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Contributors
 

Meena Alexander
Jeff Barry
Richard Berengarten 1
Richard Berengarten 2
Richard Berengarten 3
Mashey Bernstein
Denise Duhamel
Geoffrey Heptonstall
Aamer Hussein
Neil Langdon Inglis
Laura Moser
Paschalis Nikolaou 1
Paschalis Nikolaou 2
Sean Rys
Maureen Seaton
Bina Shah
Carole Smith
Angela Topping
Julie Marie Wade
Ronaldo V. Wilson

Issue 21 Guest Artist:
Anne Noble

President: Peter Robertson
Vice-President: Sari Nusseibeh
Vice-President: Elena Poniatowska
Senior Editor-at-Large: Neil Langdon Inglis
Deputy Editor: Allen Hibbard
Deputy Editor: Geraldine Maxwell
Deputy Editor: Jerónimo Mohar Volkow
Deputy Editor: Bina Shah
Advisory Consultant: Jill Dawson
General Editor: Beatriz Hausner
General Editor: Laura Moser
General Editor: Malvina Segui
Art Editor: Calum Colvin
Deputy General Editor: Jeff Barry

Consulting Editors
Marjorie Agosín
Daniel Albright
Meena Alexander
Maria Teresa Andruetto
Frank Ankersmit
Rosemary Ashton
Reza Aslan
Leonard Barkan
Michael Barry
Shadi Bartsch
Thomas Bartscherer
Susan Bassnett
Gillian Beer
David Bellos
Richard Berengarten
Charles Bernstein
Sujata Bhatt
Mario Biagioli
Jean Boase-Beier
Elleke Boehmer
Eavan Boland
Stephen Booth
Alain de Botton
Carmen Boullossa
Rachel Bowlby
Svetlana Boym
Peter Brooks
Marina Brownlee
Roberto Brodsky
Carmen Bugan
Jenni Calder
Stanley Cavell
Sampurna Chattarji
Sarah Churchwell
Hollis Clayson
Sally Cline
Marcelo Cohen
Kristina Cordero
Drucilla Cornell
Junot Díaz
André Dombrowski
Denis Donoghue
Ariel Dorfman
Rita Dove
Denise Duhamel
Klaus Ebner
Robert Elsie
Stefano Evangelista
Orlando Figes
Tibor Fischer
Shelley Fisher Fishkin
Peter France
Nancy Fraser
Maureen Freely
Michael Fried
Marjorie Garber
Anne Garréta
Marilyn Gaull
Zulfikar Ghose
Paul Giles
Lydia Goehr
Vasco Graça Moura
A. C. Grayling
Stephen Greenblatt
Lavinia Greenlaw
Lawrence Grossberg
Edith Grossman
Elizabeth Grosz
Boris Groys
David Harsent
Benjamin Harshav
Geoffrey Hartman
François Hartog
Siobhan Harvey
Molly Haskell
Selina Hastings
Valerie Henitiuk
Kathryn Hughes
Aamer Hussein
Djelal Kadir
Kapka Kassabova
John Kelly
Martin Kern
Mimi Khalvati
Joseph Koerner
Annette Kolodny
Julia Kristeva
George Landow
Chang-Rae Lee
Mabel Lee
Linda Leith
Suzanne Jill Levine
Lydia Liu
Margot Livesey
Julia Lovell
Laurie Maguire
Willy Maley
Alberto Manguel
Ben Marcus
Paul Mariani
Marina Mayoral
Richard McCabe
Campbell McGrath
Jamie McKendrick
Edie Meidav
Jack Miles
Toril Moi
Susana Moore
Laura Mulvey
Azar Nafisi
Paschalis Nikolaou
Martha Nussbaum
Tim Parks
Molly Peacock
Pascale Petit
Clare Pettitt
Caryl Phillips
Robert Pinsky
Elizabeth Powers
Elizabeth Prettejohn
Martin Puchner
Kate Pullinger
Paula Rabinowitz
Rajeswari Sunder Rajan
James Richardson
François Rigolot
Geoffrey Robertson
Ritchie Robertson
Avital Ronell
Élisabeth Roudinesco
Carla Sassi
Michael Scammell
Celeste Schenck
Sudeep Sen
Hadaa Sendoo
Miranda Seymour
Daniel Shapiro
Mimi Sheller
Elaine Showalter
Penelope Shuttle
Werner Sollors
Frances Spalding
Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak
Julian Stallabrass
Susan Stewart
Rebecca Stott
Mark Strand
Kathryn Sutherland
Rebecca Swift
Susan Tiberghien
John Whittier Treat
David Treuer
David Trinidad
Marjorie Trusted
Lidia Vianu
Victor Vitanza
Marina Warner
David Wellbery
Edwin Williamson
Michael Wood
Theodore Zeldin

Assistant Editor: Sara Besserman
Assistant Editor: Ana de Biase
Assistant Editor: Conor Bracken
Assistant Editor: Eugenio Conchez
Assistant Editor: Patricia Delmar
Assistant Editor: Lucila Gallino
Assistant Editor: Sophie Lewis
Assistant Editor: Krista Oehlke
Assistant Editor: Siska Rappé
Assistant Editor: Naomi Schub
Assistant Editor: Stephanie Smith
Assistant Editor: Robert Toperter
Assistant Editor: Laurence Webb
Art Consultant: Verónica Barbatano
Art Consultant: Angie Roytgolz

 
Click to enlarge picture Click to enlarge picture. The Distraction of Living
By
Jeff Barry
 

 



I needed to find another on the same plane of existence, one who had read that book. That’s why I came to this country, learned the language, and roamed this city. I thought I could recognize him by merely a passing glance, the fabric of his jacket, the part of his hair.

For hours every day I walked the streets, searching the faces of old men, boys, frail women steadily making their way home from the store, couples cuddling in doorways, college students studying in cafés, the woman standing on the curb peering down the street for the twenty-two bus. No, it wasn’t her or any of those behind her, ordering themselves so carefully, waiting for the bus.

But there in the center of the road, why had I not thought of it before? The Obelisk leading to the avenue of booksellers. I walked swiftly, passing storefronts, glancing at the people browsing inside, their faces unknown, spending the evening waiting for the restaurants to open. Yet I saw nothing that alerted me. Maybe across the street where more stores lined their tables with books.

The heavy traffic prevented me from dashing across mid-block. Heading to the corner for the next light I dodged the girls walking arm in arm, then sidestepped along the carpet of rings and necklaces stretched on the sidewalk, checking briefly the long face of the street vendor just to be sure he was not the ghost persisting in my head.

The signal to cross had not yet changed. A light breeze brushed against the back of my neck. I heard music, orchestral. A figure floated by the corner of my eye and hung gleaming beneath the streetlight. Drifting skywards a stream of letters flowed from behind me.

The light had gone green. People surged ahead, crossing Avenida Corrientes but I was transfixed, captured by the letters swirling around me. I feared turning, facing the store, afraid that I had gone mad and simply would confront a bleak, everyday reality. The letters passed along my skin like drops of rain sliding down my face, across my lips.

So little energy left within me after the caress of these typefaces, but this was not all. There was still the muse who pushed these letters towards me. The anticipation had been so strong I believed disappointment was pre-determined. I placed my hands deep within my pockets, clinching my fists to keep myself from trembling, just as I had done at thirteen for my first kiss. I shifted my feet, turned, straightened my shoulders, and lifted my eyes.

The letters streamed in parallel ribbons from the back of the store. The crowd browsing through the books hid the origin from my sight.

I no longer felt the urgency, the need to push and scrape myself through those shoppers, some solitary, others huddled together. It never occurred to me that the letters would stop flowing and disappear. They formed words in a language unknown to me.

The letters came wrapping around the back of a man. An “Ñ” climbed up his sleeve, danced on his shoulder, and jumped into the flow of its fellow letters trailing out the store.

All this time, here stood the person I sought. Could there be no other? This man, his hips so wide my arms could never reach around but would simply sink, losing themselves in his soft flesh.

Those corpulent folds were the fate for which I had longed. The letters had pulled me here. Time for a smile, a tug on the heart. We can love purely for the words emanating from the soul. No more is needed, everything else is merely surface.

One step, then a half more. I raised my arms, ready to rest my face against his shoulder but then he walked away.

The letters were not his to share, for then I saw a young woman smile as she leafed through a book, the letters leaping from the pages, prancing along her fingers. I wanted to reach out, grab her hands, place the tips of my fingers along her wrist but I stood there motionless. The letters filled the space between us, a chasm I knew not how to cross. Some element lacked within me.

I fell in love with her words not her beauty. All her life I will be the only man to love her purely for her words.

But when she looked up, she did not even notice me. At first, I thought she was watching the letters twirl between us, then skipping beyond me. She did look at my eyes, but only for a moment before passing elsewhere. The letters held nothing for her.

She closed the book, set it back on the table amid the others, and the letters slowed, gradually disappearing as she walked away. My instinct was to follow her out the store but I hesitated and she was gone. I turned back towards the books on the table.

It wasn’t another but a place that I sought, here among these books where the letters flowed. I come every day, all day. I’m here when the store opens and when it closes. I no longer bother to bath, shave, or change clothes. I sleep on the street at night. Eventually the clerks asked me to leave the store saying my body’s stench offended everyone. Prevented from forever crossing the threshold, I camp here on the sidewalk just outside.

One day watching the letters spiral from the store and cascade into sky, I saw the woman from that very first night. I remembered the letters dancing along her slender hand and how I thought I had loved her. As she walked by me, I lifted my hand towards her, saying, “I thought it was you.” Bearded and filthy, sitting in rags on the sidewalk day and night, I mumble, “I thought it was you.”