A trend among some of the bloggers I follow is to post the first paragraph of books they are reading. I usually read these when I see them and in some cases, I’ve followed through and read the entire book.
Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. was an officer in the Union Army. He stood six feet three inches tall and had a soldierly bearing. In later life, he loved to use military metaphors in his speeches and his conversation; he didn’t mind being referred to good-naturedly as Captain Holmes; and he wore his enormous military mustaches until his death in 1935, at the age of ninety-three. The war was the central experience of his life, and he kept its memory alive. Every year he drank a glass of wine in observance of the anniversary of the battle Antietam, where he had been shot in the neck and left, briefly behind enemy lines, for dead.
I’ve been taught bloodstones can cure a snakebite, can stop the bleeding—most people forgot this when the war ended. The war ended depending on which war you mean: those we started, before those, millennia ago and onward, those which started me, which I lost and won—these ever-blooming wounds.
—Natalie Diaz, Post Colonial Love Poem
Natalie Diaz writes of her heritage, her connection to earth and water, and her lovers, as if they are all part of the same emotional (erotically charged) experience. The synthesis is eloquent and moving.
“IN THE MYRIADIC YEAR OF OUR LORD—the ten thousandth year of the King Undying, the kindly Prince of Death!—Gideon Nav packed her sword, her shoes, and her dirty magazines, and she escaped from the House of the Ninth.”
“When we were new, Rosa and I were mid-store, on the magazines table side, and could see through more than half of the window. So we were able to watch the outside – the office workers hurrying by, the taxis, the runners, the tourists, Beggar Man and his dog, the lower part of the RPO Building. Once we were more settled, Manager allowed us to walk up to the front until we were right behind the window display, and then we could see how tall the RPO Building was. And if we were there at just the right time, we would see the Sun on his journey, crossing between the building tops from our side over to the RPO Building side.”
First there was nothing. Then there was everything. Then, in a park above a western city after dusk, the air is raining messages. A woman sits on the ground, leaning against a pine. Its bark presses hard against her back, as hard as life. Its needles scent the air and a force hums in the heart of the wood. Her ears tune down to the lowest frequencies. The tree is saying things, in words before words.
O anti-verdurous phallic were’t not for your pouring weight looming in tears like a sick tree or your ever-gaudy-comfort jabbing your city’s much wrinkled sky you’d seem an absurd Babel squatting before mortal millions
—Gregory Corso, from Ode to Coit Tower, in Gasoline
Dypaloh. There was a house made of dawn. It was made of pollen and of rain, and the land was very old and everlasting. There were many colors on the hills, and the plain was bright with different-colored clays and sands. Red and blue and spotted horses grazed in the plain, and there was a dark wilderness on the mountains beyond. The land was still and strong. It was beautiful all around.
“I was stunned by Mary Karr’s memoir, The Liars’ Club. Not just by its ferocity, its beauty, and by her delightful grasp of the vernacular, but by its totality—she is a woman who remembers everything about her early years.”
I found a copy of this book at The Dusty Bookshelf here in Lawrence, KS today. It’s reputation proceeds it but I would have purchased it on the strength of the epigram alone.
“When someone is honestly 55% right, that’s very good and there’s no use wrangling. And if someone is 60% right, it’s wonderful, it’s great luck, and let him thank God. But what’s to be said about 75% right? Wise people say this is suspicious. Well, and what about 100% right? Whoever says he’s 100% right is a fanatic, a thug, and the worst kind of rascal.”
—An old Jew of Galicia
It was only toward the middle of the twentieth century that the inhabitants of many European countries came, in general unpleasantly, to the realization that their fate could be influenced directly by intricate and abstruse books of philosophy. Their bread, their work, their private lives began to depend on this or that decision in disputes on principles to which, until then, they had never paid any attention. In their eyes, the philosopher had always been a sort of dreamer whose divagations had no effect on reality. The average human being, even if he had once been exposed to it, wrote philosophy off as utterly impractical and useless. Therefore the great intellectual work of the Marxists could easily pass as just one more variation on a sterile pastime. Only a few individuals understood the causes and probable consequences of this general indifference.
It was one of the mixed blocks over on Central Avenue, the blocks that are not yet all Negro. I had just come out of a three-chair barber shop where an agency thought a relief barber named Dimitrios Aleidis might be working. It was a small matter. His wife said she was willing to spend a little money to have him come home.
I never found him, but Mrs. Aleidis never paid me any money either.
The seller of lightning rods arrived just ahead of the storm. He came along the street of Green Town, Illinois, in the late cloudy October day, sneaking glances over his shoulder. Somewhere not so far back, vast lightnings stomped the earth. Somewhere, a storm like a great beast with terrible teeth could not be denied.”
—Ray Bradbury. “Something Wicked This Way Comes.” 1962
It was about eleven o’clock in the morning, mid October, with the sun not shining and a look of hard wet rain in the clearness of the foothills. I was wearing my powder-blue suit, with dark blue shirt, tie and display handkerchief, black brogues, black wool socks with dark blue clocks on them. I was neat, clean, shaved and sober, and I didn’t care who knew it. I was everything the well-dressed private detective ought to be. I was calling on four million dollars.
After a few random samples and the Dave Eggers* forward, I am really looking forward to digging into this one.
“I debated for a time as to whether I ought to open these memoirs at the beginning or at the end—that is, if I would start out with my birth or with my death. Granting that the common practice may be to begin with one’s birth, two considerations led me to adopt a different method: the first is that I am not exactly an author recently deceased, but a deceased man recently an author, for whom the tomb was another cradle; the second is that this would make the writing wittier and more novel. Moses, who also recounted his own death, did not put it at the commencement but at the finish: a radical difference between this book and the Pentateuch.”
—Machado De Assis. “The Posthumous Memoirs of Brás Cubas.” 1881
I’ve mentioned Nanao Sakaki before and I continue to enjoy reading his work.
This collection of poems is one I’ve been looking for for a while. I finally found a reasonably priced new copy on AbeBooks.com.
“I love you” feels the darkening window dummy’s rough powder-snow mixed with a white wink, passing under seven-waterfalled-breast with—in the night—the spreading sound of all-or-nothing rapids, following charred rockskin scarring fingertips, Mary’s lover leads a suffering ass and opening tobacco-reeking fly YAHOO!
—from Bellyfulls, Part 1, How to Live on the Planet Earth, Nanao Sakaki
At half past six on the twenty-first of June 1922, when Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov was escorted through the gates of the Kremlin onto Red Square, it was glorious and cool. Drawing his shoulders back without breaking stride, the Count inhaled the air like one fresh from a swim. The sky was the very blue that the cupolas of St. Basil’s had been painted for. Their pinks, greens, and golds shimmered as if it were the sole purpose of a religion to cheer its Divinity. Even the Bolshevik girls conversing before the windows of the State Department Store seemed dressed to celebrate the last days of spring.
THIS IS THE LAND OF PRIMARY COLORS: red combine, blue sky, yellow wheat. Under the earth, pancaked layers of sediment conceal elusive minerals coveted by men, and the strewn, jigsaw bones of monsters awaiting reassembly. Untouched, the surface is a prairie, a tough lattice of grasses and shrubs that frame the darting meadowlarks and snakes who work together with the ants to survive dry days. There is little moisture, though winters can bring three feet of snow; rain will bring only half that. The Oglala Sioux, the Comanche, the Kiowa, and other Native Americans who once lived on this land by themselves hunted for buffalo and foraged for berries, nuts, and wild potatoes. But Europeans supplanted those potatoes for wheat. The buffalo have dwindled. The Indians who live here no longer predominate. Now the land is dotted with windmills and farms, though the coyotes still sing in the evening, and you can train your eyes to spot the thin caramel-colored frames of the antelope camouflaged by kicked-up dust smearing the spaces between the clusters of hardy yucca.”