Sunday, October 27, 2019

the last book I ever read (Paradise by Donald Barthelme, excerpt eight)

from Paradise by Donald Barthelme:

They sit in her kitchen. “The burning barns in your poems,” he says, “why so many? Isn’t that a little . . . repetitive?” “My burning barns,” she says, “my splendid burning barns, I’ll burn as many barns as I damn please, Pappy.” He is older than she is, by ten years, and she has given him this not altogether welcome nickname. She looks absolutely stunning, a black three-quarter-length skirt embossed with black bird figures, a knitted sleeveless jacket, a yellow long-sleeved blouse, a red ascot. “Seriously, do you think there are too many? Barns?” It’s the first time she has asked his opinion about anything connected with her work. “I was half teasing,” he says. “But they did burn,” she says. “Every one I’ve ever known.” “Simon says,” Simon says, “Simon needs a beer.” She rises and moves to fetch a St. Pauli Girl from the refrigerator.

The poet lives in the country, in an old Putnam County farmhouse that she has not touched except to paint the walls pale blue. She has painted over the old wallpaper, and the walls puff and wrinkle in places. The furniture is junk golden oak, one piece to a room except in the kitchen, where there is a table and two mismatched chairs. “This one is Biedermeier,” the poet says, “from my mother, and the other, the potato-chip jobbie, is Eames, from my father. That tell you anything?”

Simon takes the train from Grand Central to Putnam County. He doesn’t like the train, almost always in miserable repair and without air conditioning, and he hates changing at Croton, the rush from one train to another more like a stampede than anything else, but the views of the stately Hudson from the discolored windows are wonderful, and when he alights at Garrison at the end of this trip she is sitting on the hood of her circus-red Toyota pickup, drinking apple juice from a paper cup.

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