a la recherche du temps perdu

Tag: thoughts

infinite endings

Since my Electric Literature piece on social media and disconnection—as well as trying to reconnect, in some way—was published, I’ve been scant on social media. I creep on it like a phantom from time to time, wondering if I’m missing anything; I sometimes miss the connections there, the camaraderie I felt and which I tried to describe in my piece to which I’ve linked above. But it simply doesn’t feel right to me anymore. I’m toying with moving back to Tumblr as more of a home base for now: Tumblr for me is, after all, where it all began, so it makes more sense to use as a kind of commonplace book.

I appreciate those who have emailed or messaged or been in touch in other ways: your kindness and support has meant a lot to me. I am working on several projects which I hope will soon see the light of day, but part of me is shying away from that, too, for the time being. A lot of revelations and magic has happened in the time I’ve been away—and I suppose I’m best trying to describe that kind of magic in words, which, sadly, seem a futile medium to do so just yet. For a writer this is usually torture; for me, as a writer, I am riding the waves, knowing that the words will come and be ready to be read when the time is right and the moon quivers enough, as a portent, as it waxes. For then it will be time.

Until then, the words I left up on Tumblr many months ago by the wonderful Louise Glück still ring true:

I think here I will leave you. It has come to seem
there is no perfect ending.
Indeed, there are infinite endings.
Or perhaps, once one begins,
there are only endings…

And so… Until the infinite, then. Resurgam.

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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.

Metronomic

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

KGB

I dreamed you once a mountain, sloppy thighs where you rub the stories out, stories spun by antecedents you never knew apart from portraits hanging in a Georgian foyer, tales of exchanging a Rembrandt for a wife, a complete set of Baedeker for a one-night stand, a heelless shoe found lying by the side of the

But I’m not telling you anything profound; this is nothing next to your mythologies passed down from lung to lung and fashioned haphazardly into laborers’ songs like that summer your grandfather wheezed a chord, grabbed your wrist to force your stubborn skin against his drugged heart murmuring a word like “traitor” or “comrade” and then telling you about his hiding place in the back of his bureau where there were stamps, knives, and he said a word that only you could free

I could free you of nothing. One night in September you pushed me sharp against the banister so the bones cracked, leaving abruptly with your passport, a pack of condoms, and a screen of deceptions you pulled off wool eyes and all your mother even rang while you were sweltering elsewhere; she kept repeating sibylline: “I hope he knows what he’s doing”

I ransacked the flat, pulling out drawers, throwing hangared clothing on the bed, rifling through filing cabinets, the trunk of your car; I thought I could only locate what your grandfather had left you in your absence, knowing you would never travel abroad with such treasure; I thought I could fix the cracked banister and salvage what had come between us if I knew what you held sacred—instead I spread my legs on top of our clothes-strewn bed and fucked a stranger somberly, getting at some semblance truth for a mere moment before he exploded

You arrived back in quite a state, your thighs and cheeks lobster-colored and you didn’t even say hello before launching into explanations: how you understand now why the Rembrandt meant more than being solitary; why the aesthetic and cultural components of all cities can never be caged truthfully in prose because it is a visual phenomenon that surpasses the capacity of words; why the great authors of your grandfather’s country threw their heroines beneath trains or men or rocks or hard places

You unraveled the entire narrative from beginning to end as if it could possibly be mapped chronologically; but I had heard these prophecies before when you were drunk on a fire escape in a city we both hated but hated to leave behind. Why choose me as a confessor when you confessed to spending the whole week with him? Instead I loll my head outside the window toward a skyline I always resented, body of stagnant water, chain smoking and leaving my fingerprints all over the cupboards, the countertops, the paintings, the bookshelves, the cat

Fucking was irrelevant but expected—you pushed my head into the pillow to silence any questions, I was whomever you wanted my body to be, and when your mobile buzzed off the nightstand I feigned an orgasm because we both knew it was him; we both knew he knew you better than I ever could; I hold my breath for sixty seconds while you take the call out on the veranda in your boxers

I dreamed you once but hemispheres got in the way, the proverbial “what if” or the ten-year itch, and ironically your mother didn’t ring once as if she knew it was over; you return, semen dripping on the plaid pattern of your shorts, the phone limp in your hand as we both are now you have said you are leaving

How would it have turned out had I dreamt you an archipelago instead of a mountain? Would we remain here by this lake I loathe to finish our days hating but loving each other, breaking glass and fucking ourselves bloody, ad infinitum, ad nauseam, severed in the end like snails perhaps but you might have told me what word he left you: I might now know at least what happened to you

Your grandfather’s KGB history always seemed to me like a red herring; I remember you baiting me with it as if trying to seduce me when I was yet a stranger to you and your foreignness was something to which I was drawn like a cliff’s edge. How was the weather in São Paulo? Did you use condoms at least? When they came for him in the end, he was already dead, a corpse blocking the refrigerator door, but the contents of the bureau crossed the ocean in your carry-on

You say: “We read together there; his hair is growing grey; he has a pouch now where once his belly was flat; but we picked up the thread from ten years ago”—there is a pause, because the pause is in fact me, I am the decade-long lull in your story: instead of feeling betrayed, on fire, murderous, should I feel guilt for coming in between you and

And yet he was the oracle to whom you told everything (even the Rembrandt), every morsel of how you stepped over his body and did as he wished, emptying the bureau before the agents arrived to bury the truth. You have shared your life, your body, your bank account, your soul with me, but this information is too vital, too close to the bone; instead you confess to your ex-lover in a hotel room during carnival season while I am in our flat feeding our cat wondering how much more time we have left

I will never know what you found in either the back of the bureau or in a cheap hotel by the ocean; I can only measure things in terms of loss—the nation, yourself, handed down spoiled but beatific like those fictional railway jumpers or the yellow patina that is the brush of time on the ghostly Georgian faces of your ancestors

In that season when you returned to me only to leave, there is no snow (I am so weary of hiding) so I intimate to you by turning my back that I understand even though I see nothing but shadows; in your absence then as well as since I have read my way backward so that I now lack a language with which to prove to you how empathetic I am to it all: the paternal guilt; the time we spent aloof, rancid; the loves we both lost