Youmans (pronounced like 'yeoman' with an 's' added) is the best-kept secret
among contemporary American writers. --John Wilson, editor, Books and Culture Marly Youmans is a novelist and poet out of sync with the times
but in tune with the ages. --First Things

Thursday, May 26, 2005

The Palace Library

Here are samples—wholly arbitrary—from the five stories that are out or soon to be out in current issues.

from “A Map of the Forest,” forthcoming in Blue Moon Café IV (MacAdam/Cage)

I must have heard the story about how our father died and how our Uncle Willem came to be as he was a hundred times. I always pictured the event in a landscape of fields bordered by the thin, irregular spires of Lombardy poplars. This was wholly untrue and entirely dictated by some black-and-white photographs of Europe that I had seen in an exhibition at the local Armory. Actually the men had been in the Hurtgen forest, about which I knew nothing, and narrow lanes bordered by poplars were hundreds of miles away. I still have to make a conscious effort to change the landscape, when I imagine what happened.

Because it is in me as a place in that other mode, and the atmosphere is always a little grainy and gray.

The way Jack tells it, my father and uncle and another boy from home were lost, and a Panzergrenadier of fifteen or sixteen tossed a grenade at my father and shot our Uncle Willem in the head with a Luger. It had started to snow, making the scene look even more like a photograph, stippling the air with dots. They were muzzy with lack of sleep; they hadn’t noticed a thing, and my father never did. The other fellow with them was scouting ahead but not so far that he didn’t shoot the German, who was now hobbling away at the edge of the road. The boy sprawled in the ditch by the trees and bled to death quickly, while the sky awarded numerous cold stars for his bravery.

from “An Incident at Agate Beach,” Argosy (current issue):

“The black man? Do you mean the devil? Oh, I know—the black belt. I thought he looked friendly. What did he say to you?” Marsha tugged at the sampler, straightening the cloth. It had puckered around a large urn from which fantastic flowers sprouted.

“He wanted me for himself. To do his magic. He said I took to it like nobody’s business. What did he mean by that?”

She looked at his lithe frame and the feet that seemed never to be still but danced and pattered on the sand.

“He meant that you could be good at karate, that you looked like a natural—somebody who can do it easily by imitation. At least, that’s what I suppose he meant. What did you tell him?”

The boy jumped in the air and sank into the horse stance, rocking and grinning at her. “I said Hoah! in the deepest voice in the world, deeper than his, so deep that it scared some of the hairs out of his head. Then I shouted Yah! Yah! Yah! And Catch me! He raced after me, but I lost him in the stones. They were all running after me,” he said with satisfaction, “but nobody could catch me. I looked out at them and laughed.”

“How? Did you hide?”

“I swam into a rock pool and stirred up the sand so they couldn’t see, and I hid in a crack.” The silk of his hair swung, as if nodding in agreement with his words.

“Well, you are limber and quick. I don’t doubt that he would have wanted to teach you. But you shouldn’t hide in the water like that. What if you drowned?”

“You’re not calling me Eetsch, you know. You should call me Eetsch. I’d never drown. I can swim better than you. Better than any of those punch-punch boys. If they had come close, I could’ve jumped into the sea and swum away from them all, till they gave up and drowned.” He put out his chest like a body builder, grinning at her.

“What a little Puck you are,” she said, rather charmed by his boastfulness.

“What’s that?” He frowned, wrinkling the smooth area between the two golden bows of his eyebrows. Marsha felt like touching them, they were so fine and glistening.

“A sort of sprite. A fairy.”

“You mean with wings? Oh, I like them.”

“Do you know any?” She laughed in sheer pleasure.

“Well, I’ve seen them. You’d have to talk to my brother about those. He knows them—he’s met them far out in the ocean, riding on a whale’s back.”

“Birds, I suppose,” she said softly.

from SCIFICTION, May 11 (online):

Abruptly he cried out his wife’s name: “Rosamund, Rosamund, Rosa--”

Like a ballerina, the girl ran on tiptoe--right up to him with her gossamer skirts bunched in her hands--and stood looking at him gravely, her lashes wet with drops: still on tiptoe, still with skirts gathered. The act reminded him of the motions of a cat scampering and halting in mid-rush to delicately inspect a stranger. She broke the stance; she looped her arms around his neck and laid her head upon his shoulder. It was an extraordinary thing to have happen! That she should trust him so touched and startled him.

Yet, almost immediately he longed for her to be gone. She was cold but not shivering, and he rested a hand on her waist, as if to push her away. For something about the girl--perhaps the pallor of her skin, or its coolness, or else the music that now seemed to swell and to envelop her--troubled him and made him flinch. He began to feel that her presence was intolerable, that he could not, could not bear its frost for another instant! It felt blighting; he might go to a mirror and find himself grown unrecognizable, the skin she had pressed gone mushroom-pale and wrinkled and marred by bruises. As he reached to loosen her grasp, her fingers tightened at the nape of his neck. A dread he recognized from nightmares of flight and pursuit crept over him; he tried to unfasten the fingers, now laced together, but they clung with strength.

from “The Angel with the Broken Face,” forthcoming in Mars Hill Review:

I had come to suspect that Ainsworth had some peculiar, subterranean relation to me. He had the body of a stripling where I was muscular and fit. He had my wife, while I had an enforced chastity. Once, when passing a mirror, it seemed that I glimpsed him in the room, and for some days I felt a horror of that glass, which I at last turned to the wall. Still, I had an irrational and superstitious feeling that the reflection was there, facing the wainscoting. I went so far as to suspect some hitherto unsounded relation between us, and even to question whether we were both genuine! It sounds nonsensical, yet there it is. I believed the feeling of unreality that had crept into my heart to be merely a result of the blows to my marriage, the effect of which I was still determined to suppress.

from “The Gate House,” forthcoming in Argosy 4:

As she wandered toward the creek, drawn by the water’s song, she saw him and held still. The boy was standing in front of the grove of saplings, behind the scrub, as he had done before. Again she had the sense of his gaze as almost brutal. He was telling her something. What? She mouthed the word, her eyes fixed to his. The frantic song of meltwater was the only answer, though he didn’t look away. She drew closer and thought of crossing the stream once more, though the soil close by was a slough of mud and ice. As though he could read her mind, the boy put out a hand. Stop. She paused, and he gave a little push with his palm. The wind lifted her hair, nudging, as if urging her away; then she heard a roar. He turned his head until he was practically facing the lake road, and as she followed his gaze, she saw a burst of white foam, juggling logs and trees and stones, churning and jolting along the streambed. The creek surged and swelled, lifting above the banks—she glanced, the boy was gone—as she began to run, her feet sucked by the mud and sliding on patches of ice, past the cottage with its seven doors standing open, past the first that made the front into a place of gloom, and through the formal stone pillars with arch and ironwork griffins. The stream chased and caught her, tangled with her feet and slammed her to the ground. She picked herself up and raced on in deepening water until she came to the lake road and jogged on its glaze of muddy liquid until she came to dry pavement. There she stood, panting, hands on soaked and muddy knees, and surveyed the invasion of her domain. The stream had flown through the cottage and out the other side, making a shallow lake of the lawn. For only an instant she saw the flooded grounds as magical—the reflective surface gleaming like a jewel, the cottage like a moated castle.

“All my things,” she whispered.

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Alas, I must once again remind large numbers of Chinese salesmen and other worldwide peddlers that if they fall into the Gulf of Spam, they will be eaten by roaming Balrogs. The rest of you, lovers of grace, poetry, and horses (nod to Yeats--you do not have to be fond of horses), feel free to leave fascinating missives and curious arguments.