May 18, 2010 § Leave a comment
I decided yesterday that what was preventing me from working on any of my unfinished books was the failure of my last book to find (or hold) an agent; and that since I seem to handle blogging pretty well, I should write some short pieces for publication, as in money. Well that seemed like a fine idea, and I sat down with my notebook and a mug of strong, sweet tea to come up with an idea or two. I came up with several topics—most of which I’d thought of before—suitable for essays. These essays would all be on the long side and would play off each other: would in fact make a book. And I remembered what I always say when people ask me why I started writing novels (rather than short stories) in my early 20’s: I liked the idea of a few years passing before I had to face rejection. At the moment I’d like to be writing for Borges Eternal Library, readable only by the dead , the people of the distant future, and remote star system aliens who’ve somehow mastered English, though a cleverer choice would be breaking my book into sentences and posting it on Twitter, thus getting into the Library of Congress. That would cover the bases of the dead and the distant future pretty well, though not the aliens. Actually it sounds like an interesting idea. Maybe I’ll think about it tomorrow.
Email break: headline from Grub Street, NY mag’s food news blog: “’Chubster’ to rid world of fat hipsters.” It’s about a diet book, not a new serial killer. I wish Houghton Mifflin much red ink on the gamble that dieters want to be snarked at. We just want to be loved and given lots of money. That would work, really.
I can’t write anymore. The rats of rejection are gnawing my vitals (while the cats sleep).
The poem below is really good, but I admit I didn’t finish it in one setting.
This book saved my life.
This book takes place on one of the two small tagalong moons of Mars.
This book requests its author’s absolution, centuries after his death.
This book required two of the sultan’s largest royal elephants to bear it;
this other book fit in a gourd.
This book reveals The Secret Name of God, and so its author is on a death
This is the book I lifted high over my head, intending to smash a roach in
my girlfriend’s bedroom; instead, my back unsprung, and I toppled
painfully into her bed, where I stayed motionless for eight days.
This is a “book.” That is, an audio cassette. This other “book” is a screen
and a microchip. This other “book,” the sky.
In chapter three of this book, a woman tries explaining her husband’s
tragically humiliating death to their daughter: reading it is like walking
through a wall of setting cement.
This book taught me everything about sex.
This book is plagiarized.
This book is transparent; this book is a codex in Aztec; this book, written
by a prisoner, in dung; the wind is turning the leaves of this book: a
hill-top olive as thick as a Russian novel.
This book is a vivisected frog, and ova its text.
This book was dictated by Al-Méllikah, the Planetary Spirit of the Seventh
Realm, to his intermediary on Earth (the Nineteenth Realm), who
published it, first in mimeograph, and many editions later in gold-
This book taught me everything wrong about sex.
This book poured its colors into my childhood so strongly, they remain a
dye in my imagination today.
This book is by a poet who makes me sick.
This is the first book in the world.
This is a photograph from Viet Nam, titled “Buddhist nuns copying
scholarly Buddhist texts in the pagoda.”
This book smells like salami.
This book is continued in volume two.
He was driving — evidently by some elusive, interior radar, since he was
busy reading a book propped on the steering wheel.
This book picks on men.
This is the split Red Sea: two heavy pages.
In this book I underlined deimos, cabochon, pelagic, hegira. I wanted to use
This book poured its bile into my childhood.
This book defames women.
This book was smuggled into the country one page at a time, in tiny pill
containers, in hatbands, in the cracks of asses; sixty people risked their
lives repeatedly over this one book.
This book is nuts!!!
This book cost more than a seven-story chalet in the Tall Oaks subdivision.
This book — I don’t remember.
This book is a hoax, and a damnable lie.
This chapbook was set in type and printed by hand, by Larry Levis’s then-
wife, the poet Marcia Southwick, in 1975. It’s 1997 now and Larry’s
dead — too early, way too early — and this elliptical, heartbreaking poem
(which is, in part, exactly about too early death) keeps speaking to me
from its teal-green cover: the way they say the nails and the hair
continue to grow in the grave.
This book is two wings and a thorax the size of a sunflower seed.
This book gave me a hard-on.
This book is somewhere under those other books way over there.
This book deflected a bullet.
This book provided a vow I took.
If they knew you owned this book, they’d come and get you; it wouldn’t
This book is a mask: its author isn’t anything like it.
This book is by William Matthews, a wonderful poet, who died today, age
55. Now Larry Levis has someone he can talk to.
This book is an “airplane book” (but not about airplanes; mean to be read on
an airplane; also, available every three steps in the airport). What does it
mean, to “bust” a “block”?
This is the book I pretended to read one day in the Perry-Castañeda Library
browsing room, but really I was rapt in covert appreciation of someone
in a slinky skirt that clung like kitchen plasticwrap. She squiggled near,
and pointed to the book. “It’s upside-down,” she said.
For the rest of the afternoon I was so flustered, that when I finally left the
library… this is the book, with its strip of magnetic-code tape, that I
absentmindedly walked with through the security arch on the first day of
its installation, becoming the first (though unintentional) lightfingered
lifter of books to trigger the Perry-Castañeda alarm, which hadn’t been
fine-tuned as yet, and sounded even louder than the sirens I remember
from grade school air raid drills, when the principal had us duck beneath
our desks and cover our heads — as if gabled — with a book.
The chemical formulae for photosynthesis: this book taught me that.
And this book taught me what a “merkin” is.
The cover of this book is fashioned from the tanned skin of a favorite slave.
This book is inside a computer now.
This “book” is made of knotted string; and this, of stone; and this, the gut
of a sheep.
This book existed in a dream of mine, and only there.
This book is a talk-show paperback with shiny gold raised lettering on the
cover. (Needless to say, not one by me.)
This is a book of prohibitions; this other, a book of rowdy license. They
serve equally to focus the prevalent chaos of our lives.
This book is guarded around the clock by men in navy serge and golden
braiding, carrying very capable guns.
This is the book that destroyed a marriage. Take it, burn it, before it costs
This book is an intercom for God.
This book I slammed against a wall.
My niece wrote this book in crayon and glitter.
This is the book (in a later paperback version) by which they recognized
the sea-bleached, battered, and otherwise-unidentifiable body of Shelley.
Shit: I forgot to send in the card, and now the Book Club has billed me
twice for Synopses of 400 Little-Known Operas.
This book is filled with sheep and rabbits, calmly promenading in their
tartan vests and bowties, with their clay pipes, in their Easter Sunday
salad-like hats. The hills are gently rounded. The sun is a clear firm
yolk. The world will never be this sweetly welcoming again.
This book is studded with gems that have the liquid depth of aperitifs.
This book, 1,000 Wild Nights, is actually wired to give an electr/ YOWCH!
This book I stole from Cornell University’s Olin Library in the spring of
1976. Presumably, its meter’s still running. Presumably, it still longs for
its Dewey’d place in the dim-lit stacks.
This book has a bookplate reminding me, in Latin, to use my scant time well.
It’s the last day of the semester. My students are waiting to sell their
textbooks back to the campus store, like crazed racehorses barely
restrained at the starting gate.
This book caused a howl / a stir / a ruckus / an uproar.
This book became a movie; they quickly raised the cover price.
This book is the Key to the Mysteries.
This book has a bookplate: a man and a woman have pretzeled themselves into one lubricious shape.
This book came apart in my hands.
This book is austere; it’s like holding a block of dry ice.
This Bible is in Swahili.
This book contains seemingly endless pages of calculus — it may as well be
This is the book I pretended to read while Ellen’s lushly naked body
darkened into sleep beside me. And this is the book I pretended to read
in a waiting room, once, as a cardiac specialist razored into my father’s
chest. And THIS book I pretended having read once, when I
interviewed for a teaching position: “Oh yes,” I said, “of course,” and
spewed a stream of my justly famous golden bullshit into the conference
This book was signed by the author fifteen minutes before she died.
This is Erhard Ratdolf’s edition of Johann Regiomontanus’s astronomical
and astrological calendar (1476) — it contains “the first true title-page.”
She snatched this book from a garbage can, just as Time was about to
swallow it out of the visible world irrevocably. To this day, her
grandchildren read it.
This book: braille. This one: handmade paper, with threads of the poet’s
own bathrobe as part of the book’s rag content. This one: the cover is
hollowed glass, with a goldfish swimming around the title.
This is my MFA thesis. Its title is Goldbarth’s MFA Thesis.
This is the cookbook used by Madame Curie. It still faintly glows, seven
This book is the shame of an entire nation.
This book is one of fourteen matching volumes, like a dress parade.
This is the book I’m writing now. It’s my best! (But where should I send
This book doesn’t do anyth / oh wow, check THIS out!
This is the book I bought for my nephew, 101 Small Physics Experiments.
Later he exchanged it for The Book of Twerps and Other Pukey Things, and
who could blame him?
This book is completely marred by the handiwork of the Druckfehlerteufel —
“the imp who supplies the misprints.”
This book has a kind of aurora-like glory radiating from it. There should be
versions of uranium detectors that register glory-units from books.
We argued over this book in the days of the divorce. I kept it, she kept the
stained glass window from Mike and Mimi.
Yes, he was supposed to be on the 7:05 to Amsterdam. But he stayed at
home, to finish this whodunit. And so he didn’t crash.
This book has a browned corsage pressed in it. I picked up both for a dime
at the Goodwill.
“A diet of berries, vinegar, and goat’s milk” will eventually not only cure
your cancer, but will allow a man to become impregnated (diagrams
explain this) — also, there’s serious philosophy about Jews who control
“the World Order,” in this book.
This book reads from right to left. This book comes with a small wooden
top attached by a saffron ribbon. This book makes the sound of a lion, a
train, or a cuckoo clock, depending on where you press its cover.
I’ve always admired this title from 1481: The Myrrour of the Worlde.
This book is from the 1950s; the jacket says it’s “a doozie.”
This book is by me. I found it squealing piteously, poor piglet, in the back
of a remainders bin. I took it home and nursed it.
This book let me adventure with the Interplanetary Police.
I threw myself, an aspirant, against the difficult theories this book
propounded, until my spirit was bruised. I wasn’t any smarter — just
This book is magic. There’s more inside it than outside.
This is the copy of the Iliad that Alexander the Great took with him,
always, on his expeditions — “in,” Thoreau says, “a precious casket.”
Help! (thump) I’ve been stuck in this book all week and I don’t know how
to get out! (thump)
This is the book of poetry I read from at my wedding to Morgan. We were
divorced. The book (Fred Chappell’s River) is still on my shelf, like an
This book is stapled (they’re rusted by now); this book, bound in buttery
leather; this book’s pages are chemically-treated leaves; this book, the
size of a peanut, is still complete with indicia and an illustrated colophon
So tell me: out of what grim institution for the taste-deprived and the
sensibility-challenged do they find the cover artists for these books?
This book I tried to carry balanced on my head with seven others.
This book I actually licked.
This book — remember? I carved a large hole in its pages, a “how-to
magazine for boys” said this would be a foolproof place to hide my
secret treasures. Then I remembered I didn’t have any secret treasures
worth hiding. Plus, I was down one book.
This book is nothing but jackal crap; unfortunately, its royalties have paid
for two Rolls-Royces and a mansion in the south of France.
This book is said to have floated off the altar of the church, across the
village square, and into the hut of a peasant woman in painful labor.
This is what he was reading when he died. The jacket copy says it’s “a real
page-turner — you can’t put it down!” I’m going to assume he’s in
another world now, completing the story.
This book hangs by a string in an outhouse, and every day it gets thinner.
This book teaches you how to knit a carrying case for your rosary; this one,
how to build a small but lethal incendiary device.
This book has pop-up pages with moveable parts, intended to look like the
factory room where pop-up books with moveable parts are made.
If you don’t return that book I loaned you, I’m going to smash your face.
This book says the famously saintly woman was really a ringtailed trash-
mouth dirty-down bitch queen. Everyone’s reading it!
There are stains in this book that carry a narrative greater than its text.
The Case of _______. How to _______. Books books books.
I know great petulant stormy swatches and peaceful lulls of this book by
I was so excited, so jazzed up! — but shortly thereafter they found me
asleep, over pages six and seven of this soporific book. (I won’t say by
And on her way back to her seat, she fell (the multiple sclerosis) and
refused all offered assistance. Instead, she used her book she’d been
reading from, as a prop, and worked herself pridefully back up to a
They gave me this book for free at the airport. Its cover features an Indian
god with the massive head of an elephant, as brightly blue as a druid,
flinging flowers into the air and looking unsurpassably wise.
My parents found this book in my bottom drawer, and spanked the living
hell into my butt.
This book of yours, you tell me, was optioned by Hollywood for eighty-
five impossibajillion dollars? Oh. Congratulations.
They lowered the esteemed and highly-published professor into his grave.
A lot of silent weeping. A lot of elegiac rhetoric. And one man shaking
his head in the chill December wind dumbfoundedly, who said, “And he
Although my 8th grade English teacher, Mrs. Hurd, always said “Whenever
you open a book, remember: that author lives again.”
After this book, there was no turning back.
Around 1000 A.D., when the Magyars were being converted over to
Christianity, Magyar children were forced to attend school for the first
time in their cultural history: “therefore the Magyar word konyv means
tears as well as book.”
This book, from when I was five, its fuzzy ducklings, and my mother’s
voice in the living room of the second-story apartment over the butcher
shop on Division Street…. I’m fifty now. I’ve sought out, and I own
now, one near-mint and two loose, yellowing copies that mean to me as
much as the decorated gold masks and the torsos of marble meant to the
excavators of Troy.
This book is done.
This book gave me a paper cut.
This book set its mouth on my heart, and sucked a mottled tangle of blood
to the surface.
I open this book and smoke pours out, I open this book and a bad sleet
slices my face, I open this book: brass knuckles, I open this book: the
spiky scent of curry, I open this book and hands grab forcefully onto my
hair as if in violent sex, I open this book: the wingbeat of a seraph, I
open this book: the edgy cat-pain wailing of the damned thrusts up in a
column as sturdy around as a giant redwood, I open this book: the travel
of light, I open this book and it’s as damp as a wound, I open this book
and I fall inside it farther than any physics, stickier than the jelly we
scrape from cracked bones, cleaner than what we tell our children in the
dark when they’re afraid to close their eyes at night.
And this book can’t be written yet: its author isn’t born yet.
This book is going to save the world.
May 6, 2010 § Leave a comment
This is a few days old, but I didn’t post it, because the pictures aren’t working…damn wordpress…
I’m visiting my friend Jocelyn, who lives in the country with horses, cows and chickens (very pretty chickens and horses retired from the Olympics). The lovely whippet stained with groundhog blood needs a bath before being allowed back into Jocelyn’s bed, and the 15-year-old Cowardly Lion look-alike cat with enormous mats in its wild orange hair never comes in the house at all. The dog likes to shake the cat by the scruff of its stringy neck and the cat is unresisting, pleased to be noticed at all.
When Jocelyn was still married to Tom, who had become persona non grata to his children as well as his wife, the teenagers (all grown and gone now) began cutting pictures of eyes out of magazines and taping them all over the house. Tom was smoking a lot of pot then. He was being slowly pushed out of the body of the family like a splinter or a tapeworm. Now Jocelyn lives alone with her animals…and the farm manager and his wife and little girl…and I can loll in her daughter’s room all day, working on my laptop, waiting for the evening cool and dinner.
Talking to her about country matters—groundhogs, gardens and repairs—reminds me of how much of me is still left in my old house, with no place to relocate in my current life. I know that loss still drains my spirit, squinches me to a ladder-length of need and ambition. I want a house like I want summer. I’d plant lavender and mint for the smell on the breeze, and bake blueberry muffins and lemon cake. I’d walk outside barefoot in the dark and talk to the snakes.
*Isak Dinesen, Out Of Africa
The Red Wheelbarrow
so much depends
a red wheel
glazed with rain
beside the white
_William Carlos Williams