Your heart, Bessie, is an autumn garage.
A waitress gave me this book in 2003. Then she disappeared.
Nena Daconte was almost a child, with the eyes of a happy bird, and molasses skin still radiant with the bright Caribbean sun in the mournful January gloom, and she was wrapped up to her chin in a mink coat that could not have been bought with the year’s wages of the entire frontier garrison. Her husband, Billy Sánchez De Ávila, who drove the car, was a year younger and almost as beautiful, and he wore a plaid jacket and a baseball hat. Unlike his wife, he was tall and athletic and had the iron jaw of a timid thug. But what best revealed the status of them both was the silver automobile whose interior exhaled a breath of living animal; nothing like it had ever been seen along that impoverished border. The rear seat overflowed with suitcases that were too new and many gift boxes that were still unopened. It also held the tenor saxophone that had been the overriding passion of Nena Daconte’s life before she succumbed to the disquieting love of her tender beach hoodlum.
296 words. Pay attention.
She’s certainly bewitched me
with her innocent airs.
As light as blown glass, her figure,
her bearing seems like a figure off a screen.
But she instantly frees herself
from the glossy lacquer background.
This little butterfly flutters and
settles with such silent grace,
That I am overtaken by the urge to pursue her,
Even if I have to tear off her wings.
One of my father’s real social skills, however, was carving out space in a crowded bar. Someone would pivot slightly and there he’d be, one elbow on the mahogany, clearing somebody’s highball glass out of the way with a sophisticated sleight of hand, a twenty-dollar bill materializing in its place. Given this small opening he then managed somehow to look for all the world as if he’d been right in that spot since the building was erected. The illusion was so overpowering that those he displaced often apologized when they discovered him there.
He began to pace every room, like a happy lunatic, waving his hands and reciting the film in great shouts. We listened to him, dazzled, and it seemed we could see the images, like flocks of phosphorescent birds that he set loose for their mad flight through the house.
I like men who have known the best and the worst, whose life has been anything but a smooth trip. Storms have battered them, they have lain, sometimes for months on end, becalmed. There is a residue even if they fail. It has not been all tinkling; there have been grand chords.
Oh! many are the Fin-Backs, and many are the Dericks, my friend.
…from a tedious book about a fish.
There was a game he liked that he had once played all the time. It was who could get you to cry in the fewest words? There was a line in The Three Sisters: “You mean, I’m being left behind?” But Irwin always quoted the article by Gay Talese about Joe DiMaggio: On their honeymoon in Tokyo, Marilyn Monroe had gone off on a USO tour and come back and said, Joe, there were a hundred thousand people there and they were all cheering and clapping; you’ve never seen anything like it.
Yes, I have, DiMaggio said.
I try to summon her and all the letters with their girlish script, the pleas and admonitions, gossip of friends, endearments, exaggeration. Sometimes it seems that all that has happened since is less vital than what we were, and the luster of her eighteen years, the tawdriness I wanted to immerse them in, to stain their glory and make them immortal. She was, for a season, mine, and I was drunk with it. I had the hussarlike luxury of being bored by the genuine thing, and though places have vanished, where she stands is where she has always stood and I carefully place her story where it belongs, before the rest.
Nothing’s as far away as love is,
not even the new stars,
Though something is moving them
We hope in our direction, albeit their skin’s not on fire.
Moments like these remind me of Don Williams’s classic song from 1980, “Good Ole Boys Like Me,” which is in my estimation among the ten or so greatest country songs ever written. Its chorus begins: “I can still hear the soft southern wind in the live oak trees, and those Williams boys they still mean a lot to me, Hank and Tennessee.” This lyric is stunning for ten thousand reasons, but strikes me in a personal way, as this is precisely how I feel about the Wright boys, James and Charles.
At the end of a dark corridor
There is a lit match in a trembling hand
“I still have stage fright,”
The beautiful woman says,
And then she leads us past wardrobes
With mirrors and creaking doors
Where whispering dresses hang,
Whispering corsets, button shoes –
The kind you’d wear while riding a goat.
Despite the perpetual rain, the sordid merchants, and the Homeric vulgarity of its carriage drivers, she would always remember Paris as the most beautiful city in the world, not because of what it was or was not in reality, but because it was linked to the memory of her happiest years.
The moon drops one or two feathers into the field.
The dark wheat listens.
There they are, the moon’s young, trying
Between trees, a slender woman lifts up the lovely shadow
Of her face, and now she steps into the air, now she is gone
Wholly, into the air.
I stand alone by an elder tree, I do not dare breathe
The wheat leans back toward its own darkness,
And I lean toward mine
Miss Rossignol lived in the lazaretto
For Roman Catholic crones; she had white skin,
And underneath it, fine, old-fashioned bones;
Shew flew like bats to vespers every twilight,
The living Magdalen of Donatello;
And tipsy as a bottle when she stalked
On stilted legs to fetch the morning milk,
In a black shawl harnessed by rusty brooches.
My mother warned us how that flesh knew silk
Coursing a green estate in gilded coaches.
While Miss Rossignol, in the cathedral loft,
Sang to her one dead child, a tattered saint
Whose pride had paupered beauty to this witch
Who was so fine once, whose hands were so soft.
In my old age, I see that life itself is often more fantastic and terrible than the stories we believed as children, and that perhaps there is no harm in finding magic among the trees.
…from The Snow Child, by Eowyn Ivey, a debut novel, a magnificent story, a beautiful little crystal of a book and enough evidence for me to bet that as a kid Miss Ivey read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe twice, upset that C.S. Lewis didn’t really know snow.
To him she seemed so beautiful, so seductive, so different from ordinary people, that he could not understand why no one was as disturbed as he by the clicking of her heels on the paving stones, why no one else’s heart was wild with the breeze stirred by the sighs of her veils, why everyone did not go mad with the movements of her braid, the flight of her hands, the gold of her laughter. He had not missed a single one of her gestures, not one of the indications of her character, but he did not dare approach her for fear of destroying the spell.