Between Worlds

With Graham Greene.

You wanted only something hard and certain to hold against the flux when the dark sky of your childhood pressed its wet lips against the windowpane. The heart of the matter, you suspected, was conflict: between this world and the next, sanctity and goodness, but the connection between these defied reasoning. Wanting nothing of the graceless chromium world, only sainthood or damnation interested you, with their questions about unknown and unobtainable Heavens on the other side of death. Yours was a world in slant, angled like the posture of  a desperate man with courage to frighten the flock, in clumsy prayer. 

***

Today is the birthday of English writer Graham Greene (1904-1991), best known for his novels, which often feature characters in states of existential and moral crisis. In honor of this day, I spent time this morning with these two articles: Graham Greene’s Dark Heart (by Joan Acocella, The New Yorker, March 2021) and The Two Worlds of Graham Greene (by Herbert R. Haber in Modern Fiction Studies, Autumn 1957).

Music for Digging

Thoughts on getting down with it.

Here’s an invitation to stomp through the track-lit hallways of an administration building and sing in a waiting room, wailing exhalations of various shapes.

Consider this a reminder not to chase the light too hard, to balance those ethereal divinities with the ever-present nuisances of daily demons.

Against the weight of daggered baggage, here’s the forgiveness of emptiness. Over the round hoop of the ancient zero like an open mouth, weave a nest for the unborn and make it big enough for the recently departed. 

A body will reveal its resilience in rest, holding until only spirit is left, leaving calligraphic marks on the skins it brushed.

Song is a mother. She is working in the dirt and it is everywhere.

***

Inspired by, and with borrowed images from  Spencer Kornhaber‘s recent Atlantic article, How to Listen to Björk, According to Björk, regarding the artist’s latest album, Fossora. The title comes from the Latin word for digger.

Object Lessons

On conditions for finding.

When the act of making is an act of finding, there’s a question whispering in the walls: have you set the conditions for finding what you need?

Here’s a figure: old and worn, with clothing torn and stained, holding. The figure waits, returning the gaze, its wooden hands a reminder that it is possible to become any gesture.

This body was never created for a museum. It was meant to be handled, enacting a story. And when you move it, other questions enter the room about who and what you are moving towards, limbs animated by a story long denied breath, finally stretching––out, out. 

***

Inspired by, and with borrowed phrases from, artist Ann Hamilton’s description of the draw of a Bamana Marionette.

What Lives

A still, small voice.

My grandmother used to say something about the darkness of hope. How it bears fruit in the light of wisdom. By watching her when she was living and listening after her death, I knew Grace. This was her name.

Revolt against death, she would say, by remembering the dead; the next breath a reminder that it was their breath before a final exhalation. Knowing this, breathe full and long. To forget is to die a little.

There were pages and pages behind these reminders. I read them as survival manuals for creatures of flesh. They said, be poor. Go down. Be despised, love anyway. Serve instead of demanding service. 

There were maps too, but no territories. They said only: Look––in hunger and thirst, through long nights and vast deserts. There you will find company with the soul of all souls. You will hear the heartbeat and what follows will be the first song of the world. 

You will know it, child. Go down.

Transference

What we carried when we were listening.

The cities of our arrival, abundant with unknowns, wonders––offered moment by moment possibilities for our annihilation and station after station for our becoming. There was so little we knew, and now we knew it. Knowing we lacked the words, we opened ourselves in these new cities. We became vessels carrying music and walked forward, holding.

Until when? Someone asked. Until the rhythm invites us. What rhythm? said another, and it was time.

Mapping in Music

With Abel Selaocoe.

Common knowledge says that you may do one or another, but not both: be a cellist or singer; a section player or master of ceremonies; a body traveling outward, or a body returning. But you say, all of the above and all at once.

Someone watching you with listening ears might hear a suggestion, that the answer to the question about finding home has something to do with floating above some commonly accepted boundaries.

What guides you, then? The voice, you said, guided by the music, will do what the body cannot imagine. Its music begins in deep time, the voices you draw from those listening become threads weaving us into its fabric. 

Where now? We wondered. You offered a future, but to find it we have to go back, you said, way back to where the long-departed hold the seeds of another time. When you hear the music you will know, you said. It is singing you home.

***

Inspired by the music of Abel Selaocoe and the process he describes in this New York Times article, “Abel Selaocoe Finds a Home in Improvisation.”

Against Silencing

On the question of how to respond.

A common complaint of today’s sighted: I can no longer bear to look. Someone proposes the role of the artist as scribe, as ear for the abused, writing backward into the dream, imagining that if one speaks the horror aloud, another might be released. From what is uncertain, but any horror is magnified when suffered alone. 

The sounds a body makes in distress are the sounds it holds before language. Where pain shatters language, perhaps it is still possible to pick up the pieces, assemble some makeshift wordhouse again. To the challenge of yes but is it true, the only answer is a reminder back to an earlier truth about the basic needs of a body. One is shelter.

***

Inspired by Philip Metres’ description of the work of artist Daniel Heyman and others in response to torture.

Orphic Journeys

With Jan Carew.

In the dreaming month when sea drums echo, here come the opposing spirits of ancestral dead, and here is the body in-between. Also here, a motley collection of other spirits of various purposes and temperaments, each with their own will to interfere. Balancing between limbo and nothingness, the dreamer leaves, searching for an end to exile.

The first sign of trouble was the ignorance of proper names, and then came erasure in the land of wind. Now throbs the ache of missing limbs and thirst beside these drained reservoirs of memory. Dispossessed of a place in the sun, the dreamer enters the tombs, to gnaw at the bones of collected griefs in shattered time.

And then, trespassing through prehistory to recover a lost Eden, the dreamer returns to the hills, and then to the river and finally, to the same sea that was the beginning of looking out and beyond.

***

Today is the birthday of Jan Carew (1920-2017), Afro-Caribbean poet, playwright, scholar, and novelist of far-reaching influence. In honor of this day, I spent the morning with his essay, The Caribbean Writer and Exile, published in Journal of Black Studies (Jun. 1978). This post is assembled using images and phrases found in Carew’s essay. 

Uncertain Somethings

That je ne sais quoi.

Instead of the usual source, today’s weather comes from Craigslist. It seemed important somehow to check, as they say, the temperature of the room, to hold a finger in the wind or press lightly against the pulse of the moment, mixing the proverbial metaphors with freewheeling abandon in the spirit of adventure. I have a pretty good idea what the usual reports will tell me, but this is something else.

For example, I had not considered the possibility of joining an amateur pool league––or that, if I were up for being a dance partner open to swing with an emphasis on retro 60’s, that this person, unnamed and possibly only a few miles away, might be waiting for my call. 

Or that someone might be scouring such listings with a question such as, what do I do with this extra cash?––only to realize that no, they have in fact never owned an original, made-to-order piece of art, and perhaps the time is now.

There is, apparently, a feeling in the air, the type inspired by the ponytailed dog walker at Fiesta Island last Sunday, the guy who lent his umbrella at the Ashanti concert, or the clerk who used to work in the floral department at the Vons on University. 

They came and went, these specters, and someone is looking for each of them now, as some others seek a lost chocolate tabby and a gold dolphin toe ring, and have I ever even considered that this would be a thing to own, until now?

I have not, but it is, and because of this, it may also be lost, and once lost, so missed that someone might be compelled in the dreaded glare of midday, to post a message to the beyonds. It floats there now, in the atmosphere, and you won’t hear about these things in your usual weather report.

And you won’t hear about any of the other small losses that can empty a heart well enough that it will be open to receive the next discovered wonder with the chill of timely recognition that can only come when someone reminds you back to a question you didn’t know you were holding, like what are you looking for?

Intimate Immensity

Once upon a forest.

Behind the dying wind and softening rain, silence compels the listener. Since the immense is not an object, it relies on imagination, and so it becomes possible to open the world by seeing more than what appears to be. In the immediate immensity of the shattered forest, piling infinities far from all history of men; a curdling quiet trembles. You’d need a map the size of a given world to make it truly accurate, so the dreamers continue. 

***

Notes while reading Gaston Bachelard’s “Intimate Immensity” in The Poetics of Space.