September 16, 2009KR BlogKR

A Pillow Fort City

This week, the Polish author and artist Bruno Schulz and I have sickliness in common (I’m drinking lemon water with coarse-cut ginger and honey while my girlfriend goes out for tom kha; Bruno Schulz, tubercular and wan, died 67 years ago and not of TB).

I’m busy, employed and September-rained on, but have him for company. The Street of Crocodiles (1934), a linked story-sequence begun in Schulz’s letters to poet Deborah Vogel, seems broadcast from a shimmering mid-summer timelessness, enervated and still at the slightly rank center of its continual childhood August. Every hour or season in his book feels supernumerary. We have dawns (“The window buzzed with the morning swarms of flies and only the curtains shown brightly. Charles yawned out of his body, out of the depth of all its cavities the remains of yesterday.”), middays (“no clarinet drilled the troubled air”), and nights (where the sky seems “divided and broken up into a mass of separate skies”), all narrated by a child resembling the younger Schulz himself, whose reticence, sensuality, and imagination are freakish.

(Yes, these drawings are Schulz’s too.)

The narrator’s musty schoolroom, his father’s madness and his collection of rare bird eggs, the town’s storms and overgrown gardens, its bleakest district (the eponymous row of shops) and the comet its citizens one day see, all exist in an overabundant isolation from waking life.

Remember your childhood’s in-between spaces of fantasy? The well of the pillow fort, your little rituals, the dirty backyard spilling into the woods?

Crocodiles’s whole world is animated by that same purposeless, dreamy specificity. Reading it, I felt frighteningly young. “Shiny sinewy plantains spotted with rust shot up to display bunches of thick red seeds”: though they might have choked on Schulz’s surplus of detail, this prose is what Strunk and White would call “style revealing the spirit of the man.”

And what a spirit! Schulz–this curious fellow–was shot arbitrarily by a Nazi in 1942; his unfinished novel, The Messiah, vanished in the razing of his ghetto.

September already: wasn’t it just solstice? Where’s my mass of separate skies? The other day I talked about my parents with my girlfriend, and observed our linked shadows as we walked home. I found this bookstore on a different, digestive walk, bought Linh damn Dinh, read this:

In darkness, in privacy, I squat, tabulating
My special stink. My breath
Has been mistranslated. And yet,
I can still kiss its veneer, stroke its vinyl.

And yet, just this morning,
As I crossed a seven-span bridge, as I
Crossed a twelve-span bridge, going both ways,
As I crossed and recrossed a hundred-span bridge,
A flock of dun-colored pigeons serenaded me.

Where’s my ginger and honey? There’s nothing greedy about feeling ecstasy. There’s nothing pathetic in wanting an impossible thing. (The heat an absurd desire makes as it grinds against a reality that won’t allow it is a heat that keeps your heart alive. –Camus, roughly.) Ta!