Green Hills Literary Lantern




Author's note: Having produced book-art homages to Guillaume Apollinaire and to Nathanael West, among others, I’ve undertaken to do likewise by another modern writer increasingly sympathetic to me—the Spaniard Ramón Gómez de la Serna (1887-1963), known even to strangers only as “Ramón.”

More than a decade ago, with the assistance of an undergraduate intern named Martin Zotta, I produced Simultaneous Translations (Cornerstone Press, Arnold, MO, 2008), in which Ramón’s famously short, single-sentence texts appear directly above English translations typeset to be identical in horizontal length.

I first learned about Ramón in 1982 over lunch in Boston with Rudolfo Cardona, a BU professor who, after doing his doctorate on Ramón, produced the first book on him in English in 1957. Perhaps a decade later I came across an appreciative essay on Ramón by Miguel González-Gerth of the University of Texas at Austin, who had also produced a book of miscellaneous translations into English.

Not until I read Rita Mazzetti Gardiol’s 1974 book about Ramón did I discover this sentence, which I found equally applicable to me: “Because Ramón did not have the patience for a gradual building up of plot he preferred to write short plays, and even pantomimes, concentrating on the dramatic moment of truth, revelation, or decision that intrigued him.”


I own a hardback copy of Ramón Automoribundia (1948), which I treasure even if I cannot read it unassisted, if only for its title, which I translate as “Autodeathography.” I gather that much like my own four-volume Autobiographies (1980, 2004, 2006, 2011), composed independently of my knowing about his, Automoribundia is not a continuous pseudo-chronological narrative.

Reflecting Ramón’s influence, my book has English imitations of his Greguerías that I gleaned from various sources (including Google’s gremlins), often rewritten by me without referring to the original Spanish (which I can barely read), here intermixed with texts wholly mine that I think complement his.


White spots on dark skin reflect reflecting clouds.

Squinting through the long neck of a bottle as though it were a microscope one is surprised to find at the bottom no wine.

Desert winds neatly comb sand.

Typewriters epitomize stuttering speech.

Why do guitarists repeatedly spank their instruments?

Books remember truths that humans forget.

Palms wake up earlier than other trees.

A violin hung from a hook resembles roasted chicken.

He played the keys in his pocket to get home sooner.

A roundtrip ticket forces us to go into reverse.

A manual typewriter is the writer’s machine gun.

An orchid opens to begin dictating its last will and testament.

An olive tree always looks like it slept badly.

The moon can travel around the Earth without a passport.

Everyone seen with a policeman appears under arrest.  Having no friends is the price they pay for being the police.

The moon still sits higher than the airplane.

The sun leaves the water every morning, only to return every night.

Large headphones are the ears’ dark glasses.

To be X-rayed is to be pierced by a scrutiny like that of the Day of Judgment, to be already sentenced.

Surprised we were to see in an antique store the coffee cup we used as kids.

Only in certain places is the morning’s herald a gaggle of tourists with maps in their hands, looking for money exchange.

Gasoline is the incense of civilization, burned to our goddess named High Speed.

Only an astronomer can keep awake while looking long at the stars.

The butcher and the hangman both kill to eat.

Greenhouses imprison obedient plants.

A horse with his head down appears to be reading.

Lettuce is all petticoats.

How does fever get into a thermometer smaller than a drawing pen?

The mark of a gourmet is ordering a dish not on the restaurant’s menu.

Water lets her hair down in waterfalls.

Sandpaper is a map of the desert.

About to enter a crowded room, just as the door is opening and we are putting on a good expression, we have no identity; we are not ourselves nor yet another.

How tragic that her hands have grown old while her rings haven’t.

What is lost when a mouse drags its long tail?

Few greater misfortunes can confront a lit match than being thrown into water.

Around curves trams cry.

Kisses resemble postage stamps in that some will stick while others not.

At the bottom of mirrors is a photographer crouched.

Rheumatism is a headache in the legs.

So moral we were in pursuing the coordinating conjunction.

Walking elephants seem to have the wheels on their legs.

A sheet of paper floating in the wind resembles a wounded bird.

Orchids are epileptic.

Over the telephone we’re all microscopic beings.

In a rainbow can be seen the rinsed brushes of all the world’s watercolorists.

How terrible that a muzzled dog cannot yawn.

The wind cannot read a book when a gust turns its pages backwards.

A beet has never washed its knees.

The zebra is an animal that looks out from inside radiography.

The Chinese write the letters up and down as if they were secretly adding up numbers.

A bull digging into the sand seems to be preparing a grave for the bullfighter.

A gazelle becomes so quick he disappears.

I had such a bad memory that, when I’d forgotten about my bad memory, I began to remember everything.

The truest lovers do needlepoint together.

Whoever is punctual earns the pleasure of accepting another’s apology instead of giving one’s own.

So dazzled by their own light stars cannot stand to look at one another.

Crows are always dressed for a funeral.

If astronomers didn’t watch the firmament continuously, stars would change positions.

The snail is always going up its own spiral staircase.

If a star fell, the trajectory would resemble a run in a stocking.

When still buried, potatoes make a fist.

Smoke represents fire’s sleight of hand.

On moonless nights, all sheep appear black.

The bat is policeman to the birds.

Frog skin is made of papier maché warts.

Sideburns are face-moss.

The eyes of statues mourn their immortality.

Perfume is the flowers’ echo.

Tango dancing is full of goodbyes.

Excess fame defames.

Fish pose only in profile.

The roots of trees are crossed arms.

The worst thing bad about death is that our skeleton can be confused with another.

For all the aspirations of opera tenors to be more than opera tenors, they are merely opera tenors.

Scarcely enviable, the Sphinx is deaf, dumb, and blind.

On certain nights the moon aspires to be as strong as the sun.

In sleep may lost dreams be found.

Haste kills.

The heart is shadow-boxing within our chests.

No animals read newspapers as enthusiastically as flies.

The boar is defending pork chops.

Nothing is more redemptive than the laughter of a woman who has cried a lot.

Aged fluorescent tubes suffer from epilepsy.

Photographers put us in the most difficult positions to claim that we then will look more natural.

A kiss leaves the imprint of a stamp on a postcard.

Death is hereditary.

Delusional we become at the photographer’s, looking fixedly at nothing and smiling at nobody.

The torture of water dripping into a lavatory basin, while intolerable, scarcely ranks as heroic suffering.

Show consideration for springs that close doors automatically, never exposing them to the nervous strain caused by keeping a door open with a chair or wedge, for what a torment it must be for any active element to be stretched out and paralyzed for hours.

The pen can write only shadows of words.

Pathetic is the illumination of public buildings—a ritual arranged by servants In front of empty balconies and halls devoid of festivities.

If you have already been struck by lightning, don’t report it again.

When the line for theater tickets proceeds too slowly, we imagine that at its head is a man confessing to a superfluity of sins.

Only when it rains does God take photographs.

Whoever might be our Creator has little master keys required to open all navels.

One’s shoes walk about by themselves as night, each pair together on tiptoe careful to make no noise, keeping close to walls, sometimes vanishing by morning, forcing their owner to hunt for them in unlikely places, sometimes disappearing so completely they must be given up as lost.

In my car are two women—one beside me and the other reflected in the window.

All camels look moth-eaten.

Among lines that kill conversation are, “Sex would interest this rock.”

Socialists are socialists only when they practice socialism.

Grand pianos open to become stealthy traps to catch bad pianists.

Where else is the water happier other than in the buckets on a wheel?

Anyone hanging himself expects ropes to break, though recalcitrant ropes don’t always unravel in time.

Hunters kill not birds but flight.

Nothing hurts a dead shopkeeper more than discovering that after “closed by death” his store sold more goods than before.


Individual entries on Richard Kostelanetz’s work in several fields appear in various editions of Readers Guide to Twentieth-Century Writers, Merriam-Webster Encyclopedia of Literature, Contemporary Poets, Contemporary Novelists, Postmodern Fiction, Webster's Dictionary of American Writers, The HarperCollins Reader’s Encyclopedia of American Literature, Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Musicians, Directory of American Scholars, Who's Who in America, Who's Who in the World, Who's Who in American Art,,, and, among other distinguished directories. Otherwise, he survives in New York, where he was born, unemployed and thus overworked.