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For DJ: Remembering Denis Johnson – lareviewofbooks





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September 6, 2022   •   By Alan Soldofsky, Ted Geltner, Doug Unger, James L. Magnuson, Lee Montgomery, John Freeman, Sean San José, Tobias Wolff
¤
[Untitled]
 
If I was on acid I don’t think I could take
The cymbal-crash and slow, suspenseful grace
Of white spray over the black rocks, I wouldn’t
Be able to endure the far-below
Crescendo and decay Oh Mendocino
County LSD The Grateful Dead
I am no longer able — at all, at all —
But I’m in Arizona, I’m not there,
All of it some twenty years ago,
And still your blonde pain still those headlong
Walks alongside cliffs and flung surf
And through the woods of tortured organisms
With the book in my hand shouting Whitman
— My wife has come home interrupting me.
(1991, 2004)
— Denis Johnson
¤
ALAN SOLDOFSKY
Denis Johnson Tapped Me on the Shoulder: Notes from His Last Sonoma County Outpost
four blocks away,
 
a baseball was a dot against
the sky, and he thought, my
glove is too big, i will
 
drop the ball and it will be
a home run. the snow falls
too fast from the clouds,
and night is dropped and
 
snatched back like a huge
joke. is that the ball, or is
it just a bird, and the ball is
somewhere else, and i will
miss it? and the edges are gone, my
 
hands melt into the walls, my
hands do not end where the wall
begins. should i move
forward, or back, or will the ball
 
come right to me? i know i will
miss, because i always miss when it
takes so long. the wall has no
surface, no edge, the wall
 
fades into the air and the air is
my hand, and i am the wall. my
arm is the syringe and thus i
 
become the nurse, i am you,
nurse.
Lucky Seven
                for DJ
 
Is this the place where you
found yourself lost in the last
golden dimension, leavening
the mist pulling the veils
over your eyes?
 
It’s been a while since you passed here
where the road coils up the bluffs.
From where you are, you can see
dark braids of asphalt
climbing the green gradient.
 
What else is there to watch between
tracks of raindrops, caught
in your out-of-focus binoculars?
Brown pelicans shooting over the cove
in missing-man formation.
 
The one in front seeming to believe
it’s worth the effort, opposed
by headwinds over the bluffs,
miraculously hovering, blown backwards,
crashing onto the rock’s white landing zone.
 
This was your stage. It’ll keep
for eternity like the freight
of your name on a bookshelf.
The letters startling, unmistakable
in hewn blocks of language.
 
Your history preserved
between covers. You kept a bed
in the loft to absorb pieces of intelligence
or starlight that fell where you slept.
That’s more than enough.
 
The house radiates your absence
to the dark line of cypresses. A cipher
traced in air and earth. You’ve gone beyond
the skids of cloud, a fading phosphorescence
bruising the edge of the horizon.
 
The highway remains unnamed,
yet yours drifts alongside it
in the dregs of fog that hang
over the headland, a shrouded remnant —
to some what passes for heaven.
¤
TED GELTNER
When the Streets Had No Plaques: Denis Johnson in Iowa City
¤
DOUGLAS UNGER
Denis Johnson: A Teacher’s Homage
The Humanities Department was long ago dissolved to form more departments, bigger departments; the old building houses budgetary mavericks, grant-sponsored programs and the like, experiments that live out their funding periods and fade away. Somehow this became the home of History.
¤
JAMES L. MAGNUSON 
The Passion of Denis Johnson
¤
LEE MONTGOMERY
Our Commodore
He came there in the off-season. So much was off. All bets were off. The last deal was off. His timing was off, or he wouldn’t have come here at this moment, and also every second arc lamp along the peninsular highway was switched off.
The questions I consider: When this is done, won’t the fuckers wish they’d treated me different. Will this ever get done? How can I get it to get done without my having to be the one who gets it done? Is it any good anyway? Who can I find to tell me it’s good before it exists, so I can write it with absolute confidence? What will I say at the National Book Awards? What if I mispronounce “Pulitzer” at the Pulitzer Prize ceremony? Should I actually accept these awards? — I mean, don’t they actually mean nothing to me? etc. — the minute I take my fingers from the keyboard. Put my fingers back down, the questions go away. 
 
¤ 
JOHN FREEMAN
Angels: A Tragedy of American Atonement and Salvation
 
¤
SEAN SAN JOSÉ 
Soul on the Stage: Denis Johnson’s Theater World
All these weirdos, and me getting a little better every day right in the midst of them. I had never known, never even imagined for a heartbeat, that there might be a place for people like us.
¤
TOBIAS WOLFF
Remembrance of Denis Johnson
¤
¤
Alan Soldofsky
LARB CONTRIBUTOR
Ted Geltner
LARB CONTRIBUTOR
Doug Unger
LARB CONTRIBUTOR
James L. Magnuson
LARB CONTRIBUTOR
Lee Montgomery
LARB CONTRIBUTOR
John Freeman
LARB CONTRIBUTOR
Sean San José
LARB CONTRIBUTOR
Tobias Wolff
LARB CONTRIBUTOR
The News They Wanted Not to Hear: On Robert Stone
Three new books offer an embarrassment of riches for fans of Robert Stone….
The Death of the Author: Reflecting on Denis Johnson’s “The Largesse of the Sea Maiden”
Nathan Pensky on the late Denis Johnson’s new short story collection….
Books of Revelation: Christianity and Miracles in the Life and Work of Denis Johnson
Brian Dille, who was Denis Johnson’s friend, gives his perspective on how Christianity and Alcoholics Anonymous informed the “Jesus’ Son” author’s work….
The New New Africa
Olufemi Terry on Denis Johnson…
Fear and Loathing in Freetown
As a journalist, Denis Johnson reported on some of the worst atrocities befalling Africa, but until now he had not used the material for fiction….
The Los Angeles Review of Books is a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting and disseminating rigorous, incisive, and engaging writing on every aspect of literature, culture, and the arts.
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Los Angeles, CA 90028
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