A novel of violence, of love, and introspection, Barry Gifford's The Up-Down follows a man who leaves home and all that’s familiar, finds true love, loses it, and finds it again. Pace’s voyage is outward, among strangers, and inward into the fifth direction that is the up-down, in a sweeping, voracious human tale that takes no prisoners, witnesses extreme brutalities and expresses a childlike amazement. Here the route goes from New Orleans, to Chicago to Wyoming to Bay St. Clement, North Carolina, but the geography he is charting is always first and foremost unchartable.
He had read that in ancient times, various societies believed there were five directions: North, South, East, West and the Up-Down. He liked the idea of a fifth, mysterious direction.
Happy belated birthday (it was the 18th) to Barry Gifford, one of America's most enduring and inspiring storytellers—in novels from Landscape with Traveler to Wild at Heart to The Up-Down, in pioneering oral history biographies like Jack's Book, and collections of stories and poems, constantly renewing the heart and the dark side of the American dream and the American reality.
Here's a new poem by BG, printed here by permission of the author.
Blood Moon in February
Here I am wasting time again
writing poems to keep myself company—
The Chinese masters of the T'ang dynasty
thought the same, but mostly
they were rural government functionaries
or already collecting a pension,
out of favor with the emperor—
So they drank rice wine
and kept their opinions to themselves,
sneaking hidden meanings into poems
they knew only a very few people
would read during their lifetime—
Who cares about a barking dog
nobody sees, or what kind of bird
sings just before light—
Only in darkness do my thoughts
cohere, vagrant ghosts
passing in dreams, difficult
if not impossible to find again—
Perhaps there never was anything
to worry about, and now know
when the dog barks or the bird sings
there aren't any thoughts