22 July 2012

Javier Marías

[from Javier Marías's A Heart So White, tr. Margaret Jull Costa, New Directions, 1992]

Real togetherness in married couples and indeed in any couple comes from words, not just the words that are spoken — spoken involuntarily — but the words one doesn't keep to oneself — at least not without the intervention of the will. It isn't so much that there are no secrets between two people who share a pillow because that's what they decide — what is serious enough to constitute a secret and what is not, if it is not told? — rather it's impossible not to tell, to relate, to comment, to enunciate, as if that were the primordial activity of all couples, at least those who have become couples recently and are still not too lazy to speak to one another. It isn't just that with your head resting on a pillow you tend to remember the past and even your childhood, and that remote and quite insignificant things surface in your memory, come to your tongue, and that all take on a certain value and seem worthy of being recalled out loud; nor that we're disposed to recount our whole life to the person resting their head on our pillow, as if we needed them to be able to see us from the very beginning — especially from the beginning, that is, from childhood — and to witness, through our telling, all those years before they knew us and during which time, we now believe, they were waiting for us. Neither is it simply a desire to compare, to find parallels or coincidences, the desire to know where each of you was in all the different eras of your two existences and to fantasize about the unlikely possibility of having met each other before; lovers always feel that their meeting took place too late, as if the amount of time occupied by their passion was never enough or, in retrospect, never long enough (the present is untrustworthy), or perhaps they can't bear the fact that once there was no passion between them, not even a hint of it, while the two of them were in the world, swept along by its most turbulent currents, and yet with their backs turned to each other, without even knowing one another, perhaps not even wanting to. Nor is it that some kind of interrogatory system is established on a daily basis which, out of weariness or routine, neither partner can escape, and so everyone ends up answering the questions. It's rather that being with someone consists in large measure in thinking out loud, that is, in thinking everything twice rather than once, once with your thoughts and again when you speak, marriage is a narrative institution. Or perhaps it's just that they spend so much time together (however little time that is amongst modern couples, it still amounts to a lot of time) that the two partners (but in particular the man, who feels guilty if he remains silent) have to make use of whatever they think and whatever occurs to them or happens to them in order to amuse the other person; thus, in the end, there's not a single tiny corner of all the events and thoughts in an individual's life that remains untransmitted, or rather translated matrimonially. The events and thoughts of the others are transmitted too, those they've confided to us in private, that's where the expression "pillow talk" comes from, there are no secrets between people who share a bed, the bed is like a confessional. For the sake of love or its essence — telling, informing, announcing, commenting, opining, distracting, listening and laughing, and vainly making plans — one betrays everyone else, friends, parents, brothers and sisters, blood relations and non-blood relations, former lovers and beliefs, former mistresses, your own past and childhood, your own language when you stop speaking it and doubtless your country, everything that anyone holds to be secret or perhaps merely belongs to the past. In order to flatter the person you love you denigrate everything else in existence, you deny and abominate everything in order to content and reassure the one person who could leave you; so great is the power of the territory delineated by the pillow that it excludes from its bosom everything outside it, and it's a territory which, by its very nature, doesn't allow for anything else to be on it except the two partners, or lovers, who in a sense are alone and for that very reason talk and hide nothing — involuntarily. The pillow is round and soft and often white and after a while that roundness and whiteness become a replacement for the world and its weak wheel.

Javier Marías

Margaret Jull Costas

13 July 2012

Steve Shavel

[from Steve Shavel's How Small Brides Survive in Extreme Cold, Verse Press, 2003]

How Small Brides Survive in Extreme Cold [excerpt]


Every word occludes another, just as
every perspective cuts across some larger circuitry — logjams
of purposiveness, the whole farrago
of incidence, everything a something
taken out of context, the stunned minnow
in the heron's crop
mouthing the vowels of horror, or the way
you wake up sometimes with a
loded word on the tongue
the odd fragment
of dream cipher (today no
kidding it was tatterdemalion).

But of the mechanism, spring-
wound, that drives these recirculating
waters, disgorged on the hill towns in
last night's storm or unlocked
from the rockface its last
blue icicle integument, trundling
past stubborn milltowns and
former milltowns, their trestles
cantilevers and
crumbling abutments,
their sullen smokestacks,
rosettes of identical split-
level around the cul-de-sac,

sluiced through the archaic reactor
whose lab-coated acolytes
scrutinize the apparatus, tending
the device
its dread core their queen
hived and bloated with light,

turning bend after bend
of perturbation to get here
where the currents slow to spread their snares
and drop their sediment —
we are all of us oblivious,
taken in entirely by the parade
of forms, the events and detritus
that drift across the meniscus of consciousness.
Only the sandpiper it seems
sees past its own reflection —
and the kingfisher, who lunges now
through the shattered pane
to that low strange corridor
its glimpse of minnow where
last year's leaves in a
spectral cortege, lit
with the amber half-light
of the after-life
leach their tannins or settle
little by little a skeletal tracery
into the bottom silt,
thick as the dust of an undisturbed

While above an unseen hand works feverishly
to smooth the sheet of other-being
over the ever-unmade bed of the river.
And while I'm going on like this
a something noses closer through the shallows,
something I didn't notice, nor
he me til
and recoil
the beaver startled startles back
his blackjack tail on the water's pate
thwack again
in spreading rose-windows
of concussion. The Willow-Manitou
looks on and marvels.
An after-sprite of droplets shivers down.

Several weeks now he's been at it
this waterlogged carpetbagger
interloping both the banks up and down.
Daylong the air endures the rasp
and crepitation of his handiwork, a
jigsaw of precision, each chiselled branch
a deftly-placed sprag in the works.

For these two are pitted
here and everywhere
one against the other:
the curving intelligence of river,
the Cartesian architectonic
of the beaver, part iconoclast
breaking the symmetries,
troubling the face of the waters, part
masonic artificer, geometrician,
master anaesthetician, plotting and fretting
to put the river under and
three or four in confederacy
equal to an entire
army corps of engineers.

But for now the river doesn't give a damn.
Rather it is the dam that gives.
And so on and so forth through the spate of May . . .

Steve Shavel
[photo by Jenna Sunshine]

02 July 2012

Daniel Nathan Terry

[from Daniel Nathan Terry's Waxwings, Lethe, 2012]

Photograph, 1984

Swallow this
house — bedroom window paned
like a roadside cross
erected for a reckless boy, wreath
of camera-flare, paper flower of real grief
with too bright a center, edges finally fading
in shoebox weather.
                               You know
what happened there.
                                  You know
this is more than a snap-
shot. Flat as it seems, it will swell
on your red tongue and will become
those rooms — that room with its pale boy
sinking to his knees, again, sinking
into shadowed corners.
fold into black origami.
                                     Come, unhinge
your jaw like the copperhead you saw
becoming a blackbird in the woods — mouth-first,
then your throat, your white ribs and pink gut.
All that's left of you
                               must muscle through
the flapping wing, thin legs trembling,
one skeletal foot curling inward.
                                                   It's in you now —
the song, the sin, the bones, the room, him
telling you it's alright, and every man does it
when a girl leaves him empty-
             Swallow this
house, blackbird-who-became a snake. Swallow
this house and keep yourself
                                             from remembering
how to sing.