Dear Andrew Levy
June 6, 2013
Dear Andrew Levy,
In my copy of Nothing Is in Here, on page one, a mark shaped like an upright rectangle with the top left corner shorn off at a steep angle sits between the words in the phrase “vanilla middle.” It looks as though it could be an inkblot. I found myself wondering if this stray mark had meaning, sitting as it did in the middle of the phrase “vanilla middle.” But why would the “vanilla” middle be black?
I made a mental note to return to the mark once I’d finished the book.
And then it appeared again on page four, between the words “can’t” and “write” in the phrase “can’t write a simple sentence.” I kept asking myself why someone would go back into the book to make these odd marks between words. And then it appeared again on the next page, this time blotting out the “t” in the word “globalization.” Was this some kind of Derrida-inspired conceit?
I compared the three marks. They were all the same size. They appeared in the exact spot on each page, and they appeared throughout the book. On some pages they blotted out individual letters, on others the white spaces between words, and on still others they just floated, lonely totems on a sea of white.
A printer’s error, I realized.
I am writing this before I go to work. Rain is pouring from the sky. Another tropical storm is headed up the coast. I can’t recall its name. My dog got soaked on our walk this morning. Anyhow, I was reading Goodnight Moon to my daughter last night when I remembered that you quoted it in your book.
In one of the weirdest passages in all of children’s literature, the narrator starts saying goodnight to everything in the room: the red balloon, the bowl of mush, the cow jumping over the moon, the mittens, the kittens, etc. Then a blank page appears, with the following phrase: “Goodnight nobody.”
It’s startling each time I read it. Why would Margaret Wise Brown put such an existential moment in the middle of a children’s book? Did she do it deliberately, a little nudge to keep the parents awake? Or was it an accident, a moment’s cleverness that got out of hand?
My daughter is too young to understand the concept of “nobody” just yet. I try to image how I might explain it to her. There’s something terrible about a blank page. Perhaps to a child it signifies a sense of possibility. Or just a place to draw pictures.
You write, “The sky, lover of the Empire State Building, of the entirety of midtown; I am never more satisfied than in its absence from sight.” I hadn’t thought about the Empire State Building in a long time. My memory is always of seeing it from a distance, like from the roof of my old apartment building on 4th and B, all lit up for Christmas or the 4th of July.
The poem must have planted something heavy in my subconscious.
The other day I took the train into the city from New Haven for a meeting. I arrived early, so I decided to take a leisurely stroll down 5th. I was dressed in a blazer and long-sleeve shirt. It was a lovely day, but in the sun it was just a little too warm to be dressed like that.
I tried to keep to the east side of the street, where the shadows of the buildings kept me cool. I looked ahead mostly, trying to avoid collisions. Then I was across from the Empire State Building. I looked up. I read the massive gilded letters of its name carved into the facade. I thought to myself that I hadn’t ever really looked at them before.
The sun glanced in my eyes. Your poem popped into my head. “For some time it has taken my breath in a way that feels like another urban mid-summer interrupted by rolling brownouts.” Actually, I did not remember the line. I just remembered that I had read something recently about the Empire State Building. It wasn’t until later that I realized it was your poem.
I looked up again, trying to see the top. I don’t know if it was the brightness of the sun or the dizzying height of the building, but I had the feeling of it literally pressing down on my forehead. I could feel its whole weight against my eyes. I looked away.
Before I knew it, I had walked all the way to 6th Avenue, eyes to the ground.
And then all those superheroes die and come back to life just before the end of the book.
There are no tickets available.
A soldier lies dead or sleeping in a ditch.