Passages for Discussion and Textual Analysis
Colonial Period to ModernismWilliam Bradford, History of Plymouth Plantation After this they fell to great licentiousness and led a dissolute life, pouring out themselves into all profaneness. And Morton became Lord of Misrule, and maintained (as it were) a School of Atheism. And after they had got some goods into their hands, and got much by trading with the Indians, they spent it as vainly in quaffing and drinking, both wine and strong waters in great excess (and, as some reported) ten pounds in a morning. They also set up a maypole, drinking and dancing about it many days together, inviting the Indian women for their consorts, dancing and frisking together like so many fairies, or furies, rather; and worse practices…. Morton likewise, to show his poetry composed sundry rhymes and verses, some tending to lasciviousness, and others to the detraction and scandal of some persons, which he affixed to this idle or idol maypole. They also changed the name of their place, and instead of calling it Mount Wollaston they call it Merry-mount, as if this jollity would have lasted forever. Edward Taylor, “Huswifery” Make me, O Lord, Thy Spinning Wheel complete. The Holy Word my Distaff make for me, Make mine Affections Thy Swift Flyers neat And make my Soul Thy holy spool to be. My conversation make to be Thy Reel And reel the yarn thereon spun of Thy Wheel. Make me Thy Loom then, knit therein this Twine; And make Thy Holy Spirit, Lord, wind quills: Thine Ordinances make my Fulling Mills, Then dye the same in Heavenly Colors Choice, All pinked with Varnished Flowers of Paradise.
Then clothe therewith mine Understanding, Will, Affections, Judgment, Conscience, Memory, My Words, and Actions, that their shine may fill My ways with glory and Thee glorify. Then mine apparel shall display before Ye That I am Clothed in Holy robes for glory.
Anne Bradstreet “To My Dear and Loving Husband” If ever two were one, then surely we. If ever man were loved by wife, then thee; If ever wife were happy in a man, Compare with me, ye women, if you can. I prize thy love more than whole mines of gold Or all the riches that the east doth hold. My love is such that rivers cannot quench, Not ought but love from thee, give recompense. Thy love is such that I can no way repay, The heavens reward thee manifold, I pray. Then while we live, in love let’s so preserver That when we live no more, we may live ever.
Jonathan Edwards, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” Your wickedness makes you as it were heavy as lead, and to tend downward with great weight and pressure towards hell; and if God should let you go, you would immediately sink and swiftly descend and plunge into the bottomless gulf… The wrath of God is like great waters that are dammed for the present… It is true that judgment against your evil works has not been executed hitherto; the floods of God’s vengeance have been withheld; but your guilt in the meantime is constantly increasing, and you are very day treasuring up more wrath; the waters are constantly rising… and there is nothing but the mere pleasure of God that holds the waters back… The bow of God’s wrath is bent, and the arrow made ready on the string, and justice bends the arrow at your heart, and strains the bow, and it is nothing but the mere pleasure of God, and that of an angry God, without any promise of any obligation at all, that keeps the arrow one moment from being made drunk with your blood… The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked: His wrath towards you burns like fire; He looks upon you as worthy of nothing else but to be cast into the fire; you are ten thousand times more abominable in His eyes than the most hateful venomous serpent is in ours… And there is no other reason to be given, why you have not dropped into hell since you arose in the morning, but that God’s hand has held you up.
Phillip Freneau, “On the Religion of Nature” The power, that gives with liberal hand The blessings man enjoys, while here, And scatters through a smiling land Abundant products of the year; That power of nature, ever blessed, Bestowed religion with the rest.
Born with ourselves, her early sway Inclines the tender mind to take The path of right, fair virtue’s way Its own felicity to make. This universally extends And leads to no mysterious ends.
Religion, such as nature taught, With all divine perfections suits; Had all mankind this system sought Sophists would cease their vain disputes, And from this source would nations know All that can make their heaven below.
This deals not curses on mankind, Or dooms them to perpetual grief, If from its aid no joys they find, It damns them not for unbelief; Upon a more exalted plan Creatress nature deal with man.
Washington Irving, History of New York from the Beginning of the World Until the Present Day These were the honest days in which every woman staid at home, read the Bible and wore pockets,–ay, and that too of a goodly size, fashioned with patchwork into many curious devices, and ostentatiously worn on the outside. These, in fact, were convenient receptacles, where all good housewives carefully stored away such things as they wished to have at hand; by which means they often came to be incredibly crammed…. Washington Irving, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” An inquiry was set on foot, and after diligent investigation they came upon his traces. In one part of the road leading to the church was found the saddle trampled in the dirt; the tracks of horses’ hoofs deeply dented in the road, and evidently at furious speed, were traced to the bridge, beyond which, on the bank of a broad part of the brook, where the water ran deep and black, was found the hat of the unfortunate Ichabod, and close beside it a shattered pumpkin.
James Fenimore Cooper, Deerslayer To cock and poise his rifle were the acts of a single moment, and a single motion; then, aiming almost without sighting, he fired into the bushes where he knew a body ought to be…. So rapid were his movements that both parties discharged their pieces at the same instant, the concussions mingling in a single report…. The savage… leaped through the bushes, and came bounding across the open ground, flourishing a tomahawk…. When about forty feet from his enemy, the savage hurled his keen weapon, but it was with an eye so vacant, and a hand so unsteady and feeble, that the young man caught it by the handle, as it was flying past him.
Edgar Allen Poe, “The Fall of the House of Usher” There was blood upon her white robes, and the evidence of some bitter struggle upon every portion of her emaciated frame. For a moment she remained trembling and reeling to and fro upon the threshold, then, with a low-moaning cry, fell heavily inward upon the person of her brother, and in her violent and now final death agonies, bore him to the floor a corpse, and a victim to the terrors he had anticipated…. From that chamber, and from that mansion, I fled aghast.
Herman Melville, Moby Dick “All your oaths to hunt the White Whale are as binding as mine; and heart, soul, body, lungs, and life, old Ahab is bound….” As in the hurricane that sweeps the plain, men fly the neighborhood of some lone, gigantic elm, whose very height and strength but render it so much the more unsafe, because so much the more a mark for thunderbolts; so at those last words of Ahab’s many of the mariners did run from him in a terror of dismay.
Herman Melville, Moby Dick “No fearless fool now fronts thee. I own thy speechless, placeless power; but to the last gasp of my earthquake life will dispute its unconditional, unintegral mastery in me. In the midst of the personified impersonal, a personality stands here…. Come in thy lowest form of love, and I will kneel and kiss thee; but at thy highest, come as mere supernal power; and though thou launchest navies of full-freighted worlds, there’s that in here that still remains indifferent. Oh, thou clear spirit, of thy fire thou madest me, and like a true child of fire, I breathe it back to thee.”
Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter “If thou feelest it to be for thy soul’s peace, and that thy earthly punishment will thereby be made more effectual to salvation, I charge thee to speak out the name of thy fellow-sinner and fellow-sufferer! Be not silent from any mistaken pity and tenderness for him; for, believe me, Hester, though he were to step down from a high place, and stand there beside thee, on thy pedestal of shame, yet better were it so than to hide a guilty heart through life.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Self Reliance” Man is timid and apologetic; he is no longer upright; he dares not say “I think,” “I am,” but quotes some saint or sage. He is ashamed before the blade of grass or the blowing rose. These roses under my window make no reference to former roses or to better ones; they are for what they are; they exist with God today…. But man postpones or remembers; he does not live in the present, but with reverted eye laments the past, or heedless of the riches that surround him, stands on tiptoe to foresee the future. He cannot be happy and strong until he too lives with nature in the present, above time. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Self Reliance” Life only avails, not the having lived. Power ceases in the instant of repose; it resides in the moment of transition from a past to a new state, in the shooting of the gulf, in the darting to an aim. This one fact the world hates; that the soul becomes; for that forever degrades the past, turns all riches to poverty, all reputation to a shame, confound the saint with the rogue, shoves Jesus and Judas equally aside. Why… do we prate of self-reliance? … Speak rather of that which relies because it works and is.
Henry David Thoreau, Walden I went to the woods because I wanted to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it be proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion.
Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom’s Cabin She has on her head a high-raised turban, made of a gay red Madras handkerchief, of the first quality, and her dress is neatly fitted, and of good material, showing that she has been provided for with a careful hand. By her side, and nestling close to her, is a young girl of fifteen–her daughter…. These two are to be sold tomorrow, in the same lot with the St. Clare servants; and the gentleman to whom they belong, and to whom the money for their sale is to be transmitted, is a member of a Christian church in New York, who will receive the money, and go thereafter to the sacrament of his Lord and theirs, and think no more of it.
Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom’s Cabin … You shall be courteously entreated to call and examine, and shall find an abundance of husbands, wives, brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers, and young children, to be “sold separately, or in lots to suit the convenience of the purchaser;” and that soul immortal, once bought with blood and anguish by the Son of God, when the earth shook, and the rocks rent, and the graves were opened, can be sold, leased, mortgaged, exchanged for groceries or dry goods, to suit the phrases of trade, or the fancy of the purchaser.
Mark Twain, Huck Finn “You read about them once–you’ll see. Look at Henry the Eight; this’n’s a Sunday-School Superintendent to him….My. you ought to seen old Henry the Eight when he was in bloom. He was a blossom. He used to marry a new wife every day, and chop off her head next morning. And he would do it just as indifferent as if he was ordering up eggs…. And he made every one of them tell him a tale every night; and he kept that up till he had a thousand and one tales that way; and, then he put them all in a book, and called it Domesday Book–which was a good name, and stated the case. You don’t know kings, Jim, but I know them; and this old rip of ourn is one of the cleanest I’ve struck in history.”
Mark Twain, Huck Finn The third night the house was crammed again–and they warn’t new-comers, this time, but people that was at the show the other two nights. I stood by the duke at the door, and I see that every man that went in had his pockets bulging, or something muffled up under his coat–and I see it warn’t no perfumery neither, not by a long sight. I smelt sickly eggs by the barrel, and rotten cabbages, and such things; and if I know the signs of a dead cat being around, and I bet I do, there was sixty-four of them went in. I shoved in there for a minute, but it was too various for me. Mark Twain, Huck Finn It was a close place. I took it up, and held it in my hand. I was a trembling, because I’d got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it. I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself: “All right, then, I’ll go to hell”–and tore it up. It was awful thoughts, and awful words, but they was said. And I let them stay said; and never thought no more about reforming. I shoved the whole thing out of my head; and said I would take up wickedness again, which was in my line, being brung up to it, and the other warn’t. And for a starter, I would go to work and steal Jim out of slavery again; and if I could think up anything worse, I would do that too; because as long as I was in, and in for good, I might as well go the whole hog.
Walt Whitman, Song of Myself, from Leaves of Grass Loafe with me on the grass…. Loose the stop from your throat, Not words, not music or rhyme I want…. Not custom or lecture, not even the best, Only the lull I like the hum of your valved voice. I mind how we lay in June, such a transparent summer morning; You settled your head athwart my hips and gently turned over upon me, And parted the shirt from my bosom-bone, and plunged your tongue to my barestript heart, And reached till you felt my beard, and reached till you held my feet.
Swiftly arose around me the peace and joy and knowledge that pass all the art and argument of the earth; And I know that the hand of God is the elderhand of my own, And I know that the spirit of God is the eldest brother of my own, And that all the men ever borne are also my brothers…. And the women my sisters and lovers, And that a keelson of the creation is love….
A child said, what is the grass? Fetching it to me with full hands; How could I answer the child? … I do not know what it is any more than he.
I guess it must be the flag of my disposition, out of hopeful green stuff woven. Or I guess it is the handkerchief of the Lord, A scented gift and remembrancer designedly dropped, Bearing the owner’s name someway in the corners, that we may see and remark, and say Whose?
Or I guess the grass is itself a child…. The produced babe of the vegetation. ..……. I depart as air…. I shake my white locks at the runaway sun, I effuse my flesh in eddies and drift it in lacy jags.
I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love, If you want me again look for me under your bootsoles.
You will hardly know who I am or what I mean, But I shall be good health to you nevertheless, And filter and fibre your blood.
Failing to fetch me at first keep in encouraged, Missing me in one place search another, I stop some where waiting for you Emily Dickinson, “I Taste a Liquor Never Brewed (214) I taste a liquor never brewed— From Tankards scooped in Pearl— Not all the vats upon the Rhine Yield such an Alcohol!
Inebriate of Air—am I— And debauchee of Dew— Reeling—thro endless summer days— From Inns of Molten Blue—
When “Landlords” turn the drunken Bee Out of the Foxglove’s door— When Butterflies—renounce their “drams”— I shall but drink the more!
Till Seraphs swing their snowy Hats— And Saints—to windows rune— To see the little Tippler Leaning against the—Sun—
Emily Dickinson, “The Soul Selects Her Own Society” (303) The Soul selects her own Society— Then—shuts the Door— To her divine Majority— Present no more—
Unmoved—she notes the Chariots—pausing— At her low Gate— Unmoved—an Emperor be kneeling Upon her mat—
I’ve known her—from an ample nation— Choose One— Then close the Valves of her attention— Like Stone—
Emily Dickinson, “After Great Pain, a Formal Feeling Comes” (341) After great pain, a formal feeling comes— The Nerves sit ceremonious, like Tombs— The stiff Heart questions was it He, that bore, And Yesterday, or Centuries before?
The Feet, mechanical, go round— Of Ground, or Air, or Ought— A Wooden way Regardless grown, A Quartz contentment, like a tone—
This is the Hour of Lead— Remembered, if outlived, As Freezing persons, recollect the Snow— First—Chill—then Stupor—then the letting go— Stephen Crane, Maggie, Girl of the Streets In a room a woman sat at a table eating like a fat monk in a picture. A Soiled, unshaven man pushed at the door and entered. “Well,” he said, “Mag’s dead.” “What?” said the woman, her mouth filled with bread. “Mag’s dead,” repeated the man. “Deh hell she is,” said the woman. She continued her meal. When she finished her coffee she began to weep… “Yeh’ll fergive her, Mary!” pleaded the woman in black. The mourner essayed to speak but her voice gave way. She shook her great shoulders frantically, in an agony of grief. Hot tears seemed to scald her quivering face. Finally her voice came and arose like a scream of pain. “Oh yes, I’ll fergive her, I’ll fergive her!”
Stephen Crane, The Red Badge of Courage He thought he must break from the ranks and harangue his comrades. They must not all be killed like pigs; and he was sure it would come to pass unless they were informed of these dangers. The generals were idiots to send them marching into a regular pen. There was but one pair of eyes in the corps. He would step forth and make a speech. Shrill and passionate words came to his lips. The lone, broken into moving fragments by the ground, went calmly on through fields and woods. The youth looked at the men nearest him, and saw, for the most part, expressions of deep interest, as if they were investigating something that had fascinated them. One or two stepped with over-valiant airs as if they were already plunged into war. Others walked as upon thin ice. The greater part of the untested men appeared quiet and absorbed. They were going to look at war, the red animal – war, the blood-swollen god.
Kate Chopin, The Awakening Edna cried a little that night after Arobin left her. It was only one phase of the multitudinous emotions which had assailed her. There was with her an overwhelming feeling of irresponsibility. There was the shock of the unsuspected and the unaccustomed. There was her husband’s reproach looking at her from external existence. There was Robert’s reproach making itself felt by a quicker, fiercer, more overpowering love, which had awakened within her toward him. Above all, there was understanding. She felt as if a mist had been lifted from her eyes, enabling her to look upon and comprehend the significance of her life, that monster made up of beauty and brutality. But among the conflicting sensations which assailed her, there was neither shame nor remorse.
Kate Chopin, The Awakening Exhaustion was pressing and overpowering her. “Good-by – because I love you.” He did not know; he did not understand. He would never understand. Perhaps Doctor Mandelet would have understood if she had seen him–but it was too late; the shore was far behind her, and her strength was gone. She looked into the distance, and the old terror flamed up for and instant, than sank again. Edna heard her father’s voice and her sister Margaret’s. She heard the barking of an old dog that was chained to the sycamore tree. The spurs of the cavalry officer clanged as he walked across the porch. There was the hum of bees, and the musky odor of pinks.
Henry James, Daisy Miller After this Daisy was never at home, and Winterbourne ceased to meet her at the houses of their common acquaintance because, as he perceived, these shrewd people had quite made up their minds that she was going too far. They ceased to invite her, and they intimated that they desired to express to observant Europeans the great truth that, though Miss Daisy Miller was a young American lady, her behaviour was not representative – was regarded by her compatriots as abnormal. Winterbourne wondered how she felt about all the cold shoulders that were turned towards her, and sometimes it annoyed him to suspect that she did not feel at all. He said to himself that she was too light and childless, too uncultivated and unreasoning, too provincial, to have reflected upon her ostracism or even to have perceived it. Then at other moments he believed that she carried about in her elegant and irresponsible little organism a defiant, passionate, perfectly observant consciousness of innocence or from being, essentially, a young person of the reckless class. John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath One man, one family driven from the land; this rusty car creaking along the highway to the west. I lost my land, a single tractor took my land. I am alone and I am bewildered. And in the night one family camps in a ditch and another family pulls in and the tents come out. The two men squat on their hams and the women and children listen. Here is the node, you who hate change and fear revolution. Keep these two squatting men apart; make them hate, fear, suspect each other. Here is the anlage of the thing you fear. This is the zygote. For here “I lost my land” is changed; a cell is split and from its splitting grows the thing you hate – “We lost our land.” The danger is here, for two men are not as lonely and perplexed as one. And from this first “we” there grows a still more dangerous thing: “I have a little food” plus “I have none.” If from this problem the sum is “We have a little food,” the thing is on its way, the movement has direction.”
Sherwood Anderson, Winesburg, Ohio She thought that the rain would have some creative and wonderful effect on her body. Not for years had she felt so full of youth and courage. She wanted to leap and run, to cry out, to find some other lonely human and embrace him. On the brick sidewalk before the house a man stumbled homeward. Alice started to run. A wild, desperate mood took possession of her. “What do I care who it is. He is alone, and will go to him.” she thought; and then without stopping to consider the possible result of her madness, called softly. “Wait!” she cried. “Don’t go away. Whoever you are, you must wait.” The man on the sidewalk stopped and stood listening. He was an old man and somewhat deaf. Putting his hand to his mouth, he shouted. “What? What say?” he called. Alice dropped to the ground and lay trembling. She was so frightened at the thought of what she had done that when the man had gone on his way she did not dare get to her feet, but crawled on hands and knees through the grass to the house…. When she got into bed she buried her face in the pillow and wept broken-heartedly. “What is the matter with me? I will do something dreadful if I am not careful,” she thought, and turning her face to the wall, began trying to force herself to face bravely the fact that many people must live and die alone, even in Winesburg.
Gertrude Stein, The Making of Americans There was a time when I was questioning, always asking, when I was talking, wondering, there was a time when I was feeling, thinking, and all the time I did not know repeating, I did not see or hear or feel repeating. There was a long time when there nothing in me using the bottom loving repeating being that now leads me to knowing. Then I was attacking, questioning, wondering, thinking, always at the bottom was loving repeating being, that was not then there to my conscious being. Sometime there will be written a long history of such a beginning. Always then there was a recognition of the thing always repeating, the being in each one, and always then thinking, feeling, talking, living, was not of the real being. Slowly I came to hear repeating. More and more I came to listen, now always and always I listen and always now each one comes to be a whole in me.
Ernest Hemingway, “In Another Country” “What will you do when the war is over if it is over?” he asked me. “Speak grammatically!” “I will go to the States.” “Are you married?” “No, but I hope to be.” “The more of a fool you are,” he said. He seemed very angry. “A man must not marry.” “Why, Signor Maggiore?” “Don’t call me Signor Maggiore.” “Why must a man not marry?” “He cannot marry. He cannot marry,” he said angrily. “If he is to lose everything, he should not place himself in a position to lose that. He should not place himself in a position to lose. He should find things he cannot lose.” He spoke very angrily and bitterly, and looked straight ahead while he talked. “But why should he necessarily lose it.” “He’ll lose it,” the major said. He was looking at the wall. Then he looked down at the machine and jerked his little hand out from between the straps and slapped it hard against his thigh. “He’ll lose it,” he almost shouted. “Don’t argue with me!” Then he called to the attendant who ran the machines. “Come and turn this damned thing off.” He went back into the other room for the light treatment and the massage… When he came back into the room, I was sitting in another machine. He was wearing his cape and had his cap on, and he came directly toward my machine and put his arm on my shoulder. “I am so sorry,” he said, and patted me on the shoulder with his good hand. “I would not be rude. My wife has just died. You must forgive me.”
F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby Most of the big shore places were closed now and there were hardly any lights except the shadowy, moving glow of a ferryboat across the Sound. And as the moon rose higher the inessential houses began to melt away until gradually I became aware of the old island here that flowered once for Dutch sailors’ eyes—a fresh, green breast of the new world. Its vanished trees, the trees that had made way for Gatsby’s house, had once pandered in whispers to the last and greatest of all human dreams; for a transitory enchanted moment man must have held his breath in the presence of this continent, compelled into an aesthetic contemplation he neither understood nor desired, face to face for the last time in history with something commensurate to his capacity for wonder. And as I sat there brooding on the old, unknown world, I though of Gatsby’s wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock. He had come a long way to this blue lawn, and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it… Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther… so we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.
Ezra Pound, “In a Station of the Metro” The apparition of these faces in the crowd; Petals on a wet, black bough.
Ezra Pound, “The River Merchant’s Wife: A Letter” At fourteen I married My Lord you. I never laughed, being bashful. Lowering my head, I looked at the wall. Called to a thousand times, I never looked back.
At fifteen I stopped scowling, I desired my dust to be mingled with yours Forever and forever and forever. Why should I climb the lookout?
Ezra Pound, “Canto LXIII” What the lovest well remains, The rest is dross What thou lov’st well shall not be reft from thee What thou lov’st well is thy true heritage Whose world, or mine or theirs or is it of none? First came the seen, then thus the palpable Elysium, though it were in the halls o hell, What thou lov’st well is thy true heritage What thou lov’st well shall not be reft from thee The ant’s a centaur in his dragon world. Pull down thy vanity, it is not man Made courage, or made order, or made grace, Pull down thy vanity, I say pull down…
T. S. Eliot, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” Let us go then, you and I, When the evening is spread out against the sky Like a patient etherised upon a table; Let us go, though certain half deserted street, The muttering retreats Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells: Streets that follow like a tedious argument Of insidious intent To lead you to an overwhelming question… Oh, do not ask, “What is it?” Let us go and make our visit.
In the room the women come and go Talking of Michelangelo. ………. Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach? I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach. I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each. I do not think that they will sing to me. I have seen them riding seaward on the waves Combing the white hair of the waves blown back When the wind blows the water white and black.
We have lingered in the chambers of the sea By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown Till human voices wake us, and we drown.
Wallace Stevens, “Of Modern Poetry” The poem of the mind in the act of finding What will suffice. It has not always had To find: the scene was set; it repeated what Was in the script. Then the theatre was changed To something else. Its past was a souvenir.
It has to be living, to learn the speech of the place. It has to face the men of the time and meet The women of the time. It has to think about war And it has to find what will suffice. It has To construct a new stage. It has to be on that stage And, like an insatiable actor, slowly and In the delicatest ear of the mind, repeat Exactly that which it wants to hear, at the sound Of which, an invisible audience listens, Not to the play, but to itself, expressed In an emotion as of two people, as of two Emotions becoming one. The actor is A metaphysician in the dark, twanging An instrument, twanging a wiry string that gives Sounds passing through sudden rightnesses, wholly Containing the mind, below which it cannot descend, Beyond which it has no will to rise.
It must Be the finding of a satisfaction, and may Be of a man skating, a woman dancing, a woman Combing. The poem of the act of the mind.
Wallace Stevens, Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction (transcribed as prose) The poem refreshes life so that we share, for a moment, the first idea . . . It satisfies belief in an immaculate beginning and sends us, winged by an unconscious will, to an immaculate end. We move between these points: from that ever-early candor to its late plural and the candor of them is the strong exhilaration of what we feel from what we think, of thought beating in the hear, as if blood newly came, An elixir, an excitation, a pure power. The poem, through candor, brings back a power again that gives a candid kind to everything. We say: At night an Arabian in my room inscribes a primitive astronomy across the unscrawled foes the future casts and throws his stars around the floor. By day the wood-dove used to chant his hoobla-hoo and still the grossest iridescence of ocean howls hoo and rises and howls hoo and falls. Life’s nonsense pierces us with strange relation. The first idea was not our own. Adam in Eden was the father of Descartes and Eve made air the mirror of herself, of her sons and of her daughters. They found themselves in heaven as in a glass; a second earth; and in the earth itself they found a green – the inhabitants of a very varnished green. But the first idea was not to shape the clouds in imitation. The clouds preceded us. There was a muddy center before we breathed. There was a myth before the myth began, venerable and articulate and complete. From this the poem springs: that we live in a place that is not our own and, much more, not ourselves and hard it is in spire of blazoned days… The monastic man is an artist. The philosopher appoints man’s place in music, say, today. But the priest desires. The philosopher desires. And not to have is the beginning of desire… It is desire at the end of winter, when it observes the effortless weather turning blue and being virile, it hears the calendar hymn. It knows that what it has is what is not and throws it away like a thing of another time, as morning throws off stale moonlight and shabby sleep.
William Carlos Williams, “The Red Wheelbarrow” so much depends upon
a red wheel barrow
glazed with rain water
beside the white chickens
Robert Frost, “Birches” But I was going to say when Truth broke in With all her matter-of-fact about the ice-storm I should prefer to have some boy bend them As he went out and in to fetch the cows— Some boy too far from town to learn baseball, Whose only play was what he found himself, Summer or winter, and could play alone. One by one he subdued his father’s trees By riding them down over and over again Until he took the stiffness out of them, And not one but hung limp, not one was left For him to conquer. He learned all there was To learn about not launching out too soon And so not carrying the tree away Clear to the ground. He always kept his poise. To the top branches, climbing carefully With the same pains you use to fill a cup Up to the brim, and even above the brim. Then he flung outward, feet first, with a swish, Kicking his way down through the air to the ground. So I was once myself a swinger of birches. And so I dream of going back to be. It’s when I’m weary of considerations; And life is too much like a pathless wood Where your face burns and tickles with the cobwebs Broken across it, and one eye is weeping From a twig’s having lashed across it open. I’d like to get away from earth awhile And then come back to it and begin over. May no fate wilfully misunderstand me And half grant what I wish and snatch me away Not to return. Earth’s the right place for love; I don’t know where it’s likely to go better. I’d like to go by climbing a birch tree, And climb black branches up a snow-white trunk Toward heaven, till the tree could bear no more, But dipped its top and set me down again. That would be good both going and coming back. One could do worse than be a swinger of birches. J. D. Salinger, “The Laughing Man” When the Laughing Man’s small eyes finally opened, Omba eagerly raised the vial of eagle’s blood up to the mask. But the Laughing Man didn’t drink from it. Instead, he weakly pronounced his beloved Black Wing’s name. Omba bowed his own slightly distorted head and revealed to his master that the Dufarges had killed Black Wing. A peculiar and heart-rending gasp of final sorrow came from the Laughing Man. He reached out wanly for the vial of eagles’ blood and crushed it in his hand. What little blood he had left trickled thinly down his wrist. He ordered Omba to look away, and, sobbing, Omba obeyed him. The Laughing Man’s last act, before turning his face to the bloodstained ground, was to pull off his mask. The story ended there, of course. (Never to be revived.) The Chief started up the bus. Across the aisle from me Billy Walsh, who was the youngest of all the Comanches, burst in to tears. None of us told him to shut up. As for me, I remember my knees were shaking. A few minutes later, when I stepped out of the Chief’s bus, the first thing I chanced to see was a piece of red tissue paper flapping in the wind against the base of a lamppost. It looked like someone’s poppy-petal mask. I arrived home with my teeth chattering uncontrollably and was told to go right to bed.
J. D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all… and suddenly I’m standing by on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff…. I went over and sat down on this bench, and she went and got on the carrousel. She walked all around it. I mean she walked once all the way around it. Then she sat down on this big, brown, beat-up looking old horse. Then the carrousel started, and I watched her go around and around. There were only about five or six other kids on the ride, and the song the carrousel was playing was “Smoke Gets in Your eyes.” It was playing it very jazzy and funny. All the kids kept trying to grab for the gold ring, and so was old Phoebe, and I was sort of afraid she’d fall off the goddam horse, but I didn’t say anything or do anything. The thing with kids is, if they want to grab for the gold ring, you have to let them do it, and not say anything. If they fall off, the fall off, but it’s bad if you say anything to them.
Joseph Heller, Catch-22 Being born with a sickly resemblance to Henry Fonda was the first of a long series of practical jokes of which destiny was to make Major Major the unhappy victim throughout his joyless life. Being born Major Major Major was the second. The fact that he had been born Major Major Major was a secret known only to his father. Not until Major Major was enrolling in kindergarten was the discovery of his real name made, and then the effects were disastrous… Since he had nothing better to do well in, he did well in school. At the state university he took his studies so seriously that he was suspected of being a Communist and suspected by the Communists of being a homosexual. He majored in English history, which was a mistake. “English history!” roared the silver-maned Senator from his state indignantly. “What’s the matter with American history? American history is as good as any history in the world!” Major Major switched immediately to American literature, but not before the F.B.I. opened a file on him… Soon they had enough derogatory information on Major Major to do whatever they wanted with him. The only thing they could find to do with him, however, was take him into the Army as a private and make him a major four days later so that Congressmen with nothing else on their minds could go trotting back and forth through the streets of Washington, D.D., chanting, “Who promoted Major Major? Who promoted Major Major?” Actually, Major Major had been promoted by an I.B.M. machine with a sense of humor almost as keen as his father’s. Kurt Vonnegut, The Sirens of Titan Scholars whose field is the Martian War often exclaim over the queer unevenness of Rumford’s war preparations. In some areas, his plans were horribly flimsy. The shoes he issued his ordinary troops, for instance, were almost a satire on the Jerry-built society of Mars—on a society whose whole purpose was to destroy itself in uniting the peoples of Earth. In the music libraries Rumford personally selected for the company of mother ships, however, one sees a great cultural nest egg—a nest egg prepared as though for a monumental civilization that was going to endure for a thousand Earthling years…. As an anonymous wit has it: ‘The Army of Mars arrived with three hundred hours of continuous music, and didn’t last long enough to hear The Minute Waltz to the end…. Rumford was crazy about good music—a craze, incidentally, that struck him only after he had been spread through time and space by the chrono-synclastic infundibulum. The harmoniums in the caves of Mercury were crazy about good music, too. They had been feeding on one sustained note in the song of Mercury for centuries. When Boaz gave them their first taste of music, which happened to be Le Sacre du Printemps, some of the creatures actually died in ecstasy.
Ken Kesey, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest I’m mopping near the ward door when a key hits it from the other side and I know it’s the Big Nurse by the way the lockworks cleave to the key, soft and swift and familiar she been around the lockworks so long… She’s carrying her wove wicker bag like the ones the Umpqua tribe sells out along the hot August highway, a bag shape of a tool box with a hemp handle. She’s had it all the years I been here. It’s a loose weave and I can see inside it; there’s no compact or lipstick or woman stuff, she’s got that bag full of a thousand parts she aims to use in her duties today – wheels and gears, cogs polished to a hard glitter, tiny pill that gleam like porcelain, needles, forceps, watchmaker’s pliers, rolls of copper wire… She’s swelling up, swells till her back’s splitting out the white uniform and she’s let her arms section out long enough to wrap around the three of them five, six times. She looks around with a swivel of her huge head. Nobody up to see, just old Broom Bromden the half-breed Indian back there hiding behind his mop and can’t talk to call for help. So she really lets herself go and her painted smile twists, stretches to an open snarl, and she blows up bigger and bigger, big as a tractor, so big I can smell the machinery inside the way you smell a motor pulling to big a load. I hold my breath and figure, My God this time they’re going to do it! This time they let the hate build up too high and overloaded and they’re going to tear one another to pieces before they realize what they’re doing! But just as she starts crooking those sectioned arms around the black boys and they go to ripping at her underside with the mop handles, all the patients start coming out of the dorms to check on what’s the ullabaloo, and she has to change back before she’s caught in the shape of her hideous real self. By the time the patients get their eyes rubbed to where they can halfway see what the racket’s about, all they see is the head nurse, smiling and calm and cold as usual, telling the black boys they’d best not stand in a group gossiping when it is Monday morning and there is such a lot to get done on the first morning of the week… It’s gonna burn me… finally telling about all this, about the hospital, and her, and the guys – and about McMurphy. I been silent so long now it’s gonna roar out of me like floodwaters and you think the guy telling this is ranting and raving and my God: you think this is too horrible to have really happened, this is too awful to be the truth! But, please. It’s still hard for me to have a clear mind thinking on it. But it’s the truth even if it didn’t happen.
Richard Brautigan, Trout Fishing in America There’s no mention of a trout dying by having a drink of port wine anywhere… I fished upstream coming ever closer to the narrow staircase of the canyon. Then I went up into it as if I were entering a department store. I caught three trout in the lost and found department. Trout fishing in America Shorty didn’t even put his fishing tackle together. He just followed me, drinking port wine and poking a stick at the world. “This is a beautiful creek,” he said. “It reminds me of Evangeline’s hearing aid.” We ended up at a large pool that was formed by the creek crashing through the children’s toy section. At the beginning of the pool the water was like cream, then it mirrored out and reflected the shadow of a large tree. By this time the sun was up. You could see it coming down the mountain. I cast into the cream and let my fly drift down onto along branchof the tree, next to a bird. Go-wham! I set the hook and the trout started jumping. “Giraffe races at Kilimanjaro!” he shouted, and every time the trout jumped, he jumped. “Bee races atMount Everest!” he shouted. I didn’t have a net with me so I fought the trout over to the edge of the creek and swung it up on the shore. The trout had a big red stripe down its side. It was a good rainbow. “What a beauty,” he said. He picked it up and it was squirming in his hands. “Break its neck,” I said. “I have a better idea,” he said. “Before I kill it, let me at least soothe its approach into death. This trout needs a drink.” He took the bottle of port out of his pocket, unscrewed the cap and poured a good slug into the trout’s mouth. The trout went into a spasm. Its body shook very rapidly like a telescope during an earthquake. The mouth was wide open and chattering almost as if it had human teeth. He laid the trout out on a white rock, head down, and some of the wine trickled out of its mouth and made a stain on the rock. The trout was lying very still now. “It died happy,” he said. This is my ode to Alcoholics Anonymous.
John Barth, “Lost in the Funhouse” Plush upholstery prickles uncomfortably through gabardine slacks in the July sun. The function of the beginning of a story is to introduce the principle characters, establish their initial relationships, set the scene for the main action, expose the background of the situation if necessary, plant motifs and foreshadowings where appropriate, and initiate the first complication or whatever the of “rising action”. Actually, if one imagines a story called “The Funhouse,” or “Lost in the Funhouse,” the details of the drive to Ocean City don’t seem especially relevant. The beginning should recount the events between Ambrose’s first sight of the funhouse early in the afternoon and his entering it with Magda and Peter in the evening. The middle would narrate all relevant events from the time he goes to the time he loses his way; middles have the double and contradictory function of delaying the climax while at the same time preparing the reader for it and fetching him to it. The ending would tell what Ambrose does while he’s lost, how he finally finds his way out, and what everybody makes of the experience. So far there’s been no real dialogue, very little sensory detail, and nothing by the way of a theme. And a long time has gone by already without anything happening; it makes a person wonder. We haven’t even reached Ocean city yet: we will never get out of the Funhouse. John Barth, “Dunyazadiad” Pretend this whole situation is the plot of a story we’re reading, and you and I and Daddy and the King are all fictional characters. In this story, Scheherazade finds a way to change the King’s mind about women and turn him into a gentle, loving husband. It’s not hard to imagine such a story, is it? Now, no matter what way she finds – whether it’s a magic spell or a magic story with the answer in it or a magic anything – it comes down to particular words in the story we’re reading, right? And those words are made from the letters of our alphabet: a couple-dozen squiggles we can draw with this pen… as if the key to the treasure is the treasure! As soon as she spoke these last words a genie appeared from nowhere right there in our library-stacks… he wasn’t frightening, though he was strange-looking enough: a light-skinned fellow of forty or so, smooth-shaven and bald as a roe’s egg. His clothes were simple but outlandish; he was tall and healthy and pleasant enough in appearance, except for the queer lenses that he wore in a frame over his eyes… “My project,” he told us, “is to learn where to go by discovering where I am by reviewing where I’ve been – where we’ve all been… I’ve quit reading and writing; I’ve lost track of who I am; my name’s just a jumble of letters; so’s the whole body of literature; strings of letters and empty spaces, like a code that I’ve lost the key to.”
Thomas Pynchon, “Entropy” The architectonic purity of her world was constantly threatened by such hints of anarchy: gaps and excrescences and skew lines, and a shifting or tilting of planes to which she had continually to readjust lest the whole structure shiver into a disarray of discrete and meaningless signals. Callisto had described the process once as a kind of ‘feedback’: she crawled into dreams each night with a sense of exhaustion, and a desperate resolve never to relax that vigilance…. “Nevertheless,” continued Callisto, “he found in entropy or the measure of disorganization for a closed system an adequate metaphor to apply to certain phenomena in his own world. He saw, for example, the younger generation responding to Madison Avenue with the same spleen his own had reserved for Wall Street: and in American ‘consumerism’ discovered a similar tendency from the least to the most probable, from differentiation to sameness, from ordered individuality to a kind of chaos. He found himself, in short, restating Gibbs’ prediction in social terms, and envisioned a heat-death for his culture in which ideas, like heat-energy, would no longer be transferred, since each point in it would ultimately have the same quantity of energy; and intellectual motion would, accordingly, cease.” He glanced up suddenly. ‘Check it now,’ he said. Again she rose and peered at the thermometer. “37,” she said.
Donald Barthelme, The Dead Father To find a lost father: The first problem in finding a lost father is to lose him, decisively. Often he will wander away from home and lose himself. Often he will remain at home but still be “lost” in every true sense, locked away in the upper room, or in a workshop, or in the contemplation of a secret life. He may, every evening, pick up his gold-headed cane, wrap himself in his cloak, and depart, leaving behind, on the coffee table, a sealed laundry bag in which there is an address at which he may be reached, in case of war. War, as is well known, is a place at which many fathers are lost, sometimes temporarily, sometimes forever. Fathers are frequently lost on expeditions of various kinds (the journey to the interior). The five best places to seek this kind of lost father are Nepal, Rupert’s Land, Mount Elbrus, Paris, and the agora. The five kinds of vegetation in which fathers most often lose themselves are needle-leaved forest, broad-leaved forest mainly evergreen, broad-leaved forest, and tundra. The five kinds of things fathers were wearing when last seen are caftans, bush jackets, parkas, Confederate gray, and ordinary business suits. Armed with these clues, you may place an advertisement in the newspaper: Lost, in Paris, on or about February 24, a broad-leaf-loving father, 6’2”, wearing a blue caftan, may be armed and dangerous, we don’t know, answers to the name of Old Hickory. Reward. Paul Auster, City of Glass New Yorkwas an inexhaustible space, a labyrinth of endless steps, and no matter how far he walked, no matter how well he came to know its neighborhoods and streets, it always left him with a feeling of being lost. Lost, not only in the city, but within himself as well. Each time he took a walk, he felt as though he were leaving himself behind, and by giving himself up to the movement of the streets, by reducing himself to a seeing eye, he was able to escape the obligation to think, and this, more than anything else, brought him a measure of peace, a salutary emptiness within. The world was outside him around him, before him, and the speed with which it kept changing made it impossible for him to dwell on any one thing for very long. Motion was of the essence, the act of putting one foot in front of the other and allowing himself to follow the drift of his own body. By wandering aimlessly, all places became equal, and it no longer mattered where he was. On his best walks, he was able to feel that he was nowhere. And this, finally, was all he ever asked of things: to be nowhere.New Yorkwas the nowhere he had built around himself, and he realized that he had no intention of ever leaving it again.
Don Delillo, White Noise “Hitler called himself the lonely wanderer out of nothingness. He sucked on lozenges, spoke to people in endless monologues, free-associating, as if the language came from some vastness beyond the world and he was simply the medium of revelation. It’s interesting to wonder if he looked back from the führerbunker, beneath the burning city, to the early days of his power. Did he think of the small groups of tourists who visited the little settlement where his mother was born and where he’d spent summers with his cousins, riding in ox carts and making kites? They came to honor the site, Klara’s birthplace. They entered the farmhouse, poked around tentatively. Adolescent boys climbed on the roof. In time the numbers began to increase. They took pictures, slipped small items into their pockets. Then crowds came, mobs of people overrunning the courtyard and singing patriotic songs, painting swastikas on the walls, on the flanks of farm animals.”
Don Delillo, White Noise “Did you ever crap in a toilet bowl that had no seat?” Grappa’s response was semi-lyrical. “A great and funky men’s room in an old Socony Mobil station on theBoston Post Roadthe first time my father took the car outside the city. The station with the flying red horse. You want the car? I can give you the car details down to the last little option.” “These are the things they don’t teach,” Lasher said. “Bowls with no seats. Pissing in sinks. The culture of public toilets. All those great diners, movie houses gas stations. The whole ethos of the road. I’ve pissed in sinks all through the American West. I’ve slipped across the border to piss in sinks inManitobaandAlberta. This is what it’s all about. The great western skies. The Best Western Motels. The diners and drive-ins. The poetry of the road, the plains, the desert. The filthy stinking toilets. I’ve pissed in a sink inUtahwhen it was twenty-two below. That’s the coldest I’ve ever pissed in a sink in.”
Robert Coover, “The Elevator” When Martin enters the elevator, there are actually several other people crowded in, but as the elevator climbs through the musky old building, the others, singly or in groups, step out. Finally, Martin is left alone with the girl who operates the elevator. She grasps the lever, leans against it, and the cage sighs upward. He speaks to her, makes a lighthearted joke about elevators. She laughs and… Alone on the elevator with the girl, Martin thinks: if this elevator should crash, I would sacrifice my life to save her. Her back is straight and subtle. Her orchid skirt is tight, tucks tautly under her blossoming hips, describes a kind of cavity there. Perhaps it is night. Her calves are muscular and strong. She grasps the lever… She breathes deeply, her lips parted. They embrace. Her breasts plunge softly against him. Her mouth is sweet. Martin has forgotten whether the elevator is climbing or not.
Langston Hughes, “The Weary Blues” Droning a drowsy syncopated tune, Rocking back and forth to a mellow croon, I heard a Negro play. Down onLenox Avenuethe other night By the pale dull pallor of an old gas light He did a lazy sway…. He did a lazy sway…. To the tune o’ those Weary Blues. With his ebony hands on each ivory key He made that poor piano moan with melody. O Blues! Swaying to and fro on his rickety stool He played that sad raggy tune like a musical fool. Sweet Blues! Coming from a black man’s soul. O Blues! In a deep song voice with a melancholy tone I heard that Negro sing, that old piano moan– “Ain’t got nobody in all this world, Ain’t got nobody but ma self. I’s gwine to quit ma frownin’ An put my troubles on the shelf.” Thump, thump, thump, went his foot on the floor. He played a few chords then he sang some more– “I got the Weary Blues And I can’t be satisfied. Got the Weary Blues And can’t be satisfied– I ain’t happy no mo’ And I wish that I had died.” And far into the night he crooned that tune. The stars went out and so did the moon. The singer stopped playing and went to bed While the Weary Blues echoed through his head. He slept like a rock or a man that’s dead. Zora Neale Hurston, “What It Feels Like to Be Colored Me” At certain times I have no race. I am me. When I set my hat at a certain angle and saunter down Seventh Avenue, Harlem City, feeling as snooty as the lions in front of the Forty-Second Street Library, for instance… The cosmic Zora emerges. I belong to no race or time. I am the eternal feminine with its string of beads. I have no separate feelings about being an American citizen and colored. I am merely a fragment of the Great Soul that surges within the boundaries. My country, right or wrong. Sometimes, I feel discriminated against, but it does not make me angry. It merely astonishes me. How can any deny themselves the pleasure of my company? It’s beyond me. But in the main, I feel like a brown bag of miscellany propped against a wall. Against a wall in company with other bags, white, red and yellow. Pour out the contents, and there is discovered a jumble of small things priceless and worthless… Perhaps that is how the Great Stuffer of Bags filled them in the first place – who knows? Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man I am an invisible man. No, I am not a spook like those who haunted Edgar Allan Poe; nor am I one of your Hollywood-movie ectoplasms. I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids – and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me. Like the bodiless heads you see sometimes in circus sideshows, it is as though I have been surrounded by mirrors of hard, distorting glass. When they approach me they see only my surroundings, themselves, or figments of their imagination – indeed, everything and anything except me… I found a home – or a hole in the ground, as you will. Now don’t jump to the conclusion that because I call my home a “hole” it is damp and cold like a grave; there are cold holes and warm holes. Mine is a warm hole. And remember, a bear retires to his hole for the winter and lives until spring; then he comes strolling out like the Easter chick breaking from its shell. I say all this to assure you that it is incorrect to assume that, because I’m invisible and live in a hole, I am dead. I am neither dead nor in a state of suspended animation. Call me Jack-the-Bear, for I am in a state of hibernation. James Baldwin, Go Tell It on the Mountain Then John saw the river, and the multitude was there. And now they had undergone a change; their robes were ragged, and stained with the road they had traveled, and stained with unholy blood; the robes of some barely covered their nakedness; and some indeed were naked. And some stumbled on the smooth stones at the river’s edge, for they were blind; and some crawled with a terrible wailing, for they were lame; some did not cease to pluck at their flesh, which was rotten with running sores. All struggled to get to the river, in a dreadful hardness of heart: the strong struck down the weak, the ragged spat on the naked, the naked cursed the blind, the blind crawled over the lame. And someone cried: “Sinner, do you love my Lord?” Then John saw the Lord—for a moment only; and the darkness, for a moment only, was filled with a light he could not bear. Then, in a moment, he was set free; his tears sprang as from a fountain; his heart, like a fountain of waters, burst. Then he cried: “Oh, blessed Jesus! Oh, Lord Jesus! Take me through!” … ‘Oh, yes!’ cried the voice of Elisha. “Bless our God forever!” And a sweetness filled John as he heard this voice, and heard the sound of singing: the singing was for him. For his drifting soul was anchored in the love of God; in the rock that endured forever. The light and the darkness had kissed each other, and were married now, forever, in the life and vision of John’s soul. I, John, saw a city, way up in the middle of the air, Waiting, waiting way up there.
Alice Walker, “Everyday Use” You’ve no doubt seen those TV shows where the child who has ‘made it’ is confronted, as a surprise, by her own mother and father, teetering in weakly from backstage…. Sometimes I dream a dream in which Dee and I are suddenly brought together on a TV program of this sort…. Then we are on the stage andDeeis embracing me with tears in her eyes. She pins on my dress a large orchid, even though she has told me once she thinks orchids are tacky flowers. In real life I am a large, big-boned woman with rough, manworking hands. In the winter I wear flannel night gowns to bed and overalls during the day. I can kill and clean a hog as mercilessly as a man. My fat keeps me hot in zero weather. I can work all day, breaking ice to get water for washing. I can eat pork liver cooked over the open fire five minutes after it comes steaming from the hog… But of course all this does not show on television. I am the way my daughter would want me to be: a hundred pounds lighter, my skin like an uncooked barley pancake. Toni Morrison, Beloved When warm weather came, Baby Suggs, holy, followed by every black man, woman, and child who could make it through, took her great heart to the Clearing – a wide-open place cut deep in the woods nobody knew for what at the end of the path known only to deer and whoever cleared the land in the first place. In the heat of every Saturday afternoon, she sat in the clearing while the people waited among the trees… They knew she was ready when she put her stick down. Then she shouted, “Let the children come!” and they ran from the trees toward her. “Let your mothers hear you laugh,” she told them, and the woods rang. The adults looked on and could not help smiling. Then “Let the grown men come,” she shouted. They stepped out one by one from among the ringing trees. “Let your wives and your children see you dance,” she told them, and groundlife shuddered under their feet. Finally she called the women to her. “Cry,” she told them. “For the living and the dead. Just cry.” And without covering their eyes the women let loose. It started that way: laughing children, dancing men, crying women and then it got mixed up. Women stopped crying and danced; men sat down and cried; children danced, women laughed, children cried until, exhausted and riven, all and each lay about the Clearing damp and gasping for breath. In the silence that followed, Baby Suggs, holy, offered up to them her great big heart. She did not tell them to clean up their lives or to go and sin no more. She did not tell them they were blessed of the earth, its inheriting meek and glorybound pure. She told them that the only grace they could have was the grace they could imagine. That if they could not see it, they would not have it.
John Updike, “Separating” The court, clay, had come through its first winter pitted and windswept bare of redcoat. Years ago the Maples had observed how often, among their friends, divorce followed a dramatic home improvement, as if the marriage were making one last twitchy effort to live; their own worst crisis had come amid the plaster and dust and exposed plumbing of a kitchen renovation. Yet, a summer ago, as canary-yellow bulldozers gaily churned a grassy, daisy-dotted knoll in to a muddy plateau, and a crew of pigtailed young men raked and tamped clay into a plane, this transformation did not strike them as ominous, but festive in its impudence; their marriage could rend the earth for fun. The next spring, waking each day at dawn to a sliding sensation as if the bed were being tipped, Richard found the barren tennis court, its net and tapes still rolled in the barn, an environment congruous with his mood of purposeful desolation, and the crumbling of handfuls of clay into cracks and holes (dogs had frolicked on the court in a thaw; rivulets had evolved trenches) an activity suitably elemental and interminable. In his sealed heart he hoped the day would never come. Now it was here.
John Cheever, “The Swimmer” He dove in and swam the pool, but when he tried to haul himself up onto the curb he found the strength in his arms and shoulders had gone, and he paddled to the ladder and climbed out… Going out onto the dark lawn he smelled chrysanthemums or marigolds – some stubborn autumnal fragrance – on the night air, strong as gas. Looking overhead he saw that the stars had come out, but why should he seem to see Andromeda, Cepheus, and Cassiopeia? What had become of the constellations of midsummer? He began to cry. It was probably the first time in his adult life that he had ever cried, certainly the first time in his life that he had ever felt so miserable, cold, tired, and bewildered… He had swum too long, he had been immersed too long, and his nose and his throat were sore from the water. What he needed then was a drink, some company, and some clean dry clothes, and while he could have cut directly across the road to his home he went on to the Gilmartin’s pool. Here, for the first time in his life, he did not dive but went down the steps into the icy water and swam a hobbled side stroke that he might have learned as a youth. He staggered with fatigue on his way to the Clydes’ and paddled the length of their pool, stopping again and again with his hand on the curb to rest. He climbed up the ladder and wondered if he had the strength to get home. He had done what he wanted, he had swum the county, but he was so stupefied with exhaustion that his triumph seemed vague. Stooped, holding onto the gateposts for support, he turned up the driveway of his house. The house was locked, and he thought that the stupid cook or the stupid maid must have locked the place up until he remembered that it had been some time since they had employed a maid or a cook. He shouted, pounded on the door, tried to force it with his shoulder, and then looking in at the windows, saw the place was empty.
Saul Bellow, Seize the Day Soon he was past words, past reason, coherence. He could not stop. The source of all tears had suddenly sprung open within him, black, deep, and hot, and they were pouring out and convulsed his body, bending his stubborn head, bowing his shoulders, twisting his face, crippling the very hands with which he held the handkerchief. His efforts to collect himself were useless. The great know of ill and grief in his throat swelled upward and he gave in utterly and held his face and wept. He cried with all his heart. He alone, of all the people in the chapel, was sobbing. No one knew who he was. One woman said, “Is that perhaps the cousin fromNew Orleansthey were expecting?” “It must be somebody real close to carry on so.” “Oh my, oh my! To be mourned like that,” said one man and looked at Wilhelm’s heavy shaken shoulders, his clutched face and whitened fair hair, with wide, glinting, jealous eyes. “The man’s brother, maybe?” “Oh, I doubt that very much,” said another bystander. ‘They’re not alike at all. Night and Day.’ The flowers and lights fused ecstatically in Wilhelm’s blind, wet eyes; the heavy sea-like music came up to his ears. It poured into him where he had hidden himself in the center of a crowd by the great and happy oblivion of tears. He heard it and sank deeper than sorrow, through torn sobs and cries toward a consummation of his heart’s ultimate need.
Tom Wolfe, The Bonfire of the Vanities The world was upside down. What was he, a Master of the Universe, doing down here on the floor, reduced to ransacking his brain for white lies to circumvent the sweet logic of his wife? The Masters of the Universe were a set of lurid, rapacious plastic dolls that his otherwise perfect daughter liked to play with. They looked like Norse gods who lifted weights, and they had names such as Dracon, Ahor, Mangelred, and Blutong. They were unusually vulgar, even for plastic toys. Yet one fine day, in a fit of euphoria, after he had picked up a telephone and taken an order for zero-coupon bonds that had brought him a $50,000 commission, just like that, this very phrase had bubbled up into his brain. On Wall Street, he and a few others – how many? – three hundred, four hundred, five hundred? – had become precisely that… Masters of the Universe. There was… no limit whatsoever! Naturally he had never so much as whispered the phrase to a living soul. He was no fool. Yet he couldn’t get it out of his head. And here was the Master of the Universe, on the floor with a dog, hog-tied by sweetness, guilt, and logic… Why couldn’t he (being a Master of the Universe) simply explain it to her? Look, Judy, I still love you and I love our daughter and I love our home and I love our life, and I don’t want to change any of it – it’s just that I, a Master of the Universe, a young man still in the season of the rising sap, deserve more from time to time, when the spirit moves me… He yanked the dachshund along on the leash and went from the entry gallery out into the elevator vestibule and pushed the button. Carson McCullers, Ballad of the Sad Café The building looks completely deserted. Nevertheless, on the second floor there is one window which is not boarded; sometimes in the late afternoon when the heat is at its worst a hand will slowly open the shutter and a face will look down on the town. It is a face like the terrible dim faces known in dreams – sexless and white with two gray crossed eyes which are turned inward so sharply that they seem to be exchanging with each other one long and secret gaze of grief. The face lingers at the window for an hour or so, then the shutters are closed once more, and as likely as not there will not be another soul to be seen along the main street. These August afternoons – when your shift is finished there is absolutely nothing to do; you might as well walk down to theForks Falls Roadand listen to the chain gang. However, here in this very town there was once a café. And this old boarded-up house was unlike any other place for many miles around. There were tables and cloths and paper napkins, colored streamers from the electric fan, great gatherings on Saturday nights. The owner of the place was Miss Amelia Evans. But the person most responsible for the success and gaiety of the place was a hunchback called Cousin Lymon. One other person had a part in the story of this café – he was the former husband of Miss Amelia, a terrible character who returned to town after a long term in the penitentiary, caused ruin, and then went on his way again.
Flannery O’Connor, “Good Country People” He leaned the other way and pulled the valise toward him and opened it. It had a pale blue spotted lining and there were only two Bible in it. He took one of these out and opened the cover of it. It was hollow and contained a pocket flask of whiskey and a pack of cards… it was not an ordinary deck but one with an obscene picture on the back of each card. “Take a swig,” he said,” offering her the bottle first. He held it in front of it her, but like one mesmerized, she did not move. He voice when she spoke had almost a pleading sound. “Aren’t you,” she murmured,” aren’t you just good country people?” The boy cocked his head. He looked as if he were just beginning to understand that she might be trying to insult him. “Yeah,” he said, “curling his lip slightly, “but it ain’t held me back none. I’m as good as you any day in the week…” He jumped up so quickly that she barely saw him sweep the cards… into the Bible and throw the Bible into the valise. She saw him grab the leg and then she saw it for an instant slanted forlornly across the inside of the suitcase with a Bible at either side of its opposite ends. He slammed the lid shut and snatched up the valise and swung it down the hole and then stepped through himself. When all of him had passed but his head, he turned and regarded her with a look that no longer had any admiration in it. “I’ve gotten a lot of interesting things,” he said. “One time I got a woman’s glass eye this way. And you needn’t to think you’ll catch me because Pointer ain’t my real name. I use a different name at every house I call at and don’t stay nowhere long. And I’ll tell you another thing, Hulga,” he said, using the name as if he didn’t think much of it, “you ain’t so smart. I been believing in nothing every since I was born!” and then the toast-colored hat disappeared down the hole and the girl was left, sitting on the straw in the dusty sunlight.
Eudora Welty, The Ponder Heart She left a note written in a pencil tablet on the kitchen table, and when Narciss went out to cut up the chicken, she found it. She carried it to Uncle Daniel in the barn, and Uncle Daniel read it to her out loud. Then they both sat down on the floor and cried. It said, “Have left out. Good-by and good luck, your friend, Mrs. Bonnie Dee Peacock Ponder.” We don’t even know which one of them it was to…. You see, poor, trusting Uncle Daniel carried that child out there and set her down in a big house with a lot of rooms and corners, with Negroes to wait on her, and she wasn’t used to a bit of it. She wasn’t used to keeping house at all except by fits and starts, much less telling Negroes what to do. And she didn’t know what to do with herself all day…. The way I look back on Bonnie Dee, her story was this. She’d come up from the country—and before she knew it, she was right back in the country. Married or no. She was away out yonder on Ponder Hill and nothing to do and nothing to play with in sight but the Negroes’ dogs and Peppers’ cats and one little frizzly hen. From the kind of long pink fingernails she kept in the ten cent store, that hadn’t been her idea at all. Not her dream. Larry McMurtry, Texasville Duane was in the hot tub, shooting at his new doghouse with a .44 Magnum. The two-story doghouse was supposedly a replica of a frontier fort. He and Karla had bought it at a home show inFort Worthon a day when they were bored. It would have housed several Great Danes comfortably, but so far had housed nothing. Shorty, the only dog Duane could put up with, never went near it. Every time a lug hit the doghouse, slivers of white wood flew. The yard of theMoore’s new mansion had just been seeded, at enormous expense, but the grass had a tentative look. The house stood on a long, narrow, rocky bluff, overlooking a valley pockmarked with well sites, saltwater pits and oily little roads leading from on oil pump to the next. The bluff was not a very likely place to growBermudagrass, but six acres of had been planted anyway. Karla took the view that you could make anything happen if you spent enough money. Duane had even less confidence in the Bermuda grass than the grass had in itself, but he signed the check, just as he had signed the check for the doghouse hw was slowly reducing to kindling. For a time, buying things he had no earthly use for had almost convinced him he was still rich, but that trick had finally stopped working. Shorty, aQueenslandblue heeler, blinked every time the gun roared. Unlike Duane, he was not wearing shooter’s earmuffs. Shorty loved Duane so much that he stuck by his side throughout the day, even at the risk of becoming hearing impaired. Shorty had the eyes of a drunkard – red-streaked and vacant. Julie and Jack, the eleven-year-old twins, threw rocks at him when their father wasn’t around. They were both good athletes and hit Shorty frequently with the rocks, but Shorty didn’t mind.
N. Scott Momaday, The Way to Rainy Mountain A single knoll rises out of the plain in Oklahoma, north and west of the Wichitarange. For my people, the Kiowas, it is an old landmark, and they gave it the name RainyMountain. The hardest weather in the world is there. Winter brings blizzards, hot tornadic winds arise in the spring, and in summer the prairie is an anvil’s edge. The grass turns brittle and brown, and it cracks beneath your feet. There are green belts along the rivers and creeks, linear groves of hickory and pecan, willow and witch hazel. At a distance in July or August the steaming foliage seems almost to writhe in fire. Great green and yellow grasshoppers are everywhere in the tall grass, popping up like corn to sting the flesh, and tortoises crawl about on the red earth, going nowhere in plenty of time. Loneliness is an aspect of the land. All things in the plain are isolate; there is no confusion of objects in the eye, but one hill or one tree or one man. To look upon that landscape in the early morning, with the sun at your back, is to lose the sense of proportion. Your imagination comes to life, and this you think, is where Creation began.
Annie Dillard, “Holy the Firm” TheCascade range, in these high latitudes, backs almost into the water. There is only a narrow strip, an afterthought of foothills and farms sixty miles wide, between the snowy mountains and the sea. The mountains wall well. The rest of the country – most of the rest of the planet, in some very real sense, excluding a shred ofBritish Columbia’s coastline and the Alaskan islands – is called, and profoundly felt to be, simply “East of the Mountains.” I have been there. came here to study hard things – rock mountain and salt sea – and to temper my spirit on their edges. “Teach me thy ways, O Lord” is, like all prayers a rash one, and one I cannot but recommend… When I first came here I faced east and watched the mountains, thinking: These are the Ultima Thule, the final westering, the last serrate margin of time. Since they are, incredibly, east, I must be no place at all. But the sun rose over the snowfields and woke me where I lay, and I rose and cast a shadow over someplace, and thought: There is, God help us, more. So gathering my bowls and spoons, and turning my head, as it were, I moved to face west, relinquishing all hope of sanity, for what is more… Esoteric Christianity, I read, posits a substance. It is a created substance, lower than metals and minerals on a “spiritual scale,” and lower than salts and earths, occurring beneath salts and earths in waxy deepness of planets, but never on the surface of planets where men could discern it; and it is in touch with the Absolute, at base. In touch with the Absolute! At base. The name of this substance is: Holy the Firm. Holy the Firm: and is Holy the Firm in touch with metals and minerals? Of course, and straight on up, till “up” ends by curving back. Does something that touched something that touched Holy the Firm in touch with the Absolute at base seep into groundwater, into grain; are islands rooted in it, and trees? Of course.
Leslie Marmon Silko, “Lullaby” She could see it descend out of the night sky: an icy stillness from the edge of the thin moon. She recognized the freezing. It came gradually, sinking snowflake by snowflake until the crust was heavy and deep. It had the strength of the stars in Orion, and its journey was endless. Ayah knew that with the wine he would sleep. He would not feel it. She tucked the blanket around him, remembering how it was when Ella had been with her; and she felt the rush so big inside her heart for the babies. And she sang the only song she knew to sing for babies. She could not remember if she had ever sung it to her children, but she knew that her grandmother had sung it and her mother had sung it: The earth is your mother, she holds you. The sky is your father, he protects you. Sleep, sleep. Rainbow is your sister, she loves you. The winds are your brothers, they sing to you. Sleep, sleep. We are together always, we are together always There never was a time when this was not so. Louise Erdrich, “Fleur” Men stayed clear of Fleur Pillager after the second drowning. Even though she was good-looking, nobody dared to court her because it was clear that Misshepeshu, the waterman, the monster, wanted her for himself. He’s a devil, that one, love-hungry with desire and maddened for the touch of young girls, the strong and daring especially, the ones like Fleur. Our mothers warn us that we’ll think he’s handsome, for he appears with green eyes, copper skin, a mouth tender as a child’s. But if you fall into his arms, he sprouts horns, fangs, claws, fins. His feet are joined as one and his skin, brass scales, rings to the touch. You’re fascinated, cannot move. He casts a shell necklace at your feet, weeps gleaming chips that harden into mica on your breasts. He holds you under. Then he takes the body of a lion or a fat brown worm. He’s made of gold. He’s made of beach moss. He’s a thing of dry foam, a thing of death by drowning, the death a Chippewa cannot survive. Unless you are Fleur Pillager.
Tennessee Williams, The Glass Menagerie I leftSaint Louis. I descended the steps of this fire escape for a last time and followed, from then on, in my father’s footsteps, attempting to find in motion what was lost in space. I traveled around a great deal. The cities swept about me like dead leaves, leaves that were brightly colored but torn away from the branches. I would have stopped, but I was pursued by something. It always came upon me unawares, taking me altogether by surprise. Perhaps it was a familiar bit of music. Perhaps it was only a piece of transparent glass. Perhaps I am walking along a street at night, in some strange city, before I have found companions. I pass the lighted window of a shop where perfume is sold. The window is filled with pieces of colored glass, tiny transparent bottles in delicate colors, like bits of a shattered rainbow. Then all at once my sister touches my shoulder. I turn around and look into her eyes. Oh, Laura, Laura, I tried to leave you behind me, but I am more faithful than I intended to be! I reach for a cigarette, I cross the street, I run into the movies or a bar, I buy a drink, I speak to the nearest stranger – anything to blow your candles out! For nowadays the world is lit by lightning! Blow out your candles, Laura – and so, goodbye…
Tennessee Williams, A Streetcar Named Desire He acts like an animal, has an animal’s habits! Eats like one moves like one, talks like one! There’s even something – sub-human – something not quite to the stage of humanity yet! Yes, something – ape-like about him, like one of those pictures I’ve seen in – anthropological studies! Thousands and thousands o years have passed him right by, and there he is – Stanley Kowalski – survivor of the Stone Age! Bearing the raw meat home from the kill in the jungle! And you – you here – waiting for him! Maybe he’ll strike you or maybe he’ll grunt and kiss you! That is, if kisses have been discovered yet! Night falls and the other apes gather! There in the front of the cave, all grunting like him, and swilling and gnawing and hulking! His poker night! you call it – this party of apes! Somebody growls – some creature snatches at something—the fight is on! God! Maybe we are a long way from being made in God’s image, but Stella – my sister – there has been some progress since then! Such things as art – as poetry and music – have come into the world since then! In some kinds of people some tenderer feelings have had some little beginning! That we have got to make grow! And cling to, and hold as our flag! In this dark march toward whatever I is we’re approaching…. Don’t – don’t hang back with the brutes! Arthur Miller, Death of a Salesman Biff: I am not a leader of men, Willy, and neither are you. You were never anything but a hard-working drummer who landed in the ash can like all the rest of them! I’m one dollar and hour, Willy! I tried seven states and couldn’t raise a dollar an hour! Do you gather my meaning? I’m not bringing home any prizes any more, and you’re going to stop waiting for me to bring them home! Willy: You vengeful, spiteful mutt! Biff: Pop, I’m nothing! I’m nothing, Pop. Can’t you understand that? There’s no spite in it any more. I’m just what I am, that’s all. Willy: What’re you doing? What’re you doing? To Linda: Why is he crying? Biff: Will you let me go, for Christ’s sake? Will you take that phony dream and burn it before something happens? I’ll go in the morning. Put him – put him to bed. Willy: Isn’t that – isn’t that remarkable? Biff – he likes me! Linda: He loves you, Willy! Happy: Always did, Pop. Willy: Oh, Biff! He cried! Cried to me. That boy – that boy is going to be magnificent! Ben: Yes, outstanding, with twenty thousand behind him.
Edward Albee, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (BOTH TOGETHER) Martha George I have tried, oh God I have tried; the one thing… Libera me, Domine, de morte aeterna, in die the one thing I’ve tried to carry pure and unscathed illa tremenda: Quando caeli movendi sunt et terra: through the sewer of this marriage; through the sick Dum veneris judicare saeculum per ignem. Tremens nights, and the pathetic, stupid days, through the factus sum ego, et timeo, dum discussion venerit through the derision and the laughter… God, the atqueventura ira. Quando caeli movendi sunt et terra. Laughter, through one failure after another, one Dies illa, dies irae, calamitatis et miseriae; dies magna Failure compounding another failure, each attempt et amare valde. Dum veneris judicare saeculum per More sickening, more numbing than the one before; ignem. Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine; et lux The one person I have tried to protect, to raise above perpetua luceat eis. Libera me Domine de morte aeterna The mire of this vile, crushing marriage; the one in die illa tremenda: quando caeil movendi sunt et terra; Light in all this hopeless… darkness… OUR SON. dum veneris judicare saeculum per ignem.
Sam Shepard, True West Austin: They send him the money but it’s not enough money. Costs a lot to have all yer teeth yanked. They charge by the individual tooth, ya’ know. I mean one tooth isn’t equal to another tooth. Some are more expensive. Like the big ones in the back— Lee: So what happened? Austin: So he locates a Mexican dentist in Juarez who’ll do the whole thing for a song. And he takes off hitchhiking to the border. Lee: Hitchhiking? Austin: Yeah. So how long you think it takes him to get to the border? A man his age? Lee: I dunno. Austin: Eight days it takes him. Eight days in the rain and the sun and every day he’s dropping teeth on the blacktop and nobody’ll pick him up ‘cause his mouth’s full a’ blood. SO finally he stumbles into the dentist. Dentist takes all his money and all his teeth. And there he is, inMexico, with his gums sewed up and his pockets empty. Lee: That’s it? Austin: Then I go out to see him, see. I go out there and I take him out for a nice Chinese dinner. But he doesn’t eat. All he wants to do is drink Martinis outa’ plastic cups. And he takes his teeth out and lays ‘em on the table ‘cause he can’t stand the feel of ‘em. And we ask the waitress for one a’ those doggie bags along with the Chop Suey. And then we go out and hit all the bars up and down the highway. Says he wants to introduce me to all his buddies. And in one ‘a those bars, in one ‘a those bars up and down the highway, he left the doggie bag with his teeth laying in the Chop Suey. Lee: You never found it? Austin: We went back but we never did find it. Now that’s a true story. True to life. Beth Henley, Crimes of the Heart Meg: Oh, Lenny, listen to me, now; everything’s all right with Doc. I mean, nothing happened. Well, actually a lot did happen, but it didn’t come to anything. Not because of me, I’m afraid. I mean, I was out there thinking, What will I say when he begs me to run away with him? Will I have pity on his wife and those two half-Yankee children? I mean, can I sacrifice their happiness for mine? Yes! Oh, yes! Yes, I can! But… he didn’t ask me. He didn’t even want to ask me. Why aren’t I miserable! Why aren’t I morbid! I should be humiliated! Devastated! Maybe these feelings are coming – I don’t k now. But for now it was… just such fun. I’m happy. I realized I could care for someone. I could want someone. And I sang! I sang all night long! I sang right up into the trees! But not for Old Granddaddy. None of it was to please Old Granddaddy! Babe: Ah, Meg— Meg: What— Babe: Well, it’s just – It’s… Lenny: It’s about Old Granddaddy— Meg: Oh, I know; I know. I told him all those stupid lies. Well, I’m gonna go right over there this morning and tell him the truth. I mean every horrible thing. I don’t care if he wants to hear it or not. He’s just gonna have to take me like I am. And if he can’t take it, if it sends him into a coma, that’s just too damn bad! Babe: You’re too late – Ha, ha, ha! They both break up laughing Lenny: Oh, stop, Please, Ha, ha ha! Meg: What is it? What’s so funny? Babe, still laughing: It’s not – It’s not funny! Lenny, still laughing: No it’s not! It’s not a bit funny! Meg: Well, what is it, then? What? Babe, trying to calm down: Well, it’s just – it’s just— Meg: What? Babe: Well, Old Granddaddy – he’s in a coma! Babe and Lenny break up again. Meg: He’s what? Babe, shrieking with laughter: In a coma! Meg: My God, that’s not funny!
Elizabeth Bishop, “The Fish” I caught a tremendous fish the irises backed and packed and held him beside the boat with tarnished tinfoil half out of water, with my hook seen through the lenses fast in the corner of his mouth. of old scratched isinglass. He didn’t fight. They shifted a little, but not He hadn’t fought at all. to return my stare. He hung a grunting weight, – It was more like the tipping battered and venerable of an object toward the light. and homely. Here and there I admired his sullen face, his brown skin hung in strips the mechanism of his jaw, like ancient wallpaper, and then I saw and its pattern of darker brown that from his lower lip was like wallpaper: – if you could call it a lip – shapes like full-blown roses grim, wet, and weaponlike, stained and lost through age. hung five old pieces of fish-line, He was speckled with barnacles, or four and a wire leader fine rosettes of lime, with the swivel still attached, and infested with all their five big hooks with tiny white sea-lice, grown firmly in his mouth. and underneath two or three A green line, frayed at the end rags of green weed hung down. where he broke it, two heavier lines, While his gills were breathing in and a fine black thread the terrible oxygen still crimped from the strain and snap – and the frightening gills, when it broke and he got away. fresh and crisp with blood, Like medals with their ribbons that can cut so badly – frayed and wavering, I thought of the coarse white flesh a five-haired beard of wisdom packed in like feathers, trailing from his aching jaw. the big bones and the little bones, I stared and stared the dramatic reds and blacks and victory filled up of his shiny entrails, the little rented boat, and the pink swim-bladder from the pool of bilge like a big peony. where oil had spread a rainbow I looked into his eyes around the rusted engine which were larger far than mine to the bailer rusted orange, which were larger far than mine the sun-cracked thwarts, but shallower, and yellowed, the oarlocks on their strings, the gunnels – until everything was rainbow, rainbow, rainbow! And I let the fish go.
Galway Kinnell, “The Bear” (transcribed as prose) In late winter I sometimes glimpse bits of steam coming up from some fault in the old snow, and bend close and see it is lung-colored and put down my nose and know the chilly, enduring odor of bear. I take the wolf’s rib and whittle it sharp at both ends and coil it up and freeze it in blubber and place it out on the fairway of the bears. And when it has vanished I move out on the bear tracks, roaming in circles until I come to the first, tentative, dark splash on the earth. And I set out running, following the splashes of blood wandering over the world. At the cut, gashed resting places I stop and rest, at the crawl marks where he lay on his belly to overpass some stretch of bauchy ice. I lie out, dragging myself forward with bear knives in my fists. On the third day I begin to starve, at nightfall I bend down as I knew I would at a turd sopped in blood, and hesitate, and pick it up, and thrust it into my mouth, and gnash it down, and rise to go on running. On the seventh day, living by now on bear blood alone, I can see his upturned carcass far out ahead, a scraggled, steamy hulk, the heavy fur riffling in the wind. I come up to him and stare at the narrow-spaced, petty eyes, the dismayed face laid back on the shoulder, the nostrils flared, catching perhaps the first taint of me as he died. I hack a ravine in his thigh, and eat and drink, and tear him down his whole length and open him and climb in and close him up after me, against the wind, and sleep. And dream of lumbering flatfooted over the tundra, stabbed twice from within, splattering a trail behind me, splattering it out no matter which way I lurch, no matter which parabola of bear-transcendence, which dance of solitude I attempt, which gravity-clutched leap, which trudge, which groan. Until one day I totter and fall – fall on this stomach that has tried so hard to keep up, to digest the blood as it leaked in, to break up and digest the bone itself: and now, the breeze blows over me, blows off the hideous belches of ill-digested bear blood and rotted stomach and the ordinary, wretched odor of bear, blows across my sore, lolled tongue a song or screech, until I think I must rise up and dance. And I lie still. I awaken I think. Marshlights reappear, geese come trailing again up the flyway. In her ravine under old snow the dam-bear lies, licking lumps of smeared fur and drizzly eyes into shapes with her tongue. And one hairy-soled trudge stuck out before me, the next groaned out the next, the next, the rest of my days I spend wandering: wondering what, anyway, was that sticky infusion, that rank flavor of blood, that poetry, by which I lived? Galway Kinnell, “After Making Love We Hear Footsteps” For I can snore like a bullhorn Or play loud music Or sit up talking with any reasonably sober Irishman And Fergus will only sink deeper Into his dreamless sleep, which goes by all in one flash, But let ther be that heavy breathing Or a stifled come-cry anywhere in the house And he will wrench himself awake And make for it on the run – as now, we lie together, After making love, quiet, touching along the length of our bodies, Familiar touch of the long-married, And he appears – in his baseball pajamas, it happens, The neck opening so small He has to screw them on, which one day may make him wonder About the mental capacity of baseball players – And flops down between us and hugs us and snuggles himself to sleep, His face gleaming with satisfaction at being this very child. In the half darkness we look at each other and smile And touch arms across his little, startlingly muscled body – This one whom habit of memory propels to the ground of his making, Sleeper only the mortal sounds can sing awake, This blessing love gives again into our arms.
Nancy Willard, “Questions My Son Asked Me, Answers I Never Gave Him 1) Do gorillas have birthdays? Yes. Like the rainbow, they happen. Like the air, they are not observed. 2) Do butterflies make a noise? The wire in the butterfly’s tongue hums gold. Some men hear butterflies even in winter. 3) Are they part of our family? They forgot us, who forgot how to fly. 4) Who tied my navel? Did God tie it? God made the thread: O man, live forever! Man made the know: enough is enough. 5) If I drop my tooth in the telephone, will it go through the wires and bite someone’s ear? I have seen earlobes pierced by a tooth of steel. It loves what lasts. It does not love flesh. It leaves a ring of gold in the wound. 6) If I stand no my head will the sleep in my eye roll up into my head? Does the dream know its own father? Can bread go back to the field of its birth? 7) Can I eat a star? Yes, with the mouth of time that enjoys everything. 8) Could we Xerox the moon? This is the first commandment: I am the moon, thy moon. Thou shalt have no other moons before me. 9) Who invented water? The hands of the air, that wanted to wash each other. 10) What happens at the end of numbers? I see three men running in a field. At the edge of the tall grass, they turn into light. 11) Do the years ever run out? God said, I will break time’s heart. Time ran down like an old phonograph. It lay as flat as a carpet. At rest on its threads, I am learning to fly.
Nancy Willard, “Night Light” The moon is not green cheese. And laid it to rest in a box. It is china and stand in this room. The box did not say Moon. It has a ten-watt bulb and a motto: It said This side up. Made in Japan. I tucked the moon into my basket Whey-faced, doll-faced, And bicycled into the world. It’s closed as a tooth By the light of the sun And cold as the dead are cold I could not see the Till I touch the switch. moon under my sack of apples, moon under clean laundry, Then the moon performs and bread its brother, its one trick: It turns into a banana. moon under meat. It warms to its subjects, Now supper is eaten. Now laundry is put away. It draws us into its light, I shake out the old comforters. Just as I knew it would When I gave ten dollars My nine cats find their places To the pale clerk and go on dreaming where they left off. In the store that sold My son snuggles under the heap. Everything. His father loses his way in a book. She asked, did I have a car? She shrouded the moon in tissue It is time to turn on the moon. It is time to live by a different light.