Kosti’s Ramón

by Richard Kostelanetz (July 2016)

For my friend Tere (Gonzalez Minguez).

Portrait of Ramón Gomez de la Serna by Diego Rivera

Having produced appropriate book-art homages to Guillaume Apollinaire (known to his friends as Kostro) and to Nathanael West (commonly called Pep), among others, I’d like to do likewise by another modern writer to whom I am increasingly sympathetic—the Spaniard Ramón Gomez 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.

Born in Madrid in 1888, Ramón started publishing early, working in a variety of genres, assembling a coterie of like-minded young writers who met regularly in his native city, eventually publishing nearly 100 books. Invited to Buenos Aires in 1933, he stayed there for the remaining thirty years of his life, attracting a new group of enthusiastic admirers, including Jorge-Luis Borges, who incidentally ranked Ramón among the great modern writers, the Spanish equal of James Joyce. A half-century after his passing, Spanish publishers keep his works in print. In American literature the writer closest to him is probably E. E. Cummings, only a few years his junior. From EEC’s more innovative texts, I once compiled AnOther E. E. Cummings (Liveright, 1998).

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 Gonzalez-Gerth, a popular professor at the University of Texas at Austin, who had also produced a book of miscellaneous translations or Ramon into English. What was most striking to me about this essay was my discovery that it inadvertently described my own severely minimal fiction better than anything else known to me.

Ramón Gomez de la Serna in 1931

Not until I read a later book in English about Ramón, Rita Mazzetti Gardiol’s (1974), did I discover this sentence also 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.” Bingo. I own a hardback copy of Ramón’s 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, 2016), composed independently of my known about his, Automoribundia is not a continuous pseudo-chronological narrative.

Reflecting Ramón’s influence, this book has English versions 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 a few texts wholly mine that I think compliment his. Just as Ramón’s greguerías are charmingly fanciful, highly original succinct observations, so might be a few of mine.

What is most remarkable about him (and perhaps me) is that, like other great aphorists, he’s never obvious, even about common subjects, which is to say that Ramón gave himself permission to see differently and, once empowered, he didn’t stop. Even while observing formal literary constraints, his mind seems unconstrained.

Sometimes I do what he did; other times, he writes me, especially after I’ve rewritten him to write like me, realizing the title of this book (Kosti’s Versions: French, Spanish, Hebrew, to appear no later than 2018). Considering a multitude of worldly experiences, both Ramón and myself try to be light on our feet and swift with our fingers. When the pantheon of minimalist writers is constructed, may I please have a bust of me next to the one of him now in Madrid (recently visible in the Wikipedia entries on him in both English and Spanish).

–Richard Kostelanetz, July 2016


Miniature crocodiles called lizards are always palpitating like exhausted marathoners.

A slice of watermelon contains abundant moon blood.

Some woman are as deaf as white Angora cats, but theirs is a deafness of the spirit, which makes them listless, indifferent, and remote, understanding nothing that doesn’t aid them, a caress being all they respond to. It is not true to call these women stupid and unnatural, they are only deafer than white Angoras.

While women believe all men are similar, men know that all women are different.

When in public libraries, a writer comes across the books he has written that, as unnatural children, treat him with disdain.

It is a petty conception of silence to think that because it can wrap us round it belongs to us. Silence belongs to eternity, will conquer all. Silence can only be itself when it is alone. Often out of respect for silence I have gone into the street leaving it master of my house, free, if it wishes, to embrace the portraits on the walls—portraits of women who once owned the house or me.

Whereas facts may be hunted down, we must wait for metaphors to come to us.

On Sundays and holidays no one is less fortunate than the servant from whom it is not a day off.

Water is so clear only because it has no memory.

Dressed in his elegant white jacket, the highclass pedicurist, suave and devoted, practices his art as if he were a king washing the feet of beggars on Maundy Thursday.

In one hundred years will come a drug offering a cure for what kills people nowadays.

In the future when the history of the world amounts to hundreds o volumes I’d like see how children learn.

A tall person feels tall only if standing next to us.

City roosters in dank poultry markets utter only a miserere, instead of the joyous crow of country cocks.

Never mind that your glass feels small if the bottle filling it is large.

Sometimes we sense that our whole city has suddenly sunk to a lower level, as if we had literally plunged further away from heaven.

No literary cabal is serious until it appoints a treasurer.

A trashcan outside the door reflects a house’s good conscience, as it can also be a repository for sins.

In its quivering life, the compass seems to have occult powers that would be more apparent if the letters N. S. E .& W. were erased from it.

A film that looks good from in front need not look good from behind.

Popularity we know only if we feel.

As hard as it is to get a cap out of a bottle, so it is harder to get certain people to speak what’s really on their minds.

The human head is a fish tank whose inhabitants never sleep while its owner is awake.

Nothing is as bothersome as finding in your pocket some handwritten paper with a telephone number scrawled with large numerals, whose owner isn’t remembered.

A hanging fur coat recalls old perfumes.

The other side of the river will always be dissatisfied because it is not this side.

No grievance in the world could be more soluble, as even a bridge could straddle it.

A baby presents himself wanting you to shake hands with his foot and then wailing if you don’t.

Why can’t a floor fan produce warm air in winter?

Haste kills.

A peacock is a retired myth.

At the bottom of a well sleep the faces of the moon.

Consider that ants might be representing Martians on Earth?

The camel is a hunchback with the face of a lamb.

A scared woman coldly watches.

The champagne bottle’s cock is an aimless bullet.

In mountains caves yawn.

On the gray leaves of olive trees is embedded dust raised by Roman wagons and stagecoaches.

A latte is a mulatto drink.

Babies with a pacifier regard pipe smokers as fellow strollers.

The shoehorn’s spoon spoonfeeds feet into shoes.

Why are fine sweets served in tiny parachutes?

The timpanist is the orchestra’s cook responsible for overseeing two large paellas.

In yawn contests do crocodiles compete.

Wind makes doors get angry.

Though a pair of eggs may look like twins, they aren’t even cousins.

Clocks lie only when changed.

When a fly lands on a writer’s manuscript, ignoring whatever must be reread, he becomes the most censorious literary critic.

Vinegar is moody wine.

Inmates dress in striped pajamas to belong to the same team.

Only someone very nervous can’t open a packet of sugar for his coffee.

Watching shadows, we’re all in mourning.

Better to omit any R.I.P. in writing an inscription for a tombstone; don’t make anyone defunct more nervous.

Whenever I hear over a loudspeaker an announcement for a lost child, that kid, I always think, is me.

Hens tire of reporting to the police the latest egg thieves.

Such pride has the toad who sings primarily to the stars.

Kissing can become boring.

When the train leaves the station, look out the window to steal good-byes not meant for you.

An anthill is a war camp.

An otter is a rat hiding inside a lady’s overcoat.

Soda is water hiccoughing.

A bicyclist is riding a metal skeleton.

Roses are poets who wanted to be roses.

Sometimes a kiss is just chewing gum shared.

If a man waking up to a woman beside him is not outraged, it must be love.

On a night filled with happy music, the moon becomes a tambourine.

A monocle makes the eye resemble a clock.

When two bits of thistledown drift past together it seems as if they had loved each other until they couldn’t love any more.

Telegrams are poetic haiku.

Ears tickle the wind.

The moon looks filled with lost objects.

A cemetery memorializes pharmaceutical failures.

When a woman cannot open a carriage window the man who does it for her assumes the airs of an athlete.

Catalogs remember what merchants would otherwise forget.

The pen writes only words’ shadows.

An owl is a feathered cat.

All first kisses are stolen.

On the face of the moon are screened very old movies once seen in American drive-ins.

Sandals muzzle feet.

While operas find truth in falsehoods, films lie about truths.

Full-throated dog barking incorporates its own echo.

A writer knows he’s fallen into senility when his editor finds him writing the same sentences twice.

Raisins are aged grapes.

Only some would want their eyeglasses to be mirrors.

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.

Triumphal arches resemble petrified elements.

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.

An umlaut is the letter I Siamese twined.

Rainbow are halos hanging over nature’s head.

A roundtrip ticket forces us to go into reverse.

A manual typewriter represents the writer’s machine gun.

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

Olive trees always look as though they slept badly.

How can the moon travel around the Earth without a passport?

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

The moon sits higher than an airplane.

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

Large headphones represent 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 mark of morning 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.

The snail was playing trombone piggybacking.

M is the letter W after ironing.

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.

Love arises from the impulsive desire for eternal transcendence.

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.

The couch is a bed that has no rhyme or reason.

Around curves trams cry.

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

Lakes are puddles left after floods.

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 mask that men shave comes from leaving soap on their face.

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.

From ewe’s milk are the best popular proverbs made.

A gazelle becomes so quick he disappears.

Tiles whet the appetite.

Whenever a pansy and a violet get married, the garden’s happiness will be assured.

A restaurant freeloader discombobulates the staff by over-tipping the hatcheck.

Pines have their bangs cut.

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.

Whoever wants to kill a woman and then commit suicide should consider changing the sequence.

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 birds’ police.

Frog skin is made of papier mache warts.

Sideburns are face moss.

The eyes of statues mourn their immortality.

When you close your eyes do you see Chinese characters?

Perfume represents flowers’ echo.

Tango dancing is full of goodbyes.

Excess fame defames.

Wouldn’t we feel better if we understood that death promises the ultimate fun of life?

Even if a pencil need not be sharpened, appreciate curls.

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.

A platter of ham is sliced trayf.

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.

Nudists stick to their chairs.

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

Snakes measure forests.

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.

Only shadows of words can a pen write.

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 thunder, 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.

The eagle’s pants are too short for his size.

Sirens represent an ambulance’s screaming.

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

An accordion has torn pants.

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

The roots of trees are crossed arms.

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

Hunters kill not birds but flight.

Genius results from transcending patience with impatience.

A grizzly bear wears a capacious fur coat.

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

A giraffe is a curious(ly) elongated horse.

The caterpillar is the smallest railway in the world.

Insolvency is a profession especially enjoyed by Spaniards.

An orchid has a coated tongue.

By buttoning is an accordion played, a lover by unbuttoning.

Buried in a piano is a harp lying asleep.

Pajamas buried too deeply under a pillow cannot be found.

A gong is a widowed saucer hung out to mourn.

The letter T is the alphabet’s hammer.

A hen with her chickens looks like a bottle surrounded by glasses.

In a vest are small pockets in which mementos can be kept.

Beware of maids waxing floors on which their masters might slip and kill themselves.

A pianist touches pedals to warm his feet.

Soldiers parading out of step with music might be deaf.

A hyena carries his own amplifier.

Whenever I consider opening my shutters at night and looking out on the garden, I am afraid of finding an unfamiliar face glued to the window-pane, looking in on me.

Nothing warms hands more than lost gloves.

Gasoline’s civilization’s incense.

A wasp is the tiger of the insect world.

Caterpillars make holes in leaves because they are quality inspectors of vegetables.

An electric fan saves heat.

Any woman who rolls her husband’s cigarettes has converted her kitchen into a munitions factory.

Wherever lifetime lovers first met they imagine has a plaque.

Don’t let the piano lid fall too heavily because it will sound like a coffin shutting.

An infant with a pacifier looks at a pipe-smoker as a pram companion.

The stray mutt attaching himself to us on the street appeals to our vanity but, not wanting to appear a stray, satisfies his own.

A flying bat is bird police.

Harmony is written with the letter H. to be either the lyre or the slingshot of the alphabet.

Chickens stutter.

The lovely lady who was the death of four husbands took for her fifth a judge who had her hanged.

A freezing night heals all puddles.

A scheming king, inviting an historian to dine every day, provided him with the most delicious food and classiest wine in gold-plated service. That accounts for why historians call his epoch “The Golden Age.”

Whenever a wardrobe’s doors open, the whole house yawns.

Stockings are the butterfly nets of women’s legs.

So irritating is a rattle that we had to accept as infants, presented as it was by our parents, who hadn’t the sense to see that in shaking it joylessly we were doing only a favor to them.

In ancient temples Ionic columns look unfurled.

Genius results from undermining impatience with patience.

A book lives a life of solitude.

As strawberries and red wine love each other, sugar consecrates their union.

The moon at night is a boat’s porthole.

Though they looked out at each other from the windows of two trains traveling in opposite directions, so great becomes the force of love that suddenly their trains began to travel in the same direction.

Vinegar is moody wine.

Women go through stockings as serpents slough off their skins.

How strange it is that fresh codfish in a produce market should be dry and shriveled, looking as though it should be sold in a flea market or an antique shop.

Stars telegraph tremors.

Whenever the restaurant service is especially slow, we become impatient xylophonists.

A bachelor is a premature widower.

You become more skeptical when you discover that the word “skeptic” does not include the letter X.

Why is the moon such a fertile subject for fanciful speculation?

Foreign languages resemble exotic codes.

Congratulate the expert ploughman who makes the neat ridges in velvet corduroy.

A pillow is always convalescing.

Strolling in public parks we always hope to meet the woman of our dreams, who never appears, making us think our walk a waste our time, as we return home dejected, never becoming wiser about this repeated experience.

Extinguished is snow by water.

Mirrors are coated with the quicksilver of dead eyes.

That Laura who goes to Mass beautiful and young every Sunday vanished with Petrarch.

Sneezing blurs air.

In order to remain quite alone we’d need first of all to escape from ourselves.

Horseflies blot air.

A barometer is a clock that never strikes, responding even to a tempest with silence.

The gong is a widowed saucer.

Shearing a sheep is easier than undressing a sleeping child.

Top politicians perform as well as rule.

Buried in every tomb is an alarm clock set at the hour of the Last Judgment.

The silk scarf is the farewell of a caress.

Heavy rain reminds us of the time when we were fish.

Fear a bat as the Devil’s holiest ghost.

Taxmen look at writers with schemes for charging a tariff on ideas passing through their heads.

The giraffe is a crane that eats grass.

He was such a bad guitarist that his instrument ran off with someone else.

Sandals muzzle feet.

When we peel a banana, it’s sticking its tongue out at us.

Empty windows in a jewelry store make you wonder whether the gems had been stolen permanently or temporarily gone to the opera.

A fan shaves heat.

No alchemy is more challenging than transforming a sister-in-law into a wife and then a wife into a sister-in-law.

Geese walk in slippers.

Foolish seems a journalist speaking of fashion, since fashion is created primarily to mislead journalists.

On certain days clouds rush by on silent bikes.

What worries the mother cat is finding support for each of the six kittens born at the same time.

Thermometers die young.

Why is it that two cigarettes lit simultaneously are never extinguished simultaneously?

A stutterer talks best with a typewriter.

Any man still sullen after drinking a cup of coffee isn’t worth the sugar he put in it.

The deaf see double.

Conversations occur atop a sofa bed and dreams underneath.

Bigger chicks routinely check on smaller chicks.

Anxious is that matchmaker who can provide only six brides for seven brothers.

A lantern has no prejudices.

My novellas should be longer than a micro fiction but shorter than a novel, as is this sentence.

Pins can’t make braids.

Pharmaceutical pills fallen to the floor need not be taken up.

A dog’s bark scares only as the prelude to a bite.

In asparagus is heavy ink turning pee stinky green.

Immortality requires investments.

Many girls, now too young to appraise me, resemble young women known intimately to me decades ago.

Honey represents robbery.

There is a moment when the astronomer with his big telescope becomes a microbe that the moon microscope looks to observe.

Algae on the beach keep the sea from balding.

If the opera expresses truth made from falsehood, the cinema is a lie from the truth.

The cat wanting to nap plays dead.

What most hurts the dead shopkeeper is the discovery that his store sells the most with the sign “closed by death.” 

Dawn waters streets with the dust of ages.

It is difficult to imagine that a peeled skull once belonged to a woman.

A giraffe is a horse lengthened by curiosity.

The sound of a woman’s bare feet on tiles gives a sensual and cruel fever.

Worms will not be butterflies.

Nothing makes a whale angrier than being called a whale.

Golf is a game for mice that have become rich.

Life is bread forcing us to hurry before it becomes hard.

Longer are streets at night than during the day.

Do not leave scissors open because they cut destiny’s thread.

The squirrel’s tail became independent.

Writing with a pen marks only the shadow of words.

A dying wave leaves behind its gift of shells.

Dust contains the residue of old and forgotten sneezing.

The silk scarf is the farewell of a caress.

No railway in the world is smaller than the caterpillar.

In hotel beds we find our last legs.

If your hand trembles while offering a light to a woman, you’ve lost.

The lion has its own loudspeaker.

In medicines that we call “adult” are annoying prospects.

A camel always looks moth-eaten.

The best way to heal the heart is saving hunches.

Genius lives for nothing and does not die.

The Chinese write words vertically as if they planned to add up their writing.

Oars cry.

A camel piggybacks the horizon between mounds.

Monkeys do not go gray because they do not think.

A couch is a bed lacking rhyme or reason.

The finest sweets are served in tiny parachutes.

The hairline is happy.

A scissors gouges out the eyes of other scissors.

The aristocrat holding the champagne bottle doesn’t know how to plug the cork.

Gasoline is the incense of civilization.

Writing with a pen marks only the shadow of words.

Pines are cut bangs.

Moral does one feel searching for a coordinating conjunction.

Crocodiles always win contest yawns.

Our worst fear of death is that our skeleton can be confused with another.

Some do not know what is dying or dead.

The only scent to compete with the smell of storms is the smell of a wood pencil.

Snow has blue blood.

As we sit on the edge of someone else’s bed we reflect on its inmates.

In a human head is a tank of ideas.

As I move and gesture in the mirror, the wall, paralyzed, only reflects me.

The cat is a gargoyle who has wandered home.

At the bottom of a mirror is a crouching photographer.

Carnations have cold hands.

A bull digging into the arena’s sand seems to be digging the grave of the bullfighter.

The eyes of statues mourn immortality.

Cows write with the ink of their eyes a poem of resignation.

Toad warts are made of clay.

In pharmacy pills are cures for the inner sadness of having lost so many underwear buttons.

Titles whet an appetite.

Looking at the abyss of old age, we feel children coming from behind and pushing us.

To libraries time brings dust.

The saddest thing comes when, before we‘ve reached a play’s first act, we sit down to notice that someone else has occupied our seat, as we’ve been given up for dead.

Elephants seem to have legs on wheels.

So bad was his memory that, forgetting that he had a bad memory, he began to remember everything.

Raisins are octogenarian grapes.

When a writer reaches old age, he writes whatever again.

Soda water’s plague is hiccups.

Nothing at a banquet is more difficult to digest than the leg of the table.

Lettuce is all petticoats.

A woman ordering a fruit salad for two rehearses the original sin

Only mothers can bear rocking chairs.

Screws are nails with their hair parted in the middle.

No river knows its name.

When leaning out the window of a train starting off we steal goodbyes that were not meant for us.

Tango is full of farewells.

When you close your eyes you see Chinese letters.

Bricks know how to wait.

Palm trees genuflect lower than other trees.

First kisses are necessarily stolen.

The Rome Coliseum is forever ruined like a broken breakfast cup.

If accepted into heaven, take an umbrella.

Love is born from the sudden desire to make the fleeting eternal.

The letter B is the alphabet’s wet nurse.

A dog knows that his most degenerate move is scratching his head with the back leg.

Better leave alone a writer to mourn and laugh.

An eagle’s pants are short

A scarf is predisposed to those snorting cold.

Roses are poets who want to be roses.

Thunder’s a trunk falling down heaven’s stairs.

Only mothers can bear rocking chairs.

Touch the keys in your pocket to get home sooner.

Every clock conceals a time bomb, more or less.

A monocle turns an eye into a watch.

The first drops of the storm try to find land to land.

Slower kisses initiate longer loving.

One measure of love is waking up beside a woman and not be outraged.

Only a Chinese could invent a cat.

Spilling a glass of water on the dining table extinguishes combative conversation.

Loose buttons cry.

Only in an urban café does a provincial become unable to open a sugar packet for his coffee.

A comet is a star shedding her chignon.

An owl is a feathered cat.

Only the fur coat remembers departed perfumes.

All birds are maimed.

Couples turning their backs while sleeping cannot steal each other’s dreams.

Talking on the phone is pipe smoking by ear.

Memories shrink; so do shirts.

The worst blow to the head leaves a mocking bump.

Barking incorporates the echo of itself.

No clock works happy hours.

A sausage represents the offspring of a hotdog in a mixed marriage.

Portrait photographs usually look more than other photographed faces than anyone met in real life.

Money can vanish as speedily as it appears.

Cat-like dogs like other cats more than humans.

A bicyclist can deck a pedestrian before the latter knows what hit him.

All professional athletes represent the survivors of many aspirations; likewise, all professional writers.

A spiral staircase is a cockeyed elevator.

Tough must be the woman who dresses to kill.

Solid roofs protect hearth’s secrets.

As individual tax rates approach 100%, we’ll all be equally poor, which is, of course, the aim of communism.

Certain institutions are able to manufacture money that no one sees.

When do fish sleep?

Cars are motorized oversized dachshunds.

Tents no less than more solid buildings stay erect until they fall.

Nothing is more natural to a rooster than fighting another rooster.

Water cleans everything dirty except dirty water.

Just as spring has followed winter and summer would follow spring, so autumn will follow summer, illustrating the same dictum as an object falling to earth that Nature is 100% reliable.

Death denudes life.

Man both begins and ends as a beggar asking relatives to put money in his piggy bank.

Elevators are floors ascending.

Clowns are God’s most generous comics.

Taxis move faster than buses until they get stuck in traffic.

So successfully different is the crook’s new identity that not even his dog recognized him.

Some religious devoutly praying remind me of rabbits eating grass.

Umlauts staple favored letters to a page.

Cheek-kissing epitomizes dead-end affection, usually promising nothing more than more cheek-kissing.

Accents aigu (acute) are left-handed salutes; those grave, right-handed.

Gallery exhibitions should display what ought to be seen but would otherwise be hidden.

Fences insulted fall down.

A stave of a song’s musical notes turned upside down can be as harmonious as their original tune.

Fresh air is free, if rare.

Be careful not to have thoughts that are devastatingly comic, as the brain is only lightly pasted together.

Farts represent shit trying to get out.

All vacuums get filled.

Dust on a bookshelf measures years ignored.

Rain cleans until it floods.

Some powders take longer to take than other powders.

Parks can be improved by humans to a degree that oceans cannot.

Bridges between thoughts these sentences aren’t explicitly, though perhaps implicitly.

Sleep inspires more than eating or exercise do.

In dreams I can retrieve my younger self.

The strongest books fly, often invisibly, from one reader to another.

Airplanes are lock-jointed birds.

The only person known to me to sleep in a bed with cats is Mrs. Katz.

Masturbation is a pleasurable deception.

All human wisdom compressed onto the head of a pin would necessarily be devoid of bullshit.

Few manicurists do doornails.

When money disappears, we’ll all be equally rich.

Inside every surviving genius is a sub-genius advising him how to pay his bills.

A gun hot is scarcely distinguishable from a car tire committing suicide.

Large-handled steins go better with beer than water.

Rarely will objects object.

Whatever “shit” appears in print cannot be taken back.

Dildos promise fantasy fucks.

Refuse anyone else’s refuse.

Insurance isn’t necessary until you need it.

Shine whatever shoes your boss isn’t wearing.

A long sharp knife could bring the complex human machine to a permanent halt.

Myths rule where laws fail.

Self-confidence is indisputable.

Very beautiful women are better ogled than known, which is to say better flattered than fucked.

An amulet worn too often can prompt extravagant speculations.

Heat decimates ice without any opposition.

Avoid rooms that sardines would find spacious.

Cartography speaks in a parallel language, universally understood, of latitudes and longitudes.

In hysterical disputes silence can be more effective than words or fists.

Inspired would be a book necessarily read upside down.

Contented must have been the man who died without possessions.

In champagne bottles must be vials of explosives.

Nearly all young women posing totally naked look as fit and high-bosomed as other young women voluntarily wholly nude.

“Bullshit” doesn’t necessarily come from male cows.

Covens convene conveniently.

Professional résumés weave seductive fictions.

The best reason for faking your death is discovering what happens after everyone thinks you’ve gone.

Thunder represents trucks crashing in heaven.

Chickens gathered together establish a pecking order without human intervention.

Slow intercourse makes love last longer and slower intercourse much longer.

The stories he told went on and on and on and on….

Anyone seduced by a potential lover’s eyes is likely to be disappointed.

Acrobats amaze.

Cauliflowers are miniature snow-capped mountains.

These sentences play more than most “plays.”

Beauty’s a bitch.

Books kept on a shelf, not discarded, grow wiser with age.

Objects gossip about us when our backs are turned.

Any sentence of mine every reader is welcome to make his own.

Don’t dispute shadows’ shadows.

Whoever was authorized to collect my money didn’t.

On the first page of a new book he found a word he did not know before.

Disregard uniformed police who don’t knock at your door.

Artichoke hearts ache.

A stitch in time saves nine, ten, and sometimes eleven.

Why do all male politicians seem to patronize the same haberdasher?

Crimes occurring only inside one’s head can’t be prosecuted.

She stole his best ideas to call them her own–even the idea of appropriating his best ideas to be her own.

Let here be fresh ketchup.

Staying asleep is more problematic than falling asleep.

In dreams are found forgotten truths.

Bribes are loaded pistols prone to backfire.

An inventive chef prepares edible paper.

Slam doors silently.

They called their home Heathens’ Hearth.

Surrounded by one-way mirrors he could not see who was observing him while looking only at himself.

In literature the sky’s no limit.

Disregard critics who don’t knock down your door.

Bare bears bear little bears.

A quart in time saves nine.

Eggs that look identical aren’t even third cousins.


From my Dictionary of the Avant-Gardes (2000):

GOMEZ DE LA SERNA, Ramón (3 July 1888 ? 12 January 1963). A Spanish writer whose specialty was a fictional aphorism (as distinct from a philosophical one) that he called greguerías, Gómez de la Serna was probably the most original author of his genera­tion in Spain (whose contemporaries included José Ortega y Gasset and Miguel de Unamuno). Though he published essays, short stories, plays, novels, biographies, memoirs, and even chronicles of the gatherings at his favorite literary café in Madrid, he is best remembered for his thou­sands of greguerías, which he claimed to have invented around 1910: “The little girl wants to dance because she wants to fly”; “Moon and sand are mad for each other”; “Tigers are somnambulists who cross rivers of sleep over bridges of leaps”; “We should take more time to forget; thus we would have a longer life. ” (No one would ever confuse these with philo­sophical aphorisms.) Miguel Gonzalez-Gerth writes, “He opposed esthetic hierarchies, advo­cating instead that the artist should have com­plete freedom and start with everything at zero level.” Though Ramón thought of his greguerías as a combination of “metaphor + humor,” Spanish­-English dictionaries translate his key word as “irritating noise, gibberish, or hubbub,” which is less nonsense than a kind of inspired ridiculousness.



Gómez de la Serna, Ramón. Some Greguerías. Trans. Helen Granville-Barker. N.Y.: W. E. Rudge’s Sons, 1944.

Total de Greguerías. Madrid, Spain: Aguilar, 1955.

Greguerías, selección 1910-1960. Madrid, Spain: Espasa-Calpe, 1972.

Aphorisms. Trans. Miguel Gonzalez-Gerth. Pittsburgh, PA: Latin American Liter­ary Review, 1989.

Greguerías: The Wit and Wisdom of Ramón Gómez de la Serna. Ed. & trans. Philip Ward. Cambridge, England: Oleander, 1982.



Richard Kostelanetz recently completed a book of previously uncollected critiques, Deeper, Further, and Beyond. Individual entries on his 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, NNDB.com, Wikipedia.com, and Britannica.com, among other distinguished directories. Otherwise, he survives in New York, where he was born, unemployed and thus overworked.


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