We'll begin with a box, and the plural is boxes,
But the plural of ox becomes oxen, not oxes.
One fowl is a goose, but two are called geese,
Yet the plural of moose should never be meese.
You may find a lone mouse or a nest full of mice,
Yet the plural of house is houses, not hice.

If the plural of man is always called men,
Then shouldn't the plural of pan be called pen?
If I speak of my foot and show you my feet,
And I give you a boot, would a pair be called beet?
If one is a tooth and a whole set are teeth,
Why shouldn't the plural of booth be called beeth?

Then one may be that, and three would be those,
Yet hat in the plural would never be hose,
And the plural of cat is cats, not cose.
We speak of a brother and also of brethren,
But though we say mother, we never say methren.
Then the masculine pronouns are he, his and him,
But imagine the feminine: she, shis and shim!

Let's face it - English is a crazy language.
There is no egg in eggplant nor ham in hamburger;
neither apple nor pine in pineapple.
English muffins weren't invented in England ..
We take English for granted, but if we explore its paradoxes,
we find that quicksand can work slowly, boxing rings are square,
and a guinea pig is neither from Guinea nor is it a pig.

And why is it that writers write but fingers don't fing,
grocers don't groce and hammers don't ham?
Doesn't it seem crazy that you can make amends but not one amend.
If you have a bunch of odds and ends
and get rid of all but one of them, what do you call it?

If teachers taught, why didn't preachers praught?
If a vegetarian eats vegetables, what does a humanitarian eat?
Sometimes I think all the folks who grew up speaking English
should be committed to an asylum for the verbally insane.

In what other language do people recite at a play and play at a recital?
We ship by truck but send cargo by ship.
We have noses that run and feet that smell.
We park in a driveway and drive in a parkway.
And how can a slim chance and a fat chance be the same,
while a wise man and a wise guy are opposites?

You have to marvel at the unique lunacy of a language
in which your house can burn up as it burns
down, in which you fill in a form by filling it out,
and in which an alarm goes off by going on.

And, in closing, if Father is Pop,  how come Mother's not Mop?



The heart fails without warning Hilary Mantel

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The heart fails without warning

An exclusive short story by Hilary Mantel, winner of the Man Booker prize 2009

Illustrating Hilary Mantel story of sisters

'Morna was shrinking, as if her sister had put a spell on her to vanish'. Original photograph: Julia Fullerton-Batten


September: when she began to lose weight at first, her sister had said, I don't mind; the less of her the better, she said. It was only when Morna grew hair – fine down on her face, in the hollow curve of her back – that Lola began to complain. I draw the line at hair, she said. This is a girls' bedroom, not a dog kennel.

Lola's grievance was this: Morna was born before she was, already she had used up three years' worth of air, and taken space in the world that Lola could have occupied. She believed she was birthed into her sister's squalling, her incessant I-want I-want, her give-me give-me.

Now Morna was shrinking, as if her sister had put a spell on her to vanish. She said, if Morna hadn't always been so greedy before, she wouldn't be like this now. She wanted everything.

Their mother said, "You don't know anything about it, Lola. Morna was not greedy. She was always picky about her food."

"Picky?" Lola made a face. If Morna didn't like something she would make her feelings known by vomiting it up in a weak acid dribble.

It's because of the school catchment area they have to live in a too-small house and share a bedroom. "It's bunk beds or GCSEs!" their mother said. She stopped, confused by herself. Often what she said meant something else entirely, but they were used to it; early menopause, Morna said. "You know what I mean," she urged them. "We live in this house for the sake of your futures. It's a sacrifice now for all of us, but it will pay off. There's no point in getting up every morning in a lovely room of your own and going to a sink school where girls get raped in the toilets."

"Does that happen?" Lola said. "I didn't know that happened."

"She exaggerates," their father said. He seldom said anything, so it made Lola jump, him speaking like that.

"But you know what I'm saying," her mother said. "I see them dragging home at two in the afternoon, they can't keep them in school. They've got piercings. There's drugs. There's internet bullying."

"We have that at our school," Lola said.

"It's everywhere," their father said. "Which is another reason to keep off the internet. Lola, are you listening to what I'm telling you?"

The sisters were no longer allowed a computer in their room because of the sites Morna liked to look at. They had pictures of girls with their arms stretched wide over their heads in a posture of crucifixion. Their ribs were spaced wide apart like the bars of oven shelves. These sites advised Morna how to be hungry, how not to be gross. Any food like bread, butter, an egg, is gross. A green apple or a green leaf, you may have one a day. The apple must be poison green. The leaf must be bitter.

"To me it is simple," their father said. "Calorie in, calories out. All she has to do is open her mouth and put the food in, then swallow. Don't tell me she can't. It's a question of won't."

Lola picked up an eggy spoon from the draining board. She held it under her father's nose as if it were a microphone. "Yes, and have you anything you want to add to that?"

He said, "You'll never get a boyfriend if you look like a needle." When Morna said she didn't want a boyfriend, he shouted, "Tell me that again when you're seventeen."

I never will be, Morna said. Seventeen.

September: Lola asked for the carpet to be replaced in their room. "Maybe we could have a wood floor? Easier to clean up after her?"

Their mother said, "Don't be silly. She's sick in the loo. Isn't she? Mostly? Though not," she said hurriedly, "like she used to be." It's what they had to believe: that Morna was getting better. In the night, you could hear them telling each other, droning on behind their closed bedroom door; Lola lay awake listening.

Lola said, "If I can't have a new carpet, if I can't have a wood floor, what can I have? Can I have a dog?"

"You are so selfish, Lola," their mother shouted. "How can we take on a pet at a time like this?"

Morna said, "If I die, I want a woodland burial. You can plant a tree and when it grows you can visit it."

"Yeah. Right. I'll bring my dog," Lola said.

September: Lola said, "The only thing is, now she's gone so small I can't steal her clothes. This was my main way of annoying her and now I have to find another."

All year round Morna wore wool to protect her shoulders, elbows, hips, from the blows of the furniture, and also to look respectably fat so that people didn't point her out on the street: also, because even in July she was cold. But the winter came early for her, and though the sun shone outside she was getting into her underlayers. When she stepped on the scale for scrutiny she appeared to be wearing normal clothes, but actually she had provided herself with extra weight. She would wear one pair of tights over another; every gram counts, she told Lola. She had to be weighed every day. Their mother did it. She would try surprising Morna with spot checks, but Morna would always know when she was getting into a weighing mood.

Lola watched as their mother pulled at her sister's cardigan, trying to get it off her before she stepped on to the scales. They tussled like two little kids in a playground; Lola screamed with laughter. Their mother hauled at the sleeve and Morna shouted, "Ow, ow!" as if it were her skin being stretched. Her skin was loose, Lola saw. Like last year's school uniform, it was too big for her. It didn't matter, because the school had made it clear they didn't want to see her this term. Not until she's turned the corner, they said, on her way back to a normal weight. Because the school has such a competitive ethos. And it could lead to mass fatalities if the girls decided to compete with Morna.

When the weighing was over, Morna would come into their bedroom and start peeling off her layers, while Lola watched her, crouched in her bottom bunk. Morna would stand sideways to the mirror with her ribs arched. You can count them, she said. After the weighing she needed reassurance. Their mother bought them the long mirror because she thought Morna would be ashamed when she saw herself. The opposite was true.

October: in the morning paper there was a picture of a skeleton. "Oh look," Lola said, "a relative of yours." She pushed it across the breakfast table to where Morna sat poking a Shredded Wheat with her spoon, urging it towards disintegration. "Look, Mum! They've dug up an original woman."

"Where?" Morna said. Lola read aloud, her mouth full. "Ardi stands four feet high. She's called Ardipithecus. Ardi for short. For short!" She spluttered at her own joke, and orange juice came down her nose. "They've newly discovered her. 'Her brain was the size of a chimpanzee's.' That's like you, Morna. 'Ardi weighed about 50 kilograms.' I expect that was when she was wearing all her animal skins, not when she was just in her bones."

"Shut it, Lola," their father said. But then he got up and walked out, breakfast abandoned, his mobile phone in his hand. His dirty knife, dropped askew on his plate, swung across the disc like the needle of a compass, and rattled to its rest. Always he was no more than a shadow in their lives. He worked all the hours, he said, to keep the small house going, worrying about the mortgage and the car while all she worried about was her bloody waistline.

Lola looked after him, then returned to the original woman. "Her teeth show her diet was figs. 'She also ate leaves and small mammals.' Yuk, can you believe that?"

"Lola, eat your toast," their mother said.

"They found her in bits and pieces. First just a tooth. 'Fossils hunters first glimpsed this species in 1992.' That's just before we first glimpsed Morna."

"Who found her?" Morna said.

"Lots of people. I told you, they found her in bits. 'Fifteen years' work involving forty-seven researchers.'"

Looking at Morna, their mother said, "You were fifteen years' work. Nearly. And there was only me to do it."

"'She was capable of walking upright,'" Lola read. "So are you, Morna. Till your bones crumble. You'll look like an old lady." She stuffed her toast into her mouth. "But not four million years old."

November: one morning their mother caught Morna knocking back a jug of water before the weigh-in. She shouted, "It can swell your brain! It can kill you!" She knocked the jug out of her daughter's hand and it shattered all over the bathroom floor.

She said, "Oh, seven years bad luck. No, wait. That's mirrors."

Morna wiped the back of her hand across her mouth. You could see the bones in it. She was like a piece of science coursework, Lola said thoughtfully. Soon she'd have no personhood left. She'd be reduced to biology.

The whole household, for months now, a year, had been enmeshed in mutual deception. Their mother would make Morna a scrambled egg and slide a spoonful of double cream into it. The unit where Morna was an inpatient used to make her eat white bread sandwiches thickly buttered and layered with rubber wedges of yellow cheese. She used to sit before them, hour after hour, compressing the bread under her hand to try to squeeze out the oily fat on to the plate. They would say, try a little, Morna. She would say, I'd rather die.

If her weight fell by a certain percentage she would have to go back to the unit. At the unit they stood over her until she ate. Meals were timed and had to be completed by the clock or there were penalties. The staff would watch her to make sure she was not slipping any food into the layers of her clothes, and layers in fact were monitored. There was a camera in every bathroom, or so Morna said. They would see her if she made herself sick. Then they would put her to bed. She lay so many days in bed that when she came home her legs were wasted and white.

The founder of the unit, a Scottish doctor with a burning ideal, had given the girls garden plots and required them to grow their own vegetables. Once she had seen a starving girl eat some young peas, pod and all. The sight had moved her, the sight of the girl stretching her cracked lips and superimposing the green, tender smile: biting down. If they only saw, she said, the good food come out of God's good earth.

But sometimes the girls were too weak for weeding and pitched forward into their plots. And they were picked up, brushing crumbs of soil away; the rakes and hoes lay abandoned on the ground, like weapons left on a battlefield after the defeat of an army.

November: their mother was grumbling because the supermarket van had not come with the order. "They say delivery in a two-hour time slot to suit you." She pulled open the freezer and rummaged. "I need parsley and yellow haddock for the fish pie."

Lola said, "It will look as if Morna's sicked it already."

Their mother yelled, "You heartless little bitch." Iced vapour billowed around her. "It's you who brings the unhappiness into this house."

Lola said, "Oh, is it?"

Last night Lola saw Morna slide down from her bunk, a wavering column in the cold; the central heating was in its off phase, since no warm-blooded human being should be walking about at such an hour. She pushed back her quilt, stood up and followed Morna on to the dark landing. They were both barefoot. Morna wore a ruffled nightshirt, like a wraith in a story by Edgar Allan Poe. Lola wore her old Mr Men pyjamas, aged 8-9, to which she was attached beyond the power of reason. Mr Lazy, almost washed away, was a faded smudge on the shrunken top, which rose and gaped over her round little belly; the pyjama legs came half way down her calves, and the elastic had gone at the waist, so she had to hitch herself together every few steps. There was a half moon and on the landing she saw her sister's face, bleached out, shadowed like the moon, cratered like the moon, mysterious and far away. Morna was on her way downstairs to the computer to delete the supermarket order.

In their father's office Morna had sat down on his desk chair. She scuffed her bare heels on the carpet to wheel it up to the desk. The computer was for their father's work use. They had been warned of this and told their mother got 10 GCSEs without the need of anything but a pen and paper; that they may use the computer under strict supervision; that they may also go on-line at the public library.

Morna got up the food order on screen. She mouthed at her sister, "Don't tell her."

She'd find out soon enough. The food would come anyway. It always did. Morna didn't seem able to learn that. She said to Lola, "How can you bear to be so fat? You're only eleven."

Lola watched her as she sat with her face intent, patiently fishing for the forbidden sites, swaying backwards and forwards, rocking on the wheeled chair. She turned to go back to bed, grabbing her waist to stop her pyjama bottoms from falling down. She heard a sound from her sister, a sound of something, she didn't know what. She turned back. "Morna? What's that?"

For a minute they don't know what it was they were seeing on the screen: human or animal? They saw that it was a human, female. She was on all fours. She was naked. Around her neck there was a metal collar. Attached to it was a chain.

Lola stood, her mouth ajar, holding up her pyjamas with both hands. A man was standing out of sight holding the chain. His shadow was on the wall. The woman looked like a whippet. Her body was stark white. Her face was blurred and wore no readable human expression. You couldn't recognise her. She might be someone you knew.

"Play it," Lola said. "Go on."

Morna's finger hesitated. "Working! He's always in here, working." She glanced at her sister. "Stick with Mr Lazy, you'll be safer with him."

"Go on," Lola said. "Let's see."

But Morna erased the image. The screen was momentarily dark. One hand rubbed itself across her ribs, where her heart was. The other hovered over the keyboard; she retrieved the food order. She ran her eyes over it and added own-brand dog food. "I'll get the blame," Lola said. "For my fantasy pet." Morna shrugged.

Later they lay on their backs and murmured into the dark, the way they used to do when they were little. Morna said, he would claim he found it by accident. That could be the truth, Lola said, but Morna was quiet. Lola wondered if their mother knew. She said, you can get the police coming round. What if they come and arrest him? If he has to go to prison we won't have any money.

Morna said, "It's not a crime. Dogs. Women undressed as dogs. Only if it's children, I think that's a crime."

Lola said, "Does she get money for doing it or do they make her?"

"Or she gets drugs. Silly bitch!" Morna was angry with the woman or girl who for money or out of fear crouched like an animal, waiting to have her body despoiled. "I'm cold," she said, and Lola could hear her teeth chattering. She was taken like this, seized by cold that swept right through her body to her organs inside; her heart knocked, a marble heart. She put her hand over it. She folded herself in the bed, knees to her chin.

"If they send him to prison," Lola said, "you can earn money for us. You can go in a freak show."

November: Dr Bhattacharya from the unit came to discuss the hairiness. It happens, she said. The name of the substance is lanugo. Oh, it happens, I am afraid to say. She sat on the sofa and said, "With your daughter I am at my wits' end."

Their father wanted Morna to go back to the unit. "I would go so far as to say," he said, "either she goes, or I go."

Dr Bhattacharya blinked from behind her spectacles. "Our funding is in a parlous state. From now till next financial year we are rationed. The most urgent referrals only. Keep up the good work with the daily weight chart. As long as she is stable and not losing. In spring if progress is not good we will be able to take her in."

Morna sat on the sofa, her arms crossed over her belly, which was swollen. She looked vacantly about her. She would rather be anywhere than here. It contaminates everything, she had explained, that deceitful spoonful of cream. She could no longer trust her food to be what it said it was, nor do her calorie charts if her diet was tampered with. She had agreed to eat, but others had broken the agreement. In spirit, she said.

Their father told the doctor, "It's no use saying all the time," he mimicked her voice, "'Morna, what do you think, what do you want?' You don't give me all this shit about human rights. It doesn't matter what she thinks any more. When she looks in a mirror God knows what she sees. You can't get hold of it, can you? She imagines things that are not there."

Lola jumped in. "But I saw it too."

Her parents rounded on her. "Lola, go upstairs."

She flounced up from the sofa and went out, dragging her feet. They didn't say, "See what, Lola? What did you see?"

They don't listen, she had told the doctor, to anything I say. To them I am just noise. "I asked for a pet, but no, no chance – other people can have a dog, but not Lola."

Expelled from the room, she stood outside the closed door, whimpering. Once she scratched with her paw. She snuffled. She pushed at the door with her shoulder, a dull bump, bump.

"Family therapy may be available," she heard Dr Bhattacharya say. "Had you thought of that?"

December: Merry Christmas.

January: "You're going to send me back to the unit," Morna said. "No, no," her mother said. "Not at all."

"You were on the phone to Dr Bhattacharya."

"I was on the phone to the dentist. Booking in."

Morna had lost some teeth lately, this was true. But she knew her mother was lying. "If you send me back I will drink bleach," she said.

Lola said, "You will be shining white."

February. They talked about sectioning her: that means, their mother said, compulsory detention in a hospital, that means you will not be able to walk out, Morna, like you did before.

"It's entirely your choice," their father said. "Start eating, Morna, and it won't come to that. You won't like it in the loony bin. They won't be coaxing you out on walks and baking you bloody fairy cakes. They'll have locks on the doors and they'll be sticking you full of drugs. It won't be like the unit, I'm telling you."

"More like a boarding kennels, I should think," Lola said. "They'll be kept on leads."

"Won't you save me?" Morna said.

"You have to save yourself," their father said. "Nobody can eat for you."

"If they could," said Lola, "maybe I'd do it. But I'd charge a fee."

Morna was undoing herself. She was reverting to unbeing. Lola was her interpreter, who spoke out from the top bunk in the clear voice of a prophetess. They had to come to her, parents and doctors, to know what Morna thought. Morna herself was largely mute.

She had made Morna change places and sleep on the bottom bunk since new year. She was afraid Morna would roll out and smash herself on the floor.

She heard her mother moaning behind the bedroom door: "She's going, she's going."

She didn't mean, "going to the shops". In the end, Dr Bhattacharya had said, the heart fails without warning.

February: at the last push, in the last ditch, she decided to save her sister. She made her little parcels wrapped in tinfoil – a single biscuit, a few pick'n'mix sweets – and left them on her bed. She found the biscuit, still in its foil, crushed to crumbs, and on the floor of their room shavings of fudge and the offcut limbs of pink jelly lobsters. She could not count the crumbs, so she hoped Morna was eating a little. One day she found Morna holding the foil, uncrumpled, looking for her reflection in the shiny side. Her sister had double vision now, and solid objects were ringed by light; they had a ghost-self, fuzzy, shifting.

Their mother said, "Don't you have any feelings, Lola? Have you no idea what we're going through, about your sister?"

"I had some feelings," Lola says. She held out her hands in a curve around herself, to show how emotion distends you. It makes you feel full up, a big weight in your chest, and then you don't want your dinner. So she had begun to leave it, or surreptitiously shuffle bits of food – pastry, an extra potato – into a piece of kitchen roll.

She remembered that night in November when they went barefoot down to the computer. Standing behind Morna's chair, she had touched her shoulder, and it was like grazing a knife. The blade of the bone seemed to sink deep into her hand, and she felt it for hours; she was surprised not to see the indent in her palm. When she had woken up next morning, the shape of it was still there in her mind.

March: all traces of Morna have gone from the bedroom now, but Lola knows she is still about. These cold nights, her Mr Men pyjamas hitched up with one hand, she stands looking out over the garden of the small house. By the lights of hovering helicopters, by the flash of the security lights from neighbouring gardens, by the backlit flicker of the streets, she sees the figure of her sister standing and looking up at the house, bathed in a nimbus of frost. The traffic flows long into the night, a hum without ceasing, but around Morna there is a bubble of quiet. Her tall straight body flickers inside her nightshirt, her face is blurred as if from tears or drizzle, and she wears no readable human expression. But at her feet a white dog lies, shining like a unicorn, a golden chain about its neck.

Os Três Mal-Amados - João Cabral de Melo Neto

O amor comeu meu nome, minha identidade, meu retrato. O amor comeu minha certidão de idade, minha genealogia, meu endereço. O amor comeu meus cartões de visita. O amor veio e comeu todos os papéis onde eu escrevera meu nome.

O amor comeu minhas roupas, meus lenços, minhas camisas. O amor comeu metros e metros de gravatas. O amor comeu a medida de meus ternos, o número de meus sapatos, o tamanho de meus chapéus. O amor comeu minha altura, meu peso, a cor de meus olhos e de meus cabelos.

O amor comeu meus remédios, minhas receitas médicas, minhas dietas. Comeu minhas aspirinas, minhas ondas-curtas, meus raios-X. Comeu meus testes mentais, meus exames de urina.

O amor comeu na estante todos os meus livros de poesia. Comeu em meus livros de prosa as citações em verso. Comeu no dicionário as palavras que poderiam se juntar em versos.

Faminto, o amor devorou os utensílios de meu uso: pente, navalha, escovas, tesouras de unhas, canivete. Faminto ainda, o amor devorou o uso de meus utensílios: meus banhos frios, a ópera cantada no banheiro, o aquecedor de água de fogo morto mas que parecia uma usina.

O amor comeu as frutas postas sobre a mesa. Bebeu a água dos copos e das quartinhas. Comeu o pão de propósito escondido. Bebeu as lágrimas dos olhos que, ninguém o sabia, estavam cheios de água.

O amor voltou para comer os papéis onde irrefletidamente eu tornara a escrever meu nome.

O amor roeu minha infância, de dedos sujos de tinta, cabelo caindo nos olhos, botinas nunca engraxadas. O amor roeu o menino esquivo, sempre nos cantos, e que riscava os livros, mordia o lápis, andava na rua chutando pedras. Roeu as conversas, junto à bomba de gasolina do largo, com os primos que tudo sabiam sobre passarinhos, sobre uma mulher, sobre marcas de automóvel.

O amor comeu meu Estado e minha cidade. Drenou a água morta dos mangues, aboliu a maré. Comeu os mangues crespos e de folhas duras, comeu o verde ácido das plantas de cana cobrindo os morros regulares, cortados pelas barreiras vermelhas, pelo trenzinho preto, pelas chaminés.  Comeu o cheiro de cana cortada e o cheiro de maresia. Comeu até essas coisas de que eu desesperava por não saber falar delas em verso.

O amor comeu até os dias ainda não anunciados nas folhinhas. Comeu os minutos de adiantamento de meu relógio, os anos que as linhas de minha mão asseguravam. Comeu o futuro grande atleta, o futuro grande poeta. Comeu as futuras viagens em volta da terra, as futuras estantes em volta da sala.

O amor comeu minha paz e minha guerra. Meu dia e minha noite. Meu inverno e meu verão. Comeu meu silêncio, minha dor de cabeça, meu medo da morte.

Do personagem Joaquim na "Os Três Mal-Amados", IN "João Cabral de Melo Neto - Obras Completas", Editora Nova Aguilar. - Rio de Janeiro, 1994, pg.59.

Imagem: foto de Andrea Carvalho Stark, no Arpoador, RJ.  

O Ovo de Galinha - João Cabral de Melo Neto


Ao olho mostra a integridade
de uma coisa num bloco, um ovo.
Numa só matéria, unitária,
maciçamente ovo, num todo.

Sem possuir um dentro e um fora,
tal como as pedras, sem miolo:
é só miolo: o dentro e o fora
integralmente no contorno.

No entanto, se ao olho se mostra
unânime em si mesmo, um ovo,
a mão que o sopesa descobre
que nele há algo suspeitoso:

que seu peso não é o das pedras,
inanimado, frio, goro;
que o seu é um peso morno, túmido,
um peso que é vivo e não morto.


O ovo revela o acabamento
a toda mão que o acaricia,
daquelas coisas torneadas
num trabalho de toda a vida.

E que se encontra também noutras
que entretanto mão não fabrica:
nos corais, nos seixos rolados
e em tantas coisas esculpidas

cujas formas simples são obra
de mil inacabáveis lixas
usadas por mãos escultoras
escondidas na água, na brisa.

No entretanto, o ovo, e apesar
de pura forma concluída,
não se situa no final:
está no ponto de partida.


A presença de qualquer ovo,
até se a mão não lhe faz nada,
possui o dom de provocar
certa reserva em qualquer sala.

O que é difícil de entender
se se pensa na forma clara
que tem um ovo, e na franqueza
de sua parede caiada.

A reserva que um ovo inspira
é de espécie bastante rara:
é a que se sente ante um revólver
e não se sente ante uma bala.

É a que se sente ante essas coisas
que conservando outras guardadas
ameaçam mais com disparar
do que com a coisa que disparam.


Na manipulação de um ovo
um ritual sempre se observa:
há um jeito recolhido e meio
religioso em quem o leva.

Se pode pretender que o jeito
de quem qualquer ovo carrega
vem da atenção normal de quem
conduz uma coisa repleta.

O ovo porém está fechado
em sua arquitetura hermética
e quem o carrega, sabendo-o,
prossegue na atitude regra:

procede ainda da maneira
entre medrosa e circunspeta,
quase beata, de quem tem
nas mãos a chama de uma vela.

"João Cabral de Melo Neto - Obra Completa", Editora Nova Aguilar - Rio de Janeiro, 1994, pág. 302.

Imagem: Mão e foto de Andrea Carvalho Stark, no Arpoador, RJ. 


Parte II
Também tenho uma noite em mim tão escura
que nela me confundo e paro
e em adágio cantabile pronuncio
as palavras da nênia ao meu defunto,
perdido nele, o ar sombrio.
(Me reconheço nele e me apavoro)
Me reconheço nele,
não os olhos cerrados, a boca falando cheia,
as mãos cruzadas em definitivo estado, se enxergando,
mas um calor de cegueira que se exala dele
e pronto: ele sou eu,
peixe boi devolvido à praia, morto,
exposto à vigilância dos passantes.
Ali me enxergo, à força no caixão do mundo
sem arabescos e sem flores.
Tenho muito medo.
Mas acordo e a máquina me engole.
E sou apenas um homem caminhando
e não encontro em minha vestimenta
bolsos para esconder as mãos, armas, que, mesmo frágeis,
me ameaçam.
Como não ter medo?
Uma noite escura sai de mim e vem descer aqui
sobre esta noite maior e sem fantasmas.
como não morrer de medo se esta noite é fera
e dentro dela eu também sou fera e me confundo nela e
ainda insisto?
Não é viável.
Nem eu mesmo sou viável, e como não? Não sou.
O que é viável não existe, passou há muito tempo
e eram manhãs e tardes e manhãs com sol e chuva
e eu menino.
eram manhãs e tardes e manhãs sem pernas
que escorriam em tardes e manhãs sem pernas
e eu sentado num tanque absurdamente posto no meio da rua,
menino sentado sem a preocupação da ida.
E era todo dia.
Havia sol
e eu o sabia
sol: era de dia
Havia uma alegria
do tamanho do mundo
e era dia no mundo.
Havia uma rua
(debaixo dum dia)
e um tanque.
Mas agora é noite até no sol.
Parte III
Vou à parede e examino o retrato,
Meus olhos não se abrem e mesmo assim o vejo.
E mesmo assim te vejo, ó menino, encostado à palmeira de tua praça
e sem querer sair.
E mesmo assim te penso dique,
desolação de seca na caatinga, noite de insônia,
canção antiga ao pé do berço,
fósforo queimado
poço interminável, seco.
Ouço teu sorriso e te obedeço.
Eu que desaprendi a preparação do sorriso
e não o consigo mais.
Estou preso a ti, ainda agora,
apesar do cabelo escurecido,
as mãos maiores e mais magras
e um súbito medo de morrer, amor à vida, tolo.
tenho preso a ti a palavra primeira
e o primeiro gesto de enxergar o espelho:
ouço-te, sou mais desgosto em mim, imcompreensível.
À tua ordem decido não envergonhar-me de existir
nesta forma disforme e de osso
algumas coisas químicas
e uma vontade de estar sempre longe,
visitando países absurdos.
Não posso envergonhar-me de ser homem.
tenho um menino em mim que me observa
e ele tem nos olhos
(qual a cor?)
todas as manhãs e tardes e manhãs com sol e chuva
e eu menino, que me alumiava.
Tenho um menino em mim e ele é que me tem:
por isso a corcunda precoce
e os olhos banzos: tenho o corpo voltado à sua procura
e meu olhar apenas toca, e leve,
a exata matriz da calça
molhada em festa vespertina da bexiga.
Um Cidadão ComumSempre subindo a ladeira do nada,
Topar em pedras que nada revelam.
Levar às costas o fardo do ser
E ter certeza que não vai ser pago.Sentir prazeres, dores, sentir medo,
Nada entender, querer saber tudo.
Cantar com voz bonita prá cachorro,
Não ver "PERIGO" e afundar no caos.Fumar, beber, amar, dormir sem sono,
Observar as horas impiedosas
Que passam carregando um bom pedaço
da vida, sem dar satisfações.Amar o amargo e sonhar com doçuras
Saber que retornar não é possível
Sentir que um dia vai sentir saudades
Da ladeira, do fardo, das pedradas.Por fim, de um só salto,
Transpor de vez o paredão.
Rio 9.8.62


olho muito tempo o corpo de um poema

olho muito tempo o corpo de um poema
até perder de vista o que não seja corpo
e sentir separado dentre os dentes
um filete de sangue
nas gengivas

Tu Queres Sono: Despede-te dos Ruídos

Tu queres sono: despe-te dos ruídos, e
dos restos do dia, tira da tua boca
o punhal e o trânsito, sombras de
teus gritos, e roupas, choros, cordas e
também as faces que assomam sobre a
tua sonora forma de dar, e os outros corpos
que se deitam e se pisam, e as moscas
que sobrevoam o cadáver do teu pai, e a dor (não ouças)
que se prepara para carpir tua vigília, e os cantos que
esqueceram teus braços e tantos movimentos
que perdem teus silêncios, o os ventos altos
que não dormem, que te olham da janela
e em tua porta penetram como loucos
pois nada te abandona nem tu ao sono.


Tambem eu saio à revelia
e procuro uma síntese nas demoras
cato obsessões com fria têmpera e digo
do coração: não soube e digo
da palavra: não digo (não posso ainda acreditar
na vida) e demito o verso como quem acena
e vivo como quem despede a raiva de ter visto


jardins inabitados pensamentos
pretensas palavras em
jardins ausenta-se
a lua figura de
uma falta contemplada
jardins extremos dessa ausência
de jardins anteriores que
ausência freqüentada sem mistério
céu que recua
sem pergunta
Flores Do Mais
Devagar escreva
uma primeira letra
nas imediações construídas
pelos furacões;
devagar meça
a primeira pássara
bisonha que
o pano de boca
sobre os vendavais;
devagar imponha
o pulso
que melhor
souber sangrar
sobre a faca
das marés;
devagar imprima
o primeiro olhar
sobre o galope molhado
dos animais; devagar
peça mais
e mais e

Deus na Antecâmara

Mereço (merecemos, meretrizes)
perdão (perdoai-nos, patres conscripti)
socorro (correi, valei-nos, santos perdidos)
Eu quero me livrar desta poesia infecta
beijar mãos sem elos sem tinturas
consciências soltas pelos ventos
desatando o culto das antecedências
sem medo de dedos de dados de dúvidas
em prontidão sangüinária
(sangue e amor se aconchegando
hora atrás de hora)
Eu quero pensar ao apalpar
eu quero dizer ao conviver
eu quero partir ao repartir
abertos ao tudo inteiro
maiores que o todo nosso
em nós (com a gente) se dando

Um Beijo
que tivesse um blue.
isto é
imitasse feliz
a delicadeza, a sua,
assim como um tropeço
que mergulha surdamente
no reino expresso
do prazer
Espio sem um ai
as evoluções do teu confronto
à minha sombra
desde a escolha
debruçada no menu;
um peixe grelhado
um namorado
uma água
sem gás
de decolagem:
leitor ensurdecido
talvez embevecido
"ao sucesso"
diria meu censor
"à escuta"
diria meu amor
sempre em blue
mas era um blue
indagando só
"what's new"
uma questão
desenhada a giz
entre um beijo
e a renúncia intuída
de outro beijo.

Minha boca também
está seca
deste ar seco do planalto
bebemos litros d'água
Brasília está tombada
como o mundo real
pouso a mão no teu peito
mapa de navegação
desta varanda
hoje sou eu que
estou te livrando
da verdade
te livrando
castillo de alusiones
forest of mirrors
que extermina
a dor

Ana Cristina Cesar, ou Ana C., como era conhecida, nasceu em 1952 nesta
cidade do Rio de Janeiro. Após 1968, passou um ano em Londres, fez algumas
viagens pelos arredores e, na volta, deu aulas, traduziu, fez letras,
escreveu para revistas e jornais alternativos, e saiu na antologia "26
Poetas Hoje", de Heloísa Buarque. Publicou, pela Funarte, pesquisa sobre
literatura e cinema, fez mestrado em comunicação, lançou seus primeiros
livros em edições independentes: "Cenas de Abril" e "Correspondência
Completa". Dez anos depois voltou à Inglaterra, graduou-se em tradução
literária, escreveu muitas cartas e editou "Luvas de Pelica". Trabalhou em
jornalismo, televisão e escreveu "A Teus Pés", Editora Ática - São Paulo,
1998, de onde extraímos o texto acima.. Suicidou-se no dia 29 de outubro de
Ítalo Moriconi escreveu: "Ana Cristina dizia que uma das facetas do seu
desbunde fora abandonar a idéia de ser escritora, livrar-se do que ela
naquele momento julgava ser sua face herdada, o estigma princesa
bem-comportada, alguém marcada para escrever".


Poeminha Amoroso - CORA CORALINA

Este é um poema de amor
tão meigo, tão terno, tão teu...
É uma oferenda aos teus momentos
de luta e de brisa e de céu...
E eu,
quero te servir a poesia
numa concha azul do mar
ou numa cesta de flores do campo.
Talvez tu possas entender o meu amor.
Mas se isso não acontecer,
não importa.

Já está declarado e estampado
nas linhas e entrelinhas
deste pequeno poema,
o verso;
o tão famoso e inesperado verso que
te deixará pasmo, surpreso, perplexo...
eu te amo, perdoa-me, eu te amo.




Posso escrever os versos mais tristes esta noite.
Escrever, por exemplo: "A noite está estrelada,
e tiritam, azuis, os astros, ao longe".
O vento da noite gira no céu e canta.
Posso escrever os versos mais tristes esta noite.
Eu a quis, e às vezes ela também me quis...
Em noites como esta eu a tive entre os meus braços.
A beijei tantas vezes debaixo o céu infinito.
Ela me quis, às vezes eu também a queria.
Como não ter amado os seus grandes olhos fixos.
 Posso escrever os versos mais tristes esta noite.
 Pensar que não a tenho. Sentir que a perdi.
 Ouvir a noite imensa, mais imensa sem ela.
E o verso cai na alma como na relva o orvalho.
Que importa que meu amor não pudesse guardá-la.
A noite está estrelada e ela não está comigo.
Isso é tudo. Ao longe alguém canta. Ao longe.
Minha alma não se contenta com tê-la perdido.
Como para aproximá-la meu olhar a procura.
Meu coração a procura, e ela não está comigo
A mesma noite que faz branquear as mesmas árvores.
Nós, os de então, já não somos os mesmos.
Já não a quero, é verdade, mas quanto a quis.
Minha voz procurava o vento para tocar o seu ouvido.
De outro. Será de outro. Como antes dos meus beijos.
Sua voz, seu corpo claro. Seus olhos infinitos.
Já não a quero, é verdade, mas talvez a quero.
É tão curto o amor, e é tão longo o esquecimento.
Porque em noites como esta eu a tive entre os meus braços,
minha alma não se contenta com tê-la perdido.
Ainda que esta seja a última dor que ela me causa,
e estes, os últimos versos que lhe escrevo
IMAGEM Salvador Dali, desenho para o filme DESTINO de W. Disney.


Poema 1  
Essa lua enlutada, esse desassossego
A convulsão de dentro, ilharga
Dentro da solidão, corpo morrendo
Tudo isso te devo. E eram tão vastas
As coisas planejadas, navios,
Muralhas de marfim, palavras largas
Consentimento sempre. E seria dezembro.
Um cavalo de jade sob as águas
Dupla transparência, fio suspenso
Todas essas coisas na ponta dos teus dedos
E tudo se desfez no pórtico do tempo
Em lívido silêncio. Umas manhãs de vidro
Vento, a alma esvaziada, um sol que não vejo.
Também isso te devo.
Poema 1  
This mournful moon, this unease
Inner turbulence, lagoon,
Inside of solitude, a dying body,
All this I owe you. Such immense
Plans and future, ships,
Walls of ivory, words full
Always consented to. It would be December.
A jade horse beneath the waters
Double transparency, a line in mid-air
All these things at your fingertips
All undone through the portal of time
Silent and blue. Some mornings of glass,
Wind, a hollow soul, a sun I can't see  
This, too, I owe you.
Poema 2 
Sorrio quando penso
Em que lugar da sala 
Guardarás o meu verso
Dos teus livros políticos
Na primeira gaveta
Mais próxima à janela?
Ou te cansas de ver
Tamanha perdição
Amorável centelha
No meu rosto maduro?
E te pareço bela
Ou apenas te pareço
Mais poeta talvez
 E menos séria?
O que pensa o homem 
Do poeta? Que não há verdade
Na minha embriaguez
E que me preferes 
Amiga mais pacífica
E menos aventura?
Que é de todo impossível
Guardar na tua sala
Vestígio passional
Da minha linguagem?
Eu te pareço louca?
Eu te pareço pura?
Eu te pareço moça?
Ou é mesmo verdade  
Que nunca me soubeste?
Poema 2 
I smile when I wonder  
Where in your room  
You keep my verse. 
Away from your 
Political books? 
In the first drawer
Close to the window?
Do you smile when you read
Or are you tired of seeing
Such abandon
Amorous spark
On my ripened face?
Do I seem  beautiful
Or am I to you
Too much of a poet, perhaps,
And not serious enough?
What does the man think
Of the poet? That there's no truth
In my drunkenness
And that you prefer
A friend more peaceful
And less adventurous?
That you simply cannot
Keep in your room
Worldly traces
Of my passionate words?
Do you see me as mad?
Do you see me as pure?   
Do you see me as young?
Or is it real
That you never knew me? 
POEMAS DE HILDA HILST do livro Júbilo, Memória, Noviciado da Paixão (1974). Versão para o inglês de Beatriz Cabral Bastos publicada em  HILDA HILST: DOIS POEMAS, DUAS VERSÕES - Revista Tradução em Revista,Número 6 ,  Periódico de Estudos da Tradução, PUC-Rio, 2009


Why are we still reading Dickens?

Why are we still reading Dickens?

The great Victorian is probably even more ubiquitous now than he was in his lifetime. How he remains such vital reading is an intriguing question

The Guardian, Wednesday 30 September 2009

Charles Dickens

Shining a light on his audience ... Dickens giving a reading. Photograph: Corbis


It seems that you cannot turn a corner this year without bumping into Charles Dickens. So far we've seen the release of four major novels based on the Victorian icon's life: Dan Simmons's Drood (February), Matthew Pearl's The Last Dickens (March), Richard Flanagan's Wanting (May), and Gaynor Arnold's Girl in a Blue Dress (July). Earlier this year BBC1's lush new production of Little Dorrit was nominated for five Bafta awards in the UK, and 11 Emmys in the US. Newspapers and magazines have run stories on his relevance to the current global economic crisis. And with the Christmas season now only four months away, it seems that there is no getting away from him any time soon.

As someone who teaches and writes about Dickens, the question of why we still read him is something that's often on my mind. But that question was never more troubling than one day, nearly 10 years ago, when I was standing as a guest speaker in front of a class of about 30 high school students. I had been speaking for about 20 minutes with an 1850 copy of David Copperfield in my hand, telling the students that for Victorian readers, Dickens's writing was very much a "tune-in-next-week" type of thing that generated trends and crazes, much as their own TV shows did for them today.

Then a hand shot up in the middle of the room.

"But why should we still read this stuff?"

I was speechless because in that moment I realised that, though I had begun a PhD dissertation on Dickens, I had never pondered the question myself.

The answer I gave was acceptable: "Because he teaches you how to think," I said. But lots of writers can teach you how to think, and I knew that wasn't really the reason.

The question nagged me for years, and for years I told myself answers, but never with complete satisfaction. We read Dickens not just because he was a man of his own times, but because he was a man for our times as well. We read Dickens because his perception and investigation of the human psyche is deep, precise, and illuminating, and because he tells us things about ourselves by portraying personality traits and habits that might seem all too familiar. His messages about poverty and charity have travelled through decades, and we can learn from the experiences of his characters almost as easily as we can learn from our own experiences.

These are all wonderful reasons to read Dickens. But these are not exactly the reasons why I read Dickens.

My search for an answer continued but never with success, until one year the little flicker came – not surprisingly – from another high school student, whose essay I was reviewing for a writing contest. "We need to read Dickens's novels," she wrote, "because they tell us, in the grandest way possible, why we are what we are."

There it was, like a perfectly formed pearl shucked from the dirty shell of my over-zealous efforts – an explanation so simple and beautiful that only a 15-year-old could have written it. I could add all of the decoration to the argument with my years of education – the pantheon of rich characters mirroring every personality type; the "universal themes" laid out in such meticulous and timeless detail; the dramas and the melodramas by which we recognise our own place in the Dickensian theatre – but the kernel of what I truly wanted to say had come from someone else. As is often the case in Dickens, the moment of realisation for the main character here was induced by the forthrightness of another party.

And who was I, that I needed to be told why I was what I was? Like most people, I think I knew who I was without knowing it. I was Oliver Twist, always wanting and asking for more. I was Nicholas Nickleby, the son of a dead man, incurably convinced that my father was watching me from beyond the grave. I was Esther Summerson, longing for a mother who had abandoned me long ago due to circumstances beyond her control. I was Pip in love with someone far beyond my reach. I was all of these characters, rewritten for another time and place, and I began to understand more about why I was who I was because Dickens had told me so much about human beings and human interaction.

There are still two or three Dickens novels that I haven't actually read; but when the time is right I'll pick them up and read them. I already know who it is I'll meet in those novels – the Mr Micawbers, the Mrs Jellybys, the Ebenezer Scrooges, the Amy Dorrits. They are, like all of us, cut from the same cloth, and at the same time as individual as their unforgettable aptronyms (http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/30911/aptronym) suggest. They are the assurances that Dickens, whether I am reading him or not, is shining a light on who I am during the best and worst of times.

A Gate at the Stairs by Lorrie Moore

A Gate at the Stairs by Lorrie Moore

Lorrie Moore's literary talent has always seemed exquisitely adapted to brevity. Now she has finally proved herself over the long haul, says Geoff Dyer

The Observer, Sunday 27 September 2009
lorrie moore

Lorrie Moore. Photograph by Linda Nylind

Did it matter – did it gnaw away at her – that in spite of the high critical standing enjoyed by her stories, Lorrie Moore had not come up with the big novel by which writers, American ones especially, tend to be judged? Yes, there was Anagrams (1986), but the fact that a third of it also ended up in last year's Collected Stories slightly undermined its claims to unity. And then there was Who Will Run the Frog Hospital? (1994), which was nice enough but suggested that, like a boxer moving up a weight division, litheness was having to compensate for lack of bulk.

  1. A Gate at the Stairs
  2. by Lorrie Moore
  3. 336,
  4. Faber and Faber

The stories, meanwhile, got better, deeper, darker and – yes – heavier, but maybe a voice and talent so exquisitely adapted to the shaped imperatives of brevity would come to be defined and measured by the lack of top-quality long-haul. "I can't do this," says the distraught mother-writer in the famous story "People Like That Are the Only People Here". "I can do quasi-amusing phone dialogue. I do the careful ironies of daydreams. I do the marshy ideas upon which intimate life is built." Hence the mix of excitement and trepidation that even adoring readers will bring to Moore's third novel. Will it be great? Will Moore prove that she is not synonymous with less?

Hell yes! It is and she does. She's on fire for 300 pages! You can sit back and have the time of your life reading A Gate at the Stairs if you're prepared to make a bunny-hop of critical faith, what might be called – I'm showing my age here – the Jimmy Clitheroe concession.

Moore was born in 1957; her narrator, Tassie, is looking back to the time, shortly after 9/11, when she was a student in the Midwest town of Troy. At the alleged time of writing, she is in her mid-20s but the voice and, to a lesser extent, the eyes are those of someone old enough to be her mother.

Moore's characters and books have always been light-footed. Self-Help, her first collection of stories, was all wit and sad dazzle. Anagrams was so loaded with gags that the reader suffered occasional quip fatigue. No surprise, then, that Tassie has a GSOH, but for someone claiming to be "fresh from childhood" she seems to be lugging around an extra quarter-century of adult life. A couple of times, she remarks on the quirks of "our generation" – the way, for example, that "everything either 'sucked' or was ­ 'awesome'" – but they're exactly the things that strike people of Moore's age.

It's tricky. The main symptom of over-ageing in this coming-of-age novel is also intrinsic to its effect. Precocity enables you to play the piano at six, but wisdom, like the "half-life of regret" that also haunts these pages, only comes later. You find it, as Blake said, in the desolate market – where few come to buy.

This is not to minimise the purchases made there – the grief visited upon and witnessed – by Tassie in the brief period covered by the novel. Short of cash, she gets a part-time, all-consuming job babysitting for a middle-aged couple who are adopting a mixed-race baby. Much of the book details Tassie's time with the foster mother, Sarah, and her adopted child, Emmie. She is smuggled – the word turns out to be more apt than one might imagine – into an overwhelmingly white town, and Emmie's arrival prompts Sarah to organise a series of evenings in which other mixed families serve as a scathing mock-chorus on the state of race relations in idyllic-seeming Troy.

The neurotically energetic Sarah runs a ludicrously upmarket restaurant whose potatoes are grown by Tassie's dad. At Christmas, Tassie goes home to the family farm where her brother, Robert, is poised to join the army. She will return there during the intensely moving and, in places, brilliantly weird final phase of the book. So the immediate focus of the novel – life in a college town – is framed by the immensity of the surrounding prairie, whose seasons and endlessly changing monotony are captured in a series of virtuoso passages. Tassie learns that despair means "mistaking a small world for a large one and a large one for a small"; but how to avoid such an error when small and large – college and prairie – are prey to the same implacable meteorological and historical forces?

But let's stick, for a moment, with the small stuff, with Moore's eye for absurdist, hi-def detail: the mouth of the meth addict with its "crooked teeth, bits of shell awash on a reef of gum"; the fortune cookie that looks like "a short paper nerve baked in an ear"; the wonderful, late-night glimpse of married life when Tassie overhears Sarah saying to her husband: "You emptied the top rack of the dishwasher but not the bottom, so the clean dishes have gotten all mixed up with the dirty ones – and now you want to have sex?" There's tons of this kind of thing, cute and psychologically acute, but there's also the sense of something sky-vast and doom-laden, "full of sorrow and truth", bearing down from the past or about to loom up from the future.

The past trauma turns out to be Sarah's, though it will taint the present and be passed on to Emmie, one of whose first attempts at speech is "Uh-oh!": "She already knew both the sound and the language of things going wrong." The future history, so to speak, is latent in Robert's posting to Afghanistan and by the way that the Brazilian boy Tassie is dating turns out – a tad implausibly – to be…

Ah, but that would be telling, wouldn't it? Reviews are not supposed to give the game away, even though certain works – the best ones, arguably – are not harmed by spoilers. On first reading A Gate at the Stairs, one can become not frustrated, exactly, but impatient with Moore's determinedly lackadaisical way of proceeding. Second time around, when you know what's going to happen, when you give yourself up to the book's unusual and distinctive rhythm, it quivers on the brink of being a masterpiece. That quivering, that slight feeling of uncertainty (like "candlelight vibrating the room") is entirely appropriate given Moore's hesitant engagement with the demands of a big novel and the protracted gestation of this, her eventual response and solution.

Uninterested in narrative locomotion, Moore advances her story while appearing to let it drift sideways, roll backwards or even, at times, to stall. In the middle of Tassie's first conversation with Sarah, at a point in the novel when convention decrees that this scene and these characters are fixed in the reader's mind, Tassie remembers, instead, how her father "took to driving his combine down country roads to deliberately slow up traffic. 'I had them backed up seventeen deep,' he once boasted to my mom". And after a while, he might have added, none of them wanted to be any place else. They were glad to be along for the ride.

Geoff Dyer's most recent novel is Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi (Canongate)

Lorrie Moore's Midwest Chronicle

The New York Times

September 2, 2009

Hate, Love, Chores: Lorrie Moore's Midwest Chronicle

MADISON, Wis. — Lorrie Moore had just begun working on what would become her new novel, "A Gate at the Stairs," when she told one interviewer that she was writing a book "about hate."

Later she recalled telling someone else that it was a novel about chores.

In May, speaking to a roomful of booksellers at BookExpo America, the publishing industry's annual convention, she said she had written a book — her first in 11 years — about a 20-year-old woman because she viewed 20 as "the universal age of passion."

And in a recent interview at a brasserie here, two blocks from her home in a neighborhood of colorful Victorian and prairie-style houses, Ms. Moore described the book as a meditation on "what it meant to be in this town in the Midwest in this particular time in contemporary America."

As it turns out, Ms. Moore's slippery characterizations of "A Gate at the Stairs," published on Tuesday by Alfred A. Knopf, are quite apt.

The novel takes place in the aftermath of 9/11, with the threat of terrorism and war hovering over a liberal university town described as "the Athens of the Midwest."

It also features a prickly couple, Sarah Brink and Edward Thornwood, whose marital relations sometimes veer toward something that looks like hate. Tassie Keltjin, the 20-year-old college student who narrates the novel, falls in love, for the first time, with a mysterious foreign student. Passion ensues.

And about those chores: during one of the book's most startling revelations, the housecleaner can be heard "at the back door, with his stabbing, fidgeting key in the lock and his clanking pails and mops."

Ms. Moore's fans — ardent, even cultish — have been waiting ever since "Birds of America," her last book, a story collection, was published in 1998. That book, widely praised, broke onto the New York Times hardcover fiction best-seller list for five weeks.

It also subjected Ms. Moore, who at 52 still seems girlish with her shoulder-length brown hair and voice that swoops from low to high registers, to the intruding curiosity of those who wanted to know more about her personal life after reading "People Like That Are the Only People Here," a short story about a baby with cancer that Ms. Moore acknowledged was somewhat autobiographical.

"The problem of course is you don't want everyone talking about your kid," Ms. Moore said, recalling the rounds of publicity. "And that was really hard to avoid."

This time around she is remaining circumspect about any autobiographical antecedents to "A Gate at the Stairs," her seventh book.

In one of the novel's central plotlines, Tassie takes a job as a baby sitter working for Sarah, the owner of a local restaurant, and Edward, a cancer researcher, as they adopt a part-black baby girl. As the girl's devoted caregiver, Tassie is exposed to both explicit and implicit racism. Ms. Moore's own teenage son is adopted and part African-American, but she would say only that some of the incidents in the novel may have happened to other children and parents she knew.

Instead she invoked "Madame Butterfly" and "Jane Eyre," works that feature themes of abandonment and orphanhood. "I'm interested in adoption because those kids become Jane Eyre," said Ms. Moore, alternately sipping from a cup of coffee and a small glass of pale Belgian beer. "Not to push the 'Jane Eyre' thing too much, but of course there is that racial aspect to it," she said, alluding to the Creole heritage of the Mrs. Rochester character. "And there's a racial component to 'Madame Butterfly,' so these were the Ur-texts hovering over my desk while I just barreled ahead and wrote a Midwestern story."

As one of the most nuanced writers working today, Ms. Moore is as likely to write about sweeping themes as she is to deliver sharp-witted and trenchant observations about life's small moments. Her career has been building since she sold her first story collection, "Self-Help," at 26, gaining instant literary credibility.

"Moore may be, exactly, the most irresistible contemporary American writer," the novelist Jonathan Lethem wrote in The New York Times Book Review on Sunday. "Brainy, humane, unpretentious and warm; seemingly effortlessly lyrical; Lily-Tomlin-funny. Most of all, Moore is capable of enlisting not just our sympathies but our sorrows."

And in her review last week in The Times, Michiko Kakutani wrote that "in this haunting novel, Ms. Moore gives us stark, melancholy glimpses into her characters' hearts."

In "A Gate at the Stairs" those sorrows and melancholy glimpses come in some brutally heart-rending scenes. "There are times when you feel like stepping into a dark dream, and you really want to travel to some very unhappy place," Ms. Moore said, "in order, in some ways, to close the book and step away from it."

Ms. Moore, who had recently had cataracts diagnosed and sometimes used prescription sunglasses to see inside, said that part of the reason it took her so long to finish the novel was that she could not bring herself to write those devastating passages.

"There were certain scenes that felt so heartbreaking to me that I didn't know how I was going to write them," she said. "I cried all the way through the writing of it."

Then there were the more practical constraints on her time. Since 1984 Ms. Moore has taught creative writing at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and eight years ago she divorced her husband (no, she doesn't want to talk about it) and is now raising her son as a single mother.

Ms. Moore sees such challenges falling disproportionately on women. "You look out into the world and you say, 'Who are the working — meaning you also have a job, not just writing novels — single moms who are writing novels that you want to read?' " she said.

Jayne Anne Phillips, a fellow writer and fan, said balancing a job and child-rearing with writing had shaped Ms. Moore's work. "The double edge of it is that I think any form of real spiritual surrender does inform one's work," Ms. Phillips said. "But the problem is that oftentimes one doesn't have time to write the work."

In "A Gate at the Stairs" Sarah struggles to juggle her fervent desire to be a mother with her all-consuming job as a restaurant owner. Writing about food allowed Ms. Moore to play with the terminology that was infiltrating menus around town. At one point Tassie reads a menu from Sarah's restaurant:

"There were ramps and fiddleheads, vinaigrettes and roux — summer had not yet taken these away."

And then, in a moment of pure Lorrie Moore-ness, Tassie observes, "Though only now did I realize that roux was not spelled rue, as surely it should be and would be soon."

Although she has spent a quarter-century in the Midwest, Ms. Moore, who commuted between New York and Madison for several years, maintains some of the arch distance of the outsider. Strolling by an Indian restaurant near the state capitol, she sniffed the air and noted: "You walk around and you get a whiff of garlic and you feel like you are in a real city."

But living far from the literary nerve center of New York, she said, has allowed some liberties.

"If you live in Madison, Wis., and teach creative writing, you've already made some decisions about what you're going to do as an artist, and you're quite free to do as you please," she said. "Some people get their books on the best-seller list and then they count the number of weeks, and I just never want to live that way. I already have been luckier than I ever dreamed that I could ever be."