Colum McCann’s “Dessert,” in The New Yorker’s Talk of the Town, 12 September 2011

The Colum McCann essay, dear blog readers, is what self can only describe as epic.  Here’s the first half:

The sky would always be this shade of blue.  The towers had come down the day before.  Third Avenue on the Upper East Side was a flutter of missing faces, the posters taped to the mailboxes, plastered on windows, flapping against the light poles:  “Looking for Derek Sword”; “Have You Seen This Person?”; “Matt Heard:  Worked for Morgan Stanley.”  The streets were quieter than usual.  The ash fell, as ash will.

Everything felt honed down to the necessary, except for one woman who sat alone at an outdoor table in a restaurant on Seventy-fourth Street.  She had just ordered a piece of chocolate cake.  It arrived in front of her, and the waiter spun away.  A slice of two-layer cake.  Dark chocolate.  A nipple of cream dolloped on top.  A sprinkling of dark powder.  The woman was elegant, fiftyish, beautiful.  She touched the edge of the plate, brought it toward her.

At any other time, it would have been just a piece of cake, a collision of cocoa and flour and eggs.  But so much of what the city was about had just been levelled —  not just the towers but a sense of the city itself, the desire, the greed, the appetite, the unrelenting pursuit of the present.  The woman unrolled a fork from a paper napkin, held it at her mouth, tapping the tines against her teeth.  She ran the fork, then, through the powder, addressing the cake, scribbling her intent.

Our job is to be epic and tiny, both.

Ah, Colum, that is exactly what self feels writing is:  “to be epic and tiny, both.”  She will hold that piece of advice in her heart forever.

Stay tuned.

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