Salamandrine: Or, Genre’s Queer Occult Temporality

by on Oct.12, 2010

l7. I need to buy socks but which socks? What can the kid not kick off? And why won’t the kid sleep? I ask the mirror. It’s certainly nighttime you can tell just by looking in the mirror, the way it slumps and tries to shie away. The mirror is cracked from too many launchings and each launch is a foothold where my kid can lodge or sag but instead she’s fitful, insists on jerking in time to the jumps she makes in the quarter. In the quarter, in the quarter, just jitter and skitter on down. Catch a knife when it’s falling, drive the spittle into the ground. Find me a fateful woman if you can. Find me a fateful woman if you can. I’m clocked in junk, it’s a racket, it keeps the kid awake, I have to hack it, I have to hack it up. I have to empty out the junkdrawer of the grave.

In the quarter, in the quarter, in the nickel in the dime, in the cash drawer, honey, that’s where you find a real good time. Draw the ewer full of water draw the sewer full of lime, won’t you stay the same forever, won’t you ford that never twice.

My kid’s alive a live live wire like Lethe the nevermore. Skinny kid, for a baby, everybody says. How she jumps right out the window through the eye of the needle and into the eye of the grave.

8. The doctor says if the kid won’t start gaining soon we’re going to have to take measures. Since we measure her constantly I say like what. The doctor is half-coralled, half-wild, skinny in the face. She turns her back to me to write in a chart. Her little stool shrieks as she turns around. It’s freezing in here. That’s what my kid says to the sock it’s shoved in its mouth.

I’m in love with the doctor.

You should pay more attention to that kid.

The above excerpt is from my story “Salamandrine,” which you can read in Fairy Tale Review’s Aquamarine Issue, which can now be downloaded for $2.99 from Weightless Books, or backordered through the FTR website. (the link to Weightless Books is in the comments if you want to check it out).

I post it here because I wanted to add something to Danielle’s train of thought below, which very much lines up with my own thinking– that is, how this concern about temporality extends to genre. I’ve written a collection of short stories which refract the dread and isolation of contemporary life through a series of formal/generic lenses. I realized as I was writing it that the distorted, attenuated, spasmatic experience of time that had come into my life since motherhood made it impossible for me to think in terms of conventional temporalities or even causalities, let alone their narrative effects. Genres for me not only captured the dread of isolation (see my essay the “Future” of “Poetry”) but also participated in a distended and resistant, non-productive temporal structure which works against the truisms of conventional realist form with its emphasis on causality, memory, and motivation.

The title neologism, “salamandrine”, literally refers to the kid in the story, but it also refers to the attenuated, sinuous, unpredictable, slippery material of time in the story (and of course across the whole collection, which is called Salamandinre, 8 Gothics. The component words “salamander”, “sarabande”, and of course my favorite feminine snaky suffix ‘-ine” collapse in the portmaneau to suggest these qualities.

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5 comments for this entry:
  1. Lara Glenum

    “I’m clocked in junk, it’s a racket, it keeps the kid awake, I have to hack it, I have to hack it up.”

    Holy cow, Joyelle. This could be my poetics in one sentence.

  2. Joyelle McSweeney

    Hi all: Allow me to make a correction– this story appears in Fairy Tale Review’s Aquamarine issue. The entire issue may be downloaded for just $2.99 from Weightless Books:

  3. dcitro

    Great. Thanks for the link!

  4. Danielle

    Salamandrine, also Hermaphroditus & Salamacis. When the two are merged, though they become a double-single-intersexed entity, they get named for Hermaphroditus and Salamacis (for better? for worse? disappears).

    A Salamandrine is a mama-baby double-single-doublesexed-self-devouring-matter-converting-mater-conversion!

  5. Danielle

    Oh, I mean Salmacis, but in this case, Salamacis!