Notes in Space

Between dreaming and waking.

The original void, they called it, and we thought like a womb and imagined ourselves a sort of placenta but who can say. We might have been the baby or the amniotic fluid, because where in that space do you find enough context for measurement?

What grows here cannot happen outside of time, they said, and we had no reason to argue; besides, who would listen? We couldn’t even name ourselves beyond we, beyond here, beyond you, and we used these interchangeably, depending on what fit the mood. Our words were the music we held between us.

All movement begins here, they said, and we had only known ourselves to be ever floating with it, in this space that only exists because it is empty enough to hold whatever comes. One evolving over time might decide to call the growth a contract between years and intentions, and who can fault them for this? It’s easy to forget this space, where the names of what we are keep sliding between us.

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.

The Saint

Of embodied contradictions.

Maybe we were drawn to him because he was so forthcoming about the way he didn’t understand anything and still couldn’t keep from trying. Whether to understand or to look like he did, we never knew. He was a walking battlefield of embodied contradictions: formal order vs. experience, enthusiasm vs. despair, devotional intensity vs earthbound affections.

Some suggested his greatness was the locus of his damnation, and they called him a saint, but of the wrong religion. Enthralled, we couldn’t help ourselves, leaning into listen to the strain in the language he almost broke, to get to the place beyond it.

Someone said, of his early work, that it read like period pieces from a period that never existed. But even his baroques seemed to always hide a stillness. It was refuge he wanted, after all. He didn’t know the way there, not exactly, but he had a knack for jostling us toward––something. It wasn’t safety, but something else and we were drawn to the drum of its pulse, like dancers unable to stop.

***

Inspired by Christian Wiman’s essay, “A New Mode of Damnation? On Hart Crane” in The Hudson Review, summer 2000 (accessed on JSTOR). Italicized phrases are Wiman’s.

Art and Theory

The poet and the philosopher.

Are you making an argument or a metaphor? Is this poetry or philosophy?

Neither and both. Are you saying I have to choose? I thought this was a creative writing class.

I call it creative reading.

Do poets read theory differently than theorists read poetry?

Our purposes are different.

Do you read theory?

Of course, but to no theoretical end.

How?

I am not looking to figure anything out.

Why then?

Why else? For material. For art making.

***

Adapted from a portion of “Poetry, Community, Movement: A Conversation” between Charles Bernstein, Ann Lauterbach, Jonathan Monroe and Bob Perelman, which appeared in Diacritics vol. 26, no. 3/ 4 (Fall/ Winter 1996), accessed on JSTOR.

How to Be Moved

Notes for a community chorus.

Like this, she said, hands open, singing. Gonna let it move me, she sang, and we followed, fingers splayed and pressing into the space of the circle we made with our attention. Now stir, she said, and we did, and it stirred us up.

Let it come, she sang. We laughed, cried. Feel this, she sang, and by then we couldn’t help ourselves because our centers had shifted to the space between us, and it was this that we pressed with our open hands. It was into this that we poured our voices, surrendered our attentions––

And we held it like that, stirring and singing together, here. Something shifted, and we went with it. 

Life, she sang, let this life.

Cups

Notes on these hands.

Eventually, talk turned to having and spending; to getting and maintaining, as it often did, and you could feel the way we became coiled springs ready to fire and everyone was excited and no one could sleep, it was so much.

Another time, there was nothing and no talk anymore of what could be got. Even our resistance to loss had gone out of us, and it made us porous. There was no more talk of keeping, except when it came to someone at the hearth and the babies fed.

A vessel, once emptied, can only carry what comes into it. A hand, outstretched toward another holds the world in its emptiness. The fist is what you get when the cold is too much for too long and the hand forgets itself. 

In warmth, it remembers its radius, star-like. Then cupped with another, it cradles what is delicate and brings it to the lips, an offering in earnest––or to another, saying here.

The Artist is Surprised

With Anne Truitt.

Although there was no objection to the idea of a self, hers tended to elude her. I’m curious, she said, and decided one must be here, somewhere. But where to start? Perhaps a record of everyday things. Let’s see what happens, and what happened yesterday? Last year? Does the one from today have any relation to the one from last winter? 

The works, when she regarded them, stood clear and solid, each holding a space of its own. The same could not be said of the artist. Each has her preoccupations: certain colors, shapes, proportions. One day an insight comes: there is an energy you can use to endure your life, and there is a force for changing it, and these are not distinct, but drawn from the same well.

I am not so much an artist, she decides, but out of my life these objects are surfaced. It is possible, after all, to become what we have not before been able to be. I am here, she told us, to be surprised.

***

Inspired by, and with borrowed phrases from Anne Truitt’s Turn: The Journey of an Artist (1987). 

Hide and Seek

Morning notes, on looking.

Come out, out––wherever you are is called here and here you are again, strange stranger, at first light––which, in this room, at this hour, is always the lamp by this bed.

Most of us remember the heartbreak of knowing we had finally found the best hiding spot, the one sure to win us widespread acclaim and shouts of amazement, only to notice that the voices of the seekers we’d been counting on had grown faint and then gone, with night coming and then lights on in the windows and kitchen sounds, the whole world indoors, and us outside

––[but all alone, not yet us because we could not know until much later that others had endured such betrayal, also alone; each had carried the shame in silence until one afternoon, laughing over ice cream with friends we were fairly sure would not leave us, a confession came, and the solidarity of finding other left-behinds was so sweet, however fleeting, that we did it again, years later over drinks with other friends we were by now fairly sure we would lose over time, not by decisive acts of Leaving but gone anyway––to distance, illness, marriages and breakups, children and the grinding gears that wore us down to our creaking bones until we began to suspect that perhaps it was ourselves who had grown tired, who had gone inside at the third call for dinner, gone to eat, leaving another waiting to be found and no one coming].

We’ve been at this for how long now, and what do I have to show for myself? I think you must be chasing me, running into the last place I’ve looked after I’ve left it, only to leave when I eventually return, wearing the baffled look of someone trying to remember why they walked into a room. 

I’ve given up my reasons now, old friend. Same for certainty in all things but this resolve: to look and look again; to keep calling by the light of this lamp. Come out.

Nobody Here

First lessons in suspension.

We hardly knew it­––or ourselves––when we flooded the spaces we entered with memory so completely that to move was to be removed from our weight in invented immersion. What carried us was luminous and dense and had no word we knew. If someone were to ask us what it was, we would say Nothing, but no such questions came, because when we removed ourselves from our weight, we became no one.

Oranges

Scent of a horizon.

There can be no contradiction between paired images, only connection, and so little that is true will conform to the expectations of available language. There is a certain sadness that smells of oranges––or nectarines? and it holds a horizon inside itself, complete with sunrises and sunsets that only one at a time may witness. The challenge is how awe wants company to verify its origin, as something other than madness. Lacking any, a witness is burdened with a weight that denies its own release.