A Literary Supplement
By Marc Luker
"Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor
and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath of the Lord your
God; in it you shall not do any work . . ."
-credited to Moses, the Word, Exodus 20:8-11
"And then, in this laborious nowhere, suddenly the ineffable point
where the pure-too-little mysteriously reverses-, flips round into the
empty too-much. Where the complex equation equals zero."
-Rilke, "The Fifth Elegy," Duino Elegies
"In the beginning was the Word. . . . All things came into being by
the Word; and apart from the Word nothing came into being that has come
into being. In the Word was life; and the life was the light of men.
And the light shines in the darkness; and the darkness [does] not
- John, the Gospel (according to same) 1:1-5
Saturday, November 10, 2001
It is afternoon. The wind is whistling through the naked tree branches.
I have been sitting too long on my back porch, overlooking the tiny
backyard of my apartment building, smoking too many cigarettes; in this
cold, my fingers have gone numb. I have gloves, I could have worn
them-I just didn't imagine I'd be sitting here this long. I am blue. I
have a problem. It has to do with the solitary tree crowded in the
corner of the yard, its spindly branches scraping the shingle roof of
the adjoining garage. My problem is this: I have no idea what the tree
is called. This particular tree had bright yellow leaves throughout the
later part of summer and into the fall. The leaves have now all dropped
and clusters of red circular berries remain exposed in the branches.
Small birds hopscotch from branch to branch whistling greetings to each
other. I'm convinced they are sparrows, but I remind myself that I
wouldn't recognize a bullfinch if I saw one. I whistle back, two clear
alternating notes. [high-low, high-low] The bird closest to me doesn't
even notice. I whistle again: [high-low, high-low]. The bird's tiny
head turrets with staccato, efficient movement and finally tilts to the
side inquisitively. The bird's vaguely puzzled expression reminds me of
a dog I used to live with in Michigan. A chocolaty German short-hair,
Molson always gave me the impression that he was an excellent listener;
during our many one-sided conversations, Molson would cock his head to
the side at very regular intervals with such a convincing look of
concern. So, like I was saying, this bird that might have been a
sparrow cocked its head in a way quite similar to a German short hair I
once knew in Michigan named after a Canadian beer. [Moving on.] I need
to name the tree properly. I have been feeling an urgency in the last
few weeks to have all my signposts pointing in proper directions. The
screensaver on my laptop is a van Gogh painting, "The Mulberry Tree."
It is a vivacious, rough image-as if it had been carved from an
original, thicker canvas by hatchet-blows of paint. The branches of the
tree are swirling yellow and orange, a superholy conflagration of
Biblical import. However, the mulberry tree has berries resembling
raspberries, nothing like the smooth berries that huddle exposed on my
tree. I wish the difference between not quite wrong and not quite right
was just a matter of letters, a few discarded pennies. Inexplicably,
the somber piano chords of Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata" begin to echo
in my mind. I want to share it with my true, dear friends-these little
birds, some brown, some not, which may or may not be sparrows (or
finches . . . or even swallows). [WHISTLE OPENING BARS OF "MOONLIGHT
SONATA."] By this point every last one of my birds in my mulberry tree
have flown off in zig-zag paths, as Rilke would say, "like a crack
through a teacup." Despite the romantic appeal of such an augury, I try
to not draw conclusions, which is a good conclusion in and of itself,
its own little two cents worth.
Besides this is a song with a familiar tune:
"My birds had not been killed. They were wild birds. And yet quite
trusting. I recognized them and they seemed to recognize me. But one
never knows. I tried to understand their language better . . . at first
I did not know what it wanted. But in the end I understood this
language. I understood it, I understood it, all wrong perhaps. That is
not what matters. It told me to write the report. Does this mean I am
freer now than I was? I do not know. I shall learn. Then I went back
into the house and wrote, It is midnight. The rain is beating on the
windows. It was not midnight. It was not raining."
-Samuel Beckett, Molloy
Sunday, September 30, 2001
Yesterday on the phone, A. told me about a word I had never heard
before. "Swivet"-a condition of irritation, exasperation, annoyance,
etc. I felt like I was in a seventh grade spelling bee; I had to cage
its queerness in a sentence to grasp its existence: Hank, the damn
drip-drip-drip of that damn faucet in the kitchen is working me into
quite a swivet. During our first phone conversation, A., already
proving bizarrely witty and charming, swerved without warning from the
nuances of web-publishing into a non-sequitur about the fluoride levels
in the Chicago River. My memory of that conversation is mellifluous.
Not that the conversation itself "sounded sweet and smooth;" more a
type of synesthesia where the memory feels like the sound of the word
"mellifluous." The conversation could just as easily and correctly be
thought of as "saloon." Or the name of an Indian woman I worked with
when I was 18, in a chemistry lab testing transformer oil: Anasuya.
aw-nuh-soo-yah. Talking to A. can be so very anasuya at times.
Sunday, October 7, 2001
It is only the second week, and I've already missed my first service at
the trilingual church- I woke up in the a.m. in LA, naked in a bed,
with B., who was still sleeping, softly. The night before B. + I had
congress; fornicated; the lover's googoo; ate sexual chow chow and
marzipan; Did It; canoodled; danced the carnal cha-cha-cha; scratched
the itch; la petite mort; fucked1. I would have to definitively say
this experience with B. was: staggering (astonishing, miraculous,
prodigious, strange, surprising, wondrous), sublime (stunning, Grade A,
resplendent, superb, top-notch). Dazzling. Although, all that, I'm
afraid, might have nothing to do with this essay.
"That's right. That's good," he said. "Sure. You got it, bub. I can
tell. You didn't think you could. But you can, can't you? You're
cooking with gas now. You know what I'm saying? We're really going to
have us something here in a minute. How's the old arm?" he said. "Put
some people in there now. What's a cathedral without people?"
-Raymond Carver, "Cathedral"
Rilke, Duino Elegies: "The problem with the living is that they
distinguish too sharply."
shibboleth (shib´e leth´)- n. Then Jephthah gathered all the men of
Gilead and fought Ephraim; and the men of Gilead defeated Ephraim,
because they said, "You are fugitives of Ephraim, O Gileadites, in the
midst of Ephraim and in the midst of Manasseh." And the Gileadites
captured the fords of the Jordan opposite Ephraim. And it happened when
any of the fugitives of Ephraim said, "Let me cross over," the men of
Gilead would say to him, "Are you an Ephraimite?" If he said, "No,"
then they would say to him, "say now 'Shibboleth.'" But he said,
"Sibboleth," for he could not pronounce it correctly. Then they seized
him and slew him at the fords of Jordan. Thus there fell at that time
42,000 of Ephraim.
1 Many, but not all, of these descriptors are lifted from the Albert
Goldbarth essay "Delft" in Great Topics of the World (New York: