Posts Tagged ‘Reprint’


Tangle-foot flypaper is approximately fourteen inches long and eight inches wide; it is coated with a yellow poison paste and comes from Canada. When a fly lands on it—not so eagerly, more out of convention, because so many others are already there—it gets stuck at first by only the outermost joints of all its legs.  A very quiet, disconcerting sensation, as though while walking in the dark we were to step on something with our naked soles, nothing more than a soft, warm, unavoidable obstruction, and yet something into which little by little the awesome human essence flows, recognized as a hand that just happens to be lying there, and with five ever more decipherable fingers, holds us tight.

Here they stand all stiffly erect, like cripples pretending to be normal, or like decrepit old soldiers (and a little bowlegged, the way you stand on a sharp edge).  They hold themselves upright, gathering strength and pondering their position.  After a few seconds they’ve come to a tactical decision and they begin to do what they can, to buzz and try to lift themselves.  They continue this frantic effort until exhaustion makes them stop.  Then they take a breather and try again.  But the intervals grow even longer.  They stand there and I feel how helpless they are.  Bewildering vapors rise from below.  Their tongue gropes about like a tiny hammer.  Their head is brown and hairy, as though made of a coconut, as manlike as an African idol.  They twist forward and backward on their firmly fastened little legs, bend at the knees and lean forward like men trying to move a too-heavy load: more tragic than the working man, truer as an athletic expression of the greatest exertion than Lacoön.  And then comes the extraordinary moment when the imminent need of a second’s relief wins out over the almighty instincts of self-preservation.  It is the moment when the mountain climber because of the pain in his fingers willfully loosens his grip, when the man lost in the snow lays himself down like a child, when the hunted man stops dead with aching lungs.  They no longer hold themselves up with all their might, but sink a little, and at that moment appear totally human.  Immediately they get stuck somewhere else, higher up on the leg, or behind, or at the tip of a wing.

When after a little while they’ve overcome the spiritual exhaustion and resume the fight for survival, they’re trapped in an unfavorable position and their movements become unnatural.  Then they lie down with outstretched hindlegs, propped up on their elbows, and try to lift themselves.  Or else seated on the ground they rear up with outstretched arms like women who attempt in vain to wrest their hands free of a man’s fists.  Or they lie on their belly, with head and arms in front of them as though fallen while running, and they only still hold up their face.  But the enemy is always passive and wins at just such desperate, muddled moments.  A nothing, an it draws them in: so slowly that one can hardly follow, and usually with an abrupt acceleration at the very end, when the last inner breakdown overcomes them.  Then, all of a sudden, they let themselves fall, forward on their face, head over heels; or sideways with all legs collapsed; frequently also rolled on their side with their legs rowing to the rear.  This is how they lie there.  Like crashed planes with one wing reaching out into the air.  Or like dead horses.  Or with endless gesticulations of despair.  Or like sleepers.  Sometimes event the next day, one of them wakes up, gropes a while with one leg or flutters a wing.  Sometimes such a movement sweeps over the lot, then all of them sink a little deeper into death.  And only on the side, near their legsockets, is their some tiny wriggling organ that still lives a long time.  It opens and closes, you can’t describe it without a magnifying glass, it looks like a miniscule human eye that ceaselessly opens and shuts.

Reprinted from Posthumous Papers of a Living Author, Archipelago Books, translated by Peter Wortsman.

Even Greenland

Barry Hannah, 1942 – 2010.

Reprinted from Captain Maximus, Stories.  Published by Alfred A. Knopf, 1985.

I was sitting radar. Actually doing nothing.

We had been up to seventy-five thousand to give the afternoon some jazz. I guess we were still in Mexico, coming into Mirimar eventually in the F-14. It doesn’t much matter after you’ve seen the curvature of the earth. For a while, nothing much matters at all. We’d had three sunsets already. I guess it’s what you’d call really living the day.

But then, “John,” said I, “this plane’s on fire.”

“I know it,” he said.

John was sort of short and angry about it.

“You thought of last-minute things any?” said I.

“Yeah. I ran out of a couple of things already. But they were cold, like. They didn’t catch the moment. Bad writing,” said John.

“You had the advantage. You’ve been knowing,” said I.

“Yeah. I was going to get a leap on you. I was going to smoke you. Everything you said, it wasn’t going to be good enough,” said he.

“But it’s not like that,” said I. “Is it?”

The wings were turning red. I guess you’d call it red. It was a shade against dark blue that was mystical flamingo, very spaceylike, like living blood. Was the plane bleeding?

“You have a good time in Peru?” said I.

“Not really,” said John. “I got something to tell you. I haven’t had a ‘good time’ in a long time. There’s something between me and a good time since, I don’t know, since I was was twenty-eight or like that. I’ve seen a lot, but you know I haven’t quite seen it. Like somebody’s seen it already. It wasn’t fresh. There were eyes that used it up some.”

“Even high in Mérida?” said I.

“Even,” said John.

“Even Greenland?” said I.

John said, “Yes. Even Greenland. It’s fresh, but it’s not fresh. There are footsteps in the snow.”

“Maybe,” said I, “you think about in Mississippi when it snows, when you’re a kid. And you’re the first up and there’s been nobody in the snow, no footsteps.”

“Shut up,” said John.

“Look, are we getting into a fight here at the moment of death? We going to mix it up with the plane’s on fire?”

“Shut up! Shut up!” Said John. Yelled John.

“What’s wrong?” said I.

He wouldn’t say anything. He wouldn’t budge at the controls. We might burn but we were going to hold level. We weren’t seeking the earth at all.

“What is it, John?” said I.

John said, “You son of a bitch, that was mine—that snow in Mississippi. Now it’s all shot to shit.”

The paper from his kneepad was flying all over the cockpit, and I could see his hand flapping up and down with the pencil in it, angry.

“It was mine, mine, you rotten cocksucker! You see what I mean?”

The little pages hung up on the top, and you could see the big moon just past them.

“Eject! Save your ass!” said John.

But I said, “What about you, John?”

John said, “I’m staying. Just let me have that one, will you?”

“But you can’t,” said I.

But he did.

Celeste and I visit the burn on the blond sand under one of those black romantic worthless mountains five miles or so out from Mirimar base.
I am a lieutenant commander in the reserve now. But to be frank, it shakes me a bit even to run a Skyhawk up to Malibu and back.

Celeste and I squat in the sand and say nothing as we look at the burn. They got all the metal away.

I don’t know what Celeste is saying or thinking, I am aso absorbed myself and paralyzed.

I know I am looking at John’s damned triumph.

Give Them the Bag

This story first appeared in the literary annual NOON and later in Unferth’s story collection Minor Robberies (McSweeney’s, 2007).

At last the sisters were traveling together—because sisters should never have to do anything alone but often do for reasons that may include:

  1. the swelling of industrial society
  2. the splintering of the family unit
  3. the annoyances one must go through if one is with one’s sister (more…)

The Staves

This story was first published in The Quarterly, then later collected in THE GERMAN PICTURESQUE (Knopf, 1998).

The effigy was always burned rather gaily apparently. The band would play in the road. The ribbons and the banners, I suppose, would hang from the posts. (more…)

The Sentence is a Lonely Place

This talk was delivered in the Creative Writing Lecture Series at Columbia University on September 25, 2008. Published in The Believer in January 2009.

I came to language only late and only peculiarly. (more…)