Memory Shards

In the land of exile.

Once upon a time, when the bodies of the residents of former villages were still warm, so many had lived in homes, among families. After the wars, there was more and more talk of melancholy retrospection, this chronic looking back, this impulse to exhume the buried once upon a time that had so abruptly gone.

The word nostalgia had been coined centuries earlier, to describe the pathological homesickness afflicting soldiers separated from family and village. One doctor wrote extensively to insist that the condition be treated seriously as “a pathological state” rather than “an imaginary malady.” He saw death of a broken heart in the land of exile as something more lethal than enemy fire.

Reading these words, I begin to wonder if I know anyone who isn’t separated from family, who has ever known a village. Surely, there must be someone, but what is the word to name this longing for a place you’ve never known?

***

The doctor mentioned above is Raoul Chenu in “De la Nostalgie” whose insights appear regularly in connection with this topic. I was intending to write about the work of French photographer Willy Ronis (1910-2009), who was born on this day, but his work in post-war France naturally led me here. The word I was wondering about is hireath, of Welsch origin and not entirely translatable, which a student presented to me once as “longing for a place that never was.”

Aging Architecture

Bodies in time.

Like fabric in the hand, another remnant of memory is collected in an aftermath. We must have fed the flames that burned the bones of the old present when we danced its wild beat. 

Now it’s possible to wonder if the point of storing so much water in living flesh is to embody this reverberation after the music stops. Or to cool against the fire, but that doesn’t explain this tendency for conduction, not to mention what happens when lightning strikes. 

Probably the added volume simply makes us more suitable replacement frames, upon which these scraps of former seasons may be more elaborately draped.

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.

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.

Dizzy

Recollections of spinning season.

High on spun sugar, sit and spin art; merry-go-round the world, all fall down. Ring around the bathtub, spin the top, the wheel, the bottle. Blindfold now, three turns and pin the tail. Ferris wheel, tilt-a-whirl, pinwheel ice cream, to everything, turntake your turnit’s coming. Here is the season of the whirligig, kaleidoscopic dreams of the widening gyre, helicopter hats and flying cars, the end of history, where is the falconer now? Find your pillow, watch the spinning fan.

***

I don’t know how it got in there, but I woke up with the song “Dizzy” in my head. As a child of the 80’s-90’s, my in-head version is sort of a mash up between the Vic Reeves & The Wonder Stuff take and the original by Tommy Roe. Also on the mind: memories of childhood, and Yeats.

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.

Thoughts on a Train

Over vanishing worlds.

The cynic will call your nostalgia an ailment, but consider the lost elegance of oaks, the grey slush of salted roads at the end of a snow day; purple ink of handwritten liner notes inside the plastic shell of a favorite mix tape, the pealing chorus of children screaming in chase, hiss of the downtown bus breaking, someone on the blue shag carpet of a den hooting about a bad call over a plate of cheese and crackers, beer, full ashtrays on coffee tables, end tables; world maps covering dents in the kitchen walls, and the way the aunts with their lipstick would be laughing over the salad spinner, at the last attempt of someone’s last date, to do what must have seemed appropriate at the time and a harmony of, I can’t even––over shuffle of silverware and children up and down the stairs like a herd of elephants.  

If you hear that again, you’ll know that there will soon be a pillow at the back of your head and not this sideways neck, and no, it won’t sound anything like this dream when it’s over, but you won’t be sick with it either, just slightly jarred the way a body always is to find itself moving at high speeds over steel rails on land almost familiar, with a sense that it is always slipping out of reach before the witness finds the words, and maybe this is the tension the children were playing with, screaming at chase, whenever the it got too close.

In Our Time

Among the living.

Sometimes, when it was hiding in our homeland, we would feel its aftermaths in succession, running our fingers along the seams of cracked earth. Means for making meaning, ever mutating, make new forms where the formers are buried. We move soil to make room for our dead. Seedlings, too––even then. 

We could not call it war until we survived it. In the meantime, it was living. It was diapers and babies, earaches and crackers and someone still had to milk the cows, walk the dogs, and soak the beans overnight. 

What did you do? They will ask us later. Possibly we will forget by then, how we folded laundry and clipped toenails. How sometimes, even then, someone would show up with a cake, and someone else would find plates. We would pass slices one at a time, among the living.

Minor Challenges

Interrogations at terminal velocity.

First, a threshold. Questions about the roots of things tend to call common sense from the jury box to the witness stand. Being may be what knowing apprehends, but answer: can you point to an essence outside knowing? Yes or no.

No further questions, Your Honor. 

Recess. Outside, cellophane angels drop into boxes. Here are the signs. We’ll attach them like armor, with the same duct tape used to silence those objecting to being objects of study. 

Bells again, wait. We were at a threshold, trying to begin––what, though? And were we calling it? I’ve lost––the engine’s speed has thrown me back again, and as for the thread I meant to follow, before the angels and the tape, where now?