Sunday, July 15, 2012
Stars coming out like bubbles in a dish of ink. The frosty breath of the river wreathing up into the purple mouths of pine trees.
Houses. A dog barking....
Fields. The irritable good-nights of blue-jays....The rusty creaking of a windmill....
The ruhhahahanahaha-ing of a distant train.
"Did you lock the chicken coop, michael?"
The light going fast. The lonely whistle of a boy coming back from the pasture where he has taken the cows. He vaults the rails of the fence, catches the whistle again. The cows move forlornly about, shadows of waning shadows, their hooves like frozen, ugly fingers pressing into the wet grass.
"We'd better bring the tools in from the garden - it feels a lot like rain."
"Oh it won't rain tonight. wouldn't surprise me, the wind'll shift back the other way afore Jack Benny comes on."
A chipmunk flings across the road, his cheeks bulged out like tow furry little baseballs. the dipping headlights of a car just miss him. He is already swinging off to a second tree when the roadster comes up.
A creation of haphazard order, the craning necks of trees dipped sleepily off into the remote and ever-changing lacework of lights which pinpointed the village far below them. The moon clung to the chimney of the old house like a silver gumdrop pressed down by giant, invisible fingers - veined by the occasional licorice of a darkening cloud.
Horses, serpents, drunken warriors, castles, thousand-legged frogs and whole histories of the unexpected floated above them with that zeal characteristic of things which partake of eternity.
And higher still the ancient stars, like flowers torn from milk, tossed silently on their velvet table. Over in the orchard the night breathed through soft, perfumed nostrils; and down on the riverbank violets shuddered delicately under festive lips.
ere and there on the roof of the mansion leaves of moonlight scampered about like frightened flows. the broken windows looked out like eyes into which tinsel and burnt apples have been smashed. A loose drainpipe under the eaves rattled like the can of an old man tapping across a rusty floor.
Wednesday, June 27, 2012
(From THE CHRONICLES OF CLOVIS)
|It was a chill, rain-washed afternoon of a late August day, that indefinite season when partridges are still in security or cold storage, and there is nothing to hunt—unless one is bounded on the north by the Bristol Channel, in which case one may lawfully gallop after fat red stags. Lady Blemley's house-party was not bounded on the north by the Bristol Channel, hence there was a full gathering of her guests round the tea-table on this particular afternoon. And, in spite of the blankness of the season and the triteness of the occasion, there was no trace in the company of that fatigued restlessness which means a dread of the pianola and a subdued hankering for auction bridge. The undisguised open-mouthed attention of the entire party was fixed on the homely negative personality of Mr. Cornelius Appin. Of all her guests, he was the one who had come to Lady Blemley with the vaguest reputation. Some one had said he was "clever," and he had got his invitation in the moderate expectation, on the part of his hostess, that some portion at least of his cleverness would be contributed to the general entertainment. Until tea-time that day she had been unable to discover in what direction, if any, his cleverness lay. He was neither a wit nor a croquet champion, a hypnotic force nor a begetter of amateur theatricals. Neither did his exterior suggest the sort of man in whom women are willing to pardon a generous measure of mental deficiency. He had subsided into mere Mr. Appin, and the Cornelius seemed a piece of transparent baptismal bluff. And now he was claiming to have launched on the world a discovery beside which the invention of gunpowder, of the printing-press, and of steam locomotion were inconsiderable trifles. Science had made bewildering strides in many directions during recent decades, but this thing seemed to belong to the domain of miracle rather than to scientific achievement.|
"And do you really ask us to believe," Sir Wilfrid was saying, "that you have discovered a means for instructing animals in the art of human speech, and that dear old Tobermory has proved your first successful pupil?"
"It is a problem at which I have worked for the last seventeen years," said Mr. Appin, "but only during the last eight or nine months have I been rewarded with glimmerings of success. Of course I have experimented with thousands of animals, but latterly only with cats, those wonderful creatures which have assimilated themselves so marvellously with our civilization while retaining all their highly developed feral instincts. Here and there among cats one comes across an outstanding superior intellect, just as one does among the ruck of human beings, and when I made the acquaintance of Tobermory a week ago I saw at once that I was in contact with a "Beyond-cat" of extraordinary intelligence. I had gone far along the road to success in recent experiments; with Tobermory, as you call him, I have reached the goal."
Mr. Appin concluded his remarkable statement in a voice which he strove to divest of a triumphant inflection. No one said "Rats," though Clovis's lips moved in a monosyllabic contortion, which probably invoked those rodents of disbelief.
"And do you mean to say," asked Miss Resker, after a slight pause, "that you have taught Tobermory to say and understand easy sentences of one syllable?"
"My dear Miss Resker," said the wonder-worker patiently, "one teaches little children and savages and backward adults in that piecemeal fashion; when one has once solved the problem of making a beginning with an animal of highly developed intelligence one has no need for those halting methods. Tobermory can speak our language with perfect correctness."
This time Clovis very distinctly said, "Beyond-rats!" Sir Wilfred was more polite but equally sceptical.
"Hadn't we better have the cat in and judge for ourselves?" suggested Lady Blemley.
Sir Wilfred went in search of the animal, and the company settled themselves down to the languid expectation of witnessing some more or less adroit drawing-room ventriloquism.
In a minute Sir Wilfred was back in the room, his face white beneath its tan and his eyes dilated with excitement.
"By Gad, it's true!"
His agitation was unmistakably genuine, and his hearers started forward in a thrill of wakened interest.
Collapsing into an armchair he continued breathlessly:
"I found him dozing in the smoking-room, and called out to him to come for his tea. He blinked at me in his usual way, and I said, 'Come on, Toby; don't keep us waiting' and, by Gad! he drawled out in a most horribly natural voice that he'd come when he dashed well pleased! I nearly jumped out of my skin!"
Appin had preached to absolutely incredulous hearers; Sir Wilfred's statement carried instant conviction. A Babel-like chorus of startled exclamation arose, amid which the scientist sat mutely enjoying the first fruit of his stupendous discovery.
In the midst of the clamour Tobermory entered the room and made his way with velvet tread and studied unconcern across the group seated round the tea-table.
A sudden hush of awkwardness and constraint fell on the company. Somehow there seemed an element of embarrassment in addressing on equal terms a domestic cat of acknowledged dental ability.
"Will you have some milk, Tobermory?" asked Lady Blemley in a rather strained voice.
"I don't mind if I do," was the response, couched in a tone of even indifference. A shiver of suppressed excitement went through the listeners, and Lady Blemley might be excused for pouring out the saucerful of milk rather unsteadily.
"I'm afraid I've spilt a good deal of it," she said apologetically.
"After all, it's not my Axminster," was Tobermory's rejoinder.
Another silence fell on the group, and then Miss Resker, in her best district-visitor manner, asked if the human language had been difficult to learn. Tobermory looked squarely at her for a moment and then fixed his gaze serenely on the middle distance. It was obvious that boring questions lay outside his scheme of life.
"What do you think of human intelligence?" asked Mavis Pellington lamely.
"Of whose intelligence in particular?" asked Tobermory coldly.
"Oh, well, mine for instance," said Mavis with a feeble laugh.
"You put me in an embarrassing position," said Tobermory, whose tone and attitude certainly did not suggest a shred of embarrassment. "When your inclusion in this house-party was suggested Sir Wilfrid protested that you were the most brainless woman of his acquaintance, and that there was a wide distinction between hospitality and the care of the feeble-minded. Lady Blemley replied that your lack of brain-power was the precise quality which had earned you your invitation, as you were the only person she could think of who might be idiotic enough to buy their old car. You know, the one they call 'The Envy of Sisyphus,' because it goes quite nicely up-hill if you push it."
Lady Blemley's protestations would have had greater effect if she had not casually suggested to Mavis only that morning that the car in question would be just the thing for her down at her Devonshire home.
Major Barfield plunged in heavily to effect a diversion.
"How about your carryings-on with the tortoise-shell puss up at the stables, eh?"
The moment he had said it every one realized the blunder.
"One does not usually discuss these matters in public," said Tobermory frigidly. "From a slight observation of your ways since you've been in this house I should imagine you'd find it inconvenient if I were to shift the conversation to your own little affairs."
The panic which ensued was not confined to the Major.
"Would you like to go and see if cook has got your dinner ready?" suggested Lady Blemley hurriedly, affecting to ignore the fact that it wanted at least two hours to Tobermory's dinner-time.
"Thanks," said Tobermory, "not quite so soon after my tea. I don't want to die of indigestion."
"Cats have nine lives, you know," said Sir Wilfred heartily.
"Possibly," answered Tobermory; "but only one liver."
"Adelaide!" said Mrs. Cornett, "do you mean to encourage that cat to go out and gossip about us in the servants' hall?"
The panic had indeed become general. A narrow ornamental balustrade ran in front of most of the bedroom windows at the Towers, and it was recalled with dismay that this had formed a favourite promenade for Tobermory at all hours, whence he could watch the pigeons—and heaven knew what else besides. If he intended to become reminiscent in his present outspoken strain the effect would be something more than disconcerting. Mrs. Cornett, who spent much time at her toilet table, and whose complexion was reputed to be of a nomadic though punctual disposition, looked as ill at ease as the Major. Miss Scrawen, who wrote fiercely sensuous poetry and led a blameless life, merely displayed irritation; if you are methodical and virtuous in private you don't necessarily want everyone to know it. Bertie van Tahn, who was so depraved at 17 that he had long ago given up trying to be any worse, turned a dull shade of gardenia white, but he did not commit the error of dashing out of the room like Odo Finsberry, a young gentleman who was understood to be reading for the Church and who was possibly disturbed at the thought of scandals he might hear concerning other people. Clovis had the presence of mind to maintain a composed exterior; privately he was calculating how long it would take to procure a box of fancy mice through the agency of the Exchange and Mart as a species of hush-money.
Even in a delicate situation like the present, Agnes Resker could not endure to remain long in the background.
"Why did I ever come down here?" she asked dramatically.
Tobermory immediately accepted the opening.
"Judging by what you said to Mrs. Cornett on the croquet-lawn yesterday, you were out of food. You described the Blemleys as the dullest people to stay with that you knew, but said they were clever enough to employ a first-rate cook; otherwise they'd find it difficult to get any one to come down a second time."
"There's not a word of truth in it! I appeal to Mrs. Cornett—" exclaimed the discomfited Agnes.
"Mrs. Cornett repeated your remark afterwards to Bertie van Tahn," continued Tobermory, "and said, 'That woman is a regular Hunger Marcher; she'd go anywhere for four square meals a day,' and Bertie van Tahn said—"
At this point the chronicle mercifully ceased. Tobermory had caught a glimpse of the big yellow tom from the Rectory working his way through the shrubbery towards the stable wing. In a flash he had vanished through the open French window.
With the disappearance of his too brilliant pupil Cornelius Appin found himself beset by a hurricane of bitter upbraiding, anxious inquiry, and frightened entreaty. The responsibility for the situation lay with him, and he must prevent matters from becoming worse. Could Tobermory impart his dangerous gift to other cats? was the first question he had to answer. It was possible, he replied, that he might have initiated his intimate friend the stable puss into his new accomplishment, but it was unlikely that his teaching could have taken a wider range as yet.
"Then," said Mrs. Cornett, "Tobermory may be a valuable cat and a great pet; but I'm sure you'll agree, Adelaide, that both he and the stable cat must be done away with without delay."
"You don't suppose I've enjoyed the last quarter of an hour, do you?" said Lady Blemley bitterly. "My husband and I are very fond of Tobermory—at least, we were before this horrible accomplishment was infused into him; but now, of course, the only thing is to have him destroyed as soon as possible."
"We can put some strychnine in the scraps he always gets at dinner-time," said Sir Wilfred, "and I will go and drown the stable cat myself. The coachman will be very sore at losing his pet, but I'll say a very catching form of mange has broken out in both cats and we're afraid of it spreading to the kennels."
"But my great discovery!" expostulated Mr. Appin; "after all my years of research and experiment—"
"You can go and experiment on the short-horns at the farm, who are under proper control," said Mrs. Cornett, "or the elephants at the Zoological Gardens. They're said to be highly intelligent, and they have this recommendation, that they don't come creeping about our bedrooms and under chairs, and so forth."
An archangel ecstatically proclaiming the Millennium, and then finding that it clashed unpardonably with Henley and would have to be indefinitely postponed, could hardly have felt more crestfallen than Cornelius Appin at the reception of his wonderful achievement. Public opinion, however, was against him—in fact, had the general voice been consulted on the subject it is probable that a strong minority vote would have been in favour of including him in the strychnine diet.
Defective train arrangements and a nervous desire to see matters brought to a finish prevented an immediate dispersal of the party, but dinner that evening was not a social success. Sir Wilfred had had rather a trying time with the stable cat and subsequently with the coachman. Agnes Resker ostentatiously limited her repast to a morsel of dry toast, which she bit as though it were a personal enemy; while Mavis Pellington maintained a vindictive silence throughout the meal. Lady Blemley kept up a flow of what she hoped was conversation, but her attention was fixed on the doorway. A plateful of carefully dosed fish scraps was in readiness on the sideboard, but the sweets and savoury and dessert went their way, and no Tobermory appeared in the dining-room or kitchen.
The sepulchral dinner was cheerful compared with the subsequent vigil in the smoking-room. Eating and drinking had at least supplied a distraction and cloak to the prevailing embarrassment. Bridge was out of the question in the general tension of nerves and tempers, and after Odo Finsberry had given a lugubrious rendering of 'Melisande in the Wood' to a frigid audience, music was tacitly avoided. At eleven the servants went to bed, announcing that the small window in the pantry had been left open as usual for Tobermory's private use. The guests read steadily through the current batch of magazines, and fell back gradually on the "Badminton Library" and bound volumes of Punch. Lady Blemley made periodic visits to the pantry, returning each time with an expression of listless depression which forestalled questioning.
At two o'clock Clovis broke the dominating silence.
"He won't turn up tonight. He's probably in the local newspaper office at the present moment, dictating the first installment of his reminiscences. Lady What's-her-name's book won't be in it. It will be the event of the day."
Having made this contribution to the general cheerfulness, Clovis went to bed. At long intervals the various members of the house-party followed his example.
The servants taking round the early tea made a uniform announcement in reply to a uniform question. Tobermory had not returned.
Breakfast was, if anything, a more unpleasant function than dinner had been, but before its conclusion the situation was relieved. Tobermory's corpse was brought in from the shrubbery, where a gardener had just discovered it. From the bites on his throat and the yellow fur which coated his claws it was evident that he had fallen in unequal combat with the big Tom from the Rectory.
By midday most of the guests had quitted the Towers, and after lunch Lady Blemley had sufficiently recovered her spirits to write an extremely nasty letter to the Rectory about the loss of her valuable pet.
Tobermory had been Appin's one successful pupil, and he was destined to have no successor. A few weeks later an elephant in the Dresden Zoological Garden, which had shown no previous signs of irritability, broke loose and killed an Englishman who had apparently been teasing it. The victim's name was variously reported in the papers as Oppin and Eppelin, but his front name was faithfully rendered Cornelius.
"If he was trying German irregular verbs on the poor beast," said Clovis, "he deserved all he got."
Saturday, April 28, 2012
Sunday, March 25, 2012
Alvaro Mutis has become one of my favorite writers. i'm posting a poem of his here and hope you enjoy it.
by Alvaro Mutis
translated from the Spanish by Forrest Gander
—for María and Juan Palomar
Tequila is a clean flame that clambers up the walls
and shoots over tiled roofs, relief to despair.
Tequila isn’t for sailors
because it blurs the navigational instruments
and dismisses the wind’s tacit orders.
But tequila, on the other hand, enraptures those returning by train
and those driving the train, because it stays faithful
and blind in its loyalty to the rails’ parallel delirium
and to hurried greetings in the stations
where the train pauses to testify to
its inscrutable destination, errant, subject to the inevitable laws.
There are trees under whose shadow it is wonderful to drink it
with the parsimony of those who preach in wind
and other trees where tequila can’t stand the shade
that dims its powers and in whose branches it stirs up
a flower blue as the warnings on bottles of poison.
When tequila waves its fringed, serrated flag,
the battle halts and armies return
the order they intended to impose.
Often two squires accompany it: salt and lime.
But it is always ready to start the conversation
without any more help than its lustrous clarity.
From the start, tequila doesn’t recognize borders.
But there are propitious climates
just as certain hours suggest it, knowing full well: to fix
the time when night arrives at its stores,
in the splendor of an afternoon without obligations,
in the highest pitch of doubt and hesitation.
It is then when tequila offers us its consoling lesson,
its infallible joy, its unreserved indulgence.
Also, there are foods that call for its presence:
those springing from the ground from which it, too, was born.
Inconceivable if they didn’t bond with millenary certainty.
To break that pact would be a grave breach with dogma
prescribed to allay the rough job of living.
If “gin smiles like a dead girl,”
tequila spies on us with the green eyes of a prudent sentry.
Tequila has no history, no anecdote
confirming its birth. It is so from the beginning
because it is the gift of the gods
and, usually, when they promise something they aren’t telling tales.
That is the office of mortals, children of panic and habit.
Such is tequila and so it will be
keeping us company
all the way to the silence from which no one returns.
Praise be, then, until the end of our days
and praise the daily effort toward denying that end.
Alvaro Mutis was born in Bogota, Colombia, in 1923 and educated in Belgium. Since 1956 he has lived primarily in Mexico where he has worked for Columbia Pictures TV. Mutis has published several volumes of fiction, including The Adventures of Magroll. (1996)
Forrest Gander’s most recent books of poetry are Deeds of Utmost Kindness and Lynchburg. With the poet C. D. Wright, he edits Lost Roads Publishers and works outside of Providence. (1996)
Thursday, March 15, 2012
REMEMBERING THE JUNGLE
If we could only
Remember how the
Words worked, the ones
That helped change the seasons
So that no one would notice
Until time itself had piled
Up snow or leaves or
Rain upon rain into the center
Of a month, but we
Could not. Here faces were burned
Off, limbs were regarded
As cord wood, milk spilled
From mouths. We could not
Begin to disguise our disgust
Of the shape dreams made
On the walls of our villages.
Someone said the wands had been
Taken from the area long ago.
Still, we could see lights in the jungle
Night occasionally. They were music.
They were our voices.
We thought they were our homes on fire.
HOW CAN WE SING KING ALPHA’S SONG IN A STRANGE LAND
The captain he come down and tell
Us come to the forest. We need
To see the trees. We tell the captain
We have seen the trees and now we
Sleep so we can work in the morning
Time. But the captain say ‘Come now!”
We come up the country to where
The trees were cut down and there was
Rain coming down, coming down hard on
Where the trees were cut but nowhere
Else just where the trees were cut.
How can this be? We asked the captain.
But the captain is a believing man and he
Tell us to make up the tents and go
Before morning come. The rain
Where the trees were come down
Harder and harder and begins to make
The ground very damp so things
Sink in the ground. Pretty soon
The big trucks are very deep in the ground
Above the wheels and the cars go away.
But the rain that is where the trees were
Does not stop and we come all over
With a fear in ourselves and we take
The tents and go to the north
Where we can see the hills.
The sky looks like it is full of water
From the holes the rain comes down,
Just where the trees were cut down.
It looks like columns of rain.
Rain is broken water. Maybe it will
Not stop. The captain says go so we
Go and sleep high on the hills.
We hear the animals leaving all night.
It is a frightful sound with this dark
And the rain coming down so hard.
It did not stop until noon the next
Day but we were gone. The captain he
Tell us to keep going so we travel. Keep on.
So small, the day, standing slightly
Bow-legged, hand on its collection
Of hours, a goofy grin on its face.
I walk with you down a street
Bright with all the tea in China.
There is wild music in the signs and colors.
There are perfect clouds a-roil above.
The buildings giving everything a just
Washed look, like the way your eyes do.
And sun, leaning into the street,
Scattering the cars before it comes
Swooping into your face. I cannot
Tell it from you or your from it.
Here it seems as if every day looks
This way. We watch it hitch its
Thumbs in its belt and follow
It from bookstore to school yard
As if it really could go on into tomorrow.
Saturday, February 18, 2012
Friday, February 10, 2012
The following is the Captain's prayer from Alvaro Mutis' novella The Snow on the Admiral translated by Edith Grossman
THE CAPTAIN’S PRAYER
from The Snow of the Admiral
High calling of my protectors, those who have gone
before me, my constant guides and mentors,
come now in this moment of danger, extend your sword,
with firmness uphold the law of your purpose,
revoke the disorder of birds and creatures of evil omen,
wash clean the hall of innocents
where the vomit of the rejected congeals lieke a sign of
misfortune, where the garments of the supplicant
are a blemish that deflects our compass, makes our cal-
culations uncertain, our forecasts mistaken.
I invoke your presence at this hour and deplore with all
my heart the manacles of my equivocations:
my pact with man-eating leopards in the mangers,
my weakness and tolerance for serpents that shed their
skin at the mere shout of lost hunters,
my communion with bodies that have passed from hand
to hand like a staff to ford a stream, and on whose skin the
saliva of the humble is crystallized,
my ability to contrive the lie of power and cleverness
that moves my brothers away from upright steadiness in
my carelessness in proclaiming your power in customs
offices and guardrooms, in pavilions of sorrow and on pleas-
ure boats, in guard towers along the border and in the corri-
dors of the powerful.
Wipe away in a single stroke all this misfortune and in-
famy, save me,
certain of my obedience to your bitter laws, your abu-
sive haughtiness, your distant occupations, your desolate
I give myself completely to the domination of your unob-
jectionable mercy, and with all humility I prostrate myself
at your feet
to remind you that I am a traveler in mortal danger, that
my ghost is worth nothing, that those who perish far from
home are like trash swept into a corner of the market,
that I am your servant and am helpless, and that these
words contain the unalloyed metal of one who has paid the
owed to you now and forever throughout pale eternity
Wednesday, January 25, 2012
Here are two poems by Taylor Graham I really enjoyed. Hope you do as well and that she doesn't mind.
HOW THE STORY GOES
From heath-land to plain to escarpment,
broken reed at water’s edge, we’ve
searched for the bridging point, a way
across. Past summer, the air’s still
full of wasps, yellow swarms like tiny
ticking clocks too fast to count how time
passes into fall. We find their
paper-nests empty, deserted as winter.
I keep a paper-journey, journal
of passage place to place, always later.
Green rooms of grain-fields scythed.
Click-tick of rats in stubble, dry music
that repeats in dream. Night
watches, fires seen as far as the horizon,
swarming distant light. Life is always
a flight risk, time indigenous
as a rodent’s tooth. A king in exile
seeks home, memory, his mind. And so
we wander. How does this end?
Shadows drain color from landscape
on the other side. In time,
the page I write is paper consumed
to pulp. Tomorrow
we might find the bridging point.
MESSAGES TO EARTH
We sent our Curiosity to Mars. But waiting
is so difficult for humans. What could we ever
solve? death, or love, peace, or hunger, life?
Late at night, might a computer record blips
from space, to chart them like French
or German for tense, mood, and person?
I follow rabbit-trails of dream in my sleep.
But my hair reaches out wild in all
directions, antennae for receiving signals.
One who knows names of stars
gazes into the night sky focusing on
the brightest body, visible at solstice
this bleakest time of year when the soul
seems ice-crystal. Planet or star?
Are its pulses a Morse code we might
decipher, to learn a language beyond
our grammar, our tongues to pronounce,
our human translations?