Monday, July 19, 2010

“In murmurous runnels . . .”


Hadn’t I shy’d off the late Faulkner of the Snopes trilogy, caught by some incorrigible hint of inferiority, a diminuendo snag’d off what airwaves of post-literary gossip, the kind that goes about untend’d and extreme, opinions bouncing up off the grand barrier reef of œuvres unexamined, illegible to the everyday breezes of discourse—usually put: he had a falling off? And hadn’t I always fail’d to discern the roots of “el boom” (magical realism cadre) in Faulkner? Entraining to Schenectady, New York so that I could—with no surcease of motility—volte-face in mid-decay industrial and resume trajectory behind the wheel of the Vibe, point’d, though, into the opposing westerly (and soon-to-be sinking) sun (long story), I read Faulkner’s The Hamlet (1940), with bec bouché, meaning (I doubt) stupefy’d by its excellence. The idiot-boy Isaac Snopes and the stolen cow he so inescapably loves walking into the westering sun, caught by rain (writing on the verge of losing control):
That afternoon it rained. It came without warning and it did not last long. He watched it for some time and without alarm, wanton and random and indecisive before it finally developed, concentrated, drooping in narrow unperpendicular bands in two or three different places at one time, about the horizon, like gauzy umbilical loops from the bellied cumulae, the sun-belled ewes of summer grazing up the wind from the south-west It was as if the rain were actually seeking the two of them, hunting them out where they stood amid the shade, finding them finally in a bright intransigeant fury. The pine-snoring wind dropped, then gathered; in an anticlimax of complete vacuum the shaggy pelt of earth became overblown like that of a receptive mare for the rampant crash, the furious brief fecundation which, still rampant, seeded itself in flash and glare of noise and fury and then was gone, vanished; then the actual rain, from a sky already breaking as if of its own rich over-fertile weight, running in a wild lateral turmoil among the unrecovered leaves, not in drops but in needles of fiery ice which seemed to be not trying to fall but, immune to gravity, earthless, were merely trying to keep pace with the windy uproar which had begotten and foaled them, striking in thin brittle strokes through his hair and shirt and against his lifted face, each brief lance already filled with the glittering promise of its imminent cessation like the brief bright saltless tears of a young girl over a lost flower; then gone too, fled north and eastward beyond the chromatic arch of its own insubstantial armistice, leaving behind it the spent confetti of its carnival to gather and drip leaf by leaf and twig by twig then blade by blade of grass, to gather in murmurous runnels, releasing in mirrored repetition the sky which, glint by glint of fallen gold and blue, the falling drops had prisoned.
A final sentence wherein the storm-mimicking rhythm of the whole proves likely of more mean pertinence unreproof’d than the particulars of its sayings. Regarding what the various South Americans mark’d, see, say, the bay horse the canny trader Stamper dyes black and inflates (“it even put its feet down like it couldn’t even feel them”) in order to sell it back to its original owners with the premonitory nudge compleatly miss’d: “‘Sho now . . . That horse will surprise you.” A rainstorm (“we rode in it for two hours, hunched under the croker sacks”) rinses out the color: “Then there was a sound like a nail jabbed into a big bicycle tire. It went whish-hhhhhhhh and then the rest of that shiny fat black horse . . . vanished.” Eventually a “bicycle pump valve” is found “under its hide just inside the nigh fore shoulder.” See, too, the figure of Ratliff, “the sewing machine agent” and news-purveyor, who travels a four county area in a buckboard “drawn by a pair of shaggy ponies as wild and active-looking as mountain goats and almost as small”:
To the rear of it was attached a sheet-iron box the size and shape of a dog-kennel and painted to resemble a house, in each painted window of which a painted woman’s face simpered above a painted sewing-machine . . .
Something of the meretriciousness thereof hints of the marvelous wares of the annual gypsy peddler Melquíades in the Macondo of Gabriel García Márquez. Or see the recipe provided to cure a man of “stock-diddling”:
“You take and beef the critter the fellow has done formed the habit with, and cook a piece of it and let him eat it. It’s got to be a authentic piece of the same cow or sheep or whatever it is, and the fellow has got to know that’s what he is eating; he cant be tricked nor forced to eating it, and a substitute wont work. Then he’ll be all right again and wont want to chase nothing but human women . . .”
Isn’t something of the story of the House of Atreus (Atreus tricking Thyestes into eating the cook’d flesh of ’s own sons) hovering nearby? If one reads for sentences (and I do, for varietals and fervencies and those all out of composure and echoes), one marvels. One that begins somewhere in King Lear and ends with Emily Dickinson:
He would lie amid the waking instant of earth’s teeming minute life, the motionless fronds of water-heavy grasses stooping into the mist before his face in black, fixed curves, along each parabola of which the marching drops held in minute magnification the dawn’s rosy miniatures, smelling and even tasting the rich, slow, warm barn-reek milk-reek, the lowing immemorial female, hearing the slow planting and plopping suck of each deliberate cloven mud-spreading hoof, invisible still in the mist loud with its hymeneal choristers.
Or (anchor’d by the biblical “pismires”):
What he felt was outrage at the waste, the useless squandering; at a situation intrinsically and inherently whirring by any economy, like building a log dead-fall and baiting it with a freshened heifer to catch a rat; or no, worse: as though the gods themselves had funneled all the concentrated bright wet-slanted unparadised June onto a dug-heap, breeding pismires.
Or the way “a tiny machine-made black bow which snapped together at the back with a metal fastener”—the absurdly inutile bowtie (“ceremonial heterodoxy raised to its tenth power”) interloper and storekeeper Flem Snopes takes to wearing daily is call’d “a tiny viciously depthless cryptically balanced splash like an enigmatic punctuation symbol against the expanse of white shirt.” Uncomprehending I am, of that curious breed of poet—particularly the sentence-writer, “new” or old—who scorns the novel (or any word-made thing): always there is that combo, incombustible and unblast’d, a tiny blastula of words making a wild-eyed circumambient music, something to cling to . . .

William Faulkner, 1897-1962
(Photograph by Carl Mydans)