“They both knew that, as they say, the end was already written, the end of them, of the sad young people who read novels together, who wake up with books lost between the blankets, who smoke a lot of marijuana and listen to songs that are not the same ones they separately prefer (of Ella Fitzgerald’s, for example: they are aware that at that age it is still acceptable to have recently discovered Ella Fitzgerald). They both harbor the fantasy of at least finishing Proust, of stretching the cord through seven volumes and for the last word (the word ‘time’) to also be the last word foreseen between them. Their reading lasts, lamentably, little more than a month, at a pace of ten pages a day. They stopped on page 373, and, from then on, the book stayed open.” —Alejandro Zambra, Bonsai
Once that moment had passed, a more objective gaze revealed that the sticky object in his hand was formless and repulsive. He was through for the day. He tossed the fish into the washbowl full of water, and, for want of a rag, dried his hands on the sheet of notepaper, which he then folded and put in his pocket, thinking it might come in useful. He had a superstitious respect for any kind of paper. When his eyes returned to the washbowl, he saw that the twisted, bloated, monstrous fish was swimming, on its side, up and down, vertically, like a sea horse, visibly alive. That was the finishing touch. They always went on living, no matter what he did to them. Actually, this was the first time it had happened, but once was as good as “always.”
WHEN THE WORLD STANDS STILL – Zbigniew Herbert
It happens very rarely. The earth’s axis screeches and come to a stop. Everything stands still then: storms, ships, and clouds grazing in the valleys. Everything. Even horses in a meadow become immobile as if in an unfinished game of chess.
And after a while the world moves on. The ocean swallows and regurgitates, valleys send off steam and the horses pass from the black field into the white field. There is also heard the resounding clash of air against air.
All my lovers give me bookmarks. They seem to think I must read a lot. I put all the marks into the same book, the one I never open. When I can’t sleep at night I think about how I should, how I ought to open it and see what I’ve marked. What would a story made up of only my marked pages be like? I never do it, though. Perhaps I don’t—or so I think when the night feels just a little too long—because whatever this story might be like, it would be about its being all over already, and about the possibility of adding any new marks. About there not having been any sense in reading this story in the first place. Because it’s all happened before. That’s why I just look at the tops of the bookmarks peeking out of the book. Thinking.
“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
Sometimes I think she wants to stay, that she wants life to consist only of this, no more. It’s what I want. I want to make her desire a life here. I want to entangle her again in the world from which she fled, that she forced her story in order to lose herself in the conventions of a comfortable and supposedly happy life. I want to make her hate that placid future in Vermont. In short, I behave like an asshole.
It’s better to understand that time like one understands a brief summary in the TV guide: after twenty years, two childhood friends randomly reencounter each other and fall in love. But we aren’t friends. And there is no love, not really. We sleep together. We screw wonderfully well and I’ll never forget her dark, warm, firm body. But it isn’t love that unites us. Or it is love, but love of memory.
We are united by a desire to regain the scenes of secondary characters. Unnecessary scenes that were reasonably discarded, and which nonetheless we collect obsessively.” —Alejandro Zambra, Ways of Going Home
“Oh, if I were doing nothing only out of laziness. Lord, how I’d respect myself then. Respect myself precisely because I’d at least be capable of having laziness in me; there would be in me at least one, as it were, positive quality, which I myself could be sure. Question: who is he? Answer: a lazybones. Now, it would be most agreeable to hear that about myself. It means I’m positively defined; it means there’s something to say about me. “Lazybones!”—now, that’s a title and a mission, it’s a career, sirs. No joking, it really is. By rights I’m then a member of the foremost club, and my sole occupation is ceaselessly respecting myself. I knew a gentleman who prided himself all his life on being a fine judge of Lafite. He regarded it as his positive merit and never doubted himself. He died not merely with a serene but with a triumphant conscience, and he was perfectly right.” —F. Dostoevsky, Notes from Underground.
from “Light” by C. K. Williams
Always in the dream I seemed conscious of myself having the dream even as I dreamed it.
Even now, the dream moving towards light, the field of light flowing gently towards me,
I watch myself dreaming, I watch myself dreaming and watching, I watch both watchers together.
It almost seems that this is what dream is about, to think what happens as it’s happening
At last, sometimes, perhaps driven to this, perhaps falling upon it in exhaustion or resignation,
I try to recapture how I once dreamed, innocently, with no thought of being beside or beyond:
I imagine myself in that healing accord I still somehow believe must precede or succeed dream.
My vigilance never flags, though; I behold the infernal beholder, I behold the uncanny beheld,
this mind streaming through me, its turbulent stillness, its murmur, inexorable, beguiling.
(part of my No Center series)
To accompany my recent post After the Blazing, here are two more shots from New Year’s Day in Gas Works Park, Seattle. They are introduced by the opening to Juan Felipe Herrera‘s beautiful, ecstatic poem “Let Us Gather in a Flourishing Way,” whose code-switching English and Spanish lines weave us all a bit closer.
Let us gather in a flourishing way
with sunluz grains abriendo los cantos
que cargamos cada día
en el young pasto nuestro cuerpo
para regalar y dar feliz perlas pearls
of corn flowing árboles de vida en las cuatro esquinas
let us gather in a flourishing way
contentos llenos de fuerza to vida
giving nacimientos to fragrant ríos
dulces frescos verdes turquoise strong
carne de nuestros hijos rainbows
let us gather in a flourishing way
en la luz y en la carne of our heart to toil
tranquilos in fields of blossoms
juntos to stretch los brazos
tranquilos with the rain en la mañana
temprana estrella on our forehead
cielo de calor and wisdom to meet us
where we toil siempre
in the garden of our struggle and joy
let us offer our hearts a saludar our águila rising
New Year’s Day brought triumphant sunshine to Seattle. So, my wife, son, and I climbed the Great Mound in Gas Works Park, where I shot my Sundial series last summer. As it turned out, we weren’t the only ones seeking sun-soaked views across Lake Union to downtown. (All the empty bottles scattered around suggested it had been a great spot for New Year’s Eve revelers, too.) But of everyone gathered there, the person who stood out most was this guy who seemed at once to be saluting the sun and cleansing a heavy spirit. A lot of people were milling around, talking and laughing, but he stood silent and alone, bending back and forth like a metronome as the angular winter light washed over his face. A strange, but beautiful scene with which I can think of no better poem to introduce than Naomi Shihab Nye‘s “Burning the Old Year,” especially the last three stanzas. (You can find the whole poem here.)
So much of any year is flammable,
lists of vegetables, partial poems.
Orange swirling flame of days,
so little is a stone.
Where there was something and suddenly isn’t,
an absence shouts, celebrates, leaves a space.
I begin again with the smallest numbers.
Quick dance, shuffle of losses and leaves,
only the things I didn’t do
crackle after the blazing dies.