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Authors: Michael Ondaatje

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BOOK: Divisadero
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He was still Lucien
Segura, after all his years, after all these changes and escapes. He was, he
realized, still more responsible to the boy he had been, than to the father he
had become. In spite of everything he had not been a paternal man. But here,
where the late-winter storm fell on him, protected by this thin pyramid of a
tent, with its hidden bulbs and grains frozen under the snow that would be
alive again in the future, he saw he had used up his life. He stood in the
shelter that had belonged to Aria, and then walked back to the house, and the
only footprints were his; there were not even those of the peacock, whose warm
three-toed feet would have revealed the green under the snow.

The lake throws up a
sparkle between the trees. Lucien takes a moment to struggle into his cardigan
and walks into the shadows of the oaks. He does not feel this present life is
real without the boy.
The essential necessity of Rafael.
They have shared things cautiously. He has reached for some fragments of his
life to give to this almost adopted boy, and in return Rafael has described the
eclipse he and his mother witnessed near Plaisance, its terrible wind that was
more terrible than the darkness. And what Lucien wants now is a storm.

Among all the great works
of art he stood before, as a younger man, was
Ivan the Terrible and His Son
by the painter Ilya Repin. He has remembered it all these years. The
old despot cradling the son he has killed accidentally with a blow to the
head—and the patriarch

s eyes on
re, and all around him the future
darkness. A week later, in another city, there was another painting, another
nightmare, Peter the Great interrogating his son for
and in the father’s eyes a sure knowledge of the young man’s guilt.

He will never know what
becomes of his children. He will not know whether he has nurtured them or
damaged them. A girl travels down the long California valley in a commercial
refrigeration truck, hardly able to speak, as a result of her fear or her
bravery, listening to every word of the good stranger. Lucette in Paris sips
absinthe with her lover. The boy Rafael will meet me, a woman from the New World.
. . . And Coop?
And Claire?
Will these children, in
their eventual cities, turn out to be the heroes of their own lives?

I have recently been
reading, in a monograph, a haunting thing about a missing father.
‘And so I hoped that someone would come, a man, why not my father,
at nightfall.
He would stand in front of the door, or on the path
leading from the forest, with his old white shirt, the everyday one, in shreds,
dirtied by mud and his blood. He would not speak in order to preserve what can
be, but he would know what I do not.’

Oh, this older need for a
lullaby, not a storm.
He comes out from the shadows of the trees and walks the length of the meadow
until he reaches the edge of the water, until he stands beside that oldest of
boats. He remembers
nding it in the grass that
rst morning in D
mu, believing at
rst that the struts were the ribs of an
animal. It lies in the mud, and a loose knot ties it to a tree. Rafael often
sculled across the lake in the evenings, for no reason but glorying in his energy.
Lucien pushes the boat free of the mud shelf and strides beside it through the
cloudy water and climbs in. He turns his back to the far shore and rows towards
it. He can in this way travel away from, yet still see, his house. Water laps
up between the boards, and he feels he is riding a
oating skeleton. He is able to
distinguish the shape of his small home in the quickening dusk. He wants to
stand, to see everything clearly, and at the very moment of his thinking this,
a board cracks below him, like the one crucial bone in the body that holds
sanity, that protects the road out to the future. His gaze holds on to this
last, porous light. Some birds in the almost-dark are
ying as close to their re
ections as possible.


My thanks most of all to
Susie Schlesinger as well as to Jean-Hubert Gailliot and France David for the
help they gave me during the writing of this book. Thank you also to Bill and
Sakurako Fisher of San Francisco and San Anselmo; to Theresa Salazar, Anthony
Bliss, and David Duer at the Bancroft Library at Berkeley, California; to
Alfredo Vea of Oakland; to David Ben, with his magical talents, in Toronto; to
Glen Garrod and Ruth Winningham, Dave Walden, and Janis Arch in Nevada City,
Lake Tahoe, and San Francisco. To Sandra Compain of Quincy; Rick Simon at Coach
House Press, Toronto; Madeleine Duffort and Paulette Latarget of Barran; Guy
Bodéan in Dému; and Oliver Maack in Petaluma.
To Caroline
Richardson and Susie Schlesinger for horse lore.
Robert Creeley and Roy Kiyooka.
To E. F. C. Ludowyck,
many years ago.
To Karen Newman, Lucy Jacobs, Agnes Montenay, David
Warrell, Alexandra Rockingham, Mary Lawlor, and Julie Mancini; the architect
Jon Fernandez, video-installation artist Douglas Gordon, David Young and
Anthony Minghella, and Baltic Avenue.
As well as Graham
Swift—for his care of a river.
Also Le Daroles bar in Auch and Jet Fuel
in Toronto.

Thank you to Katherine
Hourigan, Diana Coglianese, Lydia Buechler, and Anthea Lingeman at Knopf.
To Anna Jardine.
To Ellen Levine and
Steven Barclay.
To Donya Peroff and Tulin Valeri.
Thanks to Quintin for her research, and Grif
n and Esta and Linda for their comments
during the last stages of the book.
To Sonny Mehta and Liz
Calder, Louise Dennys and Olivier Cohen.
And, once again, a special
thank you to Ellen Seligman, my editor, at McClelland & Stewart in Toronto.


The lyrics Cooper sings to
himself at the card table are from the song ‘Johnny Too Bad,’ originally
recorded by The Slickers in 1970 and written by Derrick Crooks, Roy Beckford,
Winston Bailey, and either Delroy Wilson or his brother Trevor Wilson,
depending on the source. The line of song quoted on page 118 is by Tom Waits,
another line by The Lovin’ Spoonful appears on page 46. The song ‘In Delaware,
When I Was Younger’ is by Loudon Wainwright. The song ‘Um Favor’ (partially
described on page 73) by Lupicinio Rodrigues in essence began this book.

The passage on page 273
about ‘the father at twilight’ appears in
Le paradis perdu/Paradise Lost
Marc Trivier (Yves Gervaert Editeur, Bruxelles, 2001, © 2001 Marc Trivier),
used by permission. Nietzsche’s original line is
‘Wir haben die Kunst, damit
wir nicht
der Wahrheit zugrunde gehen.
’ J. M.
Coetzee’s slightly different translation of it in his speech when accepting the
Jerusalem Prize led me to it. Two lines of a poem by Lisa Robertson from her
Rousseau’s Boat
(Nomados, Vancouver, 2004)
used by permission, appear on page 143. The comment about ‘archives being
utopia’ is also by her. The phrase ‘sweeping the
translator’s house’ appears in Brenda Hillman’s book of poems
University Press, 2001). The sentences from Alexandre Dumas’s
The Black
appear in the translation by Robin Buss (Penguin). The remark about
Colette’s ‘amorously selected words’ on page 142 is by Francoise Gilot in her
Matisse and Picasso
(Bantam, Doubleday, Dell Publishing Group,
1990). The conversation about the author of
Sophie’s Choice
uses remarks by William Styron.


Thank you also to the
following works:
A Military Garden–
a pamphlet written by Georges
Truffaut, with the collaboration of Helen Colt, in 1919
Eugen Weber’s
into Frenchmen: The Modernization of Rural France 1870–1914
University Press, 1976)—from which I drew some historical data on chariveries
and veillées, as well as ‘sayings’;
Miasmas to Molecules
by Barry Wood
(Columbia University Press, 1961);
The Great Central Valley: California’s
by Stephen Johnson, Gerald Haslan, and Robert Dawson (University
of California Press, 1993);
Rush for Riches: Gold Fever and the Making of
by J. S. Holliday (University of California Press, 1999);
the writing of Colette assembled by Robert Phelps (Farrar, Straus
& Giroux, 1978);
Blessings of the Wind
by Tad Wise (Chronicle Books,
The Tevis Cup
by Marnye Langer (The Lyons Press, 2003);
by Robert Prus and C. R. D. Sharper (Kaufman and Greenberg, 1979).
Some descriptions of the First Gulf War that Dorn mentions during the game of
Texas Hold ’Em are drawn from
Martyrs’ Day: Chronicle of a Small War
Michael Kelly (Random House, 2001); Kelly was killed during the Second Gulf
War. Annie Dillard’s lines on page 141 appeared in
The American Scholar
2004. The information about
from Wendy Doniger’s book
The Bedtrick: Tales of Sex and Masquerade
of Chicago Press, 2000).

A Note
on the Type

text of this book was set in Sabon, a typeface designed by Jan Tschichold
(1902–1974), the well-known German typographer. Based loosely on the original
designs by Claude Garamond (c. 1480–1561), Sabon is unique in that it was
explicitly designed for hotmetal composition on both the Monotype and Linotype
machines as well as for filmsetting. Designed in 1966 in Frankfurt, Sabon was
named for the famous Lyons punch cutter Jacques Sabon, who is thought to have
brought some of Garamond’s matrices to Frankfurt.

by North Market Street Graphics, Lancaster, Pennsylvania
Designed by Anthea Lingeman

BOOK: Divisadero
13.65Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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