“Nam-Bok the Unveracious” — Jack London

“Nam-Bok the Unveracious” by Jack London

“A Bidarka, is it not so! Look! a bidarka, and one man who drives clumsily with a paddle!”

Old Bask-Wah-Wan rose to her knees, trembling with weakness and eagerness, and gazed out over the sea.

“Nam-Bok was ever clumsy at the paddle,” she maundered reminiscently, shading the sun from her eyes and staring across the silver-spilled water. “Nam-Bok was ever clumsy. I remember….”

But the women and children laughed loudly, and there was a gentle mockery in their laughter, and her voice dwindled till her lips moved without sound.

Koogah lifted his grizzled head from his bone-carving and followed the path of her eyes. Except when wide yawns took it off its course, a bidarka was heading in for the beach. Its occupant was paddling with more strength than dexterity, and made his approach along the zigzag line of most resistance. Koogah’s head dropped to his work again, and on the ivory tusk between his knees he scratched the dorsal fin of a fish the like of which never swam in the sea.

“It is doubtless the man from the next village,” he said finally, “come to consult with me about the marking of things on bone. And the man is a clumsy man. He will never know how.”

“It is Nam-Bok,” old Bask-Wah-Wan repeated. “Should I not know my son!” she demanded shrilly. “I say, and I say again, it is Nam-Bok.”

“And so thou hast said these many summers,” one of the women chided softly. “Ever when the ice passed out of the sea hast thou sat and watched through the long day, saying at each chance canoe, ‘This is Nam-Bok.’ Nam-Bok is dead, O Bask-Wah-Wan, and the dead do not come back. It cannot be that the dead come back.”

“Nam-Bok!” the old woman cried, so loud and clear that the whole village was startled and looked at her. Read More

“Sweat” — Zora Neale Hurston

“Sweat” by Zora Neale Hurston

It was eleven o’clock of a Spring night in Florida. It was Sunday. Any other night, Delia Jones would have been in bed for two hours by this time. But she was a wash-woman, and Monday morning meant a great deal to her. So she collected the soiled clothes on Saturday when she returned the clean things. Sunday night after church, she sorted them and put the white things to soak. It saved her almost a half day’s start. A great hamper in the bedroom held the clothes that she brought home. It was so much neater than a number of bundles lying around.

She squatted in the kitchen floor beside the great pile of clothes, sorting them into small heaps according to color, and humming a song in a mournful key, but wondering through it all where Sykes, her husband, had gone with her horse and buckboard.

Just then something long, round, limp and black fell upon her shoulders and slithered to the floor beside her. A great terror took hold of her. It softened her knees and dried her mouth so that it was a full minute before she could cry out or move. Then she saw that it was the big bull whip her husband liked to carry when he drove.

She lifted her eyes to the door and saw him standing there bent over with laughter at her fright. She screamed at him.

“Sykes, what you throw dat whip on me like dat? You know it would skeer me–looks just like a snake, an’ you knows how skeered Ah is of snakes.”

“Course Ah knowed it! That’s how come Ah done it.” He slapped his leg with his hand and almost rolled on the ground in his mirth. “If you such a big fool dat you got to have a fit over a earth worm or a string, Ah don’t keer how bad Ah skeer you.”

“You aint got no business doing it. Gawd knows it’s a sin. Some day Ah’m goin’ tuh drop dead from some of yo’ foolishness. ‘Nother thing, where you been wid mah rig? Ah feeds dat pony. He aint fuh you to be drivin’ wid no bull whip.”

“You sho is one aggravatin’ nigger woman!” he declared and stepped into the room. She resumed her work and did not answer him at once. “Ah done tole you time and again to keep them white folks’ clothes outa dis house.”

He picked up the whip and glared down at her. Delia went on with her work. She went out into the yard and returned with a galvanized tub and set it on the washbench. She saw that Sykes had kicked all of the clothes together again, and now stood in her way truculently, his whole manner hoping, praying, for an argument. But she walked calmly around him and commenced to re-sort the things.

“Next time, Ah’m gointer kick ‘em outdoors,” he threatened as he struck a match along the leg of his corduroy breeches. Read More

Lizard World (Book Acquired, 9.26.2012)

 

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This one is wonderfully weird stuff. Terry Richard Bazes’s Lizard World. Here’s a blurb from Grove Press founder Barney Rosset:

Lizard World opens with Josiah Fludd, a disenchanted character from the Early Modern World, exhuming a female corpse for a customer, whose interest in the carcass is presumed by the gravedigger to be a sexual one. Fludd’s blasé attitude vanishes when, on delivery of the corpse, he watches its feet sawed off, and he learns that they are meant to replace his patron’s nether claws. From this startling introduction Terry Richard Bazes pushes us into a bizarre world that vacillates between the past and present—and is told by a writer whose imagination seems to have no bounds.

Here’s an excerpt:

I being then in my nineteenth year and little more than a beggar — intent, by hook or by crook, to become a chirurgeon and yet utterly without means to feed and clothe my body (much less to learn the merest rudiments of my profession) — it came about that at  length I did find a way both to earn my bread and pursue my studies by  undertaking to perform a service — a wholly necessary and harmless service albeit one from which my more prosperous school-mates turned away with horror and revulsion.  So it was that I got my sustenance and was suffered to sit with all the paying scholars — provided it was in the very backermost row — and watch whilst our professor  probed the deepest mysteries of a fresh cadaver.
Now just exactly how and whence these cadavers were supplied were questions my finical  colleagues dared not closely entertain, although in gross they knew the truth and shunned me like a leper. But I cared not a fart for their esteem, so long as I could learn, and the short of it was that I advanced quickly in my studies and was oft besought by my professors for a specimen and consequently was upon ever the most constant look-out for the newly dead.
For this purpose it was my practice to put on the clothes and countenance of a mourner and, thus disguised, to frequent the very meanest of country churches in the hope that there I might chance upon some humble obsequies.  If fortune smiled, and some farmer or laundress had departed this life, then I would repair under the cloak of  starlight unto the churchyard,  still in mourning attire  and carrying a fistful of daisies and a Bible, lest I be questioned of my purpose and require a ready pretext.  The great secret of the art was to work with utmost haste and efface the smallest evidence of theft. Therefore, by the light of my lantern, I studied the disposition of each rock, each wreath of flowers — and, thus informed of the state to which the grave must later be restored, now proceeded to violate the soil, but only so much as to permit my shovel to break the very head-piece of the box.  This method, once perfected, allowed me — in a trice — to draw the carcass out, conceal it in a sack, restore the injured earth, and load my stiffened burden on a waiting dung-cart.

For more excerpts, check out Bazes’s site; more to come.

 

“Clothes” — Franz Kafka

 

Clothes

Often when I see clothes with manifold pleats, frills, and appendages which fit so smoothly onto lovely bodies I think they won’t keep that smoothness long, but will get creases that can’t be ironed out, dust lying so thick in the embroidery that it can’t be brushed away, and that no one would want to be so unhappy and so foolish as to wear the same valuable gown every day from early morning till night.

And yet I see girls who are lovely enough and display attractive muscles and small bones and smooth skin and masses of delicate hair, and nonetheless appear day in, day out, in this same natural fancy dress, always propping the same face on the same palms and letting it be reflected from the looking glass.

Only sometimes at night, on coming home late from a party, it seems in the looking glass to be worn out, puffy, dusty, already seen by too many people, and hardly wearable any longer.

“Clothes” by Franz Kafka.

 

“The Discharged Soldier” — William Wordsworth

Drawing of Adrian Jones by Michael Fay

Drawing of Adrian Jones by Michael Fay

In Section IV of his Prelude, William Wordsworth evokes the most moving encounter with a veteran of war that I have ever read. At first reticent to be anything but a voyeur, the narrator (Wordsworth, in all likelihood), slips “into the shade/ Of a thick hawthorn” to spy on the “meagre man” with a “ghastly” mouth “in military garb” resting on a “mile-stone.” As the poor ex-soldier, “Companionless,” begins to issue “low muttered sounds, as if of pain / Or some uneasy though,” the narrator shakes his “heart’s specious cowardice” and hails the veteran as a human being, asking for his story. It turns out that the guy is slowly—and with great difficulty—returning to his “native home.” Wordsworth takes the veteran to a nearby friend’s house for companionship and rest, before returning to his own home in a contemplative mood. Full text of  “The Discharged Soldier”—

No living thing appeared in earth or air,
And, save the flowing water’s peaceful voice,
Sound there was none–but, lo! an uncouth shape,
Shown by a sudden turning of the road,
So near that, slipping back into the shade
Of a thick hawthorn, I could mark him well, 390
Myself unseen. He was of stature tall,
A span above man’s common measure, tall,
Stiff, lank, and upright; a more meagre man
Was never seen before by night or day.
Long were his arms, pallid his hands; his mouth
Looked ghastly in the moonlight: from behind,
A mile-stone propped him; I could also ken
That he was clothed in military garb,
Though faded, yet entire. Companionless,
No dog attending, by no staff sustained, 400
He stood, and in his very dress appeared
A desolation, a simplicity,
To which the trappings of a gaudy world
Make a strange back-ground. From his lips, ere long,
Issued low muttered sounds, as if of pain
Or some uneasy thought; yet still his form
Kept the same awful steadiness–at his feet
His shadow lay, and moved not. From self-blame
Not wholly free, I watched him thus; at length
Subduing my heart’s specious cowardice, 410
I left the shady nook where I had stood
And hailed him. Slowly from his resting-place
He rose, and with a lean and wasted arm
In measured gesture lifted to his head
Returned my salutation; then resumed
His station as before; and when I asked
His history, the veteran, in reply,
Was neither slow nor eager; but, unmoved,
And with a quiet uncomplaining voice,
A stately air of mild indifference, 420
He told in few plain words a soldier’s tale–
That in the Tropic Islands he had served,
Whence he had landed scarcely three weeks past;
That on his landing he had been dismissed,
And now was travelling towards his native home.
This heard, I said, in pity, “Come with me.”
He stooped, and straightway from the ground took up
An oaken staff by me yet unobserved–
A staff which must have dropped from his slack hand
And lay till now neglected in the grass. 430
Though weak his step and cautious, he appeared
To travel without pain, and I beheld,
With an astonishment but ill suppressed,
His ghostly figure moving at my side;
Nor could I, while we journeyed thus, forbear
To turn from present hardships to the past,
And speak of war, battle, and pestilence,
Sprinkling this talk with questions, better spared,
On what he might himself have seen or felt.
He all the while was in demeanour calm, 440
Concise in answer; solemn and sublime
He might have seemed, but that in all he said
There was a strange half-absence, as of one
Knowing too well the importance of his theme,
But feeling it no longer. Our discourse
Soon ended, and together on we passed
In silence through a wood gloomy and still.
Up-turning, then, along an open field,
We reached a cottage. At the door I knocked,
And earnestly to charitable care 450
Commended him as a poor friendless man,
Belated and by sickness overcome.
Assured that now the traveller would repose
In comfort, I entreated that henceforth
He would not linger in the public ways,
But ask for timely furtherance and help
Such as his state required. At this reproof,
With the same ghastly mildness in his look,
He said, “My trust is in the God of Heaven,
And in the eye of him who passes me!” 460

The cottage door was speedily unbarred,
And now the soldier touched his hat once more
With his lean hand, and in a faltering voice,
Whose tone bespake reviving interests
Till then unfelt, he thanked me; I returned
The farewell blessing of the patient man,
And so we parted. Back I cast a look,
And lingered near the door a little space,
Then sought with quiet heart my distant home.