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–r AFTERWORD THINK HOW impossible our lives would be, my friend says, without literature. . Or music, I think. Yet we know, both of us, that the mass of our fellow men do live wholly without literature without allusion, without the imaginative riches of the race. One summer I watched my daughter, age twelve, read The World According to Garp cover to cover. Now a new daughter \(for I have considers, daily it seems, the problem of evil. She does not know to call it that, but it is quite real to her, actual, not abstraction. Nine years old, she is desperate for order. For a long time I lived alone in the company of books and records. Went for days at the time without speaking to anyone but postal or library clerks. Watched women drop their children off at the daycare center opposite me. Read Voltaire and Canetti, ate leftover curry . and cucumbers off a newspaper spread on the desk. Saturday at the library I came across a girl of perhaps 15. Wild-eyed, she looked about at the shelves looming like ancient tall trees over her; spoke to herself; finally asked a librarian to help her find “the part of the building where Sarah D” was. Her request was indecipherable, and with every repetition she grew more frantic. The new apartment where I live is inhabited by roaches. They are ineradicable and overrun everything. “Ralph and his family ,” we refer to them. Yet there is about them something truly elemental; they are liquid, mobile slivers of time, fragments of the lost past, of a covert future, quick splinters of night and final darkness: they both repel and attract us. Unlike the girl, these roaches know no alien ground. They drift across my books, the kitchen table, piles of manuscripts, cutlery in drawers, teacups, letters. Like time James Sallis is a writer who lives in Arlington. itself, touching everything. We are sitting outdoors, my friend and I, under the eave of a small restaurant’s timber roof, half-full glasses of wine before us. Years ago we played together in a country band. He has gone on to a Ph.D and teaching; his poems still appear infrequently in literary magazines. Like myself he has married again, a younger woman. He is certain that he knows what makes a good poem, what makes a piece of writing work. y EARS AGO I also taught, certain that I passed on select tools, precious insight, to my writing students. The truth is that I did not know what I was doing, and this has become clearer with passing years. I read my old poems and stories, and they are like things dredged from the sea, secret and mysterious. I find that I can only work by intuition and have no interest in writing when I know where the text will go. We leave and walk along past usedclothing stores, specialty grocers, a collectors’ bookshop. My friend tells me about his new wife, a nurse. I talk about what I am writing at the moment. He says: You are still alone, then, with your words. And I suppose that I am. The apartment is empty when I return, wife and daughters at the pool. A bag of groceries, bent to one side like an old boot, sits on the counter. I hear far off the drudge of traffic, the chitter of children, and I stand for what seems a long time at the window, poised like a moth at the sill, before I reenter this world. I remember Creeley: love is a process like decompression for the diver. Just as I cannot see how an accumulation of moments can comprise a life, yield any order, I’ve no idea how these fragments the girl at the library, daughters, a new apartment, roaches, writing add up to an essay, to a piece. I have only the intuition that they might, and scribble them down in the back of a notebook. Outside my wife stands with sunlight behind her, face poised from old habit, waiting for the moment’s mood. Then she shrugs away history and smiles, tells me about her day. How’d it go with David, she wants to know. He took the divorce hard-, she knows, though she has not met him. How is he? He’s fine, I tell her. I lie down beside her, staring up at the bright sun, everything blanching out, on its way to , becoming simpler, purer. We’re all going to be fine, I say. El THE TEXAS OBSERVER 23 Accumulating Moments and Words By James Sallis