I do not remember my childhood with fondness.  Of course, it was not all of a piece.  Some pieces were better than the rest and better in different ways.   There were moments of delight, moments of sensory discovery, moments of absorbing mystery even before I discovered books.    I was immersed in it.  In a non-trivial way, too, I have remained immersed in it throughout the course of my  life   It is a puzzle to me why I do not remember my childhood with fondness.   My first thought  is that there was so much fear.   Unspoken fear was part of the atmosphere.    I inhaled it without knowing its name, let alone what it was or why it was.    I do not know if the unspoken becomes unspeakable or if the unspeakable permeates as the unspoken. But these are presences.  I was permeated by the unspoken fearfulness and so became afraid myself.   I was born very shortly after the end of the Second World War into a Jewish family.  I was a new hope and a new hazard,   What language does fear speak?  How does it communicate?  How does it infect?  Fear speaks in the eyes.  It speaks through  the eyes.  It speaks in  a whole range of gazes, some that look penetratingly, some that look away so as not to see what is there to be seen.  It speaks in the throat, in the music that the voice composes.  It speaks in the jaw, in the neck,  in the set of the shoulders, down the arms into the hands and their postures,  imploring  and deploring.   It sneaks... read more

The Problem

The Problem He was astonished to discover that after he had solved the problem on which he had worked for twenty-seven years, after he had disposed of all the objections to his proof, he missed the problem in its unsolved state. Yes, there had been great satisfaction in completing the proof, even exhilaration.  Yes, there had been an access of inner pride, a sense of validation after long years of wandering in what felt like a succession of deserts.   Yes, he had enjoyed the discomfiture of rivals who had come close to mocking him and his methods over the years,.  All that was true.   He had achieved a new degree of eminence and was treated with new respect. But he missed the problem in its raw state, when it was new and tantalizing, when it seemed like it would defeat him countless times, when it allowed him hints as to how to approach and then showed him that those hints were spurious, perhaps deliberate ruses to throw him off. It was not only that he had no idea what to do with himself, how to invest his heart and mind. He was an empty creature and felt lost in his emptiness. All this was the case, indubitably so. However, the real ache was more intimate, nearer his heart,     He missed the problem the way you might miss a lover, but not just any lover, rather one who had been everything to you, so that that lover had been all that you really knew of yourself over a very long period of time.   While you were so engaged that long... read more

When Morning Comes

When morning comes, I will not see it. With not even a pang of loneliness the sun will rise without me.   This is the night of my death, for which I have waited all my life, never knowing when it would come, only sure that it would arrive.   This is a night full of pain and terror and wrath and fatigue and just a hint of the tip of the wing of the wild white bird of tenderness, surcease and peace.   I can feel that, too, in the midst of my amazement that I still have a voice with which to try to say goodbye to myself and to my world.   No one is listening and that provides my own version of haphazard and flimsy truth with the thin shelled egg of privacy within which it can struggle to be born as I am dying.   Now I need to pause to catch my inner breath which is running away from me. I can’t stop struggling, but the struggle has changed as the ingredient of hopelessness has been added, not just spoonful by spoonful, but heaping spoonful by heaping spoonful.   I am neither young nor terribly old as I face forever.   If I am more old than young, the core “feel” I have of myself, strangely, has not changed since I first knew myself as a little girl.   I have not been someone who loved or lived an inward life. The interior frightened me in ways I never had much interest in defining. To have undertaken that task would already have been to embark on a voyage of exploration leading... read more

From Beyond

I write from beyond the grave. My children will not want to hear what I have to say and they will certainly not be quick to believe me.   I want them to know that I did better than my best. I had to invent from scarce to non-existent resources inside myself the fumes on which I ran. So why am I writing? Why do I trouble the peace of eternity? It is not a matter of self-justification but rather of clarification. While living I was somewhere else. I was held captive in another realm, not precisely against my will, because I was complicit. My fascination made me complicit. To break away for even an instant required heroic effort. I seemed to be a mother in the world. My fascination was with something indefinable, but dynamic, perhaps even non-existent, but nonetheless real to me. When I say that to break away even for an instant required heroic efforts – which I made – I am not flattering myself. It took intense, painful spasms of the will to light my face up with something resembling a smile for even a brief instant. The vast majority of the time my face was not exactly dark, but abstracted, empty. In short it was a face that was not quite a face. Yet not a mask because it lacked that measure of definition. That realm, that other realm, was cruel and subtle. There was, possibly, a split second upon awakening when the light of the world, the remarkable ordinary world, was not affected, but this instant was never prolonged, so it seemed only yet... read more

Old Amos

              OLD AMOS I.­ Old Amos   Old Amos stood in the southeast corner of the garden, the corner closest to Jerusalem, the city of gold.­ The sour cherry tree behind him was in full bloom.­ When the breeze stirred, white petals floated down.­ It was the middle of June, spring going into summer. It had rained for almost three solid days, then turned fair as a high pressure system swept down across the Great Lakes from the northern reaches of Canada, wild country.   Three lazy clouds drifted like lost pieces of cotton in a blue sky. Momentarily, they lined up in a row… Jerusalem was still seven thousand miles away. ­ In all his eighty-one years, Amos had never been there.­ Yet he had not forgotten her.­ He had obeyed faithfully the Biblical injunction, “Jerusalem, if I forget thee, may my right hand lose its cunning.”   ­ He longed to let her clasp him to her bosom. A scruple kept him from taking his longing quite literally.­ Each life was both lucky and unlucky beyond measure.­ When it came to souls, scales failed.­ You knew for sure that you didn’t know what was coming next, wouldn’t quite know what it had been once it was gone.­ Whatever you planned changed in the making.­ If you thought of yourself as its author, you sinned. You might as well lust after the making of graven images.­ Also you were a fool.­ Oblivion was the privilege of fools, an enviable one at that.­ A little bit of vision, no great amount, took a man a... read more

The Spirit Of Old Grimes

I. It started with the generator. Kenneth walked into the office just after lunch one day at the very beginning of the long rains. It was too hot. The air wasn’t stirring at all. Moko, the vice-principal, was yelling at Henry. “Henry, you can not always be making these silly and frivolous requests. You must plan and anticipate needs. One order every six months or even every year should be quite sufficient, indeed. I must impress upon you that, without foresight, nothing of lasting value can be accomplished.” Moko turned away from Henry, who sat immobile at his desk, his face totally quiet. Dressed in short-sleeved white shirt frayed at the collar and grayish green slacks, Henry was a slight man in his middle thirties. While Moko was working under his white shirt on a mild rise that would, with a little encouragement, boll out into a full fledged pot belly, Henry’s frame lacked even a hint of fat. The articulation of every muscle was visible.† The skin was a wrapping that revealed their workings more than it cloaked them.† Underneath the desk, Henry’s ankles were crossed. In the drab office with its old wooden furniture, the bright yellow of Henry’s rubber clogs made an accent, like hot mustard sauce. “Henry, you can not always be getting the idea that you’re indispensable. You know what the President has been saying about all this feather boating held over from colonial times. He say, ‘Pay for performance and only for performance.’ That’s official now, not just one man’s whim, although some of us, we have been thinking the same thing for... read more


This little story came easy. Perhaps it was all there even before I wrote it. It knew what it was and how it wanted to go about telling itself. It had pace and tone down pat. It knew what it cared about and what it didn’t care about. I felt like a midwife at an easy and natural birth. There was nothing harrowing about it. I didn’t know anything about the story before I started to write it. All I had was an itch that produced the need to scratch it, that is, to write, an itch I have had many times before, but never with a result like this one. It took no more than part of an afternoon to write it. Then it was done. I changed a very few words, even spending just a little time feeling guilty that I didn’t feel the necessity of changing any more than these very few words. This little story was smooth and pure and powerful. I have been writing a long time and I have struggled with recalcitrant pieces for days, weeks, months, years, even decades, always feeling that something in the writing, something in myself was tenaciously resisting the process. I have been frightened and infuriated and depressed. I don’t know what has held me to it but something as implacable in me as the resistance I addressed. I don’t know if I ever wanted to be a writer. I was not one of those. Rather becoming a writer was something that happened to me, like a highway accident I was lucky to survive, but that changed my... read more

Look At Me, I’m Already Not Here

“It was terrifying last night, Aunt Becca. I wouldn’t believe it if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes. I got up because I heard her. I wondered what she was doing at two o’clock in the morning. I know she hasn’t been sleeping well. She went down the stairs . She looked like she was floating in that pale green nightgown. I followed her. I don’t think she knew herself what she was doing. “Maybe she was walking in her sleep. She stopped just in front of the big living room window and looked out over the rhododendron bushes onto the front lawn. I stood behind her watching. The moonlight was shining down on the snow. It was so bright you could see the shadows of the branches of the trees. “Then she turned to go back upstairs. She saw me. Maybe she recognized me. I’m not sure. It wasn’t as if it made any difference that I was her own mother. No, I might have been a stranger on the street, a statue. She would have said what she said to the wall or to a chair if I hadn’t been there. Her voice was so soft it could have been a ghost’s. “‘Look at me,’ she said, not a trace of an expression on her face, ‘I’m already not here.’ “When I told Eddie about it, he looked at me like I was nuts. ‘Are you sure it wasn’t a dream?’ he asked me.“ “‘No, you idiot,’ I was tempted to answer him. ‘I’m not sure it wasn’t a dream. That’s why my blood ran... read more

The Bag Man

They took off for Buenos Aires from Kennedy at dusk of a perfect late October day. Sixty-nine year old Jeremiah Sapir had breakfasted on black coffee and strawberries that sparkled like rubies in cream in his room at the Essex House overlooking the autumnal splendor of Central Park. He had lunched among the fronds in the Palm Court of the Plaza Hotel with his daughter Sonia. They had had a nice visit. Sonia, nearing forty-five, was displeased with this and that. She tried to hide it from her father. But it glimmered through and roused him to indignation. It charged him with energy and made him feel young again. For an hour or so, she was once more his. He had given her a check for five thousand dollars. That was modest. Did his mind play tricks on him? Or did she look now exactly as Estelle had once looked? If Sam didn’t like it that he gave her money, then she didn’t need to tell him. Truth was always a relative matter. Where his daughter was concerned a father had ineradicable privileges. He’d paid for them. Magnificently awkward as Noah’s ark reincarnate in steel and aluminum, the 747 quivered and shook as it started down the runway. Yet it managed to lift itself up into the air, to become a shining snub-nosed creature of the ether. Jeremiah Sapir loved to fly. Jonah had never known the belly of a whale like this one. Jeremiah was of the generation for whom flying could never become matter of fact. Although he’d flown in his lifetime more than a million miles,... read more


Marinka’s voice on the phone was high and strained, like a collar caught cat struggling against strangling. Katerina knew immediately something was terribly wrong. Katerina lived in Delaware in sight of the ocean. The wind had been blowing in from the sea for three days. When it gusted it made whistling noises through the trees and against the houses. Katerina flew out to Michigan the next morning. He thought he had the flu, wouldn’t go to see the doctor. Now Ned, her daughter’s husband was in the ground under the oak up on the hill by the pond where the geese were. The sun was dazzling bright for the funeral. November wind blew and sculpted hollows in the water.† A few late leaves, brown and crisp, whirled down, hit and scuttled along the ground until they stuck.† Ned had died of a heart attack in the night, the same way his father had died at the same age, fifty-one. He left four daughters. Only Veronica, the second was married.† A short broad shouldered white-haired woman in a black dress, Katerina stood shoeless in the middle of the brick red linoleoum of the kitchen. She held her arms crossed, hugging her chest just below her bosom. The neighbors had brought food in pots and pans of all different shapes and colors. Crowding the counter top by the sink and spilling over onto the stove, they made a bright variegated society of their own. Marinka was upstairs in the bedroom, maybe resting, maybe not. Katerina knew Marinka needed to be alone. Her own husband, Marinka’s father, had died eighteen months earlier.... read more
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