Friday, February 17, 2012

Sam Shepard-Wyoming (Highway 80 East)

The long haul from Rock Springs to Grand Island, Nebraska, starts out bleak. After two runny eggs and processed ham I hit the road by 7:00. It’s hovering at around nineteen degrees; light freezing snow and piss-poor visibility. Eighteen-wheelers jackknifed all along the high ridges between Rawlins and Laramie. Tow trucks blinking down into the black ravines. Through wisping fog, things loom up at you with chains and hooks and cranes; everyone inching along, afraid to drop off into the wide abyss. Just barely tap the brakes and the whole rear end slides out from underneath you. I’m trying to keep two tires on the shoulder in the chatter strip at about five mph hoping the ice will get dislodged between the treads. Only radio station is a preacher ranting from Paul – something about the body as a tent; “this tent in which we groan”. Same preacher segues into a declaration that, for him, 1961 was the absolute turning point where the whole wide world went sour. I don’t know why he landed on that particular year – 1961 – the very year I first hit the road, but he insists this is the date of our modern dissolution. He has a long list of social indicators beginning with soaring population then family disintegration, moral relaxation, sexual promiscuity, dangerous drugs, the usual litany. But then he counters it with the imperious question: “What must the righteous do?” As though there were an obvious antidote which we all seem to be deliberately ignoring. If we could only turn our backs on this degeneration and strike out for higher ground, we could somehow turn the whole thing around. It seems more political than religious. “What must the righteous do?” An “Onward, Christian Soldiers” kind of appeal. I’ve lost track of the centerline. Snow boring down into the windshield so fast the wipers can’t keep up. Your heart starts to pump a little faster under these conditions; not knowing what might suddenly emerge. Not knowing if the whole world could just drop out from underneath you and there you are at the bottom of crushed steel and spinning wheels. What must the righteous do?

from "Day Out of Days", published in 2010 by Knopf.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Samuel Beckett-Endgame

One day, you'll be blind, like me. You'll be sitting there, a speck in the void, in the dark, for ever, like me.One day you'll say to yourself, I'm tired, I'll sit down, and you'll go and sit down. Then you'll say, I'm hungry, I'll get up and get something to eat. But you won't get up. You'll say, I shouldn't have sat down, but since I have I'll sit on a little longer, and then I'll get up and get something to eat. But you won't get up and you won't get anything to eat.You'll look at the wall awhile, then you'll say, I'll close my eyes, perhaps a little sleep, after that I'll feel better, and you'll close them. And when you open them there'll be no wall anymore.Infinite emptiness will be all around you, all the resurrected dead of all the ages wouldn't fill it, and there you'll be, like a little bit of grit in the middle of the steppe.Yes, one day you'll know what it is, you'll be like me, except that you won't have anyone with you, because you won't have had pity on anyone and because there won't be anyone left to have pity on.

from "Endgame", first performed in French as "Fin De Partie" in 1957. English translation by the author first publisehd in 1958.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

A Few Words On The Soul by Wislawa Szymborska

We have a soul at times.

No one’s got it non-stop,

for keeps.

Day after day,

year after year

may pass without it.


it will settle for awhile

only in childhood’s fears and raptures.

Sometimes only in astonishment

that we are old.

It rarely lends a hand

in uphill tasks,

like moving furniture,

or lifting luggage,

or going miles in shoes that pinch.

It usually steps out

whenever meat needs chopping

or forms have to be filled.

For every thousand conversations

it participates in one,

if even that,

since it prefers silence.

Just when our body goes from ache to pain,

it slips off-duty.

It’s picky:

it doesn’t like seeing us in crowds,

our hustling for a dubious advantage

and creaky machinations make it sick.

Joy and sorrow

aren’t two different feelings for it.

It attends us

only when the two are joined.

We can count on it

when we’re sure of nothing

and curious about everything.

Among the material objects

it favors clocks with pendulums

and mirrors, which keep on working

even when no one is looking.

It won’t say where it comes from

or when it’s taking off again,

though it’s clearly expecting such questions.

We need it

but apparently

it needs us

for some reason too.

translated from the Polish by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh