Congo Song, by Stuart Cloete – 1943 [Unknown Artist]

Channel went back over his life in his mind.
He thought of the things he had done…the things he had not done.
There were always regrets at the things that had ended before their time.
There was regret, too, at the loss of pain that was almost pleasure,
at the pleasure that was almost pain.
For many years these regrets had come back continually at the sight of a shop,
a restaurant,
a street,
the name of a certain dish on a menu,
a word found in a book, at hazard, as you turned the page;
at a song,
at a bar of music,
at the turn of some woman’s head in the street,
at the color of a dress or the sound of a voice. 
All this because it was not done,
because it had never been finished one way or the other,
and your heart had been left dangling like a puppet on a string.

congo-song-stuart-cloete-1943-1_edited-2And what had you actually known of any woman, of her desires?

What had she wanted of you?

You only knew what you had wanted of her.

You only knew your own desires, your own motives.

And even those you did not know fully. 

You only knew what you were permitted to know of them,

for your personality kept its secrets from your person.

congo-song-stuart-cloete-1943-2He thought of his own father;
he remembered him singing him to sleep,
walking up and down,
holding him in his arms.
He remembered him swimming with him sitting on his back,
his legs about his neck, his hands in his hair.
He remembered riding in the front of his saddle.
His father must have had similar memories of his father;
and his father of his father, and so on,
an interminable chain;
each generation tending to repeat stories that they remembered
from their own childhood…
fairy tales, folklore,
superstitions that came down like this by word of mouth
from the ancient past, were absorbed in the mothers’ milk,
transmitted by nurses, grooms, servants.
His father had been born in 1844.
His grandfather had been a boy at the time of Waterloo.
And it went on like that, back into the past,
each life overlapping another life, as tiles overlapped each other on a roof.
The more you saw of life,
the stranger was its variety and differentiation.

The Coast of Chicago, by Stuart Dybek – 1990 [Tunis Ponsen]

the-coast-of-chicago-stuart-dybek-1990-tunis-ponsen-1The infield is for
wisecrackers,
pepper-pots,
gum-poppers;
the outfield is for
loners,
onlookers,
brooders who would rather study clover and swat gnats than holler. 
People could pretty much be divided between infielders and outfielders.
Not that one always has a choice. 
He didn’t necessarily choose right field so much as accept it

– Stuart Dybek

the-coast-of-chicago-stuart-dybek-1990-tunis-ponsen-2

Walk the Dark Streets, by William Krasner – 1949 [Unknown Artist]

walk-the-dark-streets-william-krasner-1950-1The Marne Hotel

The yellow fog was already creeping up around the Marne Hotel,
mingling with the white breath from the sewers,
carrying the faint, sweet, rotting scent off the Ohio River. 
It was not thick yet,
only a gentle curdling in the atmosphere,
but it laid damp greasy fingers on the crumbling granite,
on the pavement,
and on the windshield of the coupe
that Detective Captain Sam Birge of the Homicide Squad
was pulling to the curb across the street.

 

walk-the-dark-streets-william-krasner-1950-2He looked at his watch.  It was late now.
It was time to be on his way home.
Time to go home, to Edna, and to his son.
He got up.
Nobody called to him as he went through the outer office,
or through the brightly lit corridor.
No one was at the doors as he passed through.
It seemed to him, outside, that it should have been lighter there,
now that it was time for dawn.
But the fog was all around, a moving, blinding sheet,
and he could not see in any direction.
He lifted his eyes toward the sky.
Perhaps it was becoming lighter somewhere,
far above,
but there was not way to be sure.
He turned his collar up and stepped out into the dark street.

Life and Fate, by Vasily Grossman -1980, 1987 [Christopher Zacharow]

life-and-fate-vasily-grossman-1985-1987-christopher-zacharow-newThe fate of many of them seemed so poignantly sad
that to speak of them in even the most tender, quiet, kind words
would have been like touching a heart torn open
with a rough and insensitive hand. 

It was really quite impossible to speak of them at all..

grossman109_edited-2But an invisible force was crushing him.
He could feel its weight, its hypnotic power;
it was forcing him to think as it wanted, to write as it dictated.
This force was inside him;
it could dissolve his will and cause his heart to stop beating;
it came between him and his family;
it insinuated itself into his past, into his childhood memories.
He began to feel that he really was untalented and boring,
someone who wore out the people around him with dull chatter.
Even his work seemed to have grown dull,
to be covered with a layer of dust;
the thought of it no longer filled him with light and joy.
Only people who have never felt such a force themselves
can be surprised that others submit to it.
Those who have felt it, on the other hand,
feel astonished that a man can rebel against it even for a moment
– with one sudden word of anger,
one timid gesture of protest.

Forever Flowing, by Vasily Grossman – (1970) 1986 [Christopher Zacharow]

There is nothing more difficult than to be a stepson of time;
there is no heavier fate than to live in an age that is not your own. 
Time loves only those it has given birth to itself:
its own children, its own heroes, its own labourers.
Never can it come to love the children of a past age,
and more than a woman can love the heroes of a past age,
or a stepmother love the children of another woman.

forever-flowing-vasily-grossman-1986-christopher-zacharowAnd so he asked: “I was right, wasn’t I?”
Lyudmilla shook her head.  Decades of intimacy can also divide people.
‘Lyuda,’ said Viktor humbly,
‘people who are in the right often don’t know how to behave. 
They lose their tempers and swear. 
They act tactlessly and intolerantly. 
Usually they get blamed for everything that goes wrong at home and at work. 
While those who are in the wrong, those who hurt others,
always know how to behave. 
They act calmly, logically and tactfully – and appear to be in the right.’

grossman-vasily-forever-flowing067_edited-2Why had his life been so hard?
He had not preached nor had he taught –
he had remained exactly what he had been from his birth:
a human being.
The slope of the mountain opened before him.
From behind the pass the peaks of the oak trees showed.
In his childhood, he had gone there into the forest twilight,
and searched out the remnants of the vanished life of the Circassians –
the fruit trees gone wild,
the traces of the fences around their obliterated houses.
Perhaps his own home was still standing there just as changelessly
as the streets and the stream seemed changeless.
Here was one more bend of the road.
For a moment, it seemed to him as if an impossibly bright light,
brighter than any he had ever seen in his life,
had flooded the earth.
A few steps more and in this light he would see that home,
and his mother would come out to meet him, her prodigal son,
and he would kneel down before her,
and her young and beautiful hands would lie upon his gray,
balding head.
He saw the thickets of thorns and hops.
There was nothing left of the house nor of the well –
only a few stones that shone white in the dusty grass,
burned by the sun.
He stood there – gray, bent, and changeless.

(1955-1963)

 

Heaven’s My Destination, by Thornton Wilder – 1934, 1960 [Unknown Artist]

“It seems to me I live.”

heavens-my-destination-thornton-wilder-1960-henry-koerner_edited-1“Now listen!  Listen to me!” she said, emphatically. 
“You make me sick. 
Where do they get yuh, your the’ries and your ideas? 
Nowhere! 
Live, kid, – live! 
What’d become of all of us sons-of-bitches,
if we stopped to argue out every step we took? 
Stick down to earth.”
Brush looked at her with furrowed brow and said in a low voice,

“It seems to me I live.”

* * * * * * * * * *

George Brush is my name;
America’s my nation;
Ludington’s my dwelling place
And Heaven’s my destination.

(Doggerel which children of the Middle West were accustomed to write in their schoolbooks.)