From A Death in the Family by James Agee (1957):
“He heard the summer night.
All the air vibrated like a fading bell with the latest exhausted screaming of locusts. Couplings clashed and conjoined; a switch engine breathed heavily. An auto engine bore behind the edge of audibility the furious expletives of its incompetence. Hooves broached, along the hollow street, the lackadaisical rhythms of the weariest of clog dancers, and endless in circles, narrow iron tires grinced continuously after. Along the sidewalks, with incisive heels and leathery shuffle, young men and women advanced, retreated.
A rocking chair betrayed reiterate strain, as of a defective lung; like a single note from a stupendous jew’s-harp, the chain of a porch swing twanged.
Somewhere very near, intimate to some damp inch of the grass between these homes, a cricket peeped, and was answered as if by his echo.
Humbled beneath the triumphant cries of children, which tore the whole darkness like streams of fire, the voices of men and women on their porches rubbed cheerfully against each other, and in the room next his own, like the laboring upward of laden windlasses and the mildest pouring out of fresh water, he heard the voices of men and women who were familiar to him. They groaned, rewarded; lifted, and spilled out: and watching the windows, listening at the heart of the proud bell of darkness, he lay in perfect peace.
Gentle, gentle dark.”
From Lenin’s Tomb: The Last Days of the Soviet Empire by David Remnick (1994).
“At his trial in Leningrad, [Joseph] Brodsky encountered the soul of the regime, its peculiar language.
JUDGE: What is your profession?
BRODSKY: Translator and poet.
JUDGE: Who recognized you as a poet? Who has enrolled you in the ranks of poets?
BRODSKY: No one. Who enrolled me in the ranks of human beings?
JUDGE: Did you study for it?
JUDGE: To be a poet. Didn’t you try to take courses in school where one prepares for life, where one learns?
BRODSKY: I didn’t believe it was a matter of education.
JUDGE: How is that?
BRODSKY: I thought that it came from God.”
It is true I’ve been away from myself for several years, but I won’t call them lost years because to call anything lost is to suffer from lack of imagination. I do imagine I’ve been impossible to live with, at any rate.
To fix myself up I’ve gathered a great big stack of books, some I’ve been meaning to read since forever ago and some just lucky-looking, and two or three good blank stacks of paper, and two pens, and a bottle of water that never runs out.
Always you begin with this intention to overcome the ugliest of who you’ve been. Or haven’t been. You start by going swimming in it, drink deep from the well of memory. Learn again how to do what you were born with, what you’ve forgotten. Try to empty out the heart, pour the bile dry, wipe the last decade of sleep from your eyes, read yourself back alive.
The books in the order they winked at me while wandering the more or less empty aisles of the Austin Public Library are:
1. Saul Bellow — “Humboldt’s Gift”
2. Everyman’s Pocket Classics – “London Stories”
3. Pritchett – “The Oxford Book of Short Stories”
4. Toni Morrison – “The Origin of Others”
5. Jose Saramago – “Manual of Painting and Calligraphy”
6. Philip Roth – “I Married a Communist”
7. Julio Cortazar – “Hopscotch” – “Blow-Up” – “We Love Glenda So Much”
A man in the back of the library was snoozing in a chair, baseball cap falling down over his face. The cap failed to hide the dreams playing across his face and a librarian in lilac smocks scolded him twice, once in English, once in Spanish. “You can’t sleep here,” she said. “I’m not sleeping,” said the man, and sat up straight, but the cap fell back down as soon as she had gone and within two minutes he was lost in dreams again, or in a dreamless state.
The man from San Marcos had dreamed of a book. The book was dredged up from the bottom of a lake, untouched, undamaged by the water, in a boat made of bone. Since it had been found, the town had fallen under a curse. The people carried torches and burned each other alive. The man from San Marcos tore a page from the book, used it as a rolling paper, lit a joint and sailed off in the bone boat toward the setting sun. Which, the man from San Marcos said, is precisely what the book told him to do. Curiously, the book was in a language nobody could read. The man said the book spoke to him in audible tones, somewhere between the sound of rustling trees and the voice of his mother, Rest In Peace.
TURKEY, TURKEY, SIS-BOOM-BA
IT’S A HOSTAGE PARTY IN AN-KA-RA
WE GOT SMACK FROM THE KURDS,
SPEED FROM SYRIA,
PILLS FROM THE PREACHER IN PENNSYLVANIA,
STEAK AND POTATOES, TERRORIST GRAVY,
DRONES FROM THE SKY AND GAYS FROM THE NAVY,
THE NEW KING OF ENGLAND SHE’S A REAL FREAKY LADY,
BUT THIS PARTY AINT A COUP
IF IT AINT GOT YOU
SO COME ON PARTY PEOPLE
AND COUP, COUP, COUP.