- A hope against hope but also knowing the...
- A preview of books written but who will publish them?
- An apology to myself for the failure of my most recent book.
- An attempt to understand
- A failure to be in touch with the present moment
The reality of the end..burying the ashes of Pati Hill in Stonington on Monday 19 September 2016.
William O'Rourke was writing to me about the lightning having to strike if a book like ST. PATRICK'S DAY another day in Dublin is to have some sort of life. He was remembering the sheer accident of his friend Jaimy Gordon's novel winning the National Book Award six years ago...a novel published by Bruce McPherson and for which he paid the entry fee for the competition so in so many ways all of these awards as are the reviews in the NYTimes etc simply a peculiar lottery and increasingly the only game in town with the death of print reviewing in the country--- no other newspaper has the influence and authority... but alway one remember just how tiny all of this world is and what the destination of each and every person alive in the moment of this being written and then possibly read... yet it is the getting from this moment to that sure destination...
Publishing a book is a sad event. It is mostly a mistake. But if a life has been lead in which the thinking about, the writing of and finally the publishing of a book has been a constant presence then one is forced to conclude that indeed, this life also has been a mistake.
Because of the veil of death there is no way to truly evaluate any life lived---that is if one is a believer in an after-life with its series of judgments but if that too is only consoling fantasy, maybe even a necessary fantasy…
The wisdom of Pascal would suggest, it is better to believe than to dis-believe… and to try to believe without acknowledging this wager… because if it is only a wager on the after-life one then is forced to wager on the day-to-day and I guess that is what the publishing a book is all about: a gamble… but just as at the casino there are very few real jackpots but many--- but not too many--- smaller jackpots and often for those who attend the casinos with some regularity there are complimentary meals and even accommodations are provided and often those accommodations come with the possibility of meeting other “winners” or even more importantly “great” winners.
In this afternoon of 29 October, 2016
now more than two month have gone by since the University of Notre Dame Press "published" ST. PATRICK'S DAY another day in Dublin and not a single notice of it in any of the major newspapers in this country or in Ireland or England where is it also supposed to be available.
This is unlike my previous experience with the publication of THE CORPSE DREAM OF N. PETKOV and GOING TO PATCHOGUE (published by Dalkey Archive a small literary publisher) when both were reviewed in the so-called newspaper of record, The New York Times and in other major newspapers across the United States...
I am told in that consoling voice: times have changed... university presses simply don't know how to publish fiction in any meaningful way... and why are you conplaining?
NO NO NO.
I am drawing a line under this book. I have other books that deserve to be seen into print. Ireland is a dead place in too many ways. You only have to read ST. PATRICK'S DAY another day in Dublin and do not for a moment that what is described as happening at some moment in the past, is actually locked in the past simply by assuming that it is "in the past."
The simple fact the book is a report of this present moment in Dublin... and again I have ended up again resident in the final story of the DUBLINERS.
Brief prepared opening slides of SIX novels from an edition of the many posthumously to be published novels by Thomas McGonigle. Edited by V. Sirin & Bai Ganyo. Illustrations have been indicated but not included.
EMPTY AMERICAN LETTERS
\\\\\\\\\The Bulgarian Novel\\\\\\\\
A Book from Bulgaria written in the American Language which pivots on a single violent death of an American woman living in Upstate New York, USA.
Thomas McGonigle, late of Patchogue, New York, USA, Sofia, Bulgaria and Dublin, Ireland
and good morning. добро утро! Gnaydin. Dra dhuit ar maidin.
At first there is possibility: Welcome… but that word is ominous, there is the silent complement: and be gone with you.
Seni gormem imkansiz imkansiz imkansiz
nothing more illegitimate than to bring chronological scruples to a work and…
E. M. Cioran
Reader, and there is never a reason to write unless one expects to be read… I could find an ear, for sure, any ear and pour all of these words into that receptacle and have done so but such an ear will surely die and then…
Reader, you should know, what follows is concerned with work and a journey around Bulgaria and why a few people are not with me and Piret as we make our way in June as we went from Sofia to Strazhitsa, to Veliko Tarnovo to Varna to Plovdiv to Sofia, to Pernik.
(----) …is saying, the trailer was a mess: there is blood all over everything and dog feces… her two dogs have been locked in the bedroom and that is awful but the rest of the place is splattered all over with blood and in the bathroom there are towels soaked with blood… that is where they find her in the bathroom… Linda has tried to stop the bleeding… the police are really very good, the state Troopers, and talking with these homicide investigators and while they didn’t answer all the questions…
Quoting an old document:
…and if it is to be another seventeen years before my next visit: the place is Istanbul but I am tempted to think of other cities, as if the actual city mattered--- a change of mood you will notice, a hint of optimism, seventeen years, another visit, I will be .., my life nearly at its end--- if my parents as a model--- possibly dragging along some awful child, who will not want to be here, I could probably sell him or her if there is still a market for white children, would anyone be the wiser, when back in New York City--- though the irony is, I will have come back here only a year later with the woman who would be the mother of the son I am to be traveling with and now I am on my way to .. and to think—in another -- years: … how many years older? …
The absence of those people gnaws at our journey, never stopping us in our proverbial tracks, never goading us on, but always shadowing, even on cloudy days… never speaking to us, but always forcing us to speak of them, aware always they are listening and would hold us responsible for every word we use or did not use when talking about them though to be sure they are not ghostly figures, not figments of imagination but humans who would surely be nailed to the earth as recorded in the registries of births and inevitably the date of their departures is prepared but held in detail, as is said, within the bosom of…
Setting out, but first it is necessary to record the authority for the words which comes from the actual walking the streets of New York City… either it is the wound in the side of Christ or the demand of Thomas’s to stick his finger in the wound of Christ before belief.. but upon the appearance of Christ, according to John in the New Testament, Thomas did not put his hand into the wound, something that would be impossible if you follow this walking about Manhattan, this thing I call my walking life which is my walking day for I am also walking in...
I am sure of it when I am finally awake. There must be a destination and a departure point because there is no hangover of fear when finally awake. If there has been no departure point, no planned place of arrival, the awakening would have been consumed by uneasy feelings leading quickly to…
I know the architecture of the dreams: glossy pages of their intended realization and the smell of newsprint on which they finally do appear alive for a day and then yellowing, soggy with the damp, heaped up at the curb Friday night.
No dream. This day in and day out of walking. Five days a week. My Walking. Uptown is where I do my walking, up there where people are serious and about their business, down here below Fourteenth Street and above Chambers Street, business is hidden away and no one labors in public. This is the nature of how things work and it works for me, this person who is now awake ready to walk again though he had walked all night in the dream.
Nothing remains of the walk of my dream. Nothing remains some might say of my walking Uptown and they are probably right on most days but this is not one of them.
…in the Paleolithic. This implies, on the one, a belief in a “soul,” able to leave the body and travel freely through the world, and, on the other hand, the conviction that, during such a journey, the soul can meet certain ---A History of Religious Ideas (Vol. 1) by Mircea Eliade
(everything is a problem)
They would always be separated from one another by a deep gulf of happiness.
---Three Travelers by Marie-Clair Blais
Never not been in love with M------, written in the head, and written down in a copybook while stretching out on the bed in the Howard Johnson’s in Saugerties.
Upstate to Saugerties where the mother and father died, now so long ago, not a trace of their own time or of those years remains except in a mind driving around in the town, out past the house or what I know as being their house on 9W north of town.
“HE IS ALMOST DEAD”
From SITTNG WITH JOHN WESLEY
(An opening published in the Notre Dame Review)
BY Thomas McGonigle
Thomas McGonigle’s The Beginning of a Traditional Novel for the Twenty-First Century
The other day, a Monday in the month of March, in a sunny three window room overlooking Washington Square Park I asked Jack Wesley why he began to paint.
I don’t know.
Why did you continue to paint?
I liked doing it.
Why have you stopped painting?
I am not now inclined to paint.
Wesley was in the first generation of Pop artists. He is in his 85th year. Seven months ago he stopped leaving his apartment to go down to the North Square restaurant on the corner of MacDougal and Waverly Place for lunch which had become over the years a daily activity. Now, the stairs down into the place were too difficult and the stepping up and down at the curb in order to cross the intersection had proven frightening and dangerous since his step had become unsteady.
CHARACTERS INTERACT WITH EACH OTHER
I know exactly, I told him, for better or worse, why I began to write fifty-three years ago in the last century. I could not talk to Melinda. I was reading about the First World War and I knew the three poems connected to that war, In Flanders Fields, Prayer of a Soldier in France and I Have a Rendezvous with Death.
I imagined a soldier who thinks of Melinda while he is in the trenches in France and where he will die on November 6, 1918. I wrote a second story with the title, War Does End, But the Stain of Sorrow Remains told from her viewpoint of waiting for Joey to come home. I set the story in Indiana.
Years later Melinda told me she had read the stories and wondered how I had discovered her birthday as my hero had died on her birthday.
So, for over fifty years and once again I begin or rather… I see Melinda standing in the second floor hallway either taking out or putting away books or clothing in a locker. I think it must have been a morning as there seemed not to be much of a rush. I was in my last year of high school and she was in her second year.
But I did not talk about Melinda to Jack as I had come to talk to him of my recent trip to southern Arizona and New Mexico, along the Mexican border.
While sitting with Jack Wesley I had shown him this picture which I said was an earlier version of my most recent attempt at capturing that place.
That is a real picture, Jack said. The clouds.
As I walked back home I realized most of the pictures I had shown Jack were of cemeteries in southern Arizona. He did not say anything about it and of course always in the room is our shared memory of his dead wife Hannah Green.
For some reason or no reason I was telling the male nurse who was helping Jack walk down the long hall to the door in order to send me on my way that I had known Jack and his wife for a long time, even in France where I had gone to visit them in Conques where they sometimes lived for months at a time, away from Barrow Street.
Melinda even inhabited France as she had gone there and met a French doctor while skiing in the French Alps. Something happened but she never told me what happened though she never went back to Europe.
I am sure I saw Melinda with a tall fair haired French man who was obviously a doctor once on the over-night train as I went from Vienna to Paris with Ruth in February of 1983. Ruth said it could not be Melinda and before I had a chance to look again our way was blocked by the accumulated ski equipment. In Paris the dollar was very valuable during that moment and we moved from nice restaurant to the next and Ruth asked Pati Hill what it was like to be thought very beautiful and Pati said, I will tell you by saying it is now a pleasure when no one turns and looks at me.
Ruth did not believe her as it was obvious Pati was noticing still those heads and whether they moved or not. She was also careful to minimize what one could see of the backs of her hands, the most difficult parts of the human body to disguise when it came to aging.
For in that she poured this ointment on my body, she did it for my burial.
Writer: …I’m called the Writer.
Professor: And what do you write about?
Professor: There’s obviously no point in writing about anything else…
Writer: There’s no point in writing, full stop. About anything.
(STALKER dir. Andrei Tarkovsky)
Looking for a house to die in and a place to have a hole dug for my corpse which shall no longer be mine.
Gone west to die echoing what was said of the dead in World War One but knowing, I suppose, is a way of saying I knew it was getting closer. Once you pictured yourself flung into a tree or bridge abutment when something didn’t work out with her or him or anything else and the thought of the resulting tears is sufficient consolation for leaving the party earlier than expected
If anything, back then I thought I would have ended up somewhere in North Dakota as I had long ago been thinking of those little towns slowly closing up shop and occasionally getting written up as examples of how things are changing with the passage of shriveling time: the school closing, the shops going.
But that was not what happened.
Somewhere in Arizona between Douglas and Apache or it could have been between McNeil and Elfrida or between Ajo and Sells I turned off the radio or turned off the CD player--- I forget what was playing--- and pulled to the side of the road.
It came down on me… which probably echoes too many songs…
-----------Does it go on to this-----------
In the National Gallery in London there is a painting by Nicholas Poussin. Landscape with Travelers Resting. Three men wearing Roman looking tunics are shown. At the bottom of the painting a man is resting and looking. In the center right a man is adjusting a sandal. In the upper left part of the painting a man is walking. The men are distinguished by the colour of their clothing: yellow, blue and red
Remember, when Marina was saying as we walked in the Louvre, Look for the yellow as it is often at the center of the painting about which the eye is to turn. But she was not there in the National Gallery that afternoon.
What if the three men are the same man?
Can that be imposed upon this canvas?
And then in the catalogue there is another painting mentioned as being painted at the same time--- Landscape with a Man scooping Water from a Stream --- like this one, there is no reference to classical sources. But it was not meant to be shown as a pendant, the writer of the catalogue asserts.
Three men together.
The men in the painting are about the same age. That has always been a problem for them. They know and do not know the same things. Of course they do not look out at the world with the same eyes, though they are being looked at with
eyes connected to a central nervous system. The difference in their ages is minimal. They come from the same town. They have had the same schooling. They are on the same road. At the moment they are going in the same direction. They have come from the same place though because of the way they are being seen that is possibly a mistake, an assumption easily made and for the moment without consequence.
Nothing is being hidden. A person has to start from some place and three men had to have started from some place. They are stuck into those funny clothes which to the viewers in the early 17th Century were as remote from their own day as they are from a viewer today, almost four centuries later though it is possible this is the costume many viewers would have expected these men to have been caught in, at this moment, in oil on canvas.
-----------Or does it go on to this-----
Could it be believed that on another afternoon I was leaning against my car at the Sandspit dock in Patchogue in late summer waiting for Pete Phlite to show up?
Could it be believed that Pete Phlite and I were sitting on the bench in front of our cars parked on the Sandspit dock watching the boats enter and leave the Patchogue River between two jetties made out of great boulders with those small light houses at the end of each of them?
Could it be believed that Karolin and I had been waiting at the Sandspit dock for Pete Phlite to show up after he said, be right over and Karolin then listening, I would often come down here and watch the boats enter and leave the Patchogue River when I was a kid in high school or back from college.
Could it be believed Pete Phlite asked me why I wanted to meet him at the Sandspit dock in Patchogue?
Could it be believed I had asked to meet Pete Phlite down at the Sandspit dock--- you know where--- at the end there, where we can watch the boats enter and leave the Patchogue River?
Could it be believed Pete Phlite and I were talking about Al Wells, Sean Patrick Bradford and George Kamenov while sitting up on the back of the bench in front of our parked cars down there on the Sandspit dock?
---- jarring transitions?-----
The sun made me shield my eyes as we watched boats enter and leave the Patchogue River. I had wanted to talk about Karolin's stepsister coming unwelcomed by her now many years ago from Estonia to Edison, New Jersey to see their father a week after he had died unbeknownst to this woman who had been traveling many days by way of Tartu, Leningrad, Moscow...
Could it be believed I was telling Pete Phlite about meeting Al Wells, Sean Patrick Bradford and George Kamenov and how their lives had intersected mine as did Karolin's life and the memory she had of her stepsister coming from Estonia many years ago to see their father a week after he had died.
So, three men described by saying their names. It would be a mistake to assume the men whose names have now been revealed are wearing the costumes that might now only be worn in a high school Latin end of the school year celebration if the teacher had been trying to inspire the students to the lively nature of what most people think of as a dead language, morbid and gone, really gone. Existing only in books and possibly in some Vatican documents, written in the dilemma of finding Latin words that can be applied to helicopter and ballpoint pen.
------all these names?-----
If you blink you miss Apache, as they could say. A closed up gas-station and some other buildings. A u-turn to go back through the place (a line of cow skulls in front of that building to be photographed) and another u-turn and pulling off to the side of the road. Nothing to pick up as a significant souvenir. Flattened grass and types of cactii I could not begin to name. No garbage or broken bottles…the constant wind on the face but no waving trees… a 360 degree turn, a low water tank across there in a far field… barbed wire fencing on either side of the road… not a house to be seen… wanting to say, nothing to be seen… but then I would have to describe how I could be standing by the side of the road… the sharp incline down from the edge of the shoulder…
Realizing that in all of this movement not a single car has passed by.
----Arizona to Patchogue and Arizona and Patchogue…----
Could it be believed that I was telling Pete Phlite down there on the Sandspit dock I had come back from the desert in Arizona and wanted to tell him about it and about meeting Al Wells who had been in our class at Patchogue High School and about this guy Sean Patrick Bradford who I had met again in Paris last year and more recently I had been and was still mourning the death of George Kamenov who had been a Bulgarian psychoanalyst who had spend much of his life outside of Bulgaria and when he had gone back to Bulgaria it was to study the curious behavior of the guards and the prisoners in the Communist concentration camps which had continued to exist in Bulgaria up into the early 1980s which is hard to believe but it was not hard for Karolin to believe in any of this as she had met her stepsister when that now middle aged woman had come to Edison, New Jersey from Estonia a week after their father had died and who smelled of someplace where… she did not have the words for the… but wanted this woman to go away as soon as possible while at the same time…
Could it be believed I had wanted to talk with Pete Phlite about a lot of such things as I was still wondering if it was possible to talk and hope my interlocutor who maybe did not even know where Bulgaria or Estonia were on the map but knew that Paris at least was in France and could he be found to have an interest in this telling while I was also interested in talking about someone who had gone to high school with Al Wells and me at Patchogue High School and who had not really been back to Patchogue after our parents had died?
----too much being asked?---
Could it be believed that by being down there on the Sandspit dock I was trying to understand the goings off to Europe which I had always thought about doing while I lived in Patchogue and as being a place somewhere out there beyond Fire Island that ran parallel to the shore on which Pete Phlite and I were now standing between our cars, turning our backs to the sun to allow Karolin to take a picture of us, but in fact Europe was actually off to the left, somewhere, in the direction where the sun came up, while of late I had come back from the desert, from Arizona, from America really, as was often said, and it lay out there where the sun was now setting to our right when we turn away from the camera while suddenly a modified cigarette boat was speeding by hurling up a vicious wake?
Could it be believed as Karolin and I were driving out on the Long Island Expressway from The City and had made the turn for the Veterans Memorial Highway that arrived at an angle into the heart of Patchogue after passing the Pepsi Cola bottling plant as I had called Pete Phlite: he being the only person I still knew who lived in the village and was likely to be free since he didn’t work on days without an r in them and thus was likely to be free to meet us down there on the Sandspit dock where I could talk with him about Sean Patrick Bradford, George Kamenov and Al Wells who had been in our class but left Patchogue not to go away to college but to enlist in the Marines as he was tired and fed up with school?
Could it believed as I was standing there between our cars with Pete Phlite
WITH ELIZABETH. For want of a better title or maybe this is the best title or it could be called THE STORY OF A DEAD TIME a journey with my daughter.
Begin with what happened after Elizabeth and I came back from Europe during the winter.
Beginning at the beginning. The best way to go about talking, no, writing, since that is what...
Now, at this moment in the year 2---, no place where the story or our story could be told: no room, porch, campfire, ocean voyage, rail journey. No setting where such a story could be teased out and then the effort to see this conversation redundantly and artfully fixed to the page, arranged by the Scalpel of Chaos, though we hadn't gone to Zagreb where such an instrument is available in a cafe near the cathedral.
Neither Elizabeth nor I could suspend our disbelief in order to hear me talking with a stranger on the flight back from London: to hear me retelling what appeared to us as we moved about the English countryside and then to Paris and in one of the near villages painted by Monet: no, not that famous garden, for this was in January, seemingly so long ago as I write in July and soon to be August then September and...
Or, in Vienna in a taverna near the train station where the Balkans are said to begin, where we were to hear about what Nuala had taken us to see from the hill in Dalkey: the light to be made visible rising up out of the Irish Sea revealing the colour of the winding sheet for the corpse of our dreams as it was sent back into the earth.
All through the Spring I would take notes of what had happened much as I did even on the flight back when I had been reading Front de 1'est, 1941-1945 from which I copied out what Leon Degrelle writes, "Shaking my hand firmly in his two hands at the moment of my departure. Hitler told me with stirring affection: "If I had a son I would want him to be like you."
Aware to be sure of the folly of the taking for granted what had happened as being ordinary yet with the possibility it was of interest that a father and his daughter might travel to Europe looking for something that was not there in the still New World.
But nothing could be as simple as that because life is never so easy as anyone knows who has ever tried to describe even the brief moment of a hand about to reach out to be shaken by... though if what had happened did not happen I would have been complaining in reply: no, nothing much had happened while we were away--- no building fell down as we walked by, no man held a gun to the head of a child demanding the President of the United States get on the line and talk to him, right now, motherfucker, hear me!
No, nothing had happened to us, I guess, like any of that, but... though taken speechless and afraid of what had happened as I sat in the aisle seat while Elizabeth looked down to the mountains of Greenland, already that far along in the flight back to New York: the mountains of Greenland across which no one has ever walked, I think, or wanted to walk and of waking in the middle of the night trapped on the side of one of those mountains while the plane flies overhead with a girl leaning to see more clearly the figure waving helplessly up to the plane.
Suddenly if I inserted a little biography here of Leon Degrelle Elizabeth would reply. Dad, do we really need to know—-just leave the sentence where it is, people will get what they want from it and will give you time to get around to it when you want to and maybe you should think about what has happened and how you got so upset when British Airways canceled two flights and put us on the third flight and still the plane only has maybe fifty people on it and why did you get so angry and it was so embarrassing and even if Audrey could lean across to you and tell me, now Elizabeth, there are some parents who really do enjoy embarrassing their children in a good way, I should say, don't you know?
Would anyone wonder how it came to be that a father and daughter were on a flight back from London to New York---remember it has not been stated how old this daughter is---she has just turned twelve--- and that father was reading a book by Leon Degrelle and there had been no sneering sentences to introduce the quote and are we to assume this is to lull us into some sort of portrait of a lunatic who is about to...
Or is it all for an ironic purpose: though we have had no indication that irony is to be the thrust of what is to happen and of course you have been too polite to ask who is this Leon Degrelle?
Change the subject. As I stood talking with Julian, now, the third Julian for me in Paris, the first died three years before, maybe the other nearly dead, this one really alive and Spanish-- the other Julian, Green, was American and had shocked people by trying to resign from being an immortal in the French Academy and the second one, Gracq, was French walking forever through the castle of Argol---anyway, not really in Paris but in the village of St. Martin-le-Garenne, in the third Julian's villa, by the cold fireplace, looking down to the Seine, I said, in Paris, Elizabeth and I are only looking at paintings from before the French Revolution. Everything that comes after is the creation of dealers though I make exception for the paintings of historical events in the Louvre such as the coronation of the wife of the murderous Emperor. All that other stuff which people are always going on about is just decoration for motel walls in America. Yes, a converted train station is an appropriate venue for such work. It would have been far better if they had turned the station urinals into little museums dedicated to the thrill of the sudden assignation.
You can't be serious, Julian would reply, and point to the hazy winter Seine and artfully arranged willows shaping themselves into material for impressionist paint.
If I revealed and I am not about to for many and obvious reasons that Julian was the last secretary to Leon Degrelle who lived out his last years as an exile in Spain, though even Julian would not have a sense of the absurd large enough to understand why it might be a literary necessity and possibility that he had to take up this responsibility because did not Georgi Ivanov once argue that the memoir was the last frontier of fiction and this was back in the 1930's in Paris when he would lie upon his bed so wracked with despair that the cockroaches had no fear of his inclination to squash them.
That is... a few years ago... according to Nina Berberova in her apartment high up overlooking Independence Hall in Philadelphia: Ivanov was the one unique person she had ever met, the one Russian in exile who stood alone midst a swarm of men and woman who stood alone: only Ivanov was concerned with his and other lives: once upon a time in St. Petersburg and later in Paris and in Berlin and the truth residing within the fiction they walked through.
Berberova had not been in love with Ivanov. Her heart was taken elsewhere away from The Splitting of the Atom where a corpse is the only fit object of a man's desire and now she lived in this modern apartment--- all her relatives, all her friends from that time dead, even her immortal enemies dead so no satisfaction down that lane--- with best sellers in every Paris bookstore, long after it might have mattered.
What a joke: going into the grave at last being read...
But one gets used to such ironies and the feeling that no matter what one could have done it was sheer accident, that it was all mere happenstance allowing her to survive all this time and now, why was an uninteresting word.
While the passing of time--- eighty some years: a matter of tossing one newspaper over there on top of another newspaper. How long does it take for the paper to move through the air? When you answer you have what it feels like to have lived a great number of years.
THE END OF THE END OF THE BEGINNING
A book from the Sixties
In order that these lines reach their destination, perhaps hundreds of years are necessary... our sense of communication is inversely proportional to our real knowledge of the addressee and directly proportional to our felt need to interest him in ourselves... bound only to the providential contemporary...
Yes, as Edward urged me, I, too, have found a sentence to read and now attempting to complement those words of Mandelstam: because we are always beginning, or rather, I am always beginning, again, might I quickly add, though I really did not have to be so scrupulous if what I am aware of, out there on the street, is now the way to be in this city of New York.
A place or a journey?
Have I found a real question?
The only place I know is the creative nothingness out of which everything is possible.
He could go on. Max Stirner. That's for sure.
So a journey, a setting forth, but without the library of more than five hundred volumes Lamartine packed for his journey to the Balkans in 1856.
Or I could be with Xavier de Maistre touring about in this room on East First Street in Manhattan but and how I would still long for the nights of St. Petersburg though to even mention those nights of the other de Maistre...
I have not begun to have my books bound in leather as Edward suggested when talking to me in his windowless room so long ago on the Upper West Side--- the grim fragility of talking about books when now so much closer to those lines from 1965:
SHORT THOUGHT ON DEATH
Bright white bird
for black paradise.
I should have stopped then--- did my claim ever really get any better than those lines? Toss it all away.
I did know, I think, the value of my life and it was not worth the breath of the complaint---
Threw it all up, as people said in Dublin, became a driver and companion to the rich guy in the south of France whose ad I had answered from The Times.
Did not come back to New York, stayed on until the guy was dead, moved to the next possibility in Venice and then Trieste, away and not back as now when not for a moment do I want any distraction because here in this moment of beginning the rag of experience is my only necessary garment but
I had wanted to implicate you by writing, the rag of experience is our only necessary garment.
In Manhattan, it is complicated getting by subway from East First Street, between First and Second Avenue to West 114th Street between Broadway and Riverside Drive.
Take the F train from First Avenue and Houston Street to 47th and 50th Streets, change to the B or D and then at 59th Street change to the 1 for 110th or 116th Street.
Walk over to Eighth Street and Broadway, take the N or R train to Times Square, change to the 1 for 110th or 116th Street.
Walk over to Sheridan Square and Christopher Street and take the 1 up to 110th or 116th Street.
With great regularity the trains are being re-arranged because of construction and other circumstances are always changing.
This is right now. Back then, I probably never thought about how hard it is to get down to East First Street, that is if I ever gave thought to getting down to East First Street.
It's an expedition, a real expedition to go up to 114th Street between Broadway and Riverside Drive, a real expedition for me. The word expedition is not exactly apt for such a journey but it is an indication of the emotional adjectives which ought to attach themselves to such a journey.
They wake up on Friday night...
See them dancing in their pants at the Astor Place subway station.
Proverbial electricity in the air, even on the coldest Friday in winter.
Just let it rip, a guy is yelling down Second Avenue.
Back twenty-five years ago: I'd walk over to the East Village on a Friday night and see what was happening...
Possibility is Friday night. Have a couple drinks, get into a conversation, who knows where, when--- say the right words and Saturday morning takes care of itself: always something to do, get on about doing it, no time to linger over thoughts about Monday.
But I'd rather be traveling forever in the winter of Europe. The comforting variety of grey sky and the startling sign
as the train leaves Gare du Nord while the overhead electric lines divide the upward gaze having forgotten the face until I look out of the window from a different angle, struck by the reflection of this old man and all that he is trying to carry; as he says to himself, as the sky is segmented by the complicated geometry of electricity.
Would it have all been different if he had not been alone? The double-decker suburban trains are idled having delivered their cargo to the city. A station sign
VILLERS LE BELLE
a beaten down once upon a time village with the detail of a swing set behind a house with windows closed to the world by tacked-up newspaper.
How easy it would have been to tip one's self into the Seine, on a whim, how easy to notice the workmen repairing a flood wal1, the tourist boat on ahead and the water green streaked with a stain of blue gasoline while no street lamps were yet reflected in the late afternoon. He in the heady grayness and maybe there would be a shout and then the head bobbing in the water and...
Not a thought of anyone, not a fragment for those who would be left behind: just my self falling into the water being watched by this man who turns to walk for the ferris wheel set up in the Tuileries that year notices Les Fils de Cain, a slash of modern sculpture more alive than either of their bodies no longer being apprised for a proposition walking on this January day as when in another year he had been in Paris returning from Sofia in order to visit with Julian Green, one last time, when that something having gone very wrong had gone wrong again and he was no longer being looked at in that way and he no longer grazed...
Surely it is not all that hard to go to the Upper West Side if you really want to go there? Do you really need to go there at this exact moment?
The answer is in the obvious bulk of these pages though no one has ever come to demand that I set forth on this expedition, this journey; coming by demanding that I mark out the stations, the essential points of interest; reminding me of the urgency, the brevity of time, as well they should, because this is a traditional voyage, a merging with many another pilgrimage.
In January in Paris the night falls on a man as he turns away from the Tuileries. The lights of the ferris wheel were suddenly too bright. For a moment he had enjoyed the oddness of the glossy lights in the late afternoon but now... just material for a contemporary photographer while in the dark he would have been unable to see his face, when he passed him again now on his return to walk across the bridge for the safety of the mirrored back room of the little cafe emptying of the lingering lycee students who reminded me of being in Nantes once upon a time with two hours to kill, as is said, at a café next to the 24 hour EROS prono across from the train station
JUST LIKE THAT
A novel from the Sixties of the last Century
Just Like That
Are you a Jew?
I was asked this question 35 years ago in Leipzig.
--- Are you a Jew?
I did not know his name. We had begun talking to each other near the facade of the still then, in 1965 war-ruined university but his question was not asked until some hours later as he eased open my trousers in a shadowy room on a day bed next to a huge table dominated by a crystal vase filled with Christmas ornaments.
At once, I did not really understand his question and you must understand it was asked during my first journey to Germany, during my first excursion to the east, to what was then called the German Democratic Republic or what was more familiarly known of as East Germany. All back when, I guess, it might seem to have been some sort of adventure, though indeed it was, to go behind the Iron Curtain, to that place where boys younger than I had attacked with their bare hands, as it was said on the radio, Russian tanks in the streets of Budapest while I had been playing at war dying face down in a gladiola garden on Furman Lane in Patchogue.
I was twenty years old that spring and had been living in Dublin while attending University College, The new professor of English had given a series of lectures on Shakespeare based upon a line in King Lear, I cannot heave my heart into my mouth,
And while I could not even then begin to tell you truly what the theme of the lectures had been I both remembered that line, underlining it in my Penguin edition which stayed among my books for many years--- the book second-hand at Bamba's out in Rathmines--- and had the line with me immediately that April as crossed England to Belgium and then through Holland on to Berlin and to Leipzig.
In a small crowded room of a municipal hostel in Brussels a Vietnamese boy asked me why are you Americans attacking my country? I tried to say that there was a difference between a person and the country that claims him; that I hadn’t killed anyone or wanted to kill anyone. The Vietnamese boy would have none of that: you are an American, your country is attacking my country and you are attacking me even though I am only a Vietnamese students here in Brussels. I tried to reply along the lines that because of all of this was the reason why I was over here in Europe now… why I didn’t have an American flag on my backpack, why I had been living in Ireland. My answer seemed to be only an answer to him. But that still doesn’t change the fact that because you are American you want to kill me because I am Vietnamese.
Later as I tried to fall asleep in that tiny room I heard the Vietnamese boy’s breathing. I do not know for sure, now, that I was picking out his breathing and how I was able to distinguish it from the many other sleeping forms, but I wanted to be able to single out his breathing, to know where he was breathing.
After leaving the hostel early in the morning, not seeing the Vietnamese boy who must have maybe left even earlier, I took an address from a poster and went to what turned out to be a bare office stuffed with newspapers behind the central train station and was given posters attacking American and Belgian imperialism in the Congo while urging solidarity with the Vietnamese people. They must have thought I was Irish--- I said I was a student from Dublin. Both posters showed a group of men in helmets looking down at a pile of dead bodies.
A few days later in the Amsterdam youth hostel a boy from Ceylon was showing the other hostelers a pair of red panties he said he had gotten from this girl who was so happy to forget them. He wished that the red colour was dried blood though that was not the case with this girl, who knew so many men and boys, but he had been her favorite, yes, she had really said that to him, as she was forgetting her panties. He folded the lacy garment and stuffed it into the front pocket of his fake jeans. He was going out later and maybe he would get another pair of panties for the other pocket but I hoped in some way he would fail in his quest because I felt a vivid sorrow for the girl even though probably she could have only contempt for my adolescent compassion I am or was confused in my own mind about the differences between feeling sorry, feeling pity, feeling compassion. These words were stirred around and about by the events of my childhood in Patchogue, a village sixty miles from New York City,
Distinctions of every kind held a great sway over my imagination as I walked about the darkened streets of that part of Amsterdam. Even mentioning a day later