That Summer Feeling

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Summertime in the Midwest is everything everyone told you, all the wholesome goodness of ice cream cones and beer gardens, tandem bicycle rides and midday naps and mosquito bites and lake swimming, the time of year when it’s perfectly acceptable for a grown-ass lady to dress several times a week in frayed denim shorts. Rising early to teach writing to a room of sweet-faced university first-years (I don’t wear frayed denim shorts when I teach) the streets feel cartoonishly lush, overpopulated: delicate chipminks mincing in dawn-light, virtuous joggers, too many hot pink zinnias. In the evening, returning from the bookstore: barbecue smoke, beer-sippers on porches, and fireflies. Many nights I fall asleep reading. Glasses on my face, a light turned on beside me, fans whirring, only a few pages in: in bed, on the couch, or, a couple times lately, in the bathtub. I awake with a start, close the book, settle into the brief remaining dark. Here are three I’ve been reading.

Insel, Mina Loy. The book is less that sometimes tedious, formal brand of surrealism, and a whole lot more the rollicking, game excesses of “buddy-life” surreal that I thought it would be. Two friends, Mrs. Jones, an art dealer, and a clingy, sometimes-destitute German painter, Insel, hang out in Paris. It opens like this: “The first I heard of Insel was the story of a madman, a more or less surrealist painter, who, although he had nothing to eat, was hoping to sell a picture to buy a set of false teeth. He wanted, he said, to go to the bordel, but feared to disgust a prostitute with a mouthful of roots. The first I saw of this pathetically maimed celebrity were the tiny fireworks he let off in his eyes when offered a ham sandwich.” Funny literary teeth get me every time.

Natural Histories, Guadalupe Nettel. Five dark-boned stories from this recently translated Mexico City writer. Animals behave like animals–cats give birth between a sleeping woman’s legs; beta fish threaten to devour each other; humans smoke too much pot and tussle irresponsibly, on a mattress on the floor. But the emphasis in Nettel’s book is on people–no speaking pets or magic tropes here, thankfully. Speaking of a cockroach, an old women tells a small girl, abandoned by her screwed-up parents in the home of distant relations: “‘If you don’t pick her up and get rid of her, her relatives will come looking for her.'”

Infinitesimals, Laura Kasischke. Reading this book of poems, by the gorgeously, stunningly prolific Laura Kasischke, late at night, pupils dilated, amateur fireworks still doing their thing outside my window, is like what I imagine the sensation of riding a comet to be. Dark, bright, frightening, these poems take the breath from my lungs and give it to my brain. There’s a man at the grocery store who has “unbuttoned his face,” and a lost mother who returns god-sized, wearing a hat full of celestial bodies.

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