Sunday, July 24, 2016

the last book I ever read (James Baldwin's Another Country, excerpt two)

from Another Country by James Baldwin:

There was some pot on the scene and he was a little high. He was feeling great. And, during the last set, he came doubly alive because the saxophone player, who had been way out all night, took off on a terrific solo. He was a kid of about the same age as Rufus, from some insane place like Jersey City or Syracuse, but somewhere along the line he had discovered that he could say it with a saxophone. He had a lot to say. He stood there, wide-legged, humping the air, filling his barrel chest, shivering in the rags of his twenty-odd years, and screaming through the horn Do you love me? Do you love me? Do you love me? And, again, Do you love me? Do you love me? Do you love me? This, anyway, was the question Rufus heard, the same phrase, unbearably, endlessly, and variously repeated, with all of the force the boy had. The silence of the listeners became strict with abruptly focused attention, cigarettes were unlit, and drinks stayed on the tables; and in all of the faces, even the most ruined and most dull, a curious, wary light appeared. They were being assaulted by the saxophonist who perhaps no longer wanted their love and merely hurled his outrage at them with the same contemptuous, pagan pride with which he humped the air. And yet the question was terrible and real; the boy was blowing with his lung and guts out of his own short past; somewhere in that past, in the gutters or gang fights or gang shags; in the acrid room, on the sperm-stiffened blanket, behind marijuana or the needle, under the smell of piss in the precinct basement, he had received the blow from which he never would recover and this no one wanted to believe. Do you love me? Do you love me? Do you love me? The men on the stand stayed with him, cool and at a little distance, adding and questioning and corroborating, holding it down as well as they could with an ironical self-mockery; but each man knew that the boy was blowing for every one of them. When the set ended they were all soaking. Rufus smelled his odor and the odor of the men around him and “Well, that’s it,” said the bass man. The crowd was yelling for more but they did their theme song and the lights came on. And he had played the last set of his last gig.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

the last book I ever read (James Baldwin's Another Country, excerpt one)

from Another Country by James Baldwin:

Now he stood before the misty doors of the jazz joint, peering in, sensing rather than seeing the frantic black people on the stand and the oblivious, mixed crowd at the bar. The music was loud and empty, no one was doing anything at all, and it was being hurled at the crowd like a malediction in which not even those who hated most deeply any longer believed. They knew that no one heard, that bloodless people cannot be made to bleed. So they blew what everyone had heard before, they reassured everyone that nothing terrible was happening, and the people at the tables found it pleasant to shout over this stunning corroboration and the people at the bar, under cover of the noise they could scarcely have lived without, pursued whatever it was they were after. He wanted to go in and use the bathroom but he was ashamed of the way he looked. He had been in hiding, really, for nearly a month. And he saw himself now, in his mind’s eye, shambling through this crowd to the bathroom and crawling out again while everyone watched him with pitying or scornful or mocking eyes. Or, someone would be certain to whisper Isn’t that Rufus Scott? Someone would look at him with horror, then turn back to his business with a long-draw-out, pitying, Man! He could not do it—and he danced on one foot and then the other and tears came to his eyes.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

the last book I ever read (Black Deutschland by Darryl Pinckney, excerpt twelve)

from Black Deutschland: A Novel by Darryl Pinckney:

I’d read Isherwood’s novel so often I had no trouble inserting myself into its scene. I am the negro boxer—small n of the British 1930s—whom Isherwood sees at the far end of Potsdamerstrasse, working at a fairground, in an attraction of fixed boxing and wrestling matches. I take my turn knocking guys out and getting knocked out. And I, the black boxer in his stance, am going to meet Otto’s brother, Lothar, a smoldering Nazi whose bed Isherwood was given when he moved in with the working-class Nowaks. I am going to guide him to the light and we will never age.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

the last book I ever read (Black Deutschland by Darryl Pinckney, excerpt eleven)

from Black Deutschland: A Novel by Darryl Pinckney:

I am one of the black American leftovers who sit by themselves. We nod to one another, my fellow old heads and I, a veteran session musician, a widowed engineer, that second-rate Beat poet, now a celebrity because of his age, and low-frequency me. I have their general outlines and they pieces of mine. We exchanged them a few years ago, but since the engineer’s German wife died, we have not added to the kitty of information. They don’t come in as regularly as I do, a fat guy again. To gain weight is to become neutered. Yet the crew of dealers I manage in Hasenheide Park is scared of me.

I never tried to belong. I stayed in the great head with the unratified deeds, a phrase I always took to mean the things we do in the dark. I just wanted to be left alone. I was. I have been, my slowed footsteps a perfunctory but familiar chorus. During the worst of the antiforeigner attacks, the neo-Nazis never messed with American-looking blacks, not even at four in the morning. I was still bleary-eyed in Powell’s Bookstore basement with the deutsche taschenbuch verlag editions I couldn’t really read.

Monday, July 18, 2016

the last book I ever read (Black Deutschland by Darryl Pinckney, excerpt ten)

from Black Deutschland: A Novel by Darryl Pinckney:

East Berlin was so underlit that I could make out the Little Dipper. It suited many like me that the unreal city was surrounded by a society with an inferiority complex. Manfred said that Rosa Luxemburg would have been as nasty as any of them had she gained power. Such people were at their best in the opposition.

The old dream’s yearning had crept comfortably back into my heart. I’d not come to Berlin to be noble and gay. I wasn’t there to get down with history either. I was there to let go in the shadow of either a Teuton or a Tartar thug. My hour, was it coming? I called to it: it’s time, it’s time.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

the last book I ever read (Black Deutschland by Darryl Pinckney, excerpt nine)

from Black Deutschland: A Novel by Darryl Pinckney:

A few years later two commuter trains on the Illinois Central collided outside a station downturn and I understood for the first time the flinty shock of death. A family friend who made what he called antique furniture was among those killed. I didn’t cry, I was so amazed by the discovery. Dad thought I had grown up. I wasn’t paying attention at the funeral. The open casket didn’t faze me. I was fixed on the realization that life was serious it offered no do-overs. You don’t get up from play and head home wondering what happened to the fireflies of childhood.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

the last book I ever read (Black Deutschland by Darryl Pinckney, excerpt eight)

from Black Deutschland: A Novel by Darryl Pinckney:

We heard her cry out. She bumped into Dad as he ran down to her. They panted back up together and turned on the television. Reporters stood in the rain in front of Northwestern Memorial. The tears were already coming down for Chicago’s first black mayor. A press spokesman was saying that Harold Washington had been pronounced dead. He’d had a heart attack at his desk that morning. The phone rang again. Dad pressed Mom into a chair and went to answer.

I’d grown up seeing Mom wipe her face in front of the television, or while she was on the phone, or over a tissue-thin newspaper or a blue letter that folded back up to be its own envelope. In my memory, my dad is in the kitchen, pouring her a glass of water, trying to think of something else to do for her, brought low by news of another assassination, in Jackson, in Birmingham, in Dallas, in New York City, in Memphis, in Orangeburg, in Los Angeles, in Kent, in Munich, in Beirut, in Port Elizabeth, or blocks away, over on troubled Madison Street.