraphrasing Walt Whitman.
After the Civil War, after the death of Lincoln,
That was a good time to own railroad stocks,
But Whitman was in the Library of Congress,
Researching alternative Americas,
Reading up on the curiosities of Hindoo philosophy,
Studying the etchings of stone carvings
Of strange couplings in a book.

She was taking off a blouse,
Almost transparent, the color of a silky tangerine.
From Capitol Hill Walk Whitman must have been able to see
Willows gathering the river haze
In the cooling and still-humid twilight.
He was in love with a trolley conductor
In the summer of - what was it? - 1867? 1868?

Robert Hass

Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Olympic Girl

The sort of girl I like to see
Smiles down from her great height at me.
She stands in strong, athletic pose
And wrinkles her retroussé nose.
Is it distaste that makes her frown,
So furious and freckled, down
On an unhealthy worm like me ?
Or am I what she likes to see ?
I do not know, though much I care.
ειθε γενοιμην . . . would I were
(Forgive me, shade of Rubert Brooke)
An object fit to claim her look.
Oh ! would I were her racket press'd
With hard excitement to her breast
And swished into the sunlit air
Arm-high above her tousled hair,
And banged against the bounding ball
" Oh ! Plung ! " my tauten'd strings would call,
" Oh ! Plung ! my darling, break my strings
For you I will do brilliant things."
And when the match is over, I
Would flop beside you, hear you sigh;
And then, with what supreme caress,
You'ld tuck me up into my press.
Fair tigress of the tennis courts,
So short in sleeve and strong in shorts,
Little, alas, to you I mean,
For I am bald and old and green.

- John Betjeman

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The poet - "one who writes in measure," as Johnson laconically defines him - and poetess ("a she poet") have always had a rough time of it in the Republic. It has ever been their endemic luck to starve, become a Harvard professor, commit suicide, lose their reading glasses before an audience of sophomores, go upon the people à la Barnum, and serve as homework in state universities, where they could in nowise get a position and where their presence usually scatters the English faculty like a truant officer among the Amish. But the very worst has happened to him, and in the last couple of decades. It has been forgotten in high places what he is, and every school child is taught the most godawful rot as to why he writes as he does in measure.
    The things of the world are always at one's doorstep; the miseries of the American poet were nicely defined while I was on my errands this morning deep in Kentucky. At the grocer's, as I was throwing Time into my cart, a lady broke into a motherly smile. "Thar you go," she said, "buyin' th' magerzine book of your choice for the month: ain't it grand to read?" It was at the local paperback emporium that a teen-ager, obviously a time-server in summer school, asked for "a poem book on E.E. Cummings." The lady admirer of literacy is a guitarist and sings "Great Speckled Bird" and "The Murder of James A. Garfield" on the radio. She is, in her way, a poet: and one of the things utterly forgotten about poets is that they come in hierarchies and orders.

- Guy Davenport
"Do You Have a Poem Book on E.E. Cummings?"
from The Geography of the Imagination
    The books of our childhood offer a vivid door to our own pasts, and not necessarily for the stories we read there, but for the memories of where we were and who we were when we were reading them; to remember a book is to remember the child who read that book. My aunt Mimi gave me a child's introduction to archaeology when I was six, and coming upon that book now, I am taken back to my bedroom on Flood Drive in San Jose, reading in bed at night, and the precise moment when I understood that the written word "says" was pronounced "sez" rather than rhyming with the plural of "hay." I can see the brown cowboy bedspread, lariats and corrals rampant, feel the orange-tasseled fringe of it, and know again the child I was. Find an old book from your childhood, take a good whiff, and suddenly you're living Proust.
    There's nothing exceptional in my reading history, and that's why I've chosen to detail it. For those who are afflicted with book lust, those for whom reading is more than information or escape, the road to our passion is quite simple, paved merely by the presence of printed matter.
    It's a common story; fill in your own blanks: I was _____ years old when I happened on a novel called ________, and within six months I had read every other book by the writer known as __________.
   I was fifteen. The Grapes of Wrath. John Steinbeck.

- Lewis Buzbee
The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop
    There was a smell of Time in the air tonight. He smiled and turned the fancy in his mind. There was a thought. What did Time smell like? Like dust and clocks and people. And if you wondered what Time sounded like it sounded like water running in a dark cave and voices crying and dirt dropping down upon hollow box lids, and rain. And, going further, what did Time look like? Time looked like snow dropping silently into a black room or it looked like a silent film in an ancient theater, one hundred billion faces falling like those New Year balloons, down and down into nothing. That was how Time smelled and looked and sounded. And tonight - Tomas shoved a hand into the wind outside the truck - tonight you could almost touch Time.

- Ray Bradbury
The Martian Chronicles

Monday, August 6, 2012

    What I'm trying to say is that it was ultimately much more like the evangelist girlfriend with the boots' own experience than I could have ever admitted at the time. Obviously, through just the 2,235-word story of a memory, I could never convince anybody else that the innate, objective quality of the substitute's lecture would also have glued anybody else to their seat and made them forget about their final review in American Political Thought, or of the way that much of what the Catholic father (I thought) said or projected seemed somehow aimed directly at me. I can, though, at least help explain why I was so 'primed' for experiencing it this way, as I'd already had a kind of foretaste or temblor of just this experience shortly before the mistake in final-review classes' rooms occurred, though it was only later, in retrospect, that I understood it - meaning the experience - as such.
   I can clearly remember that a few days earlier - meaning on the Monday of the last week of regular classes for the Fall '78 term - I was sitting there all slumped and unmotivated on the old yellow corduroy couch in our DePaul dorm room in the middle of the afternoon. I was by myself, wearing nylon warm-up pants and a black Pink Floyd tee shirt, trying to spin a soccer ball on my finger, and watching the CBS soap opera As the World Turns on the room's little black-and-white Zenith - not Obetrolling or blowing off anything in particular but essentially still just being an unmotivated lump. There was certainly always reading and studying for finals I could do, but I was being a wastoid. I was slouched way down on my tailbone on the couch, so that everything on the little TV was framed by my knees, and watching As the World Turns while spinning the soccer ball in an idle, undirected way. It was technically the roommate's television, but he was a serious pre-med student and always at the science library, though he had taken the trouble to rig a specially folded wire coat hanger to take the place of the Zenith's missing antenna, which was the only reason it got any reception at all. As the World Turns ran on CBS from 1:00 to 2:00 in the afternoon. This was something I still did too much during that final year, sitting there wasting time in front of the little Zenith, and several times I'd gotten passively sucked into CBS afternoon soap operas, where the shows' characters all spoke and emoted broadly and talked to one another without any hitch or pause in intensity whatsoever, it seemed, so that there was something almost hypnotic about the whole thing, especially as I had no classes on Monday or Friday and it was all too easy to sit there and get sucked in. I can remember that many of the other DePaul students that year were hooked on the ABC soap opera General Hospital, gathering in great avid, hooting packs to watch it - with their hip alibi being that they were actually making fun of the show - but, for reasons that probably had to do with the Zenith's spotty reception, I was more of a CBS habitue that year, particularly As the World Turns and Guiding Light, which followed As the World Turns at 2:00 P.M. on weekdays and was actually in some ways an even more hypnotic show.
   Anyhow, I was sitting there trying to spin the ball on my finger and watching the soap opera, which was also heavily loaded with commercials - especially in the second half, which soap operas tend to load with more commercials, as they figure that you're already sucked in and mesmerized and will sit still for more ads - and at the end of every commercial break, the show's trademark shot of planet earth as seen from space, turning, would appear, and the CBS daytime network announcer's voice would say, 'You're watching As the World Turns,' which he seemed, on this particular day, to say more and more pointedly each time - 'You're watching As the World Turns' - until I was suddenly struck by the bare reality of the statement. I don't mean any sort of humanities-type ironic metaphor, but the literal thing he was saying, the simple surface level. I don't know how many times I'd heard this that year while sitting around watching As the World Turns, but I suddenly realized that the announcer was actually saying over and over what I was literally doing. Not only this, but I also realized that I had been told this fact countless times - as I said, the announcer's statement followed every commercial break after each segment of the show - without ever being even slightly aware of the literal reality of what I was doing. I was not Obetrolling at this moment of awareness, I should add. This was different. It was as if the CBS announcer were speaking directly to me, shaking my shoulder or leg as though trying to arouse someone from sleep - 'You're watching As the World Turns.' It's hard to explain. It was not even the obvious double entendre that struck me. This was more literal, which somehow had made it harder to see. All of this hit me, sitting there. It could not have felt more concrete if the announcer had actually said, 'You are sitting on an old yellow dorm couch, spinning a black-and-white soccer ball, and watching As the World Turns, without ever even acknowledging to yourself this is what you are doing.' This is what struck me. It was beyond being feckless or a wastoid - it's like I wasn't even there. The truth is I was not even aware of the obvious double entendre of 'You're watching As the World Turns' until three days later - the show's almost terrifying pun about the passive waste of time of sitting there watching something whose reception through the hanger didn't even come in very well, while all the while real things in the world were going on and people with direction and initiative were taking care of business in a brisk, no-nonsense way - meaning not until Thursday morning, when this secondary meaning suddenly struck me in the middle of taking a shower, before getting dressed and hurrying to what I intended - consciously, at any rate - to be the final-exam review in American Political Thought. Which may have been one reason why I was so preoccupied and took the wrong building's entrance, I suppose. At the time, though, on Monday afternoon, all that hit home with me was the reiteration of the simple fact of what I was doing, which was, of course, nothing, just slumped there like something without any bones, uninvolved even in the surface reality of watching Victor deny his paternity to Jeanette (even though Jeanette's son has the same extremely rare genetic blood disorder that's kept putting Victor in the hospital throughout much of the semester. Victor may in some sense have actually 'believed' his own denials, I remember thinking, as he essentially seemed like that kind of person) between my knees.

- David Foster Wallace
The Pale King

Thursday, August 2, 2012

"love," or "falling in love," an extra density
textured into the weave of the days, a craziness,
an orchidaceous interdimensional blossoming of the otherwise
linear creatures we were.

-Albert Goldbarth
from "The One Thing"
Marriage, and Other Science Fiction

Friday, July 13, 2012

            My mother was in a black mood as she came away from Scilla's flat. It was three o'clock in the afternoon and beginning to get hot, she had no idea what to do with herself and the day stretched emptily before her. She had the impression that Scilla had been in a great hurry to see the back of her and that she had been bodily pushed out of the door. She had the feeling, too, that there had been someone else in the flat apart from herself and Scilla, though she could not have explained why she had this feeling.
            After wandering aimlessly for a while, she went into the cinema. They were showing a film in colour about African safaris, and she sat in the half-empty auditorium watching endless herds of buffalo seen against a boundless, fiery-red horizon; there was no plot, nothing actually happened and one saw nothing except buffalo, bison and elephants. With no plot to engage her interest, she was soon bored; and her thoughts kept returning to the darkened flat and to Scilla wandering around tying up her dressing-gown girdle; and there was no doubt that she had pushed her out of the door, and locked it behind her with a vicious snap. And she had hardly listened to what she had been saying about Barbara's letter, almost as if she wanted to wash her hands of the whole business of her daughter and not worry any more about her. On her way out of the cinema my mother passed a poster advertising next week's programme, a film with Ava Gardner, and she looked at Ava Gardner's behind that had the same measurements as Barbara's and sniffed scornfully.
            She then came to my flat; I was in the middle of a lesson, so she waited, sitting in an armchair and reading the afternoon paper. Every now and then she commented aloud on the political articles; and she kept asking my pupil, a college student with an alarmingly white face and an air of constant perplexity, if she did not agree with her. When the girl had gone, my mother suggested that we go together to the coffee-bar; but I had too much studying to do and refused. She was very put out, and asked me where I thought all this studying would get me: when I graduated I would end up teaching in some drab school facing a whole pack of girls with white, pasty faces and puzzled expressions like this one who had just left. It had not been a good idea at all for me to study literature, she said as she put on her gloves; I should have studied chemistry or law instead. As a child, I had seemed to have a real gift for writing, but I had written nothing at all since then. Or I could have studied medicine: many women nowadays became doctors, and were even more sought-after than the men because so many women refused to be examined by men; and all doctors, besides, made a lot of money - apart from Chaim, of course, who was a disaster. But I was feeling cross too, and to annoy her I asked why she had not set Chaim up in his own practice yet; she retorted that she had not the slightest intention of doing so and, on the contrary, was planning something quite different. And she swept out, slamming the door behind her. But seconds later she came back again, on the pretext that she had left her scarf behind; it was on the chair, and as I handed it to her I said, to pacify her, how pretty it was; and she immediately made me a present of it, saying that she had plenty of scarves, enough and to spare for the parish poor, and she put it round my neck. She embraced me and asked me to forgive her for being cross and said I was her only comfort: she could at least hold a conversation with me, whereas Giulia never opened her mouth; Giulia was capable of going for days without uttering a word, and made no effort even to be pleasant to her husband; she never looked at him or spoke to him and moved away if he so much as touched her knee. Theirs was not a happy marriage. How often, said my mother, it would be better for a woman to stay single rather than marry the wrong man; and she told me to think well before I married and talk it over thoroughly with her, something Giulia had never done. Did I have a boyfriend? I shook my head furiously and turned away with a frown; and she changed the subject at once, fearing to annoy me again. Perhaps, she said, the solution for a woman was to have an occupation. She enquired after my friend, who was now married and on her honeymoon; she wanted to know if my friend was happy with that engineer with the ears; and she wanted to know if I was still determined to stay on alone in the little flat.
            I had put some water on to boil in the kitchen with a stock cube dissolve in it to make some soup; was this all the supper I would have, my mother asked; no egg, no meat? I assured her that I also had some stewed fruit and cheese, but she was not satisfied, she thought this insufficient, that I was stinting myself and said that food was the one thing one should never try to economize on. I assured her that I had all I needed, but she insisted on giving me ten thousand lire so that I could get some little luxury. Then she scrutinized my clothes. I had at last stopped wearing the Russian workman's sweater and had on a check dress: not too bad, said my mother, though it reminded her of an orphanage. She told me about the film she had just seen, with the bison and the buffalo; rather dreary, but the views were beautiful; and she said that maybe sometime in the future, if a certain project was successful, the two of us would be able to travel a bit, maybe even venturing as far as Africa on a summer cruise. If, she said with a little smirk, a certain project turned out successfully. She would love to go abroad. For this cruise, she said, we would get the dressmaker to make us each a white suit. A little man she knew had offered her, at five hundred lire the metre, an absolute bargain, a certain white stuff with a slightly rough finish like fine towelling. She left then, and as I watched her from the window, crossing the square with her confident step and her handbag swinging at her hip, I knew that she was imagining herself lounging on the deck of a cruise-liner in sunglasses and a suit made from a stuff with a slightly rough finish, leafing through magazines and talking to the captain.

-Natalia Ginzburg

Thursday, July 12, 2012

  A letter exists, written and posted during the horrible days after the wreck and addressed to an associate in the Apennines, wherein he reports having identified new species of fish and plants while swimming away from the doomed ship. It is the first of his strange unnecessary lies. The part about swimming away, that is. He had in fact identified a new fish, but it took place on the pier where the lifeboat docked.
  The easiest way to fathom what all this did to his mind is to observe the change in his appearance. In the portrait that serves as frontispiece to his Analyse de la Nature (1815, the year of the wreck), he is physically shrewlike to a degree that fascinates, with a small nose and a thin, set mouth, his bangs combed forward in oily fronds. He's a French leprechaun with what are remembered as "delicate and refined hands," also "small feet." Women noticed his eyelashes.
  Look at him three years on, when he steps away from the ark. He's in Hendersonville, Kentucky, now, hunting for the artist of birds John James Audubon. In Louisville he'd asked for the great man, but they told him Audubon had gone deeper, into the forest, where he'd opened a general store. Rafinesque longed to see Audubon's new paintings of western species, not yet published but already circulating by reputation among the learned. He knew Audubon liked to incorporate local flora into his pictures and he was sure he'd find new species of plants in the pictures, hidden, as it were, even from Audubon himself.
  Audubon was walking when he noticed the boatmen staring at something by the landing. It's through Audubon's eyes, which so little escaped, that we can see Rafinesque again, almost wearing

    a long loose coat of yellow nankeen, much the worse of the
    many rubs it had got in its time and stained all over with
    the juice of plants...[it] hung loosely about him like a
    sack. A waistcoat of the same, with enormous pockets, and
    buttoned up to the chin, reached below over a pair of tigh
    pantaloons...His beard was as long as I have known my own
    to be during...peregrinations, and his lank black hair hung
    loosely over his shoulder. His forehead...broad and prominent.

  Their meeting was a potentially ghastly slow-motion pileup of awkwardness from which they emerged smiling together in perfect good humor. Rafinesque stooped like a peddler under the bundle of dried plants strapped to his back. He walked up to Audubon "with a rapid step" and asked where one could find Audubon, to which Audubon replied, "I am the man." Rafinesque did a little dance and rubbed his hands. He gave Audubon a letter of introduction from some heavyweight back east, probably John Torrey. Audubon read it and said, "Well, may I see the fish?"
  "What fish?"
  "This says I'm being sent an odd fish."
  "It seems I am the fish!"
  Audubon stammered. Rafinesque only laughed. After that they never quarreled. Indeed, Audubon is the only person on record as ever having actually liked Rafinesque.

-John Jeremiah Sullivan
"LA•HWI•NE•SKI: Career of an Eccentric Naturalist"
from Pulphead

In science fiction, in a giant glass tube the size of a body,
they freeze a body. On Planet X it thaws. He's alive. One hundred
years have passed and he's alive and twenty-two. He remembers
a story: they send a man faster than light. FTL-drive, it's
called in that story. And when he returns, the people who live
by Earth's speeds are his grandchildren. Twenty-two, and he has grandchildren.
He remembers a story: once they had something called photographs,
they froze you in light. The other you went on, dying.

- Albert Goldbarth
  The nurse went back to Petersburg; leaning out of the carriage for a long while she waved her dumpy little arm and the wind worried her wimple. The house was cool, with spreads of sunlight here and there on the floor. Two weeks later he was already riding himself to exhaustion on his bicycle and playing Russian skittles in the evening with the son of the cowman. After another week the event he had been waiting for happened. "And where is it all now?" mused Ganin. "Where is the happiness, the sunshine, where are those thick skittles of wood which crashed and bounced so nicely, where is my bicycle with the low handlebars and the big gear? It seems there's a law which says that nothing ever vanishes, that matter is indestructible; therefore the chips from my skittles and the spokes of my bicycle still exist somewhere to this day. The pity of it is that I'll never find them again - never. I once read about the 'eternal return.' But what if this complicated game of patience never comes out a second time? Let me see - there's something I don't grasp - yes, this: surely it won't all die when I do? Right now I'm alone in a foreign city. Drunk. My head's buzzing from beer laced with cognac. I have tramped my fill. And if my heart bursts, right now, then my whole world bursts with it? Cannot grasp it."


  Amid the hot yellow glare, amid the sounds that took on visible form in the folds of crimson and silvery headscarves, fluttering eyelashes, black shadows on the roof beams shifting whenever there was a puff of the night breeze, amid all this glitter and popular music, among all the heads and shoulders in the large, crowded barn, Ganin saw only one thing: he stared ahead at a brown tress tied with a black bow, slightly frayed at the edges, and his eyes caressed the dark, smooth, girlish sheen of the hair at her temple. Whenever she turned her face sideways to give the girl sitting beside her one of her rapid smiling glances, he could also see the strong color in her cheek, the corner of a flashing, Tartar eye, the delicate curve of her nostril alternately stretching and tightening as she laughed. Later, when the concert was over, the Petersburg bass was driven away in the local mill owner's huge car which cast a mysterious light over the grass and then, with a sweep of its beam, dazzled a sleeping birch tree and the footbridge over a brook; and when the crowd of fair vacationists, in a festive flutter of white frocks, drifted away through the blue darkness across the dew-laden clover, and someone lit a cigarette in the dark, holding the flaring match to his face in cupped hands - Ganin, in a state of lonely excitement, walked home, the spokes of his bicycle clicking faintly as he pushed it by the saddle.

- Vladimir Nabokov

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

   About once a day he'd say, "I may do a little writing yet, myself, if my mind holds." One morning I even heard from downstairs the slap-slap of the typewriter keys. That day, while he napped, I slid into his room and pulled off the slip-cover to see what he'd done, a single sentence of between thirty and forty words. A couple of them were hyphened out, with substitutions written above in ballpoint. The sentence stunned me. I'd come half expecting to find an incoherent mess, and afraid that this would say something ominous about our whole experiment, my education, but the opposite confronted me. The sentence was perfect. In it, he described a memory from his childhood, of a group of people riding in an early automobile, and the driver lost control, and they veered through an open barn door, but by a glory of chance the barn was completely empty, and the doors on the other side stood wide open, too, so that the car passed straight through the barn and back out into the sunlight, by which time the passengers were already laughing and honking and waving their arms at the miracle of their own survival, and Lytle was somehow able, through his prose, to replicate this swift and almost alchemical transformation from horror to joy. I don't know why I didn't copy out the sentence - embarrassment at my own spying, I guess. He never wrote any more. But for me it was the key to the year I lived with him. What he could still do, in his weakness, I couldn't do. I started listening harder, even when he bored me.

- John Jeremiah Sullivan
"Mr. Lytle: An Essay"
from Pulphead
   In the mild end of the afternoon, later, at the waterside in Woods Hole, waiting for the ferry, he looked through the green darkness at the net of bright reflections on the bottom. He loved to think about the power of the sun, about light, about the ocean. The purity of the air moved him. There was no stain in the water, where schools of minnows swam. Herzog sighed and said to himself, "Praise God-praise God." His breathing had become freer. His heart was greatly stirred by the open horizon; the deep colors; the faint iodine pungency of the Atlantic rising from weeds and mollusks; the white, fine, heavy sand; but principally by the green transparency as he looked down to the stony bottom webbed with golden lines. Never still. If his soul could cast a reflection so brilliant, and so intensely sweet, he might beg God to make such use of him. But that would be too simple. But that would be too childish. The actual sphere is not clear like this, but turbulent, angry. A vast human action is going on. Death watches. So if you have some happiness, conceal it. And when your heart is full, keep your mouth shut also.

- Saul Bellow

Friday, July 6, 2012

                        It is not for nothing that a Soviet historian once remarked that the most difficult of a historian's tasks is to predict the past. -Bernard Lewis, History


This story begins in bed, in one of those sleepy troughs between the crests of sex. I stroke the crests of you. The night is a gray permissive color.
            "Who do you think you were- do you think you were anyone, in an earlier life?"
            In an earlier life, I think, though chance and bombs and the salt-grain teeth in ocean air have destroyed all documents, I farmed black bent-backed turnips in the hardpan of a shtetl compound of equally black-garbed bent-backed grandmama and rabbinic Jews.
            My best friend there shoed horses. He had ribs like barrel staves, his sweat was miniature glass pears. (I'm enjoying this now.) On Saturday nights, when the Sabbath was folded back with its pristine linens into drawers for another week, this Yitzl played accordion at the schnapps-house. He was in love with a woman, a counter girl, there. She kept to herself. She folded paper roses in between serving; she never looked up. But Yitzl could tell: she tapped her foot. One day the cousin from Milano, who sent the accordion, sent new music to play- a little sheaf with American writing on it. Hot polka. Yitzl took a break with me in the corner- I was sipping sweet wine as dark as my turnips and trying to write a poem- and when he returned to his little grocer's crate of a stand, there was an open paper rose on his accordion. So he knew, then.
            In this story-in-my-story they say, "I love you," and now I say it in the external story, too: I stroke you slightly rougher as I say it, as if underlining the words, or reaffirming you're here, and I'm here, since the gray in the air is darker, and sight insufficient. You murmur it back. We say it like anyone else- in part because our death is bonded into us meiotically, from before there was marrow or myelin, and we know it, even as infants our scream is for more than the teat. We understand the wood smoke in a tree is aching to rise from the tree in its shape, its green and nutritive damps are readying always for joining the ether around it- any affirming clench of the roots in soil, physical and deeper, is preventive for its partial inch of a while.
            So: genealogy. The family tree. Its roots. Its urgent suckings among the cemeterial layers. The backsweep of teat under teat. The way, once known, it orders the Present. A chief on the island of Nios, off Sumatra, could stand in the kerosene light of his plank hut and (this is on tape) recite- in a chant, the names sung out between his betel-reddened teeth like ghosts still shackled by hazy responsibility to the living- his ancestral linkup, seventy generations deep; it took over an hour. The genealogical record banks of the Mormon Church contain the names and relationship data of 1 1/2 to 2 billion of the planet's dead, "in a climate-controlled and nuclear-bomb-proof repository" called Granite Mountain Vault, and these have been processed through the Church's IBM computer system, the Genealogical Information and Names Tabulation, acronymed GIANT.
            Where we come from. How we need to know.
            If necessary, we'll steal it- those dinosaur tracks two men removed from the bed of Cub Creek in Hays County, using a masonry saw, a jackhammer, and a truck disguised as an ice-cream vendor's.
            If necessary (two years after Yitzl died, I married his schnapps-house sweetie: it was mourning him that initially drew us together; and later, the intimacy of hiding from the Secret Police in the burlap-draped back corner of a fishmonger's van. The guts were heaped to our ankles and our first true sex in there, as we rattled like bagged bones over the countryside, was lubricated- for fear kept her dry- with fishes' slime: and after. . .but that's another story) we'll make it up.

- Albert Goldbarth
"After Yitzl"
Many Circles