Tuesday, May 16, 2006

The texture of lives

Seems fitting the last two library books I'm likely to get to here (there are a few others I might squeeze in, except that today at the office I got my Amazon UK haul--Alan Warner! Jenny Diski! Mo Hayder!) are both by James Sallis, the last two (I think--these books have so many temporal vagaries it's hard to follow the sequence) in the Lew Griffin series: Bluebottle and
Ghost of a Flea (which has a very sad ending, I was startled and moved).

More than most these books are really made out of language, at moments I get annoyed with them being so existential and self-reflexive and yet it totally works, the aesthetic is quite amazing. I've got a passage of prose for you, after a couple of other links (a passage that pains me with the desire to read some Albert Murray, which can soon be satisfied too, that's at the top of my list for what I'm getting to back in New York): here's a link to Blake's "Ghost of a Flea" picture, for instance, if you don't know it; here's a page of earlier Sallis posts on Light Reading, too many to paste in the links separately (I actually hadn't realized how much I've been thinking about him, that's interesting--these books really speak to me); and here is the Amazon link for Sallis's more recent novel Cypress Grove, the first one of his I read (on the basis of a recommendation by Ken Bruen) & fell for.

This comes from the middle of the last novel in the series, Lew Griffin now almost completely unanchored from the time & place he's in:

"Lew. Do you hear me? Lew?"

I drifted up slowly, all the time in the world. World up there waiting for me. Patient as grandfather's hand when we'd walk down by the river. I was four, maybe five, and he'd come up alongside the house, up the hill, hobbling, to fetch me. As a young man Grandfather had broken his leg. With no doctors around, his father built a box, a small tailored coffin, around it. He was a carpenter, this was what he knew. The leg healed, but forever afterward Granfather listed to port and starboard with each step. As Grandfather came he'd be reciting some poem he'd learned back in school forty or more years ago. More like ninety, now, I guess. Longfellow, Whittier, William Cullen Bryant. The whole of "Thanatopsis" or "Snowbound," Booth led boldly with his big bass drum. Not just reciting the poem, but declaiming it as had been the fashion in his youth, an auditory equivalent of Palmer penmanship. Lines, stanzas, rhymes spun and leapt like dancers, like high divers, from his tongue, providing my earliest intimation that words might do more than simply express needs or convey information: that they could transform the world, recast it. Down we'd go then by the river, this hobbling old man and upreaching, diminutive me, past tar paper shacks and along the levee as barges lugged their tedious way upriver towards Memphis or down to Vicksburg and New Orleans, barrel-like pipes running out above and across (carrying what? I never knew), cement slabs piling up crisscross by the hundreds as trucks ran over legs and wood risers collapsed, burying workers paid $3.50 a day, at the slab field just south, the sandbar at river's center growing ever wider through the years.

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