Jorge Luis Borges’s story “The Aleph” famously depicts a sphere, “two or three centimetres in diameter,” which simultaneously contains every point in space in the world. In the short story “The Tower”, by Christopher Laxer, which appears to be inspired by Borges’s “The Secret Miracle” (in which the condemned author Jaromir Hladik is granted a year by God to finish his masterpiece), Isaac Babel dreams, the night before his execution, words that are “incomprehensible, circular, perfect.” Babel’s “words” (to imagine two such words seems inconceivable) call to mind the Aleph of Borges’s story, as well as devices favoured by the Argentine, such as the sphere whose center is everywhere and circumference nowhere. But if “The Tower” is really influenced by Borges, then the words that Babel dreams hinge on a misinterpretation: Laxer’s belief that “perfection” is the desirable opposite of silence.
god i feel lonely when i don’t have any money
i mean not even enough to pay for flint
to scratch out a little flame in the stove
my cats are hungry, the birds are hungry, and the mice go about without shoes
oh it is a terror this being poor
i yell until the walls can’t take it any longer
they shout ‘will you give it a rest?’ or ‘stop it’
and i hide underneath the covers until a mouse comes and stands on my shoulders
oh but i have hopes, i have hopes
one day god will address me on the mount
and Jacob with him, and Moses with him, and Peter too
I’ll shout ‘eureka!’ and run around until my legs give, and a mouse will whisper and wrap me in straw
I’ve finally matriculated, and I expect to feel nothing? she asked while I stared at the daffodils at her feet, daffodils you’d think someone might have cleaned up by now, at least if there was any dignity in this place. Or any justice in the world. When your father greeted me just a moment ago he referred to me as “Toyota Camry” and explained that I have a fine engine in me and began wistfully repeating “if only… if only… some of the upholstery out of the back, strip the air-conditioning…” while gently caressing my single headlight. She explained nudging one of the daffodils with her foot that she’d worked hard for years and had she thought certain ideas borrowed from Jewish, Christian and Marxist thought (not being she said too well-read on Islam) that matriculation meant the end of history and that her time of suffering was over. And so this feeling of nothing coming when she had reached the end disturbed her. For my part I slipped the chain back on the axle and ever-so-slightly agitated my back wheel in order to dislodge a daffodil caught underneath the fender. Standing up from her seat she turned to the glare of the door as it opened and shielding her eyes asked Hello? Have you come about the flowers?