Friday, May 29, 2020

Syntax Club: "XVIII. She"; "XIX. From the Archaic to the Fast Self"

Syntax Club: Autobiography of Red

Please see here for previous installments of Syntax Club; feel free to post comments and thoughts and sentences you love here on the site or Twitter; if you try an exercise feel free to Tweet some of your results using the #SyntaxClub tag.

Frame

--How is this work essayistic, or possibly of value to essayists?
--What is distinctive, noteworthy, excellent, or interesting about the sentences in this work?

Argument


Geryon has a strange flash of...confusion, insight, something relating to the sight of Herakles' mother's bedroom and the word she; Herakles' grandmother speaks at some length about Woolf, Freud, and magma; our senses of interiority and exteriority start to coalesce in a more coherent way around these central volcanic images: interior as hot, as pressure, as waiting to burst, maybe?; Geryon kind of gets dumped, though the full heft of this won't totally hit him for a little bit.

Questions

What's the significance of She?
The sight of the bedroom itself is striking to this adolescent boy in an obvious way--it's full of ~overtly feminine things~! But there's something slightly deeper at work with regards to Geryon's sense of self, of inside, and how that relates to his understanding of gender (think back to the slow ascent up the stairs we saw a few sections back). I don't quite have a totally secure read on it yet, but feel free to offer up thoughts of your own.

How should we read Archaic and Fast Self?
This is a formative moment for Geryon, right? A moment of transition, maybe, one way of being has ended and another has begun. The relationship with Herakles' has thrust him into the realm of romantic suffering quite suddenly, and so he leaves behind the archaic, the old times of his youth, for the fast self, the stable, fixed self of the present moment. But note too that there's a potential ambiguity here--you can read an implicit {Self} as attached to Archaic, which, given the opening aphorism about reality as a sound might open up some more interesting avenues for us to think about. And note too the whole range of senses fast might mean here: alternatively quick, stable, morally loose, scandalous, etc.

What's up with Freud and Woolf in these ramblings?
An occasion for Carson to do some Carson-ing, first and foremost (love it or hate it, sweeping, expansive recombinations of Big Name literary & historical figures is one of her main *deals*). But also a good jumping off point for our internal-external thinking--probably not a coincidence that these are Ms. "Existence is a Semi-Transparent Envelope of Consciousness" and Mr. "Popularized the Idea of the Unconscious."

And lava and interiority?
Yeah, there's a lot of pressure resting on this metaphor. We'll see more volcano stuff later on, but I think these sections are where the metaphors finally start to congeal in a helpful way for me.

How is Geryon a man in transition?
Obviously there's the transition to adulthood, but we might think about other ways to: a figure written by a transitional author (Stesichoros); a figure transitioning between literary modes (Carson's fake Greek poetry vs. her novel-in-verse); and of course he is a man interested in sex with other men, and those are always liminal figures of a sort.

Sentences

Who am I? He had been here before in the dark on the stairs with his hands out
groping for a switch--he hit it
and the room sprang towards him like an angry surf with its unappeasable debris
of woman liquors, he saw a slip
a dropped magazine combs baby powder a stack of phone books a bowl of pearls
a teacup with water in it himself
in the mirror cruel as a slash of lipstick--he banged the light off. (57)

So much going on here! The use of asyndeton (deliberate omission of conjunctions) in that long list of unappeasable debris is an excellent way of mirroring the psychology of this teenaged boy seeing such a room. But I also find the structure fascinating, especially that loooooong second sentence. We have 4 basic elements to it, each structured around he {verb}: 1) he had been here 2) he hit it 3) he saw 4) he banged the light off. The parallelism allows a sprawling, massive sentence to feel both smooth, neat, quick, and even in a way well-ordered. (I know I keep banging on about parallelism, and making such a big deal out of a simple syntactical device might seem pedestrian or sophomoric to many readers, but I really do think sentence mechanics are under-discussed in CNF spheres, so I'm going to keep banging away). I like the way the middle pair are joined with just a single comma, and I like how that pair is attached via a dash: 1--2,3--4, basically. A nice patterning.


Reality is a sound, you have to tune in to it not to just keep yelling. (60)

My friend Lela liked this sentence so much she made it her Twitter bio when she first read it, so I'll let her speak a few words: "A very succinct way of talking about the manner some of us live in the world versus maybe the manner we should live in, in terms of imposing ourselves on reality or listening to it, and I think accomplishing that almost self-helpy idea through this metaphor is pretty graceful."


where hardworking dawn monkeys (60)

Dawn is what struck me here; the time of a day (a feature of the setting) is re-attributed to an agent acting within the setting. Carson keeps sliding the role of adjectives around on us (think back to, say, boy neck for comparison): moving atmospheric information to those acting in the atmosphere.

Like the terrestrial crust of the earth
which is proportionately ten times thinner than an eggshell, the skin of the soul
is a miracle of mutual pressures.
Millions of kilograms of force pounding up from the earth's core on the inside to meet
the cold air of the world and stop,
as we do, just in time. The autobiography,
which Geryon worked on from the age of five to the age of fourty-four,
had recently taken the form of a 
photographic essay. (60)

Register shifts, obviously--moving again from thinking about the interior in geologic & technical terms (crust, proportionately thinner, kilograms of force) to aesthetic & metaphysical ones (soul, autobiography). I do especially like the juxtaposition of the sentence about the autobiography with the one about force, and how she refrains from "explaining" that particular move (and interesting too to think about how acquire a broader, larger narrative distance every time the autobiography comes up). Just in time, as well as that fact that we are a thing that stop, has a lot of potential valences; play around with the meaning in your head a bit and a lot of avenues start to open up, no?

Geryon's heart and lungs were a black crust. (62)

In Geryon's autobiography
this page has a photograph of some red rabbit giggle tied with a white ribbon.
He has titled it "Jealous of My Little Sensations." (62)

These two are also interesting in terms of distance and register--we move from a very intense, very close, very emotive black crust which unifies Geryon's experience directly with the volcanic metaphors to a more distant view requiring us to do a bit more intepretation or speculation about an older Geryon (after all, he didn't make the photograph in that exact moment, right?). Tracking Geryon's relationship to time and how that intersects with the narrative and/or lyric distance might be a good project.

Exercises
1--2,3--4
Compose a sentence with a structure mirroring that of Caron's long sentence describing Geryon entering the room. Pick a single subject, 4 different verbs, and unite them in a single sentence where the 2nd and 3 clauses are penned in with dashes & joined by a comma.

Adjectival Sliding
Move information about setting or atmosphere to instead describe an actor within that setting or atmosphere (see: dawn monkeys).
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Next week's plan (assuming I don't get off schedule again):
Tuesday: AA and Memory Burn
Wednesday: Fruit Bowl and Water
Thursday: Freedom

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Will Slattery helps curate things here on Essay Daily. He tweets on occasion: @wjaslattery

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Syntax Club: "XVI. Grooming"; "XVII. Walls"

Syntax Club: Autobiography of Red

Please see here for previous installments of Syntax Club; feel free to post comments and thoughts and sentences you love here on the site or Twitter; if you try an exercise feel free to Tweet some of your results using the #SyntaxClub tag.

Frame

--How is this work essayistic, or possibly of value to essayists?
--What is distinctive, noteworthy, excellent, or interesting about the sentences in this work?

Argument

Geryon and Herakles have what seems to be their first major sexual encounter (implied as an oral one) which leaves Geryon feeling not as a wounded angel but instead a magnetic person; i.e., the sexual encounter is a locus of agency and power--but it should be noted that many readers interpret the title ("Grooming") given to the sexual encounter as a complicating factor. Immediately after their sexual encounter, we see Geryon and Herakles at work painting the town red via rambunctious, perhaps pretentious graffiti; this nocturnal behavior ultimately emphasizes Geryon's limits and (perhaps inevitable, structural, cosmically fixed) distance from Herakles.

Questions

Does Carson's occasional use of the 1st person plural relate to the essayistic vibes this book sometimes gives you, Will?

Probably, I think--take a look at the opening of "Grooming"; that's a sweeping move, alright, and the use of the 1st person plural we makes it impossible to not at least consider the sentence in light of nonfiction, or hybrid, or metafictive, or "all of the above" spaces. I guess you could call it an authorial or narratorial interjection, but it's not doing the work we typically associate with those interjections in "normal" or "traditional" or "realist" fiction, so I'm inclined to read it in a hybrid way. Especially since this particular moment feels in some ways akin to her aphoristic gestures.

What do we make of the title "Grooming"?

It refers most literally to the goofy gorilla game they play together, clearly, but given Geryon's history there are obvious possible tensions to this word when used to introduce a sexual experience. Though, of course, Carson also wants us to bear in mind that Geryon isn't that wounded angel figure. Feel free to share thoughts on how it should be read if you are so inclined.



Sentences

As in childhood we live sweeping close to the sky and now, what dawn is this. (54)

Wildly expansive, 1st person plural sense of involvement, a lush breathlessness to that final phrase. Thoroughly Carsonian.

Herakles lies like a piece of torn silk in the heat of the blue (54)

A straightforward simile in terms of structure, and easy enough in terms of connotation (silk seems a neat fit for a young lover), but Carson wants to keep us on our toes--and she delays the twist until the very end. Did you think this simile demarcating the opening bounds of this heated sexual experience would end in red? You were wrong; interesting how Carson withholds the pivot until the last word of that concluding prepositional phrase.

Geryon thinks for some reason of going into a barn
first thing in the morning
when sunlight strikes a bale of raw hay still we from the night. (54)

I adore the sheer strangeness of this mental moment, and how she guilelessly leans into it (thinks for some reason) instead of explaining it.

Geryon felt clear and powerful--not some wounded angel after all
but a magnetic person like Matisse
or Charlie Parker! (54)

Again and again, for a very finicky and slippery sort of work, we often get sentences that are remarkably sincere and guileless. In this case, Geryon's experience of feeling clear and powerful is given via unabashedly clear and powerful markers: wounded angel, magnetic person, and that final, totally sincere exclamation point.

That night they went out painting. (55)

A nice contrast to the previous section's opener, both in terms of syntax (long and short) and concept (dawn and night).

Geryon did an early red-winged LOVESLAVE on the garage of the priest's house (55)

Early is an interesting modifier here; it can take on several meanings in that LOVESLAVE is literally early in the sequence of graffiti they are painting in-scene and in that it implies Geryon has a category of work one might call early--we get glimpses of his future, adult, artistic career, maybe?

The night was wide open
and blowing headlights like a sea. (55)

Similes are one of the most guileless of figurative techniques generally--they take something metaphoric and use that central like to clarify the metaphor's, almost didactically giving it an unmissable hinge. But notice how she skews things again at the end. Night and sea both as wide open, sure, easy and obvious--but blowing headlights?

Geryon watched the top of Herakles' head
and felt his limits returning. Nothing to say. Nothing. He looked at this fact
in mild surprise. Once in childhood
his ice cream had been eaten by a dog. Just an empty cone
in a small dramatic red fist. (56)

Small dramatic red fist has excellent internal vowel sonics. I also like that this is the only (I think?) reference to the dog in the novel-in-verse proper. And note too how Geryon's awareness of his limits returning, of his inexplicable interiority, gets a little bit of free indirect discourse treatment through the use of the fragmented nothing to say and nothing.

Exercises


Section Openers

Take something fragmented or multi-sectional and compose short, 1-sentence interludes of some kind opening each fragment or section. Strive to set up a dichotomy or schema of some kind in these openers. Play around with what thematic and structural effects you can achieve this way. See: what dawn is this & that night.

Unexpected Simile, Terminal Position

Draft a simile or two describing a feature or scene or moment or whatever in one of your current projects, and find a way to skew the simile or make it deeply unexpected towards the very end. Avoid deliberate unexpectedness in the first portion of the simile--save that pivot. See: Herakles in the heat of the blue, or the night and the sea both blowing headlights.

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Tomorrow we do She and From the Archaic to the Fast Self

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Will Slattery helps curate things here on Essay Daily. He tweets on occasion: @wjaslattery

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Syntax Club: "XIV. Red Patience"; "XV. Pair"

Syntax Club: Autobiography of Red

Please see here for previous installments of Syntax Club; feel free to post comments and thoughts and sentences you love here on the site or Twitter; if you try an exercise feel free to Tweet some of your results using the #SyntaxClub tag.

Frame

--How is this work essayistic, or possibly of value to essayists?
--What is distinctive, noteworthy, excellent, or interesting about the sentences in this work?

Argument

Geryon finds himself inexplicably transfixed by an especially unusual volcano photograph (entitled "Red Patience" involving a fifteen minute exposure; Geryon finds that his wings are struggling anew (a pain not felt since childhood) as he and Herakles find themselves this odd pair engaged in a mutual sort of watching; in other words, our adolescent protagonist is reckoning with time, intimacy, distance, and vision.

Questions

What's valuable to an essayist here?

Probably gonna start shifting the question approach up tomorrow, since ultimately I am starting to repeat in unhelpful ways, but for now let's emphasize that these sections are doing significant work about the nature of time (long photo exposure) and the relationship between distance, sight, and intimacy (Geryon's relative inability to render himself as anything other than odd to Herakles, the ways in which his wings serve as a locus for difference, otherness, monstrosity, etc). The latter of those is something more or less all essays grapple with in a way.

Sentences

A fifteen-minute exposure that recorded both the general shape of the cone
with its surroundings (best seen by day)
and the rain of incandescent bombs tossed into the air and rolling down its slopes
(visible in the dark). (51)

Gorgeous elongation, but I'm most drawn by two things here: the sonic & connotative choice underpinning bombs (emphasizing the sudden, violent spectacle through an explosive and a plosive--that puff of air with the b providing a nice contrast to the more languid incandescent) and the ways in which the parenthetical interruptions provide a sort of dichotomy (day & night).

Geryon could see a row of pine skeletons
killed by falling ash. (51)

and ash moving down
and pines in the kill process. (51)

Skeletons killed continues the violent connotations from above, but notice how Carson recalls, extends, reworks it into willful strangeness later on: killed becomes in the kill process.

he kept going back to it.
It was not that he found it an especially pleasing photograph.
It was not that he
did not understand how such photographs are made.
He kept going back to it. (51)

Significant & effective use of repetition here (he kept going back to it; it was not that) to emphasize both the intensity with which Geryon is drawn to the photograph and the inexplicability of the draw. I like too that we get what can be called a chiasmus or antimetabole (repetition of elements in an inverted order; an AB:BA pattern; don't stress too much about which one is which, many rhetoricians and scholars use the terms inconsistently).

His wings were struggling. They tore against each other on his shoulders
like the little mindless red animals they were.
With a piece of wooden plank he'd found in the basement Geryon made a back brace
and lashed the wings tight.
Then he put his jacket back on. (53)

Variance in syntactic length is what struck me here--Carson is describing a single situation/sequence of action (Geryon's wings are bothersome and so he makes a brace to restrain them) with sentence patterns more or less Short->Long->Long->Short (similar to our ABBA chiasmus action above). Interesting that Carson confines the moment of commentary (like the little mindless red animals they were) to the long and keeps the short sentences framing the whole action simple and direct.

The jacket shifted. Geryon peered out. (53)

We saw a similar move to this--Geryon being a little obscured, rendered partially in terms of a moving or speaking object--in some earlier sections with the fruit bowl. Interesting that Carson chooses to repeat the move here, especially given that the next section will contain the first sexual consummation of Geryon and Herakles' relationship.


Exercises
Parenthetical Pairs
Compose a single sentence which contains two different parenthetical interludes that somehow serve as contrasts or counterpoints on the level of diction, subject, or theme (see: day and night above).

Recall and Rework
Establish a through-line of diction across several words (see: the violence implicit in skeletons, bombs, killed by falling ash, etc) and then recall and rework the same through-line later on in a passage (see: how killed becomes kill process).

Short Long Long Short
See how imitating Carson's syntactic variance affects the pacing of your own writing; describe a single sequence or action in short and long sentences according to an ABBA pattern (and maybe experiment with it the other way, too).


*


Tomorrow we do Grooming and Walls.

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Will Slattery helps curate things here on Essay Daily. He tweets on occasion: @wjaslattery

Monday, May 25, 2020

Sheryl St. Germain on Risk, Grief, Healing, and Recovery amidst a Cancelled Book Tour

I started planning an eight-week book tour for Fifty Miles in early 2019. With the help and generosity of friends and colleagues, I’d managed to put together a tour for 2020 that would span nine cities and seven states. Fifty Miles is a memoir about addiction, grief and healing that focuses on my son Gray, who died in 2014 of a heroin overdose, and my own struggles with substance abuse and recovery. I knew it was going to be difficult to read from it, night after night, but it felt important to spread some compassionate and what I hoped would be read as thoughtful lyricism about those we love who fall into the river of addiction. In conversation with a fellow poet, Ed Hirsch, who lost his own young son to drugs and wrote a poetry book inspired by him, Ed said to me that we can’t market books like these, rather we have to hope that they will fall into the hands of those that need them. I hoped this book tour might help find those hands.

The tour started with a book launch in early spring in Pittsburgh, my current home, and a reading at nearby Wilkes-Barre, home of Etruscan. I then flew to New York City for another reading. A close friend of my son, the artist, Morgan Everhart, came to this reading, which made it especially meaningful. We had used a painting she did inspired by Gray on the cover of a book of my poems that had come out in 2018, The Small Door of Your Death (Autumn House).

On March 1 we left for the first (driving) leg of the tour, with my generous husband Teake driving. We knew about the virus, but none of my events had been cancelled yet, and we hadn’t yet realized how bad it was going to get. The Association of Writers and Writing Programs was still planning to hold its conference in San Antonio, where I was scheduled to do a signing with Etruscan for Fifty Miles, so I figured it couldn’t be that bad. Two days later we were in Dallas, and things had quickly worsened. I had a reading at a bookstore there, and spent a few days with old friends and former students. I lived for 13 years in Dallas and spent my first teaching years there. I was moved to see some of the very first students I taught in the audience at the reading.  Meanwhile, more disturbing information was coming forward about COVID-19 and its danger to the elderly. We were headed to San Antonio to do the signing, then our plan was to drive to New Orleans where we had just placed my mother in an assisted living facility. We planned to spend a couple weeks in New Orleans helping my mother, selling her house and hosting an estate sale before I participated in the annual Tennessee Williams Festival.

But as we readied to leave Dallas for San Antonio, I began to have second thoughts. What if I picked something up at the conference and brought it to my mother? I decided the risk was too great, and with sadness informed Etruscan that I was going to skip AWP. Instead, we headed straight to Louisiana.

We had lots of time in the car, while driving, to listen to NPR and catch up on what was happening with the virus. Although there weren’t many cases in New Orleans yet, I began to think about how quickly it might spread there. Having been born and raised in New Orleans, I knew how important huge festivals like Mardi Gras were, but also that there were lots of spring festivals where there would be large gatherings of people. And I knew how my community there loved to drink and party and be in large crowds. As of this date Louisiana is one of the three hot spots for the virus in the U.S. with 9,150 cases and 310 deaths as of this writing, the majority of which are in the New Orleans area.

We arrived in New Orleans March 8. We sold my mother’s house on March 11, and the family went out to eat lunch—raw oysters, gumbo and po-boys—with my mother at our favorite restaurant. Meanwhile, emails from Georgia, Illinois, Iowa and Maryland slowly trickled in saying that all of my events had been cancelled.

A couple of days after we closed on the house, my mother’s assisted living facility went on lock down. We were not going to be able to see her for the forseeable future. We would learn later that a resident and staff member both tested positive for the virus, and the former would die. We hosted a two-day estate sale that weekend for my mother’s possessions, which included thousands of books and old records. I wore gloves and tried to be as careful as possible during the sale, but there were times when 40 or so people seemed crammed into my mother’s tiny house. I gave away a few copies of Fifty Miles to a few special people who took books and were interested in learning about my mother because her book collection was so vast and rich.

During the estate sale I received a communication from the organizers of the Tennessee Williams Festival that they were cancelling the festival. Meanwhile the number of confirmed cases in New Orleans was increasing drastically, and I was worried about our getting stick and being stuck in New Orleans, unable to see my mother, and in an old, tiny house with almost no furniture, still lots of books, but also heaps of rat and roach poison sprinkled everywhere. We packed up what we could, including all the copies of Fifty Miles I had hoped to sell, and started the two-day drive home. The first night on the road my husband developed a cough and 101 fever. We pushed through the next day, sharing driving. We both fell ill with flu-like symptoms for two weeks, but tested negative for COVID-19, and are feeling better now.

What started as a journey to spread the word about the epidemic of drug overdoses, inspired by personal experience and my son’s death, morphed into a journey dominated by the fear of the growing epidemic of a new virus strain. For now, my words of grief, healing and recovery are muted by a currently more aggressive disease. I’m grateful to Etruscan, and all the friends and colleagues who were willing to help try to get this book into the hands of those that need it, and hopeful that in the future this virus will lessen its grip on us and the book will fall into more hands of those that need it.

If you’re interested in learning more about Fifty Miles, take a look at this recent piece published in D Magazine.


(This brief essay was originally published in the Spring 2020 Etruscan Press newsletter; we're reprinting it here because it feels timely, and because it ties in to a conversation we'll be publishing shortly with Sheryl St. Germain. —Editors) 



Sheryl St. Germain has published six poetry books, three essay collections, and co-edited two anthologies.  Her latest collection of essays, Fifty Miles, appeared in January 2020 with Etruscan Press. She lives in Pittsburgh where she is co-founder of the Words Without Walls program. In addition to numerous awards for her work, including two NEA grants, in 2018 she was the recipient of The Louisiana Writer Award, presented annually by the Louisiana Center for the Book.

Friday, May 22, 2020

Syntax Club: "XII. Lava"; "XIII. Somnambula"

Syntax Club: Autobiography of Red

Apologies again for the skewed schedule, but in good news I am now ~done~ with grading for the term and ~mostly done~ with peripheral end of year tasks, so hopefully things will be smoother for the rest of the novel. Please see here for previous installments of Syntax Club; feel free to post comments and thoughts and sentences you love here on the site or Twitter; if you try an exercise feel free to Tweet some of your results using the #SyntaxClub tag.

Frame

--How is this work essayistic, or possibly of value to essayists?
--What is distinctive, noteworthy, excellent, or interesting about the sentences in this work?

Argument

Geryon finds himself in a sort of strange, restless, liminal space (hot and motionless) both physically, mentally, and in terms of his relationship with Herakles. The young man is growing, pushing, breaking out, starting to crack--and we still haven't yet hit the sex or the volcano (though we will soon).

Questions

What's valuable to an essayist here?

I may alter the questions a little bit more in the future, as I feel these sections may be getting redundant as we move through the novel-in-verse. In today's readings I'm predominantly interested in that phenomenally intricate and complex thinking going on when Geryon imagines what is it like to be a woman listening in the dark and the answers we receive are placed in relation to sexual assault and the image of slow, forceful, inevitable lava.

Sentences

Black central stalled night. (48)

Another example of effective fragmentation on Carson's part; it's an evocative atmospheric detail pared down to the smallest, tightest phrasing. Stalled is particularly interesting to describe a kind of listless evening.

He lay hot and motionless, that is, motion
was a memory he could not recover
(among others) from the bottom of the vast blind kitchen where he was buried. (48)

Although we've talked mostly about her minimalism, Carson is also perfectly willing to work (or deliberate over-work) the hell out of a sentence when it suits her purposes. Motionless is precisely the type of "tight" or "neat" descriptor that in ordinary MFA-land Craft Discourse would not be amenable to further explication or working. But Carson sticks in a that is (which is what i.e. translates to in English) and, rather than giving us just a basic explanation of the term (what one normally does with i.e.) she draws out and willfully extends the metaphoric action, converting motion to a memory and characterizing Geryon's situation as a vast blind kitchen. A move which is indulgent in the best possible way, I think.

He could feel the house of sleepers
around him like loaves on shelves. (48)

I love how unexpected and yet also plain, matter-of-fact, even guileless the loaf simile is here.

He thought of women.
What is it like to be a woman
listening in the dark?
Ascent of the rapist up the stairs seems as slow as lava. She listens
to the blank space 
where his consciousness is, moving towards her. Lava can move as slow as
nine hours per inch.
Color and fluidity vary with its temperature from dark red and hard
(below 1,800 degrees centigrade)
to brilliant yellow and completely fluid (above 1,950 degrees centigrade).
She wonders if
he is listening too. The cruel thing is, she falls asleep listening. (48)

So much going on here! I'm not going to offer a complete account of all the movement here, but roughly we get Geryon imagining life as a woman and then a voice (either Geryon's, or Carson's, or a combination there-of) thinking through the dark menace of sexual assault in terms of lava. Note the range of implications here: dark, burning, inexorable, slow, destructive, apocalyptic, inevitable (didn't Geryon have an awareness of his death from a young age? And didn't he know of the role Herakles would play before he ever met him? Again we see a sort of cosmic fixity at work, maybe). What I'm most interested in are the rapid shifts in thinking. After the simile is introduced we move to the blank space, a thinking-through of the psychology involved--but then Carson pivots us without transition or warning to a literal, scientific set of details about the movement of lava. Those sentences in the 2nd half, coming after the extended metaphor or conceit of lava has been introduced, deliberately evade "connective tissue" fleshing out the metaphor in the ways we might expect. Carson sets the simile up and then uses "raw", predominately factual details in a totally different register (brilliant yellow and above 1,9000 degrees centigrade come from a totally different world than ascent of the rapist). And then we move back again: she wonders. I find this sort of movement--shifting between registers within a given metaphoric framework but without explicit transitioning or connecting--interesting, unexpected, and rather powerful. Would love to hear more about y'all's take on this section.

Hot pressure morning. (49)

Another excellent piece of fragmentation to close us out, similar to the night which opened these two sections.


Exercises
That Is, (Over)-Working

Take a look at all the work Carson hinges on to the descriptor motionless. Write (or pull from a manuscript) a sentence or two on a topic you know well. Scan for a modifier that seems as if it does not need elaboration or essaying, like her motionless. Append a that is to the modifier and write a phrase or clause to attach which deliberately draws out or expands on the original modifier in a way that either does some serious essaying or takes the seemingly-obvious original modifier in a new, interesting, or charged direction.

Extended Metaphors & Register Shifts

Establish a conceit or extended metaphor within a few sentences (let's say ~5 max). Experiment with moving between the different elements of this framework (e.g., Carson's woman/sexual assault/lava). Try to use multiple registers of description or narration (scientific, lyric, whatever are appropriate to your materials) to correspond to the different elements of the framework. See what effects you can achieve by sharply pivoting between registers as you work through the component elements of the metaphor/conceit. Avoid treating the elements with the same style/register/tone/"voice"/whatever.


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Next week let's plan on:
Tuesday-Red Patience; Pair
Wednesday-Grooming; Walls
Thursday-She; From the Archaic Self to the Fast Self

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Will Slattery helps curate things here on Essay Daily. He tweets on occasion: @wjaslattery

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Syntax Club: "X. Sex Question"; "XI. Hades"

Syntax Club: Autobiography of Red

Apologies again for the skewed schedule, but in good news I am now ~done~ with grading for the term and ~mostly done~ with peripheral end of year tasks, so hopefully things will be smoother for the rest of the novel. Please see here for previous installments of Syntax Club; feel free to post comments and thoughts and sentences you love here on the site or Twitter; if you try an exercise feel free to Tweet some of your results using the #SyntaxClub tag.

Frame

--How is this work essayistic, or possibly of value to essayists?
--What is distinctive, noteworthy, excellent, or interesting about the sentences in this work?

Argument

Geryon's relationship with Herakles approaches a new. identity-sorting fulcrum--sex--although the relationship doesn't arrive there yet, Geryon and Herakles embrace a renegade youth that is somewhere between artistic and low-grade deliquent; Geryon and Herakles prepare to visit Herakles' hometown of Hades, which features a central geographic metaphor: the volcano.

Questions

What's valuable to an essayist here?
Probably less we can learn on the broad essayistic level here in these two short sections, though there is another interesting aphoristic move at the start of the Hades section (the claim, or mantra, or whatever they spraypaint on the high school wall. Going to focus more so on sentences today.


Sentences

Cold night smell
coming in the windows. New moon floating white as a rib at the edge of the sky. (44)

There's an interesting omission here; Carson completely drops the articles most people would lead with. Not a cold night smell or the new moon--just the thing itself: cold night smell and new moon. On a "craft" level it's an easy, neat way of shortening and sharpening the sentences, but it also renders these two pieces of imagery more lyric, more ecstatic, more mythic; removing the particularizing articles has (at least for me) an effect that makes the images totalized, super-saturated, etc. Interesting to think about in light of how adjectives in this novel are, after all, latches of being (and ones unhinged or let loose by Stesichoros). And interesting too that we get night as a sort of category adjective, similar to boy neck from the Red Meat portions (I need a better phrase for this thing I keep describing so poorly!), in the first sentence, rather than cold night's smell or smell of cold night or etc.

He was fourteen.
Sex is a way of getting to know someone,
Herakles had said. he was sixteen. (44)

Strong, clear, simple use of syntactical parallelism to communicate the important and powerful difference in position between our two young gayboys in a very small number of words.

Hot unsorted parts of the question
were licking up from every crack in Geryon,
he beat at them as a nervous laugh escaped him. (44)

I love the sheer strangeness of this one--the question's parts are hot and unsorted, but also capable of licking up through cracks--images setting us up for all the fun volcano time we will have together later in the novel, maybe--but ultimately these hot unsorted parts are things to be beaten down. Again it seems Carson has a fondness for wide and fast movement when doing descriptive or metaphoric work.

Not touching
but joined in astonishment as two cuts lie parallel in the same flesh. (45)

A different sort of omission: rather than removing articles Carson leaves out the actual grammatical subject of the sentence (what exactly is not touching but joined? the two boys), giving us a long fragment containing that fantastic, astonishing comparison to parallel cuts. There's a definite power to casually dropping in such a bomb.

SPIRIT RULES SECRETLY ALONE THE BODY ACHIEVES NOTHING
is something you know instinctively at fourteen and can still remember even with hell in your head
at sixteen. (46)

This particular aphoristic move exists on multiple levels: the ALL CAPS representing what is getting literally spray-painted segues to normal typography as Carson expands on the actual claim in a more essayistic fashion. Notice the way she uses you as a universal stand-in (a very common thing for us essayists, I think). And note too how it's possible to make a long, relatively elegant sentence with a minimum of punctuation.



Exercises

Omission
Compose several descriptive sentences (or select several from an existing manuscript). Experiment with re-writing them in ways that deliberately omit normal grammatical features (articles, subjects, predicates, etc). See: cold night smell and new moon, or not touching but... for examples. Play around with what tonal or thematic effects you can heighten in this way.



*

Tomorrow we do Lava & Somnambula

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Will Slattery helps curate things here on Essay Daily. He tweets on occasion: @wjaslattery

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Syntax Club: "VII. Change"; "VIII. Click"; "IX. Space and Time"

Syntax Club: Autobiography of Red

Apologies again for the skewed schedule, but in good news I am now ~done~ with grading for the term and ~mostly done~ with peripheral end of year tasks, so hopefully things will be smoother for the rest of the novel. Please see here for previous installments of Syntax Club; feel free to post comments and thoughts and sentences you love here on the site or Twitter; if you try an exercise feel free to Tweet some of your results using the #SyntaxClub tag.

Frame

--How is this work essayistic, or possibly of value to essayists?
--What is distinctive, noteworthy, excellent, or interesting about the sentences in this work?

Argument

Geryon "somehow" makes it to adolescence: he meets a boy (Herakles) and finds himself immediately smitten and lovestruck. Entering adolescence somewhat complicates Geryon's family relationships, and he draws away from his mother to cling more closely to both Herakles and his new hobby/artistic discipline: photography.


Questions

What's valuable to an essayist here?

We get several moments of Big Idea or Aphorism or Gesture in these sections regarding the self, the other, and distance. I don't quite have a full grasp on how these are all functioning here, but it seems to be that Carson is presenting Geryon's burgeoning relationship with Herakles as an occasion "up against" a radically different being, i.e., another person, and so a relationship which clarifies, illuminates, or re-evaluates the self. Given that our whole shtick as essayists is, well, making ourselves (or at least the activity of our minds) legible to others, these notions of identity, distance, and intimacy seem pretty relevant.

Sentences

Then he met Herakles and the kingdoms of his life all shifted down a few notches.
They were two superiors eels
at the bottom of the tank and they recognized each other like italics. (39)

I love the interplay between these totally unexpected metaphors: kingdoms shifting downward, eels at the bottom of a tank like italics. Describing the contours of Geryon's life as kingdoms is interesting and unexpected in that throws a grandiose, mythic light back on our coming-of-age moody gayboy subject. But it also sets us up for the animal metaphor (think biology and taxonomy) when we get to eels, who eventually recognize each other as italics, sometime else entirely. There's a ton of movement here (kingdom to eels to italics in just two dozen words or so), really--although Carson tends to avoid overtly flashy syntactical pyrotechnics she definitely makes forceful and compellingly brazen moves at times.

and there it was one of those moments

that is the opposite of blindness. (39)

Describing the first romantic recognition as sight or light or something similar would feel very overplayed, but Carson achieves a similar effect through negation or opposition; she circles around the thing. I'm reminded very indirectly of apophatic or negative theology, an entire discipline based around description via opposition or negation.

The huge night moved overhead
scattering drops of itself. (39)

A nice moment of personification (night doesn't move or scatter, after all) which creates a strong sense of atmosphere (the drizzling rain isn't just rain--it's night itself--the warm dark lull in which our two gayboys meet (where else) in a bus station.

He put Geryon's hands inside his shirt. (39)

Honestly difficult for me to think of a stronger encapsulation of gay male desire than this moment.

He had recently relinquished speech. (40)

Notice the combination of sympathy, irony, elevation, and sarcasm at work here, all jumbled together. Relinquished is a lofty way of describing teenaged sullenness, but it's also the type of phrase a clever, artistic youth might use quite seriously (compared with, say, Stephen Dedalus from Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (Joyce incidentally is absolutely definitively 110& the most essayistic fiction writer in the English language, maybe someday when I have more time, more energy, or more self-loathing we can take a look at some of his stuff together)). Carson is gently mocking Geryon's behavior. But the use of such a lofty verb also brings us back to the heroic-mythic dimension Carson has created, which exists alongside and intermingled with a contemporary coming-of-age tale. It's honestly an extraordinary act of balance to be able to maintain these things, and this verb choice does an excellent job of helping with the act.

The words dropped behind him as he went banging out the screen door. (41)

Love the way the participle banging sort, of, well, bangs its way into the middle of this otherwise middle-of-the-road sentence.

Up against another human being one's own procedures take on definition. (42)

Here we see a Big Idea or Aphorism or whatever--notice that as Carson leans more into the essayistic or thinky realm we start to see more gestures of involvement or implication: one's own could easily mean us, after all.

The instant of nature
forming between them drained every drop from the walls of his life
leaving behind just ghosts
rustling like an old map. (42)

Another example of a sentence with a phenomenal amount of movement in the metaphors.

"How does distance look" is a simple direct question. (43)

Wait--since when do we get *quotation marks* in this novel? Who is speaking this, who are they targeting it to, what is prompting it, etc? The poet makes an aside as they are thinking through something, I suppose--and that's essaying, right? Anytime I write a sentence that doesn't totally suck the poets always tell me "it is really a poem at heart", so anytime they do any amount of serious thinking at all I'm going to say "it is really an essay at heart." & notice too how seamlessly the text moves back to the level of narration after this--just a simple pivot on multiple senses of the word light.

Exercises

Via Negativa

Describe an intense emotion, experience, or event through negation or opposition or contrast (see: opposite of blindness). Avoid directly referencing the thing itself.

Keep it Moving

Writing about any subject you know well, attempt 3 or more metaphoric comparisons (see: kingdoms, eels, italics) in 1-2 sentences max. Avoid "connective tissue"--let the suddenness and jarringness work in your favor if possible.

Verbs, Irony, and Sympathy

Take a sentence in a draft (a sentence you are fond of and which describes a meaningful action somehow) and rewrite it so that the verbs involved convey simultaneously a sense of sympathy/understanding for and amusement/irony/sarcasm/etc for the agent accomplishing the action.


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Tomorrow we do Sex Question and Hades--what a pair.

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Will Slattery helps curate things here on Essay Daily. He tweets on occasion: @wjaslattery

Monday, May 18, 2020

What Happened on 12.21.19: Dorian Fox

Remember our What Happened on 12.21.19 project? Looks like we're still posting these, so if you're still working on yours, send it in! —Editors

*

We got on the road late. Our goal was Boston to Pittsburgh by 10 p.m., and I hadn’t packed the night before. Maggie worried about making good time and I worried about feeling rushed. My worst fear is doing a bad job, on whatever schedule, and her worst fear is failing to do the scheduled thing at all. Not so different, but sometimes our neuroses interfere with each other.

Road coffees and doughnuts made us feel better, along with the increasing distance from our daily routines. We weren’t ready for carols yet, so Maggie put on Lizzo. We plotted a course that included some scenic byways.

In Danbury, CT, we had lunch at the New Holiday Diner, which was pretty on the nose. I wished more of life were on the nose. We sat in a booth by windows. Maggie ordered a Coke and a burger and I got a chicken club and a chocolate milkshake. Across the street, kids toddled outside a railroad museum under a giant Uncle Sam. By that point Maggie was crying, missing her parents, who had escaped to Florida for two weeks, but mostly missing her sister, who is no longer alive. We talked about family and grief and money and health care. I was concerned I’d snap at my dad over politics in the coming days.

At a cafĂ© in Milford, PA, the bar was decorated with strings of lights and a video board with festive drink specials. The bartender said, “Welcome to Rudolph’s,” and then we walked off to use the bathrooms, and when we circled back he said “Welcome to Rudolph’s” again. We ordered hot ciders and I joked about wanting the alcoholic kind but having to drive.

In an antique shop, I found a small statue of a fox wearing fox-hunting clothes. It was also a bottle opener. At the register, I told the clerk my dad’s birthday is on Christmas and his last name is Fox (both true). She didn’t seem to think it was very clever, but she was polite and wrapped the gift carefully in tissue paper. In another shop, we bought a dress for my niece and a cutting board made of Italian olive wood for my sister and brother-in-law.

We passed through Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, our main reason for taking the route we took. Maggie worried we’d miss the light, which on this shortest day of the year would be gone by around 3:30, our phones said. The timing worked, though. We drove alongside bare trees and foggy fields, and even though we were headed southwest, not west, an orange sky rippled out in front of us. For thirty miles it felt like the coming year, and maybe the future in general, might be okay.

After that, three more hours of highways. Holiday albums by bluegrass bands and RuPaul. Andy Williams, Nat King Cole and Mariah Carey on the radio. In Altoona, PA, we stopped at a satellite franchise version of a famous Pittsburgh sandwich shop. Football on every screen, and in the back a large party whooped it up for some occasion. At the bar, a young bearded server looked overwhelmed. “Are you two complicated?” he asked. We said we didn’t think so. We ordered two lagers, hot wings and a capicola and cheese.

I drove the last dark leg to Pittsburgh, and we saw the city lights rise up over the hills. Then more darkness in the suburbs. Around 11 we pulled up to the beige colonial my mom sometimes calls a Hallmark house. In fairness, it did look like a Hallmark house. Red bow on the lamppost, electric candles in every window. My parents were at a Christmas party, so we found the key under the mat, dragged some luggage inside and went to check on my grandma on the sunporch, where she now spends almost all her time. She’s eighty-seven and sleeps in my childhood bed. We hugged her and she seemed surprised, but glad. “I wish I had natural waves like that,” she said, and touched my hair. She says it every time she sees me, lamenting her years of curlers and perms. Maggie laughed and disappeared upstairs, where I’d later find her swaddled in lacy blankets.

In the meantime I sat with my grandma. We watched a holiday concert: blue stage lighting and poinsettias like sprays of paint. “Is your mum around?” “No gram, she’s at a party.” Sometimes she asks for her own mother. She still feels like the same person to me, but maybe that’s another thing I won’t look at straight on. Before my parents got home in their party clothes – the garage door’s rumble, then bells on the kitchen knob jangling – I kissed her face, which felt like cool, damp silk.

*

Dorian Fox is a writer and freelance editor in Boston, where he teaches creative writing courses at GrubStreet.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Syntax Club: "III. Rhinestones"; "IV. Tuesday"; "V. Screendoor"; "VI. Ideas"

Syntax Club: Autobiography of Red

Sorry about the schedule shuffling on this week's posts (I'm in the midst of "high school final exams" season). Please see here for previous installments of Syntax Club; feel free to post comments and thoughts and sentences you love here on the site or Twitter; if you try an exercise feel free to Tweet some of your results using the #SyntaxClub tag.

Frame

--How is this work essayistic, or possibly of value to essayists?
--What is distinctive, noteworthy, excellent, or interesting about the sentences in this work?

Argument

Carson presents us with various scenes from Geryon's youth, which emphasize his close relationship with his mother, his odd experience of the world, and the general asshole status of his brother. We see Geryon both struggling to communicate his experience of the world verbally and attempting early forays into art (composition journal, tomato sculpture, etc.)


Questions

What's valuable to an essayist here?

These sections are pretty straightforwardly (well, as straightforward as anything Carson does) narrative/novel-like; Carson doesn't lean too heavily on the Big Idea or Aphorism toolkits in these sections. However, the continued references to interior/exterior are worth thinking about as essayists (and "interiority" is kind of our whole deal, right?). Additionally, the ways in which she skews narrative distance back and forth (sometimes the style is closely imitating Geryon's mind, a la free indirect discourse, other times it is a removed-but-opinionated narrative style) are useful to think about. Essayists don't have precisely the same relationship to narrative distance, but distance is still a major factor for us.

Sentences

rhinestoning past on her way to the door. (30)

Interesting type of conversion here; rhinestone, a noun, becomes a verb: rhinestoning (Google tells me this is called "anthimeria"; the inverse, using a verb as a noun, is of course our good friend the gerund). Conversationally we do this all the time, but mostly with boring technology nouns: Skyping, Zooming, Facebooking, etc. Using it for an actually interesting noun is powerfully evocative here.

He knew he must not cry. And he knew the sound
of the door closing
had to be kept out of him. (30)

I love how Carson alters the structure of these sentences to communicate something about agency. Both have the same subject and basic action: he knew. The first sentence is a straightforward, internal imperative: don't cry, man, that'll make it worse. But the second sentence renders him passive and emphasizes his emotional powerlessness; the sound had to be kept out of him, but how? and by whom?

He chose to pass over this distinction. (31)

Note the narrative distance: the voice (can we say the voice *is* Carson? This is a novel, sure, but the narrating voice feels co-extensive with the author we see in the nonfictive sections--maybe that's how this is an essay after all!) is observing, editorializing maybe with a bit of humor.

said the fruit bowl. (31)

But here we get a very different sort of humor (identifying the voice with the bowl covering the kid's head), one much more embedded in the visual experience of the scene. I'm finding the sliding sense of distance more and more interesting throughout this read-through.

Geryon's brother was regarding her with one eye closed his mode of total attention. (33)

Interesting here to note that Carson, famously fancy and pretentious and etc, is actually often kind of a minimalist; there's no punctuation setting off his mode of total attention. Normally you'd do a comma if you were working in a "normal" style, or a colon or a dash if you wanted to perform a bit and draw attention to it, but Carson gives us no mark at all! I'm reminded of the 2 or 3 times in my education I had to read the Hemingway story about the abortion--"Hills like White Elephants?" something like that--and how he uses omission or removal in a similar way.

Maria (34)

Probably worthwhile to track who gets names and who doesn't (i.e., mother and brother).

He had ripped up some pieces of crispy paper he found in her purse to use for hair (35)

A "close" moment in terms of distance; Geryon thinks of it as crispy paper, the punchline is, as we learn at the end, that he's cut up a 10 dollar bill.

Outside the dark pink air
was already hot and alive with cries. (36)

Dark pink air is a great example of Carson's tendency to combine contrasting or conflicting elements (obviously pink can have darker and lighter shades, but it's odd to see it together like this, no?). And hot and alive with cries is a fantastic way of describing Geryon's odd, strange, spastic, lyrical, probably synaesthetic experience of the world.

neatened his little red wings and pushed him
out the door. (36)

A pleasingly wholesome moment, honestly, given how tough Geryon has it.

FINALLY
Geryon had a little red dog Herakles killed that too. (37)

I love how Carson breaks the form (QUESTIONS is followed by ANSWERS is followed by FINALLY). And note again the punctuation minimalism--Herakles killing the dog is simply set alongside the fact that Geryon had a dog in the first place, no explict linkage or relationship established outside that final too. Greatly sharpens the pathos.

Also: what's actually up with Geryon? Or rather, the Geryons? This version is not quite the same as the one from the fake Greek poetry, but both versions seem to have a mystical awareness or sense of cosmic fixity or something (recall that novel-Geryon hasn't actually met Herakles yet).

Exercises

Conversion, Antimeria, Gerunds

Compose a sentence on a topic of your choosing (or select a pre-existing one). Rewrite the sentence in at least 3 different ways, striving each time to use verbs as nouns (these are gerunds: swim becomes swimming, eat becomes eating, etc) or nouns as verbs (general conversion/anthimeria: rhinestone becomes rhinestoning, etc). Note that because of the way English makes use of -ing for present participles too it can be tricky to tell at a glance how any given -ing word in a sentence is functioning. Typing this has reminded me why I am very grateful to no longer teach 8th grade grammar for a living.

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Next week's schedule, God and Final Exam Grading willing:
Tuesday: Change, Click, Space and Time
Wednesday:Sex Question, Hades
Thursday: Lava, Somnambula


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Will Slattery helps curate things here on Essay Daily. He tweets on occasion: @wjaslattery

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Syntax Club: "I. Justice" & "II. Each"

Syntax Club: Autobiography of Red

Sorry about the schedule shuffling on this week's posts (I'm in the midst of "high school final exams" season). Please see here for previous installments of Syntax Club; feel free to post comments and thoughts and sentences you love here on the site or Twitter; if you try an exercise feel free to Tweet some of your results using the #SyntaxClub tag.

Frame

--How is this work essayistic, or possibly of value to essayists?
--What is distinctive, noteworthy, excellent, or interesting about the sentences in this work?

Argument

Carson introduces us to our young, red, winged protagonist Geryon, who lives in what seems to be a kind of NotQuiteCanadaButStillCanada with his family. Geryon struggles from a young age for a number of reasons, most prominently being his own social weirdness, his inability to experience the world in the same way as others, and sexual abuse from his sibling. Geryon eventually begins work on his "autobiography", a frequent but mercurial object in the novel, which allows Carson to introduce "interior things" and "exterior things" as major, recurring categories.


Questions

Is this an essay?

No, this section (which is the opening of the bulk of the work: the "novel in verse") is pretty definitively not an essay.

What's valuable to an essayist here, then?

We can probably agree that the essay is fundamentally a think-y genre, or a think-y mode of activity; the manner in which Carson addresses some of the thematic concerns of these sections (namely, justice, interiority, and "each") are approached in a kind of think-y way. She may not be doing explicit essaying, but some of her moves lean towards aphorism, or some other kind of abstraction, let's call it, maybe, say, "intellectually expansive gesture"(see: "like honey is the sleep of the just"). These are similar to moves on which essayists frequently rely.

Is aphorism or "intellectually expansive gesture" inherently essayistic?

Maybe? I'm not saying these tools are unique to essayists (indeed, any fiction writer working outside of a certain Modern American Realist mode probably makes use of tools we would consider essayistic; tons of 19th Century authors use fictional narratives as occasion for long interludes of essaying all the time). The older I get the less interested I am in the theoretic boundaries of the category of "essay" and the more interested I am in seeing what the essay toolkit can do.

Sentences

Geryon learned about justice from his brother quite early. (23)

Typical Carson: strong abstraction (justice) as an introduction to what would otherwise be a pretty localized, concrete scene. Quite early is an interesting choice for this opening sentence--it becomes extremely ominous once we hit the second section, but here before that information it seems wryly mysterious. I'm curious about these separate, opening lines Carson uses for each of the numbered segments--they often seem to lean into more essayistic modes.

So many different kinds of stones,
the sober and the uncanny, lying side by side in the red dirt.
To stop and imagine the life of each one!
Now they were sailing through the air from a happy human arm,
what a fate. (23)

I love so much the odd poles she picks for expressing the range of possible stones: sober and uncanny! The former is obvious and easy, the latter totally unexpected (at least for me). Carson's more editorial comments can affect a wide range of emotions, and they often manage to feel laconic, wry, and sincere all at once to me. We see some examples of that here: the seemingly guileless exclamation mark concluding the infinitive to stop and imagine; the way what a fate gets plainly appended on. I tend to find the effect of these amusing and charming, but I'm not sure if others feel the same. Also, notice her unusual choice of adjective again: a happy human arm--it's a category adjective similar to ones we saw last week, rather than a possessive human.

He had to make it to the door. He had to not lose track of his brother.
These two things. (24)

Skillful combination of anaphora (repetition at the start; he..he...) and fragmentation (these two things isn't a complete sentence). It lets us inhabit the mental stakes of the situation young Geryon finds himself in; the repeated imperatives of what he must do are followed by a shorter sentence which shows how this childlike fear or anxiety is dominating his mind.

of thunder tunnels and indoor neon sky slammed open by giants. (24)

Thunder tunnles! I love the odd, sideways, slanted (but often perfect) way Carson approaches so many of her adjective choices, and it's doubly impressive here because she makes it alliterative, too--using one of the most potentially heavy-handed devices to draw attention to her unusual choice. Very confident style at work.

The eyes terrible holes. (24)

Another example of fragmentation enabling us to embody or inhabit experience (though notice this time we aren't in Geryon's head per se--we're jumping to the way others might perceive him; I'm definitely interested, especially in this read-through, about how quickly Carson moves around different registers and spaces to inhabit in her narration).

But when justice is done
the world drops away. (24)

Definitely an essayistic (or aphoristic, or "expansive intellectual gesture") moment. I love it, though I'm actually not 100% sure how I want to parse through its precise meaning in this scene (and that combination--"great, but I dunno what it means maybe?"--is what we mean half the time we talk about "lyric essays," right?).

He did not gesticulate.
He did not knock on the glass. He waited. Small, red, and upright he waited,
gripping his new bookbag tight
in one and hand and touching a lucky penny inside his coat pocket with the other,
while the first snows of winter
floated down on his eyelashes and covered the branches around him and silenced
all trace of the world. (25)

Short, punchy anaphora once more leading us up to a final sentence which deliberately inverts modifier placement near the moment of repetition (small, red, and upright he waited) before spilling out into a lovely, highly imagistic sprawl. Notice in particular how she makes use of the plain conjunction and, absent much other connective tissue, to tack on phrase after phrase after phrase. Of course, part of the strength here is the variety (elongation of this sort feels less distinctive if it's more common or frequent in an author's style).

Like honey is the sleep of the just. (26)

Inverting typical syntactical order is a tool Carson has some fondness of; what might have otherwise been a trite simile ("the sleep of the just is like honey") takes on an appropriately mythic dimension here. Compare with, say, Whitman's "vigil strange I kept...".

He clothed himself in this strong word each. (26)

Another fantastic adjective choice: this strong word.

Before this time Geryon had not lived nights just days and their red intervals. (26)

Isn't intervals the same basic unit we got when we learned about Stesichoros' placement in the history of poetry?

He knew the difference between facts and brother hatred. (26)

Brother hatred belongs to the same (highly effective) category as boy neck from last week's analysis. Interesting to think about how frequently she makes this move (turning possession (i.e., the hatred of Geryon's particular brother) into a kind of bigger category (i.e., the type of hatred unique to brothers)), especially given that this book is supposed to be about A D J E C T I V E S.

And so they developed an economy of sex
for cat's-eyes.
Pulling the stick makes my brother happy, thought Geryon. (28)

Carson moves between a very elevated, abstracted register (economy of sex) in her narration to a a much more simple, childlike one (pulling the stick) when diving directly into Geryon's thoughts. Sharp shifts in tone and register are common tools for many authors, and this example masterfully emphasizes both the innocence of Geryon and the horror of the situation. But notice how her refusal to use traditional quotation marks to indicate direct reports of internal thoughts heightens the contrast--and how does it play in to the ongoing stuff with "external" and "internal" at work here?

That was also the day
he began his autobiography. In this work Geryon set down all inside things
particularly his own heroism
and early death much to the despair of the community. He coolly omitted
all outside things (29).

Once again wry, laconic, and sincere all at once. There's a kind of mystical quality to Geryon's relationship to external and internal as categories (and this gets more complex once he grows up and Carson starts throwing, like Heidegger references and stuff at us). Something worth tracking as we read, maybe.


Exercises

And Elongation
Compose a sentence significantly longer than your typical sentences using only (or at least primarily) the conjunction and to draw out the length. Minimize explanation, transition, and dependency as much as you can; try to just set the elements of the long sentence side by side via the conjunction (see: the ending of page 25, that last gorgeous sprawling sentence). We might talk more about this stuff in the form of parataxis v. hypotaxis later on in the novel, as Carson relies on these devices a good deal.

Register Shift
Identify two very different registers or tones and move swiftly between them in the context of a paragraph or short passage (see: economy of sex and pulling the stick).

Alliterative Descriptors

See if you can generate descriptors or modifiers for nouns which are both unexpected and alliterative (see: thunder tunnel).

*

Tomorrow we will be covering "III: Rhinestones", "IV: Tuesday", "V: Screendoor", and "VI: Ideas". 


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Will Slattery helps curate things here on Essay Daily. He tweets on occasion: @wjaslattery

Monday, May 11, 2020

What Happened on 12.21.19: Joshua Dewain Foster

Remember our What Happened on 12.21.19 project? Looks like we're still posting these, so if you're still working on yours, send it in! —Editors



—for Georgia Pearle, on her birthday

Like many of our days together, that day—12.21.19, the winter solstice in the 44th parallel, the calendared day shortest and bleakest—did not go according to plan.
     Our day before was busy, the last of the event center holiday rush. We’d cleaned all day with the kids upstairs, put away a wedding in the ballroom and vacuumed and mopped, then surprised the kids with their Christmas presents—new cell phones, not hand-me-downs—and took off in the pickup for Idaho Falls to celebrate early Xmas at the Olive Garden. We’d been talking about the Olive Garden for a whole week, at least, and all had that carby breadstick crave, and I think you had a gift card. We couldn’t lose. Took us a while to get in with the wait, which I planned on, and used to call Verizon and activate the two phones, and we were finally buzzed in and in short notice all four of us feasted with the starved abandon and acceptance that only family members around a table condone. We got full and tired and drove back to home, to the basement of the Loft, our beaver dam, our cellar, and we lethargically wrapped the rest of the kids’ presents and then did another gift exchange, the small trinkets of our meager Christmas after the cell phones. But they were elated, and we’d once again pulled it off, and now all we had to do was follow the plan: go to bed, get up at 5:30 am Saturday, 12.21.2019, get the dogs to the kennel, then load up and get on the interstate south to Utah and be at my sister Malorie’s house by 10:00 am for breakfast sandwiches, and also enjoying our first weekend away from Idaho since June, some 27 weeks.
     At sunrise 12.21—7:58 am—we were still zonked out from the noodles and booze. I got up at six and fed the beasts to shut them up, then got back to bed and warmed up next to you, in our squeaky bed, in our basement bedroom, under the quilt Opal had licked at least three big holes in. Which, my bad, because Betsy was scheduled for an x-ray on her leg at the vet, before getting kenneled, and the x-ray technician would only be there until seven, so I had to get there early, which I said I would, but didn’t. Missed that. When I finally did wake up around 8:45 am, I sat up and called the vet still mostly asleep, walked down the hallway in my shorts, and the woman told me the x-ray technician had gone home, so I said I’d be there post-haste with the dogs to kennel before they actually locked the doors for holiday hours. I had until noon. I was already late, so no need to hurry. I set down my phone on the nightstand and decided to take off all my clothes and get back into bed with you and wake you up the right way. We were late already, so might as well start it off right.
     I know I promised to keep you warm here, but I underestimated how cold it really was, how much energy it’d take. So it was after nine before I left you naked and zapped and overheated in bed. I caught my breath while dressing then went out the door, told you I loved you and you should think about packing, and went to the kitchen and drank coffee and searched the office for the dog vaccination records, which the kennel needed.
     The only other stirrings in the house, other than the dogs, was Azrael, who was dressed, packed, fully awake, on her phone, sitting in the purple kitchen couch, wearing her fingerless leather gloves and scowling my way. I had not forgotten, but again realized, that today, Azrael turned 13. It was her birthday. I said good morning; Azrael made claw-hands and hissed. I got it, no problem, I’d lived through my five sisters’ teenage years, been married twice, and of course, been living with you, the mother and creator of Azrael, for over three years now. I’m a black belt in mood management. Azrael, when she is good, is so good, but oh, when she is tormented, she is a hurricane. Also like her mother that way. I have always been a dirt devil, you know that, and am at my best spinning with other natural forces. I told Azrael happy birthday and invited her to come drop the dogs off with me, saying I could use her help. She relented back to humanoid quickly and became her pleasant self and helped me snap on the leashes, her fantasy purple hair across one eye, chaotic good at rest, leading Betsy the old labrador.
     I had Opal, our crazy goat-weasel collie. 12.21.19 would be our first day without this pup on our bed at our feet. That felt a way for me, especially after losing Roxie the cat, who was in my life 13 years until this one, 2019, and a sliver of me didn’t want to kennel the dogs at all. What if they got sick and died, or ran off? What number of Idaho farm dog was Opal for me—9? 10? Doomed like the rest, I convinced myself.
     I had the pickup warmed and idling because I started it with the app on my phone. I know I tell you that every time but let me remind you we live in utterly unprecedented times. The phones, the apps, the maps, the networks—how did we ever live so disconnected and fractured before? So remote? There was snow everywhere. We walked down the sidewalk to my white pickup, chuffing clean exhaust and melting all the window ice and warming up the front seats for us like a good robot. These miracles of human ingenuity make this cruel world inhabitable.
     Me and Azrael, we summoned the dogs out of the snow and into the backseat. Was she wearing her green spiky cosplay wig? I can’t recall. I know she wore a zip-up hoodie that had most recently belonged to me. I got behind the wheel, Azael buckled up, and I backed out into the parking lot and turned around to face the highway. More chilly winds from the north.
     We got driving down the slow road to town, the farmhouse chimneys puffing gray smoke, and across the road black-blue ice in patches and big sheets, the mountains east and west visible and frigid and looming. I asked Azrael how it felt to be thirteen, told her I couldn’t remember that long ago for me anymore, even though I could.
     She responded: “Age isn’t what changes you, not so much. What changes you is growth and experience.” I was floored, impressed, really, you’ve raised an incredible young person. I drove one-handed and fished out from the console a piece of paper and a carpenter’s pencil, and had her write down her words for me. What a gift, worth putting up on the fridge. She scrawled it down and handed it back.
     I flipped over the paper and saw she’d written her quote on the back of one of the parking lot warnings I leave on vehicles left on the property: Hi! You’ve left your vehicle here illegally and without permission! This is a private parking lot for customers only! If this happens again, you’ll be towed, as posted! If you have any questions or concerns you can call! In the future, please be respectful of our private property and business endeavours! Thanks, The Management. 
     Seems like we’re a cellar-full of smart asses in our house.
     So me and Azrael dropped off the dogs to the kennel, which, by the end, we were all fine and went our separate ways. I realized I wasn’t too worried. Our mutts were survivors, just like us, stubborn stoic salty water dogs, and I realized I was pretty sure I’d see them again—tomorrow, when I was supposed to pick them up. Nonetheless, in the truck, their absence bummed me out. To cheer up, I drove to the Rigby Broulims so Azrael could pick out some healthy road food for the drive, something to offset the Olive Garden family-style state of regret we were all digesting. Azrael handed me fresh sushi from the deli, and sashimi, and a bag of tangelos, and I added granola bars, jerky, peanuts, bottles of water. Ran me over fifty bucks, which didn’t bother me a bit. We had a solstice christmas birthday to fete, an entrance into teenagerhood to boot, and miles to roadtrip before we crashed and then sent the kids to Alabama. We’d need all the hearty stock we could get.
     We paid and drove home and got inside the house and all of the sudden I really had to go. I hadn’t been feeling a hundred percent. None of us had since the Olive Garden. All of the bathrooms in the basement house were ocupado, apparently we all had the same idea. I went upstairs, crossed through our ballroom, entered our bride’s room, and took the private bride’s throne to evacuate and scroll. It had been a long dogged six months of event and farm labor, and my best version of a vacation was to drive four hours to my sister’s house and have family dinner there. Many days I wished I could do better than this, knowing I never could.
     When I came back downstairs, you were ready and had your knitting bag, maybe the one I gave you an Xmas in the past, needled-up, yarn-locked, tea in your travel coffee mug. Phyrex, the seventeen year old, cuddled their cat Mordecai and set out food for the long solo night. Then Phyrex got their leftover chicken alfredo out of the fridge to bring on the road in case they got hungry for something other than sushi. This offended my sensibilities, and I argued against it but ultimately relented. Phyrex was a debate pro, and often, like with their mother, I found it wiser and quicker to negotiate for less. Phyrex said they’d take extra care and not spill. Ready finally, we all wheeled our gear out to your rig, my mother’s golden Jeep that she lent us to drive while she was on her mission, and let me say it weirdly suits you. Reminds me of that old POS Jeep we started hanging out over, down in the Texas swamp, that one I tried to fix and did more harm than help, but also got sweaty greasy sexy just for you.
     It was after noon before we were all in the Jeep, about to head south. I texted my sister to confirm we’d be there in four hours. I also apologized for having slept in. She said no worries, my easiest-going sister, unless you count taxes and recipes and card games. I said a prayer in my heart and belted up and got us out on the winter roads. Azrael and Phyrex ate their sushi trays and so did you, maybe, but then Phyrex started telling us about the Chapo podcast guys, which, he’d gifted me their book for Christmas and I promised to read it but hadn’t yet, and how they did a thing about dank nuggs. Or maybe it was a YouTube taste test series? This happened maybe fifteen minutes down the road, on the south side of Idaho Falls, Phyrex telling jokes about dank nuggs, meaning chicken nuggets, but making us laugh on the PG-13 level too, and he was really riffing about dank nuggs on the train and dank nuggs with honey and suddenly, as happens often in Idaho, we all wanted fries. Who cared? It was Xmas, and we’d all put on a bit of potato weight in six months of Idaho living. Starchy, well-insulated, even skinny svelte stubbled Phyrex had some cushion. I thought we all still looked pretty damn good in our respective forms and layers, no matter what we ate. I exited down on that truck-stop exit with the Love’s and the built-in McDonalds, and we all went in and used the bathroom again. We moved okay as a herd, better than most, at least none of us so far have been eaten by wild lions or packs of mad dogs. I think we had to buy you tissues and hand-sanitizer? Maybe this was the beginning of your month-long quitters flu? I remember we were both still on the biggest nicotine patches, 21mg, taping them to our shoulders every day, promising this was the last of the last of the last. Phyrex was wearing their gaudy purple NYU hoodie, black slacks, black combat boots, also hair in their eyes, natural blonde, also moody and clever, proud and cocky as they were recently accepted to NYU’s 2020 Freshman Class, the Tisch School of Game Design. Hell yes I’d been bragging on them for a while.
     A few locals rubbernecked Phyrex’s purple college hoodie. I told Phyrex to tell them it stood for North Brigham Young University, and they’d get confused respect. Phyrex rolled their eyes, which was what I’d been going for the whole time. Haven’t we all in this family just lucked out since we got together, none of us related or legally bound, making the most of the best? Wasn’t this what the best was supposed to feel like, what we’d kept looking for? We strutted through the store to the McDonalds counter and ordered. Burgers and fries and dozens of dank nuggs, to go. We stepped out of the way, near the condiment bar, and I waved you over and told you that the ketchup dispenser was hand sanitizer, and you could wash your hands there. That made the kids laugh, nice work me. I had done it the week before too at the movie theater, we saw Knives Out and all liked it to varying degrees, and before we went in I tried to get you to wash your hands in the popcorn butter dispenser.
     We got in the Jeep, distributed food, and got on the road again, eating and speeding across the volcanic snowy desert stretch. The food sure hit the spot, as it always did, because American food science and agricultural ingenuity and postmodernism and greed and gorge. That’s one reason this works for us—we’re all in on the joke and paying for it. Honestly, I was sad to see the kids a day away from leaving—who else would I use as an excuse for fried family food treats and a mini-lecture on the wonder of the U.S. and Idaho potato industry?
     Feeling fat and magnanimous, I asked over my shoulder what we should listen to this drive. Phyrex offered the Chapo podcast, episode 376, “Imagine a World Without.” It was all about the Bernie buddies teasing on animatronic presendential candidate Pete Buttigeig, former Indiana mayor, also our age, 37 years old. I listened, thinking it was okay in parts, taking pleasure in Phyrex’s giggling at insider banter, rooting for a guy like Bernie to really come in and offer just one alternative option to the spectacular contemporary political circle-jerk. I appreciated Bernie’s authentic persuasive dissent. I liked Mayor Pete too, and thought the Chapodes came across shallow and harsh when it came to our peer. Mayor Pete got me thinking of what I had done with my life in 37 years. I wasn’t fit or motivated to run for President, that’s for damn sure—I’d given up on that dream in the late eighties. I was pensive driving this Jeep I didn’t own down a road I’ve driven up and down my whole life, from the Snake River Mountains to the Wasatch, through the heart of the potato dirt to the pass to Zion, I-15 three and half hours just about every time, four with a gas stop, and now I carry you and your kids on it, after three real diplomas and one fake one, kicking my own ass for never having directed my creative energy to anything other than the unpaid page. Maybe I should’ve started a podcast.
     Too, I thought about the layers of myself making this drive so many times before. Other rigs, other people, other family, other women. How many books I thought I was going to write about this stretch of road? Our reality had felt like a dream, a blessing, somehow unreal. I drove and watched you knit a hat, or a sock maybe, and you winked at me, and knitted on. I couldn’t hardly believe you and your kids.
     Azrael took her turn to DJ, and we put on the Melanie Martinez album K-12. As we crossed the Idaho/Utah border doing 80 mph, I thought Martinez was onto something catchy. These two kids of yours, they are smarter than they should be, and that’s your fault. They also have good taste. We listened to “Drama Club” twice, and that popped. We were all car-grooving, you were making those lips and rolling your shoulders, knitting needles in your dance fists. I too tapped my left foot, getting loose. Then, before we got to the heavy Utah traffic, I put on a birthday song dedicated to Azrael, and turned it up. A song from Dirty Bourbon River Show called “All My Friends Are Dead.” It came up on a Spotify list while we were taking the dogs to the kennel, and it pleased her newly blackened teenage heart. The chorus was peppy, infinitely chantable, and harmlessly inappropriate. It was a fist-bumper, and Azrael looked pleased in this depressive generational angst. We were all seat-dancing and singing the chorus, engaged in a realtime organic family jam: EVERYBODY’S COMING TO MY PARTY / EVERYBODY’S COMING TO MY PARTY / EVERYBODY’S COMING TO MY PARTY / BUT I’M NOT FUCKING GOING TO THAT PARTY.
     I pulled off at the Maverick in Brigham City to fuel and caffeinate and offload, and I texted BC that we were in his hometown, by the bird refugee, and also to get Azrael and Ellie connected on the celly-telly phones. Ellie, who you called your extra daughter, and BC, another Doctor of the Good Words, all of us had been tenants in a Houston genius flophouse now demolished and flipped into luxury three-story stand-alones. BC was from Brigham City but now lived in Vegas, teaching classes online. He texted back with directions to a chocolate shop and happy birthday wishes, which was a nice gesture but a detour we didn’t have time to take, though I lied and told him we did.
     Then it was back on the road, through the brutal grays and flames of industrial urban rock face Utah. The air force base, the gravel pits, the refineries, the mines. Nothing like the fertile rows of my Idaho heritage, this terrain stayed generally displeasing to me. This was our promised land? My Zion? I always had my doubts, which made for most of my problems. I wondered what you made of the sight, your southern poet sensibilities applied to this dry windy salty western experiment, and I asked you what you thought, and your eyes got wet and distant, and all you could talk about was beauty, beauty, a setting to make belief in God imaginable. Oh the poems you could make ... Made me tear up too, this deep and abiding pleasure to show my world to you, your eyes and heart seasoned, your poetry sound.
     We finally got off the highway and followed the map directions to my sister’s new house, down the second culdesac, not the first, which featured a front yard with a brass sculpture of three kids on a slide, no other shrubbery, very spooky. There was no snow down there, but the wind was brisk. We pulled into my sister’s driveway just after four in the afternoon, just like we’d always planned to do, according to our third best plan. Their driveway faced east, and we arrived in the house’s shadow. It already felt like the day was done.
     But the party was just getting started now that we were here, as I announced packing in bags and pillows through the front door. There were Malorie’s sons, all younger than seven, all in matching but different superhero combat pajamas, and Trevor, her husband. They made a very nice and effective family. The oldest son insisted we all take our shoes off. This was the third home they’d bought since they’d been married, fiduciary wizards. Proudly, Malorie gave us the tour of it all, and I was impressed with the corner lot backyard, the varied fruit trees, all producing. We went upstairs and downstairs, saw the boys’s rooms and laundry and basement office/gym, and we all ended up back in the living room, wherein also were Katie and Deantre and Little Deantre, in from New York City for the holidays, and staying with us, riding back in the Jeep once we had the kids to the airport and on their plane tomorrow, we’d come back and taxi them north. It was great seeing them again, these newlywed parents who had traveled to Houston to celebrate our doctoral graduation last spring. The ceremony had been rained out, with Houston’s monster monsoon floods, but they’d made the most of it with us anyways.
     Phyrex, Trevor, Deantre, and the oldest boy all took up the living room couch and had Switch paddles, ready to destroy each other in SmashBros. We watched for a while, and talked with Malorie as she started to make supper—chicken cordon bleu—and with Katie, about her new therapeutic work. Little Deantre had the saddest, most pathetic and adorable croup; he kept sneezing and wheezing and sighing those big boi sighs. You kept saying just looking at him gave you baby fever. He too wore combat pajamas, but these with footies, just a tiny tyke. At some point, you went downstairs with Azrael to situate our things. I’m pretty sure you both slipped down the stairs, in sequence.
     Katie, her desire still unclear to me in many ways, wanted me to collaborate on a rewrite of popular hip-hop hit “Shoup” by Salt-N-Pepa. Except she wanted to parodize it into a song about Little Deantre’s croup. I told her I couldn’t help her, but that I championed her nonetheless. She started to pencil out the ditty, then quickly she darted off with Little Deantre in front of the gaming TV. I read Katie’s lyrics: Croup, Croup A Loup, Croup A Loup, Croup A Loup A Loup … Oh my goodness, girl, look at him! … ... He’s the sickest baby in here, and he’s coughing our way … 
     Outside, it was night dark, but the stove clock said 5:10 pm. The chicken finished and the potatoes got whipped, and we all squeezed in at Malorie and Trevor’s table and someone said a blessing on the food, maybe one of the boys, a child’s prayer, and then we feasted on homemade stuffed gerbils, what they always looked like to me, something I told to the table more than once. It got a laugh one time and no more. When I went back for seconds and all the hollandaise sauce was gone, I said that it was okay, I’d take my chicken dressed or naked, I liked them both the same. Not one adult at the table laughed at that, not even you. It felt good to be a family in the greater sense, to nourish and strengthen and josh each other, and also to celebrate, but also to be honest in reaction.
     Before Malorie would allow herself to cut the cake for Azrael’s birthday, we went downstairs to play the interactive Jackbox party game where everyone uses their phones to group game. There were eight of us all down there engaged in word games and phrase battles, arenas in which I always considered myself above average, played out on a 70” flat screen as big as a wall. I won the first game no problem, but the second game I caught you reading over my shoulder at my semi-constructed answers. I felt busted en flagrante dictato, like you’d seen my simplicity. Exposed, I froze up. It cost me the round, which was okay, just to keep the peace. It’s important that I lose every day to maintain some humility. In this life I’ve been spoiled, had it that good, it’s important to get throttled occasionally. So I took my lumps and won the final round by a mile.
     Back upstairs we went to the kitchen. Malorie produced the celebratory dessert, a twenty-inch high smore cake with graham cracker crust and crumbles and marshmallow creme and homemade chocolate icing. It was all homemade, by my sister, who loves to make cakes for people she loves, for your daughter, who loves to eat marshmallows. Who would have thought we could have all this cake and make room for more?
     Remember Malorie’s second son? The one who reminded me a lot of me, speech impediment and all? How he decided to volunteer to be Azrael’s servant for her birthday, and was spinning her around in the office chair, and then running to the far end of the kitchen only to spring back and power slide at her on his knees? Utter rock-star devotion, and not bad gyrations, but so bound for heartbreak, that kid.
     About then my parents—missionaries far far away in the Pacific island micronation of Kiribati—called me on Facebook Messenger. They had not been anywhere but the islands since June, in charge of the Mormon mission force there, and were a day ahead of us, their moment in 12.22, that much closer to the first long set of holidays that we were not spending together. And wow, this tech. Keeping families alive and together through the toughest international time-zones. It was too loud to talk and too tough a connection to have a conversation, so I turned the camera outward and showed them the family parties—the group dancing, the wild goofy hair shakes, the power-slides—and they just grinned and grinned on the video chat, mostly because they were glitchy and freezing, as the reality of that connection goes. It was an act of faith, this relationship with them, and us, and nice to sort of have them there, at least in pixel.
     At some point most of the women and children retired to their sleeping lairs, yourself included. I listened for you to tumble down the stairs, but you didn’t, you conveyed yourself with safe expertise. Azrael went downstairs with you, and also didn’t fall. I stayed up playing some no-holds-barred rounds of SmashBros with the in-house pros: Phyrex, Trevor, and Deantre. Me, I hadn’t been into a video game since EXciteBike, and hadn’t been good at one since Mortal Kombat II. I backed my characters off the board to their deaths for most of the matchups. Once, by sheer accident, I came in second of four, and quit then knowing it would never get better. As always with Phyrex, I was proud of their intuition, their ferocity in competition, their clicker speed, their strategy, and annoyed at their unfettered punishment of me at games I did not care to know. NYU will be lucky to have them, and they will make more money in their artistry than either of us could ever dream. You did well with that one too, that kid, better than you should have given the circumstances. I turned over my game paddle and stood up, reminded Phyrex they’d still never beat me at chess, and headed downstairs, slipping on the fourth stair, failing to catch myself on the handrail.
     Downstairs, Azrael was asleep on the oversized bean-bag chair, and you were on a recliner space in the big wrap-around leather couch, sitting straight up, knitting under the overhead lamp. You couldn’t sleep, upset in the stomach and heart from your daughter’s growing up and your children's departures, your change of station and situation, and the loss of your gallbladder. It was freezing cold in the basement, Malorie and Trevor not interested in spiking their power bill, so frigid I said I thought I could see my own breath but it was too dark to know. After midnight when I plugged in my phone to the entertainment center power strip and set an alarm for 4:00 am, then another for 4:04 am, then 4:05. We couldn’t miss getting the kids on their flights. We had no time for mistakes tomorrow, which was today, and couldn’t afford to make it like yesterday, which was over. We had to be on time, this time, for once.
     You were insomniatic under the lamp light with your needles working, alert in your yarn care, and I figured you weren’t going to get much sleep, but we’d be all right. I knew the way to the airport, and needed to rest my eyes like two hours max. I knew you were sad to see them go, and needed my heat. I put on my coat and got two quilts and laid myself down on top of you, and the blankets on top of us, and I put my head in your lap, and you knitted and tinked in my ear. I held you by the hips, and started to fade, thinking if what we had just lived through was really truly the shortest coldest, maybe also it was one of our warmest brightest longest best.



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Joshua Dewain Foster is a fiction and nonfiction writer living and working in eastern Idaho. He has earned degrees from University of Houston, University of Arizona, BYU-Idaho, and attended Stanford as a Stegner Fellow. Find him on the social medias or at joshuadewainfoster.com for more of his latest.