After the Fire
The smoke was tremendous—choking flesh made sky. It was even lovelier than the flames, great hands wrenching wood from stone, not a surgeon’s hands—anatomical, precise—but a drunk old pugilist ready to go down swinging. Or maybe they were more like teeth, ripping and tearing in one long devouring breath the entirety of my childhood. Of course, it wasn’t just the house. My father, brother, lover all burned. The three men in my life, their bodies grown round with beer and steak and wine. My mother had disappeared long ago. Hers was a diminishment, a gradual acknowledgment that her space grew smaller and smaller with each breath of my father or brother or lover, until finally, one warm July morning, she exhaled and collapsed into memory. Now, the heat and smoke rise and take the shape of her, phoenix-like, though I know it is only an illusion, a trick of the mind to render what is painful, to feel the pleasure of lapping at old wounds. As my mother became air, my father, brother, and lover remain grounded, their bodies a kind of permanence. Now they are piles of ash and teeth and bone, ready to drift into a plate of spaghetti, to slip through the gears of a pocket watch, to be sucked into my little cousin’s nose right before he sneezes. Continue reading
How old is she, the chair of judges asks the coach, unable to believe her eyes. The reply—fourteen—sends a shiver up her spine. What that young girl has achieved blasts away any progression of numbers, words, and images. It defies understanding. There’s no way of classifying what has just happened. She tosses gravity over her shoulder, her tiny frame carving itself a space in the air.
Why did no one tell them that was where they were meant to look, protest the spectators who miss the moment when, on the ten centimetres’ width of beam, Nadia C throws herself backwards and, arms outstretched, launches into a triple back flip. They turn to one another: has anyone understood? Did you understand?
The electronic scoreboard shows COMANECI NADIA, ROMANIA, followed by a 73, her competitor’s number, but where her score should be: nothing.
At the time of his death, Italo Calvino was at work on six lectures setting forth the qualities in writing he most valued, and which he believed would define literature in the century to come. The following is from his essay on “Quickness.” It is translated from the Italian by Geoffrey Brock.
I’ll start by telling you an old legend.
Late in life the emperor Charlemagne fell in love with a German girl. The court barons were dismayed to see that their sovereign, overcome by ardent desire and forgetful of royal dignity, was neglecting imperial affairs. When the girl suddenly died, the dignitaries sighed with relief — but only briefly, for Charlemagne’s love did not die with the girl. The emperor had the embalmed body brought to his chamber and refused to leave its side. Archbishop Turpin, alarmed by this morbid passion and suspecting some enchantment, decided to examine the corpse. Hidden beneath the dead tongue he found a gemstone ring. As soon as he took possession of it, Charlemagne hastened to have the corpse buried and directed his love toward the person of the archbishop. To extricate himself from that awkward situation, Turpin threw the ring into Lake Constance. Charlemagne fell in love with the lake and refused to leave its shores.
I had a train dinner: paprika chips, a pear, a cucumber, and a beer. The sunset was magnificent as we withdrew from Sükhbaatar through another massive green river valley. Mongolians on horseback and motorbike gathered herds toward yurts that parked like UFOs on the hillsides. Where Russians had overstuffed backyard gardens, Mongolian village houses had paddocks of half an acre or more, marked out with split-rail fences. Where old Russian train stations pumped crackling, martial music through the arrival-platform PAs, as we stepped off the train in Ulaanbaatar, disoriented in the early morning after days on the train, the speaker blasted Namjilyn Norovbanzad, the diva of Mongolian long song (urtiin duu).* The otherwordly vibrato cemented the hallucinatory feeling that we’d stepped out of this metal tube into somewhere quite foreign indeed.
There’s a family of mountain lions living in my basement.
I say a family because I know there’s more than one, but I don’t know exactly how many. If I knew how many, I’d just give you the hard number. Like five mountain lions. But that would only be a guess.
To be fair, a family of mountain lions may not be correct either. I’m not sure they’re related. To be really precise, then: there is a group of mountain lions living in my basement. And in case you’re wondering, there’s no proper term for a group of mountain lions. I looked it up.
Not a herd, or a pack, or a gaggle, or a pride—not even a murder, as it is with crows, and which I personally think would be apt! (Please notice that I’ve not yet entirely lost my sense of humor.)
The following passage is excerpted from Problems by Jade Sharma.
Somewhere along the way, there stopped being new days. Time progressed for sure: The rain tapered off through the night; near dawn, cars rumbled and then zoomed away. Sounds folded back into the world, moving on, light-years from the living room where I lay around, hardly living.
The soundtrack of the night looped every twelve hours: the hum of the refrigerator, the blare of a siren going by, the sound of someone turning on a faucet somewhere in the building. The Saturday night remix of the chatter of drunk guys, who smoked cigarettes in the courtyard and called each other “bro,” interspersed with the chorus of drunk girls’ high-pitched squeals every time a rat scurried out of the bushes.
Sometimes in the early morning, a man somewhere in the building would yell about the music being too loud. But I never heard any music. I only heard him yelling. Continue reading