First Flights

Tracing the texture of a dream.

Here is a book of time, someone told us, to translate a voice in the heart of the sky. It reminded us forward to the hour of the story inside the essence of the dream through which we flew to the beginning of the word on a current of makers.

Sighing creation, we ran, particles of ourselves in waves at the shore, piling sand into a world we could live in, and we admired the work of our hands until the tide took it back. 

We borrowed the insights of distant lightning to hold back the night, and with wet hands we peeled the dawn to eat it raw, dew dripping from our laughing chins.

The Memory Tower

For Leonora Carrington.

Everything happened after my birth, you said, as you left on the boat of the herons, a new Eve, refusing to be devoured as anybody’s muse. You had spells to cast, self-portraits as alchemy, your spine a hearing trumpet, listening between the worlds; mère, mer; now mother, now sea.

The solar systems of your eyes kindled by your own light, you rode the seventh horse away from the house of fear, passing through the stone door to the land where the serpents sing stories from the well to the pilgrims ascending the memory tower.

El Mundo Mágico de los Mayas, Leonora Carington

***

Inspired by the life and work of artist Leonora Carrington, with phrases borrowed from the titles of her paintings and stories, as well as her interviews. 

Bird Women

Subtle bodies in flight.

An old fantasy: the flying man. Faust would die for it. The better to study stars, he said. After all, he reasoned, weren’t the heavens more suitable for study by the dead than the living? If a bird may, why not a man? They kept trying. 

For some of the women, long trained in the art of dying, flight was one of those things you simply didn’t discuss, like the daily deaths or predawn dreams. Who was asking? 

I think my grandmother knew how, as the grandmothers before her also did. It was one of those things that came with death. In certain situations, learning how to die was just another one of those things that one did, for the living.

Finding the Essence

Of restraint.

When it comes to composition––a painting, a poem, a film––so much of the work is about discovering the essence of the thing. The rest is arbitrary. The art comes from learning what to eliminate. This takes time.

***

My interest in the art and life of Louise Bourgeois led me to the writings and interviews assembled in this book. The italicized phrase above is from one of her early letters.

Reparations of a Body

Old woman, new art.

Past, present, future: body. It’s a reaching place, this blood house, this mother’s form––out, out, she paints balloon bodies bursting with anxieties of desire, washing together in tides of pink, crimson, vermillion. She paints the sound and the fury of the gaping mouth, wild eyes; body like a net, like a sac, flower petal breasts like octopus arms: reach.  

The images shock. The nerve, to dare production beyond her reproductive years. With a nod to decorum, might she not try creeping around the flesh?

Given her advanced age, wasn’t she supposed to have floated into something ethereal by now? Suffusions of light, passive serenity, reflections on a lake? Flowers would be appropriate. Ripe fruit, perhaps. 

With flamboyant irony, she rejects easy ripeness, preferring instead to quarrel with time, to paint within her bodies the unresolved contradictions of her still-becoming self.

I am about to find the past, she says. I feel it, she says.  I own it forever. 

Her mornings continue in this manner, her mourning still undone.

***

Inspired by Louise Bourgeois, whose life and works are of deep interest to me lately. This morning, I was reading Rosemary Betterton’s article, Louise Bourgeois, ageing, and maternal bodies, published in a 2009 issue of Feminist Review.

Reverb

Sound bodies.

Break in two directions, a fork in the tuner. Between the moment and knowing, this ear: feather, canal, chamber, drum, window. It sounds.

Like? The echo of a summons, an access, a mode, rooted in another rhythm.

––No, not another. Also, here. One sighs out sound through saxophone, another finds what already is, moving hands over strings, keys. Also, hear: wing against air, what enters and exits an alley, the joint between the next step and the road.

What mediates the muttering storm over a body but the tools it makes or finds? All that shatters can also pass: through a body’s channels, into some semblance of harbor–– to these ports of ear, skin, breath. To dig is to become bodily implicated in the soil, mind and mud continually passing through one another, folding into braided bars of birdsong and the cadence of calls back and forth between creatures in and out of doors.

Here is the universe in a time of rain, a song line from the crown to the roots, alive with noise.

***

Inspired by Mary Pinard’s article in Interdisciplinary Literary Studies: Alice Oswald, Voice(s) of the Poet-Gardener: Alice Oswald and the Poetry of Acoustic Encounter, particularly Pinard’s reference to Oswald’s “echo-poetics.” The italicized phrases above come from Oswald.  

Soundscapes

Dreaming with echolocation.

I am going with the divers. To immerse myself in their world, so to speak. The landscape: evanescent jellies over shadowy blue-green depths. Spider crabs over brown boulders. Sound bubbles murmuring like echoes of the lost continent. Muffled pings of distant sonar. Voices of the others, recording as I am now. 

We used to play a game in pools. We called it see if you can tell what I am saying. We’d face one another underwater through goggles and the speaker would shout-scream, making exaggerated facial movements. We would interrupt ourselves with eruptions of laughter, come up coughing, decide in unison: try again

Observations: submerged in this cylindrical ship, we become a collective cyborg. Once called the silent world, it becomes sonorous, an exercise in transduction. Transduce: to alter the physical nature of a signal; to convert variations in one medium into corresponding variations in another medium. Accoustemology: a sonic way of being.

It has been observed that in rural France, the circumference of a village could be defined by the reach of reverberating church bells. 

And what are we doing here? If vision is for surfaces, hearing is for the interior. I think we are all here waiting for the sounds of the bells we missed, that we might gain access to a village we haven’t yet imagined. 

We are listening. We hope that when we hear it, we will know.

***

Inspired by something I was wondering about last night, related to dreams and echolocation, which led me to Stefan Helmreich’s 2007 article in American Ethnologist, An Anthropologist Underwater: Immersive Soundscapes, Submarine Cyborgs, and Transductive Ethnography. I am intrigued by Helmreich’s idea for an anthropological take on the ecosystem within a submarine.

Muttering Thunder

Music lessons with the rake.

The poet likened gardening to an act of listening. Poets are known to do a lot with the old gardening metaphor, and she resisted this. Nothing was like a garden, not really. Not when you waited. Not when you took its music on its own terms. She called the rake a dew’s harp and her favorite instrument. The method for playing it meant finding what was already there, which is the opposite of working it into something else. 

***

Inspired by the work of Alice Oswald, particularly The Thunder Mutters: 101 Poems for The Planet.

Ceremonial Forms

Lessons in morphology.

Had I not known what they were, the artist explained, I would have missed it. He was speaking of Ci Wara sculpture. The word means work animal, he said. Translated through his lens, it was a bicycle, reimagined. 

Examined head-on, the front view reveals nothing. But move with it. They would have appeared futuristic to me, the artist said, of the abstracted animal forms, had I not known their history.

Understood: everything as living. The artist is looking especially closely at the bodies of objects that have been discarded. There is added power, he says, in a ceremonial object. 

A reimagined instrument will play new music. The curves of a guitar body may become the outlines of limbs, ears of an elephant, cut fruit; a piano’s hammers now tail feathers.

The artist raises questions about what happens when the will of an outside force is enacted on a body, insisting some identity.

The artist raises questions about what may happen when the will of any other force is enacted through a body, insisting some other identity.

It calls to mind the phrasings of certain instruments, aimed after midnight into some loving cup, repurposed as an ear––at the suggestion made by another teacher at another time, consent not to be a single being, which some of the latent forms in the body of a vast system of roots might take as a command to go down, while others hear a plea to hold, and others as an invitation to fly.

***

Inspired by the work of American artist Willie Cole, specifically his 2022 solo show, No Strings. I heard Cole speak about the inspiration he took from Ci Wara sculpture in an interview curated by The Met. Also by artist, academic, poet, and theorist Fred Moten, who themed a trilogy, consent not to be a single being, after a line by Martinican poet and theorist Edouard Glissant, bent toward Moten’s purpose.