Monday, June 23, 2008


Diaboli Philadelphiae

Haul’d back through scatter’d sheets of rain in Ohio, skid city, hypermiling it down the long grades of Pennsylvania, up out of Philadelphia to lumber across the Susquehanna, island-clad north of York where the turnpike scoots by. All of Pennsylvania’s a large green-pelt’d animal, dormant. Unpack in a jiffy and fall to odd reverie—“most of / the beauties of travel are due to / the strange sleeps we fall to in its aftermath.” We went to vouchsafe and ascertain the “look” of the red brick of Philadelphia, under the sway of a certain Mr. Pynchon. One souvenir: a shank of bamboo, cut and scrub’d clean in a Main Line backyard, now browning. And the inevitably confusing books pluck’d off shelves of book emporiums unaccustom’d to one’s particular dibble: how’d one explain the presence in the rucksack of Serena Vitale’s Pushkin’s Button, if not by a renegade lapse into catholicity, another beauty of travel. One’s judgment appeased by lines like:
When he wasn’t writing, Pushkin was always on edge: he couldn’t stay still for more than a few minutes, shuddered if an object fell, became irritated if the children made noise, and opened the mail with anxious agitation. At night he was stalked by insomnia and its menacing cohort of ghostly creditors: the wood seller Obermann, the wine merchant Raoult, the tailor Rutch, the coachman Savalev, the grocer Dmitriev, the bookseller Bellizard, the pharmacist Bruns, the cabinet-maker Gambs.
Though one suffers nothing of the sort, never prickled by inanities, never demanding a fatal duel, debtless, calm, a lush wood’d island Susquehanna-water’d in full sun. I did, belatedly, complete Oakley Hall’s stupendous Warlock—“The human animal is set apart from other beasts by his infinite capacity for creating fictions.” I did, too, obtain a couple of other Hall books, eye out for the neglect’d. One (of a series) with the Mexico-disparu’d journalist Ambrose Bierce in the role of detective. (Pause to consider the legions drain’d away—permanent or temporary—into the blue Mexican dusk, its long mauve feints and slants: B. Traven, Leon Trotsky, Malcolm Lowry, the inestimable Mr. Pynchon again, with Life magazine shutterbugs in hot pursuit. Bierce trying to join the insurgent Pancho Villa.) Bierce’s fine black core spit cleanly forth in The Devil’s Dictionary:
The finished product of which we are the raw material. The contents of the Taj Mahal, the Tombeau Napoleon and the Grantarium.
I did return to the tumult of the untend’d, fetch the doggo home, breeze a little with the neighbor who’s busy again hacking out Bishop’s weed, the blighter. Summer’s work is to ease away under the cover of frantic light and the confluence of gassy hysteria and quid pro quo ombudsmanship, and ease back in with a pout and a boater. That’s summer’s work. An anti-method. A voluntary voluptuousness without realm or target. (Jamming a little whilst I nose around the precincts, see if anything’s changed.)

Ambrose Bierce (1842-1913?)