More brief excerpts of books to be categorized as “required reading.”
The Sorrow Proper by Lindsey Drager (Dzanc Books, 2015)
It is probably not a coincidence that I read this book on the plane ride to Denver, and in the way that the book rewrites loss and grief and intimacy between people and their bodies, I looked ever more forward to meeting Lindsey for the first time and to our conversation at the University of Denver where we would discuss mourning and failure and memory and I would leave Denver having had a strange and wonderful and necessary weekend of healing, the light of a different and distant city that reaches more closely towards the clouds and occupied by different bodies: friends, that allow for permutated emotions, realizations, ideas. Something about the word “proper” in the title stands out so much to me, the contradictory layers that the word contains and the ways in which it permutes “sorrow,” stretches it and refines it, the image of collecting spoons as the structure of grief.
The photographer is ill. The deaf mathematician takes off work and sits next to him in bed for hours as he sleeps. She grades papers in red ink, puts tiny stars next to each question answered correctly.
At one point, she glances over at him to study his hands. When he was young, before he knew what pain was, his father broke a mirror and the child held the pieces of glass in his hands. When he made fists, the mirror entered his palms and fingertip pads. The deaf mathematician thinks of the photographer in this way often, his tiny hands gripping the glass so that he might see his reflection, perhaps for the first time. And then the rush of red and how, with a wound like that, pain isn’t felt at first. How for a moment he might have recognized that there was a world inside of him that he hadn’t known about. Then, she thinks each time she thinks of this, how the knowledge of pain hit and this was the first union of body and mind. How he signaled his hurt with a howl and then his parents came in to hold him and begin to close the wounds.
She studies the scars now, which are thin and raised. She notices the way the skin curves and twists in an attempt to suture itself, to close the gals it knows should not exist. She sees how the long lines on the inside of his palms break often for scar.
Hands will become tools to him, she thinks, if this thing between us lasts. He is already starting to sign; HELLO, GOODBYE, PLEASE, DRINKS? and LET’S GO TO BED.
How sad, she thinks, touching his hands now, fingering the marks where glass once stood in a time that is as foreign to him as to her, when the hands become the mode for thought instead of simple limbs. She has never known them as anything other, and she lets her eyes shift from his to her own, the nails clipped close, the pads stained with ink, the pattern of tiny hairs that peeks from the pores between the knuckle bends.
He stirs then, because she has stopped stroking his hands, and when his eyes open he sneezes, then smiles.
I will need you exactly always
she writes on the pad that they keep on the table by the bed.
He loops up at her wide eyes and instead of objecting, stretches his neck to kiss her forehead, then rolls over to fall back asleep.
It would be impossible to tell her, he thinks, that in no world is always ever exact.
MAISON FEMME: a fiction by Teresa Carmody (Images by Vanessa Place) (Bon Aire Projects, 2015)
Part of what made my trip to Denver such a HEART-FULL one (I’m not sure how else to describe the feeling of my heart having gone through so much and having felt so stretched and full), were my fantastic conversations with Teresa Carmody. I read this book a couple of weeks ago, and felt such sharp and intelligent wit behind each of the sentences, an intense stacking of prose and fiction that built a strange skeleton and mirrored much of what was happening outside the pages, and, at several times, reading about writers in the book that so were so familiar and resembled real and ridiculous writers in the actual world, I laughed out loud.
FRONT UPSTAIRS PORCH
Marie often thought about the good Anna who came to the United States from Germany and who scolded her dogs for their naughty behavior. Marie also scolded her dogs for doing things dogs tend to do, like eating food or condoms found on the streets and sniffling human crotches. Stein wrote: “The good Anna had high ideas for canine chastity and discipline.” Unlike the good Anna, Marie did not care about chastity—human or canine—though she did stop her dogs from creating more puppies and she also insisted on canine obedience and cuddles. She called her dogs Miss Furr and Miss Skeene, and she liked to lie on the floor with the two of them, one dog on either side, and pet them as she said: “We are regularly gay, aren’t we ladies? We are gay, so must do gay things everyday, they don’t see us, so they say, we are gay and only gay,” and with that, Marie rubbed Miss Furr’s belly with one hand as she scratched Miss Skeene’s head with the other.
There was a lovely breeze on the front upstairs porch, but that evening, Marie was focused on the pigeons. They had made a next on one of its bungalow-style columns, and pigeon feathers and guano piled up on the porch floor and railing, falling unto the front steps below and smearing the front of the house, and this was not good. Marie used a broom to brush at the pigeons, and while one the pigeons flew away, two pigeons stayed in the nest. Marie lopped Louise into her pigeon project, asking Louise to please stand on the porch and catch the hose as Marie tossed it in the air, and Louise, who Marie considered to be an especially fine catch, caught the hose and held it as she waited for Marie. Back upstairs and on the front porch, Marie sprayed water at the guano and feathers, and she sprayed near the two sitting pigeons, and still the pigeons stayed. “Oh dear,” said Marie, as she walked back into Louise’s office, closing the front porch door behind her. “Those are teen pigeons and they cannot fly!”
Marie thought about Gertrude Stein’s sentences much more than she thought about Stein’s lines. “Stein’s sentences,” she said, “move along like shifting consciousness, so you have the repetition of daily living, and the words, which are both semiotic units and representations, slowly shifting in their meaning via their relationship to each other, like how we come to have relationships with other people, and with words and things.” Marie laughed then, and felt embarrassed and long-winded and overly academic. She was speaking to the two interns who were in the office that day, the day after she sprayed near the pigeons, and she had already repeated the teen pigeon story to the interns, who said “Oh no!” and who agreed that adolescence is a trick and dangerous time. “I had to move the teen pigeons,” Marie had said, “though they were perfectly happy to sit and do nothing.” The interns, who were happy to no longer be teen themselves, sighed with Marie over the sad story of the pigeons, for Marie had placed the birds in a box and put the box on a picnic table in the back yard, and that night, another creature—most likely a pussy and not a pup—came and slowly circled the box, moving in, closer and closer; in the morning, there were only pigeon feathers lying around.
Hospice by Gregory Howard (FC2, 2015)
I had been hearing a lot of praise about this book, and was excited when I received it in the mail, flipped through it, and without any practical reason, was surprised to see that the book wasn’t what I was expecting. I don’t know what I was expecting. It’s hard to picture the experience of reading a book from other people’s words and compliments. But I wasn’t expecting the tragically magic and desperately intimate journey that I indeed had from this book. It’s a difficult book to describe. The “plot” of the book doesn’t seem to be the point. Neither do the strange, magical, and surreal turns between the characters. But it’s enchanting, haunting, and written in such a sensitive and feeling prose. And I’m convinced it needs more readers.
Children can’t be trusted, she thought.
Her mother said this to her once. It was at the house by the sea. The house by the sea was small and light blue. It was her house. This is how she thought of it. It was only for her. All around there were large dunes with spiky grasses. The house was nestled between them. Sometimes she wore red-checkered shorts. Sometimes she wore a loose white dress. Her mother didn’t care. She sat on the front step and brushed her own hair. She pulled at its knots hard, but not too hard. Just enough so that she could feel it in her scalp. In front of her were two large dunes. She couldn’t see the water, but she could hear it.
Her mother didn’t care. She was too busy trying to remember things. Over and over again she wrote down what had happened the day of the disappearance. She did this in secret, hiding the evidence form her husband. If you don’t tell him what I’m doing, her mother said, I won’t tell him what you’re doing. She didn’t know what she’d been doing. When she was at the beach, she put her hands into tidal pools to watch them become like coral. When she was in the dunes, she dug up sand crabs and put them in a sealed jar. Were these the things? After the mother finished writing, she would read the account out loud. Every time she read the story it turned out slightly different. At first, it was little things: the placement of a chair at the kitchen table, the contentious appearance of a rectangle of sunlight on the living room floor, the sound of a barking dog. But the more she wrote, the more each version changed. Actions that had occurred in the morning began to occur in the afternoon. Clothing changed. Objects appeared and disappeared. The mother recognized this and at first it made her angry. As she read she would openly contradict her own account. No, she would shout angrily, No! That was not the color of his shirt! But then slowly she grew silent. She stopped reading the accounts aloud. Even her writing was silent. She wrote quickly but deliberately, and when she was done fed the papers directly to the fire. Her eyes were limpid and distant. It was summer. Still the fire was always going.