There is a mind that keeps close watch on the dew-slick grass, hopping low, head turned to hear what crawls, to find what fuels the next flight. After this, a watcher in the window, low chirps from whiskered mouth, the fine hairs of the tail feather-tuned with exquisite precision. Another eye will notice how that which manages to still be finely tuned to details in their liquid form while retaining the soft pliancy of a chest-sleeper is enough to swell some subcutaneous expanse behind the ribcage, preparing to soar from what seems to contain its swell. There is temporal awareness, temporary sight. And there is space, breathing enough of nothing to make room for the next renewal.
The lunatic, the lover, and the poet each knew: to float on a raft made of words chosen out of desire, it was necessary to decreate the old world first. The flood repeats itself, and the dove.
So, the weaving and unweaving of the shroud by Penelope’s hand. She is buying time for the impossible return of an impossible life, long lost at sea.
Longing and despair are long partners, dancing together. Only the living are so bound.
Adapted from Helen Vendler’s essay on Wallace Stevens, which borrows a phrase of Stevens’ for its title, “Words Chosen Out of Desire.”
What speaks from silence.
After birth, I looked for a place to dance, but his web was everywhere. It was made of metaphors designed to capture life and lives, including mine. I learned to be still, as the living will do, noticing how everything that had happened went on, an eternal past.
Here comes another of the old men of fallen monuments, still craving to be mourned, to find the host of a living body to feed the death drive, taking everything in reach until the buffer between here and madness is gone.
He speaks of himself with pity, as though speaking of a god-like friend that had bid him a final farewell. Nearby lives were rafts, the impulse to grab, the refrain always mine.
Now I want only to un-forget myself, to make her un-forgotten, unsilenced, unearthed, to sing a voice I have stitched myself from smooth sheets of shining dark. To save the orange that this hand once knew and heard, the globe of its peace. How my palms once kissed its skin to feel the volume of its liquid pulse into lifelines.
Adapted from Hélène Cixous’s Angst, as well as Vivre I’orange/To Live the Orange.
We left home, entered the moving current. A voice of flesh consumed us, and we were danced in her swells. Who is to be born now, we wondered, with all of this touched at once, her proud body immersing us in the music of first lessons and the rush of her in our ears like, This, this, this! She hushed the time for signs to show us. Unless this, no genesis, no catastrophe, no words.
Inspired by Hélène Cixous’s 1975 fiction “Souffles” (“Breaths”), which is the first of a series of texts in which she explores loss and rebirth in relation to the mother.
If time was the fire, you entered barefoot and unmasked to spin within its heat, collecting what you could until it was time to march again. You stepped from it and promised to return, bending low to gather the fathers you carried on your back.
You dreamed of warm houses in winter. Your dream had humor, then its genius thickened. You bloomed into ruin, the heavy bear. And yet.
Somehow, sparks from the fire you absorbed continued to flicker after your lonely death, and other strangers––heaving, heavy bears, baring ourselves––marching long nights with the weight of dead fathers on our backs, would see it, and keep on.
Inspired by the life, work (and untimely death) of Delmore Schwartz (1913-1966).
You maintained two obsessions. One was predictors of mortality, a numbers game––and the other was overcoming death. It takes a mind of winter to hold the gaze, suspended.
You noted the emperor, how his clothes were melting. He disappeared, and you rose above the actuaries to keep counsel with the necessary angel of earth.
The glare of it, you noted. The full radiance. The snow man takes it in. There is a certain kind of despair which can remind you how every particle is distinct unto itself and also part of you. Of your closest companion, the sleeping lion, you said, it can kill a man.
But in the war between the mind and sky, what better company? No, the first idea was never ours, and the wheel of its continuance will crush us all in time. So we make another myth to tie us to its spokes and hang on, against the shifting winds, and into these, from the cold tomb of a heavy heart, I hear you laugh.
In his elegy, John Berryman refers to Wallace Stevens as “that funny money man” (Stevens was a successful insurance lawyer). The poet’s acute sensibilities are finely tuned to the embedded paradoxes of human life. He once referred to poetry as “a sleeping lion.”
Some thought you traded transcendence for the unadorned insight of the street, but for you the moment was evanescent, always a strike away and you watched for it, another said, like a bird of prey, like watching for lost friends and death itself.
Even your delight was uneasy, and your affections could glint like the knife’s edge you traced on your lunch hour walks, to swim your everywhere nowhere self in the drama of its lack where in a crowd of windows even what is––
a step away
was only ever
Inspired by this morning’s time with the work of Frank O’Hara.
Madness is vision unregulated,
constant sight without ceasing.
Revelation without the refreshment
of blindness can only debilitate.
The continuity is unbearable.
To love and lose, again and again.
And yet, we madly want
Inspired by Maurice Blanchot, The Madness of the Day (trans. Lydia Davis).
The space between fiction and nonfiction is often a no-man’s land, but the artists know it. Which is to say, they have become accustomed to its strangeness. Which is to say, accustomed to not claiming to know anything about a space so wild.
Now it is dense to the point of opacity, now translucent. Now deep dives under desert waves, now a barren ocean. Now the weather is a cat.
We asked one, what is your work about? When they were done laughing, they told us. It is about encounters with other people, they said. And water. Also, the search. For water, and for the others. In some places, both are elusive.
Inspiration: While considering the work of Ivan Vladislavić, I came across this article: “Diving the Reef: Water Metaphors in the Work of Ivan Vladislavić” and today’s post sprouted from my notes.
It was a time of redreaming, of finding our way. The old compass was broken. We wanted to learn to make new. It is possible, we reminded one another, to do this.
Where mass death pervades, it contaminates the horizon of the possible. There is a very thin line, in these times, between rebirth and psychosis.
To be reborn in an age of mass death means that you will speak and act in ways not encouraged as you push against the killing, which has its way by silence.
These are notes made over a brilliant conversation between Amal Khalaf and Adelita Husni Bey, featured in the most recent issue of BOMB magazine. One point of particular interest to me involved discussion of the work of Italian anthropologist, Ernesto de Martino. The second paragraph is a paraphrase of de Martino.