February  28,  2015

Patrick: Lagniappe

"Somebody shot him, that's for sure," he said.

"His wife?"

He put his head back and stared.  "Why do you say that?"

"Well"--she extracted one of the pins from her mouth and fastened a wave into place--"isn't is always the wife?  Goodness knows, wives usually have good cause to murder their ghastly husbands."

--A Death in Summer by Benjamin Black

February  27,  2015

Patrick: Lagniappe

When word got about that Richard Jewell had been found with the greater part of his head blown off and clutching a shotgun in his bloodless hands, few outside the family circle and few inside it, either, considered his demise a cause for sorrow.

--A Death in Summer by Benjamin Black

[N.B.:  Now there's an opening sentence for a murder mystery.]

February  26,  2015

Patrick: Lagniappe

"Unlike many men, Jack genuinely liked women.  He found them"--she gave a rueful laugh--"interesting.  To talk to, I mean.  That makes a man very attractive, if women feel he's interested, and will listen to them.  And he could be funny, too.  That's another attraction."

--Vengeance by Benjamin Black

[N.B.:  Notice how John Banville capitalizes the middle of a sentence in the middle of a character's speech in order to recreate the natural, conversational rhythm.  He did the same thing in the excerpt I reproduced yesterday.  Interesting.]

February  25,  2015

Patrick: Lagniappe

She had scrambled higher still in the bed and was lying back against a mound of pillows, watching him--no, surveying him, he thought--as if she were measuring him against a model in her head and finding him sadly though perhaps not hopelessly wanting.  The ashtray bore the legend HÔTEL MÉTROPOLE MONTE CARLO.  She saw him looking, "Stolen," Mona said. "By me.  I like to steal things.  Nothing valuable, just things that take my fancy.  People's husbands, for instance."

--Vengeance by Benjamin Black

February  24,  2015

Patrick: Lagniappe

It was strange, Quirke reflected, but in fact he did not much like drink and its attributes, the soapy reek of beer, the scald of whiskey.  Even gin, which he considered hardly a drink at all, had a metallic clatter in the mouth that made him want to shiver.  And yet the glow, that inward glow, that was a thing he did not wish to live without, whatever the state of his liver or his brain.

--Vengeance by Benjamin Black

February  23,  2015

Patrick: Lagniappe

Her father had suffered a stroke three years previously and was confined to a wheelchair and therefore was bored and prone to rancorous ill temper, although even in his heyday he had not been exactly of a tranquil disposition.  It pleased him to annoy people, to set them against each other.  This afternoon it was Mrs. Hartigan's turn to suffer the edge of his tongue, and having started that particular fire he had then settle down contentedly to warm his hands before it.

--Vengeance by Benjamin Black

February  22,  2015

Patrick: Lagniappe

The Mission


I have come to know



not noun

     but verb, something


that, unlike living,

     by doing right


you do less of.


--fragment: Kevin Young (Poetry, October 2009)

February  21,  2015

Patrick: Lagniappe


I was conceived in the cruelest month

in whatever spring California could muster.

A little rain--with some more likely.

And the buckeyes were they yet on the ground?

Damn my father's smooth stone eyes,

other prevailing enticements and what Eliot called

the female stench.  Damn the oaks,

their histrionics, struggling in the fog.

Spiderwebs lay in the grass, misted

and looking like misspent galaxies.

I cry into and out of this moment.

Pount told Eliot: strike this and this.

What was weak got dropped, and the poem

stood stronger without it.


--A.V. Christie (Poetry, October 2009)

February  20,  2015

Patrick: Lagniappe

A Perfect Market

ou plutôt les chanter


But on the whole it's useless to point out

That making the thing musical is part

Of pinning down what you are on about.

The voice leads to the craft, the craft to art:

All this is patent to the gifted few

Who know, before they can, what they must do

To make the mind a spokesman for the heart.


As for the million others, they are blessed:

This is their age.  Their slapdash in demand

From all who would take fright were thought expressed

In ways that showed a hint of being planned,

They may say anything, in any way.

Why not? Why shouldn't they? Why wouldn't they?

Nothing to study, nothing to understand.


And yet it could be that their flight from rhyme

and reason is a technically precise

Response to the confusion of a time

When nothing, said once, merits hearing twice.

It isn't that their deafness fails to match

The chaos.  It's the only thing they catch.

No form, no pattern.  Just the rolling dice

--fragment: Clive James (Poetry, February 2010).

February  19,  2015

Patrick: Lagniappe

My first contact with poetry was the "Our Father" and "Hail Mary."  Yes, they're prayers, but they're also packets of linguistic energy.  Not enough is made of their epic-accented statements ("lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil"), the wonderfully archaic usages ("forgive us our trespasses"), the tone nibbed with rhapsodic oddities ("blessed is the fruit of thy womb").  At the time--the only literature in my house was the daily tabloid Le Journal de Montréal--this was otherworldly speech.  I found lots of other prayers I liked (St. Francis's "The Canticle of All Creatures" was a favorite) but none that introduced me to such fresh noises and suggestions.  Other prayers were loaded with religiosity, but uninterestingly flat.  "Hallowed is thy name" filled my mouth with sound (modernization has scrubbed the prayer clean of out-of-date fillips: "Holy is your name" is what kids now recite).  Nothing in my life matched that language and I rejoiced in its acoustic plushness.  Linguistically speaking, I suppose I saw myself as upwardly mobile.  These prayers fixed in place my core criteria for a good poem: memorizable, talismanically glamorous, and endlessly repeated to stave off setbacks, fears, sins.

--Lazy Bastardism: A Notebook by Carmine Starnino (Poetry, January 2010)

February  18,  2015

Patrick: Lagniappe



When I see the cradle rocking

What is it that I see?

I see a rood on the hilltop

Of Calvary.


When I hear the cattle lowing

What is it that they say?

They say that shadows feasted

At Tenebrae.


When I know that the grave is empty,

Absence eviscerates me,

And I dwell in a cavernous, constant

Horror vaccui.

--Donald Hall (Poetry, January 2010).

February  17,  2015

Patrick: Lagniappe

"There's never been a rebellion in Germany, since Tauroggen, when General Yorck and his Prussians changed sides and fought against Napoleon.  But that was necessary and historically justified, besides being in accordance with the real wishes of his King and supreme commander.  True enough, our present commander is a man without any background or understanding of tradition, but all the same we've sworn an oath to him as the chosen leader of our nation, and that oath is no hollow formality."

--The General by Karlludwig Optiz (tr. Constantine Fitzgibbon)

February  16,  2015

Patrick: Lagniappe

The general sat beside me.  He looked at the countryside, which he knew.  He knew it well, from the First World War.

"France has changed a great deal," he said.  "It's become more beautiful, bit it's aged as well.  It has had to swallow a great deal of blood and iron."

"Seems to agree with it, though," said I.

We drove across France, along narrow roads flanked to left and right with slender poplars.  We were crossing a rolling landscape and from each hilltop we had a wide view of the countryside.

"In the last war a million men died hereabouts," said the general, and he peered out at fields and meadows.

"On the French side, four hundred thousand, and the bodies of three hundred thousand of them were never found.  That will give you a rough idea of what the artillery was like in these parts."

A cow, frightened by the car, galloped clumsily across a field.

Once there was a rotted tree stump close to the road.  A little farther on I noticed a rusty angle iron.

"Funny the way there's nothing left to see of it all," I said.

"Yes, there's nothing left to see," said the general.  "But the potatoes they grow here have a horrible taste of T.N.T. to them."

--The General by Karlludwig Optiz (tr. Constantine Fitzgibbon)

February  15,  2015

Patrick: Lagniappe

"I've chased you often enough," he said, "and it was my heartfelt desire that one day you'd eat a tin of rat poison and die.  But as God is my witness I wouldn't wish this job of driving the general on my very worst enemy."

The top sergeant looked as happy as a sandboy.

"Keep your medals polished," he said, "and see you in the mass graves."

--The General by Karlludwig Optiz (tr. Constantine Fitzgibbon)

February  14,  2015

Patrick: Lagniappe

He had had a long war, serving as a junior officer in the infantry in Dunkirk, North Africa, Sicily, and then, as a lieutenant colonel, in the D-Day landings, where he won a medal.  He had arrived at the concentration camp of Belsen a week after it was liberated, and was stationed in Berlin for eight months after the war ended.  Like many men of his generation, he did not speak about his experiences and relished the ordinariness of post-war life, its tranquil routines, its tidiness and rising material well-being, and above all its lack of danger--everything that was to appear stifling to those born in the first years of the peace.

--Solar by Ian McEwan

February  13,  2015

Patrick: Lagniappe

The truth was simpler.  Women knew it in their hearts.  Since he was too tactful to say it to her, he was obliged to set it out impartially for himself.  Repetition was helpful.  Older men were better companions, they were seasoned lovers, they knew the world, they knew themselves.  Unlike younger men, they held their emotions in balance.  They had read more, seen more, they were warmer, kinder, less boastful, more tolerant, less violent.  They were more interesting, they could choose the wine.  They had more money.

--Solar by Ian McEwan

February  12,  2015

Patrick: Lagniappe

He had been behaving as though alone.  So what?  As long as he harmed or offended no one, that was his right.  He no longer cared much what others thought of him.  There were few benefits in growing older, and this was one.

--Solar by Ian McEwan

February  11,  2015

Patrick: Lagniappe

Despite the danger he was in, Beard glanced back again, hoping to catch sight, for anecdote's sake, of the animal he was about to out-pace.  In the narrow perimeter of semiclarity that surrounded the goggle's frozen fog patch there was movement, but it may have been the guide's hand or a corner of his own balaclava.  In the account he would give for the rest of his life, the one that became his true memory, a polar bear with open jaws was twenty meters distant and running at him when his snowmobile started forward, not because, or not only because, he was a liar, but because he instinctively knew it was wrong to dishonor a good story.

--Solar by Ian McEwan

[N.B.:  And everyone thinks it's so mysterious regarding the motivation for Bryan Williams's repeated untruth--well, everyone has a polar bear.  Some are just bigger than others.]

February  10,  2015

Patrick: Lagniappe

[W]as the strange reality described by quantum mechanics a description of the actual world, or was it simply a system that happened to work?  Infected by the Majorcan's courtly style, Beard complimented him on the question.  he could not have phrased it better himself, for there was no better interrogation of quantum theory than this.  It was a matter that had dominated years of Einstein's life and led him to insist that the theory was correct but incomplete.  Intuitively, he just could not accept that there was no reality without an observer, or that this reality was defined by the observer, as Bohr and the rest seemed to be saying.  In Einstein's memorable phrase, there was out there a "real factual situation."  "When a mouse observes," he had once asked, "does that change the state of the universe?"  Quantum mechanics seemed to imply that a measurement of the state of one particle could instantaneously determine the state of another, even if it was far away.  But this was "spiritualistic" in Einstein's view, it was "spooky action at a distance," for nothing could move faster than the speed of light.

--Solar by Ian McEwan

February  9,  2015

Patrick: Lagniappe

As they entered London proper, it was radiative forcing, and after that the familiar litany of shrinking glaciers, encroaching deserts, dissolving coral reefs, disrupted ocean currents, rising sea levels, disappearing this and that, on and on, while Beard sank into a gloom of inattention, not because the planet was in peril--that moronic word again--but because someone was telling him it was with such enthusiasm.  This was what he disliked about political people--injustice and calamity animated them, it was their milk, their lifeblood, it pleasured them.

--Solar by Ian McEwan

February  8,  2015

Patrick: Lagniappe

The essence of a crank was, first, to believe that all the world's problems could be reduced to one and be solved.  And second, to go on about it nonstop.

--Solar by Ian McEwan

February  7,  2015

Patrick: Lagniappe

And he was unimpressed by some of the wild commentary that suggested the world was in peril, that humankind was drifting toward calamity, when coastal cities would disappear under the waves, crops fail, and hundreds of millions of refugees surge from one country, one continent, to another, driven by drought, floods, famine, tempests, unceasing wars for diminishing resources.  There was an Old Testament ring to the forewarnings, an air of plague-of-boils and deluge-of-frogs, that suggested a deep and constant inclinations, enacted over the centuries, to believe that one was always living at the end of days, that one's own demise was urgently bound up with the end of the world and therefore made more sense, or was just a little less irrelevant.  The end of the world was never pitched in the present, where it could be seen for the fantasy it was, but just around the corner, and when it did not happen, a new issue, a new date, would soon emerge.

--Solar by Ian McEwan

[N.B.:  Blasphemy!  Only a dyed-in-the-wool atheist like Ian McEwan could have written the above, equating Climate Changers to religious fundamentalists.  And although this book was written as recently as 2010, I wonder if he would have the guts today to publish it.]

February  6,  2015

Patrick: Lagniappe

He held an honorary university post in Geneva and did no teaching there, lent his name, his title, Professor Beard, Nobel laureate, to letterheads, to institutes, signed up to international "initiatives," sat on a royal commission on science funding, spoke on the radio in layman's terms about Einstein or photons or quantum mechanics, helped out with grant applications, was a consultant editor on three scholarly journals, wrote peer reviews and references, took an interest in the gossip, the politics of science, the positioning, the special pleading, the terrifying nationalism, the tweaking of colossal sums out of ignorant ministers and bureaucrats for one more particle accelerator or rented instrument space on a new satellite, appeared at giant conventions in the United States--eleven thousand physicists in one place!--listened to postdocs explain their research, gave with minimal variation the same series of lectures on the calculations underpinning the Beard-Einstein Conflation, which had brought him his prize, awarded prizes and medals himself, accepted honorary degrees, and gave after-dinner speeches and eulogies for retiring or about-to-be-cremated colleagues.  In an inward, specialized world he was, courtesy of Stockholm, a celebrity, and he coasted from year to year, vaguely weary of himself, bereft of alternatives.

--Solar by Ian McEwan

[N.B.:  The construction of that first sentence is a thing of beauty--oh, and Krugman, call your libel lawyer.]

February  5,  2015

Patrick: Lagniappe

Pepper and I spent the afternoon wandering about No Man's Land where we found scores of corpses in the last stages of corruption.  They were mostly Frenchmen who had been killed during their attack in September 1916.  The German wire was very thick and in many places he had arranged elaborate bomb-traps to catch raiding parties.  I had a look at one old shelter behind Desirée and saw that the one from which Dunham had got ice for our teas, was full of green water in which lay a rotting Frenchman--yet our tea had tasted quite good.

--Some Desperate Glory: The World War I Diary of a British Officer, 1917 by Edwin Campion Vaughan

February  4,  2015

Patrick: Lagniappe

We returned to where the MP was on duty, then turned to the left; there were a few ruined houses on either side of the road, then it ran out into the open, screened on either side by a low bank.  Just past the last house on the left was a small pond, whence protruded the grey-clad knee of a dead German.  The water around him was green and on his knee was perched a large rat making a meal.

--Some Desperate Glory: The World War I Diary of a British Officer, 1917 by Edwin Campion Vaughan

February  3,  2015

Patrick: Lagniappe

At the Epéhy crossroads, we found a huge cat squatting on the chest of a dead German, eating his face.  It made us sick to see it, and I sent two men to chase it away.  As they approached it sprang snarling at them, but they beat it down with their rifles and rove it into the ruined house.  Then we covered the body with a sack, and went on.

--Some Desperate Glory: The World War I Diary of a British Officer, 1917 by Edwin Campion Vaughan

February  2,  2015

Patrick: Lagniappe

We strolled along to the church, where we climbed the tower which gave us a very good view of the surrounding country.  It was interesting to watch the batteries working below us.

Descending again we found the skeleton of a kiddie about eight years old, blown out of a grave.  The dear little, smooth, white skull was lying near the church steps and we picked it up and laid it with the other bones in the opened grave.  Then we covered it in and gently patted the earth back.  The padre grunted when I told her to go to sleep again.  But it pleased me to think that she was a little golden-haired lassie and that she looked down shyly to say 'Merci, Soldats.'

--Some Desperate Glory: The World War I Diary of a British Officer, 1917 by Edwin Campion Vaughan