Monday, July 27, 2009


A Special Performance for Statues

Solitary statues are introduced into the orchestra, while groups of statues are in the boxes. Someone remembers that bigger statues may not obstruct the sight of the smaller ones. Very small statues are permitted only in the suite of the non-figurative compositions.

In the first act, there’s nothing on the stage. The statues don’t like much movement and racket. Vibrations damage their crystalline structures.

In the second act, a black-rock quarry is opened onstage. The rock is torn off the walls and shaped by hammers and chisels. When the shape is born, a pyrotechnist comes along and skillfully places the charges and sets them off. The statues don’t like repetitions of their likeness. The statues don’t like themselves at all, essentially.

In the third act, a big flock of seagulls is onstage. The birds are spooked by the haze coming from a symphony orchestra down in the trap, and they fly around and into the audience, settling on the statues’ heads. There they do the natural things they usually do. The whole scene is irresistible fun. The statues applaud with a minute of silence.

After the performance, the theater is changed into a museum.

Therefore, theaters disappear.

But in the review, Venus of Milo praises the art of using gestures onstage and Nike of Samothrace expresses her satisfaction that the value of the human head is on the rise.


Sunday, July 26, 2009



Whether Armilla is like this because it is unfinished or because it has been demolished, whether the cause is some enchantment or only a whim, I do not know. The fact remains that is has no walls, no ceilings, no floors: it has nothing that makes it seem a city, except the water pipes that rise vertically where the houses should be and spread out horizontally where the floors should be: a forest of pipes that end in taps, showers, spouts, overflows. Against the sky a lavabo’s white stands out, or a bathtub, or some other porcelain, like late fruit still hanging from the boughs. You would think the plumbers had finished their job and gone away before the bricklayers arrived; or else their hydraulic systems, indestructible, had survived a catastrophe, an earthquake, or the corrosion of termites.
Abandoned before or after it was inhabited, Armilla cannot be called deserted. At any hour, raising your eyes among the pipes, you are likely to glimpse a young woman, or many young women, slender, not tall of stature, pended in the void, washing or drying or perfuming themselves, or coming their long hair at a mirror. In the sun, the threads of water fanning from the showers glisten, the jets of the taps, the spurts, the splashes, the sponges’ suds.
I have come to this explanation: the streams of water channeled in the pipes of Armilla have remained in the possession of nymphs and naiads. Accustomed to traveling along underground veins, they found it easy to enter into the new aquatic realm, to burst from multiple fountains, to find new mirrors, new games, new ways of enjoying the water. Their invasion may have driven out the human beings, or Armilla may have been built by humans as a votive offering to win the favor of the nymphs, offended at the misuse of the waters. In any case, now they seem content, these maidens: in the morning you hear them singing.

--Invisible Cities, Italo Calvino.


Monday, July 20, 2009

Demolition of the Cathedral at Chartres

Demolition of the Cathedral at Chartres

Mr. Rivers was raised in the city of New York, had become involved in construction and slowly advanced himself to the level of crane operator for a demolition company. The firm had grown enormously, and he was shipped off to France for a special job. He started work early on a Friday and, due to a poorly drawn map, at six-thirty one morning in February began the demolition of the Cathedral at Chartres.
The first swing of the ball knifed an arc so deadly that it tore down nearly a third of a wall and the glass shattered almost in tones, and it seemed to scream over the noise of the engine as the fuel was pumped in the long neck of the crane that threw the ball through a window of the Cathedral at Chartres.
The aftermath was complex and chaotic, and Rivers was allowed to go home to New York, and he opened up books on the Cathedral and read about it and thought to himself how lucky he was to have seen it before it was destroyed.

--Steve Martin (1945-)


Sunday, July 19, 2009

Giant Snail

The rain has stopped. The waterfall will roar like that all night. I have come out to take a walk and feed. My body—foot, that is—is wet and cold and covered with sharp gravel. It is white, the size of a dinner plate. I have set myself a goal, a certain rock, but it may well be dawn before I get there. Although I move ghostlike and my floating edges barely graze the ground, I am heavy, heavy. My white muscles are already tired. I give the impression of mysterious ease, but it is only with the greatest effort of my will that I can rise above the smallest stones and sticks. And I must not let myself be distracted by those rough spears of grass. Don’t touch them. Draw back. Withdrawal is always best.
The rain has stopped. The waterfall makes such a noise! (and what if I fall over it?) The mountains of black rock give off such clouds of steam! Shiny streamers are hanging down their sides. When this occurs, we have a saying that the Snail Gods have come down in haste. I could never descend such steep escarpments, much less dream of climbing them.
That toad was too big, too, like me. His eyes beseeched my love. Our proportions horrify our neighbors.
Rest a minute; relax. Flattened to the ground, my body is like a pallid, decomposing leaf. What’s that tapping on my shell? Nothing. Let’s go on.
My sides move in rhythmic waves, just off the ground, from front to back, the wake of a ship, wax-white water, or a slowly melting floe. I am cold, cold, cold as ice. My blind, white bull’s head was a Cretan scare-head; degenerate, my four horns that can’t attack. The sides of my mouth are now my hands. They press the earth and suck it hard. Ah, but I know my shell is beautiful, and high, and glazed, and shining. I know it well, although I have not seen it. Its curled white lip is of the finest enamel. Inside, it is as smooth as silk, and I, I fill it to perfection.
My wide wake shines, now it is growing dark. I leave a lovely opalescent ribbon: I know this.
But O! I am too big. I feel it. Pity me.
If and when I reach the rock, I shall go into a certain crack there for the night. The waterfall bellow will vibrate through my shell and body all night long. In that steady pulsing I can rest. All night I shall be like a sleeping ear.

--Elizabeth Bishop (1911-1979)


Saturday, July 18, 2009

Get High

You must always be high. Everything depends on it: it is the only question. So as not to feel the horrible burden of Time wrecking your back and bending you to the ground, you must get high without respite.
But on what? On wine, on poetry, or on virtue, whatever you like. But get high.
And if sometimes you wake up, on palace steps, on the green grass of a ditch, in your room’s gloomy solitude, your intoxication already waning or gone, ask the wind, the waves, the stars, the birds, clocks, ask everything that flees, everything that moans, everything that moves, everything that sings, everything that speaks, ask what time it is. And the wind, the waves, the stars, the birds, clocks, will answer, “It is time to get high! So as not to be the martyred slaves of Time, get high; get high constantly! On wine, on poetry, or on virtue, as you wish.”

--Charles Baudelaire 1821-1867), from the Parisian Prowler, (transl. Edward Kaplan, 1989)


Friday, July 17, 2009

Short pieces


Pink looks as pink, pink looks as pink, as pink as pink supposes, suppose.

Key to Closet

There is a key.
There is a key to a closet that opens the drawer. And she keeps both so that neither money nor candy will go suddenly. Fancy, baby, new year. She keeps both so that neither money nor candy will go suddenly, Fancy baby New Year, fancy baby mine, fancy.


It can be known that he changed from Friday to Sunday. It can also be known that he changed from year to year. It can also be known that he was worried. It can also be known that he was worried. It can also be known that his fellow-voyager would not only be attentive but would if necessary forget to come. Everybody would be grateful.

Had a Horse

If in place of a nose she had a horse and in place of a flower she had wax and in place of a melon she had a stone and in place of perfume buckles how many days would it be.

--Gertrude Stein (1874-1946)


Thursday, July 16, 2009

Where the Tennis Court was

Where the Tennis Court Was

Where the tennis court once was, enclosed by the small rectangle down by the railroad tracks where the wild pines grow, the couch-weed now runs matted over the ground, and the rabbits scratch in the tall grass in those hours when it is safe to come out.

One day here two sisters came to play, two white butterflies, in the early hours of the afternoon. Toward the east the view was (and still is) open—and the damp rocks of the Corone still ripen the strong grapes for the ‘sciacchetra.’ It is curious to think that each of us has a country like this one, even if altogether different, which must always remain his landscape, unchanging; it is curious that the physical order of things is so slow to filter down into us, and then so impossible to drain back out. But what of the rest? Actually, to ask the how and why of the interrupted game is like asking the how and why of that scarf of vapor rising from the loaded cargo ship anchored down there at the docks of Palmaria. Soon they will light, in the gulf, the first lamps.

Around, as far as the eye can see, the iniquity of objects persists, intangibly. The grotto encrusted with shells should be unchanged in the dense and heavy-planted garden under the tennis court; but the fanatical uncle will come no more with his tripod camera and magnesium lamp to photograph the single flower, unrepeatable, risen from the spiny cactus, and predestined to live only the shortest of lives. Even the villas of the South Americans seem deserted. And there haven’t always been the heirs and heiresses ready to squander their sumptuously shoddy goods that came always side-by-side with the rattle of pesos and milreis. Or maybe the sarabande of the newly arrived tells us of passings on to other regions: surely we here are perfectly sheltered and out of the line of fire. It is almost as though life could not be ignited here except by lightning; as though it feeds only on such inert things as it can safely accumulate; as though it quickly cankers in such deserted zones.

--Eugene Montale (1896-1982)


Wednesday, July 15, 2009



…I love you would have no application for the moment. I love you waits with cold wings furled, stands a cold angel shut up like Cherry-buds; cherry-buds not yet half in blossom. The cold rain and the mist and the scent of wet grass is in the unpronounceable words, I love you.
…I love you would have no possible application. It would tear down the walls of the city and abstract right and grace from the frozen image that might have right and grace painted upon its collar bones. The image has no right decoration for the moment, is swathed in foreign and barbaric garments, is smothered out in the odd garments of its strange and outlandish disproportion.
…the Nordic image that stands and is cold and has that high mark of queen-grace upon its Nordic forehead is dying…is dying…it is dying, its buds are infolded. If once the light of the sheer beauty of the Initiate could strike its features, it would glow like rare Syrian gold; the workmanship of the East would have to be astonishingly summoned to invent new pattern of palm branch, new decoration of pine-bud and the cone of the Nordic pine that the Eastern workman would so appropriately display twined with the Idaian myrtle. The Idaian myrtle would be shot with the enamel of the myrtle-blue that alone among workmen, the Idaian workmen fashioned in glass and in porphyry, stained to fit separate occasion and the right and perfect slicing of the rose-quartz from the Egyptian quarry.
…the Nordic Image is my Image and alone of all Images I would make it suitable so that the South should not laugh, so that the West should be stricken, so that the East should fall down, bearing its scented baskets of spice-pink and little roses.

--H.D. (1884-1961)


Tuesday, July 14, 2009

From the lines of the hand

From a letter thrown on the table a line comes which runs across the pine plank and descends by one of the legs. Just watch, you see that the line continues across the parquet floor, climbs the wall and enters a reproduction of a Boucher painting, sketches the shoulder of a woman reclining on a divan, and finally gets out of the room via the roof and climbs down the chain of lightning rods to the street. Here it is difficult to follow it because of the transit system, but by close attention you can catch it climbing the wheel of a bus parked at the corner, which carries it as far as the docks. It gets off there down the seam on the shiny nylon stocking of the blondest passenger, enters the hostile territory of the customs sheds, leaps and squirms and zigzags its way to the largest dock, and there (but it’s difficult to see, only the rats follow it to clamber aboard) it climbs onto the ship with the engines rumbling, crosses the planks of the first-class deck, clears the major hatch with difficulty, and in a cabin where an unhappy man is drinking cognac and hears the parting whistle, it climbs the trouser seam, across the knitted vest, slips back to the elbow, and with a final push finds shelter in the palm of the right hand, which is just beginning to close around the butt of a revolver.

--the lines of the hand, Julio Cortazar.


Monday, July 13, 2009

strayed crab

Strayed Crab

This is not my home. How did I get so far from water? It must be over that way somewhere.
I am the color of wine, of tinta. The inside of my powerful right claw is saffron-yellow. See, I see it now; I wave it like a flag. I am dapper and elegant; I move with great precision, cleverly managing all my smaller yellow claws. I believe in the oblique, the indirect approach, and I keep my feelings to myself.
But on this strange, smooth surface I am making too much noise. I wasn’t meant for this. If I maneuver a bit and keep a sharp lookout, I shall find my pool again. Watch out for my right claw, al passersby! This place is too hard. The rain has stopped, and it is damp, but still not wet enough to please me.
My eyes are good, though small; my shell is tough and tight. In my own pool are many small gray fish. I see right through them. Only their large eyes are opaque, and twitch at me. They are hard to catch, but I, I catch them quickly in my arms and eat them up.
What is that big soft monster, like a yellow cloud, stifling and warm? What is it doing? It pats my back. Out, claw. There, I have frightened it away. It’s sitting down, pretending nothing’s happened. I’ll skirt it. It’s still pretending not to see me. Out of my way, O monster. I own a pool, all the little fish swim in it, and all the skittering waterbugs that smells like rotten apples.
Cheer up, O grievous snail. I tap your shell, encouragingly, not that you will ever know about it.
And I want nothing to do with you, either, sulking toad. Imagine, at least four times my size and yet so vulnerable…I could open your belly with my claw. You glare and bulge, a watchdog near my pool; you make a loud and hollow noise. I do not care for such stupidity. I admire compression, lightness, and agility, all rare in this loose world.

--from the complete poems (1927-1979), Elizabeth Bishop


Sunday, July 12, 2009

The five fingers of the hand

The Five fingers of the Hand

“An honest family, where there’s never been a bankruptcy, and where no one has ever been hung.”—the Lineage of Jean de Nivelle

The thumb is this flat Flemish innkeeper, with a lewd, grumbling temper, smoking on his doorstep at the sign of the double March beer.

The index is his wife, a bitch as dry as dried fish, who starts her day by slapping her maid in Jealousy, and stroking the bottle that she loves.

The middle finger is their son, a young man roughed out by an axe, who’d be a soldier if he wasn’t tending bar, and a horse if he weren’t a man.

The ring finger is their daughter, the quick and headstrong Zerbina, who sells lace to the ladies and doesn’t sell smiles to the soldiers.

And the little finger, the finger of the ear, is the youngest, the Benjamin of the family, a crybaby hanging from his mother’s waist like a child on a witch’s hook.

The five fingers of this hand are the most thorough slap in the face ever grown in the gardens of the noble city of Haarlem.

--Aloysius Bertrand (1842), from Gaspard de la Nuit


Saturday, July 11, 2009

the Hands

the hands

I love these hands, designed by God to end my wrists. They are also the privileged ones that caress and play you. I stretch them before my eyes. I lift my little finger, a stem for the moon, a stalk completed by a calcium armor, I lift another finger, the middle, and with both in movement, on a wall suddenly inhabited I draw animals of vivid shadow for my children. They are amazed that black donkeys exist, capable of running over vertical plains, over the scored wall where only flies had reigned until today. They are happy to see hands holding as many beasts as Noah’s ark. With these hands I split the sweetest fig; I catch fish in the curve of their flashing arc. Sometimes my hands succeed in knitting themselves so tight that the corpse of a prayer scarcely fits between. Sometimes I throw them into space with such anger or joy that I cannot understand why they remain cloistered in the gesture; I really can’t understand why they don’t fly.

--from the heart if the flute; Marco Antonio Montes de Oca, translated by Laura Villasenor, 1979


Friday, July 10, 2009

Leopards in the temple

Leopards in the Temple

Leopards break into the temple and drink to the dregs what is in the sacrificial pitchers; this is repeated over and over again; finally it can e calculated in advance, and it becomes a part of the ceremony.

--Franz Kafka (1883-1924), (transl. Clement Greenberg), from Parables and Paradoxes, 1946


Thursday, July 9, 2009

The clock

The clock

The Chinese tell time in a cat’s eyes.
One day, walking in the outskirts of Nanking, a missionary realized he had forgotten his watch, and he asked a little boy what time it was.
At first the kid from the Celestial Empire hesitated; then, reconsidering, he answered, “I am going to tell you.” Not many moments later, he reappeared, holding a very fat cat in his arms, and looking at it, as they say, straight in the eye, he asserted without hesitation, “It is not yet quite noon.” Which was true.
As for me, if I turn toward beautiful Felina, so well named, who is at once the honor of her sex, my heart’s pride and my mind’s perfume, whether it be night, whether it be day, in full light or dark shadow, I always see the time clearly, in the depths of her adorable eyes, a vast, solemn time, always the same, huge as space, without divisions into minutes or seconds—an immobile time not marked on clocks, and yet light as a sigh, swift as a glance.
And if some meddler happened to interrupt me while settling my gaze upon that delectable dial, if some rude and intolerant Genie, some Demon of untimeliness happened to ask me, “what are you watching with such care? What are you looking for in that creature’s eyes? Do you see the time there, prodigal and lazy mortal?” I would directly answer, “Yes, I see the time; it is Eternity!”
Now is this not, Madam, a truly praiseworthy madrigal, and as exaggerated as yourself? In fact, I took such delight in elaborating this pretentious romance, that I will ask nothing of you in exchange.

--Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867), from the Parsian Prowler (transl. Edward Kaplan, 1989)


Wednesday, July 8, 2009


It was neither diabolical nor divine; it but shook the doors of the prison house of my disposition; and like the captives of Philippi, that which stood within ran forth. So feel I. Living in the Congo shakes open the prison house of my disposition and lets all the wicked hoodoo Adahs run forth.

To amuse my depraved Ada self during homework time I wrote down that quote from memory on a small triangular piece of paper and passed it to Leah, with the query: FROM WHAT BOOK OF THE BIBLE? Leah fancies herself Our Father's star pupil in matters Biblical. Star Pupil: Lipup Rats. Miss Rat-pup read the quote, nodding solemnly, and wrote underneath, The book of Luke. I'm not sure what verse.

Hah! I can laugh very hard without even smiling on the outside. The quote is from The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde, which I have read many times. I have a strong sympathy for Dr. Jekyll's dark desires and for Mr. Hyde's crooked body.

--The Poisonwood Bible, Barbara Kingsolver (1998)

Tuesday, July 7, 2009



The first thing I can remember is a blue line. This was on the left, where the lake disappeared into the sky. At that point there was a white sand cliff, although you couldn’t see it from where I was standing.
On the right the lake narrowed to a river and there was a dam and a covered bridge, some houses and a white church. In front there was a small rock island with a few trees on it. Along the shore there were large boulders and the sawed-off trunks of huge trees coming up through the water.
Behind is a house, a path running back into the forest, the entrance to another path which cannot be seen from where I was standing but was there anyway. At one spot this path was wider; oats fallen from the nosebags of loggers’ horses during some distant winter had sprouted and grown. Hawks nested there.
Once, on the rock island, there was the half-eaten carcass of a deer, which smelled like iron, like rust rubbed into your hands so that it mixes with sweat. This smell is the point at which the landscape dissolves, ceases to be a landscape and becomes something else.

--Margaret Atwood, from Murder in the dark, 1983


Monday, July 6, 2009

“We were so poor…”

“We were so poor…”

We were so poor I had to take the place of the bait in the mousetrap. All alone in the cellar, I could hear them pacing upstairs, tossing and turning in their beds. “These are dark and evil days,” the mouse told me as he nibbled my ear. Years passed. My mother wore a cat-fur collar which she stroked until its sparks lit up the cellar.

--Charles Simic, from the world doesn't end (1989)


Sunday, July 5, 2009

Cinema Verite

William Makepeace Thackeray Follows his Bliss

The Fairfield County fair in lancaster, Ohio. Shots of Thackeray on the Ferris Wheel, the bumper cars, at the livestock auction, drinking beer at the demolition derby. Cut to Thackeray at the concession stand.

Thackeray: I can't make up my mind between Elephant Ears and a chili dog.
Concessionaire: Oh, go ahead, Mr. Thackeray, get both. You deserve it.
Thackeray: You're right! What the hell, Elephant Ears and chili dogs for everyone! They're on me!
Assembled passersby [in chorus]: Oh boy! Thank you, William Makepeace Thackeray, possessor of one of the strangest middle names in history!

The fair comes to a halt as Thackeray is lifted and carried through the streets of Lancaster...

---Tom Andrews, Models of the Universe: an anthology o f the prose poem (1995)


Saturday, July 4, 2009

An Optical Illusion

An Optical Illusion

Semyon Semyonovich, having put on his glasses, looks at a pine tree and sees that a peasant is sitting in the pine tree and shaking his fist at him.
Semyon Semyonovich, having taken off his glasses, looks at the pine tree and sees that nobody is sitting in the pine tree.
Semyon Semyonovich, having put on his glasses, looks at the pine tree and again sees that a peasant is sitting in the pine tree and shaking his fist at him.
Semyon Semyonovich, having taken off his glasses, again sees that nobody is sitting in the pine tree.
Semyon Semyonovich, having put on his glasses again, looks at the pine tree again, sees that a peasant is sitting in the pine tree and is shaking his fist at him.
Semyon Semyonovich doesn’t want to believe in this phenomenon and decides it is an optical illusion.

--Daniel Kharms (1905-1942), from the Man in the Black Coat; Russia's literature of the absurd


Friday, July 3, 2009

“The Hundred-year-old china doll’s head…”

“The Hundred-year-old china doll’s head…”

The hundred-year-old china doll’s head the sea washes up on its gray beach. One would like to know the story. One would like to make it up, make up many stories. It’s been so long in the sea, the eyes and nose have been erased, its faint smile is even fainter. With the night coming, one would like to see oneself walking the empty beach and bending down to it.

--Charles Simic, from the world doesn't end (1989)


Thursday, July 2, 2009

Of all the ways of acquiring books, writing them oneself is regarded as the most praiseworthy method. At this point many of you will remember with pleasure the large library which pleasure the large library which Jean Paul’s poor little schoolmaster Wutz gradually acquired by writing, himself, all the works whose titles interested him in book-fair catalogues; after all, he could not afford to buy them. Writers are really people who write books not because they are poor, but because they are dissatisfied with the books which they could buy but do not like. You, ladies and gentleman, may regard this as a whimsical definition of a writer. But everything said from the angle of a real collector is whimsical. Of the customary modes of acquisition, the one most appropriate to a collector would be the borrowing of a book with its attendant non-returning. The book borrower of real stature whom we envisage here proves himself to be an inveterate collector of books not so much by the fervor with which he guards his borrowed treasures and by the deaf ear which he turns to all reminders from the everyday world of legality as by his failure to read these books. If my experience may serve as evidence, a man is more likely to return a borrowed book upon occasion than to read it. And the non-reading of books, you will object, should be characteristic of collectors? This is news to me, you may say. It is not news at all. Experts will bear me out when I say that it is the oldest thing in the world. Suffice it to quote the answer which Anatole France gave to a philistine who admired his library and then finished with the standard question, “And you have read all these books, Monsieur France?” “Not one-tenth of them. I don’t suppose you use your Sevres China every day?”

Illuminations, Walter Benjamin, (1955)


Wednesday, July 1, 2009

As a young man he had shared a room with a painter whose paintings had grown larger and larger as he tried to get the whole of life into his art. “Look at me,” he said before he killed himself, “I wanted to be a miniaturist and I’ve got elephantiasis instead!” The swollen events of the night of the crescent knives reminded Nadi Khan of his room-mate, because life had once again, perversely, refused to remain lifesized. It had turned melodramatic: and that embarrassed him.
How did Nadir Khan run across the night town without being noticed? I put it down to his being a bad poet, and as such, a born survivor. As he ran, there was a self-consciousness about him, his body appearing to apologize for behaving as if it were in a cheap thriller, of the sort hawkers sell on railway stations, or give away free with bottles of green medicine that can cure colds, typhoid, impotence, homesickness and poverty…On Cornwallis Road, it was a warm night. A coal-brazier stood empty by the deserted rickshaw rank. The paan-shop was closed and the old men were asleep on the roof, dreaming of tomorrow’s game. An insomniac cow, idly chewing a Red and White cigarette packet, strolled by a bundled street-sleeper, which meant he would wake in the morning, because a cow will ignore a sleeping man unless he’s about to die. Then it nuzzles at him thoughtfully. Sacred cows eat anything.

--Midnight's Children, Salman Rushdie (1981)