Your grandmother showed you to knit. She learned from the mothers who fled the wars. You stopped and kept living until you got to where words were no longer enough. You found fabric again and made poetry.
You knit your beloveds into your world, an ever-expanding family. You knit the foreground with the background and layered the threads of one body among those of the next. Then the sky, the earth, a hand, a bench. You showed us all webbed together.
It’s one way, you said, to transcend human forms––or rather, our limitations in seeing what they might be. Here is a box of light, you say. And here is a space for the others.
I want to carry, you tell them––you with me.
Inspired by the work of of LJ Roberts.
The shape of things to come.
You seek to make art as event, not product. What happens, you wonder, when you open clay with found objects? Here is a sweater between God and your mother, and here, another mouth. Open, your hands whisper, open. Now an old bus shelter, fused glass. Look.
What is it? someone wants to know, in an unintended effort to avoid the long look, the absorption into the blobby forms that melt and lean into one another, a gathering of materials in various stages of becoming.
And what else are we, but these bubbling amoebas, opening and melting and falling endlessly into each other, in defiance of the neatly angled forms we keep meaning to hold?
Inspired by the work of Jessica Jackson Hutchins.
There is an elsewhere here. It breathes in the margins of activity and swims among the vessels of the plans we forever work over––arranging the sails of this one and that one, checking our courses and whether the knots will hold. Elsewhere is indifferent to all of this, or else amused.
Elsewhere can’t hold the music she holds if she keeps the door open for every cacophony that presumes to invade. She thrives in forgotten spaces and in dreams that dissipate before we can fasten them to words. Her only allegiance is to the country of lost countries. There are no flags.
Without Elsewhere, there is no one here. How may anyone name this central element of a life after the moment of recognition that it is not yours at all, but something possessed entirely by some other out there, in that nowhereland between continents, beneath these vessels, behind these words and all things seen and named; arranged and rearranged?
But even this final recognition of futility offers no freedom from the impulse toward making the worlds we keep creating as offerings, tempting her unmaking, her not-naming music, her long-shadowed disappearance of all that seems.
Let’s bring music to the reading and dance.
Let’s bring something other than what is expected.
They expect words. Let’s give them something more
and catch some holy ghosts.
We can wear our painted masks and speak
in tongues. Pass it on, we will pass
ourselves below the lasers before
we begin. Sample that.
The artist paints volumes.
Because one might hold too much, you offered seven. Each is a chapter, you said, of the paintings. Here is a labyrinth for excavating memory. Here are objects of desire.
Is this nostalgia? One asked, regarding certain details. You thought this strange, considering how close they were to the moment at hand. But you conceded a sense of longing, not for a particular time, but for a past. It interested you to imagine the possibility of a sense of distance between now and what came before.
Where only the poetry of the future will do, you mean to make it out of memory. And what are memories, but what we make to hold and assemble, renew and forget, and what is the medium of the history of these futures at the precipice of this moment? I have not resolved it yet, you said, I am still looking.
Inspired by the work of Meleko Mokgosi.
For the poet, it came down to a single wish: growth. Can you tell me how? She asked, bare against the elements. There was singing by the burial ground, and she remembered the childhood friends that spoke of immortality––one by one and then were gone. Just before they fell, they imagined themselves suns.
Later, she went to the school of omission. It is possible in a dream to be a guest in the land of the dead. There, she met a blind woman on a low bench, chewing. You are much better company than the ones who think themselves gods, she said, and they wrote for a long time together, there by the light of the axe.
Come in here, through the glass. After this, find a smaller room
If you come this way, there might be a form you can follow.
Now an oak door, old and it will not open. But it has windows!
Most shrug and walk away.
Next, an exhibition, but in the dark. Visitors can carry flashlights,
but these only help if they shine them in the right places.
What is the opposite of a need to proclaim? A need to stay silent.
In the tension between these, so much is tangled.
Inspired by the work of Marcel Duchamp.
When they asked the poet how he became one, he said, I’ve been wondering.
The assembly waited for more. There were follow-up questions, a discussion about certain ineffable qualities: a sense of life brought to bear in language. A sense that the density of life’s layers may be represented with a clarity of expression. The importance of having a capacity to suffer; to know and express grief without making a shrine to wonder.
Then the poet asked, what do you believe? If you don’t believe in poetry, you can’t write it. He tried to explain what happens when suddenly everything learned will no longer do; how over time, an original wound may become the site of roots for a larger life.
But how? They pressed, and he repeated, I wonder.
Notes while reading Christian Wiman’s Ambition and Survival: Becoming a Poet (2004, Copper Canyon Press).
A question for the author: how do you want people to feel when they walk into this book? She answered by blackening a number of pages, then adding windows. If you stood before the words in the sunlight, they would curve across your body like cats.
The best part of the book, she answered, is what I don’t understand––also, the suspended moment when a page is turned; the wait between words, as especially what they do not say.
She invited the doubters among us to put our fingers in the wound between voice and image, and again between voice and word, between voice and speaker, the speaker and her intentions, and we were beginning to get a sense every page brought with it another wound.
Every page revealed itself by slicing us open, and we fell to the floor to collect ourselves like autumn leaves to our chests, a gesture of remembrance for all we had yet to imagine we were.
Between decay and emergence, these open windows. And from window to window, the broken skins between space and her time.
Inspired by the work of Lynn Xu, whose debut exhibit And Those Ashen Heaps That Cantilevered Vase of Moonlight is currently on display at the Museum of Contemporary art in Tuscon, Arizona.
A prayer for the real work.
In the dark of the valley, the sense of an emergency was the beginning of an understanding that we had none of our own––not yet, except in the wild beat of the drums where we gathered in the streets. The gods of progress, long disgraced, continued to shout. We pounded the drums against their noise, and our hearts awakened, to dance in revolt against their empty reasons.
There is an angel among us, pausing to awaken the dead. But a storm stops his wings. Though he turns his back against the future they call progress, the storm blows him into it.
Let the future not be the vast emptiness and us the supplicants of soothsayers. May our knowledge of time be an act of remembrance, our concept of work what we do in service to creation and not as slaves to the death engines of progress. Give us the courage to recognize the narrow gate in every second and be moved.
Inspired by the moment at hand and by Walter Benjamin’s essay “On the Concept of History.” In this essay, Benjamin vividly animates the context of Paul Klee’s Angelus Novus.