our nada who art in nada

A Clean, Well-Lighted Place.
Well, it’s a title and a place. Literally.
The title comes from one of Hemingway’s short stories.
One of his shortest short stories, in fact.
It’s only a few pages.
Joyce calls it one of the best short stories ever written.
The place is a bookstore I haunted in my youth.
I haunted it proper. A little too proper.
You don’t about it,
Without you have read some posts by the name of “Crime and Punishment.”
(Here and here).
But that ain’t no matter.
Unlike a ghost, my physical hands pilfered physical books.
I lifted them clean and well from the store,
Without a remorse in the world.
Until years later, that is.
Anyhow.
What am I compared to Hemingway’s brilliant little gem?
Nothing.
And guess what?
That’s the substance and meaning of the story.
As Beckett says, “Nothing is more real than nothing.”
Hemingway agrees,
In a rambling sort of way—

“Some lived in it and never felt it but he knew it all was nada y pues nada y nada y pues nada. Our nada who art in nada, nada be thy name thy kingdom nada thy will be nada in nada as it is in nada. Give us this nada our daily nada and nada us our nada as we nada our nadas and nada us not into nada but deliver us from nada; pues nada. Hail nothing full of nothing, nothing is with thee.”

The passage comes at the end of the story.
Apropos for a meditation on The End.
The “he” is the older waiter at the cafe.
Not the younger one.
He’s too young to see anguish.
Or too young to care.
Like the deaf, 80-year old man,
Who sits in the “shadow of the leaves of the tree,”
The older waiter is also acquainted with night,
With shadows and darkness,
With waning vitality and looming death.
That’s why he feels the pain of the 80-year old man.
And wishes the old man had stayed longer at the cafe.
A clean, well-lighted place, in whatever form it takes,
A bar,
A novel,
A bookstore,
A coffee shop,
Or even a short story,
Is a reprieve indeed from nothing.

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4 Responses to our nada who art in nada

  1. Really like this. Will take a walk with your words tomorrow.

  2. Kat says:

    Gorgeous writing, Kevin: graceful sentences and a repetition of phrases that parallels Hemingway’s. Thank you for introducing me to this wonderful story, which I read for the first time last night. It is short, but by no means easy. It is one of the best short stories I’ve read. I’m not a short story person.

    And I very much enjoyed your posts about A Clean Well-Lighted Place. And of course you reformed! I stole a volume of The Diary of Anais Nin from Iowa Book and Supply during a brief radical phase in adolescence. It’s appalling, isn’t it? Thank God we grew up…

  3. I’m not a short story person, either. But I really appreciate Hemingway’s skill, using simple language to achieve complex effects. When I left grad school, I read H for a year, to clear out bad habits. And, yes, although I’m reformed, I still haven’t found the owner of the book store. I’ve even reached out to local papers and beyond.

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