We knew better than to argue but we couldn’t help resisting certain distinctions between the sublime and the ridiculous, laughter and horror. Awe and dread. It was all of these and everywhere at once, and they scolded us for laughing at the wrong times.
When was the right time? we wondered. But it was always not yet. So much applause everywhere for the questing hero, but our supple forms learned something else in those years. How accepting and bearing what may come might be wild acts of giving. It was impossible to wait, but we loved our mothers.
Ashes, ashes we were all arcs and curves, falling down and back again, swinging between force and grace, dance and non-dance, gravestones and oleander, the bright horizon, and the way it shattered in the spray. Rose quartz and granite, sand. You, and your eyes. We played at not blinking until we lost again, shouting I won!
Careful, the greybeards would say as we ran back out into the cold. You’ll catch your death. But it was our lives we were after and death was the feathered brush at the base of the spine, coming hard and we could hear it at our backs. We played at tagging it into a temporary pause but then it would turn, and we knew.
Run! We called back and forth to each other when the only response was fast as you can.
In the presence of endings, your imagination lifted, and death was never far. Where others ran away, you went to meet it. You waded into waters of long suffering, returning with the precious and unseen.
With death never far from where you rested, you rested only briefly. You knew waters deep and rough enough to drown the best of us, how they silenced, and the violence of a blow to stop the mouth.
Still, you spoke of longing and living in a fallen world. Beholding, for you, was a series of flashes. Each pierced you. You kept looking.
Early this morning, I spent time with the work of César Vallejo, whose life I mean to honor here.
At the clothesline, you watched and remembered loving her in the great storm. You worried she would run off with a sailor. And you saw the shadow of a man but not the man, how it mocked you.
You loved the crazies, wanted to hear them. You were the buddy to the toughest guy in every class––protection, maybe, you laughed. The things we do.
You pulled a gun on the man who beat your mother, joined a gang called something like The Zoo Club. It’s funny how the gangs of old always sound quaint. Your mother was recovering, your grandmother was cooking, and your grandfather was silent. You invented.
The first poem you read was, as you put it, stupid. You fell in love. You met poetry in bars, on street corners and in back alleys. Suddenly ravenous, you could not get enough. It was coming out my ears, you said, of your reading.
The hardest work, you said, after decades in love, is creating the situation, the new reality. Once that was handled, you had something to work within. You loved the surprise of a laugh when you meant to be crying.
It’s a tragic story, you wrote, but that’s what’s so funny.
I spent the early morning with poetry and interviews by (and with) James Tate, and I am glad I did. Italicized phrases are Tate’s.
In the year of quiet, you noticed what got louder. Listening, you transcribed a diary of what was happening just beyond the nearest clouds. It was not a new invasion, only the old one you had long been living with, adjusting to, learning to accommodate––until you noticed, or almost did not notice, how well you had learned not to look at the edge where you lived. One day, you decided to look.
Why? Some asked you, and you explained that you took it personally.
What, exactly? The skies, and what happened in them, for one. But also, this other thing, more diffuse and insidious, precisely because it is lethally easy to ignore.
Inspired by Finn Blythe’s BOMB interview with Lawrence Abu Hamadan, on his work Air Pressure: A Diary of the Sky, on view at Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo in Turin, Italy, until February 26.
The heart of the living beats hard, time out of mind when the hot nerve breaks. When nowhere was steady, we gathered in pairs and threes, hoping to hear a call or cry. Wanting to respond, in times like this, to anyone, drums like an ache. The tenderness of those faces was spectacular.
Then it was late, all eyelids and moons and vertebrae on the shore at our feet. Sniffing the tide, the split shells, the seaweed. Something sat near us, against the wet cliff. It did not speak. One of us whispered, I have been waiting. It is understood that he means his whole life. It is understood that he means, to be brought to something like belief. It is understood that this does not matter, now. We are still here.
Records of cross-examination.
The first thing we grasped was that we were made of one part here and another just outside us. The next was that Time was made of more than one kind of stuff. Now it held us; now it was a river beyond. Now an elaborate ice castle, now air and what flew on it. Then it was in us somehow, overlapping breath but more.
Was it a fabric? Some spoke as though it were something to be measured, conquered, won. But then, some spoke of nearly everything in those terms. Let time no longer be imposed on us, said another, imagining it a medium to be shaped, like clay. Some had a bias toward thinking that the moment at hand was a new Time. For others, the future could not be born without events, and until these happened, none existed that we could name.
There was much we couldn’t name. This was not a beloved idea. Often, it seemed to be measuring us, and while many fell, none of these were Time.
The tracks uncross, uncoupling the stars in our eyes. It is late and the light won’t train toward the alley by the liquor store on Broadway. Saturday night leaks greasy blues against neon signs for lotto prizes and fast-food payday loans. The discount tire guy waves and falls, to be raised again, a blow-up Lazarus. Alive.
The buzz of broken streetlights reminds that everyone is hanging as you are, by the thread to which we’ve tied some whispered prayer. Give us this day, our daily bread––no, never mind, take it back. Regrets fur like smoke at the crosswalk, teasing, Go. Not Yet. Hurry. You’ll miss it again.
My eyes hurt. Show me one thing blooming. Here they are, cellophane-wrapped with other plastic-plated symbols of significance, ready for purchase, bright tokens. Pang of grief, but you work with what you have. The hungry eye learns to make do. The gas station oasis lit to magnify the lines on the faces in line, we avert our eyes in respect for one another’s naked needs.
If not this day again, give me something. I pay to spill back onto Broadway. Beneath the glow of a No Vacancy sign, I wait to cross, sated now, the stems in hand. There are others on foot, and we stand at the banks. Not yet, don’t go. You can feel something hold us by the words we still won’t speak, nudging toward the next chance to give it all away.
The ringing went on. It dropped from the sky, filled our boots. When it stopped, the hillside hissed. We bleated against it to distract ourselves back to our shackles, our shovels back to work. What were we digging? But forgetting was the point, don’t mention it, intentions slipped in easy drifts we ripped new jokes from last year’s clothes, we could see no cause to wear their kind again. Night came and the ringing returned to us until.
We took off our boots and left them to catch what we could no longer hear. No, we whispered. This is not the war. We watched the skies. It was not time.
Yes, some added. We should have listened longer, mourned sooner, welcomed other eyes; been less afraid and more willing to approach the borders of our terrors, to see if any existed; to extend a bodily willingness to allow the next breath to sting with its magnitude, to know this something not our own, which we may yet learn to hold before the break.
To move between the domestic and the otherworldly need not be some hero’s leap across some chasm, triumphant. We drifted back and forth, more gaze than choice. In this way, our tears translated to the pools of mermaid songs at bath time. Come, littles. Now the scalp, now the towels at our tails. Daylight done, lights out, out! The mystery had to do with its return in the morning, and we whispered, Tomorrow. Of the light and the pinecones, rabbits, and blue jays. They would. We would be there. We hoped tomorrow to put acorns in a pile, that the squirrels would see them and approve. That they would see us and know. We called our good nights to the moon. It was changing and we meant to see how. It pulled our gaze like tides, and we were out again.