The Reliquary of Unknown Writers

Language of the Birds, by Brian Goggin and Dorka Keehn. San Francisco, 2006-08.

I have discovered my next project. A repository of sentences created by the unpublished and unseen writers all around us.

In every endeavor, there are those few who are celebrated and remembered. That celebration necessarily obscures the contributions of the multitude—anonymous on the field—who also played our necessary roles. There are so many writers whose work, crafted with every fragment of attention we can muster, will never reach publication. Will never reach readers. Will never move those who would most benefit from it.

The heroes will have their statues and awards, as heroes do. We will have our own reliquary of the works we have brought about—a reliquary containing shards, scraps, the fossilized remains of our dreams. We may never be known, but in this space you will see the artifacts we have made. They come to you, as fossils do, incomplete. Without context, without attribution, with precise histories unknown. They are left for you to interpret as you will… and to honor, for a moment, the unknown writers who have brought them into the world.

This project will bring us one tiny passage from each of the larger works submitted. Will remind us that even in the least fan-fiction, in the least eighth-grade short story, grace is possible. We watch the world carefully, we writers. We bring news from the front, forecasts of emergent climates, signals from space. We are secular oracles, carrying prophesy that we do not entirely understand ourselves.

Each passage will bear its own magnetic charge, which may draw readers slightly away from their planned course. We may find ourselves subtly rearranged by forces too small to be seen.

These scraps will appear at random, unsequenced, as though by hand of fate. They will not be searchable. They will not bear the name of writer or story. They will simply be sentences, which is all the writer ever has.

The reader can use each sentence as it arises, as they choose, as readers always do. Sometimes as pleasantry, sometimes as divination, sometimes as meditative koan, sometimes as a spur to writing of their own.

This project will grow over the coming months, and probably will look different than I currently imagine it. But now it exists already, because it has been named. Because it has been made into words.

It will be a beautiful landscape, a monument to labors unseen and unacknowledged. A landscape that will reward our patience and consideration.

I have been bitten by many innocents, but sometimes that’s what kindness gets you. 

Before Utah they carried their clothes in sacks on their backs. His father taking them from beet farm to beet farm. In Nebraska, the harvest took every ounce of their energy. 

There is public property that is not meant to be touched. 

The new god said: Worship me and I will save your children both in life and in death. 

There were no lentil salads in Orlando. There were no fresh scallops atop a bed of greens. 

He didn’t think of himself as a lawyer. And he felt the pressure coming on of not only having to speak and behave as though he were one – well, in fact, he was one – but also to speak and behave as though he were comfortable being one and thinking of himself as one. 

You’re not even twelve and yet I have nothing to teach you. It would be easier to produce the ordinary, to be ordinary. But I know you won’t settle for that. I fear for you. 

It is this easy access to casual voluptuousness that so agrees with her. 

I tried really, really hard to think of her as a colleague rather than a girl with pretty fingers and a cute haircut. 

But that was all in the days before she started secondary school where the art teacher started in on her, filling her head with notions, turning her sights on different landscapes.

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