The Fourth River

Tributaries, The New Nature: “Bubble”

By on November 15, 2017

Selected by Ira Sukrungruang and excerpted from Later: A Memoir of Provincetown


By Paul Lisicky


Summer is as wonderful as it is awful. Week by week, though June, the crowd builds. Then it is always busy, always a thrum, a buzzy elongated hive stretching cells from Pearl Street to Franklin. The street only quiet after 4AM, when you’ll see a lone guy walking home from a trick’s apartment. By the time August rolls around every single human, plant, and animal is shredded, abraded, overwhelmed, overstimulated. Nerve endings may as well have been rubbed with steel wool. We’re too exposed, and each perceived aggression makes us snap and lash out, bewildered we’re harboring that much rage—what the hell is wrong? Aren’t we in the most beautiful place in the world? Could it be all that salt air, which corrodes the bathroom faucets, skins paint from the wood? In the West End a car behind me almost pushes my bike out of the way, pushes me into a parked car, and I am a storm: a whirling comma spitting acid and wind. The driver turns out to be my friend Mary, sweet Mary, who sticks her head out the window, a concerned look in her eyes, to see whether I’m all right. The voice coming out of me? It is not a voice I’d want any other human to hear, much less someone so kind, funny, and down to earth. I tell her I’m sorry, so sorry. I don’t want to known to myself as the person who hurt her. Luckily she seems to forget instantly, but years from now I’ll wonder if she remembers the bile coming out of me.

And in spite of all this, time floats. Time just floats as if we’re all a little above Earth. Town is a lyric bubble outside past and future. Town is a dream that rips up all your intuitions about narrative and goes its own way every time you think the arc of a story is here. You are aware of the sun going up and down, high tide and low, restaurants, bars, and stores opening and closing—how could you not be when the town beach is all but swallowed up?—water all the way up to the tops of town landings. You are not living your life the way other people live their lives. Town summer is an experience of being fully present, no dead minutes, no burnt patches of grass. Looking out at people, being taken in and evaluated by people. So little that is actually boring. Do people go crazy when their lives aren’t boring, when they’re in an endless, ongoing movie? You’re in a state when you’re close to feeling high all the time. While some might like that idea—it explains why there are so many addicts in town—your brain might want something else after weeks and weeks. Maybe it wants rest, dullness, darker colors, sepia. No light or bodies. No voices. Just darkness. Cool water. A raft floating on stillest harbor, 500 feet out from the breakwater, 3AM.




Paul Lisicky is the author of five books: The Narrow Door (a New York Times Editors’ Choice), Unbuilt Projects, The Burning House, Famous Builder, and Lawnboy. His work has appeared in The New York Times, The Atlantic, BuzzFeed, Conjunctions, Ecotone, Fence, The Offing, Ploughshares, Tin House, and in many other magazines and anthologies. A 2016 Guggenheim Fellow, he has received awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, the James Michener/Copernicus Society, the Corporation of Yaddo, and the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, where he was twice a Fellow. He has taught in the creative writing programs at Cornell University, New York University, Rutgers University-Newark, Sarah Lawrence College, the University of North Carolina Wilmington, and elsewhere. He is currently an Associate Professor in the MFA Program at Rutgers University-Camden. In Fall 2018 he will be a Visiting Professor at the University of Texas-Austin. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.