Friday, December 04, 2009

Beyond the Walls

Knowing what he knew the man in the hat knew very little. He knew what day it was and the colour of the sky, he knew how to roll a roll-your-own and peg his lean-to with a mallet and overhand swing, he was acquainted with birds and fish, dogmen and harridan’s, her sister, too, with whom he was acquainted a year or two before making the acquaintance of her sister the harridan, these things, paltry and few, he knew and knew well. But what does knowing matter? The man in the hat was of the opinion that knowing things, and things that attach themselves to the things like roots growing beneath the surface, hidden from sight, yes, but there just the same, was a waste of time and mental energy. He knew that he would never build a house or repaper a wall; eat anything resembling goo or play pinochle with a three-legged dog. These things he knew, almost. Knowing and being in the know are quite different; knowing requires concentration and mental energy, being in the know slight-of-hand and buffoonery. He much preferred buffoonery and guile, deviousness and cunning. The mundane and ordinary, the monotonous and unexciting, that was his goal, a life lacking lackluster and sheen, ordinary and dull. The sausage merchant’s daughter wears roses in her hair dappled with sunlight and vinegar, her catarrhal smile enchanting man and beast.

I admire the Flemish painters.
Was it easy to give the look of a naked goddess
to the plump mistress of a sausage-merchant?
she could buy silk knickers if she liked
a cow + silken knickers is still a cow

(Nazim Hikmet, Beyond the Walls, March 20)

It was here, between the almost and not quite that he made his home. No, that’s not true! He lived on the bottommost floor in a one-room walkup with a picture of Dante overlooking the rectory and the bust of King Olaf. No! He lives outside the five-mile fence with a cat and a bottleful of Gibbs’ Soft Mustard. Of course, yes. Of course. He admires Flemish knee-britches, plump-bellied women and sausage meat. In a hatbox stowed under his cot he keeps a picture of Dante dressed in silken knickers. Following the Feast of the Acolyte he fell asleep coddled in silken sheets and a terrycloth bathrobe. ‘these stairs will be the death of me’ he grumbled. ‘living on the bottommost floor can be a real killer indeed’. Awaking from troubled dreams the man in the hat put on his favorite tan boater and went out into the world, the sky blacker than chaw pitch.

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"Poetry is the short-circuiting of meaning between words, the impetuous regeneration of primordial myth". Bruno Schulz

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