It was about the deepest sort of beauty, the product of the human mind being stamped onto a piece of silicon that you might one day cart around in your briefcase. A poem in a rock. A theorem in a slice of stone. The programmers were the artisans of the future. Human knowledge is power, Mama. The only limits are in our minds. He said there was nothing that a computer couldn’t do, even the most complicated problems, find the value of pi, the root of all language, the most distant star. It was crazy how small the world truly was. It was a matter of opening it up. What you want is your machine to speak back to you, Mama. It almost has to be human. You have to think of it that way.

– From Let the Great World Spin, by Colum McCann

Death, the greatest democracy of them all. The world’s oldest complaint. Happens to us all. Rich and poor. Fat and thin. Fathers and daughters. Mothers and sons. She feels a pang, a return. Dear mother, this is just to say that I have arrived safely, the first began. And ten at the end he was writing. Mama, this place is a nothing place, take all the places and give me nothing instead. Oh. Oh. Read all the letters of the world, love letters or hate letters or joy letters, and stack them up against the single one hundred and thirty seven that my son wrote to me, place them end to end. Whitman and Wilde and Wittgenstein and whoever else, it doesn’t matter – there’s no comparison. All the things he used to say! All the things he could remember! All that he put his finger upon!

That’s what sons do: write to their mothers about recall, tell themselves about the past until they come to realize that they are the past.

But no, not past, not him, not ever.

Forget the letters. Let our machines fight. You hear me? Let them go at it. Let them go at it. Let them stare each other down the wires.

Leave the boys at home.

Leave my boy at home. Gloria’s too. And Marcia’s. Let him walk a tightrope if he wants. Let him become an angel. And Jacqueline’s. And Wilma’s Not Wilma, no. There was never a Wilma. Janet. Probably a Wilma too. Maybe a thousand Wilmas all over the country.

Just give my boy back to me. That’s all I want. Give him back. Hand him over. Right now. Let him open the door and run past the mezuzah and let him clang down here at the piano. Repair all the pretty faces of the young. No cries, no shrieks, no bleats. Bring them back here now. Why shouldn’t all our sons be in the room all at once? Collapse all the boundaries. Why shouldn’t they sit together? Berets on their knees. Their slight embarrassment. Their creased uniforms. You fought for our country. Why not celebrate on Park Avenue? Coffee or tea, boys? A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.

All this talk of freedom. Nonsense, really. freedom can’t be given, it must be received.

I will not take this jar of ashes.

– From Let the Great World Spin, by Colum McCann

 

‘Cause men like to think they can rescue you. Like you got a disease and they got the special cure just waiting for you. Come in here, honey, don’t ya want someone to understand you? Me, I understand you. I’m the only guy knows a chick like you. I got a dick as long as a Third Avenue menu but I got a heart bigger’n the Bronx. They fuck you like they’re doing you a big favor. Every man wants a whore to rescue, that’s the knockdown truth. It’s a disease in itself, you ask me. Then, when they’ve shot their wad they just zip up and go and forget about you. That’s something fucked up in the head.

– From Let the Great World Spin, by Colum McCann

…The war is about vanity, he said. It was about old men who couldn’t look in the mirror anymore and so they sent the young out to die. War was a get-together of the vain. 

– From Let the Great World Spin, by Colum McCann

Someday, he said, the machines would revolutionize the world…But it was not machines that were evil, but the minds of the top brass behind them. a machine could be no more evil than a violin, or a camera, or a pencil. What the intruders didn’t understand is that they were coming in at the wrong place. It was not the technology that they needed to attack, but the human mind, the way it failed, how it fell short.

– From Let the Great World Spin, by Colum McCann

 

…and now I had a meaning for my brother – he was a crack of light under the door, and yet the door was shut to him. Only bits and pieces of him would leak out and he would end up barricaded behind that which he penetrated. Maybe it was entirely his own fault. Maybe he welcomed the complications: he had created them purely because he needed them to survive.

– From Let the Great World Spin, by Colum McCann

 

Adelita walked down to the waterfront, where her children were kicking happily in the low surf. She drew attention like a draft of wind. Men watched her wherever she went, the slender curve of her body against the white uniform. She sat on the sand beside me with her knees pressed against her breasts. She shifted and her skirt rose slightly; a red welt on the where her tattoo was.

– From Let the Great World Spin, by Colum McCann