Madness Without End
Guerrilla Gardens (Unpublished)
Language and Horror (Unpublished)
Klenner was an eccentric fellow, enthused with his own enthusiasms,
older than most of the others. At some point he had acquired a corporal's
stripes, though he never exercised the slightest authority, even
upon the newest recruit; his manner was tutorial, if anything. Most
of the men simply found him strange, though some were drawn to his
energetic, workmanlike habits. He worked with the supply people
in the rear areas but often he would visit the forward positions
on his own initiative, bringing fresh vegetables. He distributed
these fresh things to anyone he came across, officers or men. Gardening
was his enthusiasm and he would enlist muddy Landsers, off-duty,
to follow him back to the rear where the gardens were, in those
green shell-torn areas outside Velikiye Luki.
They all prized the things he grew, that spring and
summer; because otherwise their rations were not so good, as in
any army. He tended a small acreage outside the city; or you might
consider it fairly large, if you knew that he alone had done almost
all the digging in these plots, all the digging and caretaking.
He had a few horses at his disposal, but often he would just harness
himself to a small cart laden with manure, hauling this from the
stables over to where his plots were. His body was lean from this
hard work, his skin browner than so many others who spent too much
time burrowed down in the trenches and dugouts of the forward line.
He had helpers to help him from the supply battalions and cook's
crews, but he did far more of the work than anyone else, and never
chastised anyone for not keeping up with his pace.
So he didn't really need the assistance of any of
the Landsers from the combat platoons, but still he would encourage
them to come back and work with him, as if it were a kind of wisdom
he was imparting. And there were enough who would follow him back
there, into the sunshine, to weed and till for a few hours. It was
peaceful there, most of the time. Apart from the Iltis operation,
the front had been fairly quiet, during these warmer months.
Freitag had been up at one of the forward listening
posts for ten hours. Duty in one of these positions was arduous,
even while almost always dull and uneventful. But a man up there
could not relax, and so upon being relieved he would always be stiff
and tired. For the moment, though, Freitag did not want to go back
and sleep in one of the dugouts, nor sit dully in those shadows
and talk quietly or smoke or play cards. He did do that when he
was empty and listless, or just had to sleep. Today he walked back
that further mile or so, back to where Klenner was working.
There were a few other men back there too, hoeing
or mounding soil at their own pace, while Klenner worked nearby
with his own industriousness. Freitag worked and joked quietly with
some of the others, among rows of beets and cucumbers, other things,
clumps of manure and compost. It was peaceful. The countryside was
large. Often they rested against the handles of their hoes or shovels,
not because they were tired, but just to stand there quietly and
absorb the satisfaction of seeing things growing at their feet,
to smoke and stare about at the land without being threatened by
fire. Klenner for all his continuous activity would sometimes join
them, discoursing on growing things. The others would listen to
him with interest but often he would talk on and on, his way of
talking as compulsive as his physical energy, and so Freitag or
some other man would listen abstractedly while letting their eyes
wander across the land.
The land was marked, or anchored, by the city over
to the right, white stone murky in heavy summer daylight. Then the
cemetery, the birchbark cemetery of one of the regiments, on the
outskirts near the bank of the Lovat. Then the moorlands, with birch
trees clumped around the greener placesthough all was green
during these months, with a good deal of rainfall this summerand
part of the horizon anchored by the railroad embankment leading
to Novo Sokolniki.
The same clouds were up as were up almost every day,
their scattered masses spread far above serving also to spread the
landscape underneath farther and farther, giving scale to the immensity
and making it more forceful than it would be on a clear day. Sunlight
in deep, mobile shafts walked slowly across the moors.
A man appeared at the edge of a forested area nearby,
to the left of the railroad embankment. It was Kordts. Klenner looked
up, saw Freitag studying him over there, and himself turned to watch,
mumbling some words of approval or curiosity.
"He should be careful out there," said Klenner.
"Is he a gardener?"
"Could be," said Freitag.
It was against regulations to wander so far afield,
especially alone; though regulations not always strictly enforced.
Most men instinctively stayed near to the company of others, but
there were some who felt the need to wander back from the dull confinement
of the trenches, when they had the opportunity from time to time.
Kordts was one of these, walking off by himself into the hinterlands
sometimes, when off-duty. He had asked Freitag to accompany him
once or twicestretch your legs, get some air, as he would
say in one form or anotherbut the regulations, and the reports
of partisans that were behind the regulations, made Freitag nervous.
He had heard of no ambushes or murders this close to the city, but
you never knew. The moors were wide and the forests scattered across
the moors were deep enough.
In truth Freitag would have liked to wander off once
in a while. He was a good talker, used to associating with people
in close company, but he wouldn't have minded some solitude for
a few hours. If Kordts had encouraged him more he might have let
himself be persuaded. But Kordts while mentioning it had simply
left it up to him; he seemed indifferent whether he wandered about
alone or in someone's company.
"You don't feel nervous sometimes, out there?"
Freitag had said one day.
"Oh. Maybe a little," Kordts had said. "Not
so much though. I've felt a little easier lately. Might as well
take advantage of it while it lasts, heh? Ha ha."
While it lasts. Freitag had guessed this to mean while
his nerves lasted, before his nerves inevitably began to crawl in
upon him, making him more reluctant to wander about under the distant
sun-clouds. Freitag wasn't sure; maybe he was thinking of himself
more than Kordts. A certain resigned glumness had gradually come
over them all in the train, the nearer the train had brought them
back to the front. You wouldn't expect much different. But Kordts
seemed to have remained in fairly good spirits, even for some time
Beside him Klenner said, "Wave him over this
way, why don't you? He needs to set his back to something useful."
"Ah. Maybe," said Freitag. But he raised
his arm. Kordts was coming their way, slowly, in the distance, between
the forest and the railroad embankment. He raised his hand to acknowledge
the signal. Another man nearby said someone should let off a few
rounds out there, to make him jump a little. People laughed.
Freitag felt the need to talk and suddenly he was describing at
length to Klenner the garden-plot he had tended with his mother,
in the scrubby lot outside the large building where he had lived
since childhood. He began to feel easier and more animated, explaining
little tricks he had used to grow things in tired and scabby soil.
Freitag did not even know Klenner's last name, calling him Fred
as almost everyone did, as if it were natural to call a peculiar
older non-com by his first name. Klenner never seemed to mind this
and Freitag was taken aback when the man abruptly began berating
him for being so full of himself.
"Be humbler," Klenner commanded. "It's
unhealthy to be so full of notions. Listen more. It's all in the
proportions. Soil is no different."
Freitag felt he had been talking agreeably enough
and was somewhat insulted. He persisted in smiling in a friendly
manner and tried to explain himself, but Klenner only glared at
him and turned his back, stepping his shovel into the soil. He was
shirtless and Freitag stared at his brown back and felt still more
insulted. But he told himself the gardener was too peculiar to take
all that seriously. He could not help feeling a little worked up
but after a minute or two he just shrugged, swinging his shovel
up on his shoulder, gratified when another man gave him a knowing
look and nodded his head in Klenner's direction.
"Well, he's a funny one," said Kordts, too,
when he came up a few minutes later, having a smoke with Freitag.
Kordts was not inclined to do any gardening. It just reminded him
of the trenches, he said. Walking was the only thing he could tolerate;
walking or sleeping. He grinned crookedly. The grin seemed somewhat
incongruous, set beneath eyes that often cast about with a dark
fixation on the things around.
He walked back towards the forward positions, less
than a mile away; though nothing whatever of them visible from this
distance. Freitag stayed on a while, thinking he would take Klenner's
measure by not being put in an ill-humor, talking to him again if
he felt like it.
Madness Without End
A strange country. Thinly populated. A wilderness marked by occasional settlements. The megalopolis, as we understand it in America and indeed in almost all other parts of the world, does not exist. Moscow does not have suburbs as we understand the word. Nor does Leningrad. The German soldiers who crossed five hundred miles of nearly trackless swamps and forests were astounded to climb the Duderhof Hills and find the great city on the Neva spread out before them.
“I can see Leningrad and the sea,” reported the officer of the 1st Panzer Division on September 11, 1941.
What Leningraders consider suburbs are in fact little more than farming or timbering hamlets, interspersed with a few palaces of the czarist age. They are surrounded by the reedbeds and scrub forests that make up the low-lying and swampy hinterland. It is one of the more isolated great cities of the world; one thinks of Manaus, or Brasilia, lost in the Amazon wilderness. Leningrad is a northern brother to such places.
Yet even Brazilians would consider the two aforementioned cities as remote outposts of their country; Brasilia is a capitol in name only. Whereas Leningrad, together with Moscow, contains the soul of Russia; for centuries it has been so.
The Germans were shocked to cross the borders of Poland and East Prussia and discover that Russia was essentially a country without roads. The largest nation on earth contained fewer paved highways than the smallest English county. All of these were in the immediate vicinity of the large cities. There were no paved arteries linking Moscow with Kiev, or Moscow with Leningrad, or anywhere with anywhere else. In the north there was the greatest continuous belt of forest in the world; in the south there was the greatest continuous belt of grassland in the world. In the center these two terrain features were mixed together, yet still on an enormous scale. Between Smolensk and Moscow one could cross rolling fields and moorlands that went on mile after mile, sparsely cultivated, to be followed by dense and uninhabited forests that likewise went on mile after mile. And so to the very gates of Moscow. The cities and other inhabited places along the way were like islands set down in the ocean. They were linked by a scanty rail network, and by a meandering series of dirt tracks as primitive as the most wretched dirt roads in the most isolated national forests of America. Only the famous “Rollbahn” could be called a major road, and even this was unpaved for almost its entire length.
Yet these islands in the wilderness were great and ancient cities, and in this century the teemed with an industrial buildup second only to the United States. To really picture Moscow…or Leningrad…let the reader imagine a city like New York or Philadelphia, in all its present-day industrial tumult, yet transported to the primeval eighteenth century forests of the Midwest or Canada, with outlying areas only scarcely inhabited for hundreds of miles in any direction.
Stalingrad, the most famous city of that war, lay and still lies alone in the midst of a wretched desert of scrub and withered grass, nurtured only by the Volga, the great river artery that cuts through that wasteland. The German Sixth Army was annihilated amidst the rubble of an industrial giant that seemed to rise up from the very end of the world. Before Stalingrad lay the Kalmuck Steppe. Beyond Stalingrad lay nothing whatsoever. Or so it seemed.
Christ Asunder /
The Disaster at Cherkassy, February 1944
The third winter had come. As usual it seemed to have lasted forever, even though it was not yet the end of December.
The muddy season lasted a long time, almost like a separate winter by itself. Then finally it grew cold. Snowstorms blew. We were on the steppe, in a little village, or else camped in positions outside of it that seemed truly in the middle of nowhere. There was nothing to be seen. It was like a desert, a white desert. On clear days men suffered from sunburn, or else greased their faces to get some relief from the glare.
Then the snowstorms closed in again. Snow piled up everywhere. It piled up so high that when the sun returned it seemed the very surface of the earth was markedly closer to the sky. As if you might stand on the roof of one of the isbas and raise your head up through the rim of the sky. The winter landscape was always full of strange illusions. They helped alleviate the endless tedium and fatigue, if only slightly.
January came. The Russians had surrounded the garrison at Cherkassy, but they had managed to fight their way free. The weather grew colder. Terrible cold. There was more clear weather and fewer snowstorms. But the snow was already heaped so high, shining into infinity under the sun. All that space could get on your nerves. Sometimes you would welcome a snowstorm, just to have everything close in around you for a while. It was a kind of relief.
But mostly the sky remained clear, through January, into February. The cold was so bad that you began to fret about certain parts of your body. More than just fret—sometimes you began to despise certain of your digits and organs, wishing you had not been born with them, for all the pain they caused you. The nose was the worst. You felt like the wind might just saw it off one day, or that you might accidentally break it off with your finger trying to rub a piece of snot off your lip before it froze there. The thought of this would give you a queasy feeling in your stomach.
No, it was not as bad as the first winter. How we had endured that no one knew anymore. We were no longer dressed in rags. We had good clothing now, parkas with hoods and thick coveralls like a real Arctic get-up, thick boots that looked like they had been shorn off the lower legs of elephants. All of this rig was bulky and sometimes we looked quite strange in it. Beneath our hoods we often wore tight-fitting padded caps that resembled aviators’ leather flight helmets more than anything else—except they were white, so maybe they made us look like some strange order of monks I might have seen in picturebooks somewhere.
Maybe we just couldn’t stand these winters anymore. In a way we had built up a tolerance for them, after three years, but maybe we were also just worn out, fed up with it all. The new recruits knew all about the first winter. Everyone knew about it. But they could not conceive of how it had been. They would say as much. After a few months out here they would be depressed and half-crazy from the cold. How had we endured it back then, they would ask, without warm clothing, without any experience in how to do anything? How had we done it?
But none of us even knew anymore. The fact was, there were not too many of us left from that first winter. We could not even describe what it had been like back then. Words failed us. We might try and say something if some youngster pestered us enough. Indeed, we didn’t really mean to be disagreeable. We didn’t know what to say. We just didn’t know anymore.
The hell with it. Eventually the new recruits lost interest, engrossed in their own miseries, which we all shared. There was no need to think about the past. Each month out here seemed to last a lifetime. That was all the past we needed.
My feelings walk in a negative field.
Early Morning Lake Michigan in a stillness. The look
of it dispersed against the square miles. You see the earths
curve. The stillness darkblue gunblue darkblue silverblue darkblue
in polygons discrete and irregular. When there is no wind the markings
left by the wind remind you of other things you cannot sort through.
The sun behind the shore, still blocked by the high
coolness of the trees.
The seawall down there very clear, the bolts through
wood rotted punky by the water, and broken teeth jutting where a
binding plank has rotted and fallen and disappeared. In the afternoon
the sun makes one silhouette of these particulars but in the morning
each one is there.
The front door opens and Tom Sikkema comes in. "Heil
Hitler," he mumbles. He walks across the room and looks out.
It is too early to think of another dictator. I light a cigarette.
It is early Monday morning. In a few minutes he is gone to work.
It is a two hour drive to South Haven, south along the shore.
I am standing behind the wide glass doors that overlook
Lake Michigan. The front room of this place is a grey box with blackstained
vertical beams in the walls of grey wallboard. I put one hand around
my throat, then squeeze my face a few times. I put my right hand
around my left wrist and twist it a few times, as if I am screwing
together a fishing pole maybe.
I look behind me at the blackstained oak table.
I walk over to the fireplace and kneel and start to
build a fire. I take newspaper and twist it into knots as it focuses
the heat better that way. The fireplace is in the wall opposite
the glass doors and after I have built the fire I sit in a chair
and look into it and lay my feet close to the grate.
In Michigan I am here.
The hospital was at the edge of town. We drove to
The lights were on.
The trailer rode at the edge of the swamp like a barge
tied there. The yard where we looked at it, the swamp behind it.
Lights were on in squares and rectangles, depending on the shapes
of the windows beneath their metal awnings. There were metal piles
on the roof and little vents. A long time before this I had worked
on the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, doing the coal moving that was
being done. Sometimes I would stand out here in the dark and see
the trailer yaw a little, or else pull away into the dark swamp,
disappear among the trees.
We got out of the car. We walked around in the yard
a few minutes. We walked in the grass absorbing the night.
We went inside and got comfortable in the living room.
We turned off all the lights. She sat in a chair and I sat facing
her in a chair.
The darkness between us like an important possession
stored in a chest and now taken out for a while.
It was more unusual for her, but I had been noticing
this all night. We sat facing each other in our chairs with our
feet on the coffee table. Our ankles and feet making a place among
a leather flask, flower vase, bottle caps, bottles, unopened bills,
ashes, little crumbs.
I told her the rest of the story. It was just a different
version and I didnt know which one was true. The one Page
told tonight had fewer details. The earlier version was earlier,
around about the time of the scene itself.
She sat facing me with one arm along the chair arm
and her hand hanging gracefully. It was dark, it was a night. The
windows were open and the screens were little dioramas of night,
not quite as dark as the darkness where we sat.
We sat across from each other in the dark with our
feet in their spaces on the coffee table. The darkness pooled and
from time to time lifted faintly, it was air, my windows open and
the night smell of screens. In the swamp were insects rasping and
owls and sometimes whippoorwills. The whippoorwills made a strange
twirling sound like a string being pulled from a childs top.
Frogs roared like the ocean and mostly unnoticed like the ocean,
though the surf in our brains rolled quietly with this sound. We
sat in our chairs with our arms resting how they would. We listened
She seemed to like hearing about other people. The
past so nice. Neither hers nor mine.
"Yeah," she said.
She shifted her feet around on the coffee table and
I saw her hair faintly in the night light. It was hot in there but
the air moved and it was the same night air inside as out.
After a while we went outside and walked down the
road that led to the gamewardens house. The black channel
on our left through wide gaps in the trees, the black swamp on our
right and noises from far back in there. The moon drifting through
haze. Where the road veered towards the gamewardens house
we walked off the road and came to the mouth of the channel. The
lake was before us and the lights of the city far away. The swamp
was close around the channel a black corridor in the middle of it.
There were curved stone tiles at our feet lapped by water. It was
a rude boat landing with lichen and moss and many twigs fallen out
of the trees all tangled on the stone tiles. At the mouth of the
channel was the bass boat halfsunken in the shallow water. It was
drifted taut on its anchor rope tied around a cypress bole. The
line creaked a little in the dark. It was a hot night in June with
the hazy sky like an island up there. Not a very big island. Or
like a thin plate of night with the daylight hanging just above,
rolling quietly up there above the nightskin.
We stood on the tiles with our feet partly in the
warm tannic water. We pulled the anchor rope in, till the boat was
close enough we could step into the fiberglass hull. We crawled
into the back and sat on swivel seats with our feet up on the rail.
The black dead water in the bottom of the boat moved around our
seats as we shifted here and there and then sat still.
from GUERRILLA GARDENS
I sometimes understood things by distinguishing them one from
the other. I understood the southern timber wind in contrast to
the reshing or rushing sound of leaves in the northern deciduous
forests, which I remembered from long ago. The timber wind was harder
to describe than this, yet unnecessary to anyone who has ever heard
it; like air currents of outer space or of high mountain regions
somehow descended to sea level and now passing through the crowns
of the pine forest; a strange and lonely sound of the void, yet
so tranquilizing it was not often melancholy.
Yet I must say that I do not know if I can hear this
sound anymore, though I live in these areas still.
That is what I mean by knowing more in your first
years in a place than five or ten years later.
And this sensation of mountain air, especially on
clear days in winter or springtime. Denying the knowledge of sea
level and feeding instead strange illusions of high country, which
I frequently imagined during earlier years here, a long high plateau
perhaps, an upland place in the interior of some country.
The utter flatness of the terrain hereabout, both
in forest and in prairie, did nothing to dispel this sensation,
but only furthered the impression of high tableland reared up in
close acquaintanceship to the sky.
And I must say that all of this is also gone.
Time passed and I no longer saw these things; and
in a familiarity where I was no longer a stranger to this place
I saw the countryside only for what it was, whatever it was.
Yet recently I have begun to remember that high plateau
once again, a dream resting faintly against the backplate of my
head; recurring now of late. The strange tragedy that has befallen
us has seemed to isolate us here, and though I can see it but faintly
now through the ordinariness of many days, I see the high plateau
once again, also isolated.
From the edge of the cypress trees there was a stretch of open
water and we could see the pines of the timber tracts standing on
the far side. The sunlight fell on the bare white branches of the
cypress, which were reflected below, and over there the pines were
reflected dark green and the empty sky reflected between these places.
We stared down into this sky and then went across.
We saw the barbed wire disappearing down into the
water and we paddled alongside of it where we had waded the day
before. We were absorbed by all our surroundings and didnt
say much now, staring at the barbed wire or back into the woods
beyond it. The water flowed dark red and rippled in shallow places,
the soil yellow below. The pines closed around us and the floodwater
everywhere made them seem smaller, made the sky seem closer to us.
We turned in at the other firebreak and paddled through the timber
and soon came to the sign saying BUS STOP nailed to its tree.
We went on and came to the place where normally we
would start cutting through the underbrush. We sat in the canoe
with the paddles across the thwarts and our forearms resting on
the paddles. In the distance we heard the logging machinery, a rumbling
which seemed to come from the entire hemisphere of direction in
front of us. We drifted and Harmon grabbed a tree and looked into
"We could probably make it," he said.
I said yeah and we laughed and then began to make
our way in there. We paddled and pushed aside drowned palmettos
and nightmare bushes or else took hold of them to pull the canoe
along. This underbrush swept against our faces continuously. It
didnt bother us. I hacked with the machete but it didnt
do much without the momentum of a body going through the woods behind
it. We went through the tangle while the pines rose overhead, yet
so draped with kudzu and other growth that we were scarcely aware
of them. We came across a strange sight.
"Look over there," he said.
We looked at the surface of the water nearby. We grabbed
branches and pulled the canoe closer.
It looked like a bed of seaweed all rippling with
life and in a moment we saw that it was fireants floating on the
water. Thousands upon thousands of them. They writhed in a circle
several feet across that surrounded a tiny sapling, and the lower
part of this tree was covered in a sheathe with ants trying to get
up from the water. The ants foamed madly at the bottom of the tree
and they were all on top of each other dozens deep crawling and
struggling in a frenzy. Even on the water they clung to each other
in a single struggling body and it did not seem that any had drowned
yet. On the tree they were in a mass and the light was red and translucent
between them from the red of their bodies, which shimmered there
I dipped the machete into the water and raised it
up. The ants were draped from the blade and clung in a single texture
like seaweed or little seagrapes. A strange light reflected off
their writhing. I swung the machete back and forth and none fell
free. I held it up higher, trying to look closer. But the ants rippled
all woven to each other and it was hard to focus my eyes on them.
"Hows that to drape on the face of your
enemy one night?" I said.
I swung the ugly rag over towards his face and he
backed up in his seat but had no place to go. I laughed. He cursed
and the boat rocked and I ignored it and looked at the ants on the
blade. "Hrrr," I said, looking at him again. I submerged
the machete in the water, pulled the blade free.
. . . .
We sat there staring at it for a while. Then we went
There was not far to go and we were making such little
headway that we got out and stood waistdeep and dragged the canoe
behind us. The packs sat dry in the bottom. We pushed on through
the soaking brush and the roar of machinery in the distance.
. . . .
Soon we were lost again, each of us pulling the canoe
in different directions. We . . . had to stop several times and
collect ourselves or we would be heading back towards the firebreak
or off in some other nameless direction. The noise from the loggers
was beginning to distract me and I looked at Harmon wondering if
he knew where to go. He was engaged in pulling a tick out of his
beard; he looked at it and flicked it off into the water. Then he
chose a direction and we went on and in a few moments came to a
wide swath cut through the trees.
. . . .
We sat there looking at the sky and hearing the noise
in the distance.
. . . .
We looked along the trees and we could see the faded
orange tags still there, bordering the water, receding into the
distance. Orange Tang. Men walking on the moon. We paddled on into
The swath was very clean. The shape of it I mean.
It was like an avenue. We followed it and felt further away from
everything than before.
The underbrush thinned out after a while and we could
see through the pine forests, the naked trunks in those columns,
the needled crowns forty or so feet above; far away one way, far
away the other way.
The water became gradually shallower. We hid the canoe
and walked in calfdeep water until we came to a bank of earth newly
plowed up. It was taller than we were and we stepped up there and
then slid down the other side. Now instead of water there was mud
all the way to the end of the swath, and we could see the vast clearing
beyond it; we could see it as well through the thin high trunks
on either side of us. There was a great wrack of tornup timber,
trash branches, and we climbed through it and then we were at the
edge of the clearing, stepping on felled trees that lay like corduroy.
The clearing was vast and I suppose I had wanted to
come here because these places appealed to me somehow. The countryside
was naked and destroyed but somehow not abused-looking. I couldnt
say why, but it never struck me that way.
High windrows of earth and trash branches lay out
there. Logging trucks waited in the mud and some were piled up with
logs, skinny tapering pines. Smaller vehicles brought more logs
that dangled from long metal arms, releasing them onto the beds
of the larger trucks. The vehicles were very small in the landscape
and I was used to the silence of these places and the noise made
it seem as if the earth itself were come alive and the vehicles
only one thing or another. The mud churned up to the horizon where
the wall of remaining trees stood there still.
Nearby other vehicles with pincers drove up to the
trees and with these pincers uprooted them whole and dropped them
there and lurched on to the next tree and uprooted it the same.
The drivers sat up in wire cages that looked like the metal guards
around lights at a construction site. They handled the vehicles
like cars and drove them across the mud rising and falling, rocking
from side to side.
We watched them. The wind drifted across this place.
Vultures as always high overhead. They drifted. The men drove by
us, some of them looking over our way but not paying us much attention.
We went back. . . . . We canoed back through the timber and the
swamp. We sang voyageurs songs, or mockeries of them, or any
kind of song.
Chapter Fifteen and a half
If I say anything about loneliness, I must also mention the
symbol of loneliness in the woods, which is the nighthawk. Its name
is strangely inapt, for I see it always in the deepest hours of
the afternoon, in the remotest and emptiest parts of the forest.
It is not a true hawk but kin to the whippoorwillan ancient
harbinger of fate in some cultureswith the same dappled brown
feathers and long, tapered wings. It never soars overhead but flies
about head-high through the trees, arcing in mysterious flight from
one lonely pine to another. If it makes any kind of cry I have never
heard it. I will always come across it in some part of the woods
where there seems to be no other bird or animal life. It darts in
and out of the trees as if accustomed to wandering that maze forever,
silent bird, a lost soul of the forest grown accustomed to that
way of being.
They are usually solitary birds but sometimes I see
them in pairs together. Their appearance always has a strange effect
on me, which I have mentioned to Susan from time to time.
Language and Horror: or Autobiographical Sketches Modeled,
in a certain way, on Barthes Barthes by Barthes
The Joachim Frank Section
I am trying to describe here that phenomenon of staring fixedly
at a wall, a picture, a chair, but being so intent upon your inner
thoughts that you are actually not-seeing these things even as you
The wall. The south wall of the cottage, my parents
cottage at Little Point Sable, Michigan. Smooth grey unpainted wallboard,
it looks the same inside as outside. Black-stained vertical beams
at six foot intervals.
The pictures hanging. Japanese, mostly. My parents
were married in Japan, in Tokyo, eight years after Hiroshima. My
father barely escaped the Korean War. The cottage was built to look
that way, a Japanese simplicity.
The chair. Several chairs.
The sensation of thought. For would I not be eviscerating
that Derridean machine, if I left out the one sensation that will
No, I wouldnt be. The absences speak.
But the light is a special case, a special darling.
It fell to my right during the five hours I spent
seated at the black-stained oak table, it fell in a big sweep outside
the sliding glass doors, the light of May, falling on the great
lake, on Lake Michigan. There will be the rectangle of the glass
doors, and the simple grey box that is the front room of the cottage,
and my position somewhere inside this box, and then, to my right,
the light sweeping on the lake, and the lake a slate of blue and
the sky another slate of blue within the rectangle of the glass
door, Lake Michigan running like a river in the burgeoning air of
In this part of Michigan the leaves are still that
certain shocking green, the way they always are for a week or two.
At night the temperature will still descend to the 30s.
The typewriter I left behind in Florida sits on a
peeling table overlooking a ticking yard. The sky is sapped. May
is the worst month. In June the monsoon comes, bringing relief,
and in June I will be back. The monsoon brings relief, the promise
of relief in the afternoon (and it indeed seems like a promise,
during each radiating, ticking morning in June and July and August
when you crawl out of your sheets in the morning and squint into
the glaring light, and see the promise of relief building at three
oclock in the afternoon, building, building up there above
the dark green pines, sculpture high in the sky, and rain beating
on loud roofs).
Summer in Florida is a state of mind, the way autumn
is in some other states. Clouds, fleets of beings, drifting over
your head, and on the ground you find yourself doing whatever you
I once lived with a woman, and we indulged each others
dreams to the point where we both thought there was no reason to
do anything, and the only interest that would abide with us would
be letting the seasons happen. But of course, there is nothing more
stupefying than being stranded in nature, nothing more tedious,
and so it would be necessary for us to find something to do, if
only as a kind of foreground activity to the abiding backdrop of
In May, 1984, I write at the black-stained
oak table, with the May light falling to the right of me, and think
about the sensation of thought.