“Paul removed his coat and pulled the trowel from his belt. He stood nervously. Old Santos left him. No one watched him now. He reached the trowel down into the mortar. Slice down toward him, edgewise twist in quick short circle and scoop up away from him. The trowel came up half-covered with mortar—but how heavy! He dropped it back into the tub and worked the trowel back and forth in the mortar just as he had seen the bricklayers do. The feel of flexible steel trowel in pliant warm plushy soon-to-be stone. The wet rub of mortar on tender skin…the first fleshly sense of Job, Job who would give living to mother Annunziata and the little ones. He gathered straight unchipped red brick and layed them dry in lengthwise string. Then he went over to the building, studied the bond of a corner, and fixed it in his eye.”—Pietro di Donato, Christ in Concrete
“My hand will always remember the density of those silver dollars, the dead weight as I tumbled them back and forth, the dull clink as the coins touched. The nature of the weight offered a lesson in value too; you knew by a sense of the coin’s unique inner gravity that the silver was pure, that it wasn’t an alloy. Holding the coin in your palm you felt the primitive allure of the metal itself, its truth. Years later, I would pay for college by fixing washing machines and dryers. I was a repairman for a company that installed coin-operated machines in apartments buildings and laundromats. We had collectors in the field, men who worked set routes, hitting laundry rooms all over the city, emptying the coin boxes into canvas sacks. Late in the afternoon they returned to the shop and delivered the dirty bags to the counting room. The coins were filthy, turning everything they touched the lugubrious gray of pencil lead (you see the same graphic stain on the fingertips of people who play slot machines compulsively). —Charles D’Ambrosio, from “This Is Living” in Loitering: New & Collected Essays.
“Two events drew Kneeshaw’s attention away from the Green Child. One was the death of this father, together with the expanding trade of the mill—the mill absorbed more and more of his time and energy. The other event was less creditable. One summer day he discovered the kitchenmaid asleep in the barn where the hay was kept. She was lying on her back, her limbs open and abandoned. The sudden lust that swept over Kneeshaw met no resistance, and from that time onwards Kneeshaw’s natural desires were completely satisfied by this subordinate member of the household.”—Herbert Read, The Green Child
“And here was another place and another girl. Oh, how lonely she was, from away back in Minnesota. A good family too. Sure, honey. Tell my tired ears about your good family. They owned a lot of property, and then the depression came. Well, how sad, how tragic. And now you work down here in a Fifth Street dive, and your name is Evelyn, poor Evelyn, and the folks out here too, and you have the cutest sister, not like the tramps you meet down here, a swell girl and you ask me if I want to meet your sister.” —John Fante, Ask the Dust
A drop of dried blood on the ground looked at the setting sun with an expression full of sadness. “Why do people look at that giant drop with happiness while they look at me with fear?” she asked in a weak voice. “We share the same roots!”
A reply came to her from somewhere unknown: “Because you are fixed to the surface of the earth and she is fixed to the sky.”
—Osama Alomar, “A Drop”
If night is our last address,
This is the place we moved from,
Backs on fire, our futures hard-edged and sure to arrive.
These are the towns our lives abandoned,
Winds in our faces,
The idea of incident like a box beside us on the Trailways seat.
And where were we headed for?
The country of Narrative, that dark territory
Which spells out our stories in sentences, which gives them an end and beginning…
Goddess of Bad Roads and Inclement Weather, take down
Our names, remember us in the drip
And thaw of the wintry mix, remember us when the light cools.
—Charles Wright from “Appalachian Farewell” in Scar Tissue (FSG, 2006)
(To ends and beginnings. Best wishes for 2014, everyone.)
ANYTHING RATHER THAN AN ANGEL – Zbigniew Herbert
If after our death they want to transform us into a tiny withered flame that walks along the paths of winds—we have to rebel. What good is an eternal leisure on the bosom of air, in the shade of a yellow halo, amid the murmur of two-dimensional choirs?
One should enter rock, wood, water, the cracks of a gate. Better to be the creaking of a floor than shrilly transparent perfection.
“Most of all I enjoy central-heating control rooms, where men with higher education, chained to their jobs like dogs to their kennels, write the history of their times as a sort of sociological survey and where I learned how the fourth estate was depopulated and the proletariat went from base to superstructure and how the university-trained elite now carries on its work. My best friends are two former members of our Academy of Sciences who have been set to work in the sewers, so they’ve decided to write a book about them, about their crissings and crossings under Prague, and they are the ones who taught me that the excrement entering the sewage plant at Podbaba on Sundays differs substantially from the excrement entering it on Mondays, and that each day is so clearly differentiated from the rest that the rate of flux may be plotted on a graph, and according to the ebb and flow of prophylactics one many determine the relative frequency with which varying sections of Prague indulge in sexual intercourse. Today, however, my friends made an even deeper impression on me with a report of a war, a total, humanlike war, between white rats and brown, which, though it ended in an absolute victory of the whites, had led to their immediate breakdown into two groups, two opposing clans, two tightly organized rodent factions engaged at this very moment in a life-and-death struggle for supremacy of the sewers, a great rodent war over the rights to all the refuse and fecal matter flowing through the sewers to Podbaba, and as soon as the present war was over, my friends the academic sewersweeps informed me, the winning side would break down again, like gases and metals and all organic matter, into two dialectically opposed camps, the struggle for supremacy bringing life back to life, the desire for conflict resolution promising imminent equilibrium, the world never stumbling for an instant.” —from Too Loud a Solitude by Bohumil Hrabal