28 September 2014

Wild Horses

                                                 by William Faulkner

. . . When the others turned, they saw that the woman had left the wagon too, though they had not known she was there since they had not seen the wagon drive up. She came among them behind the man, gaunt in the gray shapeless garment and the sunbonnet, wearing stained canvas gymnasium shoes She overtook the man but she did not touch him, standin gjust behind him, her hands rolled before her into the gray dress

Henry,” she said in a flat voice. Th eman looked over his shoulder.

Get back to that wagon,” he said.

Here, missus,” the Texan said. “Henry's going to get the bargain of his life in about a minute. Here, boys, let the missus come up close where she can see. Henry's going to pick out that saddle-horse the missus has been wanting. Who says ten - - --”

Henry,” the woman said. She did not raise her voice. She had not once looked at the Texan. She touched the man's arm. He turned and struck her hand down.

Get back to that wagon like I told you.” The woman stood behind him, her hands rolled again into her dress. She was not looking at anything, speaking to anyone.

He aint no more despair than to buy one of them things,” she said. “And us not but five dollars away from the poor-house, he aint no more despair.” The man turned upon her with that curious air of leashed, of dreamlike fury. The others lounged along the fence in attitudes gravely attentive, almost oblivious. Mrs Littlejohn had been washing for some time now, pumping rhythmically up and down above the wash-board in the sud-foamed tub. She now stood erect again, her soap-raw hands on her hips, looking into the lot.

Shut your mouth and get back in that wagon,” the man said. “Do you want me to take a wagon stake to you?” He turned and looked up at the Texan. “Did you give him that horse?” he said. The Texan was looking at the woman. Then he looked at the man; still watching him, he tilted the paper carton over his open palm. A single cake came out of it.
Yes,” he said.

Is the fellow that bids in this next horse going to get that first one too?”

No,” the Texan said.

All right,” the other said. “Are you going to give a horse to the man that makes the first bid on the next one?”

No,” the Texan said.

Then if you were just starting the auction off by giving away a horse, why didn't you wait till we were all here?” The Texan stopped looking at the other. He raised the empty carton and squinted carefully into it, as if it might contain a precious jewel or perhaps a deadly insect. Then he crumpled it and dropped it carefully beside the post on which he sat.

Eck bids two dollars,” he said. “I believe he still thinks he's bidding on them scraps of bob-wire they come here in instead of one of the horses. But I got to accept it. But are you boys ----”

So Eck's going to get two horses at a dollar a head,” the newcomer said. “Three dollars.” The woman touched him again He flung her han off without turning and she stood again, her hands rolled into her dress across her flat stomach, not looking at anything.

Misters,” she said, “we got chaps in the house that never had shoes last winter. We aint got corn to feed the stock. We got five dollars I earned weaving by firelight after dark. And he aint no more despair.”

Henry bids three dollars,” the Texan said. “Raise him a dollar, Eck, and the horse is yours.” Beyond the fence the horses rushed suddenly and for no reason and as suddenly stopped, staring at the faces along the fence.

Henry,” the woman said. The man was watching Eck. His stained and broken teeth showed a little beneath his lip. His wrists dangled into fists below the faded sleeves of his shirt too short from many washings.

Four dollars,” Eck said.

Five dollars!' the husband said, raising one clenched hand. He shouldered himself forward toward the gate-post. The woman did not follow him. She now looked at the Texan for the first time. Here eyes were a washed gray also, as though they had faded too like the dress and the sunbonnet.

Mister,” she said, “if you take that five dollars I earned my chaps a-weaving for one of them things, it'll be a curse on you and yours during all the time of man.”

Five dollars!” the husband shouted. He thrust himself up to the post, his clenched hand on a level with the Texan's knees. He opened it upon a wad of frayed banknotes and silver. “Five dollars! And the man that raises it will have to beat my head off or I'll beat hisn.”

All right,” the Texan said. “Five dollars is bid. But don't you shake your hand at me.”

At five oclock that afternoon the Texan crumpled the third paper carton and dropped it to the earth beneath him. In the copper slant of the leveling sun which fell also upon the line of limp garments in Mrs Littlejohn's backyard and which cast his shadow and that of the post on which he sat long across the lot where now and then the ponies still rushed in purposeless and tireless surges, the Texan straightened his leg and thrust his hand into his pocket and took out a coin and leaned down to the little boy. His voice was now hoarse, spent. “Here, bud,” he said. “Run to the store and get me a box of gingersnaps”

From William Faulkner's  "Wild Horses, " Three Famous Short Novels (Vintage 2011).

21 September 2014

A man pining for a woman dead on a slab at St. James

                                By Natasha Trethewey


At the bottom of the exit ramp
my father waits for us, one foot
on the curb, right hand hooked
in the front pocket of his jeans,
a stack of books beneath his arm.
It's 1971, the last year we're still
together. My mother and I travel
this road, each week, to meet him –
I-10 from Mississippi to New Orleans –
            and each time we pull off the highway
            I see my father like this: raising his thumb
to feign hitchhiking – a stranger
passing through to somewhere else.

At Wolf River my father is singing.
The sun is singing and there's a cooler
of Pabst in the shade. He is singing
and playing the guitar – the sad songs
I hide from each time: a man pining
for Irene or Clementine, a woman dead
on a slab at St. James. I'm too young to know
this is foreshadowing. To get away from
the blues I don't understand, I wade in water
shallow enough to cross. On the bank
at the other side, I look back at him as if
across the years: he's smaller, his voice
lost in the distance between us.

On the Gulf and Ship Island Line
my father and I walk the rails south
toward town. More than twenty years
gone, he's come back to see this place,
recollect what he's lost. What he recalls
of my childhood is here. We find it
in the brambles of blackberry, the coins
flattened on the tracks. We can't help it –
already, we're leaning too hard
toward metaphor: my father searching
for the railroad switch. It was here, right
here, he says, turning this way and that –
the rails vibrating now, a train coming.

From Natasha Trethewy, Thrall (2012).

14 September 2014

Shadows of your hands in firelight

            By John Hollander


Arachne spies by the door on wise Penelope
To learn what will be her own undoing. By lamplight
She sees the busy shuttle going back on itself
With a more favulous skill than when, that afternoon,
It had been proudly building the fabric of a shroud.
Taking apart the cover of darkness fabricates
Light, and Time itself goes forward by unravelling:
So the queen's dismembering hand weaves te images
Of faith and remembrance on the bared warp of her loom.
Arachne ignores the lessons of nay-saying that
Lurking in what she sees there in the midnight's uwrking.
Her eyes are only for the energies of result,
Of what is spun out of oneself in devout silence.

Such emblems of old craftiness that are clear enough
Still to read, point to the one step forward, two-and-a-
Half steps back that everyone eventually gets
Used to. Now you sit on that red prayer-rug, undoing
A dark scarf, skeining the wool in puzzlement, as if
The process should not be still continuing, nature
Having forgotten when to stop, knowing it too well.
But we need not despair of negations: bits of yarn
Snipped far too short for knitting were tied, knot after knot,
Onto the warp and weft of some anatolian
Frame, shunning all human figures for the intricate
Shapes, “purely decorative,” geometric, that lie
Refigured now with shadows of your hands in firelight.

From Powers of Thirteen, in John Hollander, Selected Poetry (1993).

07 September 2014

The riddle of a storefront


by David Keplinger


            The only soul                      who beatifies itself
             is the lightening bug                      of North America

also called firefly               also called
Half-in-love                                     with-dusty-death

also called slant-                 of-light also known
as Hobo-who-believes-he's-Jesus

and You-                              oh-my-soul
which announces                            its coming greased

with luceferin: Never         venerate yourself
in the presence                                of children

is the lesson here                the flashing timed
metronomically                             which enables the child

to track you                         to follow the rhythm
snap his fist                                   and squeeze

It was a language of white hills, red brick towns.
An alley was a comma in the agony's grammar.
It was the old one tied against a chair, madness swelling like a thought
too big for her head, and each death was a period. The mortician
a stain, a drop of ink in his black suit, before
a page-white mausoleum. It was a language
of yeast soup, snowy hills, towns called Beauty and Cold,
where even the names of things had a kind of corresponding
order, beauty always going cold, always losing itself
to something permanent. There was fish at the fishmonger,
paper at the paper store. Time at the clockmaker's shop.
There were syntactical surprised: the headmaster turned janitor 
in a matter of a day, the ambassador
seen on the subway in tattered clothes, the president
dressed as a prisoner, delivering his acceptance speech,
the secret police dressed as tourists on their own beat.
But mostly it was a language one used when speaking
in a whisper, rolling the “R,” practicing the “R” in your mouth
until it dropped from the palette to the tongue
as from the pocket of God, and hung there momentarily
in its shiny majesty, a sound much older than the language
that spent it, that offered it from mouth
to mouth like money.

A City I'm Traveling To
No solution hath the riddle of a storefront.
Its awnings billow up in wind and light
The waiters in their tiny jackets pull
Their jackets sown against the sudden cold.
A servant bears a latched up trunk, ruefully,
ruefully! And a certain old woman is waiting
To sell me a flower: to offer it with one hand,
To cover her teeth with the other.

From The American Poetry Review, September-October 2014.