These arrangements of empty chairs are what’s left of celebration, argument, meditation, sleep and revelation.  They huddle together like still animals in the cold.  From a chair beneath a plane tree, the round tracks of a cane disappear into the gravel.

The single chairs are absent of their poets, readers and afternoon philosophers.

Those side by side and face to face are absent of their lovers, their chess players, the soon to be married and the just abandoned.

The great groups of circles and strange half-moons have lost their lecturers, their students.

 

We were the last two on the last night before they closed for August.  When we left they gave us their baguettes.  Eight of them.  Sturdy, seeded flutes.   We rode our bikes home down the broad empty boulevard.  I drew a baguette from my basket and raised it like a saber.  Attack, attack, attack you said and we wove long arcs in the night.

I was alone in the colonnade sitting against the cold stone wall.  There was the same man playing the oboe.  The wind blew his sheet music until he gave it up and closed his eyes and played until they began to lock the gates.

We were drunk on the rue Delambre talking about Estonia, a trip we’ll never take and the ends of our lives.

We were in the kitchen on Gros Caillou with the windows open.  It was very late and they were all singing and I was watching the woman reading in her hotel room across the street.  From time to time she closed her eyes and I imagined her listening to us and we were for her the city.

We were in St. Cloud in that terrible building with the doors closed and the poplars outside swaying back and forth, back and forth, and I was standing in front of all of you talking about Macbeth and Aldous Huxley and couldn’t imagine ever doing anything else.

We were walking across the bridge.  It was nearly three in the morning.  There was the low groan of an idling boat engine.  We looked down on two divers turning in wide circles searching for the jumper. Their lights were bright white and warped beneath the surface.  The police boat flashed blue while its wake splashed softly against the walls.

I posed on the seat holding our helmets by their straps waiting for you to appear from behind the glass doors.  You held my waist and fast we were crashing through the night.

We were lying on our backs looking for animals in the night clouds.

I was tucked into my corner drinking hot coffee and milk.  It was snowing and I was alone in the café and I looked up and realized, for the first time in years, that I might get through.

I walked home past those cafés on that boulevard holding ten copies of my first novel in a box thinking, What else could I do?  Where else could I live?  What could ever go wrong?

We were lying asleep on that swath of grass at the top of the gardens with the silken wind.

Here, there is always that wind like a ribbon tying memory to memory.

I am writing to you from up here with all the windows open and the late evening sun cutting across the wooden floor.

Time is measured by what has ended.

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ALEXANDER MAKSIK is the author of YOU DESERVE NOTHING (Europa Editions/John Murray Publishers). He is the recipient of a Truman Capote Fellowship and a Teaching/Writing Fellowship from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. He’s presently the Provost’s Postgraduate Writing Fellow at the University of Iowa. He lives in Paris and Iowa City.  

For more: www.alexandermaksik.com.

7 responses to “Leaving”

  1. Andrew Duncan says:

    Xander – another v good piece. You MUST keep writing but, being of the old school [!], you need to starve as well. When you have nothing you will be successful.
    Keep in touch,
    Love
    Andrew & Sarah

  2. Comment by Andrew Duncan
    2009-07-26 13:38:12
    Xander – another v good piece. You MUST keep writing but, being of the old school [!], you need to starve as well. When you have nothing you will be successful.
    Keep in touch,
    Love
    Andrew & Sarah

    Comment by Jim Simpson
    2009-07-26 13:51:54
    Aren’t those the chairs Stephen and I sat upon last spring? No, probably not. Empty chairs always turn my thoughts sentimental. Evocative writing as usual. Thanks.

    Comment by Dana Boulé
    2009-07-26 13:55:10
    You will be sorely missed.
    xo Dana

    Comment by Jim Simpson
    2009-07-26 14:02:33
    And best of luck in Iowa (such deep history there)! Keep in touch.

    Comment by Jan Levine
    2009-07-26 15:00:20
    Beautiful, and dare I say, evidence of how much you’ve accomplished as a working writer these last few years. Keep ‘em coming, and have a blast at Iowa.
    Love, Jan

    Comment by Simon Smithson
    2009-07-26 15:42:51
    Ah, man… you’ve done it again.

    Comment by D.R. Haney
    2009-07-26 17:56:21
    Yes, he has.

    I’m floored as always, Xander.

    It goes without saying that I wish you the best in the days and weeks ahead. I’ve had to leave a few places I’ve loved, and for me it was every bit as difficult as leaving a beloved person.

    A movable feast, Hemingway called Paris; and if he was right, it goes with you, my friend.

    It just hit me that you’re headed first to another spot in Hemingway country, which must be why his characterization of Paris occurred to me.

    Comment by Irwin
    2009-07-27 03:45:48
    I had that thought— although initially confused it with Idaho and Ketchum.

    But yes, born in Chicago I think, or at least lived there at one time.

    Echoing Simon and Duke— the best of luck to you Sir.

    Comment by John
    2009-07-26 18:09:51
    Such big, still sad images that make me remember so much. . . Bon voyage !

    Comment by blacklin
    2009-07-26 18:11:40
    A beautiful piece. And so very true: Time is measured by what has ended.

    Comment by Marni Grossman
    2009-07-26 19:00:03
    The word that comes to mind is “romantic.” Something about your pieces… Always etched elegantly in black-and-white.

    Comment by Zara Potts
    2009-07-26 19:10:56
    Gorgeous. As ever.

    Comment by Aaron Dietz
    2009-07-26 19:29:50
    Great photo, and great last line – on a parallel with something I wrote not long ago that was like, “The end is what gives things value,” or something.

    Comment by Rich Ferguson
    2009-07-26 20:31:14
    As always, well done, my friend.

    Comment by rk
    2009-07-26 21:44:01
    I’ll keep a seat warm for you…

    Comment by warnier isabelle
    2009-07-26 23:05:47
    Ne pas vous arrêter d’écrire et revenir à Paris.
    Bon voyage
    All super Best
    isabelle W.

    Comment by Irene Zion
    2009-07-27 07:39:31
    Alexander,
    You write so beautifully.
    The end I read over and over:

    “We were lying asleep on that swath of grass at the top of the gardens with the silken wind.

    Here, there is always that wind like a ribbon tying memory to memory.

    I am writing to you from up here with all the windows open and the late evening sun cutting across the wooden floor.

    Time is measured by what has ended.”

    It is a privilege to read your writing.

    Comment by gretchen
    2009-07-27 08:38:08
    I did a whole photo essay on empty chairs when I was at Yale. So much more beautiful and evocative in your words. Departures are sad, yes, but new beginnings are rare and euphoric.
    See you soon stateside. Bon voyage.

    Comment by Stacy Bierlein
    2009-07-27 09:25:31
    Beautiful post, one that I feel priviledged to have read! These words and images will stay with me for a long time. Thank you for sharing this here.

    Comment by Autumn
    2009-07-28 12:32:43
    What can I say that hasn’t already been said? Another one that takes your breath away. Bravo.

    Comment by Mark Eshman
    2009-07-28 18:26:19
    I love the phrase “there is always that wind like a ribbon tying memory to memory.” Best of luck in Iowa. You’ve earned it. -ME

    Comment by Doug
    2009-07-29 08:19:56
    Very nice. Thanks for including me, Xander. I find myself rhese days thinking more and more about things left behind. Time is indeed measured by them, but I think you’ll find as time goes by that they don’t end. They stay with you, and some even come back in unexpected ways–like finding your parents again outside that restaurant.

    Stay well, keep in touch.

    Doug

    Comment by COLOMB PIERRE
    2009-07-30 09:13:13
    L’absence de PARIS donne à votre récit une nostalgie et une poésie nouvelle,qui vraisemblablement va enrichir vos romans.Ce départ à peut être été un bien pour
    votre carrière future.
    Amitiés sincères
    P.C

    Comment by Eusebio
    2009-07-31 07:26:42
    Inspiring.

    Comment by Enjeong Noh
    2009-07-31 18:46:18
    Beautiful coda. The last sentence is a gem. But Iowa, not L.A.?

    Comment by Kymberlee
    2009-09-19 15:22:41
    I have begun a ritual of reading one of your pieces nestled within the luxury of a Saturday afternoon. It allows me to let the words come into me like a lover and work their magic on my heart. It’s something I look forward to with each week.

    I’ve been quite filled with sorrow today and had the thought while bathing earlier that the seed of sorrow is love. It’s not surprising to me that I read this essay today. There is so much love and sorrow here it makes me ache with longing.

    This is just so exquisitely beautiful, Xander. I am enjoying seeing the world through your eyes. It is a privilege.

    Thank you.

    Comment by jenny mollen
    2009-10-10 08:02:08
    I LOOOOOVE THIS PIECE! One of your best!!!!!!!!!!!!!! SO VIVID, SO HONEST, so utterly heartbreaking (in only the ways you want your heart to be broken! )

  3. […] in the internatoinal writing program at university of iowa, check him out here – http://www.thenervousbreakdown.com/amaksik/2009/07/leaving/).  The comment said “the best way to learn about your culture is to visit a foreign […]

  4. Jesse Dziedzic says:

    At least some bloggers can write. My thanks for this blog post..

  5. Imran Khan says:

    Awfully well written read!!

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