I’ve always done my best work in the kitchen. I don’t know why. Cooking stuff up. Maybe that’s it. Now I’ve got my own kitchen deep in the country with a big round table smack in the middle. But I am surrounded. I’m not sure who put all this stuff in here. Who jumbled all this up on my white brick walls as though it told some story, made some sense; some whole world out of floating fractured bits and pieces. Pencil drawing of Seattle Slew, long after retirement—bloated pasture-belly, glazed far-off stare in his eye as though looking back to the glory days of the Triple Crown. And, wedged between the glass and flat black frame, snapshots of different sons in different shirts doing different things like fishing, riding mules and tractors; leaning up against their different mothers at radical angles. Postcards of nineteenth-century Lakota warriors like Gaul, adopted son of Sitting Bull, price on his head; left for dead only to come back and seek his perfect vengeance at the Battle of the Little Bighorn. Henry Miller with a walking stick, black beret, sitting on a rock wall gesticulating to the camera, some quote about morality and why don’t we just give ourselves over completely and unabashedly to the present, since we’re all up against the same grim prospect anyway; same sinking ship. Slaves in sepia tone, harvesting bluegrass seed and whistling “Dixie.” Wedged between the tile and brick, more pix of hawks and galloping horses out near where we used to chase skinny coyotes back into the tangled mesquite and ocotillo. Then Beckett’s sorrowful bespectacled hawk-face, gazing into oblivion with no trace of self-pity, resigned, hands clasped between his knees. Underneath in neat black scrawl: “There is no return game between a man and his stars.”
Who scrambled all this stuff in here with no seeming regard for associative order, shape, or color? Without the slightest care for where it might all wind up. Just randomly pinned to cupboards and door frames, slipping sideways; gathering spotted stove grease and fly shit. El Santuario de Chimayó, for instance, caked in Christmas snow, but what’s it doing right next door to a business card for my horseshoer with an anvil and hammer logo? Then, working up the wall, there’s the little bay in Lubec, Maine, where another set of rum-running ancestors lay long buried, then magic stones from Bernalillo, Wounded Knee, the painted stick, guts of the dream catcher, antelope, prairie dog, old speckled racing greyhounds flying off the tailgates; rusted spurs on the back of the black walnut door. What’s all this shit for? Some display for who? For me? What for? Some guest or other? I have no guests. You know that. I’m no host. Never have been. Maybe the old Sonoran man who drops off split oak but no real visitors, that’s for sure. Everyone knows to stay far away. Especially now with the tiger-brindled pit bull out front. The screaming burro kicking buckets down the hill. The fighting gallo in attack mode. I’m in this bunker all my own, surrounded by mysterious stuff. It may be time to take a break and walk back out into the dripping black woods where I know the hollowed-out Grandaddy Sycamore sits and waits for you to climb inside and breathe up into its bone-white aching arms.
Sunday, midday. Not many cars. Man’s out for a stroll. He comes across a head in a ditch by the side of the road; walks right past it, thinking he hasn’t seen what he’s just seen; thinking it’s not possible. He stops. His heart starts picking up a little. His breath gets choppy. He’s shaking now and he’s never understood why his body always takes over in moments of panic like this; why his body refuses to listen to his head. He turns and goes back. He stops again and stares down into the ditch. There it is. Big as life. He’s staring straight at it. A severed head in a wicker basket. He picks up a stick and pokes it like he’s done before with dead dogs or deer. The skin puffy and blue and the eyes shut tight, squinting as though frozen in the moment of amputation. The head sporting a Pancho Villa–style moustache; two buckteeth slightly visible; a single spot of blood on the lower lip. No other signs of gore. No dangling arteries or purple mess. It’s a cleanly decapitated head resting flat in the bottom of a basket with what looks like burlap tucked neatly around the abbreviated neck. Black locks of matted hair dangle in snaky coils down both ears. The body is nowhere in sight. The man is relieved about that. In fact, he hopes he doesn’t stumble across it in the same way he came across the head. That might be more than he could handle at this point.
Suddenly, the head starts to speak to the man in a soft, lilting voice. The eyes of the head don’t open; the lips don’t move. The voice just seems to be floating out the top of the skull. It’s a humble, quiet kind of voice with no accent that the man can make out. Maybe the islands. The head asks the man if he’ll kindly pick up the basket and carry it to a place it would prefer to be. A tranquil place not too far from here, away from the pounding sun and the roar of traffic. The head tells the man it’s been hard for him to think straight in this miserable ditch. Panic takes hold of the man and he runs. He runs so fast and desperately that he quickly exhausts himself and falls down flat on his face. He hasn’t fallen so completely flat as this since he was a little kid running away from his father; running for his life. With his teeth in the dirt the man hears the head calling out to him in the most forlorn and melancholy voice the man has ever heard. It makes his whole heart ache. The man pulls himself up off the ground, spitting little grains of sand. He turns and returns to the head. He can’t help himself. His heart is pounding wildly. He tells the head he doesn’t want to be involved; this was purely accidental, this meeting between the two of them, and he wants to just continue on his way as though the whole thing never happened. The head pleads with the man and the voice of the head is so full of yearning that the man remains rooted to the ground. The head tells him he’s been calling out for days to the passing cars but no one hears him, no one stops. The man is the first one to stop. This makes the man feel important somehow; the idea that he might be some kind of hero. He likes that idea and his heart begins to relax and return to normal. The man asks the head, very tentatively, where it is he might want to be taken and the head answers, “A lake, not too far from here. It won’t take very long. You can just throw me into the flat water and then be on your way.” The man considers for a moment then agrees to carry the head on one condition and that is that the head will please not speak to him anymore other than to give him simple clear directions on how to get to the lake and, above all, he should never again make that mournful, melancholy sound. The head agrees eagerly to all this and immediately goes silent.
When the man bends over to pick up the head in the basket he discovers it’s much heavier than he would have imagined. It must weigh fifty pounds or more. Dead weight. The head laughs then quickly stops itself, not wanting to anger the man; not wanting the man to think he’s being made fun of. The man hoists the basket up to his waist and carries the head a few yards on his hip, like a mother would carry an infant, then sets it down, panting and gasping. The head laughs in spite of itself and the man becomes angry, just as the head had anticipated. “What’s so funny?” demands the man but the head won’t answer. The man immediately storms off feeling that he’s been the brunt of some joke. The head calls out again in the most heartbreaking, plangent voice the man has ever heard. It stops him cold in his tracks. “You promised me you wouldn’t make that awful sound again!” the man screams.
“I’m sorry,” says the head, “but it’s the only way to get your attention.” The man walks reluctantly back to the head and stops in front of it. He feels now that he’s hooked on this head. He stares down at it. The head is silent again. The eyes remain closed and squinting tight. There seems to be no life in the head at all. The man knows different. “How did you get separated from your body?” asks the man point-blank. This is the question that’s been haunting him.
“I was beheaded,” says the head.
“How?” asks the man.
“By a gleaming silver saber,” says the head.
“But who held the saber? Who brought it down on your neck?”
“I never saw it coming,” says the head.
“But you must have known it was coming,” says the man.
“Yes, but it didn’t help.”
“What?” says the man.
“Knowing. Knowing didn’t help.”
“So, you have no idea who it might have been?” asks the man.
“I have many ideas but it doesn’t matter now.”
“Don’t you want to seek your vengeance?” asks the man. The head starts laughing and can’t stop. “Don’t laugh at me!” screams the man. The head stops. “I can’t stand that,” says the man. “All my life I’ve been laughed at.”
“I’m sorry,” says the head.
“I can’t carry you, that’s for sure. You’re way too heavy,” says the man and the head begins to weep. Tears roll out of the squinting eyes.
“Don’t do that,” says the man. “I can’t stand it if you do that.”
“You’re my only chance,” says the head, trying to cont...
Revue de presse
“Expansive and rich. . . . With scenarios that are at once unbearable and irresistible, Shepard casts a predictably haunting spell.” —USA Today
“Gorgeous. . . . Searing. . . . Shepard beautifully records the overlooked, strange places men find themselves, both physically and emotionally.” —San Francisco Chronicle
“Sharp enough to move a reader to tears. . . . Funny and smart. . . . Profoundly satisfying. . . . The narrator talks out his conflicts . . . with great precision and beauty.” —The Boston Globe
“Expansive, panoramic. Like Bob Dylan, Shepard is a geographer of the rawboned surrealism of America’s shadow interior, story after story bearing the name of a town or highway, our national portrait dabbed with a thousand points of darkness.” –James Wolcott, Vanity Fair
“These stories [have a] deep, abiding appeal.” –The Los Angeles Times
“This is Shepard’s brilliance—the ability to continually surprise us. He plays with our heads, pushes boundaries, and in the end makes the journey worthwhile.” –The Denver Post
“Shepard [is] one of the most lavishly gifted, prolific artists of his generation.” –The Plain Dealer
“These deceptively modest works, reflective and witty, explode with fresh energy. Their touches of absurdity give way to a depth of emotional loss that will sneak up and wring your heart dry. [Sam Shepard] is still a star, still a treasure….It takes an eternally young genius like Shepard to make us laugh and wonder.” –The Daily Beast
“Shepard’s talent and bent for language is what drives the book. The rhythms. The precision of the words. His instincts on when to give and when to hold back. All together, these pieces take us on a road trip of America, before dropping us off inside ourselves.” –The Providence Journal
“His literary voice….[is] strong, unpretentious, and singular….He writes with the kind of authority that makes you believe—and with the kind of depth that makes you think.” –Elle.com
“Mournfully funny….Well-observed….As a collection of tiny jewels of language unearthed with great care by a man with a uniquely American voice, it’s unlike anything else.” –The A.V. Club
“Read [it] the way the faithful may read their Bibles: a few verses nightly to serve as inspiration, and a shield from despair.” –The L Magazine
“No one writes like Shepard or better captures the fallout from American myths: of freedom, entitlement and masculinity.” –The Post and Courier
“Powerfully entertaining.” –Richmond Times-Dispatch
“Gripping and elusive at the same time….Dark and weirdly funny….There’s something about Shepard that invites awe. Sam Shepard is Samuel Beckett as Marlboro Man….Readers of Hemingway, Cormac McCarthy, Jim Harrison and Thomas McGuane will recognize the type.” –The Hartford Advocate
“Always there’s the tremendous poetry of Shepard’s language.” –The Oregonian
“Moving….Again and again, we find in Day out of Days, everything in life is a mystery; the road to answers, or even a satisfying sense of place, never ends.” –Chicago Sun Times
From the Trade Paperback edition.