Father Fairing’s Sewer Rat Parish | Thomas Pynchon

They were entering Fairing’s Parish, named after a priest who’d lived topside years ago. During the Depression of the ’30s, in an hour of apocalyptic well-being, he had decided that the rats were going to take over after New York died. Lasting eighteen hours a day, his beat had covered the breadlines and missions, where he gave comfort, stitched up raggedy souls. He foresaw nothing but a city of starved corpses, covering the sidewalks and the grass of the parks, lying belly-up in the fountains, hanging wrynecked from the streetlamps. The city—maybe America, his horizons didn’t extend that far—would belong to the rats before the year was out. This being the case, Father Fairing thought it best for the rats to be given a head start—which meant conversion to the Roman Church. One night early in Roosevelt’s first term, he climbed downstairs through the nearest manhole, bringing a Baltimore Catechism, his breviary and, for reasons nobody found out, a copy of Knight’s Modern Seamanship. The first thing he did, according to his journals (discovered months after he died) was to put an eternal blessing and a few exorcisms on all the water flowing through the sewers between Lexington and the East River and between Eighty-sixth and Seventy-ninth Streets. This was the area which became Fairing’s Parish. These benisons made sure of an adequate supply of holy water; also eliminated the trouble of individual baptisms when he had finally converted all the rats in the parish. Too, he expected other rats to hear what was going on under the upper East Side, and come likewise to be converted. Before long he would be spiritual leader of the inheritors of the earth. He considered it small enough sacrifice on their part to provide three of their own per day for physical sustenance, in return for the spiritual nourishment he was giving them.

Accordingly, he built himself a small shelter on one bank of the sewer. His cassock for a bed, his breviary for a pillow. Each morning he’d make a small fire from driftwood collected and set out to dry the night before. Nearby was a depression in the concrete which sat beneath a downspout for rainwater. Here he drank and washed. After a breakfast of roast rat (“The livers,” he wrote, “are particularly succulent”) he set about his first task: learning to communicate with the rats. Presumably he succeeded. An entry for 23 November 1934 says:

Ignatius is proving a very difficult student indeed. He quarreled with me today over the nature of indulgences. Bartholomew and Teresa supported him. I read them from with me today over the nature of indulgences. Bartholomew and Teresa supported him. I read them from the catechism: “The Church by means of indulgences remits the temporal punishment due to sin by applying to us from her spiritual treasury part of the infinite satisfaction of Jesus Christ and of the superabundant satisfaction of the Blessed Virgin Mary and of the saints.”

“And what,” inquired Ignatius, “is this superabundant satisfaction?”

Again I read: “That which they gained during their lifetime but did not need, and which the Church applies to their fellow members of the communion of saints.”

“Aha,” crowed Ignatius, “then I cannot see how this differs from Marxist communism, which you told us is Godless. To each according to his needs, from each according to his abilities.” I tried to explain that there were different sorts of communism: that the early Church, indeed, was based on a common charity and sharing of goods. Bartholomew chimed in at this point with the observation that perhaps this doctrine of a spiritual treasury arose from the economic and social conditions of the Church in her infancy. Teresa promptly accused Bartholomew of holding Marxist views himself, and a terrible fight broke out, in which poor Teresa had an eye scratched from the socket. To spare her further pain, I put her to sleep and made a delicious meal from her remains, shortly after sext. I have discovered the tails, if boiled long enough, are quite agreeable.

Evidently he converted at least one batch. There is no further mention in the journals of the skeptic Ignatius: perhaps he died in another fight, perhaps he left the community for the pagan reaches of Downtown. After the first conversion the entries begin to taper off: but all are optimistic, at times euphoric. They give a picture of the Parish as a little enclave of light in a howling Dark Age of ignorance and barbarity.

Rat meat didn’t agree with the Father, in the long run. Perhaps there was infection. Perhaps, too, the Marxist tendencies of his flock reminded him too much of what he had seen and heard above ground, on the breadlines, by sick and maternity beds, even in the confessional; and thus the cheerful heart reflected by his late entries was really only a necessary delusion to protect himself from the bleak truth that his pale and sinuous parishioners might turn out no better than the animals whose estate they were succeeding to. His last entry gives a hint of some such feeling:

When Augustine is mayor of the city (for he is a splendid fellow, and the others are devoted to him) will he, or his council, remember an old priest? Not with any sinecure or fat pension, but with true charity in their hearts? For though devotion to God is rewarded in Heaven and just as surely is not rewarded on this earth, some spiritual satisfaction, I trust, will be found in the New City whose foundations we lay here, in this Iona beneath the old foundations. If it cannot be, I shall nevertheless go to peace, at one with God. Of course that is the best reward. I have been the classical Old Priest—never particularly robust, never affluent—most of my life. Perhaps

The journal ends here. It is still preserved in an inaccessible region of the Vatican library, and in the minds of the few old-timers in the New York Sewer Department who got to see it when it was discovered. It lay on top of a brick, stone and stick cairn large enough to cover a human corpse, assembled in a stretch of 36-inch pipe near a frontier of the Parish. Next to it lay the breviary. There was no trace of the catechism or Knight’s Modern Seamanship.

“Maybe,” said Zeitsuss’s predecessor Manfred Katz after reading the journal, “maybe they are studying the best way to leave a sinking ship.”

The stories, by the time Profane heard them, were pretty much apocryphal and more fantasy than the record itself warranted. At no point in the twenty or so years the legend had been handed on did it occur to anyone to question the old priest’s sanity. It is this way with sewer stories. They just are. Truth or falsity don’t apply.

From Thomas Pynchon’s 1963 novel V.

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Sisyphus — Odd Nerdrum

Sisyphus by Odd Nerdrum (b. 1944)

Annual reply (Emily Dickinson)

“The Egg Boiler” — Gwendolyn Brooks

“The Egg Boiler”

by

Gwendolyn Brooks


Being you, you cut your poetry from wood.
The boiling of an egg is heavy art.
You come upon it as an artist should,
With rich-eyed passion, and with straining heart.
We fools, we cut our poems out of air.
Night color, wind soprano, and such stuff.
And sometimes weightlessness is much to bear.
You mock it, though, you name it Not Enough.
The egg, spooned gently to the avid pan,
And left the strick three minute, or the four,
Is your Enough and art for any man.
We fools give courteous ear—-then cut some more,
Shaping a gorgeous Nothingness from cloud.
You watch us, eat your egg, and laugh aloud.

Bird in Hand — Ellen Gallagher

Bird in Hand, 2006 by Ellen Gallagher (b. 1965)

Thomas Pynchon: A Bibliography (Book acquired and then unacquired in that long COVID march of March 2020-March 2021)

Clifford Mead’s Thomas Pynchon: A Bibliography was published in 1989 by Dalkey. As far as I can tell, the book is out of print and has not been updated.

I checked out Thomas Pynchon: A Bibliography via interlibrary loan back in early March, 2020. My librarian borrowed it for me from the good librarians at the University of South Florida. I can’t really recall why I wanted it—probably not anything specific. I’ve used ILL to get a number of weird or rare items in the past, including a pristine copy of Samuel Chamberlain’s My Confessions (a major source for Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian), and a handful of early stories by William Gaddis (I did not need to get my hands on this juvenalia).

I probably got the bibliography on Tuesday, March 10, 2020. I think that’s the date because I tweeted this photo from its appendix:

If I recall correctly, I had taken that Monday (March 9th) and the preceding Friday off work. My family and I went to Georgia’s coastal Golden Isles and stayed on a houseboat for a few nights. It was the end of my kids’ spring break, and I would have a week of work before my spring break started.

This—the family vacation week—was the first week of March and I was beginning to get pretty paranoid about COVID-19. But I’d been paranoid and tired and really just exhausted for four years straight by now.

I took a break from Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast trilogy to read Charles Wright’s novel The Wig that weekend. I read it on a houseboat with a corny name on Jekyll Island. We road bikes around the island and ate sea food, fried food. It was beautiful.

I came back to work, worried but happy to get the Pynchon bibliography, even if it only went to ’89, thus leaving out, like, the last three decades. That must have been, like I said, Tuesday, March 10th.

On Wednesday, March 11th, the NBA canceled their season and I knew what was up.

My department chair decorated our office suite with glittery shamrocks for the upcoming St. Patrick’s Day.

I filled a box with the books and binders and gear I figured I needed to teach from home after Spring Break. A colleague made a joke, something like a, Hey did you get fired with that box in your hands? joke.

(Maybe I’ll see him this fall?)

(Those St. Patrick’s Day decorations are still up, by the way, and, once again, out of season. Although I think they fit the mode of the day, the zeitgeist, the long tacky sparkling sad celebratory day.)

And you more or less know the rest, having lived it in your own first-person perspective.

For most of the year that passed I kept Thomas Pynchon: A Bilbiography with my textbooks. I reached out to my librarian around the time it was due, 10 May 2020 (my wife and I were supposed to be in Chicago then; we weren’t). My librarian said to keep the book in good condition.

In the meantime, I picked up some of the books that Thomas Pynchon had blurbed, often preferring his blurbs to the novels he blurbed.

I read some of his juvenalia again, like “Ye Legend of Sir Stupid and the Purple Knight”:

In May I  finally read Pynchon’s latest (last?!) novel Bleeding Edge.

I looked online for bootleg editions of the material that showed up in Slow Learner. I read more of Slow Learner, leaving two tales…just to leave them, just to not have exhausted a…final supply?

In the absence of March Madness college basketball, I ran a silly bracket of dystopian/sci fi writers — “zeitgeisty” writers” — and Pynchon won, beating out J.G. Ballard, who I still think should have won.

(Someone wrote in to tell me that it was the “most shite” thing that I’ve ever done on the blog and to never do it again. Thanks guy! That felt good.)

And also,

I worried, fretted, washed, ranted, cried even at times, but

I never missed a meal and my family had a regular four square game going and Florida actually gave us real Spring weather, crisp and cool and sunny, and the trees bloomed and budded, and I figure in some ways I was as happy as I’ve ever been.

And the year passed, with its plague, its violent racism, its protests, all swelling into its ugly electioneering.

And then this Spring 2021 semester I went back in, setting my feet on campus for Tues and Thurs classes and the world seemed a bit more normal. We got a normal, boring president; a lot of us started to get the vaccine. Things felt…better? Like other folks, I looked forward to hanging out with all the folks I’d seen so little of in the last year.

I got my first vax jab a few weeks ago; I get my second this Friday. I look forward to hanging with “The Boys” (and “the girls,” and etc.)

 

At some point in the last year I shelved Thomas Pynchon: A Bibliography with the rest of the Pynchon books in the house. I just assumed that it was mine, that it was an artifact of the plague year. My covid acquired.

But last week my librarian let me know, Hey, USF wants that Pynchon book back. I held on to it a second week, revisiting it in parts, but mostly to write this here blog post, mostly to find another way to say, Hey, what a year, eh? I’ll drop it off with my librarian tomorrow, but I think it’ll make me feel a bit sad.

But also maybe relieved.

 

The boy born with a golden screw where his navel should have been | Thomas Pynchon


“He wants to help Angel kill the alligators,” Kook told her. Profane was asleep, lying diagonal on the seat.

In this dream, he was all alone, as usual. Walking on a street at night where there was nothing but his own field of vision alive. It had to be night on that street. The lights gleamed unflickering on hydrants; manhole covers which lay around in the street. There were neon signs scattered here and there, spelling out words he wouldn’t remember when he woke.

Somehow it was all tied up with a story he’d heard once, about a boy born with a golden screw where his navel should have been. For twenty years he consults doctors and specialists all over the world, trying to get rid of this screw, and having no success. Finally, in Haiti, he runs into a voodoo doctor who gives him a foul-smelling potion.

He drinks it, goes to sleep and has a dream. In this dream he finds himself on a street, lit by green lamps. Following the witch-man’s instructions, he takes two rights and a left from his point of origin, finds a tree growing by the seventh street light, hung all over with colored balloons. On the fourth limb from the top there is a red balloon; he breaks it and inside is a screwdriver with a yellow plastic handle. With the screwdriver he removes the screw from his stomach, and as soon as this happens he wakes from the dream. It is morning. He looks down toward his navel, the screw is gone. That twenty years’ curse is lifted at last. Delirious with joy, he leaps up out of bed, and his ass falls off.

From Thomas Pynchon’s 1963 novel V.

Rainbows in zoos (Calvin & Hobbes)

Perkus Tooth — Tom Sanford

Perkus Tooth, 2011 by by Tom Sanford (b. 1975)

“Tell it to the forest fire, tell it to the moon” (Dream Song 44) | John Berryman

Spectacled Owl — Don Cordery

Spectacled Owl, 1973 by Don Cordery (b. 1942)

“Ulrikke” — Jorge Luis Borges

“Ulrikke”

by

Jorge Luis Borges

Translated by Andrew Hurley


Hann tekr sverthtt Gram ok leggri methal their abertVolsunga Saga, 27

My story will be faithful to reality, or at least to my personal recollection of reality, which is the same thing. The events took place only a short while ago, but I know that the habit of literature is also the habit of interpolating circumstantial details and accentuating certain emphases. I wish to tell the story of my encounter with Ulrikke (I never learned her last name, and perhaps never will) in the city of York. The tale will span one night and one morning.

It would be easy for me to say that I saw her for the first time beside the Five Sisters at York Minster, those stained glass panes devoid of figural representation that Cromwell’s iconoclasts left untouched, but the fact is that we met in the dayroom of the Northern Inn, which lies outside the walls. There were but a few of us in the room, and she had her back to me. Some-one offered her a glass of sherry and she refused it.

“I am a feminist,” she said. “I have no desire to imitate men. I find their tobacco and their alcohol repulsive.”

The pronouncement was an attempt at wit, and I sensed this wasn’t the first time she’d voiced it. I later learned that it was not like her—but what we say is not always like us.

She said she’d arrived at the museum late, but that they’d let her in when they learned she was Norwegian.

“Not the first time the Norwegians storm York,” someone remarked.

“Quite right,” she said. “England was ours and we lost her—if, that is, anyone can possess anything or anything can really be lost.”

It was at that point that I looked at her. A line somewhere in William Blake talks about girls of soft silver or furious gold, but in Ulrikke there was both gold and softness. She was light and tall, with sharp features and gray eyes. Less than by her face, I was impressed by her air of calm mystery. She smiled easily, and her smile seemed to take her somewhere far away. She was dressed in black—unusual in the lands of the north, which try to cheer the dullness of the surroundings with bright colors. She spoke a neat, precise English, slightly stressing the r’s. I am no great observer; I discovered these things gradually.

We were introduced. I told her I was a professor at the University of the Andes, in Bogotá. I clarified that I myself was Colombian.

“What is ‘being Colombian’?”

“I’m not sure,” I replied. “It’s an act of faith.”

“Like being Norwegian,” she said, nodding.

I can recall nothing further of what was said that night. The next day I came down to the dining room early. I saw through the windows that it had snowed; the moors ran on seamlessly into the morning. There was no one else in the dining room. Ulrikke invited me to share her table. She told me she liked to go out walking alone.

I remembered an old quip of Schopenhauer’s.

“I do too. We can go out alone together,” I said.

We walked off away from the house through the newly fallen snow. There was not a soul abroad in the fields. I suggested we go downriver a few miles, to Thorgate. I know I was in love with Ulrikke; there was no other person on earth I’d have wanted beside me.

Suddenly I heard the far-off howl of a wolf. I have never heard a wolf howl, but I know that it was a wolf. Ulrikke’s expression did not change.

After a while she said, as though thinking out loud: “The few shabby swords I saw yesterday in York Minster were more moving to me than the great ships in the museum at Oslo.”

Our two paths were briefly crossing: that evening Ulrikke was to continue her journey toward London; I, toward Edinburgh.

“On Oxford Street,” she said, “I will retrace the steps of DeQuincey, who went seeking his lost Anna among the crowds of London.”

“DeQuincey,” I replied, “stopped looking. My search for her, on the other hand, continues, through all time.”

“Perhaps,” Ulrikke said softly, “you have found her.”

I realized that an unforeseen event was not to be forbidden me, and I kissed her lips and her eyes.

She pushed me away with gentle firmness, but then said: “I shall be yours in the inn at Thorgate. I ask you, meanwhile, not to touch me. It’s best that way.”

For a celibate, middle-aged man, proffered love is a gift that one no longer hopes for; a miracle has the right to impose conditions. I recalled my salad days in Popayán and a girl from Texas, as bright and slender as Ulrikke, who had denied me her love.

I did not make the mistake of asking her whether she loved me. I realized that I was not the first, and would not be the last. That adventure, perhaps the last for me, would be one of many for that glowing, determined disciple of Ibsen.

We walked on, hand in hand.

“All this is like a dream,” I said, “and I never dream.”

“Like that king,” Ulrikke replied, “who never dreamed until a sorcerer put him to sleep in a pigsty.”

Then she added: “Ssh! A bird is about to sing.”

In a moment we heard the birdsong.

“In these lands,” I said, “people think that a person who’s soon to die can see the future.”

“And I’m about to die,” she said.

I looked at her, stunned.

“Lets cut through the woods,” I urged her.

“We’ll get to Thorgate sooner.”

“The woods are dangerous,” she replied. We continued across the moors.

“I wish this moment would last forever,” I murmured.

“Forever is a word mankind is forbidden to speak,” Ulrikke declared emphatically, and then, to soften her words, she asked me to tell her my name again, which she hadn’t heard very well.

“Javier Otárola,” I said.

She tried to repeat it, but couldn’t. I failed, likewise, with Ulrikke.

“I will call you Sigurd,” she said with a smile.

“And if I’m to be Sigurd,” I replied, “then you shall be Brunhild.”

Her steps had slowed. “Do you know the saga?” I asked. “Of course,” she said. “The tragic story that the Germans spoiled with their parvenu Nibelungen.”

I didn’t want to argue, so I answered: “Brunhild, you are walking as though you wanted a sword to lie between us in our bed.”

We were suddenly before the inn. I was not surprised to find that it, like the one we had departed from, was called the Northern Inn.

From the top of the staircase, Ulrikke called down to me: “Did you hear the wolf? There are no wolves in England anymore. Hurry up.”

As I climbed the stairs, I noticed that the walls were papered a deep crimson, in the style of William Morris, with intertwined birds and fruit. Ulrikke entered the room first. The dark chamber had a low, peaked ceiling. The expected bed was duplicated in a vague glass, and its burnished mahogany reminded me of the mirror of the Scriptures. Ulrikke had already undressed. She called me by my true name, Javier. I sensed that the snow was coming down harder. Now there was no more furniture, no more mirrors. There was no sword between us. Like sand, time sifted away. Ancient in the dimness flowed love, and for the first and last time, I possessed the image of Ulrikke.

Hannah at Twelve — Zoey Frank

Hannah at Twelve, 2020 by Zoey Frank (b. 1987)

Untitled (from The Masterpiece Part 4 – A Weekend In The Country) — Olivia Plender

From The Masterpiece Part 4 – A Weekend In The Country, 2005 by Olivia Plender (b. 1977)

Spectacularly Dying — Isaac McCaslin 

Spectacularly Dying2014 by Isaac McCaslin (b. 1989)

“The Blackstone Rangers” — Gwendolyn Brooks

“The Blackstone Rangers”
by
Gwendolyn Brooks

I
AS SEEN BY DISCIPLINES
There they are.
Thirty at the corner.
Black, raw, ready.
Sores in the city
that do not want to heal.
II
THE LEADERS
Jeff. Gene. Geronimo. And Bop.
They cancel, cure and curry.
Hardly the dupes of the downtown thing
the cold bonbon,
the rhinestone thing. And hardly
in a hurry.
Hardly Belafonte, King,
Black Jesus, Stokely, Malcolm X or Rap.
Bungled trophies.
Their country is a Nation on no map.
Jeff, Gene, Geronimo and Bop
in the passionate noon,
in bewitching night
are the detailed men, the copious men.
They curry, cure,
they cancel, cancelled images whose Concerts
are not divine, vivacious; the different tins
are intense last entries; pagan argument;
translations of the night.
The Blackstone bitter bureaus
(bureaucracy is footloose) edit, fuse
unfashionable damnations and descent;
and exulting, monstrous hand on monstrous hand,
construct, strangely, a monstrous pearl or grace.
III
GANG GIRLS
A Rangerette
Gang Girls are sweet exotics.
Mary Ann
uses the nutrients of her orient,
but sometimes sighs for Cities of blue and jewel
beyond her Ranger rim of Cottage Grove.
(Bowery Boys, Disciples, Whip-Birds will
dissolve no margins, stop no savory sanctities.)
Mary is
a rose in a whiskey glass.
Mary’s
Februaries shudder and are gone. Aprils
fret frankly, lilac hurries on.
Summer is a hard irregular ridge.
October looks away.
And that’s the Year!
                     Save for her bugle-love.
Save for the bleat of not-obese devotion.
Save for Somebody Terribly Dying, under
the philanthropy of robins. Save for her Ranger
bringing
an amount of rainbow in a string-drawn bag.
“Where did you get the diamond?” Do not ask:
but swallow, straight, the spirals of his flask
and assist him at your zipper; pet his lips
and help him clutch you.
Love’s another departure.
Will there be any arrivals, confirmations?
Will there be gleaning?
Mary, the Shakedancer’s child
from the rooming-flat, pants carefully, peers at
her laboring lover ….
                     Mary! Mary Ann!
Settle for sandwiches! settle for stocking caps!
for sudden blood, aborted carnival,
the props and niceties of non-loneliness—
the rhymes of Leaning.

The Settlement — Peter Martensen 

The Settlement, 2016 by Peter Martensen (b. 1953)