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"The Restrictive Muse. (Writings for the Oulipo)"

Ian Monk

HOMAGE TO GEORGES PEREC

An Entertainment in Six Univocalisms

(Author's Note: Any reader misunderstanding univocalic composition should ponder those very expressions our author's note contains, since they feature nothing any subsequent passage could include.)

1. WHAT A MAN!

Nacarat alpaga slacks, a tarlatan that has flaps, a Franz Hals armband, an Astrakhan hat that has Cranach tags, black spats, black sandals, a grand strass star and an Afghan raglan that has falbalas all clad Andras MacAdam. That smart cat, that has pat all Alan Ladd's art, champs at straws and tarantaras a nag past a pampa.

And, Armand d'Artagnan, a man that plans all, a crack à la Batman, darts past that pampa, wafts an arm and grabs Andras. As, last March at an Arkansas bar...

FLASHBACK!

-Caramba! starts Max.

-Hah hah! snaps Andras.

-Ah Allah, hasn't Andras a bad star! brags Max.

-Ah Satan! gasps Andras.

And what a match that was: Andras MacAdam, a farmhand that lacks chat, attacks Max van Zapatta, an arrant braggart.

And what a scrap! Slaps and raps whack at that badland bar brawl. What scars and what a drama! Ah ah ah! Crash! Bang! Scratch! Crack! Kappang! A blatant cataclasm!

Max's hanjar stabs Andras's arm. What pangs!

-Stand back, bastard! Andras bawls and splat! falls backwards.

-Hah hah! A flagrant asthma attack! nags Max, and asks: All's pat, that drawback apart?

-Damn jackass! As camp as all that lack balls! gabs Andras, aghast.

Bang! Bang! Andras's shafts part and blast Max apart. That braggart grasps at a wall, can't stand, flags, has a haggard gasp and falls.

-Ah Ahab, Al-Kantara's Maharajah, and all that jazz! chants Andras.

-Alack! Alack! blabs Max. And that was that.

As Andras MacAdam's back as an Alcatraz lag, Armand d'Artagnan's saga can add that that man nabs Abraham Hawks at Rabat, at Jaffa cracks Clark Marshall's balls, scalps Frank 'Madman' Santa-Campa at Malaga, hangs Baltard, blasts at Balthazar Stark at Alma-Ata (Kazakhstan), marks Pascal Achard's card at Granada, has a Jag stash an Aga-Khan, claps la Callas at La Scala, blags cash at canasta, nap, brag, blackjack and craps at Jakarta, has a samba-java-csárdás-salsa-chachacha ball at Caracas, grabs a waltz at Bandar Abbas, adapts Franz Kafka at an Alhambra, All That Fall at Alcazar, Cravan, Tzara and Char at Bataclan and Hans Fallada at Harvard, transplants Chaban at Cajarc, masts yachts, catamarans and yawls at Grand Bassam, slaps back a warm Ayala glass, backs an Altanta Packard as far as Galahad's Ranch (Kansas), laps at schnaps, grappa, marc, armagnac and marsala, has a gnash at a parma ham and banana salad, taramasalata snacks, crabs, flapjacks and Alaskan clams, tracks and bags a Madagascan panda, chants (slapdash) Bach, Brahms and Franck at Santa Barbara, mans a bar at Clamart, a tram at Gand, a hatstand at Panama and an agar-agar stall at Arras, at Ankara charms Amanda, a vamp (and'Twas A Man as Tall as Caracalla star), has a catch-as-catch-can match at that Agran nawab Akbar's Maramara casbah, and that nasal anthrax has that grand Flashman gasp a last gasp at a Karl-Marx Stadt's dacha's sad blank crashpad, sans alarm, all as black as tar, and call at last that fatal clang: "Abracadabra!"

Saga: Gargas Parac.
Transplant: A.N. Mank.

2. PEREC'S LETTERLESS TEXTS

When Perec penned the e-less Enlèvement, the Exeter Text (even the He-Men Legend we've seen here) he set free the letters' secret essences. Secret essences? Well, let's see the texts themselves.

These three texts represent three letterless genres:

(1) the severe He-Men Legend respects perfect letterlessness;

(2) when, less severe, L'Enlèvement respells terms here, then perverts sentences there, Perec lets the text's precepts be detected;

(3) even less severe, the Exeter Text eschews pretence: Perec, here, never respects the sterner tenets, never keeps them secret.

The e-less text lets endless glee meet dejectedness. Wherever we peer, we see decent men felled helter-skelter, wretchedness, demented schemers. The feebler sex's members seem few. E-lessness, en effet, never lets her strength be felt. Nevertheless, even here, Perec's glee perseveres. The excerpted 'e' represents Perec's begetters (the French 'e' = 'them') (See 'W', where he remembers 'them'). The SS left Perec deserted, defenceless. He then rejected the defenceless 'e'. Yet L'Enlèvement keeps the precept secret. There're few SS references (Nevertheless, see L'Enlèvement, ch XXV, p.294 (Eng. text p.269): "Endless fevered cheers met Nell when she'd been freed. Glepf knew he'd been bested. He nevertheless yelled he'd be revenged. The bleeders'd see he led them. Whenever he felt he held the pretext, he'd see her sentenced then penned between Bergen-Belsen's cells."). The well-kept secret expresses depths mere feckless penmen never spelt. When he tethered the verb, the verb re-emerged strengthened, freshened, re-pepped, the sentence renewed. Perec's e-less verve redeems 'them'.

When the 'e' re-emerges (see the Exeter Text), Perec revenges 'them': Clément fells Behrens, the SS feldwebel. Then sex enters the scene. He sets revels between wenches, seven Greek henchmen, Exeter's Reverend Excellence, clerks etc. Yet the sex-revels Perec's pen then ferments end perverted, veer between excesses.

Hence the e-text (glee engenders wretchedness) represents the e-less text's (wretchedness engenders glee) perfect reverse.

The fetters he selected, then, were never senseless, never mere perverted pretence. These fetters were seeds.

Sex drenches the Exeter Text. French sexes the letter 'e'. Yet we seek sex elsewhere. There're letters where she tempts the pen; we've nevertheless rejected her presence (see three texts hence). There're letters where sex seems less ever-present; well, here, the pen fell (see the next text).

When we desert the verb's weltschmerz we enter the letters' sweetest essence. Here, letters smelt sense (wherever lesser penmen've bent them), ferment, engender new legends. Let's heed Prester Tencrede when he tells the Exeter revellers: "We seek the essence where the End meets the Endless". These letterless precepts never let mere pretenders express themselves. Respect them. Remember 'them'.

3. IRIS

Hi! I'm Iris. I'm slim, with big tits, trim thighs slid in this tight mini-skirt. It's riding high. This girl's IT, dimwit!

It's midnight. I'm sitting drinking in this ill-lit Irish inn with nihilists, misfits, bits, bints, kinks, pimps 'n' finks. Zilch! till I sight this wit singing:

"Idling I sit in this mild twilight dim
Whilst birds, in wild swift vigils, circling skim."

-Hmmm, I sigh. I think I'll flirt with him. If I win him, if I'm his dipchick this night, I'll skim him in circling flights. Right!

Winking, I light his cig.

-I'm Iris, I lisp.

-Hi, I'm Mick McGinnis . Drink?

-Mmmm... Gin sling?

-Right. Sid! sling this girl's gin!

-Chin chin!

Whilst sipping, I drink him in. I find him, sinking his brimming Irish mild, simplistic, timid, his big limbs, his smiling lips inviting. I grin:

-This gin sling's insipid piss, isn't it?

-Might I finish it?

I sink it.

-Sid! Sid! Pints in! this nitwit sings, finishing his Smithwick's. It's his fifth, I think. His sixth'll find him stinking. Will this dill twig it's his big night?

-Crisps? Fish 'n' chips?

I dismiss this wining 'n' dining shit. Rising, I insist I'll drink with him in his digs. Christ, if I didn't insist, this twit'd miss his midnight high-jinks.

With mincing gits winking, dribbling drips (missing chicks) still sniffing, zit-picking dipsticks whistling, I kiss him. In his pigskin - with its pink lining - I lift him.

It's drizzling. High winds swirl twigs, tins, cigs. Firs sigh. Chill, thick mists cling. I inch him, hips limp, listing, till his mini's in sight.

-I'm driving, his lick-spittling lips insist.

If it's his district, I think I'll risk it.

In his digs, I kiss his lips. Lifting his shirt, impish, I sink. First, I pinch his midriff. Blinking in his hindsight, I kiss his thighs, lick his dick till it's stiff. I grip his fist, sliding it till his mid-digit's clitiris -twiddling. I find his timing middling. If I'm this mild Irish virgin's first? Still frigging him, instinct insists I slip him right in. His prick's big, thick, firm. It's sliding. It's riding. It's jiving. It's writhing. It's hiring. It's firing. It's siring. Bliss! I think this is it. His first innings! His brink!

His lids blink. His lips grin:

-Night night.

I'm fiddling with his prick, nibbling it, giving it lip-stick prints. I shrimp him. I rim him. I hit him. I whip his thighs. Shit! His dick still limp, I dismiss him.

"Iris thinks Micks childish things,
Pints diminish midnight flings."

4. DOWNTOWN

To do or not to do: Gods, how to opt?
For who knows good from wrong, or wrong from good;
who'd follow forlorn lords, bow down to clods,
stoop to Sodom, boom songs of so long loss,
or dog coxcombs, hobnob to hollow loons;
who'd down hootch, long for boons Gods know not of;
who'd drool onto dons, for whom tomfools blot
drops onto books, or low words (how now brown cow?);
who'd smooth wrongs, mock worlds from top to bottom,
or crow to crowds for blood; who'd doctor horrors,
or woo doom's pogroms, Lot's loss, Bloom's sorrows,
or woof of wolf or woof of Clotho's loom?
So do not! Good's soon wrong, wrong's soon good for
tomorrow, tomorrow, for tomorrow.

5. UR-TUSH

dumb bulls crush us
cults murmur humdrum bumf
curs gull us
numbskulls hum us humus
Ur-tush snuffs Lulu's musk
lustful Gurus-cum-Ubus cup Lulu's dugs
shun truth
shunt us up mug-fulls
grubs suck us mum
guts dug (ugsum!)
but
GP's hung us duff Gurus
sunk Ur-tush
strung dud Ubus up
struck curs dumb
burst bunkum
drunk Lulu's musk
cut numbskulls' untruths
sung us puns
dug us up
puts us up

6. TRYST

my, my, my, why try
cry dryly, fly by

ply slyly Styx's lymphs
by hymns tryst sky-myths
by syzygy, nymphs

my, my, my, why cry
pry slyly by, try


ON G. ADAIR'S A VOID

As a young Oulipian working within hard constraints I was naturally curious to study G. Adair's translation of La Disparition. I must say that I found it an amusing work in its own right but, as a translation, frankly disappointing. I should point out straight away that, in my opinion, writing without any particular symbol in this British idiom of ours is not, in fact, that hard. Anybody with an inch of wit can do it, which might hint at why lipogrammatic has not caught on in any Anglo-Saxon country. So why oh why (as Paul Johnson would say) has Adair so rapidly slid into playing around with his original? And why pick such a clumsy pun as 'A Void'? This pun is, I think, symptomatic of his not fully grasping what his task should consist of. For a lipogram should not sink to just "avoiding" that symbol which it cannot contain. Its author ought to find in this constraint a fillip to his imagination (this is implicit in La Disparition's artistic approach and its Post Scriptum contains a clarification of this point). Although I would not go so far as to concur fully with Vladimir Nabokov's vision of a "gray Clio of translation", this fillip should signify, for a lipogrammatic translator, an ability to find a way of saying what his original says, without addition or omission, in so far as his idiom allows him so to do. Adair is witty, and a good wordsmith, but his translation totally fails to do this. Going through A Void, I found so many additions, omissions and just plain mistranslations that I soon had to stop counting. In this short criticism I shall stick to just four:

(a) Original: "Qui, d'abord, a l'air d'un roman jadis fait où il s'agissait d'un individu qui dormait tout son saoul."

Adair (p. 3): "Which at first calls to mind a probably familiar story of a drunk man waking up with his mind in a whirl."

What is this "probably familiar story"? In fact 'dormir tout son saoul' has nothing to do with a drunk snoring off last night's visit to his local, but is slang for 'having your full forty winks". Our author's allusion to his own, probably familiar story A Man Snoozing is thus lost.

(b) Original: "Ou, un court instant, sous trois traits droits, l'apparition d'un croquis approximatif, insatisfaisant : substituts saillants, contours bâtards profilant, dans un vain sursaut d'imagination, la Main à trois droits d'un Sardon ricanant."

Adair (p. 5): "Or, just for an instant, an abstract motif without any form at all, but for two Kandinskian diagonals, along with a matching pair, half as long and slightly awry - its fuzzy contours trying, if in vain, to draw a cartoon hand, which is to say, a hand with four digits and no thumb. (If you find this puzzling, look hard at Bugs Bunny's hands or Donald Duck's.)"

Apart from adding in Kandinsky (and, for a good abstract hand, why not?) Adair insists on providing us with his own insights into cartoon iconography. It is ironic that such animals' not having thumbs should stick out so painfully as proof of this buff's will to cram his 'translation' full of totally gratuitous allusions to films. It is as dispiriting as counting nods and winks in Tarantino's Pulp Fiction.

(c) Original: "Portons dix bons whiskys à l'avocat goujat qui fumait au zoo."

Adair (p. 39): "I ask all 10 of you, with a glass of whisky in your hand - and not just any whisky but a top-notch brand - to drink to that solicitor who is so boorish as to light up his cigar in a zoo."

This, similar to our "That quick brown fox is jumping onto a lazy diva", is a familiar typist's workout and should contain all symbols from A to Z (barring, naturally, what it cannot contain in this book) and is also an important, but vain indication to Anton Vowl's pals as to what is going on. Not only is this translation's volubility absurd, but it also lacks all of four symbols: m, q, v and x. How about: "Quick! pour six whisky drams for an unjovial solicitor bringing cigars to a zoo." If not, Anton Vowl's post scriptum is void of any point.

(d) Original: "Puis l'on suicida Fignon."

Adair (p. 58): "... following Fignon's hara-kiri à la Mishima (in fact, so rumour had it, this was not a totally voluntary affair, for, calmly placing a sword in front of him, and saying only, in an odd transatlantic twang, that "a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do", his boss at Matignon had no doubt in his mind what would occur..."

A blatant addition of Mishima's tragic act, plus a long blah-blah-blah, with again an odd filmic twang, just to say that Fignon did not in fact commit hara-kiri à la Mishima at all. Why not: "Big wigs push Fignon into drinking poison / swallowing aspirins / blowing his brains out / slitting his wrists in his bathtub (à la Lucan, his companions all around him, rightly knowing that this stoic act against a fascist dictator would blossom into immortality, with his living blood dissolving from a purplish patch to nothing in his tub)", or any of a thousand various ways of famously finishing it all? A suspicion starts that Adair is simply showing off, without any thought for his original.

Although working without that most common symbol of all, writing paragraphs full of original insight and/or blatant rubbish is child's play. My fumbling dispatch amply displays this fact, I think. What should count is sticking to translating what an author actually said.


A THRENODIALIST'S DOZEN

"Long since, the happy dwellers of these valleys
Have prayed me leave my strange exclaiming music,
Which troubles their day's work, and joys of evening..."

(Sir Philip Sidney)

SLITHERONDA
SHINDARETOL
EADTHISLORN
ARTSLINEDOH
TOSILANDHER
NOTESHARDLI
LTONESHARDI
NHALEDITSOR
DERSLAINTOH
ANDSORELTHI
STHRENODIAL

Slither on, dash in,
dare to lead this lorn art's line
doh to si
land her notes' hard lilt.

One shard inhaled,
its order's lain,
to hand Sorel
this threnodial.

SHEIRANTOLD - SHEDONTRAIL
HEARTSOLDIN - ILOSTANDHER
SANELORDTHI - EISHANTDROL
STHINODERAL - LATHISENDOR
LIEDASTHORN - RANTSHIELDO
SRAINHEDOLT - NAIRHELOSTD
TARNISHEDOL - OESNTHARDIL
DHARLOTSINE - LRAINSHEDOT
IRADONTSHEL - HEROILSANDT
TERINASHDOL - HREADSINLOT
ORSTHINDEAL - SHONEDTRAIL

She: I ran,
told hearts' old insane lord
this thin ode,
rallied as thorns rain.

He: Dolt! Tarnished old harlot,
sine ira,
don't shelter in ash,
dolor's thin deal.

She: Don't rail! I lost
and here I shan't droll at his end
or rant.
Shield on air!

He: Lost?
Doesn't hard ill rain
shed other oils and threads
in lot's honed trail?


SHETRAILOND
ENIALSHODTR
AINHERSLOTD
ONHERTAILSD
EADSONTHRIL
LSARENOTHID
DENSOILRATH
ERTHANLIDOS
SANDTOILHER
HAIRSENDLOT
SHEIRTOLAND
ISTANDORHEL
LNOTDAREHIS
TORIESHANDL
EADTHISLORN
DNATORELISH
THEROADSINL
AIDSHORNLET
TERSANDHOLI
ERLASHIDONT
HOARDTINSEL
LOINEDTRASH
She: Trail on denial's hod,
train her slot,
don her tail's dead son.

Thrills are not hidden soil:
rather than Lidos' sand,
toil her hair.

Send lot's heir to land.

I stand,
or he'll not dare histories' hand.

Lead this lorn DNA
to relish the road's inlaid,
shorn letters
and holier lash.

I don't hoard tinsel-loined trash.


He: In art's old hedonist rallies
hard-toned toil,
ran shored hints' allies
and thrones.

Hoard it, lard it,
lash on trials:

don't her nets hold air?

The inroads' lilt's heard
on shore
and tilled airs.

No threnodist halts Hero
and lids her tonalities
-no hard lethal irons-

death's lord inhales no dirt.

HEINARTSOLD
HEDONISTRAL
LIESHARDTON
EDTOILRANSH
OREDHINTSAL
LIESANDTHRO
NESHOARDITL
ARDITHONESL
IDELASHONTR
IALSDONTHER
NETSHOLDAIR
THEINROADSL
ILTSHEARDON
SHOREANDTIL
LEDAIRSNOTH
RENODISTHAL
TSHEROANDLI
DSHERTONALI
TIESNOHARDL
ETHALIRONSD
EATHSLORDIN
HALESNODIRT


SHELAIDONTR
IALSDONTHER
ALDTHEIRSON
SINTHREADOL
DLITHEARSON
ISTHOLDNEAR
HOSTILEANDR
AREHINTSDOL
LSDONTHIREA
THRENODIALS
HOLIERSTAND
She: Laid-on trials
don't herald their son in.

Thread, old lithe arsonist,
hold near hostile
and rare hints.

Dolls don't hire a threnodial's
holier stand.


HEANDSOTRIL
LSHERANTIDO
TESRODINHAL
ETHISANDROL
LONITSHARDE
NTAILSHEDOR
ATSHINDERLO
INSHEATOLDR
ANTERSHOLDI
NTHEIRSADLO
TIONSHERALD
He: And so trills
her antidote's rod.
Inhale this and roll on
its hard entail.

She: Do rats hinder
loins' heat?
Old ranters hold in
their sad lotion's herald.


He: A lost din roars in,
held to its hand,
relations herd liars.

The old note
and shrill tosh rain dead toils:

her nails don't herald in others,
on earth's lid.

HEALOSTDINR
OARSINHELDT
OITSHANDREL
ATIONSHERDL
IARSTHEOLDN
OTEANDSHRIL
LTOSHRAINDE
ADTOILSHERN
AILSDONTHER
ALDINOTHERS
ONEARTHSLID


She: Liar! Don't let airs

don his role,

and that shored-in line's art

hold rain.

He: Lot's dried host

lands her tonal ironies.

Halt! Didn't solar heat

hold reins?

She: Torn, I'd alter

his nodal dash.

Let ironies' thorn

ladder this loan's toil.

He: And rain her lost deals

on third roads'

lithe, ninth dale.

Sort her and soil.

SHELIARDONT - SHETORNIDAL
LETAIRSDONH - TERHISNODAL
ISROLEANDTH - DASHLETIRON
ATSHOREDINL - IESTHORNLAD
INESARTHOLD - DERTHISLOAN
RAINHELOTSD - STOILHEANDR
RIEDHOSTLAN - AINHERLOSTD
DSHERTONALI - EALSONTHIRD
RONIESHALTD - ROADSLITHEN
IDNTSOLARHE - INTHDALESOR
ATHOLDREINS - THERANDSOIL


SPIES IN NEWQUAY

A Pangrammatic Story

A spy's existence can be a lonely and disorientating one. Isolated from normal society, it is easy to fall into a personal fantasy world. But oddly enough, when two or more spies get together, the results can be even worse: instead of finding solace in each other's company, their paranoia breeds even more quickly, often leading them to make disastrous mistakes.

Some years ago, three KGB undercover agents (codenamed Xewd, Yumnf and Zoq) found that they were simultaneously on the trail of the same double agent, who was known as Sjarvitch. He was a particularly cunning operative, who had taken to hiding out in British holiday camps during the summer months. Such places enabled him to adopt any number of shifting identities, mingling in with the crowds of singing and drinking proletarians, while remaining near the sea should a sudden escape by boat prove necessary. Unfortunately for Xewd, Yumnf and Zoq, they lacked Sjarvitch's ability to blend anonymously into this holiday atmosphere, particularly after they had identified one another and started conspicuously drinking vodka together in the camps' bars. Our double agent was thus able to keep one step ahead of his pursuers and soon started intentionally tormenting them with false leads.

On one notable occasion, in Newquay, he left a coded but easily decipherable message in his chalet, before changing camps and identities once more. The three KGB men happily seized on the bait and took the message to the bar to decode over a bottle of vodka. By the end of the bottle, three pairs of bleary eyes were staring at the camp's DJ, who was innocently playing the latest dance tunes and bantering with the holiday-makers, while selecting contestants for the weekly pop music and general knowledge quiz. According to the message, the double agent and the DJ had been lovers (in fact, the DJ had rejected Sjarvitch's advances, and a little personal revenge was also part of his plan). Fearing that he was about to be unmasked, Sjarvitch said that he had left a coded account of his findings, and of the identities of the KGB operatives who were onto him, with his old lover. He hinted that the DJ had taken to keeping this message always on his person (to be precise, in his underpants) for safety's sake and as a reminder of happier days. Xewd, Yumnf and Zoq ordered another bottle of vodka and discussed what to do next. Their first idea was to sit tight, then raid the DJ's chalet later that night. But as the second bottle went down, their paranoia mounted. What if the British secret services got to him first, immediately after the quiz? They might be unmasked and arrested at once. After a little more reflection, they decided to enter the quiz, in order to keep as close as possible to their new prey. Although somewhat the worse for drink, they were accepted as members of team four, in the second round of the quiz. This gave them time for a third bottle.

While they were drinking it, Sjarvitch reappeared in the bar, but so heavily disguised that he was unrecognizable. Intentionally looking shifty, he walked over to the DJ at the end of the first round of the quiz, and whispered something in his ear. The DJ nodded and pointed at his watch. Thinking that this must be the contact and that their identities were about to be revealed, the three KGB men jumped up onto the stage. Instead of taking their seats as expected, Xewd and Zoq grabbed the DJ by his arms, while Yumnf unzipped the poor man's trousers and started ferreting around inside his y-fronts. As the astonished DJ fainted, the camp's security guards seized the three spies. They were then turned over to the police.

The next morning, the following headline appeared in the Newquay Gazette:

THROWN KGB VEX CAMP QUIZ DJ'S FLY

-Slightly, but fittingly ambiguous, remarked the satisfied double agent. And, what is more, a perfect isopangram that doesn't mention any of us by name.


SNOWBALLING AND MELTING

"I
do"
"I
do"
two
to
a
by-
law
said.
And
we
'd
be
far
from
truth,
just
sad,
if
a
'do'
did
move
their
hearts.
Words,
mere
air.
He
'd
be
her
true
lover,
though
passing
dreams
shall
take
him
to
"I
do
not",
when
other
charms
between
another's
folding
sheets
wrench
from
him:
"So,
I
'll
now
undo
those
facile,
ancient
promises.
Amusement
(ninefold)
beckons."
Nobody
would
damn
him.
He
's
so
sad
when
dawn's
waking
reveals
whatever
ghostlike
bemusement,
lingering,
remains.
Follow
where
this
sap,
as
a
no-
man,
then
yawns,
adopts
another
artifice:
agreeable,
irrelevant
confidences,
loquacious
breakfast
speeches,
cereals,
coffee,
while
that
one
he
's
in
his
eyes
finds
lovers'
insight,
piercing
discovery,
throughout
snowballing
wordsmithery,
solipsistic
rhetorical
questions,
wherever
groping,
random
words
fall.
And
so
a
'do'
has
made
these
heroes
fibbers,
hastened
stumbling
integrity's
destruction,
introduced
desperate
shackled
stories,
melted
words'
core.
But
am
I
to
say
they
merit
truth's
revenge,
honesty's
dismissal,
invention's
necessary
uprising?
Forgive,
please,
their
fall.
Now,
he
'd
be
his
true
wife's
truest
partner,
although
falsehood,
thriving,
remains
within
these
vows.
How
do
I
do?
Ask
that;
leave
vacant,
fangled
promises.
Finally
waking,
speak
thus:
"Who
am
I
to
her
mind?
Those
sleepy
glances
cannot
charm
now's
man,
or
I
am
for
ever
these
women's
clown."
What
now?
He
's
in
his
real
wife's
arms,
yet,
as
I
do,
she
asks
and
he
's
to
ask:
"Do
I?"
"Do
I?"


THE TIME OF OUR LIVES

A Cylinder Story

I met a traveller from a distant galaxy who lived with me for some time to learn our ways. What surprised him most was how we earth-bound beings remained such slaves to time. Our ways of measuring it seemed completely arbitrary to him. How, for example, could an hour spent with your lover be considered as the same period of time as an hour wasted in a dentist's waiting room? I did my best to explain that, however differently anyone might feel about the passing of any given hour, our measurements were as near as we could get to absolute and extremely useful when it came to organizing our daily lives. This logic passed him completely by. When he told me that his stay was nearly over, I asked him how he knew that his time was up. "Because that's what I presently know" he replied, then went on to invite me to visit his planet in exchange for all the help I had given him. Of course, I immediately accepted and, when he had cheek to ask me when I could leave, I answered: "There is no time like the present." So we set off at once.

He took me to the secret location where he had hidden his spaceship and I was astonished by how small it was. There was barely room for the two of us inside and when he started it up and it had risen smoothly into the air, I asked him how it was powered and how we were going to be able to travel the countless light years to his planet. But he just smiled and told me not to worry my little head about such things. Perhaps, some time, I might learn to understand. So I settled myself back for what I supposed would be an extremely long journey, regretting that I hadn't brought along Proust, or some other hefty author, to while away my time. But no sooner had we started, than we touched down and stepped out of the craft. I supposed that I must have fallen asleep, or gone into a trance, so I quizzed him about what had happened inside his ship. "Perhaps you're beginning to understand," he said. "Is not time like the present there?" I just shook my head in disbelief and followed him into his house.

His house was small, comfortable and surprisingly like any normal modest residence in any Western country. There seemed to be no sign of the benefits of the extraordinary technology they must possess in order to be able to travel from one side of the universe to the other, in what was apparently the twinkling of an eye. The only obvious thing missing, naturally, was a clock. He made us something to eat and we settled down in front of what looked like a large television set. The food was a strange blue colour and had a strong, pungent taste which it was impossible for me to identify. After watching what I imagined to be his local news station for a while, he apologized for boring me with programmes I couldn't understand, then channel-surfed until he came across a news bulletin showing what was happening on planet earth. The commentary was, of course, still incomprehensible but it was reassuring to see pictures of familiar scenes. I then asked him why he had bothered to go all that way, when he could see the earth on TV and, for that matter, why they bothered to plant journalists on our insignificant planet. "Lots of us have taken rather a shine to you." He replied. "That's why we like to keep up with your doings. But not many us travel over there, that's true. But, note, I'm like the press sent there is. As curious as hell." Then we finished off our meals and decided to go for a stroll.

He reckoned that I should begin my education at once and offered to show me one of their more interesting religious ceremonies which happened to be taking place that evening. I shut up about asking him how he knew that it was the right date, if time wasn't measurable. But I was surprised that such advanced people still had a religion and so begged him tell me about their beliefs. "They're not really beliefs as such. Or not what you mean by that word." he explained mysteriously. Then he went on to say that their religion was more a matter of celebrating life and the universe and focusing their attentions on their present position in space and in time. It was a warm evening and, as we neared the small hill where the celebration was to take place, I was astonished to see that it was covered in snow and that, incredibly, a fire seemed to be burning in the middle of it. Not waiting to be asked, he immediately explained the symbolic meaning of the scene. The smoke came from a special preparation, rather like incense, but which had no name in our language. Their word for it could be translated literally as "praise-scent". Its burning symbolized the way time consumes itself and, in that consummation, alters the atmosphere like a spreading fragrance. The snow had been carefully preserved for the occasion as it symbolized the melting of time, and also time's texture: an apparently homogenous mass made up of tiny, unique elements. "For us," he concluded, "time, like the praise-scent there, is snow." I nodded encouragingly and, after he had performed his celebration of life, we continued on our way.

The next few days, as I shall persist in calling them, taught me many similar lessons in how irreconciliably different our views were. But I didn't complain. The whole experience was so fascinating. What I did have to complain about, however, was the food. As far as I was concerned, it was completely inedible and when I did manage to swallow a decent amount, it seemed to pass straight through me. Seeing that I was rapidly weakening, my companion left me in front of the television, saying that I would be in for an agreeable surprise. In what seemed like no time, he was back carrying a large box, done up in extravagant gift-wrappings. He put it down on the table in front of me and a delicious, appetizing smell filled the room. I pulled off the wrapper and was delighted to find a covered dish containing what looked and smelled like a boeuf bourguignon. I dug in at once. It was almost perfect and, if I have eaten better bourguignons in my life, I wasn't about to criticize this welcome feast. Smiling at my obvious pleasure, he said:"Like the present? There is no thyme. But apart from that, I think it's pretty authentic." "It's wonderful, just wonderful", I stammered between mouthfuls.

From that point on, he continued to procure "Earth-food" for me. Fortunately many of them were not only interested in our doings, but had also become fans of alien cuisine. When he thought that I had begun to understand how time worked on their planet (alas, he was sadly wrong, I had simply stopped asking questions if I knew that I wouldn't be able to understand the answers) he decided to deepen my knowledge by talking about his experiences on another planets. Time, according to him, was still harder to understand in cultures that had a higher sense of the universe than even my hosts had. "There is a planet I know where they have achieved immortality. Perhaps it's rather like your vague ideas of what eternal bliss in heaven or eternal torment in hell might be like. I would even go so far as to say that the present there is not time-like. See what I mean?" I didn't want to disappoint him, so I just nodded as usual.

But what I did make a little progress with was their language. As I suppose you will easily guess they have nothing like our tenses. But apart from that obvious difficulty, the rest of it was easy enough to comprehend. Before long, I was able to start reading some of their literature, which seemed to be incredibly rich. My companion was delighted by my progress and lent me a copy of his favourite poet. I immediately fell under his charm. Some of his poems distinctly reminded me of John Donne and also of my friend's comparison between an hour with a lover and a hour in a dentist's waiting room, particularly the poem beginning (my translation):

'Thy bed is my universe,
Thine eyes all that mine can see.
Wrap me in thine infinite sheet -
Present there, is not time like thee?'

When I left, he gave me his copy as a souvenir. I am still working on a

translation and hope soon to publish this example of extraterrestrial verse.

When at last it appeared that it was time for me to go home, he decided to accompany me and stay a while again in the hope of finally grasping why we were so obsessed with counting time. We climbed once more into his spacecraft, but this time, the journey seemed to take an age. Fortunately, I was able to occupy myself by working on my translation and my friend had thought to supply me with a large stock of soups and casseroles. So I suffered from neither boredom nor hunger. Suddenly, the craft came to a stop and we emerged to find ourselves in exactly the same place where we had set off, so long ago. Imagine my amazement to discover, when I got home, that only six of our days had passed during my absence. I had to admit that my friend was, in some strange way, right about how time worked. We had something to eat, then I settled down to ponder all the new ideas I had been taught. He, meanwhile, settled down in front of my mantelpiece clock and, tutting to himself, watched it go round. Both of us were now befuddled and hunting for some revelation. I lit some of his praise-scent, as I had learned to do when I needed to concentrate. Its odour filled the room. But if it was an aid to concentration there, here it only made me feel drunk on the memory of everything I had seen or heard of his culture. Whatever we were both looking for, his symbols couldn't help me, nor mine him. His thoughts were obviously following mine, he looked round at me and said: "Scent there is not time, like the prey". I smiled at him, took the clock from the mantelpiece and stamped it under my feet. He, in turn, doused my praise-scent. We embraced for a moment then I knew that, even though time remained between us, not even time could undo our love for each other.


TWO SESTANAGRAMINAS

1. FORMS OF THE ANAGRAM
for Michelle Grangaud

Honest Offa grammar:
a Homer tangrams off.
Agons' framer, fathom
a thorn farm of games -
from me, a hangar, soft
hams ram a font forge.
No maths farm a forge;
hats off neo-grammar!
Far ohm-manager, soft,
hammer a tar-song off.
From a Thor, fan games,
from anger as fathom,

gas me far, nor fathom,
from shaman at forge,
hat-'n'-armor-off games.
Toffs hone a grammar,
a Rome tram hangs off.
Hag farmer moan soft!
range, foam, harm soft
groans, frame, fathom
organs, hem a mart off.
Man! farm a shot forge.
Fan! he foots grammar
from far hat-on games.
Ah, not far from games,
ham a frogman re soft
fat of shone grammar.
An ogre farms: fathom
Thor's man-fama forge.
A gram then roams off.
Hag matrons ream off
a froth for man-games:
mama's fat horn forge,
hear, fag morman. Soft
sang a former fathom -
fasten hoof grammar.
O, grammar, hasten off!
Ran fathom for games'
man: harm a soft forge.


2. IMMEASURABLE DISTANCES

for Harry Mathews

A creed, a sunbeam's limits,
a meal's basic items: under
bars see laminated music,
sad American blues - times,
as slain trim dues, became
a scene's dim sub-material.
Since dab muses' material,
as a cane, dumb-seer limits,
(Laura's mind is set) became
basic e-mail's steam under
bemused canals' air, time's
an Arab steed's mile music.
Animals are bested music;
buds seem Cain's material.
Cruel bias named as time's
cream Danube, seas' limits'
imitable case, mass under
lust-raised mains, became
similar. Sun dates became
real beat in massed music,
its able missa came under
acmes' bussed-in material,
as names cubed are limits,
as ludic names bare times.
And a sublime acre's times
in dual semi-stars became
a drum, a base, scene limits,
a bile drama's tense music;
and seisms' cube material
mimics a sea, stable under
tame biases, is calm under
laces. A number aids time's
cubes, made sins' material.
Same dust in liars became
a nimble tear's Sade music,
made cures a bane's limits.
A limit's cases beam under
a rebel music and, as times',
suns' ids became material.


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