Two Texts by Maxwell Paparella

BOMB 138 Winter 2017
BOMB 138 Cover

Updates, or C’est la vie and those who say it

Right now, they (they being a company, unnamed) are at work on a new operating system. It will be completely intuitive, they say, so much so that it does away with the need for thought or reference. It will not be like anything else and yet will be eminently familiar. Not based on our alphabet, which implies decision, or our numerals, which imply sequence, it will instead take the form of check marks, chimes, tracks in the snow, spotlights, smoke signals, the pubescent emergence of hair… It will incorporate every means of mark-making man has invented and it will invent many more of its own.


There will be a constant, low-level ambient noise, sometimes amplified for effect. What isn’t beat on drums will be struck on bells in three-quarter view. Candles, lit and extinguished, will track some few of our breaths and some little of our fuel. Impatience will forge an imperfect guide to its own expressions. Thought will be delimited by the speed of a fine powder through a narrow passage. Tallies on cement will chart the days, same for X’s in boxes on way to a circle. Cumulative, anticipatory shapes will fail to distinguish themselves or amount to anything except the inevitable, will ultimately serve to flatten our past and taunt us with the apparent ease of impossible terrain behind.

Mountains will crumple into drunken targets on the page. We will still keep many inaccurate copies of our world on its surface. Weather will manifest as any one of five possible glyphs or hands extended outward and upward while exiting the subway. Our wardrobe will capitulate in layers as good carpentry sands itself with use. A flag lowered by half will introduce a pang of not having heard. A room will be renewed by the application of Eggshell over Soft White. Age will be implied as the propensity to remember certain body parts as having been more fatty or more muscular at different times of the day. When one thinks another has just had a haircut, they will usually have not. When one shakes another’s hand, they will usually have just washed it.

The wild look on the boy’s face will be the interlocking piece of his mother’s exasperated glare, both set in the same matrilineal features, which, in another era, would have never let themselves lose poise in public. Comfort will be considered as the length for which certain depressions will remain visible on the surface in question after an object has moved or has been moved. Slowings of breath and shudders before sleep will remain arbitrary but seem to say so much about one’s desire to remain next to such a body.

And on and on.


Gene and Jean, or Goofs


In another case, Jean (J-E-A-N) is seeing Gene (G-E-N-E). Yes, she could start affixing a posterior “I-E” again, or he an “E-U” up front, but they’re too far along for that now. As it turns out, the relationship is in a bit of trouble. Their scenes are set in the present day, but shot for the 1950s, and it’s getting hard to make that kind of work on budget without sacrificing some historical accuracy.


Flowers don’t bloom outdoors in Connecticut in February, nor do trees flower in early March. In the opening scenes it is 1957, but one white and light blue 1958 Chevy is seen parked on the wrong side of the street. The dinner table at Gene’s house has CorningWare bearing the cornflower pattern. This style did not debut until 1958, a year after the story begins (though it is not entirely clear as to when the dinner takes place). The plumbing below the bathroom sink has braided stainless steel supply lines. This type of plumbing, as we know, was not developed until the late 1980s.

When Jean hangs up on Gene, the phone emits a modern dial tone that would not have existed in 1957 or ‘58. Worse, the phone, phone directory, and fruit bowl change positions on the table throughout their conversation. The lenses in Jean’s eyeglasses are plastic with an antireflective coating, a type not available until about the mid-1980s. A fallout shelter sign is visible on the wall opposite Gene. This design, for the National Fallout Shelter Survey, was introduced in late 1961.

When the television set is turned off, the picture disappears instantly. When TVs of the time were turned off, the picture shrank to a white dot that stayed on the screen for a few minutes. When Gene is riding the elevated train, outside you can see DirecTV antennas on people’s roofs. The afternoon/evening scene, supposed to be set in Miami, shows the sun setting (or low in the sky) off the beach. Every beach around or near Miami faces to the east on the Atlantic Ocean. Pacific Bell telephone signs are seen in scenes set on the East Coast of the United States.

When Jean and Gene are talking outside the big gray building, the wind is blowing fiercely, making Jean’s hair all messed. It then appears to be perfect again, while the sound indicates that the wind is still blowing. Her hair then changes between messed and perfect a few more times. When Jean closes the door on Gene following their confrontation on her porch, she turns out the interior light. In the next shot, as we see Gene walking away from the porch, the interior is on. In one of the landscape shots the image runs backward. It can be seen in the smoke pipes on the roofs, absorbing the smoke instead of expelling it.

Maxwell Paparella has given readings and presentations at Microscope Gallery, Triple Canopy, and Group Huddle, among other venues.

From The Pirate Who Does Not Know the Value of Pi by Eugene Ostashevsky
On a Street by Constance DeJong

You are on a sidewalk packed and fierce and fueled by desire greed ambition come on come on miracle.

Gloss by Leah Dworkin
Leah Dworkin Gloss Banner

I say something about the time and he replies, “I cannot sleep in this lifeless room, I can’t, I can’t. I won’t. You can’t make me.”

Dance of the Self: On John Haskell’s The Complete Ballet by Will Harrison
Nijinsky Illustration

Noir, Balanchine, and an escape from the conventional novel.

Originally published in

BOMB 138, Winter 2017

Featuring interviews with Lynda Benglis, Roe Ethridge, Becca Blackwell, Antonio Campos, Robert Greene, Angie Keefer, Liz Magic Laser, Laura Kurgan, China Miéville, Michael Palmer, and Rosmarie Waldrop.

Read the issue
BOMB 138 Cover