Look at you, powerful danger, witness to our end and our continuance. Cipher of memory, speak into the borders of this condition.
The first body––of nature, will vanish soon. But the second goes slowly. A creature of culture does not exit so quickly from its binding web. There are decisions to make about the coming journey, and in these we find fiber enough to weave the net.
We ease them gently from us and continue to invite them back. We live with them, and they know us. Gone is too easy a word; if it were complete, wouldn’t the loss have less weight?
This is something else, a presence without assurance, a radical rupture, reminding what the soil takes back. No, we have never been clean.
But if not gone, then where? Here is the beginning of hope, thirteen ways of looking at a moldering body. What else could it be, these first lessons in seeing the invisible?
What is it, to come down from the highlands of his mother’s lullabies where the first blessings held him by the light of a single candle in the bedroom, where the sun was his father, the moon his mother, and for little sisters, he had the stars––to the sea that fed him, clothed him, to live in communion with the gulls peering into its vast and unfamiliar depths, to hold a single hope by the light of the shore? Teach me, he whispers, learning time by the tides.
Tell us again the story of this long walk. Narrate the separation, trace the lines of these forever journeys on our faces out and our bodies away, and draw them on our hands and back together in a net wide enough to hold the slippery forms of recent memory, the laughter of ancestors, and the mischief of our dead. Bring the children close, closer; bind them to us––close enough to keep them in the weave and weave us tight, between the living and the dead and back again.
Tell it in light, with the accent that reveals your time in the shadow lands. Wrap our losses in embalming cloth and hold them still. Let us visit. Then unwrap them, invite them on stage. We want to see them again, how they show us ourselves: the sad, the child, the ashamed, the elegant, the diva.
In a state of partial decay, the smile widens to something between a laugh and a scream, and we find a face we recognize. Mirror, mirror, return us to ourselves, to one another. Come back.
It isn’t you this call is for, but since you’re so intent on listening, I might as well tell you––
I feel this grain-sized ear you glued to my back. I see them on the backs of some of the others, too.
Yes, I see them, but you’ll probably miss the nuance here. We hunt tiny insects in a pitch-black cave, but you––obsessed with the light you’ve equated by mistaken metaphor to some salvation––miss this point, too.
Look, it’s not that we don’t see you trying. It’s just––sigh. I mean, you look at the sky sometimes, too, right? When was the last time you glimpsed the Milky Way? Consider this: that light traveled billions of years across distances too big for you to imagine, only to be washed out in the last fraction of a second by the glow of a Wal-Mart parking lot. I’m trying to use terms you can understand.
Suggestion: try reciprocating?
You used to be here with us. Listen, I am trying to tell you––
You can’t hear any of this, can you? Still, you might.
Listen, try turning the light off. Stop stopping your ears.
To say yes and give the hand to the first comer, here are two of a kind: the bogeyman on one hand, love and death on another.
Lads make ready. They are hot, out hunting for teeth and the house is on fire.
¡Pobrecitas! Everyone will fall. How they pluck her, those specks of dust. But now they are sitting well; why hide?
The sleep of reason produces monsters, and it overcomes them. They have flown and still, they don’t go.
Pretty teacher, whispers one, wait ‘till you’ve been anointed. Be quick now, they are waking up.
It is time.
Can’t anyone unleash us?
Inspired by Goya’s Los Caprichos, a set of eighty prints etched by Francisco Goya between 1797-98, which, collected in book form, offered powerful critique of many of the social ills he observed. I was struck by the relevance of certain themes to this moment: the rise of superstition, decline of rationality, corruption among the ruling class, as well as common practices of prejudice and deceit. Today’s post features (translated) phrases from the captions of these prints.The above print is Capricho No. 43 of this series, “The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters.”
We saw them everywhere: the dragonish clouds, the roaring vapors, the faces in the sky. We found them in tea leaves, in spilled milk, on the unsuspecting canvases of our grilled cheese.
So much hides in an inkwell. We invited its contents out, dripping the unknown essences onto our waiting pages. We folded, pressed, and looked, and there they were, looking back. It comforted us somehow, to contain them, this bestiary of the invisible, the known unknowns.
Inspired by the blotograms of Justinus Kerner (1786-1862), made “decades before the Rorschach test laid claim to this form” as well as John Prosper Carmel’s “Bottentots and How to Make Them” (1907)––both of which are described in this article on inkblot books. And, of course, by the cloud-faces.
You can’t say they didn’t warn us, those eye-level oracles whispering above the chewing gum we didn’t need, the candy bars we secretly craved, the batteries we were always forgetting to buy. It’s not like they weren’t persistent. They offered a bounty of answers, endlessly. But, as the saying goes, you can lead a horse to water––
Secrets would be revealed. Why the it girl could never marry, what the bachelor of the year could never refuse. How to win against the crooks, not to mention important updates: recent developments in a high-profile rivalry, what happened to the kids you still remembered. What was fumbled, what went bust, who was at the end of their rope.
It was a bombshell. It was graphic. It was a must see. It promised: Your questions finally answered! The secrets, the how to, the life hack you don’t want to try living without. The bags of apples moved ahead; the cereal was scanned. There was always something we were forgetting until it was too late. In this way they knew us, these oracles.
Look away at your own risk, they chided. We slid forward, replied with banal comments about how our days were going. Buttons were pressed, money exchanged. A receipt was handed over. We turned to exit, offered the usual thanks. But the things that we carried could not be the things we were here for, could they? They had called our bluff, these fantastical fortune-tellers. We exited through the sliding doors, into the asphalt flatland, squinting against the glare.
Inspired by a recent survey of magazines featured by the checkout station at the local supermarket.
Today is the birthday of Yasunari Kawabata (1899-1972), a Japanese writer renowned for his pared-down lyricism, and the subtle shading of his prose. In 1968, Kawabata became the first Japanese author to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature. Today’s post is assembled from phrases borrowed from Kawabata’s short story “Morning Clouds,” translated from Japanese by Lane Dunlop.