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.”

Lovers in Time

A triptych.

In the land where time is a circle, I meet you again and again, always with a rush of recognition–– the lilting wave that beckons hello, stranger. It seems I have known you before, and each time I lose you, it is with the shocking pain of the first cut.

In the land where time is water, a tiny rivulet of this becoming will sometimes turn backstream, and any creatures, debris, soil, falling branches, or conversations will find themselves suddenly in the past.  In this world, we know even after our most recent reunion, of the loss that comes next, because we learned this when we lived in the land where time was a circle.

In another world, two times exist concurrently. One is mechanical, its form a massive pendulum of iron, back and forth. The other is of the body, bodies, the body of the living planet and its teeming forms. It squirms, wiggles . . .  makes its mind up as it goes along. Most reject one or the other form of time. But the worlds have a way of colliding. The collision tends to create a desperate state, because everybody knows that you can make a world in one or another time but not both. This is because each time is true, but the truths are not the same.

***

This morning, while waiting for the coffee to brew, I was delighted to discover Einstein’s Dreams, a slim novel by Alan Lightman, hiding in plain sight on a bookshelf. Although I do not remember buying this book, it is easy for me to imagine why I would have wanted to, upon learning that the premise is based on a series of dreams that the young scientist had before arriving at his theories of relativity.  I wrote today’s post while reading the opening twenty pages of the book, using three of the worlds Lightman describes. Italicized phrases are Lightman’s.

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.

Double Exposure

What haunts a body.

With a flash of brilliance against the eye, here comes another reminder that it is still possible to meet the heavens, here. Things fall, after all, and each of these may carry layered ghost images of what it was before. How many suns have fallen into this stream?

Invisible landscape, what was here before? What is also here now?

Mirrors

For Andrey Tarkovsky.

A common impulse: to return to the comforting womb, but you offer alternatives, where opposites swap places: the dream is waking; the old, young. After the before, a whisper: Watch the rain inside.

In your gaze, apocalypse becomes a monochrome street, disappearing into sky. You vanish the expected plot, the comfortable heroic character, show a living man instead, and the others we know well in secret: those mystics, depressives, and recluses that rarely join the table.

Everywhere these pools and puddles, reflecting. All this silence, its maker unrepentant. In this layered universe, no part of nature is ever fixed. Emerging from earth and water, leaning toward air and fire. 

There is no need to return, after all. There are no opposites here.

Topography in Time

And spatiotemporal slippage.

Sure, I can nod when I hear the term. I can even use it myself. Watch. Space-time continuum. Like I know. Like I’m not still wondering what any of this actually is, and why this witness, this now, if that is what this––is (Was? Will be?).

Perhaps this is not a term for me to be using. Frankly, I’m not even so sure about some things that appear to be much more concrete, like, say, the salt flats, or pinecones.

I will confess, I have not experienced time as a continuum, although I have played along with the idea. I have no way to verify whether others are also playing along, but I always seem to be sliding in and out of whatever this is, like a tiny microbe in a net designed for larger creatures. Now in, now out, and if the net is pulled up, will I know?

If time is like movement and place is like a pause in the current, does it follow that a witness can only know a place because of time, and does this mean that space is time made visible? 

My mind is surely porous, but what about time itself, and to what extent is this mind made of it, and if space is the clearings between known points, is it infinite?

Don’t answer. Whatever you tell me, I’ll probably just nod like I get it, and float on.

Between the Word and the World

For John Clare.

Some remember your madness, your poverty, your unusual grammar, your melancholic breaks, but you loved the land and had some of the wild pasture in your blood––and the blight.

An eager listener, a student of nature’s music, you let yourself be carried on the wizard noise of the wind. You were always inviting others to join, but your neighbors preferred to count the land in parcels. To no end.

For you, poetry was the means of hearing, and by it you learned to read the living land, a music unto itself.

You found the world through the word, learning to name its birds by the sounds of their wings in flight. Listen a minute, you reminded, and hush.

***

When I learned that today is the birthday of poet John Clare (1793-1864), I decided to spend some time with his work, as well as with an essay by Stephanie Kuduk Weiner, “Listening with John Clare,” which highlights the poet’s particular sensitivity to the sounds of the land he walked so well (from Studies in Romanticism, Fall 2009).

Nonlocality

Hello, strange stranger.

Acceptance is often useful, especially with regards to nature, except. What is may be easily mistaken for an essential state instead of the realization of someone else’s dream.

As a countermeasure, it can be useful to pay attention to the outsider in any given group, the outlier in any set of circumstances. Each may call into question certain assumptions about what is possible. A witness may be reminded, sometimes, back to what has been silenced as excess.

A witness may be reminded, through such attention, of their proximity to the border between knowns and unknowns––and, how invisible it often is. The effect is sometimes to highlight how insubstantial certain walls are. In a certain light, a solid-seeming curtain is transparent.

A search is often useful, when it comes to discovery, so long as regular attention is paid to some larger questions. Chief among these, who is asking?

***

I was inspired to this line of thinking while reading Linda Nochlin’s 1971 essay, “Why Have there Been No Great Women Artists?” 

Among Shadows

Treading light.

As I look again 

for a light in the dark, 

let me remember 

how the quality 

of its glow

will shape what 

I can see. May I 

find one to teach 

me to bear 

examination, 

which also allows

for shadows 

to magnify 

some of the shapes 

I’ve been missing, 

that I may find 

language 

and architecture 

for what is barely 

here, to coax 

its becoming, 

feeling edges 

with slow hands,

careful not to break 

the fragile wing, 

for the response 

of some soft give,

breathing.

Little

Worlds within worlds.

If every universe is wrapped in curves, each around an imagined center, 

and attention is a magnifying glass, consider the patience required

to work in miniature, to fit an entire nature in a grain of sculpture

and how the dreamer can renew the small world simply by moving

the face.

Here, too, is all of it,

and here the entrance

and 

now

here.

***

With found phrases from Gaston Bachelard’s The Poetics of Space, Ch. 7 “miniature,” (section V., 159-163).