The Fiction of LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka

Overview

LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka is most famous for his Afrocentric plays and poetry, but he also published a novel and a book of short stories in the 1960s. This volume includes both of these long-out-of-print masterpieces, and supplements them with four previously uncollected stories and a previously unpublished novel entitled 6 Persons. Until his adoption of black nationalism, Jones was thought of as a beat writer, and his autobiographical fiction shares the self-consciousness and restlessness of Jack Kerouac and ...
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Overview

LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka is most famous for his Afrocentric plays and poetry, but he also published a novel and a book of short stories in the 1960s. This volume includes both of these long-out-of-print masterpieces, and supplements them with four previously uncollected stories and a previously unpublished novel entitled 6 Persons. Until his adoption of black nationalism, Jones was thought of as a beat writer, and his autobiographical fiction shares the self-consciousness and restlessness of Jack Kerouac and Hubert Selby. But his attitude toward sex and violence is uncompromising: The System of Dante's Hell is so graphic that it was banned when first published. Poetic, provocative, witty, bitter, and aggressive, The Fiction of LeRoi Jones contains some of the most astonishing writing to emerge from black America.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Known for his poetry, plays and essays, Baraka, formerly Leroi Jones, hasn't been recognized for his searing, dense, experimental fiction, but that oversight will be corrected with this latest collection of his work. Fans of the activist-writer will immediately recall the two major segments of this volume, "Tales" and "The System of Dante's Hell," both well-received works from the 1960s. As a survey of Baraka's writings in prose, the book accurately displays the full range of the wordsmith's skills: from his bold, groundbreaking efforts as an influential member of the post-Beat Lower East Side art scene to his controversial cultural nationalism and his Marxist conversion. Although three previously uncollected short stories, "Suppose Sorrow Was a Time Machine," "Round Trip" and "the man who sold pictures of god," fail to hit the heights of quality and innovation of the yarns that follow, they hint at Baraka's potential and creative powers. Baraka exceeds those expectations in the short, explosive fragments in his 1965 "The System of Dante's Hell," notably in "Circle 7" and "Circle 8." He uses the fictional form as an autobiographical vehicle in the 1967 "Tales," reaching in the bluesy "Going Down Slow" and the classic "The Screamers." His impressive hybrid of literary styles spotlights lives defined by oppression and poverty, employing his unpredictable, jazzy, sometimes manic voice to twist Western forms to suit his ever-evolving black aesthetic. While his later "6 Persons" may not rival his earlier explorations of themes of violence, sex and race, it is still innovative in its recounting of his life from various point of views, peaking with the "I" and "They." This collection offers an excellent alternative look at one of the legends of African-American letters, frequently quite different than that revealed in his two autobiographies. (Apr.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781556523465
  • Publisher: Chicago Review Press, Incorporated
  • Publication date: 1/28/2000
  • Series: The Library of Black America series
  • Pages: 480
  • Product dimensions: 6.33 (w) x 9.25 (h) x 1.16 (d)

Read an Excerpt




Chapter One


Suppose Sorrow Was a Time Machine


    Here is Dothan, Alabama, U.S.A. 1898. This is of value. What is to be said about the place, Dothan, and the time, 1898. It is of value, but it doesn't matter what becomes of the telling, once it is told.

    Say that you are Tom Russ. It is Dothan, Alabama, U.S.A. 1898. You are a Negro who has felt the ground vibrate, and you are trying to interpret the vibration. You are trying to interpret the vibration, and what it means in 1898 Dothan. I know you Tom. You are my grandfather. I am not born yet but I have felt the ground vibrate too. And I too would like to know exactly what it means, here in Alabama 1898, 34 years before I am born. Fifty years before I realize you knew about the vibration, 50 years before I knew that I possessed the knowledge of your knowing. But now is what we are concerned with.

    The store is burning, Tom. They have burnt your store, Tom. What does it mean? Is the burning another vibration? Interpret this one, Tom. Let your unborn grandchild know what his dead, whistling grandfather thought of the burning. If I were you, Tom, I would have cried. Did you cry, Tom? No, I suppose not. Not with the vibration still moving the ground in front of you. What was crying that it could erase a knowledge of what everything meant? How obscure is enlightenment? As obscure as dust kicked up on a path nobody walks on, as obscure as birds falling off trees with no god to catch them. All this is O.K., Tom, but what about the unholy bastards who are killing you? I hear they dropped astreetlight on your bald head and scattered your brains. Is that true, Tom? That's the lie your wife told me when I watched you sitting by the wood stove, unable to make your hurts vocal. Rocking back and forth like the rocking chair would carry you clear to paradise, so you could finally find out about them 50 year old vibrations.

    You built that store back up. You knelt down and scraped the black parts of the wood away and stuck them poles in the ground and got the thing up so fast folks thought you had hypnotized them, and there wasn't really any store at all, only the insane intensity of your vision. So they burned this one too, and said they were going to run you out of town. And just to spite them you knelt back down in those ashes and scraped the black off again, and built again. "It's the biggest funeral parlor in the county ... got 3 horse drawn hearses ... belongs to that nigger Tom Russ." A vibration can carry a man a long ways. Fancy Tom Russ, funeral parlor so fancy, the niggers killing each other so they can get an excuse to go to it. But the other folks got tired of all that noise, and burned it again. What can a man do? One vibration ain't the world. Your unborn grandson says leave this pisshearted town, Tom. Pack up and move on, Tom. Vibrations are like anything else—there's more wherever you go. Goodbye, crackers, Tom Russ is leaving your town. His grandson'll be back to correct your grammar and throw stones in your wells. Fifty years ain't so long.

    Here is Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania, 1917. Tom and Anna Russ, son George age 20, daughter Anna Lois age 16. No vibrations here. Sell eggs, produce. Best liquor in the county. Send my grandson's mother to college. She's got to know 'bout them vibrations. Got to tell him when he gets here, write it down. We're going north, Anna. Got to hunt them vibrations down. Got to find out where the music goes when we don't hear it no more. Got to know about the silence at the top of our screams. Gonna find out what part of the world is fashioned in my image. Gonna make a myth for my unborn grandson, who'll surely like to know. The signs read "Goodbye Tom & Anna Russ." Goodbye and God bless you, sorry to see you go. Three Negroes, 2 with horns, the third with a battered drum. Tah, tah, tat, tah, yippeee, hoorah, Tom Russ, Tom Russ. Good ol' Tom Russ. Sure am sorry to see 'em go.

    Here is Newark, New Jersey, 1925. Can't hardly walk for all the movement between me and the ground. This'll be good, Anna. "Russ Produce—Super General Store," "Music While You Shop," George Russ on the piano, rags and stomps, victrola requests played if possible. It's nice here, one vibration can carry a man a long way if he knows just how to handle it. Can make a man realize why there's such a thing as spring. I sit here and see Tom smiling at me, winking, knowing full well I hear everything he's saying. He stands there being sworn in to the Board of Elections, winking, grinning at me, daring me to understand what all this has got to do with the Dothan vibrations. And what it's all got to do with me. Tom Russ, standing there trying to remember some of his unborn grandson's poems. Hearing a few words and shaking his head up and down, staring me square in the eyes. He should only realize how beautiful he is. Although he probably does know that vibrations don't come to the unworthy. I hope he knew that.

    1929, the streets of Newark are littered with tophats and striped pants and a few bankers with holes in their temples. Tom grins and closes the doors of "Russ Super General Store." The wind moves a few leaves down Boston Street as Tom goes to see his daughter and her husband. He is a quiet man, industrious, thin as a string and painfully shy. Tom looks him up and down and asks him is he a good man. This is my father who nods and slides his arm around Tom's daughter. Tom wonders will I look like him, and I nod yes, and he is satisfied and takes out his cigars and chats about the depression.

    I hear they finally hit you in the head with a street lamp, Tom. Is that so? Gave you a cane and a wheelchair, and made you sit by the wood stove nodding and spitting, trying desperately to remember exactly when and where it was the ground vibrated. But do you realize that your unborn grandson has finally got here? Or is it that he's still unborn and only the body has managed to make it right now. Have you got time, Tom? Can you remember any of those lines, Tom? Tell the saucereyed boy at your feet. Maybe they'll do him some good.

    Here is Greystone Sanatorium, 1943. Tired, eh Tom? Lying there so still and manageable. What's up there on the ceiling that you have to stare at it so hard? Is it written up there about the vibrations? Tell the 11 year old foot-sitter about them, Tom. Have you got time? Why are your hands so pale, Tom? You must be doing a lot of heavy thinking to be so quiet. Look how the boy looks at you, Tom. He looks scared. Smile at him, Tom. Just a tiny smile of recognition. Brighten this bleak rust room. Show him the suns you used to carry around in your pocket. Whisper something funny to him, Tom. Did you know he was your grandson, Tom. Did you know he fell down on the floor and screamed and kicked his feet when they said they were taking you to this loony pen. Did you know that in only a few years he'll recognize you as his "before everything conversationalist" and want to go to wherever it is you'll want to go after this short detour. Just a phrase, Tom. It'll make things better when your daughter cuts down your black overcoat so he can have something to wear at his grandfather's funeral. Tom, are you going to let him cry like that? Are you going to let the me that was, before the stoneage metamorphosis, suffer? Have you no feeling for the child? A sympathy for the post-prebirth enlightenment, the pre-promethean banality of childhood? The boy is sensitive, Tom, say something before you move on to grounds more fertile for random vibrations. Tom, are you listening? Don't stare like that. Tom. Tom. O my god.


Round Trip


    He'd come out of the alley only at dusk. Then, only to overturn a few garbage cans and browse a bit for delicacies. If he found any, he would gobble them down right on the spot. He was never one for hoarding anything. Sometimes he'd find some great things in those cans, too. Once I remember, when I was over for dinner, he had a chicken, some hors d'oeuvres, and a couple of half emptied bottles of champagne. It was a real feast. But he always took pains about his stomach. A real gourmet.

    Well, I heard him sing many times. Mostly late in the evening it was. He'd clear away the stuff that was left over from the evening meal, then while he was picking his teeth he'd begin to hum. Sometimes he'd leave it at that; the humming. But then sometimes he'd break into a great aria or something. I never could recognize the particular opera it came from, but, Christ it was beautiful. He'd stand up and throw out his chest, and let go with a real high, shiny kind of note. Then he'd let it roll right down till he had near hit bottom. I never heard nothing like it before or since. Sometimes he'd sing for hours, and then sometimes, if he wasn't feeling too well, he'd cut it off after one song. His voice? Well, it's hard to describe. First thing it'd sound like was some kind of trumpet or cornet playing high and steady. Then when he'd drop it down real low it was almost like the rumble of one of them big engines. Sometimes it was as if there wasn't really any sound at all. You know like when an organ goes so low you can't hear it, just feel the vibrations. When it did that, it was really scary. But great as hell. I always wondered how he picked that up.

    In the winter he'd bring a lot of cardboard boxes into the alley to block some of the wind. But I never heard him complain about the cold, not once. And you know that winter we had last year. All that snow, remember? I think it began snowing the day after Christmas, and didn't let up till two or three weeks later. Well, every day I'd come by the alley, and he'd be there smoking his pipe, or ordering his papers or something. Real calm about the whole thing. He'd make me sit down and take a meal with him, and he'd talk about the usual things; music, his trip to Puerto Rico, or how beautiful the sea is off Greece. But nothing about the weather.

    He never talked about his family or anything. I don't even know exactly where he came from. He looked kind of European. You know like the ambassadors in the films—thin, straight, with this heavy beard covering most of his face. I used to wonder if maybe he wasn't rich or something, or maybe a writer just living in the alley like that to get ideas for a book. I asked him a few times about himself, but all he'd ever say was that he was a young man and there was still a long time to go before what he was would be clear to him. No, that's what he said. It struck me so funny that I kinda memorized it. I never understood what he meant, but I didn't pester him about it. I guess he had a reason for it. I used to think, too, that it was a woman that had caused him whatever trouble he must have been in, to be living like that. But he certainly never mentioned anything about no female. Not at all. Whenever I saw him, he was sitting cross-legged like he always did, writing in a little notebook. I don't know how he could understand what he was writing—the pencil just barely had a point. But there he'd be writing away. Head down, very interested in what he was doing. I asked him what he was writing and he'd look at me very seriously and say, "I'm trying to understand what the error is." That's all he'd say, just that. "I'm trying to understand what the error is."

    When he didn't want to be bothered with my foolishness, he'd meet me at the entrance to the alley and shake his head. I knew right away what it was, and I'd turn around and go home. It wasn't often he did that though. Most of the times we'd sit and chew the fat for hours and hours, after he'd sung. Then when it was time for me to go, he'd pat me on the shoulder and walk with me right out almost to the street. He was the kindest, quietest fellow I ever knew.

    Strange, the way I met him. I was going through my rounds, pushing the broom down the curb—not making any headway at all, you know how dirty this damned city is, when I see this fellow poking around in the wire refuse cans on the corner. I went over to stop him, and when I touched him on the shoulder he turns around and says that it's all right because he's not throwing stuff on the ground, just eating it. I thought he was a bum or something, but then he invites me to dinner. I thought I'd puke, but he just laughed and asked me about dirt. I asked him what he meant; so he says, describe dirt. I try, and he laughs again and says, describe clean. I laugh, and he walks away into the alley. After that, I'd stop on my rounds each night and talk to him, or listen to him sing.

    I knew him about a year before that thing happened. Yeh, just about one year exactly. What thing? You didn't read about it in the papers? Well, I guess it was easy enough to miss. It was only about eight or nine lines in the `Mirror.' I was the one who found him, too. I remember, it was later than I usually came around. So when I first called to him, I figured he might have been asleep. Then I went up a little ways into the alley and there he was, sprawled out on the ground half-naked, blood all over. I almost died it was so gruesome. His face was caked with blood and his eyes were still open, staring straight up. Somebody had stabbed him in the side and God knows where else, I ran for the cops. They came and carried him away ... said he was a bum and that he was probably in a brawl. Stupid bastards, what do they know? They never heard him sing.

    Funny I should tell this now, seldom thing about it. But, God, sometimes I see him in my sleep, dead like that—his arms and legs spread wide apart. Whoever done it must of been crazy or something. They stabbed him all over. Even his feet and hands had stab marks in 'em. Can you imagine?


the man who sold pictures of god


He, the man, was on the side of the entrance to the park. Around him, stretching away from him on all sides, as lies from the transcendental ego, were canvases. Myriads of convases; all sizes. 9 x 12's, 18 x 24's, 36 x 48's, 72 x 96's.... Thousands of canvases. All the same color. All the canvases were white. (reflect on that for a second. The whiteness of the canvases was purely symbolic.) There was absolutely nothing on them, believe me! I, playing the fool as usual, stopped to look. I was attempting to make some sense of this. Of course, I could have passed the devil by, unmindful (or rather more mindful of the obvious consequences of any indiscretion)—or merely attributed the whole phenomenon to economics, sayin that the fellow was probably just a canvas salesman. Can you imagine that? A canvas salesman.


I was not alone when I made this discovery. I mean, there was another person with me, walking alongside me whom I knew, when I came upon the canvas salesman. (You see, I've tried to slip that idea across already.) She did not see the man.


Yes, I pointed, gesticulated, insulted her ... was on the point of actually striking her..but she insisted she could not see him. So I finally accepted the lie. We were not close enough to the man at the time to hear, (or take part in) the altercation that arose over her inconsistency.


A likely story, I screamed. A likely story. She only smiled attractively and remained more or less mute.


When we did reach the man, I began the argument over again at the top of my voice. A likely story, I ranted. A likely story. She smiled again, more attractively than before, but remained essentially mute.


The canvas salesman (watch me closely now) turned his head towards me, AND WITH SLOW (agonizingly slow) ALMOST FELINE MOVEMENTS RAISED HIS LEFT HAND AND POINTED TOWARDS ONE OF THE CANVASES. You like the pretty canvases, he asked? I craned my head towards him as if I hadn't heard the first time. He repeated the question. You like the pretty canvases?


I howled. I fell down on the pavement clutching my sides in merriment. The man repeated the question. You like the pretty canvases? I rolled over into the gutter laughing uncontrollably. The man remained unsmiling. The woman (my companion) smiled graciously, but remained for the most part quite mute. The man repeated the question. You like the pretty canvases?


After I had composed myself, brushed off my clothes, wiped the tears from my eyes, adjusted my umbrella, took out my pipe and emptied it against my shoe, recovered my hat which had rolled off my head and into the gutter, popped two sen sen under my tongue, I turned and faced the man squarely, uttering in my most cultivated voice, I'm afraid I don't understand what you mean. The man smiled. I turned to the woman. She also smiled. This was no time to admit defeat. I could still bring a victory (albeit of a rather pyrric nature) from this chaos.


The man was dressed in what appeared to be army coveralls, but these coveralls had some kind of red and white stripes on them. I don't think they were sewn on rather they looked as if someone had taken tubes of oil paint and made lines hurriedly and quite sloppily, vertically from shoulder to ankle. He wore a very stylish tweed cap. Very `English' looking. Very correct (the cap). Quite sporty. He also wore the most elegant shoes. Cordovans they were; very expensive looking dress shoes. He watched me look him over from head to toe. He said nothing, continued to smile. The woman also continued to smile, although she remained (I would say) quite mute.


The man and I chose to stare at each other for a few more moments. When I turned to the woman, SHE HAD STRANGELY ENOUGH, STOPPED SMILING. (When she had accomplished this, I am not quite certain). HER MOUTH WAS MOVING AS IF IN SOME SUPREME EFFORT TO SPEAK. I turned back to the man. By this time he had crawled beneath some of the canvases and was lying there under 10 or 12 pounds of canvas, unmoving. I immediately turned back to the woman. HER MOUTH HAD STOPPED, BUT SHE WAS NOT SMILING NOW.. NO, NOT AT ALL. Meanwhile, the man had started to whistle.


I shouted to him, come out from under those canvases. No answer. He continued to whistle. I decided to change my strategy. I whispered, please, sir come out from under those heavy canvases or you will surely hurt yourself. He immediately scrambled to his feet, and stood rigidly before me in what could have been taken as an attitude of sincere reverence. (I was not fooled, however).


Enough of this foolishness, I screamed. What is the meaning of these bare canvases, my friend? His tinny little eyes glittered and became animate, like the water in a commode when it is flushed. He beckoned me to come closer. I did. The woman stood motionless. It was getting to be twilight. The sheepish old sun was growing rapidly senile. I edged toward the man. A thin vein of saliva rolled down out of the side of his mouth.


My name is Maurice, he said. I stared blankly. Do you like the pretty canvases, he continued? I continued staring. Suddenly, he grabbed me by the shoulders and screamed into my face, DO YOU LIKE THE PRETTY CANVASES? I was dumbfounded; thunderstruck; virtually speechless. He screamed at me again. DO YOU LIKE THE PRETTY CANVASES? His eyes seemed to be spinning around like roulette wheels..for one mad second I thought I could actually see numbers on his eye balls. Sweat was pouring into my mouth. My whole being was aflame with a feeling of eminent disaster, but I knew I couldn't turn back now. I couldn't renege. I had to go through with the whole farce. Even if it meant execution. I shuddered at that prospect. EXECUTION. The man shouted again. And again. His words were Egyptian dancers in the bright sun pirouetteing beneath the godly sphinx. Now they were crazy men in red capes who were trying to pry the Empire State building loose with crow bars. Now they were 10,000 scale models of my mother. I knew I had to respond. I couldn't ignore these questions any longer. I gathered all the electricity in my body into one small area just adjacent to my adam's apple; readied it, then wheeled and spat it out at the grim little figure who stood taunting me. I said, BUT WHY ARE THEY CANVASES? His mouth slammed shut. His hands slid off my shoulders weakly. I had caught him by surprise. I started to move forward. I had no idea why. But then I felt strong arms clutch me around the thighs. It was my female companion. She was straining to pull me away from the man.


I fought her hold, but her strength seemed not grounded in the solely physical. The harder I struggled, the harder she held. Then the man started laughing. YOU SEE, he shouted, YOU SEE.... THIS IS WHY THEY ARE CANVASES.


Please, please let me go, I pleaded, I have almost won. Let me go, you devilish shrew. Still she tugged at waist and legs. NOW SHE BEGAN TO SPEAK. The words shot out of her mouth like bullets from an aeroplane, strafing little chinese children in the newsreels. The words were sailing out of her mouth. They were material and concrete. Every now and then, one would strike my flesh and cause a small laceration. I began to weep. At first, I couldn't make out what she was saying, but then all the projectile-like syllables fell into place and became intelligible. YOU ARE CREATED IN GOD'S IMAGE AND THIS IS YOUR LIMITATION...... IF YOU DO NOT REALIZE THIS YOU WILL SURELY SUFFER THE FATE OF ALL FINITE THINGS ALL FINITE THINGS ALL FINITE THINGS DO YOU NOT REALIZE THE UNCERTAINTY OF THIS WORLD PLEASE TO NOT CHALLENGE THE INCORRIGIBLE MADNESS OF THINGS THAT ARE ETC. ETC. ETC. ETC. ETC. ETC. ETC. ETC. ETC. ETC. ETC. ETC. ETC. ETC. ETC. ETC. ETC. ETC. ETC. ETC. ETC. ETC. ETC. ETC. ETC. ETC. ETC. ETC. Then I got another brainstorm. I craned my head around until I could see the woman. I shouted at her, trying to make myself heard above her maddening gibberish. YOU SEE HIM TOO. ADMIT IT YOU SNOTTY LITTLE BITCH. YOU SEE HIM TOO. Suddenly, she was silent. She released me immediately, took a few backward steps and resumed the position she had affected when I first saw the man. She started to smile again.... and was mute.


He also (Maurice) stopped laughing, and was quiet. I approached him, bold and confident now. YOU SEE, IT'S ALL A JOKE. YOU CANNOT FOOL ME. I WON'T BE FOOLED BY ANY SHABBY TRICKS. A little grin tried to crawl out onto his cheek, but he supressed it successfully. The woman still stood motionless. WHAT IS IT YOU WANT TO SAY, the man asked. I began looking at the ground, trying to see if I could see my reflection in the pavement. WHAT IS IT YOU WANT TO SAY, he asked again a little louder. I shook my head slowly from side to side.


I am a canvas salesman, he said quietly.


I know, I shot in.


See that you remember that, he muttered.


I will, I grumbled, embarassed.


He started gathering up the canvases. Every now and then he would remove the tweed cap and wipe his forehead. The woman remained motionless. Soon, he had gathered all the canvases together and began tying them with a heavy cord. I watched rather dispassionately. The woman yawned. He got all the canvases tied, then hoisted them onto his shoulders. I was too embarassed to look at him. He began whistling again. The woman came towards me and grasped my hand tenderly. The man began to move away. She kissed me gently on the neck. He looked at me over his shoulder, out of the corner of his eye. She ran her tongue along the hollow of my throat. He turned the corner and was completely out of sight. She began to unzip my trousers with her other hand.


It was completely dark now. There weren't even any stars.


NEUTRALS: The Vestibule


But Dante's hell is heaven. Look at things in another light. Not always the smarting blue glare pressing through the glass. Another light, or darkness. Wherever we'd go to rest. By the simple rivers of our time. Dark cold water slapping long wooden logs jammed 10 yards down in the weird slime, 6 or 12 of them hold up a pier. Water, wherever we'd rest. And the first sun we see each other in. Long shadows down off the top where we were. Down thru grey morning shrubs and low cries of waked up animals.


Neutrals: The breakup of my sensibility. First the doors. The brown night rolling down bricks. Chipped stone stairs in the silence. Vegetables rotting in the neighbors' minds. Dogs wetting on the buildings in absolute content. Seeing the pitied. The minds of darkness. Not even sinister. Breaking out in tears along the sidewalks of the season. Grey leaves outside the junkshop. Sheridan Square blue men under thick quivering smoke. Trees, statues in a background of voices. Justice, Égalité. Horns break the fog with trucks full of dead chickens. Motors. Lotions.


The neutrals run jewelry shops & shit in silence under magazines. Women disappear into Canada. They painted & led interminable lives. They marched along the sides of our cars in the cold brown weather. They wore corduroy caps & listened to portables. The world was in their eyes. They wore rings & had stories about them. They walked halfway back from school with me. They were as tall as anyone else you knew. Some sulked, across the street out of sight, near the alley where the entrance to his home was. A fat mother. A fat father with a mustache. Both houses, and the irishman's near the playground. Balls went in our yards. Strong hitters went in Angel's. They all lived near everything.

    A house painter named Ellic, The Dog, "Flash." Eddie, from across the street. Black shiny face, round hooked nose, beads for hair. A thin light sister with droopy socks. Smiling. Athletic. Slowed by bow legs. Hustler. Could be made angry. Snotty mouth. Hopeless.


The mind fastens past landscapes. Invisible agents. The secret trusts. My own elliptical. The trees' shadows broaden. The sky draws together darkening. Shadows beneath my fingers. Gloom grown under my flesh.


Or fasten across the lots, the grey garages, roofs suspended over cherry trees. The playground fence. Bleakly with guns in the still thin night. Shadows of companions drawn out along the ground. Newark Street green wood, chipped, newsstands. Dim stores in the winter. Thin brown owners of buicks.

    And this not the first. Not beginnings. Smells of dreams. The pickles of the street's noise. Fire escapes of imagination. To fall off to death. Unavailable. Delayed into whispering under hurled leaves. Paper boxes roll down near the pool. From blue reflection, through the fence to the railroad. No trains. The walks there and back to where I was. Night queens in winter dusk. Drowning city of silence. Ishmael back, up through the thin winter smells. Conked hair, tweed coat, slightly bent at the coffee corner. Drugstore, hands turning the knob for constant variation. Music. For the different ideas of the world. We would turn slowly and look. Or continue eating near the juke box. Theories sketch each abstraction. Later in his old face ideas were ugly.

    Or be wrong because of simple movement. Not emotion. From under all this. The weight of myself. Not even with you to think of. That settled. Without the slightest outside.


Stone on stone. Hard cobblestones, oil lamps, green house of the native. Natives down the street. All dead. All walking slowly towards their lives. Already, each Sunday forever. The man was a minister. His wife was light-skinned with freckles. Their church was tall brown brick and sophisticated. Bach was colored and lived in the church with Handel. Beckett was funeral director with brown folding chairs. On W. Market St. in winters the white stripe ran down the center of my thots on the tar street. The church sat just out of shadows and its sun slanted down on the barbershops.

    Even inside the house, linoleums were cold. Divided in their vagueness. Each man his woman. Their histories die in the world. My own. To our children we are always and forever old. Grass grew up thru sidewalks. Mr. & Mrs. Puryear passed over it. Their gentle old minds knew my name. And I point out forever their green grass. Brown unopened books. The smell of the world. Just inside the dark bedroom. The world. Inside the sealed eyes of obscure relatives. The whole world. A continuous throb in the next room.

    He raced out thru sunlight past their arms and crossed the goal. Or nights with only the moon and their flat laughter he peed under metal stairs and ran through the cold night grinning. Each man his own place. Each flower in its place. Each voice hung about me in this late evening. Each face will come to me now. Or what it was running through their flesh, all the wild people stalking their own winters.

    The street was always silent. Green white thick bricks up past where we could see. An open gate to the brown hard gravel no one liked. Another day grew up through this. Crowds down the street. Sound in red waves waves over the slow cold day. To dusk. To black night of rusty legs. "These little girls would run after dark past my house, sometimes chased by the neighbor hoods." A long hill stuck against the blue glass. From there the woman, the whore, the dancer, the lesbian, the middleclass coloured girl spread her legs. Or so my father said. The dog Paulette was on fire, and I slipped out through the open window to the roof. Then shinnied down to the ground. I hid out all night with some italians.

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Table of Contents

Foreword vii
Suppose Sorrow Was a Time Machine (1958) 1
Round Trip (1959) 5
the man who sold pictures of god (1960) 9
The System of Dante's Hell (1965) 15
Tales (1967) 127
A Chase (Alighieri's Dream) 129
The Alternative 131
The Largest Ocean in the World 149
Uncle Tom's Cabin: Alternate Ending 153
The Death of Horatio Alger 159
Going Down Slow 165
Heroes Are Gang Leaders 175
The Screamers 181
Salute 187
Words 193
New-Sense 195
Unfinished 199
New Spirit 205
No Body No Place 209
Now and Then 213
Answers in Progress 219
God and Machine(1973) 223
6 Persons (1973-1974) 227
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