“so that, for instance, writing something to change the world becomes writing something that matters to you becomes publishing something halfway decent becomes writing something publishable; or, to give another arbitrary example, finding everlasting love becomes finding somewhat lasting love becomes finding a reasonable mix of tolerance and lust becomes finding a sensible social teammate. And, of course, with each recalibration you think not that you are trading down or betraying your values but that you are becoming more mature. And maybe you are.”
— Greg Jackson, "Wagner in the Desert"

It wasn’t what he said that mattered—for a minute it seemed that nothing Carson said would ever matter again—it was that his face was stricken with the uncanny familiar look of his own heart, the very face he himself, Lard-Ass Platt, had shown all his life to others: haunted and vulnerable and terribly dependent, trying to smile, a look that said, Please don’t leave me alone.

Ken hung his head, either in mercy or shame. “Hell, I don’t know, Carson,” he said. “Let’s forget it. Let’s get some coffee somewhere.”

"Right." And they were together again. The only problem now was that they had started out in the wrong direction: in order to get to the Croisette they would have to walk back past the lighted doorway of Sid’s place. It was like walking through fire, but they did it quickly and with what anyone would have said was perfect composure, heads up, eyes front, so that the piano only came up loud for a second or two before it diminished and died behind them under the rhythm of their heels.

-Richard Yates, "A Really Good Jazz Piano"

[On Yates]

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