Sunday, June 13, 2010

Three of a Kind

Three prose passages that pleased me:

“His old-school tie, on the day I met him, was Columbia blue covered with sharps and flats in black, green, and cerise. The weavers of his shirt had imprisoned it in the texture as well as the color of pistachio ice cream. It was a wonder children hadn’t eaten it off his back in the street, with the weather the way it was outside. He was wearing a pale-gray suit and skew-bald shoes, and his eyes, of a confiding baby blue, were so bright that they seemed a part of the ensemble. He has a long, narrow, pink face that widens only at the cheekbones and at the mouth, which is fronted with wide, friendly-looking incisors, habitually exposed in an ingenuous smile. The big ears folded back against the sides of his head are not cauliflowered. They are evidence that in his boxing days he was never a catcher. Kearns is slim and active, and could pass for a spry fifty-five if the records books didn’t show that he was knocked out by a welterweight champion named Honey Mellody in 1901, when he must have been at least full-grown.”

(A.J. Liebling, from “The Melting Middleweight” in The Sweet Science, 1956.)

“The priest’s mother was distracted with herself, wakeful, impenitent, heated in every part by a wearisome discontent that had begun in her spirit very young. She wore herself out cleaning her house, going over her rooms with her dry violent hands, scraping and plucking and picking and rubbing the walls and floors and furniture, and stopping in the middle to clench her fingers tight, tight, tight, but not tight enough, never enough for her, there was no tightness hard and fast enough to satisfy her. Therefore she continued in want.”

(Maeve Brennan, “The Poor Men and Women” in The Springs of Affection, 1997.)

“To be a translator was to be at best a secondary figure. To be a translator from Yiddish, a language now plundered for its idioms mainly by comedians and spoken by nobody under fifty not wearing a black hat – this was hopeless, to condemn oneself to the periphery of a periphery. Why was I so drawn to it? Even now I can’t say. All I can provide by way of explanation, to myself if to no one else, is a line from Keats that I must have picked up at Yale, probably in Cleanth Brooks’s class on the Romantics: `so I may do the deed / That my own soul has to itself decreed.’”

(Joseph Epstein, “Beyond the Pale” in The Love Song of A. Jerome Minkoff and Other Stories, 2010.)

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