Excerpt from The Perplexing Habit of Falling

Is it because we cannot capture own selves or because logically nothing is on its own that we turn to each other for reflection and echo as philosophers always go back to the same props and propositions? If you return from far enough away you perhaps never left, but it still takes coats off, or character, to warp the arrow. A circle is a figure almost as clear as a straight line, but covers more territory, even water, the way the relation of two people is not bound to follow rules on separable prefixes. We knew the state of our affairs and pooled them. Once your reflection surfaced out of deep water, the fragile mirror prohibiting the turbulence of touch, I wondered if I would not trade this transparency for a white space of its own without allusions, provided the ice was solid enough to walk across. Even though it was summer, we moved rather like snow blown by the wind, not easy to make tracks on, melting and refreezing in harsh ridges.

Rosmarie Waldrop


Train Rising out of the Sea

It is written in the Book of Usable Minutes
That all things have their center in their dying,
That each is discrete and diaphanous and
Has pointed its prow away from the sand for the next trillion years.

After that we may be friends,
Recognizing in each other the precedents that make us truly social.
Do you hear the wind? It’s not dying,
It’s singing, weaving a song about the president saluting the trust,

The past in each of us, until so much memory becomes an institution,
Through sheer weight, the persistence of it, no,
Not the persistence: that makes it seem a deliberate act
Of duration, much too deliberate for this ingenious being

Like an era that refuses to come to an end or be born again.
We need more night for the sky, more blue for the daylight
That inundates our remarks before we can make them
Taking away a little bit of us each time

To be deposited elsewhere
In the place of our involvement
With the core that brought excessive flowering this year
Of enormous sunsets and big breezes

That left you feeling too simple
Like an island just off the shore, one of many, that no one
Notices, though it has a certain function, though an abstract one
Built to prevent you from being towed to shore.

John Ashbery


A Sonata for Four Hands, II

The lights in the shades were lit,
The bulb became
An empty symbol waiting
Like the fixed idea
Above a comic book Mickey. Outside,
Clouds connived to create obscure messages:
Here’s a giraffe.

A male lion has a mane.
Imagination’s a ridiculous art.
She was clearly a member
Of the fiasco survivor’s club
The living often belong to.
There a simple name meant, simply,
A name. No allegory. No

Discursive meaning.
Just experience. No interpretation
Possible, nor necessary.
Condense to seven stanzas
A particulate world. Draw a picture
Of flesh engineered
As parts of a whole. The pills

On the floor had rolled under the sofa.
The wheel begins its if only turning.
It had never stopped.
This is life’s bargain that motion
Is hope. Morning fog,
Come back again. You will dream
Of this. Undoubtedly.

Mary Jo Bang


from A Short Dictionary of Misunderstood Words

Living in Truth

Such is the formula set forth by Kafka somewhere in the diaries or letters. Franz couldn’t quite remember where. But it captivated him. What does it mean to live in truth? Putting it negatively is easy enough: it means not lying, not hiding, and not dissimulating. From the time he met Sabina, however, Franz had been living in lies. He told his wife about nonexistent congresses in Amsterdam and lectures in Madrid; he was afraid to walk with Sabina through the streets of Geneva. And he enjoyed the lying and hiding: it was all so new to him. …

For Sabina, living in truth, lying neither to ourselves nor to others, was possible only away from the public: the moment someone keeps an eye on what we do, we involuntarily make allowances for that eye, and nothing we do is truthful. Having a public, keeping a public in mind, means living in lies. Sabina despised literature in which people give away all kinds of intimate secrets about themselves and their friends. A man who loses his privacy loses everything, Sabina thought. And a man who gives it up of his own free will is a monster.

Excerpt from The Unbearable Lightness of Being

Milan Kundera


Letter to a Frozen Peas Manufacturer

Dear Frozen Peas Manufacturer,

We are writing to you because we feel that the peas illustrated on your package of frozen peas are a most unattractive color. We are referring to the 16 oz. plastic package that shows three or four pods, one of them split open, with peas rolling out near them. The peas are a dull yellow green, more the color of pea soup than fresh peas and nothing like the actual color of your peas, which are a nice bright dark green. The depicted peas are, moreover, about three times the size of the actual peas inside the package, which, together with their dull color, makes them even less appealing—they appear to be past their maturity and mealy in texture. Additionally, the color of your illustrated peas contrasts poorly with the color of the lettering and other decoration on your package, which is an almost harsh neon green. We have compared your depiction of peas to that of other frozen peas packages and yours is by far the least appealing. Most food manufacturers depict food on their packaging that is more attractive than the food inside and therefore deceptive. You are doing the opposite: you are falsely representing your peas as less attractive than they actually are. We enjoy your peas and do not want your business to suffer. Please reconsider your art.

Yours sincerely.

Lydia Davis


The Body in the Word

It is not simple. It is opposite. Like revelation or dream, it does not lurk behind its signs. Full of fields, even when alone. Even if you rest all afternoon in a kingdom of caresses it engenders choreographies. And the voice goes deep. Archipelagos, you write, where begin, armadillos, gloves, a cart with apples, song and pollen, rock wing, diagonals streak off, labyrinthine nests, a different game.

It is essentially. It could not be other. In the beginning absolutely. Not how the world is, it could not say, but that it exists, the word. Supreme visibility in deepest darkness. As children we kept our secret and grew old. With nudity exhausted. As for birds, you write, beside me, abyssal glossolalia, soup, brass handles, too early in the day, formation of geese, grammar, not confession, landscape of possibles.

Nothing could be without it. It was made by us. But the nervous system speaks no known language. Roots burst out of the ground and we stumble, jolting the marriage of skeleton and flesh. Mumblers all, you write, spit and babble, one way sun, inch into the open, mirrors on string, scent bottles, black walls, black kitchen table, in Bamberg, touch everything.

It says nothing. It shows itself. St. Augustine was interested. Words, that is to say, no foundation. Variables crowd the lines of perception, brushing off flies, the time stolen. The limits of the body expand with- out necessarily attaining orgasm. Pieces that do not fit the puzzle, you quote, sizes, shapes, launch into space, if a round mat, sigh with pleasure, le nu provençal, life takes a long look, a birth and its clarity.

Rosmarie Waldrop