Earthbound

I live in the land of graveyards now. The dead are everywhere. They don’t even stay behind their wrought-iron fences; anyplace there’s a patch of grass and trees crammed between railroad tracks and the street, they might be there. The other day I found a revolutionary war captain buried under the oaks at the south end of the Arboretum.

This one’s from Forest Hills Cemetery.

Pulp Horror in My Favorite State

Live Free or Undead, an anthology of New-Hampshire themed horror edited by Rick Broussard and featuring fiction by James Patrick Kelly, Jeffrey DeRego, Elaine Isaak, and many other great writers either from New Hampshire or in love with it (including, yes, me) ought to be in bookstores now-ish. I haven’t seen a copy yet, but from the cover I think I can guarantee ghosties, ghoulies, zombies, creepy-crawlies, and at least one very attractive lady with an ax.

My story, “Misty Rain”, reprinted from the British zine Murky Depths, is an atmospheric, creepy thing about a brother and sister lost in the mountains. And yes, it has a monster.

New Hampshire has been my favorite state since I was a kid, and despite all the cool stuff I’ve discovered since in all those other states, it still wins. It has Mt. Washington, Indian Head, Pawtuckaway Lake, Farnum Hill Cider, Woodstock Inn Brewery, the Flume Gorge, the Odyssey Writing Workshop, the Tufts Mountain Club Loj, the Pemigewasset River, the Kancamangus Highway, the mouldering bones of the Old Man of the Mountain, and the best state motto anywhere.

So I’m excited enough to get to be in this anthology that I’m breaking from my usual modus operandi and announcing a reading more than two days in advance! Woo!

On Wednesday, October 27th at 7:00 PM, I’ll be reading at Rye Public Library in Rye, NH along with Brendan DuBois, Andy Richmond and the fabulous Elaine Isaak. You’ll get the chance to see my sporting my super-silly Halloween moustache and what I hope will be a legitimately scary costume. And if that isn’t enough to convince you, I’ll have candy. Please come!

And if you can’t make it, there’s a whole bunch of other readings scheduled, including one this coming Friday at the Barley House in Concord, where I’d go for the beer even if there weren’t going to be a bunch of great writers.

The Reader Lost in Tlön—or—The Profound and the Horrific in Borges

This began as an attempt to define “magic realism”, but the tangent got so long I have decided to cut it off and isolate it in the manner of a mad scientist experimenting on a possessed extremity.

My first experience with magic realism termed as such was a Tufts class called “Literature of Chaos” taught by Juan Alonso. Best reading list ever! Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Through the Looking Glass, Notes from Underground, The Stranger, and Borges. A harrowing lead-in, if I do declare. Violence and self-destruction digging deep ruts into the tracks of my consciousness, so when Borges came and knocked me sideways out of my shoes, the flood picked me up and dragged me with it. And no, that metaphor is not mixed. It is drawn from erosion.

It may not have been the first story of Borges’ I laid eyes on, but it was certainly “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius” that first caught hold of my imagination in that elusive, open-ended way that has ever since riveted me to these strange aspirations.

The structure of “Tlön” is strongly reminiscent of horror. Its narrator is fervent, fastidious, quite Poeish really, even rather Lovecraftian, in that he remains consistently direct, seeming not at all interested in the beauty, the near-magical impact of the language by which he conveys his tale, but concentrates instead on the immense, brooding, consuming revelation that its events have provoked. Like so many of Lovecraft’s works and Poe’s, “Tlön” is written as historical narrative, as clear, concise observation by an intelligent, rational man of a series of events leading swiftly and directly away from rationality.

Often, a fiction of Borges loses its narrator entirely in the course of the telling. It seems to begin as a traditional story begins, with a person and a problem, a connection between reader and character that draws the reader further. Yet that human connection is lost at the wayside. What draws me to read to the end is not identification, not an interest in the outcome of a character’s plight. Rather, I have become that character, taken on his only defining attributes: his diligence, his fascination. I am unwilling to abandon the fathomless puzzle, despite the knowledge that this puzzle, as it has already caused the elision of the character whose place I’ve taken, will now impose that elision upon the story itself, projecting itself, by means of the human connection with which it began, out of fiction and onto the canvas of my own consciousness. “Tlön” has this structure, as do “The Circular Ruin”, “The Garden of Forking Paths”, “The Library of Babel”, “Funes, His Memory”, etc.

This structure is in fact what I was referring to when, in an earlier comment, I said the attempt to emulate Borges could lead to a mistaken emulation of Lovecraft. The Lovecraftian story structure, in order to achieve the sense of awe/terror with which the story leaves the reader at the end, simply replaces that monumental, ineluctable Borgesian metaphor (for example the garden-containing-book-containing-garden-actualizing-fate of “The Garden of Forking Paths”, or the self-actualizing universe of “Tlön”), with something from the standard Lovecraftian phraseology of externally-imposed madness (for example a Horror from Out of Time, or an Unspeakable Monstrosity from the Fathomless Aeons, or some such silliness). Not that I don’t love Lovecraft. But his stories veer sharply away from profundity as they reach that crucial point, and begin to move instead in the direction of pulp. Which is what makes them so much fun. Everybody loves pulp. Not everybody loves profundity.

It’s this fascination with profundity, with the intellectually engaging rather than the merely entertaining, to which I was making reference in the previous entry when I referred to a “willingness to hold a narrative at arm’s length”. It’s the reason I think the majority of people who read Borges find him dry and unpalatable, the reason I call him the Kant of Magic Realists.

The Man in the Moon Isn’t Human

Michael respectfully advises me nobody’s ever going to have the stamina to post comments if I keep up these four thousand word posts. Imply, imply, he entreats me. Save your ramblings for retorts!

Ergo, I submit the following, in honor of last night’s glorious moon.

The man in the moon isn’t human
he must be some thing from the stars
the man in the moon isn’t human
if he is, he his horribly scarred
his eyes aren’t oval or round
their shape seems to bleed
across tranquil seas
as if the moon cried tears of fire

I was driving the high road last evening
the moon traced strange curves through the trees
I don’t know the way to the shadows, I told him
though I think I might know the way back
I watched him go instead of the road
at last I let him lead

The man in the moon isn’t smiling
in fact i think that he cries
he has watched us as long as I’ve known him
looking back is like trying to see from the mirror me’s eyes
if the things that he sees so disturb him
why doesn’t he look somewhere else?

Once the man was a woman who nobody touched
and now he is
what?
a spy for the islands of saturn?
an exile, like napoleon?
or is he a lover of ours that we shun?

The man in the moon is going away
once he was bigger, or seemed so
now he shrinks more every day
I think I can see it happening
though the spacemen tell me I don’t

The man in the moon isn’t human
soon the dead will be buried in his skin
and people will think, but not say
that the man in the moon is a graveyard
they’ll look into his tranquil eyes
and cry

The man in the moon isn’t human
in his heart there is iron and basalt
one day perhaps
when our own hearts are gone
we’ll fly up and dig them out.