Sunday, December 09, 2007

"On With the Story Again!" or, An Imaginary Sailing Trip with John Barth

(For Shelly)

"Ahoy there, Novelist Emeritus!"

"Yrs Truly! Welcome aboard, Muffy S.B.! Only soft-shoes on deck, please, and no cigarettes."

"I don't smoke."

"When famous South American novelist and great personal inspiration Jorge Luis Borges met me at a dinner seven-several years past..."

"No frame-tales, you promised!"

"I'm sorry, Muffy...all of us have a Scheherazade's worth of life stories, and storied lives, and lives of our living life stories. It gets so a man repeats himself after his allotted three-score years and ten."

"Shall we sail?"

"Into the mighty Choptank to the tune of Handel's 'Water Music,' prefiguring the unique salinity of these shrinking estuaries. Did you know, M.S-B., that the salt content in these murky waters is identical in composition to uterine fluid, and also to--"

"--human tears?"

"You've read my books!"

"Tant pis!"

"Ah, my books, those offspring of mine launched like self-aware sperm towards the confluence of--"

"Shut up! Weigh the anchor!"

"Mizzens, engines, swing, top-sails, cutters, masts, et cet!"


"It's beautiful out here. No wonder you write about it so much, Mr. J.B., Novelist E., et cet."

"The challenge for this J.B. N.E. E.C. with his bruised and battered binder is to find new ways of setting the above-water scene, so to speak. There's some spartina, for instance, next to the Canadian geese, behind that stand of loblolly pine."

"To the right or the left of the osprey's nest?"


"Why what?"

"We're at the Wye, the parting of the streams...or the joining, depending on how you look at it! We're at the place where it all comes together and decisions are made!"

"I thought we were at the Axis Mundi..."

"I don't write about that stuff anymore! No, this is the meeting of masculine and feminine, the spot where my second wife and I traditionally come to a likewise meeting of minds, the woman and is-a-man make late-life love and love-late lust despite the knowledge--"

"--foreshadowed by Tropical Storm X, and by the narrator's foreshadowing of the foreshadow..."

"--that the woman of us is on the edge of becoming first-hand offended and then-hand 'teary-eyed.'"

"Blam! Blooey! Since we're at the Wye, I suppose we have to decide whether to go right or left?"

"Not necessarily, M.S.B.! We could go back--"

"--in order to go foreward--"

"--or we could take the FOURTH route, that surprising-the-first-time-I-thought-of-it-but-now-sort-of-predictable direction, that is, to stay motionless here, to freeze-frame, here halfwise struck and arrow cocked forever-ever-after-ward..."

"To take a pee-break?"

"Don't forget to pump the head! In the meantime I'll open up a Beck's Genuine Dark and splash the first gulp over the side for Poseidon, adding my contribution and yours to the unique salinity of these Choptank waters, so close to that of uterine fluid. And tears!"

"You shouldn't drink if you're not at anchor, and if you don't have sufficient swing in the face of the projected blam of TSX, and the projected (expected) 'teary-eyed' blooey."

"I'm not drinking, I just wanted to mention my Beck's Genuine Dark. Hey look, it's a floating water-message, plus my boina!"

"It must have come from that marshy triangle of overgrown wilderness we just passed, behind that wall of recycled rip-rap."

"We'll go back and rap about the ripping of that rap, oh M-S-B."

"No way, I know what happens in those marshy triangles! No soixante-neuf for me!"

"Tant pis, et cet, though it would be dramaturgically correct, my forty-odd years older, you in your prime, muse retired and the woman-of-us at home. Let's pay off our narrative debts and fire the pistols we hung up in Act Zero, and isn't that wacky, an 'Act Zero.'"

"You sexy, increasingly soft somebody-or-something former professional prof."


"Here? In the end?"

"Mmm, she said..."


"'The End'..."...



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