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The New, the Old and the Obscure 

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The New

“Later” (2020) by Paul Lisicky

Perhaps not meant to be as timely as it is, Paul Lisicky’s memoir is about connections made and connections lost in a time when what we fear most challenges us for what we want, and often, what we need. Lisicky brings us to the off-season at the end of the world, Provincetown, Massachusetts, a short drive from my hometown on Cape Cod, but an entirely different landscape unto itself, where a community that thrives on the arts and the bond between others is threatened and forever changed by the countless numbers of people contracting, living and dying from HIV/AIDS.

Like the sands that sweep across the roads leading into what Lisicky calls Town, tourists flee in late September, turning Town into a peaceful, yet somewhat bleak stretch of land, surrounded by water on all sides, the clapboard houses shifting in heavy winds and the snow and cold making it nearly impossible to rely on common necessities.

This memoir tracks a writer’s early years as a fellow at the Provincetown Arts Center and the challenges he faces with his work, family, friends and lovers, told as though he’s beside you, confessing what he was never able to put into words until now – his depression over the lives of his parents, the loss of friends and lovers, and his hunger for sex.

Lisicky writes: “It takes so much work to be myself, it is ongoing work, and that’s the way I stay alive, minute by minute. Without that, I’m the person I was back in my family’s house, living in reaction to chaos, fearful, waiting for the next blow. …”

Through portraits of the Town, its residents, and the writer among them, Lisicky challenges us to feel pain for not only the afflicted, but for their loved ones as well.

The Old

“The Last Night of the Earth Poems” (1992) by Charles Bukowski

Set aside Bukowski the character, the gambler, the womanizer, the eccentric drunken bard, all of which are apt descriptions. The man was dedicated to his art, and he could write a poem that hits like a gut shot, with its unvarnished take on the depraved motives of humankind.

Especially haunting in this time is his touted collection “The Last Night of the Earth Poems,” which portends the haunting reality we face today.

From his poem, “Dinosauria, we”:

“… the rotting bodies of men and animals will stink in the dark wind/ the last few survivors will be overtaken by new and hideous diseases / and the space platforms will be destroyed by attrition / the petering out of supplies / the natural effect of general decay / and there will be the most beautiful silence never heard.”

The Obscure

“Signs Preceding the End of the World” (2009) by Yuri Herrera

Hailed as one of Mexico’s greatest novelists, Yuri Herrera’s take on a young girl’s border crossing to rescue her brother, refuses to be sentimental or obtuse. Instead it moves straight to the heart of the land, the rivers and the mountains, and reads much like a sister novel to Hemingway’s “A Farewell to Arms.”

Makina, the hero of the novel, is not only confronted by the harsh landscape, but by the harshness of its people, so-called Patriots, who refuse her access to the other side, while also treating her as though she’s less than human. As though, if the lands were reversed, these Patriots would be willing to suffer the same abuses as they risk their lives for their families.

Herrera reveals to us what it means to be someone without a home, unwelcomed by those nationalists without empathy. Herrera, towards the end of the novel, portrays Makina’s new identity on the other side of the border with unflinching prose:

“There she was, with another name, another birthplace. Her photo, new numbers, new trade, new home. I’ve been skinned, she whispered.”

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