Me falta tiempo para celebrar tus cabellos.
I don’t have time enough to celebrate your hair.

-Pablo Neruda, Sonnet XIV from 100 Love Sonnets


Why did I not die? More miserable than man ever was before, why did I not sink into forgetfulness and rest? Death snatches away many blooming children, the only hopes of their doating parents: how many brides and lovers have been one day in the bloom of health and hope, and the next a prey for worms and the decay of the tomb! Of what materials was I made, that I could thus resist so many shocks, which, like the turning of the wheel, continually renewed the torture?

Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley


Fundacion Valparaiso, Mojacar, Almeria, Spain
June 23, 2011

Dear —

I am at my great wooden slab of a writing desk in paradise, looking out over a hump of mountain crowned with lights, and I don’t know where to begin, so I don’t know where to end and I don’t want to end or begin or figure out which is which and why or how. Today, dropping through the thick layer of clouds, a hoop skirt of sunshine opened like the bones of a parasol but offered no shade. Tonight is summer solstice. A change in season. There will be a bonfire on the beach and free sardines (gran sardinada!), live music and booze and “treats for kids.” Noche de San Juan. Equinocio – the equinox. People will throw what they want to cast off into the fire, little sins or sadnesses scribbled onto slips of paper and scooped up in the blaze. I have nothing to burn and everything to lose. I am not in the mood for fiestas. I’d like to avoid ritual. I don’t want to sip the ocean air or feel sand scratch between my toes. I want time to stop. Flames, stop. Water, stop. Sun and moon and stars, just quit it. Carefully crafted narrative finally fractures, which means that what is today is no longer tomorrow is yesterday and was never and is beyond and was before and is and is not. What is behind is already in front or perhaps to the side or underneath or nowhere at all. Dates blend. Nothing belongs to no place and lives inside no body.


Kafka said that “writing a letter is actually an intercourse with ghosts and by no means just with the ghost of the addressee but also with one’s own ghost, which secretly evolves inside the letter one is writing or even in a whole series of letters, where one letter corroborates another and can refer to it as witness.” This book is a love letter. It is very earnest in that way, very Alpha and Omega. But I am afraid to witness, afraid of dividing lines I am afraid of punctuation


Walking into Mojacar pueblo a dog trots past with a fly attached to his nose; he tries, in vain, to shake it off and eat it. It flies up and lands, flies up and lands. This requires his full attention and makes him too hot to bark. “Are you one of those dogs that barks all night?” I ask. He bites the air. If I could catch the fly I’d feed it to him. A thumbprint of gray is pressed to the end of his nose, like an accident of paint, a tiny flag of age waiting to flutter further and faster up his face. “Perro?” I ask the Spanish dog, trying to recall the lesson about animals from high school Spanish class. Yo me llamo Emilia is all I get. Hace much calor. Hola! Wind lifts dust from the road; it swirls in eddies behind me as if I’m being followed. Not by the dog, he’s disappeared behind the gate. The staccato chatter of crickets is interrupted by a little van moving down the road cut into the soft mountain like a finger sliding carefully through a mound of frosting so nobody will know that the cake has been plundered before the party begins, before the candles are pushed in and lit. The van is a child’s toy blurting a message from a single crackling loudspeaker: uno nino cinco anos. Two hours later, walking in the other direction, the same van going the other way, bearing the same message: uno nino cinco anos. I know the translation but what does it mean I am afraid to ask the question


Where I’m writing from there is only one phone box, in the hallway beneath the echoing rooms. If I call you, and you are eating lunch, I will cry and everyone will hear me and if you are not eating lunch I will also cry and I have a song for you


Today, 5,000 miles away, Ronan is alive


In April 1920, Kafka wrote to Milena Jesenska: It occurs to me that I really can’t remember your face in any precise detail. Only the way you walked away through the tables in the café, your figure, your dress, that I still see. This was a P.S. He loved her


The evil eye cannot find you during siesta. Your eyes are closed and it is forced to find someone who is awake, stupid nasty roving stinky old dripping eye I fear you. The wind relays softly through the trees like a skinny, fragrant monkey. The day dozes, drops its head. I need a witch to poke the eye out with a witch stick. People who run into fires are not brave; they have no other choice. Oh where are you


Milena’s letters to Kafka did not survive fire and censor so she walks through his but without a voice he answers still


The streets in Mojacar were built deliberately twisted; it helps the wind move more efficiently, cooling streets, tempers, dogs, and now sun-burned tourists from Northern Europe. I hear the goats now (cabritas!) their tiny goat bells softly tinkling the way they’d talk if they had words instead of weary bleats. Every hour, on the hour, the bells ring out from some unseen cathedral. 10987654321 seconds later another cathedral telling a different time rings out the “new” new hour. Which one is the real one which time is the real time come quickly


It couldn’t look better, the doctor said after the final ultrasound, all those tests. Why


Fireworks explode over the hills outside my window, over the empty luxury hotel full of abandoned furniture and half built rooms. A limp and distant pop pop boom. People and lizards are living in the hills. A man runs into a shop to buy bread at the “Crises” price of 1 Euro; it’s a crisis, it says so on the bag. A dog stops barking. A baby sleeps. A door slams in the wind. An empty drawing table on a sun-drenched porch. Someone says, “I want to talk to you” in Spanish behind a screen door. “Urgent,” they say. The bells are ringing they are stuck


How far does your leg go up and how long does your son have to live? I need a lantern or a candle something hurry


I forage for food at night in the kitchen when everyone is asleep. The only face I want to see is yours


Kafka was an insomniac. Writing to Max Brod: After a series of dreams, I had this one: A child wearing a little shirt was sitting to my left (I couldn’t remember whether it was my own child or not, but this did not bother me). Not a little child but a little shirt he couldn’t sleep heavy pains in my heart he said


In the darkness I am groping for your hand, your eyes, sweet belly, smooth flat back of the neck a thin stem


Far away my baby is still alive his life a swiftly departing dream. Rones Bones, little king of my own bones I love the handful of earth you are (Neruda). The bells ring out on the unseen hill. Cars curve around the mountains, another finger tracing the sweet road, another long, shallow dent. Mojacar dogs bark all night. Spanish poodles patrol the mountainside terraces teeth bared tails wagging


The world we live in is a world where you live also are you ready to begin your baby day are you ready now


Today I am going home. Tomorrow I am dreaming. Vice-versa and reverse


In Germany they said that in Almeria, Spain, where I’m writing from, the cucumbers are rotten with disease and not even good for goats but we ate them cucumber psychosis they said and the women kept coming, each day, to cook our meals in ceramic pots the color of earth and wash our clothes and scrub bright coins of blood from my underwear. All day long doors and windows slam shut beneath me. The house is full of empty rooms. Green bugs with intricate Elizabethan wings fight roughneck flies on the windowsill and win. A spider the size of my palm runs across the roof as if to say Good luck! The birds at night don’t sing, they ask questions the goats are okay


Wait I will not leave the edge of this day closing sleep sleep sleep


Dead flies drop into corners swept of dust oh Victor why didn’t you write a book why couldn’t you love him, your wretch, your it, your boy


Simone Weil was right: When a contradiction is impossible to resolve except by a lie, then we know it is really a door. These words are a lie these words are a door


This is not an argument with God or about God or for God


This is a love letter it is for you


It’s not a scary monster my dad explains when the book warns us about the one on the last page. I am five years old. Should we read about him? He has big eyes and soft fuzzy fur like a bear, a nice bear. He’s a sweet monster and he wants to be your friend. I nod okay and he continues. I like him I say at the end of the book


The bells bring in the animals but not all of them some were burned in the fire goats and also horses trapped in their barns. Thousands of almond trees and olives whole hillsides of nutty oil burning screams


This is the song: As I was walking down Twiddally dum street, I saw a monster with fifty-seven feet, he had big blue eyes and his ears were on his nose, he had eight big ears and fifty seven toes. He was weird. He had a purple beard. He had snakes. Wrapped up in cho-co-late cakes. He had hair. Worse than Tony Blair. He chewed gum. With his thumb.


Bliss, see also “euphoria, happiness, joy.” Summer has arrived. The trees wear soft lace undergarments of spider webs and I miss you. My room is a long corridor of wind. At night I leave the key inside the lock just in case


A one-word myth: Now. Another word: No. Up up up


A book from childhood: there is a monster at the end of this book so if it’s only a monster that would be good news that would be okay no ordinary creation you are my baby not enough time my beloved I won’t land your eyes your face my son your feet not yet your hair your fingers and toes mine and the wine glass is empty the wine is too and the bells are stuck ringing ringing ringing off the cord like dogs off the leash and gone gone gone Frankenstein go back to the beginning I run to you handful of earth which is the end and I’ll never touch ground fast as I can go you are mine there is not enough time for you and me even when I forget I promise not fast enough I will not take root I will be remembering believe it please wait see I am loose I am flying and the bells ring and ring and ring and they don’t stop ring-

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EMILY RAPP is the author of Poster Child: A Memoir. A former Fulbright scholar, she was educated at Harvard University, Saint Olaf College, Trinity College-Dublin, and the University of Texas at Austin, where she was a James A. Michener Fellow. She has received awards and recognition for her work from the Atlantic Monthly, the Mary Roberts Rinehart Foundation, the Jentel Arts Foundation, the Corporation of Yaddo, the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, and the Valparaiso Foundation. She was the Philip Roth Writer-in-Residence at Bucknell University and has received a Rona Jaffe Writers’ Award. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in the Los Angeles Times, Salon, The Sun, The Bark, The Texas Observer, Body & Soul, Good Housekeeping, and many other publications. She has taught writing in the MFA program at Antioch University-Los Angeles, where she was a Core Faculty member, UCLA Extension, the University of California-Riverside Palm Desert Graduate Program, the Taos Writers' Workshop, and the Gotham Writers' Workshops. She is currently professor of Creative Writing and Literature at the Santa Fe University of Art & Design in Santa Fe, New Mexico. She is currently at work on a novel and a new memoir, Dear Dr. Frankenstein, which chronicles her life with her infant son, who is dying of Tay-Sachs disease. Excerpts from the book can be found at http://ourlittleseal.wordpress.com and you can visit her at www.emilyrapp.com.

15 responses to “There is a Monster at the End of 
This Book”

  1. One of the most astounding pieces of writing I’ve ever come across here or anywhere online. How you manage words that hold such present pain and such pure beauty at once is a miracle, the kind they don’t yet have a name for.

    Thank you, Emily.

  2. dear emily, you leave me—nearly—without words, because i am lost in the beauty, the essence, of yours. within them my child is dying too. i can feel the bitter ache, can taste it, and i want to run and hide while at the same time wanting to drown in painful sorrow with you. selflessly, i hope you never stop.

  3. Emily Rapp says:

    Thanks! It was part of the book I’m writing about Ronan, but written in a very odd, altered grief state. I’m very interested in what makes our narratives fracture, what makes them stand, and how art and words fall short of their goal — expression — in the face of the greatest losses. Last night at a poetry reading I heard the quote (can’t remember who said it): “I write in order not to speak” or something like that. But sometimes even that fails you — this “experimental” (?) essay was a crack at rendering narrative when narrative fails you.

  4. Tammy Allen says:

    This fractured narrative is comprehensible. It works.

    I hope this doesn:t sound like a platitude: You are loved. It:s not meant to say anything but a fact.

  5. Gina Frangello says:

    Emily, I so often feel, with your beautiful, harrowing work, that I just wish more than anything that Ronan could read these things you say for and about him– that somehow there could be a Future Ronan able to absorb the splendor and pain of being the one who inspired such passion, and the amazement of having such a brilliant mother who loves him so profoundly. But I know, too, that all Ronan needs from you is precisely what he IS able to absorb–that your love and power and intensity is in your every touch and smile and he doesn’t need these words–that WE are the ones who need them, and who are so fortunate to be able to share in them. I’m writing this from LA (at Listi’s house, with his gorgeous little girl) and my body just aches for my kids, in Chicago, as I’m reading this and thinking of Ronan and life and how indeed, there is never enough time for you and me. I hope right now you’re smelling your little man’s sweet head, and I know with every urgency in every fiber of my body, that this boy feels loved. What a gift. You are both such miraculous gifts to one another. Thanks for sharing that gift. What I want to say is that your writing is one of the things I most want my own children to read–that you and Ronan have become part of an essential template of what I hope they will learn and absorb about the world.

    • Gloria says:

      Gina, you’ve just made me cry.

      • Emily Rapp says:

        Yeah, Gina — me, too! So weird, because just before I read this I was snuggling with Ronan and thinking, just how is it POSSIBLE that he will not be here, and soon? And trying to soak up the current moment without getting carried away by that moment…and I still owe you a regular email!

  6. JSBreukelaar says:

    Lovely. Thank-you.

  7. […] formal experimentation is reflected in Emily Rapp’s most recent essay for The Nervous Breakdown. Written as a June 2011 letter from Spain, the narrator pulls together […]

  8. Kate says:

    “There’s a Monster at the end of this book” was my favourite book as a child. I still have a copy.

    Loved this.

  9. Ariel Bretz says:

    Hey, thanks for the blog post. Really Cool.

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  11. Douglas Abrecht, Jr. says:

    Ms. Rapp,

    Countless moons ago while working as a camp counselor, we came across a recording of the Tiddallydum Street song. One of the counselors took, what I remember to be an operatic version, and rewrote it to be of a “children’s campy” style. I, however, remember very little more about it. Could you possibly supply me with your source for your reference from this “Monster at the End…” write up? I am curious in knowing from where it came and other info regarding it. Thank you. Douglas

  12. Kaydence says:

    My youngest daughter left some books out on the back porch the other day. Sadly, I didn’t find them until after it had rained all night. Hey, it happens. No big deal. But when I gathered them up from the wet table, the ruinous state of one book in particular made my heart break a little. For me to feel that kind of pang over the destruction of a children’s book, you’re probably thinking it must have been an heirloom copy of some classic work of literary genius, but no. It was a simple and rather silly little book—a Little Golden Book, more precisely. Nevertheless, it’s one that holds a place of deep nostalgia for me.

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