Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Rocket Ship

He hasn't thought about it since he was twenty-five,
and-here it is! in a box, in the attic, and still shrill
in it's candy red and deeply mango yellow 1950s plastic,
carefully molded into the astrodynamic silhouette
of "the future": all those "solaratomic" fins
a spaceship evidently would require in the year 2000.
Now he's fifty-five...and, for a minute, as he lifts it
to the window, the air of the attic really does become
the cat's-eye swirl of gases that's the atmosphere of Jupiter,
and then...well, anything then. Anything antigravity
and faster-than-light. It's based on the one, the "real" one
in the TV show, that had a "radium blaster" on its sleek nose.
This one, too: a sky blue plastic blaster the size of a toothpick.
When he'd thought of it the last time, he was with a woman

-thirty years ago!-and running his tongue along
the butter of her thigh when, very gently, but assuredly, she
stopped him with a single finger set against his forehead,
to explain the scar. It was, she said, a surgical scar.
She had cancer. All they could do right now was plant
a kind of "seed" (that was her term), a radiated capsule,
into her leg and hope for the best. For him of course it isn't
a seed: you know, now, his own metaphor of choice. He sees it
taking off, fooming through the cosmos of the body,
her body, that easily seems to be worthy of the theorizing
of Einstein and of Hawking; maybe everybody's is.
She died, by the way. There was never anything after
twenty-five for her. But he lifts her out of his memory now,
unwrapping her with something of the quiet awe he felt that night.

- Albert Goldbarth

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

"WHO WAS that woman?" asked Mrs Colquhoun, a rich lady who had come recently to live at Sarsaparilla.
         "Ah," Mrs Sugden said, and laughed, "that was Miss Hare."
         "She appears an unusual sort of person." Mrs Colquhoun ventured to hope.
         "Well," replied Mrs Sugden, "I cannot deny that Miss Hare is different."
         But the postmistress would not add to that. She started poking at a dry sponge. Even at her most communicative, talking with authority of the weather, which was her subject, she favoured the objective approach.
         Mrs Colquhoun was able to see for herself that Miss Hare was a small, freckled thing, whose stockings, at that moment, could have been coming down. To tell the truth, Mrs Colquhoun was somewhat put out by the postmistress's discretion, but could not remain so indefinitely, for the war was over, and the peace had not yet set hard.
         Miss Hare continued to walk away from the post office, through a smell of moist nettles, under the pale disc of the sun. An early pearliness of light, a lamb's-wool of morning promised the millennium, yet, between the road and the shed in which the Godbolds lived, the burnt-out blackberry bushes, lolling and waiting in rusty coils, suggested that the enemy might not have withdrawn. As Miss Hare passed, several barbs of several strands attached themselves to the folds of her skirt, pulling on it, tight, tight, tighter, until she was all spread out behind, part woman, part umbrella.
         "You could get torn," Mrs Godbold warned, who had come up to the edge of the road, in search of something, whether child, goat, or perhaps just the daily paper.
         "Oh, I could get torn," Miss Hare answered. "But what is a little tear?"
         It did not matter.
         Mrs Godbold was rather large. She smiled at the ground, incredulous, but glad.
         "I saw a wombat," Miss Hare called.
         "Not a wombat! In these parts? I do not believe you!" Mrs Godbold answered back.
         Miss Hare laughed.
         "What did it look like?" Mrs Godbold called, and laughed.
         Still looking in the grass.
         "I will tell you," Miss Hare declared, laughing, but always walking away.
         It did not matter to either that much would remain unexplained. It did not matter that neither had looked at the other's face, for each was aware that the moment could yield no more than they already knew. Somewhere in the past, that particular relationship had been fully ratified.
         Miss Hare went on, together with her emancipated skirt. With the back of her hand she hit a fence-post, to hear her father's bloodstone ring. She would knock thus on objects, to punctuate periods which, otherwise, might never have had an end. Now she heard the redeeming knock. She heard the wings of a bird suddenly break free from silence. She sang a little, or made sounds. All along the road--or track, the older people still called it--which rambled down from Sarsaparilla to Xanadu, the earth was black and oozy in the early morning of early spring. In all that dreamy landscape it seemed that each particle, not least Miss Hare herself, contributed towards some perfection. Nothing could be added to improve the whole.
         Yet, was she not about to attempt?


Once or twice in the far past she had attempted to play with the ring on her father's hand.
         "It is not a toy," he had warned. "You must learn to respect property."
         So she had begun to.
         The mother, also, had worn rings, amethysts for preference. She favoured the twilight colours. Her clothes were in no way memorable, except perhaps her collection of woolly wraps, of such lightness they could not possibly have weighed upon her. The little girl was allowed to touch the clothes and rings her mother wore, even to grow rough with them. Too delicate to protest much, unless an issue exceeded the bounds of taste, Eleanor Hare wished most earnestly to do what was right, as wife and mother.
         "I am so afraid, Norbert, we shall not love our child enough. With my health. And your interests."
         "Oh, love!" the father replied, and laughed fit to shatter it forever.
         "I had no intention of causing you pain," his wife complained, before withdrawing into herself, under a big woolly shawl, a sage-green, and a hot-water bottle which she would hold to her neuralgia.
         "If only you would prevent her knocking over coffee cups," he requested, "especially into the laps of guests, and snapping off dahlias, and stamping up and down the landing while I am reading. I need a certain amount of silence while I am thinking something out."
         "It is only reasonable," she agreed, "that a child should learn to respect other people's needs."
         Anybody's reasonableness, and particularly his wife's, was what infuriated him most.
         So the child learned, as far as her natural clumsiness would allow, to move softly, like a leaf, and certain words she avoided, because they were breakable. The word LOVE, for instance, brittle as glass, and far more precious. Oh, she could go carefully enough in the end, in little, starched movements. And had learnt to love, even, but after her secret fashion, the labyrinths of corridors, the big, cool, greenish rooms, the golden walls of stone, the tunnels through the shrubberies.

- Patrick White
Riders in the Chariot

Monday, June 25, 2012

   Emilia shouts from the house that I have a visitor. I wander over. It's Ulrike. She wants permission to go down to my beach. I say, of course.
   We stand on the pool terrace, in shade, looking at the hot empty pool.
   "It's a shame about your pool."
   "It's that fig tree. Over there. The roots, they're pushing through the concrete searching for water. See the cracks?"
   "From so far away, with such force. It's incredible."
   "Apparently they can get through a foot of concrete. It's always happening-cisterns, septic tanks."
   "Ah. Nature." She said it with no cynicism. A sense of awe, rather.
   I gestured at her bag.
   "Off for specimens? I saw you the other day, in your boat." I felt and attempted to ignore the beginnings of a blush. "What are you working on?" I asked quickly.
   "Certain kinds of crab."
   "Really?" What more could one say about crabs? "Plenty of crabs on those rocks."
   She frowned as if she could sense my indifference.
   "I wrote a small thesis on the fiddler crab. You know, the ones with one oversized claw." She paused. "Do you know that before and after the male fiddler crab mates, he soothes the female by stroking her with his claw, very gently?"
   "No. I-"
   "And then-this is amazing-they make love face to face."
   "You see? I said 'make love' as if they were humans. Apart from us they are the only animals to do this. Face to face, like so." She held up her hands analogously. "Just us and the fiddler crab. Why should that be?"
   "I don't know."
   A breeze shook the tree we were standing beneath. The dappled light spot shifted on her face and the air-blue toweling jerkin she wore. We were two feet apart.
   "Extraordinary," I said.
   She picked up her bag.
   "My boyfriend said they are showing your film-Julie. Maybe when we go back I can see it. He says it's very good."

- William Boyd
The New Confessions
   Bohumil Hrabal spoke no English. But speaking English is no problem for the international history of the novel.
   It is no problem, certainly, for the international motif of urine.
   Towards the end of Dancing Lessons for the Advanced in Age, the narrator mentions how 'you should have seen what Olanek did when we wished him a happy fiftieth birthday and asked him how his health was holding up, right there in the main square he pulled out his member - he had ten beers in him at the time - and drenched the advertisement for Nachod Mills all the way to the accent over the a while the local notary public passed under the stream and wished us a pleasant day'. And I like to think that this tremendous achievement is an achievement for which Leopold Bloom has been practising - for in Ulysses we discover that Bloom's schoolboy arc of urine was unbeatable: 'capable of attaining the point of greatest altitude against the whole concurrent strength of the institution, 210 scholars.' And, what's more, according to Joyce's adapted system of parallels between his Ulysses and Homer's Odyssey, this arc corresponds to Odysseus's famed bow with which he killed Penelope's suitors.
   A Greek bow, therefore, became an Irish-Jewish arc of urine, and finally fell to earth, in Czech. It was a golden shower. That is one way of paying homage to Maria Weatherallova, the translator of James Joyce, whose name I like very much.

- Adam Thirlwell
The Delighted States

Thursday, June 21, 2012

   His whole life seemed so irrevocably concentrated on 'debutante dances' that it was impossible to imagine Archie Gilbert finding any tolerable existence outside a tail-coat. I could never remember attending any London dance that could possibly be considered to fall within the category named, at which he had not also been present for at least a few minutes; and, if two or three balls were held on the same evening, it always turned out that he had managed to look in at each one of them. During the day he was said to 'do something in the City'-the phrase 'non-ferrous metals' had once been hesitantly mentioned in my presence as applicable, in some probably remote manner, to his daily employment. He himself never referred to any such subordination, and I used sometimes to wonder whether this putative job was not, in reality, a polite fiction, invented on his own part out of genuine modesty, of which I am sure he possessed a great deal, in order to make himself appear a less remarkable person than in truth he was: even a kind of superhuman ordinariness being undesirable, perhaps, for true perfection in this role of absolute normality which he had chose to play with such ├ęclat. He was unthinkable in everyday clothes; and he must, in any case, have required that rest and sleep during the hours of light which his nocturnal duties could rarely, if ever, have allowed him. He seemed to prefer no one woman-debutante or chaperone-to another; and, although not indulging in much conversation, as such, he always gave the impression of being at ease with, or without, words; and of having danced at least once with every one of the three or four hundred girls who constituted, in the last resort, the final cause, and only possible justification, of that social organism. He appeared also to be known by name, and approved, by the mother of each of these girls: in a general way, as I have said, getting on equally well with mothers and daughters.

- Anthony Powell
A Buyer's Market

Wednesday, June 13, 2012


These locks on doors have brought me happiness:
The lock on the door of the sewing machine in the living room
Of a tiny hut in which I was living with a mad seamstress;
The lock on the filling station one night when I was drunk
And had the idea of enjoying a nip of petroleum;
The lock on the family of seals, which, when released, would have bitten;
The lock on the life raft when I was taking a bath instead of drowning;
The lock inside the nose of the contemporary composer who was playing
   the piano and would have ruined his concert by sneezing, while I was
   turning pages;
The lock on the second hump of a camel while I was not running out of
   water in the desert;
The lock on the fish hatchery the night we came up from the beach
And were trying to find a place to spend the night-it was full of
   contagious fish;
The lock on my new necktie when I was walking through a stiff wind
On my way to an appointment at which I had to look neat and simple;
The lock on the foghorn the night of the lipstick parade-
If the foghorn had sounded, everyone would have run inside before the
   most beautiful contestant appeared;
The lock in my hat when I saw her and which kept me from tipping it,
Which she would not have liked, because she believed that naturalness
   was the most friendly;
The lock on the city in which we would not have met anyone we knew;
The lock on the airplane which was flying without a pilot
Above Miami Beach on the night when I unlocked my bones
To the wind, and let the gales of sweetness blow through me till
   I shuddered and shook
Like a key in a freezing hand, and run up into the Miami night air like a
The lock on the hayfield, which kept me from getting out of bed
To meet the hayfield committee there; the lock on the barn, that kept the
   piled-up hay away from me;
The lock on the mailboat that kept it from becoming a raincoat
On the night of the thunderstorm; the lock on the sailboat
That keeps it from taking me away from you when I am asleep with you,
And, when I am not, that lock on my sleep, that keeps me from waking and
   finding you are not there.

Kenneth Koch