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Fiction #92
(published Mid-year, 2002)
The Love Letters of Jack Warren and Devon March, part 6
gathered by Riley Hoffman and Morgan Johnson

Editor's note:

This is the sixth and, according to all reports, final installment of the love letters passed between Jack Warren and Devon March.

As with all previous letters, these were found scribbled in the backs of old, mildewed books— mostly volumes from various public and university libraries, the remains of a bequest of this mysterious Jack Warren.

Our San Francisco contacts have not yet— and may never— find any very useful information concerning the provenance of these letters and/or the fates and identities of their authors. We know only these two facts:

  • Jack Warren loved books.

  • Jack and Devon were (are?) in love.


    Christ! Tell Dave the cupboards are bare! We've searched everywhere; there just aren't any "love letter" books left. If he wants to find the rest of Warren's collection, he can sort through every two-bit used book shop and musty closed stack himself. We're done!

    Why does he have to be such an asshole about this?

    Morgan and Riley


    "Kan, Cant, Cantata, Canticle, Cantillate, Canto, Cantor"


    Where these words are written, only you will find them. These words—these lines—are roads that only you can travel, in a landscape foreign to anyone else. Though maps of this terrain exist, they are thought mere fantasies, displayed as art or stored away. No one but you will look and see the pattern, the code of straightaway and intersection, the tendency of their direction toward the buried treasure in the center.

    These letters, dark ancient black like railroad ties on smooth white like sun-bleached sand; these words, linked one to the next in an inexorable train of grammar; these lines like arteries snake through gentle valleys and over gentler hills. You are alone here, without a guide, unless you count the ways you learned in dreams, the hard-earned knowledge hovering over you like thought and memory.

    Like a child sounding out each syllable, carefully, one by one, you trace the stream of words with the lightest touch of a fingertip. Climbing up, sliding down, winding in, wending out, your eyes and fingertip and mouth follow along, taking each round word on your tongue and lingering to savor the slow, mellow meter of each line, the easy dive of middle vowels down toward the back of your throat, the sweet soft whisper of an unexpected sibilant.

    Have I read this phrase before, you wonder, but the thought eludes you as the words hurry you on to the next clause, the next elaborate tangent that spirals down and in, down and into a deep dell. Here the words wind and circle tighter and tangled and dark, faster and older, clipped down to their heart-roots, and you are overwhelmed by a combination of fear, awe and comfort. This place, this language has the almost unbearable closeness and familiarity of home. The lines change, the words chant, the beat accelerates.

    Your reading has become a prayer, the prayer has become you, the words have taken hold of lips and tongue, vocal chords and breath. The lines twine around you and inside you, breath and body, beat and pulse, until every part of you chants: come down, come to me, comfort me, hold me, home me, read me, write me, learn me, love me.




    Root: skrbh- (Important derivatives are: scribble, scribe, script, Scripture, ascribe, circumscribe, conscript, describe, inscribe, manuscript, postscript, prescribe, subscribe, transcribe.) To cut, separate, sift.

    Extension of sker-1.
    1.scribble, scribe, script, scriptorium, Scripture, serif, shrive; ascribe, circumscribe, conscript, describe, festschrift, inscribe, manuscript, postscript, prescribe, proscribe, rescript, subscribe, superscribe, transcribe, from Latin scrbere, to scratch, incise, write.
    2.scarify1, from Greek skariphos, scratching, sketch, pencil.

    tat*too2 (t-t) n. A permanent mark or design made on the skin by a process of pricking and ingraining an indelible pigment or by raising scars.

    v. tat*tooed, tat*too*ing, tat*toos. v. intr. To beat out an even rhythm, as with the fingers.

    Lover, these words blend into one another. (Like us: lover, overlap, lap.) Root of "script" means to cut, to separate, to sift. When I write for you, my desire is to bring us closer; do I instead emphasize our separation? Language binds us together and raises boundaries around us.

    (And rulers reading Scripture are raising conscripts in the streets-to cut a clearer border in the south and west and east-and the tattoo of the war drums beat and beat and beat and beat-and soldiers to their sweethearts sketch the woad in tribal cheeks-) I am standing in my inner chamber once again. The women who surround me like a sacred circle are blind, but perform their task flawlessly. The dye smells bittersweet in the warm room; I will myself neither to sweat nor to shiver, though the delicate brushes tickle and the needles prick. The scent of blood is more disturbing than the dye. I breathe as my teacher taught me, in, out, in, out, out, in, out. (Should I give in to the beat of the tattoo, or resist it? My rhythm falters, but the women do not pause in their work.)

    I send my mind to you, to the words meant for you, I chant the litany of the language they are raising on my skin. (Come down, come to me, comfort me-)

    Again, again, again. Then the derivatives of skrbh, scrbere, skariphos: scribble, scratch, scarify. The words rise black on my white skin, like sutures. (From syu, suere, sutus, sutura: to sew, to join.) Like tradition, these lines are inexorable, inevitable, indelible, inflexible. And they are between you and me, us and us only, a binding, a boundary.


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    The Next Fiction piece (from Issue #93):

    Tart, part 1 of 4
    by Roy Johnson

    The Last few Fiction pieces (from Issues #91 thru #87):

    The Love Letters of Jack Warren and Devon March, part 5
    gathered by Riley Hoffman and Morgan Johnson

    The Love Letters of Jack Warren and Devon March, part 4
    gathered by Riley Hoffman and Morgan Johnson

    The Love Letters of Jack Warren and Devon March, part 3
    gathered by Riley Hoffman and Morgan Johnson

    The Love Letters of Jack Warren and Devon March, part 2
    gathered by Riley Hoffman and Morgan Johnson

    The Love Letters of Jack Warren and Devon March, part 1
    gathered by Riley Hoffman and Morgan Johnson

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