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Have you lost your mind, are you wingstruck, is there a piece of you gone, why can’t that fire fall out of your chest or are you completely unstrung with the stripping him down to the hot quick of you and too lamentably eyesick, voicesick, breastsick to understand there’s no hope for you— you must be lightdead, you must be socket blown, heartshot, blinded by doves and he will not know you ever he will not think suddenly of you, or one day say, touch, look; anything outside of your intoxicated shine to yourself, such a maddening monkey, are you out of your head, are you off your nut, have you taken leave of your senses, are you not all there, is something loose, gone soft— are you beyond mercy, is he a scent with no source in the house, is he kind to you in dreams, is his throat a place for you to die, unpardonable, ludicrous, bedazzled, do you hear voices, do you see benevolent forms, do you think you’ve been stabbed and now you’re standing over the body not yours - not his- but the body drunk, drunk up again, have you entirely lost touch, do you have roses for brains, do you live on the moon that his oblivion waxes you, easy pearl, are you all balled up, have you come unhinged, woman, is anyone home?
Whitman says, All has been gentle with me. Lucky him. Lucky the one who has no account with lamentation. And yet of it we string the harp for a larger music. The sun pours down honey over the bodies of lovers who make of their bed a small boat that rocks in the sea of morning, rocking in waves, of light and leavings.
31. I dreamt that Earth was finished. And the only human being to contemplate the end was Franz Kafka. In heaven, the Titans were fighting to the death. From a wrought-iron seat in Central Park, Kafka was watching the world burn.
32. I dreamt I was dreaming and I came home too late. In my bed I found Mário de Sá-Carneiro sleeping with my first love. When I uncovered them I found they were dead and, biting my lips till they bled, I went back to the streets.
33. I dreamt that Anacreon was building his castle on the top of a barren hill and then destroying it.
34. I dreamt I was a really old Latin American detective. I lived in New York and Mark Twain was hiring me to save the life of someone without a face. “It’s going to be a damn tough case, Mr. Twain,” I told him.
35. I dreamt I was falling in love with Alice Sheldon. She didn’t want me. So I tried getting myself killed on three continents. Years passed. Finally, when I was really old, she appeared on the other end of the promenade in New York and with signals (like the ones they use on aircraft carriers to help the pilots land) she told me she’d always loved me.
36. I dreamt I was 69ing with Anaïs Nin on an enormous basaltic flagstone.
37. I dreamt I was fucking Carson McCullers in a dim-lit room in the spring of 1981. And we both felt irrationally happy.
38. I dreamt I was back at my old high school and Alphonse Daudet was my French teacher. Something imperceptible made us realize we were dreaming. Daudet kept looking out the window and smoking Tartarin’s pipe
39. I dreamt I kept sleeping while my classmates tried to liberate Robert Desnos from the Terezín concentration camp. When I woke a voice was telling me to get moving. “Quick, Bolaño, quick, there’s no time to lose.” When I got there, all I found was an old detective picking through the smoking ruins of the attack.
40. I dreamt that a storm of phantom numbers was the only thing left of human beings three billion years after Earth ceased to exist.
41. I dreamt I was dreaming and in the dream tunnels i found Roque Dalton’s dream: the dream of the brave ones who died for a fucking chimera.
42. I dreamt I was 18 and saw my best friend at the time, who was also 18, making love to Walt Whitman. They did it in an armchair, contemplating the stormy Civitavecchia sunset.
43. I dreamt I was a prisoner and Boethius was my cellmate. “look, Bolaño,” he said, extending his hand and his pen in the shadows: “they’re not trembling! they’re not trembling!” (after a while, he added in a calm voice: “but they’ll tremble when they recognize that bastard Theodoric.”)
44. I dreamt I was translating the Marquis de Sade with axe blows. I’d gone crazy and was living in the woods.
45. I dreamt that Pascal was talking about fear with crystal clear words at a tavern in Civitavecchia: Miracles don’t convert, they condemn, he said.
46. I dreamt I was an old Latin American detective and a mysterious Foundation hired me to find the death certificates of the Flying Spics. I was traveling all around the world: hospitals, battlefields, pulque bars, abandoned schools.
I am done hitching to stars, I am done looking for men who are anchors. I am going to scatter stardust and saltwater, and eat salted plums. I’ll light the way across the ocean, like a runway to a drowning.
(I existed in a halo of light until I broke my crown for you)
These are the battles that are fought daily between Catholic school graduates, schooled in the dark arts of sentence diagramming and self-righteousness, and their exasperated prey. They are fought between prescriptivists, who believe that rules of language should be preserved at any cost, and descriptivists, who believe that word use should reflect how people actually talk.
“It was an unconscious mistake,” say the descriptivists.
“You mean subconscious.”
“Well, anyways — ”
“You mean anyway.”
“That begs the question. Why do you care about grammar so much?”
“No. It doesn’t! It doesn’t beg the question at all. It raises the question. It raises the question!”
Walking in the dark streets of Seoul under the almost full moon. Lost for the last two hours. Finishing a loaf of bread and worried about the curfew. I have not spoken for three days and I am thinking, “Why not just settle for love? Why not just settle for love instead?”
An antique pushchair sways to the howl of rag & bone, the ring-tone of those who see jackpots in skips. I’m bored says the newborn inside, while its mother presses her lips against the double glazing to feed off the remains of fairytales falling onto the fact of window sills. The bairn asks will you change her bag please? She has to look her best on the off-chance there’s decent weather; it was unaware of the forecasts— the sun had retired to pursue an old flame.
Check out the24project. It’s a collaborative arts tumblr that’ll disappear in 7 days. I enjoy its brazen ephemerality. Reminded me of this paragraph in one of ECW’s final posts on Socialism and/or Barbarism:
As for that ephemerality, it is perhaps what was, and perhaps continues to be, the most important aspect of the form of online writing. Ephemerality is itself a slippery term and may designate far less than it appears to. After all, the material publication of a book, the construction of a building or a monument, the committing to film is no guarantee whatsoever that something will last. There have been plenty of those that did not last. That is ultimately the crux of Adolf Loos’ attack on ornament, as off as I think it to be in certain ways: something too marked to its present will cry out for its dismissal or forgetting, if not outright destruction. And such is the properly ornamental stance of a blog, irrecuperably marked to and marked by the specific moments in which its posts emerge, and it points beyond itself to an understanding that what is ephemeral is not a consequence of its irrelevance but of its painful embeddedness. As such, it is a mode of occasional writing capable of registering how we do not understand occasions as “just occasions.” We feel and think them as entire swathes of time, whole optics, tints that color our glance toward days passed or on the way. Even if we can only grasp partially at scrambled fragments, even if that is all we ever do, nevertheless, these brief occasions we read and pass through are the history of the present as much as an extensively researched study can be. The difficulty is only that we stay largely unaware that we are in the midst of reading this mosaic history: we treat it like the news, a keeping up with things, part of the morning, a check-up, a reminder.
I submitted a revised version of an old poem I wrote a year or two ago.
Remembrance belongs to them that were here. Alkman
The stars and the rivers and waves call you back. Pindar
For the world must be loved this much If you’re to say “I lived.” Hikmet
What if you could live in a cowslip’s bell. Like Ariel. Or like the bee who nudges its way inside and emerges burnished with pollen. Look — a hummingbird plunges its head into a blossom for a taste of necstar. The Lord said — In my Father’s mansion there are many rooms. Take your pick. All the spirits grieve for the room we call body. They want to dwell among us, they want to taste and see. It’s said that Christ entered the room named Jesus. And when that body was crucified, he cried out — Father, why have you forsaken me? What if we could live in this world. I know of a field in the San Joaquin with vernal pools, lupine, owl’s clover, poppies. I know where there’s a hive in the live oak where you can taste wild honey. Last night my brother told me he was so unhappy he wanted to die. He would take his life if he had the strength. Once, years ago, my brother found a snake on a canyon trail, a tiny ringneck snake the color of the earth on one side, the color of fire on the other. He held it in his hands. Held it out like a gift. Like wonder. A small thing, perhaps, but maybe that memory helps keep him here. I remember one morning on the Manikarnika Ghat were the bodies were burning. I watched a man step up to a pyre and with a club break open a skull, scattering ingots along the banks of the Ganges, releasing the spirit, it is said, so it might pass from this collapsing room to the next. In my Father’s mansion there are many rooms. One I return to often—memory takes me to a farmhouse surrounded by orchard in the valley that is called the Pajaro. I watch the morning light through the windows as it finds the couple in bed, two small people asleep in each other’s arms— I watch as he wakes and gazes at her as I gaze now, at the two of them— how young we were, how little we knew of what would happen— too soon the seasons turn, to other arms, to other rooms. The day’s on fire! Roethke cried. But it’s raining outside, it’s April, the rain’s pelting all the blossoms—still, Roethke’s right—if I look I see a slow writhing flame nothing can put out, a fire burning inside the day, inside the rain, a flame like silk the bees brush against inside the flower, the hummingbird’s throat burnished with embers— the day’s on fire! the night’s on fire! all the rooms are burning! Keats in his death room, feverish, saw a flame pass from one candle to another, like a spirit, and to the Severn cried out—Lift me up—I am dying. If you walk in the Roman cemetery you will find his stone carved with the words— Here lies One Whose Name was writ in Water. He is buried in a room deeper than time. I think of Emily’s room as she stood in throe and transport, in radiance, in the terror and the cleaving, in the Hour of Lead. Like Emily, my brother is not among the members of the Resurrection untouched by morning, untouched by noon. My brother can barely live in his body. In his room. What then of the rooms in paradise? When you look out the window what do you see? I see a cottonwood beginning to bud, I see a skeleton higher than a house that soon will quiver with leaves with the green fire of summer. I believe it is easy to love summer’s vast sumptuous room. But how to love what can’t be imagined? Death’s quantum world, with its rooms within rooms, with its doors to nowhere, or elsewhere. How to imagine my brother’s room, a camper shell on a pickup in the City of Angels where he drives looking for a place to park, to spend the night, where no strangers, no policemen will rap their knuckles against his shell, roust him. Who can be coming to the edge of my gates at this black hour of night? Last night the sound of an owl in the cottonwood. I took a flashlight, shined it up through the limbs, and there he was— a great horned owl, looking down on me. When at last I turned and walked away, I could feel his eyes on my back. You have made me forget all my sorrows.—Of thee I stand in awe. In Shay Creek I stood looking down at an owl, its eyes being eaten by ants, more ants seething from its beak, so many syllables trying to get at it— the rooms within, once luminous, now empty, the light going out across the stars, they say, the deep journey back to provenance. My brother says—Yes—he would like to see once more the stars of our childhood—deep summer, when pollen drifted across the lake turning to gold the blue water at dusk and we saw for the first time Orion rise and drift across the night, his body in flames over the black water. Journeys and odysseys. Rimbaud’s voyages. His return from Aden, his thirteen days of sorrows, carried ashore on a stretcher, his knee the size of a gourd— Where are the treks across mountains, the rivers and the seas, O Voyager, O Outkast? On his last morning, he woke to the brilliant sun in his room, the sun e loved, and he cried to his sister— I am going to the earth, but you, you will walk in the sun. Pindar says—Blessed is he who has seen these things and goes under the ground. He knows life’s end. He knows the empire given by the god. But what of the empire managed by men? What of Nazim Hikmet whose room for thirteen years was a cell? Who every night waded in water and pulled nets out of the sea, the silver fish mixed with the stars. Who every morning imagined his execution—The poplars are blooming in Ghazali, but the master doesn’t see the cherries coming. That’s why he worships death. Close your hand— the daylight inside your palm is like an apricot. One day the guards came for him, came to his room, and brought him outside for the first time. He was amazed by how far away the sky was. While Nazim was in prison, he wrote Things I Didn’t Know I Loved. He names them—sun, trees, roads— the list is long—sea, clouds, rain, night. What is it, I wonder, I didn’t know I loved? I didn’t know how much I loved my brother in that canyon years ago. I didn’t know how much I loved the earth and the rivers and the stars, all those mornings opening into bright rooms. I didn’t know how love would cross the years to here—to this place I have prepared for my brother—this poem, this room where he may live.
It’s an illness like any other, Van Gogh wrote, as the flashes behind his eyes kept popping while in his hands the brush’s marked determination to continue exploded beyond the canvas, hands and eyes, together, wrestling the mind into some kind of submission. The glory of it assaulted him every time. I have been working on a size 20 canvas in the open air in an orchard, lilac plowland, a reed fence, two pink peach trees against a sky of glorious blue and white. On a size 20 canvas where illness equals work, there is nothing more or less than hands, brushes, and eyes, scraping pink, lavender, blue, and white zinc here and there until the mind in her illness settles at the edge of an orchard shedding blossoms in brilliant light.
* The passage in italics quoted from Vincent Van Gogh’s letter to his brother Theo dated March 30, 1888.
Another morning and I wake with thirst for the goodness I do not have. I walk out to the pond and all the way God has given us such beautiful lessons. Oh Lord, I was never a quick scholar but sulked and hunched over my books past the hour and the bell; grant me, in your mercy, a little more time. Love for the earth and love for you are having such a long conversation in my heart. Who knows what will finally happen or where I will be sent, yet already I have given a great many things away, expecting to be told to pack nothing, except the prayers which, with this thirst, I am slowly learning.
JW: I really think, well… Let’s not call this “sexism.” Let’s call it an “asymmetrical judgment” between men and women. If Henry Miller writes “Tropic of Cancer” and calls the hero “Henry Miller,” he’s still allowed to say these are novels, and none of the guys question it. Because a man is allowed to be bigger. A woman isn’t. She can only possibly talk about herself.
BNR: Meanwhile, Anaïs Nin is just writing “journals.”
JW: Journals, right, journals! If I want to use myself as a fictional character, why can’t I? Over the years, it’s been one of the most frustrating things. If you call yourself “Jeanette” in the novel, then it’s all about you. And I’m thinking, No. This is a person I’ve invented. Why shouldn’t I? That’s what I mean by an asymmetrical judgment because Paul Auster, Henry Miller, Milan Kundera, any of those writers who quote themselves directly, Philip Roth, for God’s sake! We all say, “That’s so great! That’s so interesting!” But if you do that as a woman, it becomes confessional and autobiographical.
He put moisturizer the morning he shot thirty-three people. That stands out. The desire to be soft. I could tell the guy from NPR that’s what I want, to be soft, or the guy from the LA Times, or the guy from CNN who says we should chat. Such a casual word, chat. I’m chatting to myself now: you did not do enough about the kid who took your class a few buildings from where he killed. This is my confession. And legs, I think the roommate said, moisturizer in the shower, I don’t know what I could have done something. Something more than talk to someone who talked to someone, a food chain of language leading to this language of “no words” we have now. Maybe we exist as language and when someone dies they are unworded. Maybe I should have shot the kid and then myself given the math. 2 < 33. I was good at math. Numbers are polite, carefree if you ask the random number generators. Mom, I don’t mean the killing above. It’s something I write like, “I put my arms around the moon.” Maybe sorry’s the only sound to offer pointlessly and at random to each other forever, not because of what it means but because it means we’re trying to mean, I am trying to mean more than I did when I started writing this poem, too soon people will say, so what. This is what I do. If I don’t do this I have no face and if I do this I have an apple for a face or something vital almost going forward is the direction I am headed. Come with me from being over here to being over there, from this second to that second. What countries they are, the seconds, what rooms of people being alive in them and then dead in them. The clocks of flowers rise, it’s April and yellow and these seconds are an autopsy of this word, suddenly.
Once I said I didn’t have a spiritual bone in my body and meant by that I didn’t want to think of death, as though any bone in us could escape it. Maybe I was afraid of what I couldn’t know for certain, a thud like the slamming of a coffin lid, as final and inexplicable as that. What was the soul anyway, I wondered, but a homonym for loneliness? Now, in late middle age, or more, I like to imagine it, the spirit, the soul bone, as though it were hidden somewhere inside my body, white as a tooth that falls from a child’s mouth, a dove, the cloud it can fly through. Like bones, it persists. Little knot of self, stubborn as wildflowers in a Chilmark field in autumn, the white ones they call boneset, for healing, or the others, pearly everlasting. The rabbis of the Midrash believed in the bone and called it the luz, just like the Spanish word for light, the size of a chickpea or an almond, depending on which rabbi was telling the story, found, they said, at the top of the spine or the base, depending. No one’s ever seen it, of course, but sometimes at night I imagine I can feel it, shining its light through my body, the bone luminous, glowing in the dark. Sometimes, if you listen, you might even hear that light deep inside me, humming its brave little song.