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Elroy Bode’s Sketchbook II By John Rechy Sketchbook II: Portraits in Nostalgia, Elroy Bode, Texas Western Press, 165 pages, $5.00. Los Angeles God save Elroy Bode from many of his admirers! Even the introduction to his new volume of short pieces Elroy Bode’s Sketchbook II: Portraits in Nostalgia damns him: “For over a century, writers have been trying to capture creatively the special flavor of the land and the people of Texas. … [Bode] has embraced all of Texas and absorbed it. . . . Hopefully, he will continue to write about his Texas … as one of the most truthful of Texas writers in the 1970s,” Texas! Texas! Texas! And the implicit curse: Regional. This unfortunate transformation of Bode into a “Texas” writer has to do with Texas and its ecstacy for safety in the arts. God protect the Texan who strays from the fold! But is he a regional, “Texas” writer? True, his setting is Texas and those who admire his work because of that will find their pleasure increased by the present volume. But he is not the safe, regional writer both his admirers and detractors have turned him into. His theme is nothing less than being itself, and he deals with the universal questions of existence. His world is located beyond Texas. In the universe, if you will. And if his haunting, poetic writing has and it has the feel of the land, it also has the feel of water, of the air, sky. If it speaks of Texans, it speaks of them as human beings. Is he, then, irrelevant because to feel has become suspect? Because the machine has swallowed the man? The saddest aspect of John Rechy’s fifth novel, The Fourth Angel, will be published next year. 14 The Texas Observer all this is that those who should know better apparently don’t: thus The Texas Observer often runs his pieces with condescension as if it didn’t realize the elegance that Bode’s writing brings to it. BODE’S VISION and he is a visionary is that of an obsessed poet longing to capture all of life, and, therefore, each moment: “As I stood there, sunk in peace, I had the overpowering urge to do something about the scene before me to transfix it, somehow, so it would not be lost; to take the mood of the silent mountains and the whistle of dove wings and give them their proper immortality. Yet it was like all the other times when the essence of life seemed to be rising like vapor out of the ground and I was almost physically hurting with the pain of knowing that such good moments were dying unheralded, uncelebrated: I watched and felt and accepted the truth: that no one could perpetuate bliss.” He heralds such moments magnificently: 4 4 .. sitting in the shade of a cottonwood, I watched, hypnotized, as one huge, dazzling cloud unwound itself. in the midday light. At first it seemed content just to lazily explode to boil luxuriously within its own wild cataracts but finally it started on its long upward climb. And though it was doomed to achieve no real end to do no more than lunge upward and then splash vaguely, ineptly, to one side it had, for a moment, the genuine thrust of life. Probing into the fiercely illuminated sky, the cloud was like some strange formless beast that was seeking a freer, a more beautiful, a more gigantic self in the limitless ocean of air.” Even in the unextraordinary he .sees the miracle of life explode. About a near-middleaged woman: “I wanted to jump out of the car and run over to her and pin a small medal on her silly archer’s shoes. I wanted to let her know she had been watched and judged and found GOOD. For it did not matter to me whether or not she carried out her destiny with any special honor or dignity; she at least functioned in the world with a touch of grace. That alone, I felt, was enough to merit attention and honor. .. .” In the superb reminiscences called “Home,” he arrives at a correct conclusion of himself as artist: “I do not think about Absolutes there at the trash pile. I am a lover, not a thinker a lover of days, feelings, sensations, life.” A radical of the soul, he captures the bursting flash of consciousness that happens sometimes with drugs, sometimes when one is simply high on life; a moment of instant revelation at times beautiful, at times cruel; a focused moment fixed as if at the end of a microscope, then thrust outward, magnified: a child watching a spider, the ritualistic beating of a young boy, the drowning of a camp instructor. He captures smells. The smell of beer. Sounds. Of insects, animals. Of . human beings. A screen door “stutters.” He captures the fractional moment when an embarrassed rabbit yes, an embarrassed rabbit falls down, “in furious shame.” Feelings. He feels the emptiness of a woman babbling into the telephone. The wistfulness of a girl anxious for popularity, never to have it. Even a vastly unattractive drunk deserves attention because: “My God, who do you show mercy to good guys? Who are always the most in need of love the lovable?” And telephone poles finally! are assigned their righteous dignity: ” … how long, I wondered, had it been since I had really looked at them? . . . I considered them a moment, in their neatness and symmetry, and decided that they were still in pretty good shape; that they had managed, over the years, to retain a wholesome telephone-pole integrity. I