a la recherche du temps perdu

Two morsels of literary news

  1. After many arduous months spent trying to write a specific experience out, to make sense of it the only way I knew how (through words), I am pleased to announce that Electric Literature has published a long memoir piece of mine. This piece, entitled “Shedding Skin: Sex, Intimacy, Writing, and Social Media,” is about trying to reconnect on social media while disconnecting from a lover; it’s about sex, skin, intimacy, Virginia Woolf, yoga, meditation, the writing life, and a lot more. I believe that most writers will find at least shadows of themselves within the piece, and I hope that at least some readers take something away from my attempt to grapple with and join together these various threads into a coherent narrative of sorts.
  2. And I have also been asked to join Numéro Cinq, helmed by the wonderful writer and editor Douglas Glover, as Editor-in-Chief. Doug is one of the finest editors with whom I have had the pleasure of working over the last several years; he’s rigorous, he expects a lot, and he always causes the end-result to be far stronger than where the piece began. Since my own editorial philosophy is in direct agreement with his, and since I truly believe that Numéro Cinq is on the cutting edge of top online lit mags—publishing some of the finest criticism, poetry, fiction, and cross-genre pieces out there, period—I’m honored to step on board and bring what I can to the table. If you’re interested in writing for us, please see Doug’s kind announcement about my addition to the Numéro Cinq masthead; there, you’ll get a sense of the kind of topics and areas in which I have particular interest, and the kind of pieces I’m looking for. I welcome any and all communications, and look forward to working with new writers in this vein at NC and in my new capacity as Editor-at-Large. Bring it on.


There was a crook in the treeline where leaves willowed into the pond; we spread a gingham tablecloth across the tilted grassblades and sat crosslegged but upright as expectants.

Sunspots deepened; your teeth opened saying one thing but meaning another. I catch hold of your hip to anchor you down, say: here there is only us acres of cloud no one I promise will know who you are.

I can’t see your eyes for the shades; a bird rattles by or else a dragonfly, my open palms show you the map inked on the skinflesh there. The longer we remain the sooner the gloaming, you vulnerable no other witnesses.

This scene might have been fictitious had we brought wicker baskets wedges of cheese those knives used to slice open taboo yellow novels; I’ve fed you some of these as me, in words I cyphered once then lost.

I try to recall the dictum, time, the way I dragged you by the haunches back to root in our gingham earth. There is a brief caesura of leaves caressing the water’s surface, I realize in a lull that I have jumped past a crucial exchange of tutoyers.

And all before day has set the questions you must ask wane quickly, my eyes obscured by night just at the moment you remove your sunglasses: this silence an opening a diagram the way you are you right now winding your watch.

An invigilation scene almost, like I am feeding you histories of me the formality of walls shaping systems of trust even though we are hardly nameable yet—you cried out another’s name last night—to warrant it.

Here there is only us cloud cover now no one will know you are I promise with me. Since we have eschewed all pretense I remind you of my presence by taking your toes into my mouth.

Moonrise quickens your jaw, teeth saying another thing but meaning only one; we move smiling through rooms maps no longer necessary, the palms of my hands against your spine, ushering, ushering you into us.

I remember the mandate for flipping over hourglasses; I pet your broken watch and somehow can predict by it that morning will shatter patterns of behavior that touch will replace.

On Henry Green, Part 1

Henry Green is a truly remarkable literary figure, writing nine novels spanning the period after the First World War until the mid-1950s, despite living some twenty years past that. The Green fans I’ve encountered in my life have been staunch advocates of his work—for good reason—and yet those who had never heard of him remain the vast majority, sadly, especially among those who would be his most faithful readers, almost to the point of idolatry.

Thankfully, the New York Review of Books will begin publishing all nine of Green’s novels beginning in October 2016; this will be the first time most of these will be back in print in the US since their initial publication. Beginning with Caught, Loving, and Back, NYRB will then reissue the remaining six over the following two seasons, into 2017. For fans of British literature from the interwar period; for lovers of James Joyce and Virginia Woolf and the more working-class fiction by interwar writers like novelist Elizabeth Taylor; for readers who wonder which literary stylists helped to carry the torch of modernism into mid-twentieth-century Britain; and for those who enjoy equal parts realism with psychological exploration, equal parts pathos with deep, resounding joy—this is indeed a true literary event of the highest order.

I’m currently re-reading Caught, and, as it’s been numerous years—a decade, if not more—since my own acquaintance with Green’s work first made me realize what a genius he was, it’s been like meeting an old friend again. Caught deserves to be up there with the finest twentieth-century British novels dealing with war and its repercussions, alongside other giants like Rebecca West’s The Return of the Solider, Virginia Woolf’s Jacob’s Room (as well as her other works, the earlier which deal with a changing post-WWI British climate, and the latter which foreshadow and consider the rise of fascism in the lead-up to WWII), Elizabeth Bowen’s The Last September and The Heat of the Day, and even, spreading further outward into Europe, Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain and Hermann Hesse’s The Glass Bead Game. Finally, Green will be able to stand firmly and be considered in the context of the very tradition out of which his own work emerged, and into which he was always able to strike up a productive dialogue about individuals and society facing a changing, uncertain world together.

And Green’s prose is an utter joy to read, even when he is describing heartache, loss, melancholy, or the tensions that war engenders within family life: there are myriad revelations here about what it means to be human. Playful, evocative, and downright sensual at times, reading Green is something akin to reading Proust by way of Joyce, or Woolf by way of Conrad; his prose is at times so rich that one sometimes has to put his books down or else risk a kind of sensory overload.

As an example of what readers new to Green’s work have to look forward to, here’s an excerpt from Caught, wherein the protagonist Roe’s captain in the Fire Brigade, Pye, reflects on his memories of love and loss during the First while in the midst of the Blitz of the Second World War (something, it is worth noting, that Bowen herself does in her short story “The Demon Lover,” wherein the protagonist Mrs. Drover relives the trauma of the prior war—tinged with love, promise, and the threat of loss—while living through the bombings of the current war). In this passage, there’s such a singular rendering of the memory process, Pye’s thoughts running from past to present war, from love to pain, from sex to violence, all in Green’s wrenching use of color and odd syntax to mimic not only stream of consciousness, but the very act of reliving the memory of one war through the reality of another in the present:

[Pye] had been close to the earth then, and it led him back to the first girl he had known, not long before his father took them away from the village in which their childhood was passed, for that too was of the earth. In the grass lane, and Pye groaned as he lay on the floor, his head by a telephone, that winding lane between high banks, in moonlight, in colour blue, leaning back against the pale wild flowers whose names he had forgotten, her face, wildly cool to his touch, turned away from him and the underside of her jaw which went soft into her throat that was a colour of junket, oh my God he said to himself as he remembered how she panted through her dose and the feel of her true, roughened hands as they came to repel him and then, at the warmth of his skin, has stayed irresolute at the surface while, all lost, she mumured, “Will it hurt?” Oh God she has been so white and this bloody black-out brought you in mind of it with the moon, this blue colour, and with the creeping home. He had been out hunting that first night right enough as he came home, her tears still on the back of his hand, with the cries of an owl at his temples, like it might be the shrieks of that cat on the wall over there, bloody well yelling for her greens.

NYRB are to be applauded for their efforts bringing Green back into print, with introductions by top literary critics ranging from James Wood to Roxana Robinson. If you’re on the fence about what long-term reading plans 2017 might hold for you, I would strongly suggest that you make 2017 a year of Henry Green; I can guarantee you that you will not regret it—your intellect, your heart, your gut, and your sense of a shared humanity will all be whetted from the sensual gristle of a truly inimitable prose stylist who has, for too long, been existing on the margins of literary history.

Haruspicy, Part 3

for Alan Wolk

The soothsayer grunted I was too rootless as he smeared blood against your cheekbones marking you for carrion     the neighboring houses are far enough away so that the woman who spends the entire winter in bed with a fluorescent lamp and a hot water bottle can hear nothing of the spells the rustle of flame lighting the entrails into which the seer sees something akin to futures     We hardly glance at one another stolid with fear or love or the kind of lust that acts almost like fetters a conspiratorial hush out of which the man’s to’ing and fro’ing comes shockingly the moon through the beeches landing crimson where he has stained your cannibal face to exaggerate the bones     no one knows us here where the willows arch lopingly against a brook those trees against which you gnarled me and upon which we wrote no names no signs of any sort

I can scarcely even remember why we have called upon this shaman what fortune do we want told what buried truth do we want brought to light at the sake of an animal’s breath the last shred passing between us and the firelight the beech shade masking the man’s hands digging deep into a guzzle or esophagus     I could have asked you myself in my own words however feeble or needy they might have been I could have swallowed the anxiety like I swallowed you without thinking just tonguing out the words to know whatever it is we are     instead this man leaves me untouched even though he has painted you red your eyes dart across the distance to plead with me but if I knew the answers we would never have found ourselves here in the first place

Rooted in spite of being called the inverse I know what I want from you but can this stranger see my desire in a mangled heap of entrails can this magician give us a potion so that my wish might be granted come morning     and yet this is not solely about me for why would we both be here scared shitless by his guttural clicking silenced by the shock of blood beneath your incredulous eyes     What horrors have we unleashed in coming together and then in coming together again like this to make sense of it all of what idiocies are we guilty that we require a third party skilled in bloodletting and haruspicy to untangle our future for us     when the answer is given it is written on the ground where the moon strikes it with a waxing force but I can make neither heads nor tails of the design the intestines like commas or discarded condoms the context of which is unclear and the consequence of which you and I are unclear whether to embrace or to fear

It is summer so there is no smoke spiraling out of your eccentric neighbor’s chimney but we hear her window frames shiver from the timbre of her voice as we pass the woods behind us the brook into which he washed his hands a crime scene with two walking bodies to show for it     I do not know what to do with your hand when it is mine to take hold of again and it is with the insecurity of unknowing another that we fuck leaving your face still marked by the future we cannot read and which the shaman suggested was only ours to decipher     looking into your eyes I envision the animal in whose death we have inadvertently taken part so that we might live but to live as what we are just as bewildered as before so much so that that when morning arrives my shoulder blades are caked with two red lines and I believe but I could be mistaken a trail of tears you forced on to me while we both slept back to front

Virginia Woolf on her birthday

On my birthday, I’ve plucked out some of Virginia Woolf’s diary remarks about her own birthday (25 January 1882), somewhat at random:

“Another lazy morning—read however the greater part of my review book, so that will be written tomorrow with luck—& then?—I must turn about for something fresh to do. My birthday, by the way — the 25th but, as usual, it was somehow rather forgotten which one begins to expect at my age—!” (25 Jan 1905)

“My Birthday. L. slid a fine cow’s horn knife into my hand this morning. … Writing all the morning, reading & walking the rest of the day.” (25 Jan 1918)

“Here have I waited 25 days before beginning the new year; & the 25 is, not unfortunately my 25th, but my 39th birthday; & we’ve had tea, & calculated the costs of printing Tchekov…” (25 Jan 1921)

“It[’]s the cold hour, this, before the lights go up. A few snowdrops in the garden. Yes, I was thinking: we live without a future. Thats whats queer, with our noses pressed to a closed door.” (26 Jan 1941)

Tristan Foster: Don DeLillo and the obsessions of the lonely

We remain death-bound, this is our only trajectory. That clichéd but critical binary: life and death. The only binary, maybe. Or the only one that matters, because I want to live, I don’t want to die, I want to go on writing this.

My good friend (and fellow co-editor at 3:AM Magazine), Tristan Foster, has written a wonderful piece of personal, reflective criticism, running the gamut from musings on Don DeLillo’s latest novel Zero K. to the role of authorship and the attendant weight grief leaves behind for those of us who live to grapple with—and for those of us who write to make sense of in the only way we know how: through words.

I was privileged to see this piece evolve; I’m sure many will appreciate the depths Tristan plumbs here.


His lips taste of a violet’s tremor his fist
a warped piano flourish striking between
shoulder blades I clench to complete the sound

in between rounds we lay skin stuck against skin
a used condom against my left buttock a lone bee
squeezing out the room’s remaining air

he strikes me facing a photograph of his children
the polish on their smiles false forlorn even lost
like the chord we sound as sex turns violent

I am so used to his taste I no longer know
when he is finished an empty box of Magnums
in the drawer reminds me I bought them for us

my toes clench my breath stops my body quivers
I cum as I wonder who else he has been fucking
a spate of bone splinters between his fingertips

he turn me around so that he cannot see my face
I wonder at their names those miniatures of him
I wonder if they too turn from sweetness to blood

at the drop of hats I lap him up like an automaton
erasing all the traces that we had been he slaps
his bicep spilling beeblood spit cum whatever

of me still lingers on the flesh I go home broken
with a bruise on my back a welt on my forehead
tasting nothing but recalling woozily names

he once had told me before we realized this act
would be repeated his muscles clenched as if
the only way he could have me was to ravish me

as if the only way he could fuck was to know
his children were watching imprisoned on a wall
I close my body so that he can open it again and

make a note to replenish the supply of condoms

Migratory Patterns

I said a prayer for the bird I killed
and laid him among the rockpile
upon which your letters already blazed

some season I was larger than ever
my body expanding raw marks on hips
like imprints your fingers left behind

the newspapers said it was an odd migration
some stayed behind I waited up all hours
with books listening to rooks die slow

some mornings the eaves held corpses
why not fly why the stoic intent on remaining
when the hoarfrost spokes alone can kill

the bed empty when I awake the tea cold
moments after it has boiled I find letters
in your hand written to another man

some crook I know all about and yet
I know nothing but the shock of a body
pelting against the glass seeking shelter

the newspapers said it was all our fault
we had usurped their nesting grounds
we had ruined their age-old flying patterns

sometimes I see a V in the dark above
as you pinion me to the bed beneath you
what was augury when the birds read poetry

there was nothing I could read that season
while I waited for you and for the birds
to die or to finally follow the others elsewhere

some sleepless morning alone I drive
down a dark road before sunrise the field
is littered with black feathers white irises wide

I scarcely see it before I’ve smashed into it
the dead weight nothing I haven’t known
but its blood on the windscreen shreds me

some hours later you return the bird
and the letters and the poems on the coffee table
I let the scene say it all for me as we sway

several stray birds screech on the rooftop
I gather the stones in my pocket my tongue
mouthing a prayer for what I have killed

some of us stayed behind but only some survived
when the fire catches I see the field darken
and I speak aloud the words you wrote

in a lapsed hand I blame for many deaths
the newspapers say the season is nearly over
they do not say anything more about the birds

they do not say what we will do when the frost returns

Gerald Murnane in praise of the long sentence

I even felt something such as the narrator of Remembrance of Things Past reported himself as feeling when he happened to stand on two uneven paving stones and when, according to one of the grandest passages in what I consider the most memorable book I have read, he could no longer doubt that time could be regained, so to speak. Proust’s narrator experienced again, after many years, the overpowering effect on him of the light and the architecture of Venice. I experienced something utterly different but equally forceful.

The great Gerald Murnane in praise of the long sentence, by way of Proust, Pynchon, George Borrow, and his own recollections, in Meanjin Quarterly.

I’ve written at some length on Murnane’s work in The Quarterly Conversation (here and here), in the print issue of Music & Literature‘s third issue where I consider his work in dialogue with Proust’s, as well as a short, off-the-cuff review of The Plains—perhaps his finest—on Goodreads.


Begin with time a clockhand’s seconds devaluing the pace of a sun they are supposed to somehow simulate     You were circadian rising with the dawn to hammer out your day even before the coffee had brewed the keys like pellets I could hear in the next room drowning my dreams     There was a rule that if you were working I could not intrude I could not make my presence known my breath too loud my movements as I untangled myself from the bedsheets too harsh so that they would disrupt your rhythm

I would sit with my right hand cupped in my left the thumb tips touching in a circle like the sloped sun over this chrome city or the patter of annular drops hissing against the sides of the overflowing coffeepot you long forgot was on the burner the circumference of your body its bones as it towered over me faking linearity the night before in its thrusts its jabs     I would meditate until you disrupted me without realizing you were enacting the very violence about which you had warned me and so I said nothing as I let your breathing intrude my lungs as I let your frenzy contaminate whatever peace I had been able to locate you throwing shirts and ties and trousers over the bed so that some lash themselves against my bare legs one tweed tie looping me right around the neck

Do you know what time it is? you ask panicked because working before work hours has now made you late for work itself     I offer no answer but look instead out of the window to the high-rise beside yours I see a woman in the frame moving her arm up and down as if she were ironing I see her put the back of her hand to her mouth to stifle a yawn and go back to her sawing movements the same I employed the night before after you finished removed yourself from my body like shrapnel and immediately began to snore     I recognize in this unknown woman’s rhythms the lonely motions of masturbating while one’s lover is right beside one     But what time is that to answer your question or how best to qualify experiences that exist beyond the scope of temporality for god forbid I run in to grab a cup of coffee while your keys are being pounded like my body was by yours the similar rhythm of it even disgusts me so early in the morning that your body or that your fingers house the same narcissism just dependent on different settings whether it be dawn or dusk

I remove a navy spotted tie from my forearm and hold it up a voiceless verdict and you smile in a sort of hazy agreement holding it up against the shirt you have already chosen knowing that I have picked a perfect match     For this I receive the quickest of kisses as one might kiss one’s pet goat or pat a young child on the head for waiting patiently at a street corner and with this you persist: But really, do you know what time it is?     There are clocks littered like forgotten relics across each wall all varying by several minutes your watch face down against your wrist’s pulse point your mobile face down on the dresser     What is this urgent need then to know the exact time or to ask the time of me as if I were a sundial or a barometer or because of a failed attempt to sit before you intruded with a body I want only at the moments when I want it that I have somehow retrieved a deeper answer about this very hour or this precise minute solely from sitting cross-legged on your cum-stained sheets

It is time, I say, for there is no other way I can state this and imbue it with the meaning I desire the syntax flimsy for I have not yet had coffee but I gauge from the anxiety of the scene that it is time yes it is time     And so I place my feet on the floor and the weight of the bed holding me while I questioned something or asked for something becomes a phantom memory now as I hook the navy spotted tie around your neck and pull pulling for all I have given you in taking myself away from you pulling for all you have thrust upon me in making yourself always noticed center-stage the insistent mannequin I must dress each morning before I can begin my own     The second hand on the wall clock behind your neck seems to have stopped but I trace the orbit with my eye placing my concave hands on your shoulders to signal that it is time

In some sense I have given you the time for which you have asked for I at least hear the front door slam before heading into the kitchen to mop up the coffee that has boiled over on the linoleum floor     My time begins now just at the point where the second hand has halted its cycle to the slamming of a door the removal of a body for which time as well as I must make allowance     While my own coffee boils I sit again hands in a circular mudra and I think of bodies and the woman’s motions being mine as I finish myself off with you spent and nearly dead beside me     A deluge of bells from the corner church means that it is 8 o’clock or that the church’s clock believes it to be 8 o’clock and so knowing that for certain or not for certain I sit with it for a while the only intrusion an imaginary arm in a suspended window the click of seconds passing even as they do not a subtle waft of your cologne staining my nostrils each time I inhale a new moment