Thursday, August 30, 2012


The sequence began last night not long before dark.

We were walking Blue when Lyn pointed up at the mountain to the east and said WHAT'S THAT!

Between some trees there was an enormous spotlight.

Seconds later we realized it wasn't a UFO but the moon rising quickly from behind the mountain. It soon floated there in all its gibbous (swollen, humped) glory.

It will be a blue moon tomorrow, when it's full, Lyn said to our own Blue Moon -- Once in a Blue Moon -- more interested in the scent trails left by other animals who had passed our way than in an arbitrary calendar.

I didn't sleep much during the night, listening to the silence that is one of our little mountainside town's best features. Crickets insistent in the silence. A distant dog barking for a minute. A little breeze in the oak brush.

And then about 5 a.m. a car driving up the hill, pulling into our neighbors' driveway, the sound of a newspaper hitting the driveway, the car backing out and then accellerating on up the hill.

The big moon was now on the western horizon. To the east, a burning Jupiter had risen and just south of it Orion's belt stood vertical and bright. Dark skies are another fine feature of our little town.

I remembered the morning, about the same time -- between 4 and 5 a.m. -- maybe 1966, in Farmington, New Mexico, when I was driving a car full of newspapers down dark roads and the black sky lit up with a fuselage of meteors, hundreds of them over an hour's time, thrilling extra-terrestrial manifestations for a boy out doing a job.

The job was courtesy of my father, a junior-high-school teacher who for a second income had taken on the distributorship of the Albuquerque Journal in our town. Two mornings a week I drove at 4 a.m. to a warehouse where a truck dropped off bundles of papers and loaded them into our family car. I drove through town, stopping at every cafe and restaurant, at hotels and motels, taking unsold papers and emptying coins out of locked tubes and filling the racks with new papers, driving through empty streets to houses where paperboys still slept, counting out bundles of papers to match their routes, slipping, finally, at about 6 a.m. back into bed for a half hour before being woken for breakfast and 7 a.m. seminary at the church, after which it was time for school.

Max Weber would understand this semi-Protestant work ethic perfectly.

One morning I woke up just after 6, horrified that I had overslept, raced to the car, drove to the warehouse, found no papers, drove to the first cafe and found the rack already full of the day's paper. Same with the next rack and the next. I drove to a paperboy's house and found his bundle of papers on the sidewalk. I had already delivered all the papers—in a half-sleep.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Evening Skies

no rain to speak of, but a pretty rainbow

something about Mt. Nebo and its northern foothills repeatedly
creates this kind of thrusting cloud

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Saturday, August 25, 2012

and our faces, my heart, brief as photos

I've been thinking, as so often in the past 20 years, about the loss of my brother John. He died in his 40th year of AIDS.

Our sister Christy took these photos, the first two in the back yard of our Farmington, New Mexico home, the third at the Salt Lake Temple.

John Berger's line—and our faces, my heart, brief as photos—takes my breath away in the same way these photos leave me breathless.

The blurriness of the first two, for whatever technical reason—Christy moving too fast? Nervous? Not used to the camera?—heightens the effect of the photo for me.

Life is tenuous. Relationships are precious and often short (John's friend died one night riding his bike from Farmington to Aztec). And what we know and don't know is difficult to sort out.

Watching from behind is our youngest brother Jeff. That's for certain. (why do we say "for" certain?) What Jeff is thinking is uncertain. The hug is playful and intimate. The setting is most unlikely for such a hug between men—a strict Mormon family and their carefully ordered and oh-so-carefully financed home. It is possible, I surmise, because of the absence of parents and the presence of adoring younger siblings.

I never saw John in such an embrace and I have a sorrowful (as opposed to guilty) sense that I never "saw" John.

The third photo: years have past since the first two photos, maybe a decade. Jeff stands to the right, still not as tall as he eventually grew. Paul, who has just been married, has his back to us in the foreground. John, looking more suave than in the earlier photos, out of backwater Farmington and living in Houston (or is he in California by this time?), in the open shirt to the left, hair darker and less curly than before, holding a camera. Wearing a hat, between John and Paul in the photo, is Grandpa Hilton.

Again the setting creates some tension. John, a lapsed Mormon, would not have been allowed inside the temple for the wedding. He has waited outside until the wedding party emerged for photos.

His clothing, his hair, even, perhaps his wary face and stance (are they wary or attentive?), announce his difference.

What does Berger's line mean in this context? Aren't the photos still here, less brief than John's face?

I'm grateful for the memories the photos evoke. I'm surprised at the windows they provide into scenes I didn't witness (why didn't I come to Paul's wedding).

John's face? Each gesture brief and enigmatic. Faces change. We change. And this may be Berger's point: the photo cuts into time to record a single, brief moment. Stopping time, each photo is a reminder of a certain future and final stoppage in time's flow: memento mori.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Patrick Melrose Novels —Deckle Edge/Uncut

I've been reading Edward St. Aubyn's four novels—Never Mind, Bad News, Some Hope, and Mother's Mild—nicely collected in Picador's 2012 edition.

The novels are an elaboration on Philip Larkin's famous "They fuck you up, your mum and dad . . . They fill you with the faults they had / And add some extra, just for you."

Patrick Melrose is 5 years old in the first novel, 22 in the second, 30 in the third, and a married barrister in the fourth. A fifth novel has appeared, At Last, but it's not included in this volume.

If a reader needed an excuse to despise wealthy Englishmen and women, this novel is the excuse in spades. The satire is venemous, as vicious as anything I've ever read. I was glad to be an American and not an Englishman until Patrick brings his family to American and the satire is aimed at us—obese and stupid are only the pale beginnings of the justified attack.

These are psychological novels, introspective and merciless and insightful and despairing and even funny. A couple of quick examples:

Patrick wakes up in the third novel "desperate to escape the self-subversion of irony and say what he really meant, but really meaning what only irony could convey" (302).

Patrick and his wife Mary and their sons Robert and Thomas (a baby) are visiting Patrick's mother who has destroyed herself and her family and her fortune with alcohol and earnest but silly philantropy. She tries to speak but can't find words.

"They were all lost for words, except for Thomas who had none to lose" (502).

And, of course, for a tireless collector of references to standing as metaphor, this was a gem:

"All sex was prostitution for both participants, not always in the commercial sense, but in the deeper etymological sense that they stood in for something else" (543).

Finally, the book was a pleasure to hold. As you can see in the photo, the pages are uncut, reminding me of what I expect in a new hardback novel from Knopf, for instance. Toni Morrison's Home is the most recent example on my shelf.

I was uncertain about the word "uncut," since it can also mean those fine old books that must be read with a paper knife in hand (I've only had that pleasure once, with an East German book of variant texts for Brecht plays performed at the theater at Schiffbauerdamm in East Berlin).

I looked it up on the American Booksellers' site and "uncut" is indeed the right word, as is "deckle edge." Investigating just a little more, I found that paper was once made in a mold called a "deckle." When the paper dried out the deckle was removed, leaving an uneven deckle edge.

Finally, I went looking for uncut edges. I've got eighteenth-century books that have cut edges, nineteenth-century books with cut edges, and most of my twentieth-century books have cut edges. Clean and efficient.

But then this discovery: a set of Kipling's works with uncut edges on the bottom and side both! and cut, gilded edges on the top.

None of this, of course, would be possible with an E-book.

A New (and not metaphorical) Fence

While Lyn and I were writing today about literary barbed wire (Barbed-Wire Flagellants, Worshippers, Prisoners, and Celebrants), neighbors were stretching a real fence.

corner posts (the artist Bruce Nauman, by the way, made
a film of himself setting a good corner)

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Wildrides, Wildflowers

Good news this morning from Mark Baily at Torrey House Press. He and his co-manager and editor Kirstin Allen have decided to publish Sam's and my Wildrides, Wildflowers. Here's their website: and here are some scans of the originals (drawings by Leslie Lammle).

Friday, August 17, 2012

Colors and Forms and a Bit of Horseplay

good looking fellow

the two bucks had done a little light jousting, then returned to browsing. the photo catches a moment when the buck
 on the right decide to butt his buddy (pun intended), who then took a surprised jump

smoke from california fires is the lens here

Thursday, August 16, 2012


What is required to tell a story?

Jean Fremon's novel (novel?) The Botanical Garden, translated by Brian Evenson and published this year by Green Integer (the French original was published in 1988) answers the question: very little, if we're talking plot.

What happens in the book? The narrator gathers thoughts, his own and others', into little groups. The narrator proposes catalogues—of penises, for example—and admits to a fondness for taxonimies. The narrator relates details from the lives of an old woman, of a feared and beloved thinker, of his lover, of a camel, of a playwrite. The narrator thinks about narration:

"He said: to tell stories is to ratify the social. To take part in its game. Since childhood we have been constituted by stories that we have to believe in, take part in, that we have to reproduce, mimic. A cunning joining of stories fabricates the temporality into which we are thrown and gives to the arbitrary or sleight of hand the semblance of natural causes.

"To shatter narration is to kick against this, he said"

There is change over time, as befits a novel. The narrator's lover leaves him for the playwrite. The narrator's friend Karl falls ill and can communicate only by writing on a slate (the book is like a series of notes on a slate):

"Karl is doing better. He had them bringing him chalk and slate and that's how he communicates with his visitors now. It suits him well: he retains the initiative. No general conversation, useless to clarify.

"The slate is serene but absent. Far from everything. Today it told me: 'Values dislodge facts.'"

The camel, who has been acting in a play, gets pregnant.

There are conundrums:

"A rat eats of a consecrated wafer. Does he ingest the Real Body?

"If yes, what is to be done with the rat?

"If no, what has become of it?"

There are—and this is the fragmentary essence of the fragmentary book—lots and lots of interesting thoughts:

"It's as if the sentence were capable of extracting what happiness there is in unhappiness and filling our heart with this extract, just like how a very pure, very beautiful, very profound and very sad melody fills us at the same time with happiness and sadness, and the more profound the sadness is, the more the happiness flares up. . . ."

The narration, finally, puts us in the mind of the narrator and the plot is the sequence of the narrator's thoughts. There are lots of commas.

I read the book slowly, a few pages each morning over the course of a couple of months. The reading matched the writing—fragmentary, unconcerned, tenuous, patient, surprised, concerned, amused, uncertain, bored, delighted.

The Austrian playwrite is named Thomas Narr. Narr means fool in German. Narr is the beginning of narr-ation.

What does a story require? A kind of sly foolishness.

p.s. Thomas Narr reminded me, in a couple of places, of Peter Handke. His attitude towards literary awards given by people who misread his work for their own purposes, for instance, or his play "composed principally of insults directed at the spectators."

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Scrub Jay

Blue and I found this earlier today. Hope the Corvid can still fly.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Red Iguana

Dinner at the finest simmerer of moles (those remarkable sauces from Puebla and Oaxaca) in the region.

And I, astounded by the music as Lyn looks on and Maren snaps the photo, agog: 

Monday, August 13, 2012

The True Moroni

Mormon readers of The New York Review of Books may have been surprised by the recent cover that promised an essay on "The True Moroni." Evidently, there are other Moronis besides the golden one blowing his trumpet on the spires of Mormon temples -- including the hot Moronis sold on Austrian streets (roasted chesnuts).

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Republika Srpska

Working today with Zarko's and my "Vampires & A Reasonable Dictionary," I got out my notebook from our trip up the Drina River Valley and found a good joke, a photo, and a document—along with some notes.

Mujo and Hasso story

Foca, bridge destroyed by a bomb from a NATO jet -- photo by Thomas Deichmann

Who bombed that bridge? the man asks me. We did, I say.

A visa allowing me to enter the Republika Srpska for "humanitarian reasons."

A fine fish dinner in Bajina Basta: clockwise--I, in the foreground, then Zlatko, then the host, Thomas Deichmann, Peter Handke, the hostess, the historian, and the blessed owner of the bus firm who arranged to have my lost notebook returned -- photo by Zarko Radakovic

Thursday, August 9, 2012


I'm reading/seeing Joe Sacco's wonderful book "Safe Area Gorazde: The War in Eastern Bosnia 1992-1995."

This drawing brought back memories (see below). We had tea that day in 1998 in one of the low buildings to the left of the wide opening just before the bridge.

Up the Drina River, past the hydro-electric dam and the reservoir, Zlatko pilots his Peugot through a dozen tunnels. A railroad track with its own network of tunnels snakes along the opposite side of the river. In ten minutes we reach Muslim-held territory. There are, contrary to my expectation, no borders to cross. Since the Dayton Accord, explains Thomas, this is one country.  
Border or no border, the tension in our little car rises as the familiar ruins begin to appear, Serb houses this time. We have been welcome in the Republika Srpska – two Serbs, the author of Justice for Serbia, two translators of that text, and the journalist who demonstrated that the ITN photos of the concentration camp at Trnopolje were a fiction. The welcome wouldn’t be as warm here.
“Here” is a town stretched along both banks of the river. Fierce fighting with machine guns and artillery has marked, has scarred the once prosperous face of Goražde. Between the highway and the river rises the brilliant white tower and five domes of a new mosque. Goražde was taken by the Serbs and retaken by the Muslims. It is connected now by a thin corridor to the Muslim-held area around Sarajevo.

In less than five minutes we have passed through the town. We’ll come back this way tomorrow.        

Late afternoon. Where the bridge over the Drina meets the main highway, we sit in front of a cafe and drink “chai,” which Zlatko pronounces with a careful and delicate Muslim lilt.
No reason to attract attention, he says.
Across the street is an apartment complex. With laundry hanging to dry in every window and on every balcony, the building looks like a ratty overstuffed couch. A white truck stands in front of the building: UNHCR – United Nations High Commander for Refugees. Stacks of firewood rise high in the courtyard.
Three children run past the café. Two of the boys wear tennis shoes. The third runs with a practiced shuffle in the adult shoes he wears, their backs flattened like slippers. He looks up and smiles at us before following his friends down the riverbank.
A woman with a wheelbarrow full of kindling shoves pieces of wood into a basement window.
The main street of Goražde is called Marshal Tito Street.
Good for them, Žarko says. It’s a crime that most Serbian towns have renamed their streets. You can’t just wipe out forty years of your history.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012


sky like paper

Alex gave me an early birthday present, one of eight copies of his book NINETEENSEVENTYSEVEN, handmade and with a warning: "this may not be your cup of tea."

I answered: "Your tea is my coffee. Your mystery is my metaphor." I put the book up to my cheek and brushed the rough paper. I put my eyes to the dappled, thick paper inside. I put my mind to the images and felt it warp.

Sunday, August 5, 2012


and is there, finally, a difference between contemplation of nature and of self?

i didn't think so last night.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Boundaries, Fences, Barbed Wire

Still working on Steinbeck's use of barbed wire in The Grapes of Wrath, re-reading it, awestruck by the easy humor and good-heartedness and bitter anger of the novel.

Besides the passage that initially attracted our interest (the ecstatic whipping with barbed wire under the influence of the Holy Spirit), the wire is also used in more mundane situations, as in this early scene:

They plodded up the little rise on the other side of the water-cut. Now that the sun was on the wane some of its impact was gone, and while the air was hot, the hammering rays were weaker. The strung wire on crooked poles still edged the road. On the right-hand side a line of wire fence strung out across the cotton field, and the dusty green cotton was the same on both sides, dusty and dry and dark green.

            Joad pointed to the boundary fence. “That there’s our line. We didn’t really need no fence there, but we had the wire, an’ Pa kinda liked her there. Said it give him a feelin’ that forty was forty. Wouldn’t of had the fence if Uncle John didn’ come drivin’ in one night with six spools of wire in his wagon. He give ‘em to Pa for a shoat. We never did know where he got that wire.”

Near the end of the novel, Tom has to crawl under a barbed-wire fence to get out of the camp where he and other workers are virtual prisoners. But in the early scene it is just a marker of property farmed by the hard-working Joad family—a marker, by the way, swept away by tractors sent by the bankers who foreclose on the property:

The tractors came over the roads and into the fields, great crawlers moving like insects, having the incredible strength of insects. . . . Snub-nosed monsters, raising the dust and sticking their snouts into it, straight down the country, across the country, through fences, through dooryards, in and out of gullies in straight lines. They did not run on the ground, but on their own roadbeds. They ignored hills and gulches, water courses, fences, houses.

The tractors destroy the work of generations and the Joad family and many others move on to California. Descriptions of abandoned houses and their contents reminded me of the book of photos by Eugene Richards, all shot at and in abandoned houses. 

Photo by Eugene Richards, from The Blue Room

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Der Himmel Über Woodland Hills Today

morning sky

this little (sun) doggie hung around for nearly an hour
and then it was evening


Karl O. Knausgaard
A Time to Every Purpose under Heaven
Translated from the Norwegian by James Anderson
London: Portobello Books, 2008.

Ec-stasy is the subject of this big novel. Standing outside. Standing outside of time, of one's own consciousness, of life itself.

When Antinous Bellori, age 11 and lost in the forest, thinks he has found his father (who must be searching for him!) but finds terrible angels fishing in a river instead, they are creatures who stand in or inhabit interstices:

Gingerly he raises his head and looks over the edge. The sight that meets his eyes petrifies him. Two cloaked men are standing motionless on the river bank staring up at him. . . . The two figures stand as immobile as before. But now they’re looking at the water in front of them. One holds a torch in his hand, the other a spear. Both wear chain mail under their cloaks and each has a sword hanging at his side. . . . All he wants is to be in their presence. Without giving a thought to what he’s doing, he gets up and begins to walk slowly down, all the time concealed by the trees and with his eyes fixed on the two figures, who display no sign of having heard him, but stand there still as ever. Halfway down he notices their wings and thinks what has until then been just a vague inkling: there are two angels standing in the river. The rush of fear and happiness which this sends coursing through him is almost unendurable. (10-11)

And so, standing close together, the light flickering across their faces and the bottom of their cloaks trailing in the water, they stand eating the fish. Antinous stares at them spellbound. The teeth that sink into the fish’s flesh, the scales that cling to their chins, the eyeballs that now and then turn up and make them look white and blind. Then they look like statues standing there, for without the life of the eyes the deadness of their faces is emphasised. Each time he sees it, Antinous recoils in fear. They’re dead, he thinks. They’re dead. But then the eyeballs correct themselves, the faces again fill with life, and what a moment before was loathsome in them is now beautiful again. (12)

The standing emphasized by repetition (and throughout the novel) is a mark of ecstasy, of standing outside or between, of standing at the border between life and death, of pain and pleasure.

Angels are creatures of this psychological space.

And humans who witness them, like Antinous, experience a timeless presence that is the most powerful of all experiences.

Which other humans have experienced such joyful terror? the narrator asks.

Cain and Abel.
Anyone who has sex or who gives birth. Anyone in pain. Anyone in the presence of death.

The novel imagines the Biblical characters and their ecstatic experiences. Their encounters with angels and their experiences with death and pain are, it seems to me, equivalent.

Abel, for instance, who burns to see the cherubim who guard the tree of knowledge, approaches the extreme state they represent in a grim dissection (of a dying man), in viewing the actual flaming cherubim (he suffers fits as a result), while sacrificing lambs, and through an attempted suicide that emphasizes the standing metaphor:

They smiled at one another. Then Abel went to the bank, climbed up the tree, balanced on the branch, stood erect and dived in.

Able doesn’t come up.

‘That’s enough now, Abel!’ he [Cain] called, although he knew that his brother couldn’t hear him. ‘Come on up!’

It seemed when his voice died away as if it was the first time he became aware of himself. That he was standing here, on the river bank, right now, and that Abel was down in that black river water, and had been far too long. (97)

Cain dives in after him, although he is an unwilling swimmer:

He fought his way over, and when he saw the head, the open eyes, the hair billowing in the water, he realised that he must have tied one foot to the tree.

Cain unties the knot, gets him out of the river, and raises him up and down till he vomits and then leaves him there and weeps.

 . . . and turned to see how Abel was getting along.

He was standing in the pale moonlight staring at him. . . . No spark of recognition brightened his eyes. His gaze was as empty as a corpse’s.

Abel begins to dance. Cain awakes in the morning and wonders if it all really happened:

Found Abel tied up, released him and dragged him out on to dry land?

He suddenly imagined it once more, and a shiver went down his spine. He had seemed to be standing in the water. . .

Best not to think about it. (96-101)

Abel will do anything for ecstasy, anything to stand outside himself at the juncture of life and death. Cain continually disrupts Abel's efforts (he crushes the head of the dying man Abel is torturing, he saves Abel from the river, and he finally kills Abel to save him from a final terrible union with the cherubim).

There are examples from each of the Bible stories, each one marked by standing. 

When Rachel, for instance, is giving birth: “she stood roaring into the forest” (326). Pain = ecstasy.

One extraordinary scene puts a reader with the last people on top of the last mountain as the flood rises and kills them while Noah's ark nudges the last bit of earth. Noah's sister Anna stands among them and watches.

They were now standing on an island and were surrounded by sea on all sides. . . . Was it strange that all they did was stand and stare and stare? . . . (320)

Anna “thought that what she heard was the voice of God” (320). It is the water rushing in to kill them, and in this moment the ark approaches: 

. . . they had crawled up to this foothold, and stood here now, only hours away from their ultimate end. . . . Crowded together they stood watching the ship move closer. When the moment they had been waiting for arrived, and the keel nudged at the mountain just below them, all they did at first was to stand and watch. . . . Anna stood in the background. (341)

“Bellori says that, as eternal beings, time can have no meaning for the angels” (394). It is the nunc stans, the "now standing" of the Scholastics. It is also the "now standing" of anyone about to die or witnessing death.

After years of searching, both through study of the Bible and through wandering through Europe, Bellori finds angels in the woods in the snow: 

The place was empty, but he stood there, nevertheless, positioning himself roughly where he’d stood then. . . . Even so Antinous felt a shiver run down his spine as he stood there. . . . Antinous quickly stepped over to the nearest tree and stood close into its trunk. The angel flew upwards in ever increasing circles, and had soon disappeared completely. He continued to stand motionless for a while longer. . . and stood there unmoving . . . He stood close to a tree . . . and he might have been standing there half an hour. . . . An angel was standing on one of the lowest branches . . . He had no idea how long he stood there. Because nothing moved, there was nothing for time to latch on to and measure it by. He stood there, the bog lay there, the snow fell, the angel stared (452-454 and ff.).

The experience is beyond any he has known since he was eleven, and it is deadly. If it weren't deadly, it would not be ecstatic.

But who is writing about Bellori and his findings? Who is making up the Bible stories? It's a modern Norwegian narrator who himself is looking for ecstatic experience, conditioned to do so, at least in part, by his father's own extremities.

“Dad got up and took the torch from me. But he made no move to go. Even though he stood in the dark, and I couldn’t see his face properly, I knew he was staring at me. Neither of us spoke. Slowly he turned the torch beam on my face. ‘Are you scared of me?’ he said.” (483).

And it’s a disquieting thought that not even the past is done with, even that continues to change, as if in reality there is only one time, for everything, one time to every purpose under heaven. One single second, one single landscape, in which what happens activates and deactivates what has already happened in endless chain reactions, like the processes that take place in the brain, perhaps, where cells suddenly bloom and die away, all according to the way the winds of consciousness are blowing.

But if it’s true that events in the past open and close and constantly form new associations with what’s happening in the present, where does the notion that the past is fixed and finished come from? Nothing is ever finished, everything just goes on and on, there are no boundaries, not even between the living and the dead, even that zone is quivering and unclear. (483-484)

That quivering and unclear zone, that single standing second, is the obsessive/compulsive narrator's obsession:

Contemplating suicide: “I wasn’t standing on the edge of an abyss, I was standing before yet another argument: shall I take my own life to prove to myself that my despair is genuine? (506).

After struggling to kill a huge fish (and thus right there on that edge between life and death): “I read for a couple of hours. Then I stood in the cellar for a while. . . . I stood there for a long time with the phone in my hand. . . . stood looking down into the clear, green water. . . . pulled off my T-shire and stood in front of the mirror. . . . [he cuts himself, ecstatically, first his chest, later his face] For a while I just stood there. . . . Soaking wet I stood there, for the world is beautiful, it’s so beautiful, and I was there in the midst of it.” (514-515).

“Pain has something to do with eternity, I’ve always thought, not the slight, short pain, but the pain that throbs and churns and keeps on. . . . It was as if holes had opened in the surface of time, I sometimes thought, where the drop in pressure was so great that the surrounding time was somehow drawn in to fill the vacuum” (518).

"Every angel is terrible," Rilke wrote in his Duino Elegies. Knausgaard is sure of that.