as I’ll be in Boston for the summer, one of my two favorite Boston ladies… Anne Sexton
In my dream,
drilling into the marrow
of my entire bone,
my real dream,
I’m walking up and down Beacon Hill
searching for a street sign -
namely MERCY STREET.
I try the Back Bay.
And yet I know the number.
45 Mercy Street.
I know the stained-glass window
of the foyer,
the three flights of the house
with its parquet floors.
I know the furniture and
mother, grandmother, great-grandmother,
I know the cupboard of Spode
the boat of ice, solid silver,
where the butter sits in neat squares
like strange giant’s teeth
on the big mahogany table.
I know it well.
Where did you go?
45 Mercy Street,
kneeling in her whale-bone corset
and praying gently but fiercely
to the wash basin,
at five A.M.
dozing in her wiggy rocker,
grandfather taking a nap in the pantry,
grandmother pushing the bell for the downstairs maid,
and Nana rocking Mother with an oversized flower
on her forehead to cover the curl
of when she was good and when she was…
And where she was begat
and in a generation
the third she will beget,
with the stranger’s seed blooming
into the flower called Horrid.
I walk in a yellow dress
and a white pocketbook stuffed with cigarettes,
enough pills, my wallet, my keys,
and being twenty-eight, or is it forty-five?
I walk. I walk.
I hold matches at street signs
for it is dark,
as dark as the leathery dead
and I have lost my green Ford,
my house in the suburbs,
two little kids
sucked up like pollen by the bee in me
and a husband
who has wiped off his eyes
in order not to see my inside out
and I am walking and looking
and this is no dream
just my oily life
where the people are alibis
and the street is unfindable for an
Pull the shades down -
I don’t care!
Bolt the door, mercy,
erase the number,
rip down the street sign,
what can it matter,
what can it matter to this cheapskate
who wants to own the past
that went out on a dead ship
and left me only with paper?
I open my pocketbook,
as women do,
and fish swim back and forth
between the dollars and the lipstick.
I pick them out,
one by one
and throw them at the street signs,
and shoot my pocketbook
into the Charles River.
Next I pull the dream off
and slam into the cement wall
of the clumsy calendar
I live in,
and its hauled up
45 Mercy St., Anne Sexton
Everything is biographical, Lucian Freud says. What we make, why it is made, how we draw a dog, who it is we are drawn to, why we cannot forget. Everything is collage, even genetics. There is the hidden presence of others in us, even those we have known briefly. We contain them for the rest of our lives, at every border we cross.
But, when nothing subsists of an old past, after the death of people, after the destruction of things, alone, frailer but more enduring, more immaterial, more persistent, more faithful, smell and taste still remain for a long time, like souls remembering, waiting, hoping, upon the ruins of all the rest, bearing without giving way, on their almost impalpable droplet, the immense edifice of memory.
— Marcel Proust, Swann’s Way (translated by Lydia Davis)
Strip back the beliefs pasted on by governesses, schools, and states, you find indelible truths at one’s core. Rome’ll decline and fall again, Cortés’ll lay Tenochtitlán to waste again, and later, Ewing will sail again, Adrian’ll be blown to pieces again, you and I’ll sleep under the Corsican stars again, I’ll come to Bruges again, fall in and out of love with Eva again, you’ll read this letter again, the sun’ll grow cold again. Nietzsche’s gramophone record. When it ends, the Old One plays it again, for an eternity of eternities.
— Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell
“All I Have To Say For Myself,” Mindy Nettifee
The last time you came to see me
there were anchors in your eyes,
hardback books in your posture.
You were the five star general of sureness,
a crisp white tuxedo of a man.
I was fiddling with my worn coat pockets,
puffing false confidence ghosts in the cold January air.
My hands were shitty champagne flutes
brimming with cheap merlot.
I couldn’t touch you without ruining you,
so I didn’t touch you at all.
It’s when you’re on the brink of something
that you lose your balance.
You told me that once.
When I can’t bring myself to say what I need to,
my heart plays Russian Roulette with my throat.
I swear I fired that night, but, nothing.
Someday, I’ll show you the bullet I had for you,
after time has done the wash.
I’ll take it out of the jar of missed opportunities.
We’ll hold it up to the light.
You’ll roll it around your mouth like a fallen tooth.
You won’t forgive me exactly,
but we’ll laugh about how small it is.
We’ll wonder how such a little thing
could ever have meant so much.
from the love letters of Zelda Fitzgerald, Part IV
from the love letters of Zelda Fitzgerald, Part IV
— Since you are slowly dissolving into a mythical figure over the long period of years that have elapsed since two weeks ago, I will tell you about myself: I am lonesome… Life is difficult. There are so many problems. 1. The problem of how to stay here and 2. the problem of how to get out.
— Pavements crackle under the crystalline mornings. Every day I expect the front page of the papers to burst into flames…
— I trust that life will not continue forever in the heaping of ashes.
— You were a young lieutenant and I was a fragrant phantom, wasn’t I? And it was a radiant night, a night of soft conspiracy and the trees agreed that it was all going to be for the best. Remember the faded gray romance.
— A suitcase full of happiness and a hat-box of souvenirs.
— Gusts of bottled breezes.
— Here are some titles [for her stories] — Maybe you can paste them on the unidentifiable bottles in the medicine cabinet if they don’t seem to apply. 1. Even Tenor. 2. Rainy Sunday. 3. How It Was. 4. Ways It Was.
— Pale blue crowds watched the rhododendron parade today. Under an impervious Italianate sky the blaring of the bands poured forth from the hills.
— And the afternoon sun imbedding itself in a silver tea-pot.
— The sense of sadness and of finality in leaving a place is a good emotion; I love that the story can’t be changed again and one more place is haunted — old sorrows and a half-forgotten happiness are stored where they can be recaptured. *
— Snow domesticates horizons; the world is a fine white boudoir; the world is cared-for and expensive. I hope always that you’ll show up in it soon.
— One could perform experiments in how to live.
— She wore white gardenias… and white hopes.
— The winter has grown homesick for something else, somewhere else — and seems as anxious to get away as everybody else is.
— When you leave I always look about me and catalogue your visits.
— I think the Elements resent us, and I think that They Themselves are none too well-disciplined. Any old thing ought to have better sense than to freeze people.
— The eternal hope on which life is hung.
— Woods sweet with violets and the secrets of 1900.
— Meantime: I’m painting lampshades, instead of souls; just for a little while, and meantime I play the radio and moon about considerably and dream of Utopias where it’s always July the 24th 1935. That’s my chosen happiest equipment: to be 35, in the middle of summer forever.
— What is there to say? You know how much I have loved you.
* snowglobe syndrome.
I had been putting off reading Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad based on the rather euch-inducing summary about a novel based on “music and how to cope in the digital age.” That’s just noise. The book isn’t some self-indulgent attempt to desperately be ahead of a curve that might not even exist in an effort to seem modern and inaccessible.
Quite the opposite.
I’m not even sure how to describe why I loved it so much. The prose isn’t lush, the metaphors don’t feel like being hit with a particularly rogue wave. In fact, in many ways, it’s rather straight-forward. I recently posted a Nick Hornby quote about identifying with an author’s voice so wholly that it almost comes as a shock. With Jennifer Egan’s, it’s more about the rhythm of the sentences, the deliberate pacing, the matter-of-fact ways time moves forward and horrific events end before we’re even sure what was going on. And how often we take ourselves by surprise.
It’s hard to quote the book, because none of it sounds exactly right without context, which is another word for rhythm, which is another word for the structure that both smashes things together and allows them to break apart. Or, as she calls them, pauses. There’s a chapter made of powerpoint slides with a narration straight out of The History of Love’s Alma Singer.
If this is to be the future… at least empathy hasn’t completely croaked.
Sometimes I know I love you better
than all the others I kiss it’s funny
but it’s true and I wouldn’t roll
from one to the next so fast if you
hadn’t knocked them all down like
ninepins when you roared by my bed
I keep trying to race ahead and catch
you at the newest station or whistle
stop but you are flighty about
schedules and always soar away just
as leaning from my taxicab my breath
reaches for the back of your neck
- Frank O’Hara
But sometimes, very occasionally, songs and books and flims and pictures express who you are, perfectly. And they don’t do this in words or images, necessarily; the connection is a lot less direct and more complicated than that. When I was first beginning to write seriously, I read Anne Tyler’s Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, and suddenly knew what I was, and I what I wanted to be, for better or for worse. It’s a process something like falling in love. You don’t necessarily choose the best person, or the wisest, or the most beautiful; there’s something else going on. There was a part of me that would rather have fallen for Updike, or Kerouac, or DeLillo—for something masculine, at least, maybe somebody a little more opaque, and certainly someone who uses more swearwords—and, though I have admired those writers, at various stages in my life, admiration is a very different thing from the kind of transference I’m talking about. I’m talking about understanding—or at least feeling like I understand—every artistic decision, every impulse, the soul of both the work and its creator. “This is me,” I wanted to say when I read Tyler’s rich, sad, lovely novel. “I’m not a character, I’m nothing like the author, I haven’t had the experiences she writes about. But even so, this is what I feel like, inside. This is what I would sound like, if ever I were to find a voice.” And I did find a voice, eventually, and it was mine, not hers; but nevertheless, so powerful was the process of identification that I still don’t feel as though I’ve expressed myself as well, as completely, as Tyler did on my behalf then.
-Nick Hornby, 31 Songs
talking about how he makes feel while describing how someone else made him feel the same way. such is the brilliance of novelists.