Monday, April 10, 2017

9 Currency Détournements from the Charles B. Jones Digital Archive

5 Huesos - Banco de Huesos
Currency Détournement, Charles B. Jones. c. 1994


Towards the end of his life, Charles B. Jones was fascinated by the idea of détournements. He described these as “appropriations of established images and symbols of authenticity re-purposed for play - especially, philosophical play.”

Completed in the mid-1990s, these currency détournements represent some of the earliest, but most sophisticated, works in the Digital Archives. Unlike the Stamp Series, these were never meant to be used as any form of currency, but to function as a form of agit-prop - perhaps even as stand-alone works of art.
500 Bones for the King of Death
Currency Détournement, Charles B. Jones. c. 1994

1 Bone - Treasury of the Final Reckoning
Currency Détournement, Charles B. Jones. c. 1994

1000 Bones - Paid Upon Death
Currency Détournement, Charles B. Jones. c. 1994

Ten Immaculate Bones - National Bank of the Final Reckoning
Currency Détournement, Charles B. Jones. c. 1994

500 Bones - The One True Treasury
Currency Détournement, Charles B. Jones. c. 1994

500 Bones - The Republic of Bones
Currency Détournement, Charles B. Jones. c. 1994

20 Skulls - Skulls Cerificate
Currency Détournement, Charles B. Jones. c. 1994

20 Skulls - The United States of Death
Currency Détournement, Charles B. Jones. c. 1994


Biographical Note

Charles “Bonesy” Jones (August 6, 1945 to November 15, 2005) was an American graphic artist, writer and poet. Reputedly born in Little Hope, Texas, much of his early life is unknown.

In 1962, Jones was graduated from the Steiner College of Ontological Osteology. From 1965 until 1972 he lived in an international art colony north of Abiquiu, New Mexico, working as a abstract painter and a poet, receiving some money from his family. There, he carried out anthropological research with the Penetintes and was involved in several controversial crucifixions. In 1973, he traveled to Mt. Athos in Greece where he studied the teachings of Theophan the Recluse under the guidance of Archimandrite George, Abbot of Holy Monastery of St. Gregorious. He returned to the United States in 1983, settling in Austin, Texas, operating a small bookstore near the University for many years.

Just after the first of the year of 2005, Jones was struck by a car while riding his bike. He suffered extensive head injuries. Shortly after, he began to experience selective retrograde amnesia and a progressive anomic aphasia (grammatic, but empty, speech). In October of that year, realizing he did not have long to live, he asked me to assist him in the journey back to his “spiritual home.” He died beside the fire under the full moon of November 15th in the hills above the Chama River in New Mexico, not far from the Monastery of Christ in the Desert.




Friday, April 07, 2017

"Hence callest thyself unbegotten" - On the Madness of Ahab, Moby-Dick, Waste Lands, Anchorites, Crucifixions and Corposants


Moby Dick - 1956


Listened to a reading of Moby-Dick by Frank Muller. A lone authority to his voice, at first, perfectly capturing Ishmael's narration, the Job-like weariness of "And I only am escaped alone to tell thee," then entirely embodying Ahab in every passing remark and maddened soliloquy. Quiet echoes of Gregory Peck but more. After years of re-readings, it was a revelation to hear Melville's language sing again in Moby-Dick.

Turning then to Sena Jeter Nasland's Ahab's Wife. Wondering at the world spun out of a few tantalizing mentions in Melville's text. How the burden of being Ahab's wife is called to audit. Who is figured in Starbuck's "human eye".


http://www.mikewallteacher.com/moby-dick-2-ahab-post-151.html
Gilbert Wilson, Ahab


Ahab has his humanities!


"Mark ye, be forewarned; Ahab’s above the common; Ahab’s been in colleges, as well as ’mong the cannibals; been used to deeper wonders than the waves; fixed his fiery lance in mightier, stranger foes than whales…. Aye, aye, I know that he was never very jolly; and I know that on the passage home, he was a little out of his mind for a spell; but it was the sharp shooting pains in his bleeding stump that brought that about, as any one might see. I know, too, that ever since he lost his leg last voyage by that accursed whale, he’s been a kind of moody— desperate moody, and savage sometimes; but that will all pass off. And once for all, let me tell thee and assure thee, young man, it’s better to sail with a moody good captain than a laughing bad one…. Besides, my boy, he has a wife— not three voyages wedded— a sweet, resigned girl. Think of that; by that sweet girl that old man had a child: hold ye then there can be any utter, hopeless harm in Ahab? No, no, my lad; stricken, blasted, if he be, Ahab has his humanities!”

—Captain Peleg to Ishmael, “The Ship."




http://www.nku.edu/~moby/fletch2-4.html
Gilbert Wilson, Ahab


Of cannibal old me


[Starbuck, First Mate of the Pequod:] “Oh, my Captain! my Captain! noble soul! grand old heart, after all! why should any one give chase to that hated fish!…— this instant let me alter the course! How cheerily, how hilariously, O my Captain, would we bowl on our way to see old Nantucket again! I think, sir, they have some such mild blue days, even as this, in Nantucket.” 

[Ahab:] “They have, they have. I have seen them— some summer days in the morning. About this time— yes, it is his noon nap now— the boy vivaciously wakes; sits up in bed; and his mother tells him of me, of cannibal old me; how I am abroad upon the deep, but will yet come back to dance him again.” 

[Starbuck:] “… my Mary… promised that my boy, every morning, should be carried to the hill to catch the first glimpse of his father’s sail!… Come, my Captain, study out the course, and let us away! See, see! the boy’s face from the window! the boy’s hand on the hill!” But Ahab’s glance was averted…. 

“What is it, what nameless, inscrutable, unearthly thing is it: what cozening, hidden lord and master, and cruel, remorseless emperor commands me; that against all natural lovings and longings, I so keep pushing, and crowding, and jamming myself on all the time…? By heaven, man, we are turned round and round in this world, like yonder windlass, and Fate is the handspike…. But it is a mild, mild wind, and a mild looking sky; and the air smells now, as if it blew from a far-away meadow; they have been making hay somewhere under the slopes of the Andes, Starbuck, and the mowers are sleeping among the new-mown hay.” 

- Starbuck and Ahab, “The Symphony.” 



http://artblogbybob.blogspot.com/2007/08/to-delineate-chaos-bewitched.html
Gilbert Wilson, Ahab


And then, the madness, the frenzy, the boiling blood

Adam, staggering beneath the piled centuries since Paradise

Better than to gaze upon God.


I have fed upon dry salted fare— fit emblem of the dry nourishment of my soul!— when the poorest landsman has had fresh fruit to his daily hand, and broken the world’s fresh bread to my mouldy crusts— away, whole oceans away, from that young girl-wife I wedded past fifty, and sailed for Cape Horn the next day, leaving but one dent in my marriage pillow— wife? wife?— rather a widow with her husband alive! Aye, I widowed that poor girl when I married her, Starbuck; and then, the madness, the frenzy, the boiling blood and the smoking brow, with which, for a thousand lowerings old Ahab has furiously, foamingly chased his prey— more a demon than a man!— aye, aye!… Behold. Oh, Starbuck! is it not hard, that with this weary load I bear, one poor leg should have been snatched from under me? Here, brush this old hair aside; it blinds me, that I seem to weep. Locks so grey did never grow but from out some ashes!… I feel deadly faint, bowed, and humped, as though I were Adam, staggering beneath the piled centuries since Paradise. God! God! God!— crack my heart!— stave my brain!— mockery! mockery! bitter, biting mockery of grey hairs… Close! stand close to me, Starbuck; let me look into a human eye; it is better than to gaze into sea or sky; better than to gaze upon God. By the green land; by the bright hearth-stone! this is the magic glass, man; I see my wife and my child in thine eye. 

- Ahab, “The Symphony.”






“And I! I have the picture that draws me on. A hump like a snow-hill! Moby Dick! I shall add my stature to his height! Ahab, not Una, let me picture there. Though legs fail, my hands, like mitts of flintstone, will pull me to the summit! Leviathan! My hands are harder than thy flesh! Leviathan! I shall make thee bleed, even as my own manly blood poured from my leg as from a funnel-spout! Moby Dick! When I top thee, THEN, let my punishment begin, for I embody the great Lie: Hate, revenge, my wounds— they are greater than Love. Together let us, like a mountain— higher with Ahab’s added height than you ever reared before— be brought low. “Brought low, we’ll storm the shadow valley, we’ll harrow the depths… these depths… whose mere surface lies before me now and all about me. What depths lie below— layer after watery layer of increasing cold. And the floor reached, into what valley do water… whale… Ahab… fall then? And who will exalt the crevasse that on the ocean floor opens itself to step yet again toward unthinkable depths? And who will exalt that valley?



According to Wikipedia, Sena Jeter Naslund "lives in Louisville, Kentucky, at St. James Court, in the former home of Kentucky poet Madison Cawein." The mystery of place. Hallowings. Echoes of a poet whispering for over 100 years.

Note the unfortunate sequence for Cawein: 1912 loses home, 1913 Waste Land, 1914 death.

Or forms of the mind, an old despair,
  That there into semblance grew
  Out of the grief I knew?

I imagine the ghosts of Vachel Lindsay and Langston Hughes getting drunk on Vergil's blood in some metaphysical limbo swearing a violent end to all who forget forgotten poets. Madison emerging fearfully from the shade.


Madison Cawein (1865-1914)


Madison Cawein was a poet from Lousiville. Again, Wikipedia:

His output was thirty-six books and 1,500 poems. His writing presented Kentucky scenes in a language echoing Percy Bysshe Shelley and John Keats. He soon earned the nickname the "Keats of Kentucky". He was popular enough that, by 1900, he told the Louisville Courier-Journal that his income from publishing poetry in magazines amounted to about $100 a month. 

In 1912 Cawein was forced to sell his Old Louisville home, St James Court (a  2 1⁄2-story brick house built in 1901, which he had purchased in 1907), as well as some of his library, after losing money in the 1912 stock market crash. In 1914 the Authors Club of New York City placed him on their relief list. He died on December 8 later that year and was buried in Cave Hill Cemetery.

In 1913, a year before his death, Cawein published a poem called "Waste Land" in a Chicago magazine which included Ezra Pound as an editor. Scholars have identified this poem as an inspiration to T. S. Eliot's poem The Waste Land, published in 1922 and considered the birth of modernism in poetry.



https://www.bl.uk/collection-items/manuscript-of-t-s-eliots-the-waste-land-with-ezra-pounds-annotations


From The Atlantic: A Breath of Dust by Christopher Hitchens:

Cawein was as distant from Eliot, in poetic terms, as it was possible to be. He was a Kentucky blues man and a barroom versifier. However, like Eliot, he was fascinated by the Celtic twilight and the search for the Grail. And his verses, with their haunting title, did appear in the January 1913 edition of Poetry magazine. Since that very issue also contained an essay by Ezra Pound on the new poets writing in London, it seems more rather than less likely that Eliot would have read it.



Waste Land
by
Madison Cawein


Briar and fennel and chincapin,
  And rue and ragweed everywhere;
The field seemed sick as a soul with sin,
  Or dead of an old despair,
  Born of an ancient care.
The cricket’s cry and the locust’s whirr,
  And the note of a bird’s distress,
With the rasping sound of the grasshopper,
  Clung to the loneliness
  Like burrs to a trailing dress.
So sad the field, so waste the ground,
  So curst with an old despair,
A woodchuck’s burrow, a blind mole’s mound,
  And a chipmunk’s stony lair,
  Seemed more than it could bear.  
So lonely, too, so more than sad,
  So droning-lone with bees—
I wondered what more could Nature add
  To the sum of its miseries …
  And then—I saw the trees.  
Skeletons gaunt that gnarled the place,
  Twisted and torn they rose—
The tortured bones of a perished race
  Of monsters no mortal knows,
  They startled the mind’s repose.
And a man stood there, as still as moss,
  A lichen form that stared;
With an old blind hound that, at a loss,
  Forever around him fared
  With a snarling fang half bared.  
I looked at the man; I saw him plain;
  Like a dead weed, gray and wan,
Or a breath of dust. I looked again—
  And man and dog were gone,
  Like wisps of the graying dawn….
Were they a part of the grim death there—
  Ragweed, fennel, and rue?
Or forms of the mind, an old despair,
  That there into semblance grew
  Out of the grief I knew?


***

Say what you will, the notes are all there. Diapason. Cricket's cry, locust's whirr and the trailing dress ringing the liminal territories of Eliot's aesthetic. But Cawein's 1913 Waste Land creation cannot get around the enormous cultural dustbin of THE Waste Land in 1922. Likewise, the Jake Holmes' of the world own no coin in their dazed and confused corners. Ezra Pound sweeping, always sweeping, up the broken fragments. 

Now to see Sena Jeter Naslund sitting quietly in a dark closet of St. James court with a bottle of wine conversing freely with Madison Cawein, who stands in a a pool of blood. There's poetry to it. I care nothing for the screams of all the small creatures who were unseamed under the sygil of the Golden Bough. It's about the truth of language. Words like ashes bitter on the tongue. 


https://citydesert.wordpress.com/2014/01/03/extreme-hermits-the-anchorites/


Later in the night, I turn to the sad and desolate tale of The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit by Michael Finkel. [cf: http://laughingbone.blogspot.com/2016/11/the-paphlagonian-man-moon-was-minute.html ]. Simultaneously fascinated and irritated by the telling of a story told against the will of another. But then there is this:

During the Middle Ages, after the Desert Fathers and Mothers of Egypt died out, a new form of Christian solitary emerged, this time in Europe. They were called anchorites— the name is derived from an ancient Greek word for “withdrawal”— and they lived alone in tiny dark cells, usually attached to the outer wall of a church. The ceremony initiating a new anchorite often included the last rites, and the cell’s doorway was sometimes bricked over. Anchorites were expected to remain in their cells for the rest of their lives; in some cases, they did so for over forty years. This existence, they believed, would offer an intimate connection with God, and salvation. Servants delivered food and emptied chamber pots through a small opening. 

Virtually every large town across France, Italy, Spain, Germany, England, and Greece had an anchorite. In many areas, there were more females than males. A woman’s life in the Middle Ages was severely bound, and to become an anchorite, unburdened by social strictures or domestic toil, may have felt paradoxically emancipating. Scholars have called anchorites the progenitors of modern feminism.

Leading me, naturally, to the anchoress Julian of Norwich and her Revelations of Divine Love, which in a not entirely unexpected manner, offers slight ballast to the sickening yaw of Ahab's God-haunted madness.

Skeletons gaunt that gnarled the place,
  Twisted and torn they rose—
The tortured bones of a perished race
  Of monsters no mortal knows,
  They startled the mind’s repose.



https://www.forbes.com/sites/kristinakillgrove/2015/12/08/this-bone-provides-the-only-skeletal-evidence-for-crucifixion-in-the-ancient-world/#327f771c476d

And furthermore I saw that the sweet skin and the tender flesh, 

with the hair and the blood, was all raised and loosed about from the bone.


For this word was shewed for the bodily thirst: the which I understood was caused by failing of moisture. For the blessed flesh and bones was left all alone without blood and moisture. The blessed body dried alone long time with wringing of the nails and weight of the body. For I understood that for tenderness of the sweet hands and of the sweet feet, by the greatness, hardness, and grievousness of the nails the wounds waxed wide and the body sagged, for weight by long time hanging. And [therewith was] piercing and pressing of the head, and binding of the Crown all baked with dry blood, with the sweet hair clinging, and the dry flesh, to the thorns, and the thorns to the flesh drying; and in the beginning while the flesh was fresh and bleeding, the continual sitting of the thorns made the wounds wide. And furthermore I saw that the sweet skin and the tender flesh, with the hair and the blood, was all raised and loosed about from the bone, with the thorns wherethrough it were rent in many pieces, as a cloth that were sagging, as if it would hastily have fallen off, for heaviness and looseness, while it had natural moisture. And that was great sorrow and dread to me: for methought I would not for my life have seen it fall. How it was done I saw not; but understood it was with the sharp thorns and the violent and grievous setting on of the Garland of Thorns, unsparingly and without pity. This continued awhile, and soon it began to change, and I beheld and marvelled how it might be. And then I saw it was because it began to dry, and stint a part of the weight, and set about the Garland. And thus it encircled all about, as it were garland upon garland. The Garland of the Thorns was dyed with the blood, and that other garland [of Blood] and the head, all was one colour, as clotted blood when it is dry. The skin of the flesh that shewed (of the face and of the body), was small-rimpled with a tanned colour, like a dry board when it is aged; and the face more brown than the body. - Chapter 17


All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner [of] thing shall be well. 


And for the tender love that our good Lord hath to all that shall be saved, He comforteth readily and sweetly, signifying thus: It is sooth that sin is cause of all this pain; but all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner [of] thing shall be well. 

These words were said full tenderly, showing no manner of blame to me nor to any that shall be saved. Then were it a great unkindness to blame or wonder on God for my sin, since He blameth not me for sin. 

And in these words I saw a marvellous high mystery hid in God, which mystery He shall openly make known to us in Heaven: in which knowing we shall verily see the cause why He suffered sin to come. In which sight we shall endlessly joy in our Lord God. - Chapter 27


And back again to Eliot from Little Gidding, Four Quartets:

Sin is Behovely, but
All shall be well, and
All manner of thing shall be well.
If I think, again, of this place,
And of people, not wholly commendable,
Of not immediate kin or kindness,
But of some peculiar genius,
All touched by a common genius,
United in the strife which divided them;
If I think of a king at nightfall,
Of three men, and more, on the scaffold
And a few who died forgotten
In other places, here and abroad,
And of one who died blind and quiet,
Why should we celebrate
These dead men more than the dying?
It is not to ring the bell backward
Nor is it an incantation
To summon the spectre of a Rose.
We cannot revive old factions
We cannot restore old policies
Or follow an antique drum.
These men, and those who opposed them
And those whom they opposed
Accept the constitution of silence
And are folded in a single party.
Whatever we inherit from the fortunate
We have taken from the defeated
What they had to leave us - a symbol:
A symbol perfected in death.
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
By the purification of the motive
In the ground of our beseeching.




http://nypost.com/2014/01/17/lightning-breaks-finger-off-christ-the-redeemer-statue/


 I am darkness leaping out of light, leaping out of thee! 



“I own thy speechless, placeless power; said I not so? Nor was it wrung from me; nor do I now drop these links. Thou canst blind; but I can then grope. Thou canst consume; but I can then be ashes. Take the homage of these poor eyes, and shutter-hands. I would not take it. The lightning flashes through my skull; mine eyeballs ache and ache; my whole beaten brain seems as beheaded, and rolling in some stunning ground. Oh, oh! Yet blindfold, yet will I talk to thee. Light though thou be, thou leapest out of darkness; but I am darkness leaping out of light, leaping out of thee! The javelins cease; open eyes; see, or not? There burn the flames! Oh, thou magnanimous! now I do glory in my genealogy. But thou art but my fiery father; my sweet mother, I know not. Oh, cruel! what hast thou done with her? There lies my puzzle; but thine is greater. Thou knowest not how came ye, hence callest thyself unbegotten; certainly knowest not thy beginning, hence callest thyself unbegun. I know that of me, which thou knowest not of thyself, oh, thou omnipotent. There is some unsuffusing thing beyond thee, thou clear spirit, to whom all thy eternity is but time, all thy creativeness mechanical. Through thee, thy flaming self, my scorched eyes do dimly see it. Oh, thou foundling fire, thou hermit immemorial, thou too hast thy incommunicable riddle, thy unparticipated grief. Here again with haughty agony, I read my sire. Leap! leap up, and lick the sky! I leap with thee; I burn with thee; would fain be welded with thee; defyingly I worship thee!”

- Ahab, "The Candles."


Below the cross on Calvary, Golgotha, the threshold of pain, Adam's skull crumbling beneath, repository for his son's hot blood. Under the hill, the cross, the Serpent's cave. The Delphyne Python licking herself back to life with the red tears dripping down the white lightning roots. Awaiting Typhon. The Fall of Man begins Him back again.

I looked at the man; I saw him plain;
  Like a dead weed, gray and wan,
Or a breath of dust. I looked again—



Friday, March 24, 2017

Not Since He Left His Skin



Black Soul Choir / Phyllis Ann - 16 Horsepower

No man ever seen the face of his foe no
He ain't made of flesh and bone
He's the one who sits up close beside you
And when he's there you are alone

Every man is evil yes and every man is a liar
Unashamed with the wicked tongue sing
In the black soul choir

Every man is evil yes and every man is a liar
Unashamed with the wicked tongue sing
In the black soul choir

O He rides my way
O He rides my way

Yes and no man ever seen the face of my lord no
Not since he left his skin
He's the one you keep cold on the outside girl
He's at your door let him in

Every man is evil yes and every man is a liar
Unashamed with the wicked tongue sing
In the black soul choir

Every man is evil yes and every man is a liar
Unashamed with the wicked tongue sing
In the black soul choir

O He rides my way
O He rides my way

Come now quick across the water child
She gave me her hand Phyllis Ann
Star shine on the face of your daughter
To the doubtful he will show his hand

For me she painted two pictures
One of wood and one of wire
I am strong I am weak
Just drawn to the fire
My love she sings of a broken door handle
My love she cruel like a live child
I call out in an old time holler
For I am afraid of your dark

I will forgive your wrongs
He makes me Able
An for my own I feel great shame
I would offer up a brick to the back of your head boy
If I were Cain

Every man is evil yes and every man is a liar
Unashamed with the wicked tongue sing
In the black soul choir

Every man is evil yes and every man is a liar
Unashamed with the wicked tongue sing
In the black soul choir

O He rides my way
O He rides my way




Wednesday, November 02, 2016

The Paphlagonian Man: "The moon was the minute hand, the seasons the hour hand. I didn’t even have a name. I never felt lonely."

Source



When, said Perkins-Vance, was the last time he’d had contact with another person? 
Sometime in the 1990s, answered Knight, he passed a hiker while walking in the woods. 
"What did you say?" asked Perkins-Vance. 
"I said, ’Hi,’ " Knight replied. 
Other than that single syllable, he insisted, he had not spoken with or touched another human being, until this night, for twenty-seven years. 
When I mentioned Thoreau, who spent two years at Walden, Chris dismissed him with a single word: "dilettante." 
True hermits, according to Chris, do not write books, do not have friends, and do not answer questions. I asked why he didn’t at least keep a journal in the woods. Chris scoffed. "I expected to die out there. Who would read my journal? You? I’d rather take it to my grave." The only reason he was talking to me now, he said, is because he was locked in jail and needed practice interacting with others. 
"But you must have thought about things," I said. "About your life, about the human condition." 
Chris became surprisingly introspective. "I did examine myself," he said. "Solitude did increase my perception. But here’s the tricky thing—when I applied my increased perception to myself, I lost my identity. With no audience, no one to perform for, I was just there. There was no need to define myself; I became irrelevant. The moon was the minute hand, the seasons the hour hand. I didn’t even have a name. I never felt lonely. To put it romantically: I was completely free." 
That was nice. But still, I pressed on, there must have been some grand insight revealed to him in the wild. 
He returned to silence. Whether he was thinking or fuming or both, I couldn’t tell. Though he did arrive at an answer. I felt like some great mystic was about to reveal the Meaning of Life. 
"Get enough sleep." 
Please, he begged, leave me alone; we are not friends. I don’t want to be your friend, he said, I don’t want to be anyone’s friend. "I’m not going to miss you at all," he added.

Source

Who should come to my lodge this morning but a true Homeric or Paphlagonian man — he had so suitable and poetic a name that I am sorry I cannot print it here — a Canadian, a woodchopper and post-maker, who can hole fifty posts in a day, who made his last supper on a woodchuck which his dog caught. He, too, has heard of Homer, and, "if it were not for books," would "not know what to do rainy days," though perhaps he has not read one wholly through for many rainy seasons. Some priest who could pronounce the Greek itself taught him to read his verse in the Testament in his native parish far away; and now I must translate to him, while he holds the book, Achilles' reproof to Patroclus for his sad countenance. — "Why are you in tears, Patroclus, like a young girl?" 
 "Or have you alone heard some news from Phthia?
  They say that Menoetius lives yet, son of Actor,
  And Peleus lives, son of Æacus, among the Myrmidons,
  Either of whom having died, we should greatly grieve." 
He says, "That's good." He has a great bundle of white oak bark under his arm for a sick man, gathered this Sunday morning. "I suppose there's no harm in going after such a thing to-day," says he. To him Homer was a great writer, though what his writing was about he did not know. A more simple and natural man it would be hard to find. Vice and disease, which cast such a sombre moral hue over the world, seemed to have hardly any existence for him. He was about twenty-eight years old, and had left Canada and his father's house a dozen years before to work in the States, and earn money to buy a farm with at last, perhaps in his native country. He was cast in the coarsest mould; a stout but sluggish body, yet gracefully carried, with a thick sunburnt neck, dark bushy hair, and dull sleepy blue eyes, which were occasionally lit up with expression. He wore a flat gray cloth cap, a dingy wool-colored greatcoat, and cowhide boots. He was a great consumer of meat, usually carrying his dinner to his work a couple of miles past my house — for he chopped all summer — in a tin pail; cold meats, often cold woodchucks, and coffee in a stone bottle which dangled by a string from his belt; and sometimes he offered me a drink. He came along early, crossing my bean-field, though without anxiety or haste to get to his work, such as Yankees exhibit. He wasn't a-going to hurt himself. He didn't care if he only earned his board. Frequently he would leave his dinner in the bushes, when his dog had caught a woodchuck by the way, and go back a mile and a half to dress it and leave it in the cellar of the house where he boarded, after deliberating first for half an hour whether he could not sink it in the pond safely till nightfall — loving to dwell long upon these themes. He would say, as he went by in the morning, "How thick the pigeons are! If working every day were not my trade, I could get all the meat I should want by hunting-pigeons, woodchucks, rabbits, partridges — by gosh! I could get all I should want for a week in one day." 
He was a skillful chopper, and indulged in some flourishes and ornaments in his art. He cut his trees level and close to the ground, that the sprouts which came up afterward might be more vigorous and a sled might slide over the stumps; and instead of leaving a whole tree to support his corded wood, he would pare it away to a slender stake or splinter which you could break off with your hand at last. 
He interested me because he was so quiet and solitary and so happy withal; a well of good humor and contentment which overflowed at his eyes. His mirth was without alloy. Sometimes I saw him at his work in the woods, felling trees, and he would greet me with a laugh of inexpressible satisfaction, and a salutation in Canadian French, though he spoke English as well. When I approached him he would suspend his work, and with half-suppressed mirth lie along the trunk of a pine which he had felled, and, peeling off the inner bark, roll it up into a ball and chew it while he laughed and talked. Such an exuberance of animal spirits had he that he sometimes tumbled down and rolled on the ground with laughter at anything which made him think and tickled him. Looking round upon the trees he would exclaim — "By George! I can enjoy myself well enough here chopping; I want no better sport." Sometimes, when at leisure, he amused himself all day in the woods with a pocket pistol, firing salutes to himself at regular intervals as he walked. In the winter he had a fire by which at noon he warmed his coffee in a kettle; and as he sat on a log to eat his dinner the chickadees would sometimes come round and alight on his arm and peck at the potato in his fingers; and he said that he "liked to have the little fellers about him."

Monday, October 24, 2016

John Graves Is Dead


Graves at Hardscrabble on May 31, 2010
Photography by Matt Rainwaters




"The house is the centerpiece of nearly four hundred acres of rough limestone cedar country that John bought in 1960 with part of the proceeds from his masterful first book, Goodbye to a River. It sits on a hillside above White Bluff Creek, which flows into the Paluxy River, which in turn empties into that stretch of the Brazos that John immortalized in the book. Though it was an instant classic and hailed the coming of a major new talent, his publisher, Alfred Knopf, despaired when he heard that John was buying this piece of land. “There goes his next book,” Knopf’s wife, Blanche, groused. Their experience had been that when a writer gets interested in a piece of land, he stops being a writer, at least for a considerable time. Her fears were well-founded. It was fourteen years before John mailed off his second book, which he called Hard Scrabble: Observations on a Patch of Land, a loving meditation on this spread of rocks, cedar, and rushing creeks. “Hardscrabble” indicates a piece of land that approaches but does not completely measure up to useless. It’s the kind of place that only a writer could love and make work. Fortunately, John, who turns ninety this month, is a born writer, one of the best our state has ever produced. “If I hadn’t wasted so much time building and chasing cows,” he confesses, “I could have written a whole lot more. But what the hell, that’s how it was."

“Some days load themselves with questions whose answers have died,
and maybe never mattered hugely” 
 John Graves, Goodbye to a River: A Narrative