In her new collection of quirkily imaginative short stories about writing and writers, the scrivener Meredith Quartermain (our “Bartleby”) goes her stubborn way haunted by Pauline Johnson, Malcolm Lowry, Robin Blaser, Daphne Marlatt, and a host of other literary forebears. Who is writing whom, these stories ask in their musing reflections — the writer or the written? The thinker or the alphabet? The calligrapher or the pictograms hidden in her Chinese written characters? Taking its cue from genre-bending writers like Robert Walser and Enrique Vila-Matas, I, Bartleby cunningly challenges boundaries between fiction and reality.
Today on Meta-Talon, read the first story from I, Bartleby.
If I, Bartleby,
am a copyist, what am I copying? Down or over. From what page to what page. The flow of ink through the nose of the pen replicating reptilely the tick of a clock turning into another alleyway of lines or mind running down grammatical streets – ever outward like a river through all the islands and channels of its delta after pitching itself downward from mountains and, even before that, from glaciers that had oozed fingers into high valleys but now are said not to be oozing but rather shrinking away from those mountain crags – those humps and hulks and heaved-up layers of ancient seas, jumbled quixotics, masked tectonic rafts of rock my pen makes into loops and sticks and dots.
They shrink from a hot stove, from an odious task, from drudgery, from admitting they’re no longer wanted – these glaciers – no longer loved by the mountains. No. The mountains have had enough, and these glaciers must leave, must melt away, must sink into sedimentary, metamorphic, and igneous fissures, cracks, and fractals of mountainhood and meadowhood. Slowly, ever so slowly pulling away the blankets and sheets – inch by inch sliding back the antimacassars on mountainous couches and chairs once protected from human oil but now gradually subjected to this pulling away of garments, this peeling back of scarves and coats, this drawing down of sweater sleeves and chemises, this relentless baring of mountain flesh despite snatches at collars and cuffs, fringes and hems, despite the pocketing of a sash or a sock, a garter or culottes that nevertheless melt trickle pour and hurl themselves down as if under a truck. Can mountains think of trucks? Humans think not. Mountains leave the question open, preferring to send it as a wave of photons from a star to the universe. To end on a distant planet, an asteroid, light centuries deep in some far-off galaxy of ideas. Mountain thoughts. Could come to rest on a speck of sand in a camel’s eye – an eye that may not look kindly on the kid it has given birth to. That may not allow the kid to suckle. An I that curls her velvety camel lips and gazes across the steppes while her owner walks five miles to the next yurt and brings back the violinist – the owner and his wife and their five children gathering round the camel in a man-holding-animal-huddle of hoof-stomp and dung and windblown hair, the violinist drawing his bow across his strings until slowly from the eye of the camel seeps a tear.
Look for I, Bartleby in April 2015 ($14.95).