31 July 2016

My Father’s “Norton Introduction to Literature,” Third Edition (1981)

Certain words give him trouble: cannibals, puzzles, sob,
bosom, martyr, deteriorate, shake, astonishes, vexed, ode ... 
These he looks up and studiously annotates in Vietnamese.
Ravish means cướp đoạt; shits is like when you have to đi ỉa;
mourners are those whom we say are full of buồn rầu.
For “even the like precurse of feared events” think báo trước.
Its thin translucent pages are webbed with his marginalia,
graphite ghosts of a living hand, and the notes often sound
just like him: “All depend on how look at thing,” he pencils
after “I first surmised the Horses’ Heads / Were toward Eternity —”
His slanted handwriting is generally small, but firm and clear.
His pencil is a No. 2, his preferred Hi-Liter, arctic blue.
I can see my father trying out the tools of literary analysis.
He identifies the “turning point” of “The Short and Happy Life
of Francis Macomber”; underlines the simile in “Both the old man
and the child stared ahead as if they were awaiting an apparition.”
My father, as he reads, continues to notice relevant passages
and to register significant reactions, but increasingly sorts out
his ideas in English, shaking off those Vietnamese glosses.
1981 was the same year we vượt biển and came to America,
where my father took Intro Lit (“for fun”), Comp Sci (“for job”).
“Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” he murmurs
something about the “dark side of life how awful it can be”
as I begin to track silence and signal to a cold source.
Reading Ransom’s “Bells for John Whiteside’s Daughter,”
a poem about a “young girl’s death,” as my father notes,
how could he not have been “vexed at her brown study / 
Lying so primly propped,” since he never properly observed
(I realize this just now) his own daughter’s wake.
Lấy làm ngạc nhiên về is what it means to be astonished.
Her name was Đông Xưa, Ancient Winter, but at home she’s Bebe.
“There was such speed in her little body, / And such lightness
in her footfall, / It is no wonder her brown study / Astonishes
us all.” In the photo of her that hangs in my parents’ house
she is always fourteen months old and staring into the future.
In “reeducation camp” he had to believe she was alive
because my mother on visits “took arms against her shadow.”
Did the memory of those days sweep over him like a leaf storm
from the pages of a forgotten autumn? Lost in the margins,
I’m reading the way I discourage my students from reading.
But this is “how we deal with death,” his black pen replies.
Assume there is a reason for everything, instructs a green asterisk.
Then between pp. 896-97, opened to Stevens’ “Sunday Morning,”
I pick out a newspaper clipping, small as a stamp, an old listing
from the 404-Employment Opps State of Minnesota, and read:
For current job opportunities dial (612) 297-3180. Answered 24 hrs.
When I dial, the automated female voice on the other end
tells me I have reached a non-working number.

-- Hai-Dang Phan

29 July 2016

from Anne Boyer's Garments Against Women

from The Innocent Question:
Monuments are interesting mostly in how they diminish all other aspects of the landscape. Each highly perceptible thing makes something else almost imperceptible.
from No World but the World:
There were seas (and these were rapid seas). There were islands (and these arose from the rabid seas). There were certain conventions at these times: to fly, to conference, to panel, to anthologize. In other circles it was to contest, submit, or award. I'd never been granted anything. I was perfectly willing to assign to my own refusal some sort of pathology. I was already sick, so what would I retrieve?
from Not Writing:
I would like to drink wine from a wooden bowl or to drink water from an emptied bottle of wine.
I am not writing stories based on Nathaniel Hawthorne's unwritten story ideas. I am not writing online dating profiles. I am not writing anonymous communiques. I am not writing textbooks.
from What Is "Not Writing"?:
There is talking which is like writing and which produces not writing in equal measure to producing writing. There is an amount of time not writing which is not wanting to actually have to talk to humans unless it is in order to get them to have sex or in order to convince them to leave. There is sleep, which is often dreams, which is closer to writing—dreams are more like writing than not writing in that they are not intruded upon in their moments by the necessities of all paid work, care work, social expectations, romantic love or talking to people.
from Ma Vie en Bling: A Memoir:
These systems that amplified my loneliness included cars, airplanes, computers, and telephones. These systems included universities, literary presses, major American cities, the U.S. mail, and several private mail carriers including U.P.S. and Federal Express.

21 June 2016


I’d never before had the experience of beholding scenic beauty so dazzling that I couldn’t process it, couldn’t get it to register as something real. A trip that had seemed unreal to me beforehand had taken me to a place that likewise seemed unreal, albeit in a better way. Global warming may be endangering the continent’s western ice sheet, but Antarctica is still far from having melted. On either side of the Lemaire Channel were spiky black mountains, extremely tall but still not so tall as to be merely snow-covered; they were buried in wind-carved snowdrift, all the way to their peaks, with rock exposed only on the most vertical cliffs. Sheltered from wind, the water was glassy, and under a solidly gray sky it was absolutely black, pristinely black, like outer space. Amid the monochromes, the endless black and white and gray, was the jarring blue of glacial ice. No matter the shade of it—the bluish tinge of the growlers bobbing in our wake, the intensely deep blue of the arched and chambered floating ice castles, the Styrofoamish powder blue of calving glaciers—I couldn’t make my eyes believe that they were seeing a color from nature. Again and again, I nearly laughed in disbelief. Immanuel Kant had connected the sublime with terror, but as I experienced it in Antarctica, from the safe vantage of a ship with a glass-and-brass elevator and first-rate espresso, it was more like a mixture of beauty and absurdity.

18 June 2016

from Annie Proulx's Heart Songs and Other Stories

The first early snows came and melted and we were into Indian summer. The sky was an intense enamel blue, but the afternoon light had a dying, year's-end quality, a rich apricot color as though it fell through a cordial glass onto an oak table, the kind of day hunters remember falsely as October.

05 June 2016

Debbie Harry claims that she was nearly Ted Bundy's first victim.

The subject of a painting by Robert Williams, the artist responsible for the original Appetite for Destruction cover art, which was deemed too controversial and replaced.

the of and

Zipf's Law

from Annie Proulx's Accordion Crimes

Riley McGettigan, nineteen, wondering at the brevity of life, swooned with an arrow in his neck.

The Pelkys helped him into the back seat of their old sedan, Mrs. Pelky stuffing a bed pillow that still smelled of her night hair under his shoulder. Mr. Pelky, his driving confused by a sense of emergency, squealed onto the highway and sped for the hospital. The trees were in heavy bud, the wet road under the maples covered with their fallen blossom, as dark red as coagulated pools of blood. The car whirred past sloping maple, soft buff and genital-flesh blur, and below this purpled arc a line of popple flashed, then past veins of birch, then the curving line of the ridge and through the branches the puzzled sky, and they were past the roaring arms of the pines and the swamp filled with stalks, coming to the first fields and scratchy lines of red osier, bramble hoops, and all of it strung together with birdcalls and apprehension.

from Annie Proulx's Bird Cloud: A Memoir of Place

A final regret came when the nearby restaurant removed turbot cheeks from their menu, a serious blow, as I thought this delicacy a prime reason to come to the peninsula. Never before or since have I discovered this dish in any restaurant or fish market. God knows where all the turbot cheeks of yesteryear have gone—probably home to the fisherman's missus.

The air shuddered with volant snow like bead curtains in an earthquake. [...] In the whiteout the world fell away until there was nothing but panting elk and purple-faced humans.

Walking on the land or digging in the fine soil I am intensely aware that time quivers slightly, changes occurring in imperceptible and minute ways, accumulating so subtly that they seem not to exist. Yet the tiny shifts in everything—cell replication, the rain of dust motes, lengthening hair, wind-pushed rocks—press inexorably on and on.

04 February 2015

Solitaire - Deborah Landau

That summer there was no girl left in me.
It gradually became clear.
It suddenly became.

In the pool, I was more heavy than light.
Pockmarked and flabby in a floppy hat.
What will my body be

when parked all night in the earth?
Midsummer. Breathe in. Breathe out.
I am not on the oxygen tank.

Twice a week we have sex.
The little girls poolside I see them
at their weddings I see them with babies their hips

thickening I see them middle-aged.
I can't see past the point where I am.
Like you, I'm just passing through.

I want to hold on awhile.
Don't want to naught
or forsake, don't want

to be laid gently or racked raw.
If I retinol. If I marathon.
If I Vitamin C. If I crimson

my lips and streakish my hair.
If I wax. Exfoliate. Copulate
beside the fish-slicked sea.

Fill me I'm cold. Fill me I'm halfway gone.
Would you crush me in the stairwell?
Could we just lie down?

If the brakes don't work.
If the pesticides won't wash off.
If the seventh floor pushes a brick

out the window and it lands on my head.
If I tremor, menopause. Cancer. ALS.
These are the ABCs of my fear.

The doctor says
I don't have a pill for that, dear.
Well, what would be a cure-all, ladies,

gin-and-tonics on a summer night?
See you in the immortalities! O blurred.
O tumble-rush of days we cannot catch.

07 November 2014

Earl Partridge, on his deathbed.

I loved her so. And she knew what I did. She knew all the fucking stupid things I'd done. But the love was stronger than anything you can think of. The goddamn regret. The goddamn regret. 
Oh, and I'll die. Now I'll die, and I'll tell you what, the biggest regret of my life, 
I let my love go. 
What did I do? I'm sixty-five years old. And I'm ashamed. A million years ago, the fucking regret and guilt, these things, don't ever let anyone ever say to you you shouldn't regret anything. Don't do that. Don't. 
You regret what you fucking want. Use that. Use that. Use that regret for anything, any way you want. You can use it, okay? Oh, God. This is a long way to go with no punch. 
A little moral story, I say, love. Love. Love. This fucking life, oh, it's so fucking hard. So long. 
Life ain't short, it's long. It's long, goddamn it. Goddamn. 
What did I do? What did I do? What did I do? What did I do? Phil. Phil, help me. What did I do?

04 November 2014

You did it - Margaret Atwood

How long will you demand I love you?
I’m through, I won’t make
any more flowers for you
I judge you as the trees do
by dying.

01 November 2014

Lucia Stacey, via Broadside Thirty, Tin House


That I have to go to the gynecologist
in Brooklyn, because I chose the cheaper

health insurance plan. That I will sit
speculum-sore for ages, waiting for the L.

That there’s no heat in my bedroom
(sexual or otherwise). That I have to go

to Bushwick to admit this to a stranger.
That I can blow smoke upon waking.

That I spent money on Sharon Olds
Anne Sexton, Victoria Redel, and wine

instead of chicken or peaches or beans.
That I did everything

I wasn’t supposed to (but only last Sunday).
That the ceiling fell

into the shower and I stood naked
on the deck to get clean. That no one saw.

That I learned indifference by watching
a mouse hemorrhage internally in glue.

That my laundry man has only one eye
and three teeth. That he said to call him Tony.

That I know what chemical to use
to disintegrate the body

of a pigeon, trapped and died in the wall.
That I held an accidental séance

because of all the candles and incense.
That I’ve considered the $5 psychics

selling fortunes on Canal street.
That I can recognize black mold.

That I recognize faces on the M72.
That I am recognized. That I am not.

28 October 2014

from Salon to Saloon.

French salon—from Middle French, from Italian salone (large hall), augmented form of Italian sala (hall), from Lombardic sala (room, house, entrance hall), from Proto-Germanic *salą (dwelling, house, hall), from Proto-Indo-European *sel- (human settlement, village, dwelling). Cognate with Old High German sal (room, house, entrance hall), Old English sæl (room, hall, castle), Old Church Slavonic селó (seló, courtyard, village), Lithuanian sala (village)—either augmentative of salle (room), or borrowed from Italian salone (hall), augmentative form of sala, salla (room); in both cases borrowed from a Germanic source such as Old High German sal (house, hall), from Proto-Germanic *salą, from Proto-Indo-European *sol-, derived from *sel- (dwelling).

Essentially, in its attempt to mimic French culture, the Old West mistranslated the French Salon to Saloon. 

19 October 2014

Emily St. John Mandel

Hell is the absence of the people you long for.

18 October 2014

Axiom - Margaret Atwood

Axiom: you are a sea.
Your eye-
lids curve over chaos
My hands, where they touch you, create
small inhabited islands
Soon you will be
all earth: a known
land, a country.

17 October 2014

Thymus - Sylvia Legris

Gulch of affection the gully
of fumigation. Sweet-throated
the courage gorge. The sweetly bred
sublingual cultivar.
Feisty-hearted, the meat-
propagating gullet.
From the juicy acorn ripens
a warty excrescence.
Cheeky the rude clump!
Buttress-rooted, vulgaris—
eye-sorry carbuncle.
A scrunch of pungent
chump change.
Thymus the field-drab. The aromatic bromide. History of dark sea, old
moss, laurel. Absinthe; the gray-green, gently absenting itself.
Thymus the shrinking mass in aid of breath and exhalation [Cooper].
Thymus the mystery organ [Galen]. Organ of vicarious respiration
[Meckel]. Protective thoracic cushion [Vesalius].
Small planet of the solar plexus. From the Greek thymos, for thyme; to
stand in line for the lungs, to burn in sacrifice.