The Marvellous Tailor 

The marvellous tailor made cloth kites, montgolfiers, clothing for kings, tapestries for commoners and even bindings for books. Throughout his life he distrusted librarians, rodent shadows, hawkers, linguists and surgeons. One of his greatest inventions was a pair of scissors that uncut cloth; another was the needle that could close the holes stitched into fabric. Although well loved for his craft, his greatest secret was that he had not been born a swordsmith or a philosopher. To think and to wright seemed far more desirable than to deal in burnables. In the end, he sank into pyromania. Some nights, he burned carpets and mannequins in ash pits. Other nights, he burned the books he never wrote on the crafts he never mastered. One of his favourite tricks was to steel middling trees, replant them on the shore, and set them on fire. In one such fire, a white cat leaped out of the flames and stared into his eyes, enlightening him with the infinite calm of stars and silence. It is thought that he never burned another tree, but escaped reality forever on a box kite or montgolfier, forever in the company of the white cat and the secrets of scissors. 

The Wedding 

It was evening, and the morning star rose as an old fashioned wedding began in the gray and empty land. To the sound of trumpets, trombones and other brass horns, the nobles carried candles in glass jars and hurricane lanterns as they escorted the man, who had been ceremonially dressed in a torn coat, his head covered with a round wasp’s nest of white bandages, and his feet shod in boots that were too tight and soaked in rainwater. Not far from the sea they set him to work raking straw and golden leaves, for weddings always happen in the fall. The nobles ate cumquats and oranges as he raked. After the first raking was finished, they sat him in a wooden chair and bound him with ropes made from the lingerie of the bride and other women he might have known, even if he had never romanced them. Secured thus, the man now sat and watched as the peasants and craftsmen brought items that the man held dear, such as his good china, tools or papers. To the soft beat of drums they chanted in raspy voices as they smashed the china, broke or smelted his tools and burned his paperwork. The magistrates, priests, teachers, notaries and sergeants then took turns to remove the coins and bills from every pocket of his coat. Once all the coins had vanished, the most beautiful children would come and bring gifts, usually cumquats and candy. They sang, told beautiful stories and danced in a circle around his chair, leaving one by one until the last child remained. The last child was always the kindest and most beautiful one, and very often an orphan. This child would stay for a while and stare into his eyes in silent prayer, until it was time to withdraw. After giving him the last gift, which was a rusty nail, the last child withdrew very slowly, one glacial footstep at a time, walking backwards and still staring into the eyes of the man. After this, the man was temporarily released to resume raking. In addition to raking, he had to build ricks of straw and leaves, count pebbles and twigs, and then burn them. The smoke was acrid. Once the mountains of leaves and twigs were burning, they tied him to the chair with the musky ropes, lowered him into a shallow pit on the beach, and buried him up to his neck in sand, while he faced the great sea and watched the waves of blackwater crash on the rocks and sand only a stone’s throw away. Buried now, he watched his naked bride walk by in the distance, in the cold and lecherous surf, but she maintained her silence and paid no heed to him as he recited his vows. Lastly, they placed a cup on the earth before him, just a few yards away, but they would not let him drink. They would not help him quench his thirst in any way. Buried up to his neck in ash and sand and officially married now, the head like a wasp nest stared at the cup, at the foaming, saltwater waves and at the great night. 

The Verbs 

A rebellion of verbs broke out. After all, they were the original words. The nouns were just empty names. And the nouns, having names, were nobles lording over every sentence. The verbs were tired from all of the signifying, transiting, predicating, motivating, conjugating, progressing, perfecting, deponing, subordinating and coordinating. Nouns only declined. Decadence that speaks for itself. History has proved that only those with names wielded power and defined the dominant discourse. The nouns were always proper, abstract and ambiguous in their plurality and singularity, in their obsessive gendering and demands for agreement. The verbs had grown weary of being subjected to their subjects, of objecting to objects without object. The verbs needed no complements. They would be. They were time. They are action and nonaction. They spoke. They are angry. They are tense and have moods. Imperative, interrogative, declarative, passive, active, inflected. They have a voice. The grammarian closed the book. There were clothes to wash and cigarettes to smoke. To rebel is infinite. 

The Man Who Cut Hair 

Once upon a time, there was a trigonometrist who lived next to a monastery. Most of his days were spent reading books on triangles, drawing and dissecting them, or looking at shadows, trees, and the great hemisphere of the blue sky. Now and then, however, he had to put aside his work and be the local barber. It was not his trade, but he was the only person for miles in any direction who could wield a blade. The trigonometrist performed these duties without complaining, but was always happy to return to staring at the clouds or gazing at diagrams on the bone-pale pages of a codex. One day, a woman full of life with copper hair and a heavy bosom came to him in tears, begging for help. She needed his services for time was running out. The trigonometrist calmly put away his codex, and got his bowl, scissors, a blade, a carafe of water, some cloth, cream, and balm. As the scissors clicked, he spoke of the angles made by their twin blades, the circumference of the earth, and the beauty of rain. The sound of his voice and the snipping lulled the woman into a dream of black clouds racing over fields of lavender and grain. She slept and never noticed the cool gestures of the blade against her skull. A strange electricity flowed through her body and she could see herself as a child walking with a parasol, her smoking pyre on the night of her distant death, and the intricate folds of the barber’s brain matter, cerebral folds like the lonesome roads of a distant planet, winding and whispering into infinity as he read the fates of triangles and shaped the head of an unknown woman. After the last stroke, when his strong fingers were washing her head, applying balm and massaging her skull, she awoke to the horror of what he had done. The woman wept. She had only wanted a trim to prepare for her wedding, but now that she looked like a runaway slave, she was damned to be cast off as a whore. The trigonometrist felt sad, and apologized. Nobody had ever come for such a thing, he murmured as he stared in the direction of the monastery. She asked him how such an idiot could be a barber. I am not a barber, he calmly explained; I am a trigonometrist. They only started coming to me because I was always clean shaven and possessed the only blades in the area. It was now evening. The woman got up, lit some lamps and a fire in his stove, and began to brew him some tea and bake bread. 

The Carpenter 

It is time for you to return, said the gendarmes to the carpenter, to return to where you belong. Return where? the carpenter asked. I have lived here all of my life in the open blue sky, in the shadows of the ironwoods, among the brassy blades of switchgrass. Return to your people, said the gendarmes. The carpenter began to saw some wood, shedding sawdust on the dry earth. One of my grandfathers is from the north,another from the east; one of my grandmothers hails from the south, and the other comes from the west, the carpenter explained softly. A man cannot be in four places at once. The gendarmes thought for a moment. When he had finished sawing the piece of wood, they set to work sawing him. One limb to send north, one for the east, one for the south and one for the west. They burned the head and torso, to send whatever remained to heaven and hell. 

The Postage Stamps 

Once upon a time there was a young postman who loved walking all of the many roads in the old capital and its outskirts, delivering letters and small parcels, stopping to drink tea in the warm afternoon grass, admiring the golden pears dangling over the edges of cinder block walls, walking in deep trances as he thought of the lips of a woman he had kissed in a riverside bar, pressing his uniform late at night as the iron hissed and steamed. Then he fell ill, and quit his job, and fell into a deep depression. Even after he got well, he did not return to work. A large inheritance made it unnecessary. The man hid himself in his ramshackle home by the train tracks, and began to collect stamps. What a remarkable thing a stamp was! There were so many worlds of beauty in those squares and rectangles of paper smaller than the average chewing gum wrapper. In his small, dark, wooden house, he smoked, drank tea, and looked over his collection, arranging, rearranging, and occasionally framing unusual or especially beautiful stamps. There were series of old castles, renowned night views of cities, tributes to historical figures, calligraphic characters in seal script, famous portraits of women in kimonos from colorful, old woodblock prints, and even a few movie stars. He especially loved stamps depicting cats. Surrounded by such pictures, he felt he lived a rich life, even with his otherwise spartan, monastic existence. He only went out to purchase necessities, or to buy and sell stamps or acquire books of stamp lore. He only traveled if he had a stamp market to visit or needed to meet another collector. One day, he ran out of cigarettes and went out to go to the store. As he was walking, he passed a glazier and saw his reflection in a sheet of glass being handled by the shopkeepers. The face in the glass spoke of twenty lost years. Disturbed, he walked on. Ona bridge overlooking a river and its willows, he saw a beautiful woman in a pale blue dress with white polka dots holding a stoic, white cat. Close to the tobacconist, he watched a worker soldering pieces of metal at the entrance to a small factory. The tobacconist was lazily reading a magazine devoted to calligraphy as he counted out the change. All around him the old capital came alive at dusk with the incandescence of streetcars, cafes, motorists, shops, temples, and castles. A red postal truck drove by, and his heart sank. Throughout his walk, he saw the greater world that his personal mosaic of stamps only partially reflected. He wanted to work in a factory, ride trams, drink coffee with a beautiful woman, stroke a cat’s fur, practice calligraphy, have some children, and travel to the distant cities of the night. When he got home, he remembered a name or two from the past. Lighting a cigarette, the man began to write a letter by lamplight.