Friday, June 24, 2011

Aimless Reading: The N's, Part 10 (Alice Notley)

The Descent of Alette by Michael_Kelleher
The Descent of Alette, a photo by Michael_Kelleher on Flickr.
Notley, Alice
The Descent of Alette


I am not sure where I bought this. Possibly Talking Leaves...Books. Pages 54 and 55 are separated by a Long Island Railroad schedule, opened to the Babylon timetable. This tells me nothing about where I acquired the book.

My father was born of Irish immigrants in Brooklyn. He had two brothers and a sister, all of them older. His father abandoned them fairly early, and he only met the man a couple of times. His mother made sure all of them went to college. My uncle Joe studied business, uncle Frank law, aunt Mary nursing, and my father, like his oldest brother, studied business.

He once told me a story about trying to get into law school but not getting accepted because he'd lied about his arrest record. He said he'd been arrested in the Navy. I once asked for his records, but they showed no evidence of this arrest, so it must not have gone on his military record.

Everyone moved out of Brooklyn. Uncle Joe and Aunt Mary both raised their families on Long Island. Uncle Frank raised his family in Westfield, MA. My father was rather more itinerant. He lived in Chicago for a while, then Detroit, where he met and married my mother, and where I was born. He moved us to California when I was two and eventually to Northern Virginia, where I and my brothers were raised.

None of us live there any longer. I have a brother in Minneapolis and another in Flagstaff. After my father died, my mother moved to Florida, though she recently relocated to Nashville.

The point of all of this being that the Long Island railroad was very much a part of my growing up. We spent most Thanksgivings in Babylon at the home of my Aunt Mary and Uncle John. We switched back and forth between driving up the Jersey Turnpike and taking Amtrak service from Union Station in DC to Penn Station in New York, where we'd descend into the bowels to catch the LIRR to Babylon.

Even after I'd moved permanently to New York, I continued to catch the LIRR out to Babylon for Thanksgiving weekends. I am not sure when this rail schedule dates from.

The last time I went to Long Island was for the funeral of my Uncle John. He and Aunt Mary both died of cancer within a couple of years of each other at the beginning of the last decade. That whole side of the family died early. Joe and Frank died in their fifties, my father at sixty one, and aunt Mary in her mid-late sixties.

This causes no small amount of anxiety on my part, especially with a little one on the way.

Sorry, didn't mean to get so morbid.

From The Descent of Alette

(page 54)

"There was a cave in which," "when I entered it," "I rose up in the air"
"to hover" "against the ceiling" "looking down at" "the floor"
"The floor was" "a movie screen" "on which was shown" "a desert"
"in daytime, sandy white" "with bare cactus trees," "leafless tree forms"

"light brown & faintest green" "There were" "distant mountains,"
"a pale sky" "above them" "But there were hundreds" "of these trees"
"close together," "at regular intervals" "They were short &"
"all alike" "But one–" "just one–" "which I felt I" "was meant to

look at–" "was larger," "that was all," "somewhat larger"
"Indifference," "sadness," "a perfunctory" "sort of interest" "were"
"what I felt" "A dark" "male presence," "a rather bodiless" "man,"
"came & hovered" "beside me" "'If the larger tree,' he said," "'were

you, say," "or I," "would it make" "any difference?'" "'Not really,'
I said" "'Or it would,' he said," "'change the landscape," "a little,"
"the way it looks'" "'But to whom?' I said" "'To those who hover"
"above it?" "Larger of same" "in that landscape" "is nothing anyway'"

"'Forget it,' he said," "'it's just something" "to look at'"

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