Cyril Ruelle, Burnt, 1999.

The Proper Length of a Novel

I told the gentleman-writer who drank the rarest bourbon that the proper length of a novel was one page longer than War and Peace, one comma added to the opening scene of your lover standing next to a carousel with laughing wooden horses, organ music, and gold-hooped necks of swans in a pond fed by a 300-year-old tunnel under the city, one semi-colon connecting one hand gesture pointing to a bluebird, to another sentence where a man lifts his cupped hands out of the pond with a minnow that floated on its side, the hyphenated phrase often used to pause a Proustian line describing the pastel-blue sky in the carousel mirror and the widower-heart, the exclamation mark placed after a duel of pension and prayer using one bullet in a long barreled, ivory handle pistol, lifted out of a music box once used for pearls and a tiffany wedding ring, pistol-smoke duel rising into the tops of trees, the large capital letter to begin the novel, Beowulf. So, the past, present, and future appearing at the exact time on the same page showing  the same character in a white shirt, rolled sleeves, carrying a basket of bread and cheese, using the same accent as the stranger who boarded a ship carrying a message in his vest pocket, the fleet-footed sentences without punctuation in a dance of fireflies and the swarm of blue bumblebees above the character’s head, running for shelter in wildflower under a waterfall next to a blackbird with emerald wing, the couple during their first wedding dance, the bride wearing a veil over her amber eyes and the groom in a lover’s trance, from duel to saber, parry between chapters, the en garde prologue, corps-à-corps lovers, and the black-card epilogue thrown like the ace of spades at the gambler’s hat into his crystal absinthe glass, the one last, well-placed ellipsis-turned-period. Was the question mark at the end of the novel designed to ponder the last widower-kiss before the final act of war?

The Last Song You Heard in the World Was Yellow

The last song you heard in the world was yellow, a single yellow iris you planted on one side of the house, the color of a distant planet we observed through a backyard telescope designed to separate the colors of the world, the kind of colors seen in the kaleidoscope I held under the covered bridge at nightfall, our embrace in the precious colors of the earth. I pointed at the hexagon sky to watch the embers form into burnt-umber, yellow finch, stinkbug, monarch, octagon-yellow, the six-sided tiffany wedding ring, chameleon-diamond-yellow, amber-sun, church bell, my vw bug tinged-rustic yellow. I played the last song you heard in the world on the car radio on our way to the hospital, I wished for the six-sided miracle, the six-sided halo over your head, placed by the angel with one-wing who somehow landed safely inside the fountain healing garden outside your hospital window, a kaleidoscope forged by the alchemist who changed prehistoric stone and redwood into precious metals, browned faucet water into elixir, the bird’s wing into a golden thumb, frayed rope into sturdy lifeline thrown overboard into a raft, behind enemy-lines kind of yellow, hexagon-yellow, the six-sided merry-go-round, wild horses in a yellow field, starboard-yellow, my vw bug, yellow-rune, the eyes of the child, his bloated belly full of yellow grim rice, the lines on I-80 mirage-yellow, bovine-yellow, the sky pilot t.v. wire-rim sunglass flared-yellow, crossbow-yellow of the hunter and lover, thin arrow plunged into a yellow pine, yellow river, mountain range, yellow wedding carriage, porcelain horse, the way amber altered light in the slightest motion, the yellow husk of a rainbow, a kind of yellow in a waterfall, dolphin-yellow, your summer dress, the yellow breaking in your eyes, silent-prayers in cathedral-yellow, the Minister of the Heart in a yellow robe, unearthly-yellow, the layers of river sediment, a meteor creasing the sky, indigo-yellow, the miracle I saw with you and a gold veil over your face crossing the sky, watching the kind of caboose-yellow in a faded cartoon, snow, or star, the kind of yellow left on the movie screen at intermission. I wanted the yellow of the hexagon-miracle, a perfect yellow and comfort from all sides, to fall over you, every dying thing a living thing.

Charles Fort is the author of six books of poetry and ten chapbooks. His work appears in 44 anthologies, including The Best American Poetry 2001, 2003, and 2016. Fort is Distinguished Emeritus Professor at the University of Nebraska at Kearney and Founder of the Wendy Fort Foundation Theater of Fine Arts.