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Category Archives: imagery

“This too solid stench feeds the timid mice behind the skirting and swells them to rats.”

– Ian McEwan, Nutshell


“The first two rooms she looked in were empty. But in the room called Sage she found all three anorexics gathered together vomiting in the moonlight. Their families were all gone; none of them had been the sort to get many visitors, especially during bad weather. They had only each other and Thelma, whose great wonderful fatness they could look at no longer than they could stare into the sun. They restricted more and more, and as the weeks passed began to binge, something all three, high, pure anorexics, who had defeatedt their bodies by becoming creatures of pure will, would have disdained in the dry world…

“By the time Jemma visited them they had made themselves ghastly-beautiful. From the door she saw them gathered under the window, around a plastic tub that stored toys by the bushel in the playrooms. They held hands and brusehd up against one another languidly, arching their necks and throwing back their heads to swallow their fingers before adding another unit of barf to the big bucket. They were surrounded by the remains of their feast, vanilla-ice-cream puddles glowing in glass dishes shaped like leaves; candy-bar wrappers in neat heaps; chicken skin and chicken fat glistening in patches aorund them in a circle, and bones under their feet. Jemma trod on two large cupcakes as she approached them, her green hands clasped behind her back. They did not notice her until she ws quite close. their pajamas, altered, short, hanging dresses of sage, pumpkin, and ocher, and their hair, brittle but long and styled with particular care into identical sets of heaped and cascading curls, their dramatic poses, their bare feet among bones, their long, sharp nails, and finally their number all gave them an ancient Greek air; though they were exquisitely frail, and close to dying, they seemed as powerful as they were pathetic, three purgies discharging their eternal duty. Jemma, nearly upon them, felt a little afraid, but still laughed out loud. They all turned at once, and spoke from left to right.

” ‘It’s a stomach flu,’ said the first one, defiantly. ‘Who are you?’ asked the second, more meek. The third, finger in mouth, merely stared.

” ‘I am the great fatty,’ Jemma announced, then brought her hands forward, and struck. Green fire spilled into the air as she grabbed at them. They all shrieked identically, and tried to escape, but she was too close for them to eavde her, and they were too weak to break away. They were so thin she could hold all of them in her arms. In three blows she made them right, all four of them burning together. First she restored their organs, heart and lungs and guts ruined with months of self-consumption; no sooner had she wanted it done than it was done, the three girly shrieks climbing into song as Jemma pushed with her mind and her spirit. Then she restored their flesh. She filled them with fire that burned for an instant and was gone, leaving muscle and fat in its place; they popped out of her arms, but remained bound to her by fire. Lastly she restored their minds – already they felt covered with abomination. She weeded their brains, reaching in with fire fingers to rip out that perception; right or wrong, truth or distortion, it was hers to command, and must come out with her, and when she commanded it to scatter on the dark air it must do it.

“When she released them they threw up their arms, as if in praise or surrender, and then fell to the ground, strong bones cushioned by newly upholstered fat. She left them sleeping beside the vomit tub, scattering candy wrappers back and forth between them with their breath. She wiped her feet and moved on.”

– Chris Adrian, The Children’s Hospital

“Does shock have term limits? As one can become habituated to horror in real life, one can become habituated to the horror of certain images.

“Yet there are cases where repeated exposure to what shocks, saddens, appalls does not use up a full-hearted response. Habituation is not automatic, for images obey different rules than real life… People want to weep. Pathos, in the form of a narrative, does not wear out.

“Harrowing photographs do not inevitably lose their power to shock. But they are not much help if the task is to understand. Narratives can make us understand. Photographs do something else: they haunt us.”

– Susan Sontag, Regarding the Pain of Others

” ‘You still believe heartbreak should burn like a star?’

‘I do. But stars can explode, disappear. What we see when we look at them may no longer be there. Some could have died thousands of years ago and we’re just now getting their light. Old information looking like news.”

– Toni Morrison, God Help the Child

“Then grant that I may follow
Your gleam, O glorious Light,
Till earthly shadows scatter,
And faith is changed to sight…”

– Ernest E Ryden, “O Lord Now Let Your Servant”

“…surfers found themselves getting up early to watch the dawn weirdness, which seemed like a visible counterpart to the feeling in everybody’s skin of desert winds and heat and relentlessness, with the exhaust from millions of motor vehicles mixing with microfine Mojave sand to refract the light toward the bloody end of the spectrum, everything dim, lurid and biblical, sailor-take-warning skies. Jets were taking off the wrong way from the airport, the engine sounds were not passing across the sky where they should have, so everybody’s dreams got disarranged, when people could get to sleep at all. In the little apartment complexes the wind entered narrowing to whistle through the stairwells and ramps and catwalks, and the leaves of the palm trees outside rattled together with a liquid sound, so that from inside, in the darkened rooms, in louvered light, it sounded like a rainstorm, the wind raging in the concrete geometry, the palms beating together like the rush of a tropical downpour, enough to get you to open the door and look outside, and of course there’d only be the same ho cloudless depth of day, no rain in sight.”

– Thomas Pynchon, Inherent Vice

“…the true and unendurable color of daylight.”

– Thomas Pynchon, Inherent Vice

“Back in the swamp it was just coming light, like grey polish on the cold world, the air so still Archie could see the tiny breath cloud of a finch on a willow twig.”

– Annie Proulx, “Them Old Cowboy Songs,” Fine Just the Way It Is

“I saw the rolling lawns of our town cemetery, knee-deep in snow now, with the tombstones rising out of it like smokeless chimneys.

“There would be a black, six-foot-deep gap hacked in the hard ground. That shadow would marry this shadow…

“I took a deep breath and listened to the old brag of my heart.

“I am, I am, I am.”

– Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar

“The room blued into view, and I wondered where the night had gone. My mother turned from a foggy log into a slumbering, middle-aged woman…”

– Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar

“In their homelands, they were West Africans and West Europeans whose identities were determined by culture, heritage, region, but in this mixed new country, skin itself has currency as meaning, and they become black and whites. the whites who were at the bottom of the social ladder in Europe now have someone lower than them, and a lot of them seem to like it that way; they live for centuries in highly structured suspicion and interconnection.

“The ballads and rhythms of their musics mix with least inhibition, and in the twentieth century new indigenous musics evolve, out of the red dirt, the strong African and maybe Native American beats and rhythms, the Celtic melancholy, into the hillbilly music cleaned up as country and western, and into blues and rhythm and blues. They all dovetail as rock and roll, a medium that spreads less like imperialism than like the potato and becomes a local crop all over the world, particularly the English-speaking world, a local crop that expresses the insurrection of the young against tradition and authority, of the margin against the center, and that sometimes becomes an institution itself, like U2 in Ireland. The melancholy and the exuberance of slaves and outsiders have come, or come back, to Ireland.”

– Rebecca Solnit, A Book of Migrations

“The last display in this inanimate animal kingdom brought me back to Swift and his speculations on the human animal and its place on earth, or lack thereof. In the very back of the Natural History Museum in Dublin, the last case you’d come to, were four skeletons: a chimpanzee, an ‘Orang Utan,’ a gorilla, and a man… The apes were propped up by black rods attached to their spines and bolted to the floor, but the man was suspended from the ceiling by a golden chain attached to his skull with a wing nut. The installation seemed to propose that human and ape anatomies are analogous, but their essences are utterly different, that animals rise from the earth, but humans dangle from the heavens like God’s puppets, touching the ground but disconnected from it, strangers on earth.

On a little glass shelf above the chimp, the lacy bones of a tiny white-handed gibbons’ upright and humanlike skeleton presided, like a fanged angel with arms that reached its ankles.

“The suspension of the human skeleton gave visible form to what perhaps changed when upright across the land in the tenuous balance of bipedalism, their eyes focus on the distances that hardly exist in forests… The skeleton dangled as though it belonged to the sky and needed to grow the wings most bipeds have, to lift further from the ground of its origins; or it dangled with its feet just scraping the floor of the case as though it needed to come back to earth, as though with its straight treelike body it needed to put down roots, to solidify. It seemed to me that human beings when they became upright aspired to two conditions: becoming birds or becoming trees, wanderers or settlers, oscillating between their roots and their wings, exiled whichever way they turned.”

– Rebecca Solnit, A Book of Migrations

“A runner’s every step is a leap, so that for a moment he or she is entirely off the ground. For those brief instants, shadows no longer spill out from their feet, like leaks, but hover below them like doubles, as they do with birds. For my friends who run long distances, these tiny fragments of levitation add up to something considerable; by their own power they hover above the earth for many minutes, perhaps some significant portion of an hour or perhaps far more for the hundred-mile races. We fly; we devour heaven in bites too small to be measured.”

– Rebecca Solnit, “The Blue of Distance,” A Field Guide to Getting Lost

“The world is blue at its edges and in its depths… This light that does not touch us, does not travel the whole distance, the light that gets lost, gives us the beauty of the world, so much of which is in the color blue.

“The color of that distance is the color of an emotion, the color of solitude and of desire, the color of there seen from here, the color of where you are not. And the color of where you can never go. For the blue is not in the place those miles away at the horizon, but in the atmospheric distance between you and the mountains.”

– Rebecca Solnit, “The Blue of Distance,” A Field Guide to Getting Lost

“Let it come and clear the rot and the stench and the stink, let it come for all of everywhere, just so it comes and the world stands clear in the white dead dawn.”

– Norman Mailer, The Deer Park

“In lusher landscapes, it is as though the skin and bones of the earth are dressed in verdure; here the earth is naked, and geological processes are clearly visible. It is geological time and geological scale that dominate this landscape, dwarfing all the biological processes within the uplift of ranges, the accretion of basins.”

– Rebecca Solnit, Savage Dreams

“He didn’t answer, but he didn’t think her words were too presumptuous or forward. He just watched hi cigarette smoke swirl up like incense before her face.

She, too, was quiet and watched the ashen-blue smoke. Watched two people’s thoughts roll about in the smoke. She knew that once this silence was finished, everything would be finished. He and she, finished in the midst of this silence.

It was the kind of silence that allowed even their scattered thoughts to be heard. Even the rolling of the smoke made a sound.”

– Geling Yan, “White Snake”

“I know exactly where I was at five o’clock on October 17: at the entrance to Golden Gate Park at the Arguello Gate. I was on Arguello Boulevard facing the park, so I was facing Santa Cruz and the origin of the quake. I was stopped at the stoplight and then I felt this bump and I thought some friend of mine had come up behind me and had tapped my rear bumper. I looked into my rearview mirror and there was no car, and then it dawned on me it could quite possibly be an earthquake.

And then I heard in the sky above me the swishing, the cutting of the overhead wires for the electric buses. I could hear them swishing through the air like a blade cutting the air at high speed. And then I looked and all of Golden Gate Park was in motion. It was incredible. All the trees looked like they were fishing poles — if you shake a fishing pole they quiver from the bottom to the top and it looked like there was a high wind or some kind of incredible wind blowing, only there was no wind.

There are two big columns, concrete columns, at the gateway to the park, and they were visibly moving from side to side. I could also hear the buildings in that neighborhood, which are all two- to four-story buildings, but close to each other — some two or three inches apart. I could hear the buildings racking against each other with this incredible noise which seemed to come from everywhere. The noise was like giants taking huge timbers and slamming them together but the noise also seemed to come from the sky and from the ground. It just came from everywhere.

And as I looked I could see in the ground a wave coming through Golden Gate Park, about a foot, foot-and-a-half high, and it ws coming directly at me. As it came through the park and the four lanes of Fulton Street, it lifted the roadbed. The ground seemed to give off a static charge. It looked like — if you pet a cat in the dark in the winter, as you run your hand over the fur you see charges of static electricity running up and down the cat — but the static electricity was so thick on the ground it looked like it was a layer of ice, almost. It looked to be half an inch to an inch radiating off the ground as the ground was cracking.

As the wave passed under my car hitting my front tires first, it felt like being on a wave in the sea. So running east to west is the wide street called Fulton, and at 5:04 p.m. when the thing hit, the sun was low in the sky, and as I looked west to my right I saw that all the roadbed between me and the sun was in motion. It was like when you throw a stone into a lake and if the sun or moon is low you catch the sunlight or moonlight on top of the ripples and have a sparkling effect.

I saw the sparkle of the sun on the ground as the earth moved for, like, five seconds. It couldn’t have lasted long. The whole event was fifteen seconds. And I looked at the traffic lights, and they were on for a second and then they went off. And I looked out the window next to me, and there was a 1967 or 1968 Cadillac convertible with two black guys from the neighborhood in it, and they looked at me, and I looked at them and said, ‘That was a fucking big earthquake!’

And they looked at me and said in the same instant in the same voice, ‘We fucking love it.’ ”

– Kimo Bailey

“I wished this life could go on forever. When the swill was poured into the trough, white steam rose into the chilly air, and the pigs, already snorting with impatience, pushed against one another – but sooner or later, satisfied by a good meal, they would calm down. The conscripts cleaned the trough and then the sties, and the pigs found their favorite spots to lie in the sun. The pigs’ needs were simple, their happiness easily granted; the boys were in pain, but still they joked, their dreams laughable to their companions and themselves alike.”

– Yiyun Li, “Kindness,” Gold Boy, Emerald Girl

“It would have been merciful if Columbus had been wrong and the world flat, with an edge from which to fall, rather than a circular cage that returns us to our mistakes.”

– Robert Adams, Why People Photograph