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Shipping of Unsaid 7 is now underway, and copies are available via PayPal or by contacting David McLendon at unsaidmag@gmail.com. 

Unsaid 7 is 300+ pages of innovative fiction and poetry by Masha Tupitsyn, Russell Persson, Ottessa Moshfegh, Stephen Dixon, Mairead Small Staid, Peter Markus, David Hollander, Kate Wyer, Matt Bell, Brian Evenson, Phillip Grayson, Katherine Manderfield, Kayla Blatchey, Paul Maliszewski & James Wagner, Joseph Scapellato, Michael Copperman, Elizabeth Gramm, Catherine Foulkrod, Beth Imes, Robin Richardson, Pamela Ryder, Michele Forster, Brian Kubarycz, Jason Schwartz, Richard St. Germain, Naomi Stekelenburg, David Ryan, Robert Lopez, Joseph R. Wojtowicz, Mahreen Sohail, Danielle Blau, Gary Kertis, K.E. Allen, Jordan Gannon, Robin Martin, Dana Inez, Ryan Ries, M Sarki, Tom McCartan, Russell Brakefield, Josh Milberg & Elise DeChard, and Luke B. Goebel.

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Mantic Girations and Waves of Thor – Swans In SLC (9/1/14)

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Michael Gira







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“The Literature Has Become Monstrous” – Entering The Fray with Warburg and Yates

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With bracing clarity, James Elkins explores why images are taken to be more intricate and hard to describe in the twentieth century than they had been in any previous century. Why Are Our Pictures Puzzles? uses three models to understand the kinds of complex meaning that pictures are thought to possess: the affinity between the meanings of paintings and jigsaw-puzzles; the contemporary interest in ambiguity and ‘levels of meaning'; and the penchant many have to interpret pictures by finding images hidden within them. Elkins explores a wide variety of examples, from the figures hidden in Renaissance paintings to Salvador Dali’s paranoiac meditations on Millet’s Angelus, from Persian miniature paintings to jigsaw-puzzles. He also examines some of the most vexed works in history, including Watteau’s “meaningless” paintings, Michelangelo’s Sistine Ceiling, and Leonardo’s Last Supper.

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Michel Foucault
The Order of Things: An Archeology of the Human Sciences (1966)
Chapter 1 – Les Meninas

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Pablo Picasso
Blind Minotaur Led by a Girl through the Night (1934)

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Previous studies of Picasso’s involvement with the classical have tended to concentrate on the period immediately following the First World War, and to attribute that involvement to both the rise of political conservatism in France and the domesticating influence of the artist’s marriage to Olga Koklova. Focusing instead on the later, classicizing prints of the 1930s, this book offers a radically different view of Picasso and the “classical” — a view that aligns his work much more closely with Surrealist, and specifically Bataillean, revisions of antiquity.The book’s argument is built around detailed analyses of several separate print series: Picasso’s illustrations for Ovid’s Metamorphoses, the etchings of the Vollard Suite, and The Minotauromachy. Common to all of them, the book shows, is a strong engagement not only with the classical, but with the viewer. In the latter, Picasso’s prints are clearly at odds with the understanding of the relationship between classical art and its audience that prevailed throughout most of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries — an understanding that held the work’s purported autonomy to mirror the viewer’s own. By exposing that autonomy as a fantasy, Picasso opens the “classical” work and its viewer alike to the entanglements of desire and the dissolution of boundaries it inevitably brings.Much of the argument turns on close readings of key Surrealist texts by Georges Bataille, Michel Leiris, and Roger Caillois. Even more important, however, are the prints’ numerous references, heretofore unnoticed, to specific works by, among others, Rubens, Rembrandt, and Goya. These references effectively create an alternative “classical” tradition out of which Picasso’s etchings can be seen to have emerged.

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From the Unsaid Archives : Untitled (Flannery), by Anne Carson

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Confusion. How much can you take. Love turns to hate. Should you play with it. The night is a mess. Winds toss the window aside. Dark comes in at an angle. Everything tilts. What if matter jumped its tracks. What if rust sang or eyebrows shat. What if a headache became king. Not as an art project, not just weekends, not making us each a better person—but simply chaos ripping the sockets out of your arms. Empedokles thought about this. He thought down to the bottom. At the bottom of water he thought “famine.” This thought upset him and he gave it the name of an obscure Sicilian goddess (Nestis), hoping no one would ask more questions. But it continued to bite. In the foundations of things, he had to admit, in the living sources of increase and growth, he saw desertion, lack, lament. Of course it is true mortals never stop dying but that’s not what he means. Perhaps there was a night his lover turned on him in a bar, spitting with hate, threw a cup of wine at his head and said You damage my soul! That’s not what he’s talking about either. He wants to name a doubleness that inhabits all things and prevents them from ever actually coming into being or going out of being. Birth, death, these terms are inexact, he says,

but they are the convention so I use them myself.
(Empedokles, fragment 9.5)

Death, desertion, damage are not the point. Arising and existence are not the point. What runs at the bottom of everything is simply exchange. All that gathers will also disperse. Gather again. Disperse again. One thing becomes many and many become one. Peace turns to wrath and wrath to peace. Moons wax and wane. Cheese forms.

As when the sap of the fig tree has nailed white milk
and made it hard.
(Empedokles, fragment 33)

Reality is a tireless interchange, a mingling and separating, a forming and deforming, a yes and a no, of all the stuff that exists. And underlying it, driving every process and production through the whirlings of the cosmos, is a twofold motive principle, which he calls the energy of Love and Strife. Love and Strife are not material themselves, but they cause matter to be what it is and change how it changes. Neither Love nor Strife could exist without the other; they zipper back and forth inside everything like a vast necessary vibration.

This is perfectly clear in the burden of human limbs:
Sometimes all limbs that belong to a body
come together in Love, at a high edge of life in bloom,
other times, cut apart by evil Strife,
they wander asunder on the shore of life.
So it is too for bushes and fish in their watery halls
and mountain animals and flying gulls.
(Empedokles, fragment 20)

So when your lover wings a winecup at your head, don’t think You monster, think Necessity. I realize I’m being philosophically unfair. Empedokles is a cosmologist, not aiming to console me for the vagaries of love or its mortal pain. Still I take comfort from the images. A lover may become a monster. I need a way to think about that. Here are some lines from fragment 57 and fragment 61. Empedokles is describing a cosmic event, the moment of creation, when the One becomes Many. And entities begin to flare and float up from the ground into life:

Heads without necks sprouted up,
naked arms were wandering with no shoulders,
eyes strayed about in want of foreheads.

Many were produced with a face on both sides and breasts on both sides,
man-faced bulls and again bullheaded men,
or others mingled from men and female parts,
fitted with dark
hot
stout
lively
sterile [the reading is disputed] bodies.

But I digress. I started to think about confusion because of something in Flannery O’Connor. She gave a talk at Notre Dame University in 1957 and said this:

I doubt if the texture of Southern life is any more grotesque
than that of the rest of the nation, but it does seem evident
that the Southern writer is particularly adept at recognizing
the grotesque; and to recognize the grotesque you have to
have some notion of what is not grotesque….

I was thinking about what is grotesque and what is not grotesque existing side-by-side in stories, side-by-side in a mother and son on the bus, side-by-side in one person’s head, and it seemed to me a smart calm way to view the situation. Empedokles, also a Southern writer, was able to reason calmly about these coexistences. And I regret that I am not. Love and hate coexist; they coexist in time, they coexist in other people, they coexist in me. I accept this but still I panic. It feels insane.

Flannery O’Connor’s characters do not get panicky, suffering love and hate in confusion, this burden of human limbs. They just go ahead with both. Think of Asbury Fox (in “The Enduring Chill”), a neurotic boy so bound to his mother he decides to come home and die in her house “because nothing would irritate her so much.” Or O.E. Parker (in “Parker’s Back”), whose contradictory feelings for Sarah Ruth hit up against one another in his actions. “He made up his mind then and there to have nothing further to do with her,” one paragraph ends and the next paragraph begins, “They were married in the County Ordinary’s office because Sarah Ruth thought churches idolatrous.” Sometimes Parker’s ambivalence fits into once sentence:

Every morning he decided he had had enough and would
not return that night; every night he returned.

And even when he does spend a night away from his wife, paradox persists:
Parker spent the night on a cot at the Haven of Light Christian
Mission. He found these the best places to stay in the city because
they were free and included a meal of sorts. He got the last available
cot and because he was still barefooted, he accepted a pair of second-
hand shoes which, in his confusion, he put on to go to bed….

The grotesque may take many forms. Poor Parker lying in bed with his shoes on seems a milder event than manheaded bulls or naked arms wandering the world apart from shoulders, but in practical terms, once your life has jumped the track, where is the way home? Once hatred blows up the law of love on your dear one’s face, how do you return to conversation? Fictionally. You make something resembling blood. If there were a way home it would be a mystery, Flannery O’Connor might say. No use trying to prattle your way into mystery. But tell what you see, tell what the blood was like, and maybe a gesture will form. Probably unbearable. Certainly unclean. And then you will go ahead with your exile.

Fictionally. Here arises, for Empedokles, the fiction of world itself. For it is important to notice that, in his cosmology, creation happens and a multiplicity of things arise into life as a consequence of Strife. He says that the forces of Love and Strife are immortal and uncreated, whereas matter (which consists of Fire Water Earth Air) is always dying and returning to life. When it dies, Love draws it upward into oneness. But when Strife tears the oneness apart again, then Fire Water Earth Air get separated and from their separation come monsters, animals, fish, bushes, girls, boys, and all the parts of the cosmos created from these. Also swans, of which the male is called a cob and the female a pen, according to Flannery O’Connor. Not a hen? No, a pen, she maintains. She kept swans.

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Unsaid 7 : TRIGGER, by Brian Kubarycz

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If my Trigger ever exits prison he will find his writing hand. I will fix it. You can hang that by your Jesus nail, by God.

But no. Now no need.

With no permission, it is terrible for him to sit still, I know it. Moan to me and whisper without pad and ink, piss into this old lady’s ear. For years he needed privileges from wardens, silence from cellmates—needed to work, earn hard, send words off to me. Until a broken wrist, bandaged and hammocked in a sling, finally finished it, us, me. His envelopes started coming upside down, every time the licked part on the bottom, always that way since the wrist was set to heal. His handwriting came back another man’s, years older and more book-informed, a teacher, born and bred in the city of New York.

I could have murdered Trigger there where he stood there in the afternoon, in all the sweat and courtroom light, wrists in cuffs and links, cornflower cravat. Whatever the lawyer said, Trigger just dropped his eyes. Was he on Mulberry Street? Was he on Sesame? No comment, every time. The next day was the same, eight hours of it long. Hudson? Titus? Main? South Temple? State? These were names that made me feel a stomach ache, made my blood go spitty.

I didn’t go the final time. I didn’t want to see him anymore. I went berry picking instead. Far from the courthouse, thousands of prickers sticking into me, my hands and feet. I walked barefoot anyway. Truckers watched me, roadside, slowed to double-nickels every time.

Come afternoon, I stopped to wipe my feet. Jesus’ juicy crucifixion they both seemed to me, but for my corns. I felt inside a pocket for my dip. Pinch is my rude cross to bear. Don’t you ever come back home, Papa had said to me. He saw me dipping in the street. I started walking fast. Only ten years old, by Jim, and he came after me. I climbed into a tree, looked down into his face through the weave of leaves and branches, his glasses and his handsome hair, his finger pointing up at me, his Jesus-pretty teeth. And I looked out over our whole town. Fine, I said, calling him by what my mama did. He didn’t say anything after that or even stay under the tree. He wiped his dust and Papa walked away.

The verdict came and Trigger was sentenced, though not to death. He left me and our Trigger Baby to keep his house for him—a wooden cube with a back porch and a river view. Me and Trigger Baby always went swimming, but only after midnight and on rainbow afternoons. Only when the thunder rolled in and up and over the whole house, through its innerest beam. Lightning flashing up above the water was a sun enough for us, by God. No weatherman or megaphone could yell us back to shelter from the current where it hit me in the knees, or in the baby belly. Trigger Baby, once he had been born, gathered up into my arms and danced over the surface of the water with his wrinkle-fisted feet. Me and Trigger Baby, we both made our pees and cues, and looked up into a thick cloud-cover ceiling.

On the other bank, by a house no larger than my Trigger ‘s, there stood a single tree. In people years it must have been Geronimus. To hold that many branches over such a spread of air it must have pushed roots down beneath the river, reaching up to drink the water in. A scar cut in its trunk looked like a viper crawling down, the head of it almost flush to the foot. I dragged Baby by the arms, playing riverboat as the winds whipped up and the air began to smell of flint and steel. Rain turned hail against our faces, banged down against our backs, and down fell the clouds as they let their ice cargo go over the roof. It was a money sound—like winning at a slot machine, or making the bill changer take rag paper like it was a real bill.

That he could do this Trigger had shown to me one morning when we needed gasoline. I sat in the laundry and I watched somebody’s clothes that I had never known, shot through with detergent, rolling and falling upon themselves and over. My thumbs almost betrayed me, or so it seemed to me, so busy I near blistered. Trigger stood poker while the hail of quarters spilled, like it was bubblegums we paid for anyway.

The white stationary with the cornflower pinstripes on it, the babyblue stationary showing an outline of a prison building, the lemoncustard stationary with no lines at all, and the riversalmon stationary. These were the colors that came in the mailbox and faded almost a dozen years of weekends until Trigger Baby wasn’t baby anymore. Though I never named him, still I felt always convinced there was something in him capable of taking a name. It was like a basket in him, lined with baby blanket, or some Easter plastic hay. The kind of hay that rustles like the crackle of a fire. I wanted several times to name our Trigger Baby. To name him would have been like nestling an egg down in that plastic, one egg clicking up against another one—kissing it. The trick would be to place it in without making an egg go crack. To name him right would be the perfect click. To name him wrong would break one of the eggs. It felt too dangerous to me. Each day I picked a name and tried to make the mouth to say it. But I would fall to pieces as it touched the inside of my lips. It never got through how I barred my teeth against it. In my mind I would tear up the name like it was incriminating, burn the paper bits away and try again next day.

I went on like this for years, always calling him just Trigger Baby. On Sunday’s, I called him Trigger Baby as I unfolded the pages sent from prison by his Trigger daddy. I looked at the lines of ink, and sometimes fingerprints. I would see the lines in these and press my own against them. Sometimes I felt the page press back, like it wasn’t plexiglass between us but only the thinnest tissue, old-lady skin, the drumskin of an ear. I would crinkle the paper and listen for the names it might speak to me. What to call the baby? Trigger, he never told. Trigger, he didn’t even know there was the boy. He didn’t know it was alive inside me in the courthouse, didn’t know that it was born a twin, that it had strangled its own sister with its cord, that it had lived but never learned to speak a tongue. It had never needed any name, although I always tried to give one. It had never needed birthday cake, although I always baked one. Every day was Trigger Baby Day for me—be it summer heat or Christmas. Come Sunday, it was always Letter Day, no matter what the day was when the letter came.

One day the letter came that just felt different. It was the color when the cloud rends, right before a new tornado. I have seen that color in a sink, when scrubbing at a coffee ring. I took everything I wore off of my fingers and I put the Clorox in, let water perk its way into the powder bleach before I started rubbing. I watching the color come on, come on like the color of the clouds, tornado days. I got to thinking how the clouds will push and tug, like us when making Trigger Baby. The sinking of my stomach was a numbness I could feel. The popping of my button something I could see through my blouse, though Trigger would never know of it. There was this feeling to it—I can only call it green—when I received the letter colored like tornado days. I could see that it was different, even before slitting it. I could see how the color soaked through, like it was not a letter but a stain that Trigger mailed to me.

I waited until it was Letter Day, because this is what I always chose to do. Even if it was a holiday, I wanted Letter Day to be bigger, like a Christmas Tree on Easter, like an Easter hat at the Grammies, like a jack-o-lantern smack atop a wedding cake.

On Letter Day I broke the seal. I learned from Trigger about his wrist, how it had been pinned beneath an automobile he had been given permission to fix. It was part of his sentence to learn a skill in prison. Trigger had known cars from a boy. But mostly just to take them for a spin and then forget them, never to rebuild them for the love of one thin bill. I used to think that it would be that way with me, that I was just another joy that Trigger would ride, just an apple he would spit the seeds when finished. But he chewed me many years, making faces as he did into the evenings, not usually saying anything to me but only revealing he was thinking anything at all by wriggling in his seat, or taking another dip before laughing all the more I don’t know what about.

Trigger, he stuck with me until he was taken to jail. And there, suddenly, he was gifted to write, and finally I knew the very man. Like he was inside me. I was my body, but he was my mind thinking things. I read his words aloud, let them part my lips, let them move my tongue inside my mouth, like it was his. Like he was trying to give a name to Trigger Baby. I let him speak me that way, learned to let him tell me that he missed me. I learned that he was simple in the ways of love and had scarcely touched another woman, even before he knew me. I learned he was a foreman in the prison, that he never saw his pay. I learned he was given the gift of words while reading from the Bible. He did not want to preach. He did not care for Jesus in a way that makes you saved. But he had a grace in him, he wrote to me. And I believed it. I would read his words and think someone had touched me with a finger. I would read his words and feel virgin just long enough so he could steal it one more time from me. His voice inside me, our baby in my arms, his prints beneath my fingers.

But now a car had fallen on his arm, he wrote to me. Already I could feel the disappearance. This was writing in another hand. One which loved me, true. But it loved me different. I could hear the voice in me, but it was thinner, the voice of a teacher, wanting me to improve, though the words did not come out in just that way. Still, I could see it in the very shape of ink. I could almost smell it. I could feel the paper didn’t press me anymore. It stared back with just the look of what it was. No more.

I received these letters every single week. And I would keep them always until it was Letter Day. But I would read them less eagerly, eventually lost interest, although I always read them anyway. Sometimes I would take them down to the river, take Trigger Baby with me and wait for it to rain. One night I went swimming, Trigger Baby hanging on my neck, sprawling on my back so that I could feel him breathing fast against me, feel his almost whiskers tickling on my spine. I swam into the middle of the current, swam up against the flood, pulling hair with my hands, scratching and biting the river. I used nails and teeth. I was climbing a mighty tree.

I swam till Trigger Baby was a wet cape that I had to wear. I swam till I could feel the sweat pour off me in the water. And when I could swim no more, I surrendered to the stream. I took my baby in my arms and pressed him to me. And we fell that way for—God knows—countless miles. I don’t how we both survived that night. For I swore to myself as I floated on sheet lightning that I would take water for my air, let it fill my lungs till I was also liquid. I would let it ferry me where it would, my body nothing but a tongue that lapped until it found the river’s mouth.

But I woke up on the shore, Trigger Baby barely breathing, the night nearly over for us now. I walked home again, Trigger Baby on my back once more. I arrived at last at the door. I took my baby in the bed beside me, I pulled the covers down, and I taught him his true baby daddy’s name.

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Unsaid 7 : from THE WAY OF FLORIDA, by Russell Persson (Recipient of the 2014 Ivory-Billed Woodpecker Award for Fiction in the Face of Adversity)

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And waiting another day to enter port, a south wind took us and drove us away from land. We passed over to the coast of Florida, and came to land, and went along the coast the way of Florida.

Lone flats due east of dry Tortuga, the shallows there. The pilot ran us aground for all he knows. Four hundred men and eighty horse and four ships and brigantine. High up on this shoal in spring the groans of us and the groans our ship does against its own damn weight. The groans and walking, only stillness could break them down. If I hear another man pace today this pilot who shoaled us up here answers for that sound I swear. Hardtack and water barreled and a fruit destroyed inside it for its medicine against a worm. Dry Tortuga far out and east of us the bonefish in between. The fish in clouds around us.

Then it was the cloth of our Lord commanded our silence and I along with the great wishes of our keeper gone along with this for any bend in the ritual of our pause there run aground was itself a gift and so it must have been what our Lord intended for us that great heads of rain walked over us and our grounded ship inside this sea above the sea was for now a quiet one save what fell against the decks from it. We couldn’t help but give ourselves to what it was and stare us out through its curtain of falls. We had a sea around us is what I said. The horse can subdue itself if about them a peace is made, like any other beast, and so it was. The damp horse still and headhung close up against so all eighty head and hide are blended into one. What steadies us here though is the water pourn I’m certain of it. Our Lord is quiet boots upon man I know this at least.

Sat there for two fucking weeks. Blown by three storms since Havana. This pilot of the north coast, Miruelo. I have a time constructing words to go with him.

Our doldrum broken, we went along the coast of Florida. Then we anchored on the same coast at the mouth of a bay, at the back of which we saw houses and where Indians live.

Like a waypoint an island in the bay was our halfshot and each met there, the Indians and our comptroller Alonso Enriquez. The Indians brought with them fish and venison and they were with Enriquez for the day and the afternoon on that island. And after they left the island they paddled in their canoes back to land and in the night they gathered all they had and lit some cookfires that we saw from across the bay and what they gathered was hauled out with them and they disappeared into the night trees so that when we arrived the next day their buhios were empty and a great buhio what could hold three hundred of them was bare of them entire. Some of them must have gone coasted, oversea in canoes so all canoes were gone. Among it all we found a golden rattle.

And standing on this cleared town this land is presented to his royal name and orders as commanded.

Of our horses the sick and thin horse is all who remained. Half of what started, so many dead and brought up and dropped into the waves and sunk overboard, falling dead in seawater into some depth who makes all souls opaque. One after another. And who remained all thin and worn. We brought them ashore either way. My sorrow for the sunken horses I also cannot put words to but for a different why.

And when the Indians returned the next day with their language that they used into our ears to no good and with the flying fist and calls for to warn us off the land they went back to the woods and no violence had come of them but when we knew they were gone and had taken to the woods again it was as if a drum inside the woods was always gently hit in there, a low drawn hum in slow walk down near the roots and knees.

The next day the governor decided to go inland to explore and to see what it contained.

This Miruelo, great navigator of a lost sea, some ocean no man can tell would even exist outside the blown realm of his thistled head, some mapless weed he must dream up and spout off about among a trusted company. Doesn’t know where we are. Some thousand mile stretch he might hit if he had a week. So fuck his notions on where. Consult him any longer there is no way to do this.

The always and low beating of a drum out there in the humid trees and I picture this with my companion, we envision what a drum of this people would be like, some hide stretched over a basketish ring, tendon looped in and hooked through the smoothen hide and around under the whole basket and adorned with some heathen artifacts all baubled attached or so. The always beating like a heart out there in rest but never gone.

In night we give a story out into the air. Just air that comes out of us. It is not the sea and it is not land or trees of course it is air in the shape of our sound in the shape of tales. We trade story and but trade at once so one might bank into another.

Another starts: There is no winter where she is from. It is like what we have found here but instead of these pools and mud there is only sand and beyond that a meadow where men built stick houses and she led me to a house one of these stick houses and I could have been led to food or to men with sharpened bones and fast arms or led to a trading room and only what was there in that stick house was a gourd of clear water and a reed mat. 

In day it was the will of the governor to go inland and that the ships go along the coast until they arrived at port and on this our opinion was requested.

The notary and his lost books all lost to the sea or inside the wind this notary put down my response — the lostness of our pilots and the state of our horses not fit to use for any use and that our words could not be folded into the ears of who lived on this land nor their words folded into what we could hear and so our ears were blind to what and beyond all this our notion of what this land held was empty of any fact save what we saw in front of us which could be kindly noted as fucked in terms of where to settle us and beyond all this what a mind will not mention even to himself what undressed demon waits in this thatch or blended into the sand we tread and beyond all this our food. But to the commissary he felt all this in reverse and that the port of Panuco could not be far off as our pilots have advised and could not be missed and the first to arrive should wait there and that to embark with all of us on our ships and all our trunks would be to ask our Lord to bring down upon us His iron heel as He has done already again and before that.

These opinions were noted and because the governor was deciding in the way of the most assembled there I asked that my opinion to do the opposite be quite noted and certified.

The governor called for his men who would travel overland with him to prepare themselves for this trip and then he set me in charge of the ships and to this I refused to do it.

How I saw both each of us as men who went up against a thing, and as such how my body was a piece broken off directly from the sacked ore and set upon this earth to come blasted by all what rains down on average men to halt them, I exist on separate terms as a man of hardships than our governor and to convey this would badden our terms—so as the sun will warm the meat of our bodies the same all of us so the moon ripens only me while they lie dark asleep. Is it found a way to bring this up and still eat the same board? 

I refuse and hold fast to refuse the charge of those ships in the face of all our governor’s beseeching and I paint to him a picture of my honor as a stack of beams gone to punk which all the men have set to flame and our governor begins to see that I will not at all sail with the ships but will instead test my body versus all terms of the land here and go alongside him on the overland journey. I tell him it is my sense that the ships and those who travel on land will not meet again in this world. So Caravallo is set in charge of the ships.

And so it is I go along with the governor and three hunrdred men and forty horse and for each man he is given two pounds of hardtack and one-half pound of salt pork and we gather ourselves. The ships too are prepared to sail along the coast and Caravallo sees to this and I am thankful that I am not wearing the duty of Caravallo to the ships. Looking out from land the ships are there and they begin to get painted there, as if no longer true ships of wood but in my eyes they are versions of ships perfected, the light upon them and how they sit on the water as things at once a part of our world and also a sketch as an artist might make a thing lay flat on his canvas. Did our Lord command this? My strongest notion tells me these ships will not see our governor again nor he these ships. That our split here will be so for the rest of us. But our Lord will deem right what fate these ships run into and I can only see from across that distance what our outcomes might be and may all our men on land and those with Caravallo enjoy His protection and course.

We walk into the land.

These overland days are long for the things we do not come upon. No man. No altered dirt just this sanded ground where armadillos and other armored rats do be. The palmetto tree is our only game on this stretch and it is an easy one to corner but takes many arms to bring down. We fell them whole and strip off the woven bark and the strings who run up and down and work our way into the core of each trunk and sculpt out for meals the softest inside part of this tree. The rabble we leave behind for each one of these. For more than two weeks this core is our only game and it is what our Lord intended for us and so again we hack down the palmetto and tear apart its outside in order for to cause among us all a meal to make itself a thing in our hand so our Lord provides for us a feast again and once again. The land unmarked by any home of who might live in this place and unmarked by any who at all.

Then a river is across our way. It is wide and with a current who has a fist and for a day we spend us to get across with all our men and our horses. The water is almost clear, a shallow pool near the shore with a white sand floor tells us about the goodness of the river. A sandbar near us at the near shore and then past that the river becomes a deep river and the water in it moves along with an unbended fist. Our dear horses who along our journey with their noble walk and their strong eye and courage sent to them from a thousand years of courage behind them put up with the halted stumbles of their masters who beat down jungle with long knives and come upon blasted seas and two-fisted rivers and are we all in this as one our Lord? Our day here crossing has at least a different cloud above it, gathering a self inside a piece of shade or setting the next man to hold him to his strong stories and send him to the far shore. We tie together items in a rafted way and send across in batches what we have and on the side of this a man will swim with his body. We mound our all on the far bank and those already over take apart the rafted what and set out the crossed gear on the sandbar in the sun.

And as the most of us are on the near shore and only few have gone across we can tell some Indians have come through the far trees and move over there as if we don’t know they are there and move and hide low. Our men on the far shore do not tell yet that these Indians are in the woods behind them. Our language does not carry past the good sound of this river. We throw a small gesture not a large one but that too does not carry to the far shore. They keep on over there to lay out cloth and items in the sun of the sandbar and spread them there. We keep on our crossing and the news of the hidden Indians goes with the next man to cross the river and during his cross the Indians there become several and it seems now they are more than several but come as a company of many arms and they spread out along the shore for they are many and each goes down to a knee so that who leads them stands tall above them and above his head rides a tall bended plume. 

How can it be that a gesture of a hand or how a body becomes more upright and rigid before you and the eyes become stern with an eyebrow at a new posture and a mouth who less widens but drawn in so it’s told that together we are at odds and soon a hand will raise up against another hand? Men at arms do they come ready in this life for moving a quick arm against another man? So has it been mapped ahead of us our Lord a mapmaker with his scrolls of us spread out above us perhaps this is what the clouds are they are his charts of us laid out with what we do pictured there and we tread duly on its lines. Or has our walk led us to our present day and each turn or befallment renders us further for the next turn until we come to the far side of the river and through some gauge we devise or through a notion we can tell the Indians gathered there come ready to mix with us against us?

These signs lead us to know we are at odds. We must turn on them. In so doing we capture five or six of them. They lead us back to their homes where we find an abundance of maize ready for harvest that our Lord has set aside for us and we give thanks. So here we encamp and repair our hunger and our horses rest.

We continue the way of Florida to the supposed Port of Panuco and we bring with us the five or six we have captured and they as our guides go ahead and two of them among us and steer us through great fallen trees who lay as tall as one man the tree laid there in its new and final spot a great arm gray and ridged. For two weeks there is no sign of any others there in the forest and for two weeks we carve out the heart of palm and for two weeks it is only the heart of palm we eat and we thank our Lord for providing these gifts to us and the vigor of our thanks to Him seems among the men to subside each day yet praise to Him is given and I see to it each man brings his full voice and his wide open eyes looking forward and full awake in this rejoicing. Our Lord can hear the timbre of our voices for He can hear our very heartbeats and the voices we must all have inside us who all day speak with us and bargain withinside us and test our resolve.

We march on through this heated woods and fourteen days has passed when coming forth to meet us is a native lord and he is carried up above his people on their shoulders and in front of this array like buzzing insects there are small ones who play a strange music from a reed flute and these small ones weave among themselves and dart and bound lightly in the undergrowth and hide their heads like the armadillo can do and this lord who flies above his people wears a painted deer hide and teeters there on shoulders and it is this appearance of flying above the ground without any shoulders between him and the sand that he must wish to convey, the natives below him with sticks and leaves and hanging moss tied to them at one with the land about them.

I am having doubts about the shape of this world. Where we find ourselves. As a band of Indians appear to us in these woods with their reeds and with their plume and their sounds all odd and fucked to hear so also we appear to them with our leather and our crossbow and our belts and to them also the sound we carry has no business with them no weight at all except that it is not a silence there between us so our exchange in these woods is of a slim bag of gestures and through this we are both commanded to gauge if we are here in peace or have we come here to be against thee. How has a man come to be the judge of this? The condition of a shape of where we are and I can signal to you our Lord I can refer to where you are for it is I alone who keep these maps of you and keep what you draw for us here upon this sand and soil and I have come to know our lot is drawn and you have sketched with great love the charts of my step revealed to me the moment I do step and I have come to know my past and come to know the great distance and I have come to know that here in these woods with only the sounds of air and birds and wind and a broken twig and a judgment placed before me what to be with these natives I know your maps of love for us are like great hands who live about us and guard and fend.

It is so and so we move into the sand between us. Two bands of bodies and a question of our each carried to the fore, so to first meet in our path the questions of our each an unended question on the service of to judge a man if his hand is gradual and open or if his hand is fisted and abrupt. As I said it was open this hand and it was presented in kind announce. This cacique and our governor spent a piece of time making gestures to the other and it was sketched to this cacique that we were going to Palachen and to the Port of Panuco there and through the motion of his hands and from the voice of him it was known to us that he was at odds with the people of Palachen and that he would lead us this cacique would be our lead to Palachen and that his arm and the arm of his people would join in with us in our get to Palachen and if there was an against to do so then these all arms were together in such an against. The cacique took off the painted deerskin he wore and he handed it to our governor and our governor then grandly set out some bells and beads on a piece of bright cloth on top of the ground and this was to be for the cacique and the governor stood as tall as he could stand and with his back like a tree is straight and his jaw set high as he was pleased to show how pleased he was to bestow these fucking beads and metal balls to the cacique who was called Dulchanchellin and who turned and walked into the trees and his people followed him into the trees and we all followed them all into the trees toward Palachen.

And like this we followed Dulchanchellin and his people and one might have a thought about the faith we handed over as a blind man is led through an unknown hall of rooms and how this faith is more easily handed over when for weeks the heart of palm was only what fed us and our lostness was so great and complete although our lostness was not a spoken thing of us and how a new land to a body causes that same body to believe in the help that is sent to it more quickly for the belief is that there is a goodness ahead and otherwise to otherwise hope is hopeless. How do you follow a man if you are already against yourself? The marching of the sound of us in those trees it is enough to cast away that foe inside us I speak for every man here. It can be no other way.

Inside the trees it became night and we all continue and reach after a time a river who ran with great bigness. We heard this river for some leagues before we met this river in our path. There came from off the sides a coolness who drifted up and along the river yard and in that coolness and in the night darkness we constructed a canoe to help us cross the river and even so and even with the help of the men of Dulchanchellin this crossing took us one entire day.

This time has come to reveal the death of Juan Velazquez de Cuellar, the impatient and he was mortally so. And he was mortally courageous some might say of him and did not judge well the current he believed his horse could swim across and Juan Velazquez de Cuellar mortally on his horse they rode together into that river. It was as if we slept there in our feet and a dream became over us for none of the men could speak to warn him away from the river as a voice is hidden in a dream so our voices became mute and the sand of the river was what he heard and rode into the water and soon came to overturn and to go along with the current instead of at an angle as a right swimmer would have done and Juan Velazquez de Cuellar held the reins of his horse in some try to stay his head into the air but instead the reins pulled down into the river the horse he brought there and they both went to the water under and did not come up to live again with us. We stood there in our feet and some men went along the river. In the day the Indians of Dulchanchellin found the horse downstream and told us where we could find Juan Velazquez de Cuellar and near all our men were bent in sorrow for this the first lost of our inland group and that was an unfortune and this man who for his final choice rode himself and one good horse into a big current died dead this day. And it was as if our Lord had called down to fetch one of us in trade for some other of our luck. The tables then more even. And in this as well how to walk all of us into the next. The stitch of who was further. The quiet camp we held into the night. The river sound in night and most of us ate of his horse.

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From the Unsaid Archives : CRAFT TALK WITHOUT CRAFT, by Padgett Powell

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(NOTE: This lecture was originally presented by Powell to the MFA Creative Writing Program of Columbia University in September, 2010.)

I am thinking tonight, as I address this unenviable task, of Flannery O’Connor, because she would advise against it, my addressing this unenviable task. I revere her in a way that she would also advise against, in fact would probably repudiate outright, hard: as something of the godhead, or goddesshead, of letters. I like touching the goddesshead. I do it whenever I can. I’ll touch the godhead too. Once I was so drunk on the grounds of Rowan Oak and a storm hit so violently that I was convinced Wash Jones would come out of the house with the scythe and I would not hear him for the thunder and only at the last minute in a flash of lightning would I see him with the weapon poised to behead me, which I deserved.

I call Flannery’s cousin Louise Florencourt sometimes to touch the goddesshead. Louise is nine months younger than Flannery would be were she alive, and regally correct (she was one of the first three women to attend Harvard Law School, in 1937), and never married, and is Catholic, and is literary executrix of her famous cousin’s estate, and lives right there in Milledgeville in her famous cousin’s mother’s big house on Greene Street so fine that it once served as the temporary governor’s mansion, and Louise still has a mule, Flossie, on the famous farm, a hennie mule that was almost there when Flannery was, or maybe was there, mules live forever and my arithmetic is weak and I have not asked Louise if Flossie and Flannery actually overlapped, so Louise is to my mind the closest thing, genotypically and phenotypically, to Flannery O’Connor, and when I talk to Louise I feel it’s as close as it’s going to get to talking to Flannery, touching the goddesshead.

Sometimes Louise quietly rebukes, and that is thrilling. Once at her country club at lunch I told her of my recent divorce and she presumed I would be in some kind of rebound peril and she said, “You have to be very careful, Mr. Powell. Of course I’m too old.” I froze the way I imagine one does when playing cards in a saloon and you are accused of cheating.

I feel I may have gotten a little off-line. Maybe I should say here that I think the craft of fiction has a lot more to do with being off-line than with being on-line, a whole lot more, but in saying that I would be appreciably more off-line than I wish to be at this juncture. I have not even properly detailed yet why this task is unenviable and why in its particulars I am reminded of Flannery O’Connor. I have intimated that these are things I will say, and one of the things fiction must do, I am afraid, is deliver what is intimated will be delivered. Here is Flannery O’Connor, then, if you must have it, on the giving of advice, and why I am calling the giving of advice unenviable:

“I am becoming convinced that anybody who gives anybody else advice ought to spend forty days in the desert both before and after.”

My arithmetic is not so weak that I cannot figure that to be eighty days in the desert. That is too much. I have no experience with the desert but I spent thirty-seven days on the ground in Kenya, as opposed to in the safari car where mzungu is advised to stay, and was so debilitated by what the French doctor attending my survival called an intestinal weerus after we spent three months looking for a parasite that could not be found by every blood test there is, and stool analysis, and finally sonogram, which altogether I estimate would have cost about ten thousand dollars in the states but that ran me $250 in France, so please do not tell me that we do not want a public option or that socialized medicine is evil-–was so debilitated by the weerus that I found Jesus, or He me, walking along a quay on a midwinter day in sunny Bretagne.

Jesus I now know, though Flannery would cane me for this, is the invisible friend that we tell children after age five they may not have. He will pull you through, even through a weerus from Africa. My Jesus wears a Pink Panther suit dirty at the knees.

Where are we? I am braving the eighty days, then, because Ben Marcus has offered me some of Columbia’s money to do so, and I am a good boy who meets his contractual obligations. I was a good boy as a boy and wanted to attend to my intellectual fundament by coming to Columbia but my mother would not fill out the financial disclosure that would have secured the necessary aid and so I did not come, and divorced my mother, and did not, as you can already glean, ever attend to my intellectual fundament. Another good boy who had trouble with his mother but who did manage to come to New York, whether to attend to his intellectual fundament or not, with whom I was familiar as I struggled against mothers and want of intellection, is Tennessee Williams. I flunked out of chemistry school by reading everything Tennessee Williams wrote instead of organic chemistry, and a kind of early mother-in-law gave a party for him in Charleston and did not tell me, and while in Charleston, to premier one of those late failed plays you can learn so much more from than from the earlier well-made plays, just as you can see how and why Hemingway was so good only by reading him after he had lost his mind, Tennessee Williams bought a safari suit out of the window of Dumas & Sons on King Street, and it is said he wore it for the duration of his time in Charleston, which I estimate at two weeks. Tennessee Williams drunk and in his stained khaki suit smelling probably like Kenya and I was not invited! Fortunately that girl got rid of me and that got rid of that kind of early mother-in-law who did not invite me. I once inadvertently saw her freshly showered, and she had powdered what Butters on South Park calls bush with heavy talc so that it looked a ghostly white over black, an unappetizing pastry as it were, and once that daughter who would so prudently later get rid of me caught her taking acid and slapped her. You all have probably heard that Tennessee Williams when he got so suddenly rich and famous in fancy New York hotels mistook chocolate sauce for gravy and poured it on his steak and broke the arms to sofas and so forth. It was behavior of that sort, on top of my having read all the bad formative work and the good work and the later thrilling deteriorating work, while being declared a failure at chemistry school, which would make me then have to be a roofer, which among other transgressions would have that girl biochemist get rid of me, and me her Bermuda Triangle mother, that made me really want to meet Tennessee Williams. I would have had nothing to say of interest to him sitting there in a giant wingchair in his fouled khaki with the ludicrous fond epaulettes. I was then as pretty as a girl so maybe he would have been interested in me had I said nothing at all, but I’d not have had the wit for that.

Here is what I hope with everything I have left in me I would not have said: Mr. Williams, I am a roofer in Texas because I read all your stuff and I am honing my craft. I would not be mortified today had I said: Mr. Williams, I am a roofer in Texas because I read all your stuff. Ms. O’Connor’s Hazel Motes, whom I trust all of you know, or know of, put it this way: “I’ve started my own church. . . The Church Without Christ.” Nabokov has his famous bitchy roosterism about the worst thing a student can say to him is that he, the student (and he probably meant right here at Columbia), has a lot of ideas; for me, rivaling Nabokov for bitchery and failing in every other measure to even get on scale (for example, my speaking a second language I now concede will depend upon the Language Fairy’s putting one under my pillow), the last thing I want to hear, ever, and a thing for which I will dismiss a petitioner outright who seeks study anywhere near me, is the phrase “hone my craft.” I would rather hear “spank my monkey.” In fact it is reasonably likely that I will admit an applicant avowing that he seeks to spank his monkey if he can manage some slight elegance or surprise or deprecation to indicate that maybe he understands how likely it is that the pursuit of writing is so often naught but a spanking of one’s monkey, and sometimes someone else’s monkey. I have used the masculine pronoun in the construction of this silly conceit not in a spirit of sexism but because I hoped some elegance might redeem the silliness and because women are not commonly thought of in connection with monkey spanking. Be assured that with equal ardor I do not want a woman to tell me she wants to hone her craft.

People, we have started our craft talk, the Craft Talk without Craft. It has been a prodigious introduction and it remains to be seen if a talk can ensue at all. I am weak from fear of the desert.

I am now going to proffer some little things that may combine in your mind to mean something, or not. They may mean something discretely, or not. They may combine better in an order I do not have the wit to determine, but that is okay, since you are having to hear them in the air where they are already subject to the Brownian motion of podium slur and so are already combining in the weird indeterminate order of the misheard and the partially heard. I grasped Brownian motion before flunking out of chemistry school. Had the mother-in-law who powdered herself so prodigiously spilled talc into the toilet, a distinct possibility given the liberality of the dusting of her cruller, you could have seen the talc move on the toilet water in what is called Brownian motion. If there is calculus to describe Brownian motion I mercifully flunked out still innocent of it. That one can even now utter the clause “if there is calculus” is an indicator of supreme naivete because there is calculus to describe everything, which is why, aside from reading Mr. Williams when I was supposed to read Mr. Morrison and Mr. Boyd, I flunked out of chemistry school. I am going on about this now not merely because of my giant reluctance to start the Craft Talk without Craft but also because remaining innocent of things is in my view an important part of writing, which will become clear if I ever start the talk.

Here then are seven utterances by six more or less smart people that taken together form a manifesto for deintellectualizing the approach to craft, or for admitting that it is but spanking the monkey, one’s or someone else’s:

1) “My best stories come out of nowhere, with no concern for form at all.” Barry Hannah

2) “I can take a sentence apart and tell you why I did it; obviously that’s the key to the whole thing, being able to write a sentence, and I’ve got a sense of what my sentences ought to do.” Pete Dexter

3) “Learn to play your instruments, then get sexy.” Debbie Harry

4) “Some people run to conceits or wisdom but I hold to the hard, brown, nut-like word. I might add that there is enough aesthetic excitement there to satisfy anyone but a damned fool.” Donald Barthelme (character)

5) “There is at the back of every artist’s mind something like a pattern or a type of architecture. The original quality in any man of imagination is imagery. It is a thing like the landscape of his dreams; the sort of world he would like to make or in which he would wish to wander; the strange flora and fauna of his own secret planet; the sort of thing he likes to think about. This general atmosphere, and pattern or structure of growth, governs all his creations, however varied.” G. K. Chesterton

6) “Anyway, when I told you to write what was easy for you, what I should have said was what was possible for you.” Flannery O’Connor

7) “Art is not difficult because it wishes to be difficult but because it wishes to be art.” Donald Barthelme (himself)

If I may presume to boil down the podium slur and condense these positions: the larger scheme of things will take care of itself if you will be sure to locate the right next hard brown nut-like word. Play your instrument, the sentence, before getting sexy with conceits and wisdom. Your notion of form, if you have one, is safely in the back of your mind, the landscape of your dreams, and it will out as you struggle with what is possible for you to struggle with, the words. Let things become difficult on their own, if they so insist (and they may not), without your deliberate help.

I saw Allen Collins become a world-class sexy rockstar advancing the conceits of a psychedelic band with the wisdom to masquerade as the redneck band Lynyrd Skynyrd. I watched him learn to play his guitar in the eighth grade with an amp so small he could put his foot on it to play better. When he was not suspended he was aimlessly walking the halls of junior high school. He did not want to be a rockstar, he wanted to be a good guitar player. He became that, and then he became the other.

It has taken us a long time to get here, and I confess I am as tired of this as you are. I feel like taking a pill and speeding things up. If any of you has any synthetic narcotics please see me before I enter the desert. I would now like to debunk craft books.

As a child even before I reached the flunking-out-of-science stage, I glanced at some craft books. I even still own some, in particular a thin volume called, pertinently, I presume, The Craft of Fiction, by Percy Lubbock, whose name I love, but whose book alas I have not opened. I do remember actually opening the House of Fiction, by Caroline Gordon, who ran with Allen Tate and Randall Jarrell and Peter Taylor and took counsel from Andrew Lytle and gave it to Flannery O’Connor. In this book were complicated diagrams having to do with point of view, I think; they featured a circle and an arrow. The arrow might come just to the circle, like common sperm, or it might penetrate the circle, like the putatively lucky one, and these relative positions of the arrow had to do with matters of omniscience, and limited omniscience, and so forth-–who could, appropriately, conceive what. A diagram of the benzene ring with its famous resonating bonds was by contrast more intelligible than these pictures, and that is one reason I pursued chemistry as opposed to English in college. Another reason is that I could not write a critical paper on, say, assonance and dissonance in the ballads of Thomas Campion without getting a D because, one professor told another, ending my English majoring the day I learned of it, I did not believe in the paper. Which was true; it was a parody of an English paper, but it was more astute than the non-parodies in the room. I could reproduce the mathematical argument that any given particle can be, at some probable moment, on the backside of the moon without getting a D. This argument I also had trouble believing but I was not, in the chemistry department, punished for skepticism.

In these books, these craft books, then, you will also find bloviations on terms such as exposition, which means a fair in which goods or wares or scientific and cultural wonders are displayed to the public; round characters and flat characters; back story; rising action, crisis, climax, denouement, detumescence; theme; metaphor; the difference between the ambivalent, a good thing, and the ambiguous, a bad thing; the bastardizing of telling versus the apotheosis of showing, hands down the largest bogosity of them all; and the existence of the necessary inevitable which necessarily cannot be anticipated before its inevitability becomes apparent. I will feel better going into the desert whether I have pills from you or not if you will all give me assurances that you will never, ever, give a thought to any of these ephemera above, except that if you think you can make a flat character I would like to see a whole book of really flat characters in it and I would like you to mail it to me in the desert. Promise me that you will never say to anyone that you wanted to establish a “close third.” Promise me that you will never use the term, or think that you are covertly rendering, an “unreliable narrator.” Nor may you entertain that there is some kind of subtle difference between a narrator and an author. There is only a huge difference, so the matter of the difference need not be entertained except by obvious and dim people from whom we do not need hear, aside from me.

The nineteen rules, some say twenty-two, governing the art of romantic fiction that Twain laid out in his dismembering of Fenimore Cooper you may use. Of particular value are Use the right word, not its second cousin, followed hard by Eschew surplusage. Twain has, as genius does, anticipated by fifty years and bettered by one word William Strunk’s more common and pedestrian and second-cousinly and surplussey Omit needless words. Forget the hokum that adjectives are second-class citizens.

Man, I like the oxycodone without the aspirin afixed to it. The aspirin is the damage doer. I wish Jimi Hendrix would walk in here and end this. Strunk and White have another famous bogus rule: Place the emphatic words at the end of the sentence. Let us accept for the moment that some words are inherently more emphatic by themselves than others, even if the argument is tenuous. Is cut throat more emphatic or less emphatic than sanguinary demise? Is harbinger more emphatic than hint? Is bastard more emphatic than shiftless character? Is siren more emphatic than pretty girl, really? But for the hell of it let’s say rock breaks scissors. Now, what Strunk and White mean, of course, is that the words at the end of a sentence are emphatic, the ones that are emphasized, and this is a useful notion. Presumably, then, the words not at the end are not emphasized as much. Now look at this, which I will read in a distracting if not deliberately comic manner to emphasize the relevant words, by which I mean words that are repeated but in positions of differing emphasis:

“Mrs. May’s bedroom window was low and faced on the east and the bull, silvered in the moonlight, stood under it, his head raised as if he listened–-like some patient god come down to woo her–-for a stir inside the room. The window was dark and the sound of her breathing too light to be carried outside. Clouds crossing the moon blackened him and in the dark he began to tear at the hedge. Presently they passed and he appeared again in the same spot, chewing steadily, with a hedge-wreath that he had ripped loose for himself caught in the tips of his horns. When the moon drifted into retirement again, there was nothing to mark his place but the steady sound of his chewing. Then abruptly a pink glow filled the window. Bars of light slid across him as the venetian blind was slit. He took a step backward and lowered his head as if to show the wreath across his horns.”

That is Miss O’Connor holding to the hard brown nut-like word. She is eschewing the conceit and wisdom that Mrs. May is the most presumptuous woman in Georgia if not in the world and that her presumption will merit this bull’s goring her to death. But she is discovering it, and telling it, and building the necessary inevitable that is not supposed to be apparent. Here are the repeated words, in order: head raised, chewing steadily, horns, steady chewing, lowered head, horns.

Miss O’Connor was paying attention to the word, and she had a sense of what her sentences ought to do: “Bars of light slid across him as the venetian blind was slit” is not “Mrs. May opened the blinds and bars of light slid across the bull.”

She can hardly contain the outrage inspired in her by Mrs. May. She is eager to get going on the portrait that will make us celebrate with her the violent undoing of this kind of person. Mrs. May next dismisses the bull as “Some nigger’s scrub bull,” then this:

“Green rubber curlers sprouted neatly over her forehead and her face beneath them was smooth as concrete with an egg-white paste that drew the wrinkles out while she slept.”

We will watch much happen to Mrs. May as she sleeps, and in fact not until the bull gores her does she wake: “…[S]he had the look of a person whose sight has been suddenly restored but who finds the light unbearable.”

Write like that. Herewith is concluded the Craft Talk without Craft. I would assess it so far a failure. I have attempted in its method, as opposed to its message–that is to say, I have attempted in the preaching itself rather than in the content of the sermon–to instruct all that I am qualified to instruct: that writing is controlled whimsy. Force whimsy just enough to make sense. How much force does that require? Good question.

There are martial-arts enthusiasts in the room, or at least one. Hello, Lt. Wilson. I myself have endured enough dojo and kwoon, in which, the kwoon, one frequently holds a position called horse long enough to stave off terminal old-man butt well enough that perfectly correct women like Louise Florencourt are compelled to tell you they are too old, and a certain kind of less correct middle-aged woman is compelled to freshen the accusation that one is in the throes of the mid-life crisis, which accusation this certain kind of middle-aged woman apparently takes more pleasure in issuing each time she utters it-–where are we? Where we are is I am demonstrating not enough force upon the whimsy.

In the kung-fu kwoon it is paramount that in a fight one remain loose; this is arguably the martial-arts equivalent to the NRA safety rule #1 that you Always Point the Gun in a Safe Direction, which, alas, proves the only rule necessary. In kung fu the big and necessary rule is Remain Loose, and the neophytes and the seekers of the grandfather’s wisdom keep asking, How loose? And the answer is, Well, grasshopper, not exactly a noodle. You must place enough force upon your whimsy that it is not exactly a noodle.

Al dente, then, allows accidents of utterance that may have unintentional consequences, happy and unhappy. I should not have revealed that I have had an intimate-seeming lunch in Milledgeville, but alas I did, as one thing led to another. I should not have slurred Kenya as I did when I said “Tennessee Williams drunk and in his stained khaki suit smelling probably like Kenya and I was not invited!” Kenya does not smell bad. India smells bad-–at least the Cooum River beside the Connemara Hotel in Madras does, and I advise you never to stand on the bridge over it, but to run. I used Kenya only because I had already detailed the rigors of the weerus that came from Kenya, and therefore the joke that Tennessee Williams smelled as bad as Kenya would work without the undue stress of a new and strange entity upon the reader. Tennessee Williams’ smelling like the Cooum, next to the Connemara Hotel, for example, almost funny now, would not have been funny in the first instance. Or maybe it would have.

All of this is about the power of repetition, which is but emphasizing words to the second power. All writing is the right word, the right position of the word, and the right position of the word to the second power, its repetition. All of this is but Making Sense, the big and necessary only rule in writing. It is the equivalent, clearly, to always pointing the gun in a safe direction and to remaining loose, but not as loose as a noodle.

I feel fine. I have acquitted myself handsomely and neatly, by accident, the only way neatness is palatable. I have failed most in not detailing exactly what Tennessee Williams looked like in the large chair, an overstuffed wingchair in the parlor of a Charleston single house, sitting weirdly aslant, in his dirty safari suit, resembling a tiny mad African king looking around the room for boys, for me, who was not there, as pretty as a girl. As Mr. Williams himself was to put it, more or less, the future becomes the present, the present becomes the past, and the past is filled with eternal regret.

Goodbye. You will not see me again, unless you yourselves are compelled to give advice and join me in the desert. Bring the pills.

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Unsaid 7: PORTIONS, by Richard St. Germain (Co‐Recipient of the 2014 Joan Scott Memorial Award)

portions

Perhaps she would have eaten whichever of them slept through their feeding times. Before they spoiled. But she would not be squeamish about them, either. They were food. They were meat. But they would have been so small, so delicate, so precious to her. They must not spoil. We must preserve them. But not indefinitely. For the time being, time being denied us by the microbes. She carried them in a sack convenient for preserving them in, so their number remains unknown. Their weight and their volume must have become impediments to her. They must have made her hungry. They must have made her slow. Where were you going, so slowly, little lady, where no one goes slow, if they can help it? Were you afraid, where your renowned means of defense is underappreciated by your pursuers? But your only predator eats other animals. We prefer chicken. If you were a chicken, we would understand why you crossed the road, little lady. But there is no escaping us, little lady. Your time was coming. Only our time is not coming, not for a long time, little lady. Perhaps next time we will evolve as companions to each other, with no memory of a relationship that was never other than mutually beneficial for each of our species. Perhaps next time no animal species will eat another animal species. A being that yields its life after bitter struggle must taste sweet. Everything is edible, if only for the microbes present for the feast. Let them have blood. Let us wash none of it off our hands. Let us carry some with us into our homes, to wonder whose blood we have bloodied the handles on our faucets with. We should know where it comes from by the pain of the wound. All animals feel pain. Sometimes we must wait for pain to be felt. Sometimes something is more important than the pain we should be feeling. Or the hunger. Or the fatigue. We become machines. We become dangers to ourselves. We are glad no one is near enough for their safety to be our concern. Or for our safety to be their concern. Our safety is our own concern. But safety is not our only concern! Otherwise we would never have touched her. No one would have touched her except perhaps with a shovel to pick her up with. No one would have gone near her except out of compulsion. We would have gone along our thoroughfares wondering where the smell was coming from. Perhaps we would have guessed, by the strength of the smell, that we would not find her alive. This little lady would not be offending us again. Some lucky animals would not be so offended. But could those animals smell the flowers? But flowers also offended us by their smell if we came too near them. Only particular animals could come so near to them and still be attracted by their smell. Only particular animals could navigate the delicate parts of a flower and have it be intact when they left it for the next flower and the next and the next. Because they would be always improving their navigations and increasing their efficiency in the task they had been assigned as a species. The smell that would be to us so overpoweringly attractive as to be repulsive, perhaps even suffocating if we could not smell it without breathing, would be to them the confirmation of their success in the task and perhaps even as a species.

 

We imagine their task must have been difficult for them before they evolved as a species, before the information they needed to do the task was transmitted via their genes. They misidenfified flowers. They desecrated flowers. They would not be the individuals assigned by the species to reproduce themselves via their genes, naturally. We could not allow even their participation in the rearing of the young, possibly. They would expose our children to dangers unnecessary to the children’s upbringing in our society. Perhaps such misidentifications and desecrations could support a new species if there were more flowers, more time, more individuals we could withstand the loss of. We could withstand the loss of individuals but not of our children. Children were more precious to us than in most other species. We would not eat them if we had food that was yet edible, despite delays in its utilization. Other methods of preservation have proved less reliable, but the method of preservation we use for children preserves savoriness as well as edibility. Perhaps we should choose methods of preservation that improve savoriness when the preservation will be indefinite. Other animals ate the children first, raw. Cooking gives us more of the animals’ value as food. Other animals ate children whole. We would be eating the last surviving representatives of her species, probably. Though they were not surviving entirely intactly, as we jostled our choices of meals we could not finish the eating of. But at the other meals we had inscribed a date of preparation on the portions we could not finish eating. We wanted never to feel compelled to eat the entirety of a meal. Some meals we wanted a repetition of, in some small portion. But a repetition of the repetition is not what we wanted. We wanted the taste to inform us of some improvement or alternative that would help us on our culinary journey. We wanted to exploit new food sources. Our shit smelled like her. The portion of her that we could consume without the feeling of its imminent expulsion was requiring larger amounts of bottled water to wash it down with. The description of the flavors on the bottles of the water were less succinct each time we sought a flavor that would wash the taste of her down with the portion.

 

We were filling our bellies before we came home. We were drowning her in tomato sauce. We were eating her by ourselves. She was spoiling. We could redeem ourselves. We had not butchered them. Parts of her were irreducible. Parts of her would never be utilized properly. But if we could deplete the smell of those irreducible parts, we would have souvenirs of her for our windowsills. Everyone smelled a little different. We were not aware of how much everything still smelled like her until we came home. We hung out our clothing before stepping inside. She tasted best cold. She was wiry. They had been the bulk of her. They had caused the satchel to swing beneath our shoulders. They had robbed her of the fat we were ready to cut away as we peeled her skin. They had shifted the belly and intestines into her chest and groin, respectively. Their time was near when she crossed the road. They should have teeth and fur and tails. But baby teeth. Soft fur. Tiny tails. Their bellies should be empty. They would be uninjured. Unscathed. Unsullied by us. Unsteeped in tomato juice. Unsmothered by onions.

 

We were becoming hungry thinking about them just rolled in bread crumbs. Just browned in butter. Washed down with just our original, unfiltered tap water. We hardly knew which part of her we would be eating anymore. Our throat would close. A belch would threaten to bring the taste of her back up. It could be from just the water. Better to release it before it sought a longer way out, causing us mortal embarassment when we could not isolate ourselves in a ventilated environment. We knew whose these slippages were. She was overpowering us.

 

Food smelled bad for a reason. She was the first of all the animals we had eaten that we had killed and butchered ourselves. We had seen how much of her was wasted in the butchering. We told ourselves she would have died anyway. We asked ourselves if we could have saved them if they were alive when we cut them from her. They too would have died anyway, anyway, we told ourselves. If perhaps one of them had been alive, we would not have seen it, surrounded by the rest of them. We asked ourselves if any of them would have been alive, anyway, before being born.

 

Our fear was a microbe that could utilize us if we went near the wrong animal. But the wrong animal could be a chicken or a pig or another person. We should not eat until we were hungry. But we could not be too hungry, either, or we would eat anything convenient to eat before we ate the food that awaited our preparation. Cooking killed microbes. We must wash anything we touched. We must wash the handles of our faucets.

 

We must add oil to the butter. The oil and the butter and the bread crumbs in the pan could become a gravy if we wanted. They needed salt. We would know they were done when their juices ran clear. When the knife went in easily. Some were done before others. While the last few were cooking we chopped up the sack. More salt. We reheated them with the chopped-up sack in the gravy. The gravy was reduced to a thick paste they looked like they were asleep in. We spooned them with the gravy around them onto a plate.

 

They would not be good reheated, we told ourselves. One was cut into already. This one did not appear to be sleeping. We would not be disturbing this one if we ate it. We would be putting it out of its misery, we decided. Their father, too, was probably dead, we told ourselves. Perhaps their father had been trapped by yard specialists and freed in the place promised in the yard specialists’ propaganda. Their juice thinned the gravy as they cooled. We spooned some gravy into the wound we had given one. We would have the prerogative of eating this one if we were going to serve customers, we told ourselves. We would serve more potatoes or rice and space them farther away from each other on the plate. Perhaps wild rice and a green vegetable. Whatever was in season, we told ourselves. Servers would provide a sharp knife, but we could cut them with our spoon. We tasted the gravy. Probably just right, salt-wise, we decided. Perhaps we could provide a somewhat larger spoon for customers. We could pick them up with our fingers. The little things. Their tails would break if we tried to hold them by their tails. We should have used a different thickener in the gravy. We would probably not want them splashing gravy on our customers’ dinner jackets. We would cut off the tails. We would serve the tails as an appetizer. For someone who made the sandwiches on someone else’s menu, for someone else’s customers, our fantasies were getting rather fancy, we told ourselves. We should have known better than to serve them on a cold plate, we told ourselves. Even if we were only serving ourselves, we told ourselves. Our biggest complaint was a smell characteristic of the method of preservation we had used for them. They would be taken off the bill, of course.

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