Thursday, March 17, 2011

from James Salter, The Hunters (1956)

Perhaps it was true that through defeat men were made, and that victors actually lost, with every triumph, the vital strength that found exercise only in recovering strength. Perhaps the spirit grew greater in achieving the understanding that was first confused and then exquisitely clear after having lost. But that was, Cleve thought, like saying it was strengthening to be poor. It wasn't, he was sure. It was sapping. It was like having a leech's mouth on your breast, forever draining, so that everything had to be sacrificed for nothing more than sustaining the burden of flesh. There were very few men who ever surmounted poverty; and there were very few losers, he felt, who realized anything but tears from their defeats.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

the life and death of distance

from D. H. Lawrence, "The Odour of Chrysanthemums" (1914)

Was this what it all meant - utter, intact separateness, obscured by heat of living? In dread she turned her face away. The fact was too deadly. There had been nothing between them, and yet they had come together, exchanging their nakedness reapeatedly. Each time he had taken her, they had been two isolated beings, far apart as now. He was no more responsible than she.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

then he saw it clearly

from Roberto Bolano, 2666 (2009)

Five years after she left, Amalfitano heard from Lola again. The letter was short and came from Paris. In it Lola told him that she had a job cleaning big office buildings. It was a night job that started at ten and ended at four or five or six in the morning. Paris was pretty then, like all big cities when everyone is asleep. She would take the metro home. The metro at that hour was the saddest thing in the world. She'd had another child, named Benoit, with whom she lived. She'd also been in the hospital. She didn't say why, or whether she was still sick. She didn't mention any man. She didn't ask about Rosa. For her it's as if Rosa doesn't exist, thought Amalfitano, but then it struck him that this might not be the case at all. He cried for a while with the letter in his hands. It was only as he was drying his eyes that he noticed the letter was typed. He knew, without a doubt, that Lola had written it from one of the offices she said she cleaned. For a second he thought it was all a lie, that Lola was working as an administrative assistant or secretary in some big company. Then he saw it clearly. He saw the vacuum cleaner parked between two rows of desks, saw the floor waxer like a cross between a mastiff and a pig sitting next to a plant, he saw an enormous window through which the lights of Paris blinked, he saw Lola in the cleaning company's smock, a worn blue smock, sitting writing the letter and maybe taking slow drags on a cigarette, he saw Lola's fingers, Lola's wrists, Lola's blank eyes, and he saw another Lola reflected in the quicksilver of the window, floating weightless in the skies of Paris, like a trick photograph that isn't a trick, floating, floating pensively in the skies of Paris, weary, sending messages from the coldest, iciest realm of passion.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

one was helpless before everything

from Lorrie Moore, A Gate at the Stairs

The sky was partly clear, with ballooning clouds floating absurdly above, as if for a party that had yet to begin. Low on the horizon there were different clouds, like old plowed snow at the end of the street. I was like every kid who had grown up in the country, allowing the weather--good or bad--to describe life for me: its mocking, its magic, its contradictions, its moody grip. Why not? One was helpless before everything.

Saturday, June 27, 2009


from Roberto Bolano, 2666

Isn't reality an insatiable AIDS-riddled whore?

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

the joys of being an oak tree

from Marilynne Robinson, Home (2008)

...It was a good house, her father said, meaning that it had a gracious heart however awkward its appearance. And now the gardens and the shrubbery were disheveled, as he must have known, though he rarely ventured beyond the porch.

Not that they had been especially presentable even while the house was in its prime. Hide-and-seek had seen to that, and croquet and badminton and baseball. "Such times you had!" her father said, as if the present slight desolation were confetti and candy wrappers left after the passing of some glorious parade. And there was the oak tree in front of the house, much older than the neighborhood or the town, which made rubble of the pavement at its foot and flung its imponderable branches out over the road and across the yard, branches whose girths were greater than the trunk of any ordinary tree. There was a torsion in its body that made it look like a giant dervish to them. Their father said if they could see as God can, in geological time, they would see it leap out of the ground and turn in the sun and spread its arms and bask in the joys of being an oak tree in Iowa. There had once been four swings suspended from those branches, announcing to the world the fruitfulness of their household. The oak tree flourished still, and of course there had been and there were the apple and cherry and apricot trees, the lilacs and trumpet vines and the day lilies. A few of her mother's irises managed to bloom. At Easter she and her sisters could still bring in armfuls of flowers, and their father's eyes would glitter with tears and he would say, "Ah yes, yes," as if they had brought some memento, these flowers only a pleasant reminder of flowers.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

days spent indoors

from B.H. Fairchild, "The Doppler Effect" in Local Knowledge (1991)

When I would go into bars in those days
the hard round faces would turn
to speak something like loneliness
but deeper, the rain spilling into gutters
or the sound of a car pulling away
in a moment of sleeplessness just before dawn,
the Doppler effect, I would have said shrewdly then,
of faces diminishing into the distance
even as they spoke. Their children
were doing well, somewhere, and their wives
were somewhere, too, and we were here
with those bright euphoric flowers
unfolding slowly in our eyes
and the sun which we had not seen for days
nuzzling our fingertips and licking
our elbows. Oh, it was all there, 
and there again the same, our heads nodding,
hands resting lightly upon the mahogany sheen
of the bar. Then one of us would leave
and the door would turn to a yellow square
so sudden and full of fire
that our eyes would daze and we would
stare into the long mirrors for hours
and speak shrewdly of that pulling away,
that going toward something.

Monday, September 22, 2008

gendered space

from James Tiptree, Jr., "Houston, Houston, Do You Read?" (1976)

He begins to realize he is somewhat upset. Dave is right, damn it, they are hiding things. Is this brave new world populated by subhuman slaves, run by master brains? Decorticate zombies, workers without stomachs or sex, human cortexes wired into machines? Monstrous experiments rush through his mind. He has been naive again. These normal-looking women could be fronting for a hideous world.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

ordering gestures

from Seamus Heaney, "Casualty" in Field Work (1979)


He would drink by himself
And raise a weathered thumb
Towards the high shelf,
Calling another rum
And blackcurrant, without
Having to raise his voice,
Or order a quick stout
By a lifting of the eyes
And a discreet dumb-show
Of pulling off the top;
At closing time would go
In waders and peaked cap
Into the showery dark,
A dole-kept breadwinner
But a natural for work.
I loved his whole manner,
Sure-footed but too sly,
His deadpan sidling tact,
His fisherman's quick eye
And turned, observant back.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

too many games

from Thomas Pychon, Gravity's Rainbow (1973)

So he drifts, though the bright and milling gaming rooms, the dining hall and its smaller private satellites, busting up tete-a-tetes, colliding with waiters, finding only strangers wherever he looks. And if you need help, well, I'll help you. . . . Voices, music, the shuffling of cards all grow louder, more oppressive, till he stands looking into the Himmler-Spielsaal again, crowded now, jewels flashing, leather gleaming, roulette spokes whirring blurring-- it's here that saturation hits him, it's all this playing games, too much of it, too many games: the nasal, obsessive voice of a croupier he can't see-- messieurs, mesdames, les jeux sont faits-- is suddenly speaking out the Forbidden Wing directly to him, and about what Slothrop has been playing against the invisible House, perhaps after all for his soul, all day-- terrified he turns, turns out into the rain again where the electric lights of the Casino, in full holocaust, are glaring off the glazed cobbles.