How To Like It
by Stephen Dobyns

These are the first days of fall. The wind
at evening smells of roads still to be traveled,
while the sound of leaves blowing across the lawns
is like an unsettled feeling in the blood,
the desire to get in a car and just keep driving.
A man and a dog descend their front steps.
The dog says, Let’s go downtown and get crazy drunk.
Let’s tip over all the trash cans we can find.
This is how dogs deal with the prospect of change.
But in his sense of the season, the man is struck
by the oppressiveness of his past, how his memories
which were shifting and fluid have grown more solid
until it seems he can see remembered faces
caught up among the dark places in the trees.
The dog says, Let’s pick up some girls and just
rip off their clothes. Let’s dig holes everywhere.
Above his house, the man notices wisps of cloud
crossing the face of the moon. Like in a movie,
he says to himself, a movie about a person
leaving on a journey. He looks down the street 
to the hills outside of town and finds the cut
where the road heads north. He thinks of driving
on that road and the dusty smell of the car
heater, which hasn’t been used since last winter.
The dog says, Let’s go down to the diner and sniff
people’s legs. Let’s stuff ourselves on burgers.
In the man’s mind, the road is empty and dark.
Pine trees press down to the edge of the shoulder,
where the eyes of animals, fixed in his headlights, 
shine like small cautions against the night.
Sometimes a passing truck makes his whole car shake.
The dog says, Let’s go to sleep. Let’s lie down
by the fire and put our tails over our noses.
But the man wants to drive all night, crossing
one state line after another, and never stop
until the sun creeps into his rearview mirror.
Then he’ll pull over and rest awhile before
starting again, and at dusk he’ll crest a hill
and there, filling a valley, will be the lights
of a city entirely new to him.
But the dog says, Let’s just go back inside.
Let’s not do anything tonight. So they
walk back up the sidewalk to the front steps.
How is it possible to want so many things
and still want nothing. The man wants to sleep
and wants to hit his head again and again 
against a wall. Why is it all so difficult?
But the dog says, Let’s go make a sandwich.
Let’s make the tallest sandwich anyone’s ever seen.
And that’s what they do and that’s where the man’s 
wife finds him, staring into the refrigerator
as if into the place where the answers are kept-
the ones telling why you get up in the morning
and how it is possible to sleep at night,
answers to what comes next and how to like it.

How To Like It

by Stephen Dobyns

These are the first days of fall. The wind

at evening smells of roads still to be traveled,

while the sound of leaves blowing across the lawns

is like an unsettled feeling in the blood,

the desire to get in a car and just keep driving.

A man and a dog descend their front steps.

The dog says, Let’s go downtown and get crazy drunk.

Let’s tip over all the trash cans we can find.

This is how dogs deal with the prospect of change.

But in his sense of the season, the man is struck

by the oppressiveness of his past, how his memories

which were shifting and fluid have grown more solid

until it seems he can see remembered faces

caught up among the dark places in the trees.

The dog says, Let’s pick up some girls and just

rip off their clothes. Let’s dig holes everywhere.

Above his house, the man notices wisps of cloud

crossing the face of the moon. Like in a movie,

he says to himself, a movie about a person

leaving on a journey. He looks down the street 

to the hills outside of town and finds the cut

where the road heads north. He thinks of driving

on that road and the dusty smell of the car

heater, which hasn’t been used since last winter.

The dog says, Let’s go down to the diner and sniff

people’s legs. Let’s stuff ourselves on burgers.

In the man’s mind, the road is empty and dark.

Pine trees press down to the edge of the shoulder,

where the eyes of animals, fixed in his headlights, 

shine like small cautions against the night.

Sometimes a passing truck makes his whole car shake.

The dog says, Let’s go to sleep. Let’s lie down

by the fire and put our tails over our noses.

But the man wants to drive all night, crossing

one state line after another, and never stop

until the sun creeps into his rearview mirror.

Then he’ll pull over and rest awhile before

starting again, and at dusk he’ll crest a hill

and there, filling a valley, will be the lights

of a city entirely new to him.

But the dog says, Let’s just go back inside.

Let’s not do anything tonight. So they

walk back up the sidewalk to the front steps.

How is it possible to want so many things

and still want nothing. The man wants to sleep

and wants to hit his head again and again 

against a wall. Why is it all so difficult?

But the dog says, Let’s go make a sandwich.

Let’s make the tallest sandwich anyone’s ever seen.

And that’s what they do and that’s where the man’s 

wife finds him, staring into the refrigerator

as if into the place where the answers are kept-

the ones telling why you get up in the morning

and how it is possible to sleep at night,

answers to what comes next and how to like it.

“As I helped him up, I felt him shake all over, so I asked him to forgive me, without knowing what for, but that was my lot, asking forgiveness, I even asked forgiveness of myself for being what I was, what it was my nature to be.”
— Bohumil Hrabal, Too Loud A Solitude
“It is these empty spaces you have to watch out for, as they flood up with feeling before you even realise what’s happened; before you find yourself, at the base of her spine, different.”
"The Meeting" by Aimee Bender 

PITTSBURGH

Between you and me

is Pittsburgh, the city of bridges, the steel city, the buckle

on the Rust Belt, birthplace

of Gertrude Stein and setting

of Flashdance. I’d drive East

for five hours and you’d drive West

for five hours and we’d be there, in Pittsburgh,

where the murder rate is 2.61 times

the national average, which means we might not

survive Pittsburgh, but the natural disaster risk

is second-lowest in the nation, which means

there’s a chance. Right outside

Pittsburgh is Frank Lloyd Wright’s

Fallingwater, which its residents called

Rising Mildew, and which is something like what

Pittsburgh would be for us: beautiful

and useless. Pittsburgh is the Paris

of Appalachia and has three more bridges

than Venice and speaking of places

that aren’t Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh

has seventeen sister cities, including

Presov, Slovakia and Skopje, Macedonia

and Saarbrucken, Germany and Da Nang,

Vietnam, but none of these cities

have the Pittsburgh Steelers, or the Pittsburgh

Pirates, or the Pittsburgh Passion, or the Pittsburgh

Riverhounds. And I’m telling you all this

because I know that if we went to Pittsburgh we wouldn’t

see Pittsburgh, wouldn’t stroll

through Beechview or Beltzhoover

or the Strip District or Windgap, wouldn’t know

any neighborhood in Pittsburgh except

the one that contained the cheap chain hotel room

we’d be renting for just a few hours, so that I

could see your face and you could see my face and that’s

what Pittsburgh would look like, our faces, stupid

with relief, tired from driving

all that distance to a city that could

be any city, but isn’t, because we’re there,

together, for the first time, finally, again.

Ali Shapirofrom Rattle #37, Summer 2012

believermag:

Drawing by Josephine Demme

Fiction Seminar

Ben Marcus

Technologies of Heartbreak 

This seminar will examine how emotion is attempted and transmitted in fiction, the various ways readers are captured and made to care about a story.  Emotional effects—rapture, sympathy, desire, empathy, fascination, grief, repulsion—will be considered as techniques of language, enabled or muted by narrative context, acoustics, phrasing, and our own predispositions.  How can a sentence, a phrase, a paragraph cause us to feel things, and is a high degree of feeling akin to “liking” a book?  What is it to care about a character or the progress of a story, and how was that care installed in us?  What are the various kinds and sequences of sentences that, when placed in a narrative, can produce emotional engagement in a reader, affection or distraction, or is it impossible to isolate our reaction to a book in terms of its language?  The focus will be on some rhetorical strategies novelists and story writers have used to impart feeling, among them: concealment, indirection, revelation, confession, flat affect, irony, hyperbole, repetition, sentimentality, elusiveness, and sincerity.  A tentative book list follows. 

2/4 - Revolutionary Road - Richard Yates

2/11 - Mrs. Bridge - Evan S. Connell

2/18 - Everything That Rises Must Converge - Flannery O’Connor

2/25 - A Personal Matter - Kenzabarō Ōe

3/1 - Jernigan - David Gates

3/4  - Housekeeping - Marilynne Robinson

3/11 - The Emigrants - W. G. Sebald

3/25 -  Winesburg, Ohio - Sherwood Anderson 

4/1 - Blood Meridian - Cormac McCarthy

4/8 - The Fifth Child - Doris Lessing

4/22 - Two Serious Ladies - Jane Bowles

4/29 - The Sheltering Sky - Paul Bowles

5/6 - Correction - Thomas Bernhard

See an interview with Ben Marcus about the syllabus.