a la recherche du temps perdu

Month: July, 2016

Ushering

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

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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

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)

Exhibition

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