a la recherche du temps perdu

Tag: writing

Some literary news

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, Kundalini yoga and 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.



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

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


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


Your body is something we do not speak about even though I have lapped from it deranged its hairs a threat a covenant of rain     I have held you inside-out inverted Pieta cradling the crooked head in the back of my throat so that even the doctor ejaculated how the illness left its traces the same creeping hues a sunrise deploys before conquering a desert entirely     I showed you the paperwork as if it somehow justified us spending a night with rocks between us blockades or barriers to obscure the middle ground where we overlap iteratively contaminating until again you fuck me flimsily

Your body is something we do not speak about even though it is an itch banging him the tent-flap barely concealing the act     I have felled you upside down in the valley’s lisp where rocks are as ill as leaves and the sun steals all color from your skin descending downward     in the waiting room uncertain who the patient is the forms blanks reminding us what your body is capable of if I touch it here if I tongue it there     a nurse says something about sand strains stripes serotypes      I recall you coming bit-lipped me gazing upward at photos framing your spoils from the Serengeti

Your body is something we do not speak about even though I have caught you in the act your face shrouded Tuareg-style all its serrated edges bandaged     I have long given up accusing you but the emaciated trees never cease their chattering diagnosing balled prophesying letting bones shatter so bloodily     when we are out of this I will invent a nickname for you that shall with each utterance turn your balls blue     I wait in rooms now that are makeshift labyrinths overhearing the sounds of sex covered by winds many deserts employ to shroud such secrecies

Your body is something we do not speak about even though it has sullied mine my desire for you the white skin lining a parched gullet     where once there were trees there are now rooks where once there was desert there are now mementos into which I will never figure framed or otherwise     if I kiss you will you destroy me again a creak as the flap flies upward two men emerging with the sun sticky between them trousers sleek with semen     if he ever prayed as I preyed on you I wouldn’t wonder what germs he knew scattered stamens snapping intransigent autumns branding us castrati

Winter Light; or, Luther, Part 1

The chapel is silent shaken only in winter by frozen branches snapping slickly outside the windows the interior lit only by a lone flame so that we can see each other and they cannot see us     whether the limbs or the loiterers we cannot say but there is god in every corner of this place and our disappointment with not having found Luther here in time to help with the nails and the shouting in the square makes us not only hermits but failed heretics     Here I stand, I can do no other     I once tried to tell you what the winter light does to me I pointed to the blue hue it cast on everything around 4 in the afternoon lighting things up from the inside like the underside of a moon     you saw no such blue but instead a radiant glow covering every object that surrounded us in the chapel room into which we have bundled ourselves for the season to hibernate to wait out the raids     How does one explain that particular shade of blue to another who cannot see it even at the tip of a pointed forefinger for it is there where the pews are screwed into the wooden floorboards and it is there where the too-high windows give way to the grey sky just there (look) in the corners as if the blue will soon usurp the sombre cast making it all the more deadening when it lays its claim     And so I keep silent while I suffer the winter light as we live out some chamber play inside a place that once was holy to others and is no more but that is still holy to us who are much less     We crouch in shadows where I read passages from Blake (we who are but for a time and who pass away in winter) or Woolf (melancholy were the sounds on a winter’s night) to prove I am correct in wanting to bed you behind the sacristan and you read me Keats’s odes to the seasons or else Shelley’s Stanzas Written in Dejection either to offset the melancholy or else to drive me down deeper into Baudelaire’s limping days

In the film there is a scene in a stairwell where the chiaroscuro is the sole point as if when we face one another it is only at the intersection of light and shadow of hope and despair that a composite image emerges that is worth salvaging     I save scraps of paper and think if we ever get out of here alive before the winter has snowed us under that I would like to feign Luther and nail a revised version of the Theses to all doors that can take a nailing or that are sans crucifix     I wonder if you will help me with this or if you are my gaoler I your task a kind of seasonal lull between the archivist job and the university term recommencing as if I might be something dangerous the town has entrusted you to keep secluded cloistered cut off from all light save the blue that always always does me in     Perhaps you not seeing the blue gives your true role away for if you were on my side and wished to paper the town with a newer version of the Theses you would tell me you saw the blue even where you did not for saying you do not where I do already borders on a diagnosis of sorts especially with Christ looking down at us—whether we are clothed or not—all the while head bent to the left as if he too nails and all cannot face the blue of winter     The moments before he died, Christ was seized by doubt. Surely that must have been his greatest hardship? God’s silence     It is no wonder Luther did his work just before the season hit for we always knew he was a smart man and now that the chapels have emptied like asylums after the discrediting of the medical profession the only creatures left are those still with things to add words to say phrases to change emend

One night I ask you to take my hand so that I can sense the pulse as if in this silent world where only the branches snap I might learn which side you are on from how quickly or slowly it beats     You lay there languid with your palm in the air closing your eyes against the winter light which finally makes me think that you too see what I do and in my hands is still the box of nails with which I hope one day to complete what Luther began     we have lived here and read aloud here and licked each other’s bodies here for what else do two people do in this season alone in a chapel all disciples off to the sea or the city     I take the heel of your hand in mine cupping it lovingly because it is not yours that I see make us both turn to the left pressing the backs of our conjoined palms into the yielding wood of the nearest pew one long nail enough held point out between my teeth if only for the hammer of god (Is not my word like as a fire and like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces?) to make us bleed blue preferably but only enough to be shattered yet still somehow believed


all asunder with you him under me
the woozy walls no longer walls but shadowed
life-sized Joseph Cornell macrocosmic boxes
into which his mother—for you fails and you fail
at the minutiae such as shrouding objects
in bubble wrap or else making the man
to whom you spoke semen-spent promises
feel as if he has been boxed in that one there
by mum’s Long Island kid gloves—buried a life

for aren’t all moves burials of sorts
even if this one happens just after a birth
after we have unearthed a possible us—the bus
I take now to get to your new river-flanked flat
nearly runs an elderly woman over at a crossing
the bus driver wailing “Fuck fuck fuck” lung-
deep we swerve witnessing nothing into the terminal—
though I know by now to trust no man who swears
to a breathless body beside him responsible for his orgasm

and so I let you go wondering where
your fucking mother packed my things or even
your Serengeti photos which would at least
cause me to recall the man for whom I fell
each box a diorama containing shards of a life
into which I barely figured—my life with him
is only at the end of this narrative outside boxes
in some new city whose dull rush we said we would learn
before your mother insisted on packing things for you

I buried a life too in order to be here with him you
the box with the rapist the box with the Russian bear
the box with the eviction lawyer I let drink my blood
because I loved him enough to hope it killed him—buried
gone but retrievable if you were to ask me about them
not duct-taped in unknown configurations only
mommy knows where the dildos are the cock rings
the first thing I found again to greet the new city with you
was a slim band of gold I’d hoped you’d slip back on

for despite moves and burials the memories
are unrelenting—Cornell could take any box and
rearrange items space temporality meaning itself (let him)—
but blood doesn’t wash off cleanly and the you I wanted
would have been bloodied open raw ripely vulnerable
so that I could pack your boxes so that I could know
your ghosts and begin to tell you mine—in a way
the walls could hold us for a time only before
the boxes capsized before and as you begin to forget


Ten Ways to Remember a Year

The mountain rocked like a clotheshorse you obscured my view     your breath reeked of the fact that you would stray     I did     we stood under its mass arguing over what’s on at the National Gallery how crude the sticky parts of sex are

Chrysanthemums lined the wainscoting that year     which country did I lose you in a lone drawn blind I snaked up hurling your convict’s prize ring from my finger out the window     you salvaged it in the morning along with a discarded but still smokable cigarette I took both

They painted the walls black and installed tracklighting bringing out the veins in the skins those severed limbs that populate any given Caravaggio murder scene      after I got drunk and sat beneath the queen’s Carrara petticoats     you weren’t bound for the cross but I let you have your way anyway

On the umpteenth trek across the pond I read poems shouting I was wrong dull telegraphing in wee hours for you were as fucked as I was     we read Akhmatova a different war entirely but by then we were on different shores my shoes long forgotten at the cobbler’s

I positioned him in the center of the Rothkos at the Tate Modern reds so sedate they suggested a suicide attempt     “I understand it” he said slurring epiphany then skulked off to finger an array of baroqe codpieces     I stared at those squares for hours but it didn’t come

A Pimlico summer I was dreaming of mountains without you     you entered the hotel room grabbing my hipbones they were gambles I won or I lost depending on what name you called me the morning after     your heat was spent by my body or a dream

In rooms in seasons the claustrophobia accentuated the rifts     we played out our regular tricks donning Duras sans the deed     by then we were too familiar too bored too us     the chrysanthemums didn’t offer solace instead we packed them in cedar boxes like effigies

I pawn the retrieved ring     knuckle still whitemarked by it somewhere in Camden Town     outside a fringe theatre a man pins me to a wall calls me dashing then draws blood     when he leaves pigeons pluck at the ring this stranger rescued I slip it stupidly into my cigarette box

Winter wreaked damage to the clocktower in the roundabout     we no longer deal in time our ghost town knew our rhythms were antsy even criminal     I made dents hands measuring seconds (the scenes we enacted) in snowpiles     I remember that I’d yet again poisoned the drinking water

Our last autumn we packed boxes lamenting how the city had ejected us some Eden     on the countertop beside the microwave and my expired passport a post-it note stuck to a print of Guernica read “I tried”     you could have been any man leaving everyone apart from me