Repair Work

Best done in darkness.

Considering the challenge of writing among the dead; the fabrics connecting blood and screens to war machines, it can be helpful to keep attention in the unlit regions. This is why I prefer the dark corners, the spaces where all I can do with language is acknowledge its opacity, and all I can do with looking is notice the limits of sight. So much of what passes for light is blinding. I am suspicious of acts of solving and fixing, when applied to the living. I can’t fix anything, have no solutions, and prefer not to be distracted from the living by any more offers from those that claim they do. Leave me to the tender work of mending instead.

Ends Meeting

Notes from an underground.

The border of a wound is sewn to the opposite border until the gap between them recovers its missing substance, the dormant body waiting underground as others come and go, tending. 

They sing as they come and go, tending. They check the dressings, the heart’s drum. They find a song. They avoid demands for answers to the old questions. They are too busy with slow singing. The dormant body has new questions. When it comes, the old ones will no longer matter. They call them forth, the body and its questions. 

What happens in this shelter is mostly waiting and song. The dormant bodies will not come until they are called. They will not approach the old borders with their new questions until they have swelled beyond the lines that held them, and when this happens, they will sing a response.

Every Lifted Voice

Why the singing.

Now a manifesto, now jazz, now a love lyric; through these voiceprints of language now the witness takes a stand. Another stirs the mischief of the multitudes within each vibrating body of this vast and trembling We.

The point? Only this. Create a landscape wide enough to hold the simultaneous becoming dance of each and all, from the last beginning to the next. Any tent will tear against the strain.

But what do you need? Only to feel tended to and left well enough alone. You might try taking scissors to these pages, and then make a world to hold.

To hold us? That too.

What are you doing? This art is simply a protest. Against the dying off.

***

“Voiceprints of language” is a phrase June Jordan once used to describe poetry.

Ceiling to Sky

With June Jordan.

You had some nerve, some told you, to speak love into the war, to flaunt that voluptuous hope in all her fullness, wearing not a stitch of modesty. Not even cynicism, or nihilism; neither was she utopian, and although they tried to call her ignorant, her brilliance shone.

They urged you to cover her up, but you wanted to let her dance. You gave her new songs and the earthquake moved you, the way every atom of life and its killing was suddenly known in the leaning faces of strangers.

Coming clean in a disaster is still a possibility, you insisted, and dreamed a blues to meet the moment when the ground breaks itself open, dreamed it a birth breaking open, a mouth to catch a final breath and release––and what came forth from that exhalation? They asked you about your aim and you told them. I aim to make love a reasonable possibility.

***

Inspired by Josh Kun’s (1995) BOMB interview with June Jordan, discussing the libretto she wrote for I Was Looking at the Ceiling and Then I Saw the Sky (with composer John Adams).

Homecoming

Notes for the weary traveler.

After the long travel, squandering it all in a distant country, there may follow an arduous journey home. Approaching return, cross-eyed with the effort of owning yourself, the threshold only looks like an abyss, but this step is no step at all. The space is no longer space. You dissolve, along with all the words you might have used to describe this–––no, not experience. Something comes to fruition, and it isn’t you.

***

Inspired by Thomas Merton’s “Pure Love” in New Seeds of Contemplation.

A Way of Being Free

A lesson in letting go.

Anyone who has ever studied the question with any seriousness, apart from their own self-interest, can tell you: it is attachment that will kill you, and once you let go of those who prey on knowing this, they will stop killing you until it is time to die.

Meanwhile, there is work to do. 

With practice, a body bent on living may eventually learn to avoid what makes them ill. The learning is hard and long, but when it comes it will be real and more lasting than any false promise could ever be, and suddenly you will know that you are finally repulsed by what you have been meaning not to care for.                     

That’s when you know the work of your atonement is done, she said, and you can be done with waiting in the name of humility, and you need not keep waiting for the next humiliation when the lesson takes.

Which is to say, I loved and lost, over and again. Who doesn’t, when a woman, bent on giving it all away? Still, there comes a time when it is clear as the first light of the sun: it is possible, in the end, to be giving and remain untaken, unfettered from the claims of those who would take all you have for their gain, especially when it is your whole life.

It is possible that the path to this understanding is the oldest story ever understood. Nevertheless, we keep needing to learn.

Here at last, live on stage! Ladies and gentlemen, the moment you’ve been waiting for in vain, the opening night of A Way of Being Free! And now, let me die by your satisfied mouths. I remove the breast while the director sleeps, and move on.

Curtain.

***

Inspired by certain projects I once believed in, and the learning that followed. And by Ben Okri.

Imagine

When despair is beside the point.

What is needed now is a bravery reason can’t summon, a hope that persists beyond all rights to it; a solemn acknowledgement that our despair is none of our business.

The greater the possible effect of our actions; the less we are able to see it. When senses become myopic, only imagination will do. It seems our capacity for fear is too small, outstripped by the magnitude of the moment. How strange, to need the courage to be frightened; to frighten thy neighbor as thyself with fearless, stirring fear. To understand how fear for is distinct from fear of.

Camouflage, once needed to hide from an enemy, now prevents the actor from knowing what is being done. Strip meaning from language and the lie no longer needs a disguise. 

Let us remember, repeated frustration does not refute the need to repeat the effort. Every new failure bears fruit. Instead of deferring to experts, may we collectively interfere with established pretenses of expertise.

What would happen, one among us asks, if you dared to make yourself as big as you actually are? And what could happen, echoes another, if we do not?

***

Inspired by (and with borrowed phrases from) the philosophy of Günther Anders.

Angels of History

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.

The Gift Horse

On looking in its mouth.

She said, child, sometimes someone will approach you on the pretense of bearing a gift, but it will be none other than another version of Death, that old shapeshifter, dressed up in fancy wrapping and a bow.

This happens all the time, she said, and the method is to stuff the box full of sequins so that its these shiny, tiny nothings that fall to the floor when you open it. They are there to distract you from the extraction of your blood, one slow drop at a time.

She said, wait. It is also true that sometimes you will be handed something that reminds you of endings and you will groan and weep and mourn and wish somebody would take it back and tell you it never happened. But hang on, she said, because sometimes those are the places where your life is hiding, buried in the muck they tried to tell you was separate from the living.

Object Lessons

Weight and the living.

We pass them between us, remaking the world one talisman at a time, each gift a salve, investing what we touch with the power of a sacred offering, so that even at a distance, they radiate life to the living.

Knowing this, we still forget. Reacting, it’s common to return to the old conditioning: things as mere tools. Here, one says, catch! A familiar thing, a cast off, a burden, an irritant: easy to forget the weight of these, the unexpected marks they will leave where they land.

We learn to hold and keep holding what makes us ill, sore, dizzy. We were made to carry, and it showed; something in us learned to accept until our legs went out again. The unlearning takes time. We invest new objects with new songs to help us remember, and touch them often, against forgetting.