Because I’ve been listening to Townes Van Zandt and Hank Williams almost exclusively for the past few weeks, I wanted to read something with that air. First, I tried to download an ebook of L’amour from the library while lying in bed just before sleep. I could’ve just gone around corner and grabbed one from my father-in-law whose read them all. But I was under the covers and had no desire to move that far.
None were available. so I tried a Zane Grey and was pretty certain within a few paragraphs this was not what I was looking.
What was I looking for? The night sky pock-marked with celestial wonder. Wisdom and poetry astride a horse astride a mountain astride a barren land held by the gravity of just being. I wanted the dust of an old trail. Writing that stays with me throughout the day and makes me wonder if any of the people I work with have ever known anything like it. The novel version of Hank’s Wedding Bells and Van Zandt’s Pancho and Lefty.
Having heard of Cormac McCarthy made me less likely to give All the Pretty Horses a whirl. I’d no idea he told western tales. And I’d never read a word of his before. But there was a section laid out right there for me to check out before checking it out.
The first few lines were enough to make my chest literally heave after catching my breath. That is not the writer’s exaggeration…
The candleflame and the image of the candleflame caught in the pierglass twisted and righted when he entered the hall and again when he shut the door. He took off his hat and came slowly forward. The floorboards creaked under his boots. In his black suit he stood in the dark glass where the lilies leaned so palely from their waisted cutglass vase. Along the cold hallway behind him hung the portraits of forebears only dimly known to him all framed in glass and dimly lit above the narrow wainscotting. He looked down at the guttered candlestub. He pressed his thumbprint in the warm wax pooled on the oak veneer. Lastly he looked at the face so caved and drawn among the folds of funeral cloth, the yellowed moustache, the eyelids paper thin. That was not sleeping. That was not sleeping.It was dark outside and cold and no wind. In the distance a calf bawled. He stood with his hat in his hand. You never combed your hair that way in your life, he said.
As I approached the middle of the book a couple days later, I knew I needed to hold this book in hand. I gathered some old books I knew I would never read again. I took them to the used bookstore and traded them for credit. I found a paperback copy and I stretched the second half of the book over the rest of Sunday.
All the Pretty Horses was all I was looking for and a world of more. All that was unspoken but known to be true about writing and seeing and breathing as a writer and reader was there.
This morning over coffee, eggs and bacon, I read the final paragraph to Bethany with the morning light and sleep still in our eyes…
The desert he rode was red and red the dust he raised, the small dust that powdered the legs of the horse he rode, the horse he led. In the evening a wind cam up and reddened all the sky before him. There were few cattle in that country because it was barren country indeed yet he came at evening upon a solitary bull rolling in the dust against the bloodred sunset like an animal in sacrificial torment. The bloodred dust blew down out of the sun. He touched the horse with his heels and rode on. He rode with the sun coppering his face and the red wind blowing out of the west across the evening land and the small desert birds flew chittering among dry bracken and horse and rider and horse passed on and their long shadows passed in tandem like the shadow of a single being. Passed and paled into the darkening land, the world to come.
Even now I sit here waiting for my wife and son to get home so on this day off I can return to that used bookstore and pick up a copy of the next story in The Border Trilogy with the unused credit.