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Carter Ratcliff




What would you think of one who spent his time, his energy, and all his hopes on the project of teaching a monkey to talk? There he is, tearing at his hair, muttering to himself, looking deep into the monkey’s eyes, scanning its face for signs that would justify the optimism he knows he will soon begin to feel, whatever he sees in the monkey’s eyes or face or abrupt but graceful gestures. His optimism is reliable, for he loves the monkey. It is reliable, though he hates the monkey. He hates himself. He wonders if his hatred or some weariness or occasional light-headedness is what stands in the way of the monkey’s speech. He suffers reveries of the monkey’s first word. He sleeps, exhausted, and dreams that the monkey is speaking, but in some unintelligible language. He awakens wearily. A gorgeous light is at the window, severely gray, a harsh light, yet subtly, soothingly pink. He heaves himself up in bed, wondering if indeed the light has precisely this tinge. He sees the objects in his bedroom with a clarity that is new to him. The peculiar sharpness of his vision gives the moment a convincing weight. He loves the light. He loves the faculty of vision for having delivered this moment to him. Then he wonders if he did truly love the moment, the light of the moment that now is gone. Of course it’s gone. That’s obvious, but no more obvious in this dreary light than the truth that he no longer loves the moment, or any moment, not of his life, anyway, and he wonders if his treacherous infatuation with that gaudy, fleeting, delusive moment, that moment that never really occurred, he is now convinced, has so effectively deadened his feelings for the monkey that, now, in this moment of grainy gray despair there is no longer any point in hoping that someday the creature will talk.



Steering suckers to fat cat Bertram Sullivan’s clip joint, smalltime hustler Billy Williams dreams of bigger things. He wants to be a major promoter, a maker and breaker of careers. Ignoring the advice of his big-hearted girlfriend, Jean Jones, he embarks on a series of shady adventures, always in the hope of finding his way around the next corner in the nocturnal labyrinth of the major metropolis where he plays out the frantic scenario of a desperate life. Always suave, sometimes sinister, Billy is a mixture of wised-up hustler and naïve dreamer. Whether he is pulling strings to fix a summons, as a favor to his boss, Mr. Sullivan, or acting as a go-between in a drug deal always threatening to go bad, or cozying up to a chanteuse who might, just maybe, be his ticket to the big time, Billy Williams is a riveting presence, an embodiment of all that has enthralled us ever since night fell and we realized that we, too, are creatures of the darkness.

CARTER RATCLIFF’s books of poetry include Fever Coast and Give Me Tomorrow. Arrivederci, Modernismo will be published by Libellum Press later this year. A contributing editor of Art in America, he writes frequently about American and European art.

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