Encounter in Landscape

A woman in bifocals with one tooth missing
meets a woman in sunglasses with three teeth missing
on a cloudy day.

Fortune Told

What this means is
the wagon dragged back,
the oxen halted,
a man’s hair and nose cut off:
not a good beginning.

Furniture Writing Question

Can you create a tragic scene
in which you mention
a what-not?

Claim to Fame #1: My Relationship to Ezra Pound

          I don't know the best way to express this. I'll try a few ways:

          Pound's son Omar was the husband of my half-sister's father's niece.
          My half-sister's father's sister had a daughter who married Pound's son Omar.
          My half-sister's father's niece, in other words my half-sister's first cousin on her father's
side, was married to Ezra Pound's son Omar.
          One of the two daughters of my half-sister's father's sister Louise Margaret married
Pound's son Omar.
          My half-sister's aunt Louise Margaret's daughter's father-in-law was Ezra Pound.
          My half-sister's aunt's daughter's father-in-law was Ezra Pound.
          My half-sister's first cousin's father-in-law was Ezra Pound.

          I explained this as best I could to a friend who is an expert on Pound, since I thought it
might interest him. He was mildly interested, but then pointed out that Omar was not in fact
Pound's biological son.
          His only biological child was one he did not acknowledge.
          That child was the illegitimate daughter of Olga Rudge.
          I don't mind having my facts corrected.

On their way south on Sunday morning (as they thought)

Mark and Gail stopped to refuel their bike and themselves. But when they entered the restaurant, the woman who greeted them with menus in her hands said, "We only serve breakfast on Sunday." "But this IS Sunday," Mark said. "Yes, so we only serve breakfast," the woman said. They were still confused.
          Her statement seemed to be a negative one, a warning, as though they would not be able to have anything to eat, even though it was Sunday, and, they thought, morning.
          Still, she was holding menus in her hands, as though for them.

          Here is one of the problems--it is a grammar problem. The restrictive "only" seems to be misplaced, so that her meaning is unclear. "We only serve breakfast on Sunday" actually could mean, "The only day we serve breakfast is Sunday. We do not serve breakfast on any other day of the week." It could also mean that the restaurant served other meals in addition to breakfast, in which case Mark and Gail could eat, no matter what the time of day. To convey what must have been her actual meaning correctly, the woman should have put the restrictive "only" directly in front of the word it restricted, and said, "We serve only breakfast on Sunday." Also correct, and even clearer, would have been to invert the word order so that the last phrase came first: "On Sunday, we serve only breakfast," or, even more explicitly, "On Sunday, the only meal we serve is breakfast." In fact, if she had used this inverted word order, the woman could have returned to the more casual, though incorrect, use of the restrictive "only" and said, "On Sunday, we only serve breakfast," and her meaning would have been clear enough.

          The woman's emphatic statement might have seemed to indicate that Mark and Gail would not be able to eat at the restaurant, because, in fact, the restaurant served only breakfast on this day, and the hour for breakfast, despite what Mark and Gail believed, was past, since it was now early afternoon. But did the woman's confusing statement actually mean that it was too late for Mark and Gail to have something to eat? No. It meant that although Mark and Gail could have something to eat, they should not expect, despite the fact that it was early afternoon--as they now realized--that they could eat lunch. No, in fact, though it was by now early afternoon, the restaurant was still offering breakfast, and would continue to offer breakfast, and only breakfast, for hours to come. And so, after delivering her first, cautionary statement, and then repeating it, the woman more kindly showed Mark and Gail to a nice table outdoors, in the shade, on the restaurant patio, and sent a waitress to take their order.
          As they ate, Mark wondered: perhaps, because his hearing was not as sharp as it had once been, he might have missed the woman's intonation when she warned them about the menu restriction--maybe he did not catch the intonation that told them they could indeed have something to eat.
          How long did they stay? Until their hunger was satisfied, and until they were rested and ready to continue on their way. Did they then remember to refuel their bike? They did.

All works © Lydia Davis

LYDIA DAVIS is the author of one novel and seven story collections, the most recent of which was a finalist for the 2007 National Book Award. She is the acclaimed translator of a new edition of Swann's Way and a new translation of Madame Bovary.