Features & Columns

Silicon Alleys: Writer Makes Labyrinthian Connections with Poet Jorge Luis Borges

'Book Of Vindication' by Denis Korkh, acrylic on canvas, 2018, is currently in display at Anno Domini.

Two-and-a-half years ago, the anti-man-about-town visited the gravesite of legendary author Jorge Luis Borges in Geneva, Switzerland. Borges was a unique figure at the top of 20th century literature and a major influence on me, so in Geneva I made a desperate pact with him. Standing at his grave, I said: "Alright old man, I will keep writing, just show me how to make a living.

Give me a sign. Anything." Sure enough, I was awarded a fellowship soon thereafter. I guess he was looking over my shoulder.

That was in 2016, but just a few weeks ago in downtown San Jose, Borges spun back into my orbit from multiple dimensions at once, just to make sure I was still writing and keeping up my end of the bargain. The resultant matrix of synchronicity was transformational, like walking into a hall of mirrors I didn't want to escape.

It all started on Aug. 24, Borges's birthday, of course. There in the coffee shop I sat, laptop in front of me, translating my thoughts into characters on a screen, all while distracting myself by reading quotes and bits about Borges on social media. I posted the previously mentioned column about visiting his grave, when suddenly, far away from across the street, the owner of Anno Domini responded, relaying news that the gallery's next show would include Denis Korkh's paintings inspired by Borges' book, Labyrinths. The creative life juice began to flow. As anyone who follows this column knows by now, I am a love slave to the muses of synchronicity, so I just knew this matrix of intrigue was nowhere near over.

Two weeks later on Sept. 6, the day before the Korkh exhibit opened, I spotted a used copy of Labyrinths while rifling through the shelves of books for sale at the Beat Museum in San Francisco. I didn't buy it because I thought I already owned a copy. Turned out I was mistaken. I only owned Ficciones, which contains several of the same short stories.

The Korkh exhibit, titled In Borges' Labyrinths, opened the next night, attracting the usual array of artists, patrons, stoned twenty-somethings and outré characters marveling at visuals inspired by Borges' writings. The accompanying text panels included quotes from various Borges masterpieces like, "The Library of Babel," "The Zahir" and "Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius." At presstime, several paintings had already sold.

This was more than enough serendipity to imply a heightened sense of awareness on my part, easily enough to spark more characters on a screen. However, another dimension to the intrigue emerged four days later.

On Sept. 11, in wh at some are calling an unrelated event, the poet Stephen Kessler gave a reading at WORKS/San Jose, exactly one block over from Anno Domini. A major figure in the world of poetry, Kessler is known for many endeavors, including the years he spent translating the poetry of Jorge Luis Borges. Many of those poems are included in a large volume, still popular. Kessler also helped edit and translate an entire 300-page book of Borges' sonnets, a landmark publication several years ago.

At WORKS, Kessler sold copies of his most recent book of poetry, titled, Garage Elegies. I flipped it open, skipping right to page 44—a poem titled, "Translator in His Labyrinth." The poem opens with the narrator proofreading both languages and making final tunings with the dead poet looking over his shoulder. I felt like Yogi Berra Borges was telling me about deja vu. All over again.

Clearly I was in a Borges story, with past, present and future all becoming one and the same. Or maybe I was in a halfway house between a column and a short story, the only difference being that everything I've just written actually happened. A Borgesian theme would be: Does the author write the column or does the column write the author? Do Korkh's paintings function as translations of Borges' stories, as Borges himself would have suggested? I don't know, but two days later, I went right back to the Beat Museum in San Francisco and nabbed that copy of Labyrinths. To Borges I will make a necessary pact, all over again: I am still writing, please keep showing me how to make a living.