“That’s how I’ve made it this far, triumphant. And with legs light, I tread on round stones edged by discreet grass. Perhaps the sun is too cruel for the dead who rest on the plain. I could abandon the spiral of sweet violence that wafts from these ashen castles. I could pray, make the sign of the cross, follow the Stations of the Cross. Like flowing water, I could fly madly through the cables and tram lines. It would be better, however, if I sat in distinguished chairs, even if there I’d feel the shutter of emptiness. It’s time to produce the linchpin, place it where it belongs. Over and over. If I do this tomorrow I won’t feel like stuffing myself grotesquely with unplucked swallows that I cook whole but can’t enjoy.” —Miquel Bauçà, Carrer Marsala
“He wanted a different life, a new life. Which should have been as easy as buying something. As simple as opening a new account. He’d wanted to make a new name for himself and the new password that would access his secrets would be (‘preferably some combination of letters and digits’)—no, no passwords. And no different names—no name at all.”
—Joshua Cohen, from Four New Messages (Graywolf, 2012)
“Japanese maples, is that some kinda paradox,” she groaned to me, dumping her full dustpan out the kitchen window. “What do the Japanese want with maples when we’ve got them here like dirt and they’ve got, what, cherry blossoms like puzzles pieces spilled all over the floor.” Between hard stares and emphysemic coughs that shook her wiry hair, she said such things all the time. That was Gloria: she took the sun as a lozenge, a waft of smoke as the air, and her memories as a knotted string of rosary beads. —from The Visitor (a work-in-progress)
“The beams of the gingerbread house are licorice sticks, cemented with taffy, weatherboarded with gingerbread, and coated with caramel. Peppermint-stick chimneys sprout randomly from its chocolate roof and its windows are laced with meringue. Oh, what a house! and the best thing of all is the door.” —Robert Coover, from “The Gingerbread House” in Pricksongs & Descants.
“We can read about her life in the factory, learn about the work that’s done there, the processes that are carried out, the rules that are followed, and so on, but the fact that we receive each new detail greedily, always hungry for more, is proof of how little we really know. In that same way, I pored over Delia’s uniform when she lowered her sleeves: I wanted to find the detail, the accidental mark that, together with the clues I had received earlier, would allow me to reconstruct her shift. Clothes are particularly good for this, aren’t they? I’ve read many novels in which characters study the clothing of others to learn something about them, something their words don’t say and their actions don’t reveal. There are even novels in which someone is fooled by clothing, though they know it to be a prime form of trickery. This was not the case with Delia. Much is written about the accessory, but very little about the essential.” —Sergio Chejfec, from The Dark.
(Another photograph for my ongoing series, Visitors, of street photography on Boston’s mass transit. If you’re not familiar with Chejfec’s work, it’s definitely worth checking out. Here’s an excellent review of The Dark in Music & Literature. This interview with Chejfec in Guernica also nicely previews his concerns and dispositions.)
“The yellowish smoke that rose from the glowing coals and never entirely dispersed up the chimney mingled with the smell of carbolic pervading the whole house. I stood for hours at the window, studying the wonderful formation of icy mountain ranges two or three inches high formed above the crossbars by water running down the panes. Now and then solitary figures emerged from the snowy landscape outside. Wrapped in dark scarves and shawls, umbrellas open to keep off the flurry of snowflakes, they stumbled up the hill. I heard them knocking the snow off their boots down in the porch before they slowly climbed the stairs, escorted by the neighbor’s daughter who was now keeping house for the minister. With a certain hesitancy, and as if they had to bend underneath something, they stepped over the threshold and put whatever they had brought—a jar of pickled red cabbage, a can of corned beef, a bottle of rhubarb wine—down on the chest of drawers. Gwendolyn took no notice of these visitors, and the visitors themselves dared not look at her.” —W.G. Sebald, Austerlitz
“Another thing I enjoy is eating candy by myself while I read a book in the evening, but I don’t think that will make a good happy memory either. I like to play the piano, I like to look at the plants that come up in the yard beginning in March, I enjoy walking with my dog, and looking down into his face at his good eye and his bad eye, I like to see the sky in the late afternoon, especially in November, I like petting my cats, hearing their cries, and holding them. But I suspect that the memory of my pets will not be enough, either, even if I love them. There things that make me laugh, but often they are grim things, and they will not make a good happy memory either, unless I share them with someone else.” —Lydia Davis, from “Happy Memories”
(for “Visitors,” a new, ongoing series on Boston subway passengers)
“These marks of kindness Karl accepted gravely but with gratitude. Sometimes, if he were not so rushed as usual, he could take on little errands as well, fetching some trifle or other which a guest had forgotten in his room and did not want the trouble of going up for.” —Franz Kafka, Amerika
“What pulls us together beyond need and desire? And when those fray, what holds us in place? Is it the memory of that first drawing in, the questions we asked of ourselves in the eyes and names of others?” —from “The Visitor”