A Love Supreme

With John Coltrane.

I want to talk about you, your ascension, the promise I wish I knew, too beautiful.

Say it.

Say more for the lovers, please.

Weaver of dreams, dripping stardust, you answered time after time, then I’ll be tired; still, insisting, love thy neighbor.

But how deep is the ocean after the rain? 

An acknowledgement. Help me to be––compassion. Love.

An acknowledgement: Consequences.

Help me to be––serenity. Dearly beloved, I am a dreamer.

Dearly beloved, something I dreamed last night––

It was sometime around midnight, just after another take of something straight, no chaser, and all of us gathered like someone in love, alternating our so whats with melancholic meditations like someday my prince. It was soft lights and slow dance, and you leave me breathless on a misty night to hear a rhapsody. Lover, come back to me. I Cry! 

Tender, it’s a fire waltz, a minor disturbance. It’s this chronic blues, a love supreme.

Call me by my rightful name, I’m old fashioned. I can’t get started. I’m too young to go––

Steady. But it’s all or nothing at all.

Dearly beloved, this is an acknowledgement. 

Beloved, this is a song of praise 

I wish I knew.

***

Inspired by the serendipitous appearance of A Love Supreme on last night’s random shuffle, the above is assembled almost entirely from the titles of John Coltrane songs. And, of course, by love.

Sacrament of Memory

For the never forgetting.

At the baths, questions. The woman walks ahead. A man stops her to ask for a cigarette. I don’t smoke, he tells her. Okay, she agrees, and hands one over. Never forget, he says, regarding God’s words to St. Catherine. She wonders what. Only: you are who is not, and I am what is.

The bathers look on. One claps, considering the speaker must have heard it from the source. But what is faith if you can earn a degree in it? Its most common translation: madness. And who are the faithful, seeming so alone? Is this what it looks like, the communion of saints?

Why would anybody swim with a lighted candle? Whatever it is, he wants to know, so he stops her to remark upon the color of her hair in the light. What else is lost in translation? Only the translator as she leaves him.

There’s a landslide in the living room, the entrance a sacrament. By his side, a clock, a gourd, an empty bottle. Now comes the good oil, anointing by proxy. Now a confession from the madman: he never learned to smoke. It’s too hard, he says. Better to learn not to do things

Now the rain again. Now the bread and wine. A furtive look in the mirror. Who is this man? At communion, heads bow, I am not worthy. But say the word. The bottles fill with rain.

***

This is the second of two posts inspired by Tarkovsky’s Nostalgia. The first was over a week ago. The reason for the gap is that it tends to take me a long time to watch a film, life being what it is and only so many hours in a day. Since I really love this one, it took less than two weeks. Now I would like to see every film this director ever made.

Standing By

For Käthe Kollwitz.

She knew that for the grieving, someone willing to stop and wait, absorbing speechless calamity, is always worth more than platitudes of comfort lobbed in passing. In the age of abstraction, her naturalist style might have been called out of step, but a mother who loses as son to war is not an army. To see her women was to feel their weight. I have no right, she said, to withdraw from this. As she saw it, her duty was her steadfast gaze, maintaining focus where others would turn away. See, for example, her mountain of mothers. Their large working hands, the bodies thrown over small children, the way they hold one another in an unbroken circle while keeping watch for what may come next.

***

Inspired by the work of Käthe Kollwitz.

“Die Mütter” (The Mothers) / Käthe Kollwitz

For the Living and the Dead

Against the machine.

When the horror of a moment renders a body speechless, the acts of pen to page, brush to canvas, fingers to keys––become negotiations with death. Yours, mine: what are they and how do they relate? To account for whole cities of dead, a vast underground rendered invisible through banality. What is it to write a voice, paint a vision––while standing on ground in full recognition of the brothers beneath it, and the invisible sisters with their children and parents in mass graves? Welcome to the necropolis, says one, where screens herald the battalion.

What are the stakes at this scale? Life. Lives. Forget numbers, abstractions. Try instead: One.  

One. 

One. 

One.

Each a brother, sister, mother, daughter, each with a scent of their own, a particular laugh and secret hopes––erased.

What is at stake? The human condition in the age of the war machine.

How to resist? The first act is naming.

***

Inspired by the work of Juan RufloChristina Rivera Garza, and Achille Mbembe.

The Span of a Body

Developments in architecture.

There is a floating bridge. It is made of cardboard, carried by balloons. After a few days, it will fall back from the sky, landing somewhere other than the place from which it left. It will be taken apart, piece by piece.

In an alternative scene, here is a floating bridge made of cardboard and balanced with each of its anchor points in a canoe. It will float downstream to be collected somewhere else for the ritual of its deconstruction.

There are scaffolds floating over the crowds, over the city streets, reflections of themselves over still waters before they move again; serious arches flying like children’s kites, and what could be the point of any of this, except to raise certain questions about some commonly accepted points among us? In their brilliant uselessness, they gently remind us of our own architecture, leaning ever toward the next beginning.

***

Inspired by an article I found this morning about the work of French artist Olivier Grossetête, who gathers fifteen to thirty workshop participants at a time into the communal effort of constructing a floating bridge out of cardboard.

Nostalgia

Dreamscape in a fog.

Women in sweaters and long skirts walk through an uncultivated pasture in the fog, above a lake.  They retreat from the lens, toward something else. No one speaks.

Now comes a car on a nearby road. It takes a moment to stop. A woman gets out. The light reminds her of autumn. The man from the driver’s seat corrects her speech. I cried the first time I saw it, she says. He will not come.

I will wait for you, she says. She roams away like this often, in stubborn wonder. He follows, eventually. By the time he catches up, she will no longer be the woman from the car. By the time he catches her, she will be a woman who has been walking alone on a dirt path for some time.

***

Inspired by the work of Andrei Arsenyevich Tarkovsky, and specifically his film, Nostalgia.

Hunting Days

Aging writers recollect.

Remember the silence of our thoughts where we would wait, crouched in corners with pens poised to catch them, spectral geometry flickering in the shadows as they flew across our line of sight? They appeared and disappeared like bats, to and from nowhere––and us beckoning, show yourself! Our own thoughts, retreating. The nerve. We would tame them. 

We were young and eager to tie them down, to possess the authority of others who had managed to do so, somehow. Only by evading our pens could they find any haven.

Even a small one would be good, we thought––squirrel-sized, perhaps––anything from beyond the veil. If we could just catch one, we could prove ourselves successful hunters of what moved in the wilds of that other place. We could remove the skin, eat the meat, accumulate proud trophies. Others would envy what we had. But it was no good.

Rabid as we were, we didn’t see ourselves this way; we thought we were gentle. But they must have heard us, our pens poised like arrows to fly at them when they dared to run. No wonder they fled. We were starved for what we feared we would forget, but they knew it was worse than that. They knew they had already left us, and they recognized that we were in the stage of those still unwilling to accept the loss, who are willing to do anything to pretend that it is not what it is. 

They would wait until the visions of trophies had left us and we were bald and frail with grief. Then they would come and sit at our feet, on our laps. We would let them build nests where our hair used to be. Okay, we’d tell them, have it your way.

Obsolete

The art of preservation.

What do you do?

I preserve the obsolete. Take this instrument, for example. Plucked keys, no mallets, every note the same volume––rigid, raw, it sounds almost modern.

Why the harpsichord?

Because we always think of music as living. But I am always thinking in terms of loss.

How do you select your materials?

I look for what is unfashionable. I look for what people have turned from. I want to make them think about it again.

Why?

I am constantly stressed about what is disappearing. It’s a kind of chaos swirling around.

Can you describe your process?

I am the last to know the relationships between these materials.

What is your ideal workspace?

I like the idea of a studio that looks like one of those outmoded cubicle offices, where everyone is together but separated by partitions, and everyone is working on their art, but you wouldn’t even know it. 

What do you do?

Usually, I spend a lot of time trying to figure out something that has no purpose. 

When I was a child, I used to mix liquids in containers. I called them potions.

Exactly, that’s what I mean! Ask anyone to consider some of the things they most loved doing as children. Then have them try to find the point.

So, you’re preserving childhood?

That sounds too lofty. Childhood’s an ideal, anyway. I’m not sure what to make of it. Maybe I’m just interested in preserving a kind of sensibility, a space where a kid can just––be, you know? I don’t want this to disappear, this space.

***

I saw a video with the artist Cory Arcangel, whose primary obsession is working with near-obsolete technologies. I encountered him in a video from the Met’s (now discontinued) Artist Project Series.  He was speaking about the harpsichord.  I felt a strong affinity to some of his impulses. The above is an imagined conversation that borrows some of Arcangel’s ideas, but should not be taken as an accurate rendering of his vision, which I have heavily distorted with my own useless play. . 

The Third of May

The logic of brutality.

Careful now. The sleep of reason breeds monsters. Look, they have arrived.

Early morning, a firing squad. Captives at gunpoint.

The sleep of reason breeds monsters armed with a multitude of manufactured reasons. The cool efficiency of mechanistic executions. The gunmen are symmetrical. Stand, aim, hold, repeat. Stand, aim, hold, repeat––a relentless column. 

Their target: crumbling, irregular men. One falls, one bleeds, one holds his head. Several hold one another. One prays. One, in the yellowed white shirt of a laborer, holds hands up, his palms already pierced by the nails of the erased cross.

In the center, a lantern. You can see what is coming next, how the soldiers will use its light to perfect their aim. The end will be quick. The march will continue.

See the bodies, finished. One bleeds into the next. The marching column, still bloodless, will move on. Where the order of the machine is the order of the moment, they will be celebrated.

In the background, a crowd with torches, looking on. Someone whispers, monsters.

Careful, don’t look. Here, take this. It will help you sleep.

***

Inspired by Francisco Goya’s iconic painting, The Third of May, which was groundbreaking in its depiction of brutality without catharsis. Goya’s handling of paint as well as his subversion of traditional symbols inspired a new generation of artists, including Manet and Picasso. On the disasters of war, Goya observed, “El sueño de la razón produce monstruos (The sleep of reason produces monsters).” 

Third of May, 1808 by Francisco de Goya

Time Out of Mind

A quilted retrospective.

After the sand of the hour had spilled from the mantle, I kept watch beside myself in low tide mirrors, the sea at my ankles returning us to the corners of childhood libraries. With bare feet resting in tulip beds, I borrowed confidence from open pages and read to them. Their still-unopened faces swayed in blind brilliance and we held there, unknowing.  

Seasons passed and we were separated until I was alone at the edge of a wasteland. I had a threaded needle and no pattern in sight. I spent a long time dreaming. Once in the warehouse, time’s gears were in pieces on the floor. I held a face in my hands, and it whispered reminders. I would need to fold the fields behind me first, then set to stitching. 

I wore fire against the rain and cut a new dress from the remnants of the last harvest. Gorged on ripe losses, my scalp sang anemones. Hold, I whispered to the new blooms, that they might stay until the hour returned. 

***

Inspired by images in this article about the work of Ukranian artist Oleg Oprisco, known for creating surreal settings from everyday elements.