F Logo search & site map      link resources
Features Regulars School News Reviews Calendar Comics


a literary

the next f




saic home



about fnews


A Literary Supplement

Fall 2001


"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 comprehend it."

- 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: Picador, 1997).

Return to top

Features      Regulars      School News      Reviews      Calendar      Comics

Current Issue      Archives      Home