Orphic Journeys

With Jan Carew.

In the dreaming month when sea drums echo, here come the opposing spirits of ancestral dead, and here is the body in-between. Also here, a motley collection of other spirits of various purposes and temperaments, each with their own will to interfere. Balancing between limbo and nothingness, the dreamer leaves, searching for an end to exile.

The first sign of trouble was the ignorance of proper names, and then came erasure in the land of wind. Now throbs the ache of missing limbs and thirst beside these drained reservoirs of memory. Dispossessed of a place in the sun, the dreamer enters the tombs, to gnaw at the bones of collected griefs in shattered time.

And then, trespassing through prehistory to recover a lost Eden, the dreamer returns to the hills, and then to the river and finally, to the same sea that was the beginning of looking out and beyond.

***

Today is the birthday of Jan Carew (1920-2017), Afro-Caribbean poet, playwright, scholar, and novelist of far-reaching influence. In honor of this day, I spent the morning with his essay, The Caribbean Writer and Exile, published in Journal of Black Studies (Jun. 1978). This post is assembled using images and phrases found in Carew’s essay. 

Uncertain Somethings

That je ne sais quoi.

Instead of the usual source, today’s weather comes from Craigslist. It seemed important somehow to check, as they say, the temperature of the room, to hold a finger in the wind or press lightly against the pulse of the moment, mixing the proverbial metaphors with freewheeling abandon in the spirit of adventure. I have a pretty good idea what the usual reports will tell me, but this is something else.

For example, I had not considered the possibility of joining an amateur pool league––or that, if I were up for being a dance partner open to swing with an emphasis on retro 60’s, that this person, unnamed and possibly only a few miles away, might be waiting for my call. 

Or that someone might be scouring such listings with a question such as, what do I do with this extra cash?––only to realize that no, they have in fact never owned an original, made-to-order piece of art, and perhaps the time is now.

There is, apparently, a feeling in the air, the type inspired by the ponytailed dog walker at Fiesta Island last Sunday, the guy who lent his umbrella at the Ashanti concert, or the clerk who used to work in the floral department at the Vons on University. 

They came and went, these specters, and someone is looking for each of them now, as some others seek a lost chocolate tabby and a gold dolphin toe ring, and have I ever even considered that this would be a thing to own, until now?

I have not, but it is, and because of this, it may also be lost, and once lost, so missed that someone might be compelled in the dreaded glare of midday, to post a message to the beyonds. It floats there now, in the atmosphere, and you won’t hear about these things in your usual weather report.

And you won’t hear about any of the other small losses that can empty a heart well enough that it will be open to receive the next discovered wonder with the chill of timely recognition that can only come when someone reminds you back to a question you didn’t know you were holding, like what are you looking for?

Intimate Immensity

Once upon a forest.

Behind the dying wind and softening rain, silence compels the listener. Since the immense is not an object, it relies on imagination, and so it becomes possible to open the world by seeing more than what appears to be. In the immediate immensity of the shattered forest, piling infinities far from all history of men; a curdling quiet trembles. You’d need a map the size of a given world to make it truly accurate, so the dreamers continue. 

***

Notes while reading Gaston Bachelard’s “Intimate Immensity” in The Poetics of Space.

Power Objects

Art of communion.

Here’s a mysterious object. Its spectral shape has gravity and time, revealing little of form, origin, or the familiar external markers of skill. Its power is largely hidden, like the passages within it. What passes through is sacred. More than a sculpture, here is an instrument, a vessel. The hands that shaped it are many. It formed like a snowdrift, over time, the result of many forces acting independently. And yet, the mythical connection between art and the divine inspiration of a single individual persists.

***

Inspired by Nayland Blake’s discussion of Boli at the Met Museum.

Look Away

With Jean-Luc Godard.

I prefer to work, you said, when people are against me. You embraced the struggle and resisted the embrace. They called your work a high energy fusion of jazz and philosophy; you confessed hot emotion, cold truth.

Your work grew in subtlety, complexity; your audience faded back to the diet they knew. Rumors that you had died made financing a challenge and you lamented the loss of doubt in an age with no past. No one knows anyone from before, you said.

You wished more would take the time to discover before they tried to please; to discuss before trying to convince. But it only takes a click these days, to find the previous shot. There’s no unspooling the reel; no moment-by-moment reversal. It takes no time to go back, so time is lost.

For you, the real story always revolved around the twin questions of your obsession: was it possible to tell, and where to begin?

***

Adapted from from Richard Brody’s New Yorker feature An Exile in Paradise: How Jean-Luc Godard disappeared from the headlines and into the movies, reposted last week in honor of Godard, who died on the 13th of this month at the age of ninety-one.  

Possibilities for Becoming

With Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.

If much of sight is the weight of understanding––the weight of the world, as the saying goes–– why not a vision to pull us forward and up, binding us to one another and this earth? What happens when one person and then many––live in devotion to the process of discovering this renewal: its anatomy and breath, its sublimated wants, and how its needs at their core might include us? In an age of crisis, we face over and again the possibility of a coming end, on a road increasingly populated by our dead and dying. What does it take to remember love––even here, and hold it long enough to see a way to its next beginning? You noticed sacredness in imperfection, even pain––because it is, because we are, because we are becoming. Of this age of loss, you suggested, now we are getting somewhere.

***

Inspired by the work of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.

The Long Return

Reading bones.

The bone-readers tell a story: how the ancestor of all four-limbed creatures took its first steps on dry land. Here’s another: one day, one of the descendants of those long dwelling on land decided it was time to return. What followed were those familiar-looking progeny: whales, dolphins, porpoises, who seem to hold a certain invitation in their gaze, their play near boats and shores, and we can’t help our awe when we see them, calling Look!

Looking long, some of the bone readers speculate that the swelling in our chests, our voices, our eyes at these encounters is perhaps the product of one part primal memory and another of a longing to believe––that it is possible for someone long adapted to those acres beyond the spectral surfaces that once meant certain death, who has somehow adjusted the senses to account for the cacophony of what batted and chirped, rustled and warbled; rattled in the grasses and the winds––to still hear the call of a migrating pod thousands of miles away and think: home.

***

Inspired by the opening passage in Amber Dance’s article “The Evolution of Whales from Land to Sea.” The italicized phrase above is from this passage.

Within Reach

Dreams in motion.

We can’t help ourselves, making languages and stretching limbs, stretching the language of our limbs. Done with demonstrating, now we suggest. Can you see us? If so, this show is for you.

The winds sweep our loves into rage and down the power lines until renewal floods again. Our prayers melt into play, a precise improvisation in real time, and we emerge from cocoons of private anomalies onto this collective stage––bending to remain unbent by those who cannot recognize a deliberate dance because they are trained to see only the march.

Fly, turn, arabesque, we fling mustard seeds into the bags at our waists, wasting not an ounce of what we saw beyond the veil, behind the curtain where they thought they were keeping us, while we were only waiting for our cue. Yes, we are still here.

Glass, Looking

Rites of passage and perception.

No one goes around throwing parties for unwelcome ghosts, but here’s a toast. I confess a special fondness for these swaggering apparitions who sashay their uncanny specters in and out of formerly familiar rooms, as if they existed––or played at this uncanny form of existence–– for no other reason than to complicate certain over-easy senses of belonging; of exclusion; of the ins and outs of everyday occurrences, where Munch’s screamer runs from Kafka’s ghost wearing a feather boa and dropping glitter dust all over the floor. When the seams of a mind start stretching, it is sometimes rare that the forms in any given mirror are familiar, are human, are known entities––even before the mirror shards itself into these scattered slices of being, reflecting.

Fogs

Muted sounds and atmospheric shrouds.

Today’s challenge: to walk with what is unknown and accept its presence on its own terms, even when it rejects walking, preferring instead to swim or roll in the mud or follow birds and the bells of ice cream trucks. To interject ambivalence with ambiguity, the center of a spinning top nearly toppled is the climax of its dance.

The white dunes of reverberating fog smudge the skyline, obscuring as much as it reveals of us back to ourselves, warning of certainty’s trespass, as if to say, try knowing time without the blunt tool of sequence to hammer it into submission. 

Nothing this soft will respond as desired to such obtuse force, accepting a given shape or placement. It will only become more and more diffuse, more and more what it is, the disquieting formlessness that makes atmosphere visible by resisting expectations of transparency.