Tonight, I worship at the altar of Denis Johnson. Yes, I had read his short story, “Work,” in The New Yorker a long time ago. I tepidly recalled that I had enjoyed it.
But how could I have forgotten one of its most exquisite sentences?
“Where are my women now, with their sweet wet words and ways, and the miraculous balls of hail popping in a green translucence in the yards?”
Nothing like getting slammed broadside by a book to transform tepid appreciation into acolytic fervor.
The book in question?
Although these excerpts may be less powerful when presented out of context, I want you to re-live a few moments with me:
“She seemed to be thinking about something far away, waiting patiently for somebody to destroy her.”
“The sky was a bruised red shot with black, almost exactly the colors of a tattoo. Sunset had two minutes left to live.”
“I sat up front. Right beside me was the little cubicle filled with the driver. You could feel him materializing and dematerializing in there. In the darkness under the universe it didn’t matter that the driver was a blind man. He felt the future with his face. And suddenly the train hushed as if the wind had been kicked out of it, and we came into the evening again.”
“Willows stroked the water with their hair.”
“We stopped the truck and the boy climbed slowly up out of the fields as out of the mouth of a volcano.”
“Down the hall came the wife. She was glorious, burning. She didn’t know yet that her husband was dead. We knew. That’s what gave her such power over us. The doctor took her into a room with a desk at the end of the hall, and from under the closed door a slab of brilliance radiated as if, by some stupendous process, diamonds were being incinerated in there.”
“I’ll never forget you. Your husband will beat you with an extension cord and the bus will pull away leaving you standing there in tears, but you were my mother.”
So many glorious sentences flying past me so often, I feel the need to rewind. Read that sentence, that paragraph, that page again. Rip out my heart, disgust me, make me laugh. This ain’t no one trick pony. Praise the writer and pass the collection plate!