Clouds Rush By on Silent Bikes — New Fiction by Richard Kostelanetz
FICTION: KOSTI’S RAMON, BY RICHARD KOSTELANETZ
The caterpillar is the smallest railway in the world.
Insolvency is a profession especially enjoyed by Spaniards.
By buttoning is an accordion played, a lover by unbuttoning.
Buried in a piano is a harp lying asleep.
Pajamas buried too deeply under a pillow cannot be found.
A gong is a widowed saucer hung out to mourn.
The letter T is the alphabet’s hammer.
Snakes measure forests.
A hen with her chickens looks like a bottle surrounded by glasses.
In a vest are small pockets in which mementos can be kept.
Beware of maids waxing floors on which their masters might slip and kill themselves.
A pianist touches pedals to warm his feet.
Soldiers parading out of step with music might be deaf.
A hyena carries his own amplifier.
Whenever I consider opening my shutters at night and looking out on the garden, I am afraid of finding an unfamiliar face glued to the window-pane, looking in on me.
Nothing cools hands more than lost gloves.
A freezing night kills all puddles.
Gasoline’s civilization’s incense.
A wasp is the tiger of the insect world.
An electric fan saves heat.
The worst thing about nudists is that they stick to their chairs.
Caterpillars make holes in leaves because they are quality inspectors of vegetables.
Any woman who rolls her husband’s cigarettes has converted his kitchen into a munitions factory.
Wherever lifetime lovers first met they imagine has a plaque.
Don’t let the piano lid fall too heavily because it will sound like a coffin shutting.
An infant with a pacifier looks at a pipe-smoker as a pram companion.
The stray mutt attaching himself to us on the street appeals to our vanity but, not wanting to appear a stray, satisfies his own.
Harmony is written with the letter H to be either the lyre or the slingshot of the alphabet.
The lovely lady who was the death of four husbands took for her fifth a judge who had her hanged.
A scheming king, inviting an historian to dine every day, provided him with the most delicious food and classiest wine in gold-plated service. That accounts for why historians call his epoch “The Golden Age.”
Whenever a wardrobe’s doors open, the whole house yawns.
Stockings are the butterfly nets of women’s legs.
So irritating is a rattle that we had to accept as infants, presented as it was by our parents, who hadn’t the sense to see that in shaking it joylessly we were doing only a favor to them.
In ancient temples Ionic columns look unfurled.
Genius results from undermining impatience with patience.
As strawberries and red wine love each other, sugar consecrates their union.
Though they looked out at each other from the windows of two trains traveling in opposite directions, so great becomes the force of love that suddenly their two trains began to travel in the same direction.
Women go through stockings as serpents slough off their skins.
How strange it is that fresh codfish in a produce market should be dry and shriveled, looking as though it should be sold in a flea market or an antique shop.
Whenever the restaurant service is especially slow, we become impatient xylophonists.
You become more skeptical when you dicover that the word “skeptic” does not include the letter X.
Why is the moon such a fertile subject for fanciful speculation?
Congratulate the expert ploughman who makes the neat ridges in velvet corduroy.
A pillow is always convalescing.
Strolling in public parks we always hope to meet the woman of our dreams, who never appears, making us think our walk a waste our time, as we return home dejected, never becoming wiser about this repeated experience.
Extinguished is snow by water.
Mirrors are coated with the quicksilver of dead eyes.
That Laura who goes to Mass beautiful and young every Sunday vanished with Petrarch.
In order to remain quite alone we’d need first of all to escape from ourselves.
A barometer is a clock that never strikes, responding even to a tempest with silence.
Shearing a sheep is easier than undressing a sleeping child.
Buried in every tomb is an alarm clock set at the hour of the Last Judgment.
Heavy rain reminds us of the time when we were fish.
Fear a bat as the Devil’s holiest ghost.
Taxmen look at writers with schemes for charging a tariff on ideas passing through their heads.
He was such a bad guitarist that his instrument ran off with someone else.
When we peel a banana, it’s sticking its tongue out at us.
Empty windows in a jewelry store make you wonder whether the gems had been stolen permanently or temporarily gone to the opera.
No alchemy is more challenging than transforming a sister-in-law into a wife and then a wife into a sister-in-law.
Foolish seems a journalist speaking of fashion, since fashion is created primarily to mislead journalists.
On certain days clouds rush by on silent bikes.
What worries the mother cat is finding work for each of the six kittens born at the same time.
Why is it that two cigarettes lit simultaneously are never extinguished simultaneously?
Any man still sullen after drinking a cup of coffee isn’t worth the sugar he put in it.
Conversations occur atop a sofa bed and dreams underneath.
Bigger chicks routinely check on smaller chicks.
Anxious is that matchmaker who can provide only six brides for seven brothers.
My novellas should be longer than a micro fiction but shorter than a novel, as is this sentence.
Pins can’t make braids.
Pharmaceutical pills fallen to the floor need not be taken up.
Foreign languages resemble exotic codes.
A dog’s bark scares only as the prelude to a bite.
Top politicians perform as well as rule.
In asparagus is heavy ink turning pee stinky green.
Immortality requires investments.
Many girls, now too young to appraise me, resemble young women known intimately to me decades ago.
A sausage represents the offspring of a hotdog in a mixed marriage.
Portrait photographs usually look more like other photographed faces than anyone met in real life.
Money can vanish as speedily as it appears.
Cat-like dogs like other cats more than humans.
Having produced appropriate book-art homages to Guillaume Apollinaire (known to his friends as Kostro) and to Nathanael West (commonly called Pep), among others, I’d like to do likewise by another modern writer increasingly sympathetic to me — the Spaniard Ramon Gomez de la Serna (1887–1963), known even to strangers only as Ramon. More than a decade ago, with the assistance of an undergraduate intern named Martin Zotta, I produced Simultaneous Translations (Cornerstone Press, Arnold, MO, 2008), in which Ramon’s famously short, single-sentence texts appear directly above English translations typeset to be identical in horizontal length.
I first learned about Ramon in 1982 over lunch in Boston with Rudolfo Cardona, a BU professor who, after doing his doctorate on Ramon, produced the first book on him in English in 1957. Perhaps a decade later I came across an appreciative essay on Ramon by Miguel Gonzalez-Gerth, a popular professor at the University of Texas at Austin, who had also produced a book of miscellaneous translations into English. What was most striking to me about this essay was my discovery that it inadvertently described my own severely minimal fiction better than anything else known to me.
Not until I read a later book in English about Ramon, Rita Mazzetti Gardiol’s (1974), did I discover this sentence also applicable to me: “Because Ramon did not have the patience for a gradual building up of plot he preferred to write short plays, and even pantomimes, concentrating on the dramatic moment of truth, revelation, or decision that intrigued him.” Bingo. I own a hardback copy of Ramon’s Automoribundia(1948), which I treasure even if I cannot read it unassisted, if only for its title which I translate as “Autodeathography.” I gather that much like my own four-volume Autobiographies (1980, 2004, 2006, 2011), composed independently of my known about his, Automoribundia is not a continuous pseudo-chronological narrative.
Reflecting Ramon’s influence, this book has English imitations of his Greguerías that I gleaned from various sources (including Google’s Gremlins), often rewritten by me without referring to the original Spanish (which I can barely read), here intermixed with texts wholly mine that I think compliment his. Just as Ramon’s greguerías are charmingly fanciful, highly original succinct observations, so might be a few of mine. What is most remarkable about him (and perhaps me) is that, like other great aphorists, he’s never obvious, even about common subjects, which is to say that Ramon gave himself permission to see differently and, once empowered, he didn’t stop. Even while observing formal literary constraints, his mind seems unconstrained.
Sometimes I do what he did; other times, he writes me, especially after I’ve rewritten him to write like me, realizing the title of this book. Considering a multitude of worldly experiences, both Ramon and myself try to be light on our feet and swift with our fingers. When the pantheon of minimalist writers is constructed, may I please have a bust of me next to the one of him now in Madrid (recently visible in the Wikipedia entries on him in both English and Spanish).
— Richard Kostelanetz, FarEast BushWick, NY