Apophlegms by Brian Castro

Brian Castro is the author of eleven novels, a volume of essays and a poetic cookbook. His novels include the multi award-winning Double-Wolf and Shanghai Dancing. He was the 2014 winner of the Patrick White Award for Literature and the 2018 Mascara Avant-Garde Award for fiction.



So I shall begin in pencil, where everything can be erased and the handwriting improved with the body’s shaping, so that lightness, craft and humble shavings should not last beyond the moment of creation, the smell of wood, some graphite, scenting the lone forests of perennial disappearance, the forever of lost time.


Henry David Thoreau: “I am a pencil.”


Janna Malamud Smith: “My Father Is A Book.”


Nadine Gordimer: “A serious person should try to write posthumously.”


My father was a tension highball – bourbon and temper – a genius for striving – never giving up – though all of giving up was necessary for me, giving up on marriages, futures, how old am I! Crushed by appearance. But let the real seduce the real – those beautiful women of the imagination and their first deaths, when I got it all wrong emotionally, not hearing the silence of the icebergs and their subliminal creaking. I found out pretty quickly that there was no woman for all seasons.


But hey, I understand cool. Phlegmatic is my humour. Epistolary my manner. Do you read me? Probably not, these shuddering wings of butterflies leaving only powder on the page which one blows as drying pounce over ink, but there is nothing afterwards, as though I am being dreamt.


I would like to slip into reading again like an old familiar slipper after all these years at the factory in Hobbesian boots, one leg in fear, the other in contract. But how long will it last? How long before the scribbling itch returns and speeds past, overtaking the slow train of thought only to come to grief at the level-crossing?


When he thinks of death he is overcome by an inconsolable loneliness. Irreversible oblivion is relieved by living expression, which is fake, as fatuous as saying: “Tomorrow I died.”

Such irrational tenses are nevertheless possible and not only in language. The future is already done if you know how to practise this solitary exercise.


Sitting up late Sunday night:

How I love its beauty and revolving charms!

Each loaded chamber a lessening option.

Meditate on its weight, the heft of its cross-hatched handle,

smell of fine oil.

Well, no one writes to the colonel of desire.


In a recurring dream I forget that I am on my own and then I wake and am on my own and what a reprieve!


Geoffrey Blainey said we had to limit Asian immigration because if you walk down the main street of Cabramatta they are all spitting.

On more than a dozen occasions, in outer-suburban railway stations, blond or shaven-headed young men hawk and spit very close to me until I am of no doubt they mean to spit at me. I presume someone spits for someone to watch the spitting. Perhaps it is a sign of solidarity. An epidemiology of semiology. But it is not a football field where everyone spits together out of physical effort. Politics and sport do not mix. Some senators, all of whom can’t play football, should turn themselves black by injecting melantonin. Then they would know where they really stand when someone spits on them.

Apophlegm: Choked with the flegma and humour of his sins he shouted: “Apathy forthwith!” to relieve his chill Blaineys.


I was given a Japanese calligraphy chest, circa mid-nineteenth century, probably carried on and off American ships led by Commodore Perry in 1853. Someone had carved an anchor on its side. Such barbed weights must have been intriguing, quite like briefcases.

It is a dark wooden chest no larger than a US Army ordnance grenade box.

But what smells it harbours!

Old lives, multiple secrets, aged coffin-wood.

In the top section there is a secret compartment in which you can lift out a tray from the whole.

Beneath is not another chamber but a very shallow section, only deep enough for secreting a special letter from an envoy or a lover. A fragrant missive perhaps, hidden from prying eyes but which can only be identified by scent. Or maybe poison, if you lick the envelope.

There are always these chambers of the heart made shallow by time, undiscoverable for their deep meaning. No longer secret, unsophisticated in the technological age, they become the logic of memory in its reinvestment of story.

But how frivolous are books without the engagement of the writer in total desperation?

One needs to put oneself on the line; go out and get hurt; lose one’s lover and all one’s money. Then tell me you’re trying to write.


Nous travaillons à la recherche de la réalité plutôt que de chercher la sagesse.

La réalité est un but idiot. Elle s’arrête tout court. Éphémère, elle n’est qu’une illusion de la vérité, c’est à dire, la mort.


Unknown: She who thinks like a cryptic crossword is the lover of my dreams.

One has to go figure.