Writer in Residence · 12/02/2011

There Are No Lines in Nature

Did you think a pencil drew a horizontal where the sea became clouds? Or a scalpel cut the petals from their green backdrop? Or the perfect vertical of the sill was inked using a pot of shade and crow quills? And did you believe we can divide you/line/me, or past/cut/future? We are a volume in a present against a wall papered with our flower-shaped words, graphitized dialogues, private jokes and promises, all two shades behind our sunburned hair, one shade beneath our matte wet arms. The streetlamp casts its shawl on the breast of Mangan’s sister, forever a diffused ghost in Dublin, the prodigy’s lesson blurred by twilight and first love. You’re smudged too and clear as print. Even the penwork of a dragonfly before sky is not a contour drawing, simply intersections of closer blacks, looped and threaded, knotted with a bead in front of measureless white.

Author’s note: I learned to draw using lines-crayons on paper-but later when I started painting, I understood that there are no lines in nature, simply intersections of a darker or lighter volume or space or surface with another. Lines, straight or otherwise, are a kind of abstract, mathematical concept.Or part of an alphabet of metaphors we use to represent nature,and I include literal alphabets and literal lines of utterance in that assertion.In a sense, when we enforce a line, we are distorting or remaking nature and all the meanings and implications that shone forth from this realization caused me to write a long story. Or maybe it was an essay. Anyway, I wound up cutting away from it everything but what I thought was the essence and that included lines as borders between lovers and time. Mangan’s sister, of course, is from Dubliners. When I read “Araby,” I was impressed by how Joyce makes her character from dusky light and shadow but conveys the hard and sharp cut of infatuation.

James Robison has won a Whiting Grant for his short fiction published in The New Yorker and a Rosenthal Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters for his first novel. His work has appeared in Best American Short Stories, The Pushcart Prize, and Grand Street. He has poetry and prose forthcoming or published in The Manchester Review, Story Quarterly, The Northwest Review, The Montreal Review, The Raleigh Review, Salt Hill Journal, Corium Magazine and elsewhere. He was visiting Writer at Loyola College of Maryland, was Fiction Editor of The North Dakota Quarterly and 2011 Visiting Artist at The University of Southern Mississippi.


posted by Kathy Fish