Whisper Like a Magnet

Wonders of slow work.

Worry faces, worry rug, worry gesture of hand, furrow of brow, the expression of the weary in love. Wonder the ritual, the circle, the bared breast, and mythic flight. Stitch these stories of threads from what the weather tore open. Your arrival is an act of mending, of repair, the slow work of hands and thread, returning and returning to worry a single line into light. How like the handling of a body, where each fiber has a mind of its own. How all-consuming to do, how uninteresting to watch. How unlike the heroic arrival of the vanquisher with the sword. How unlike the swift rescue, the problem solved, the fix.

***

Inspired by the astonishing work of Sophia Narrett, interviewed by Colm Tóibín in the most recent issue of BOMB. The title of this post comes from one of Narrett’s works.

Unstill Life

With Tara Geer.

Here are studies in unknown shapes. The first bloom? In service of spontaneity, a perpetual reorientation. How useful in a landscape of discontinuity. How lumpy this world feels. I can only build by stumbling, my clumsy hands fitting one incongruity into another, and these into the rising wind.

In the center of a city, one draws a garden, vast and wild with unnamed fruits, a forbidden abundance. Who does she think she is? Vines twining around her calves, half an open orb cupped in each hand, juice running between fingers, in rivulets down forearms, to her weeping elbows. She lowers her face into the flesh. It clings to her chin, and she dares to look back with a wild grin, breathing.

***

Notes while reading this interview with Tara Geer, discussing her current installation, Unstill World. I am grateful to find her work, which aims “to translate unknowing into the work and not just more and more kinds of knowing.”

The New You

An ongoing installation project.

There was no title for the New You, a liminal masterpiece of clay and accumulated objects. It morphed in size: now handheld, now too big to fit through a doorway. Scale is an attitude, you explained. You had a similar view of materials. Now you are an unassuming carboard box, full of surprises, now the breathtaking choreography of of bright colors on canvas. You repurposed materials from earlier works. One day, you surprised us with a large floor installation we had to rotate around to take in. This One is For You, you called it.

Given a long enough silence in a large enough group,  someone will eventually ask the question. When someone did, wondering What’s it mean? you laughed, but gently. I don’t think about the meaning in my work, you said. I only find it in working.

***

Inspired by Ethan Greenbaum’s delightful interview with his wife, the artist Sun You, which I found this morning in BOMB magazine.

Our T.

Life between aftermaths.

Tornado. The word strikes fear in most people, but when you live in a region that sees a lot of them, you learn. Outsiders already thought us ignorant for staying, so we didn’t have anything to lose by giving ours a nickname. “Our T,” we called him. 

You learn to adapt. Go underground, wait. Come up when it’s over. Survey the damage. Rebuild. Expect the pattern to repeat. Mama said you can’t expect a creature to be anything other than what it is. “Our T’s just wind,” she said, “can’t help himself.” 

He had only touched down three times while we lived there. Mama remembered a few more. “Where is he now?” we would ask, under the open sky of the former living room. 

“Beats me,” she said. “Greener pastures, maybe. Stratosphere.” We rebuilt the roof, went back to our lives, most of which involved restoring or maintaining a semblance of order until the next strike.

Our T. had a sense of humor, though. In between visits, he’d drop these notes in our mailbox: That was fun, wasn’t it? And how is everyone? Peaceful, I hope! We’d roll our eyes at the old one-liners, but we had to laugh.

“Atmospheric systems don’t have a word for aftermath,” Mama would remind us. That was something only the grounded knew, especially those of us in the habit of staying. “Now bring me that hammer,” she would add, pointing with her chin to a corner, “and that box of nails.”

Voice Behind a Veil

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.

Nadir

Where a voice.

Once, certain attentions were considered advancement, conditioned as we were to equate the sense of nascent excitement with progress, and to make of this a god, and we did not recognize the beginning of a fall, into an agony long as life. Neither anguish nor inertia could resist its pressure.

Only by taking absence back from silence can anyone be protected. 

Here, a voice. It says, Come, says Now.

You are not condemned. Rise. It is time for another birth. You can scratch a way into life again, from memories still unlearned.

Singing the Abyss

In defiance of capture.

Rhythms of earth tongues, come out. I give these primitive liberties forms to evade surveillance of that principle bent on separation of bodies from themselves and one another, that enacts bars of murderous purity masquerading as sensible grammars.

The nocturnal creatures know me. They sit in my lap, lap from my hands, and laugh at the extent of your fears. We only eat prey, love, announce the joyful birds.

Separate us all you like. Each solitude only offers another rebirth. With each, we widen the net of our bodies. We become the looming canopies connecting at altitudes and depths, above and beneath the walls you drive yourself mad with the effort of erecting in your endless quest to extract Resource from Source. You make a god to coddle your greed, and the dragon laughs.

Will you look at this face? No, you can’t bear it, finding in its gaze the endless points of no return, each now a star in the night you claimed to conquer. Our skins fallen from us, we move from their weight and your ability to trace.

When the last wall is built, the last stone in place and the weight of its prowess inverts and you find yourself entombed in a solitary well, calling, who will hear you but the lowest, who come and go among these depths, and the dead?

Unknown Quantities

What breaks from silence.

What many called danger, often sickness, was her resistance. What she resisted was death, and so became known for the trouble she made. 

Torrents of unnamed elements suffused her. They referred to these––when they spoke of her at all––as her darkness.

Warn the children. Don’t enter the forest. The little boys especially, at risk of being cooked in her hearth.  These are early lessons. They are called stories and not executions. The most effective captors work invisibly.

In Luminous Exile

For Delmore Schwartz.

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).

The Funny Man

For Wallace Stevens.

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.”