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.
For example, how war is often experienced not as explosion, but as tension, a concentration that feels like a rumbling in the ground. For example, the expressiveness of a death. For example, the fact of a vast cloth of undivided time between the living and the dead.
So many aspects of human life can only be faithfully represented through poetry, the inner power of the image, the fact of accounting for the participation of an audience, a listener, a viewer, as an essential aspect of any genuine effort to connect.
This post is the result of notes made while reading the opening chapter of Andrey Tarkovsky’s Sculpting in Time, which my love gifted to me in response to my newfound adoration of this artist’s work. I expect that several future posts will be inspired by this remarkable volume of the director’s own words (translated by Kitty Hunter-Blair).
There is a floating bridge. It is made of cardboard, carried by balloons. After a few days, it will fall back from the sky, landing somewhere other than the place from which it left. It will be taken apart, piece by piece.
In an alternative scene, here is a floating bridge made of cardboard and balanced with each of its anchor points in a canoe. It will float downstream to be collected somewhere else for the ritual of its deconstruction.
There are scaffolds floating over the crowds, over the city streets, reflections of themselves over still waters before they move again; serious arches flying like children’s kites, and what could be the point of any of this, except to raise certain questions about some commonly accepted points among us? In their brilliant uselessness, they gently remind us of our own architecture, leaning ever toward the next beginning.
Inspired by an article I found this morning about the work of French artist Olivier Grossetête, who gathers fifteen to thirty workshop participants at a time into the communal effort of constructing a floating bridge out of cardboard.
If loving begins in recognition, then practice reading one another is an essential beginning, and a sincere effort demands that some limits be placed on noise. One of the effects of oxytocin, the bonding hormone, is to turn down the static so the neural signals––of, say, the smell of another’s body, or a distress cry––can come in clearly, which calls to mind some old questions about trees falling in the forest, and the health of forests and one another. If a cry happens and no one hears, what are we? Any loving observer, beholding another’s vivid hues, exquisite detail of sparkling eyes, wonder of resting face, music of laughter––will tell you, mystery. Only mystery.
Considering the message board as installation piece––or as altar to a mysterious deity.
From time to time, when I am looking for material, I look for anonymous inspiration on various message boards. It feels like being at a museum installation where a thousand notes are penned on backs of cardboard boxes and gas station receipts: some in pen, some in green marker, others in something that could be ketchup. I like to imagine that I am a time traveler from the Bronze Age, puzzling over this strange shrine, with these messages from the mysterious god, Anon.
Today, it seems that Anon is concerned about the people who do not follow through when they inquire about the availability of motorcycles, and is also very disappointed with this heat pump. They want certain things known, these are enthusiastic points, and want it known that they are praying.
They would like whoever was driving the busted black four-door to stay off the freeway, especially in early morning hours, and wants you to be forewarned that if you have your baby at St. Mary’s, you may be waiting awhile to take it home.
Anon is happy to help, but not if it enables those who take advantage, like a co-worker who never– Not once!– offers gas money. Anon would like an explanation, if not for themselves then for the children, as to some recent decisions. Plus, they would very much like the woman who wore a red dress into Hobby Lobby to know that an encounter by the check stand was much appreciated.
Also, it is written: they are still looking for a few things: an old flame, old classmates, Mr. Thursday, surf girl, the guy in the sidecar in Hillcrest, some help, a missing Siamese, a new home for this bearded dragon, and a phone call from whomever is awake, also looking.
Sometimes the world shifts and lets you notice a thing that you’ve been technically seeing all along, plain as the air you’ve been breathing and equally invisible.
One day it occurred to me that I could not remember the last time I had wanted to talk to anyone.
I had been talking plenty, whenever the situation called for it. I had mostly enjoyed these exchanges, even when I dreaded them in advance. My pause came from realizing that I could not remember ever once being in a silent state of restful solitude and thinking that it would be better if I were talking. Sure, I wondered how various people were doing; I wanted them to know that I thought of them, but these feelings have to do with love and connection and not the desire to utter any actual words. I had to really ransack my mind looking for an example of a time when talk was the thing I desired. Still, I couldn’t find any. I am an introvert who fears being something else, namely an alien ill-suited for life here. This seemed like an ominous sign.
Never? I wondered. What an inauspicious thing to observe in oneself. I immediately red-flagged this newfound awareness as the sort of thing I should probably never say out loud to another human being (The irony!). To be introverted is one thing, but surely this new awareness indicated some sort of solitary leanings in the extreme, possibly pathological. Perhaps some dark secret had been hidden and missed all along.
But then I realized something else. It was also true that I could not think of a single time when I was in a resting solitary state and I suddenly thought that I would like to write. (Not once? I wondered, checked. Nope, not once––not since childhood, anyway).
I love writing like the desperate love anything––as in, it feels like misery but I would not want to live without it. I could think of plenty of times where I had to write, or decided to do so in order to fulfill some obligation, and other times when an impulse came knocking and I answered the door. I had often looked forward to long periods of imaginary uninterrupted interludes during which I would be writing, even though I had never actually thought, while resting, anything like: This moment would be greatly enhanced if I were moving a pen along a page.
And yet, I could think of no examples where I had ever regretted writing (but a few where I regretted hitting “send”). Considering conversation, similar themes emerged. It was never the talking I regretted (except when it took me from writing for too long), only what I did and did not manage to say.
Sometimes the world shifts and lets you notice a thing that you’ve been technically seeing all along, plain as the air you’ve been breathing and equally invisible. I did not dislike any available forms of communication: not speech, not writing, not dance, and not song. All were needs, and I had been prone to dreading each of them in particular ways.
Words are so hard to deal with, and the dealing is always such a burden. Like hearts, like loves, like babies and bodies, and water; and bodies of water; and loving hearts; and the burden of carrying each one around, holding its beating insistence, its incessant demands; its relentless flooding of life into limbs and everywhere else it goes, in all the ways that are always so impossible to explain.
Words are such a chore. I might put them off forever. All I ever want are those quiet, fluid, indefinable spaces housing the soft rise and fall of one beloved’s breath beside me; the weight of an open palm on my knee, and possibilities only tasted and never adequately described, by lips pressing into a sleeping head under my arm. All I ever miss is never words, but the sound of quiet breathing in the same room, its implied command a simple one, and as easy to follow as my own next breath. Like, Shhhhh. Like, Wait. Hold. Don’t Move. Here.
These words, these words, give me some. Let me give them back to you. Even though we both, by now, should recognize them for what they are: crude and heavy, the burdensome hot-mess cousins to the queens and kings and holy babies we are trying to sing about. Still, you work with what you have, and sometimes these are the only available tools after the quiet-by-your-side-breaths stop, and the weight of a hand has vanished, and a body fails to contain the parts that are relentlessly flying away.
The trick was to remember the state of dreaming. Then I had to flap really hard.
The dreams are gone again. Memory is full of holes. Mind the gap!
Do you know whose memory is the least contaminated? A baby’s?
Maybe, but not what I was thinking. ?
A patient with amnesia. ?
They can’t contaminate by remembering. It just comes. And goes.
Right, a free flow. Did you hear about the artist with face blindness?
To lose one face is enough. Imagine losing them all. She made interesting self-portraits. She did them in the dark, feeling her face, adding paint to canvas; feeling again. Art as an act of looking, free of the presumption of sight.
Do goldfish really have only eight seconds of it? Memory?
Yes, or is this just a myth told to children who would otherwise be very sad about the creature in the bowl, in the plastic bag from the fair, doomed to this constant back and forth? Borges called it a pile of broken mirrors.
The fishbowl? Memory.
He died on this day, in 1986. That was the year I forgot how to fly in my dreams.
How? The trick was to remember the state of dreaming. Then I had to flap really hard. My arms, because that’s all I had, no wings or feathers.
Yeah, but how did you forget? Whoever knows, but that year my dreams or something started taking me too hard and fast, I could not remember until it was too late.
Borges said there are no images at the end, only words. Remember 1986?
There were bombs everywhere in the news. I didn’t see them up close, but I worried. They were waiting under parked cars, in office buildings, churches, synagogues, planes.
It was my first Communion year. I remember waiting to be suffused in light. The Challenger exploded. I remember the plumes of flame and smoke on the screen. My second-grade teacher had wheeled the television into the classroom so we could see it live, the techno-miracle of space travel.
Chernobyl, too. After that, radioactive deposits were found in every country in the northern hemisphere.
There was a human chain that year, five million links long from New York to Long Beach. As a reminder, right?
Yes, of hunger. Homelessness. Easily forgotten by the housed and fed. They were flooding the streets.
This was Reagan’s America. It was popular to cite an epidemic of laziness, compounded by drugs, as the reason. Just say No, but the hands did something else.
Said yes? No, they answered another question. A better one. The question of the body before you.
Answer like an open hand. Right. Like, “Here.”
Do you remember Borges’ Book of Imaginary Beings? He observed that there are dragons in every part of the world.
Yeah, he said we don’t know what they mean, only that they are always there. What memories do they hold; what future projections?
I love his face, Borges. How it would light up when he smiled. He must have been something in person.
Like a baby. Or a person who has forgotten everything and sees only–– Light?
The play of light and shadow. An uninterrupted flow.
I love watching babies before their vision develops. Their faces, do you mean?
Yeah, how they light up and start laughing at something in the ceiling. And you watch them, and you wonder what are they seeing?
* A story about artist known as Carlotta appears in the BBC News, and the documentary about her journey, “Lost in Face” appeared in a BBC News article by Vibeke Venema, “Prosopagnosia: The Artist in Search of Her Face,” published August 16, 2020. BBC World Service.
What if we walked around like we do in these ads, wearing our missing on our chests, like billboards for our losses?
Once I lost my iPhone my wallet, my keys. This on multiple occasions, several each. Once I found a box turtle! It was in the middle of the street, by the water tower.
Then I lost my wedding ring, my bike, my surfboard. But listen! Hear this: single mom needs help, getting a car for cheap. Nothing fancy! Please let me know! Thank you.
Missing animal pet? Lost cats, Siamese and tabby, both fixed, please return, no questions asked, I beg you. I’d lost you anyway, listening to vintage sad songs, seventy to be exact.
Lost parakeet near Sea World, but he could be anywhere. He is friendly, but shy. Lost briefcase, too. What if we walked around like we do in these ads, wearing our missing on our chests, like billboards for our losses?
Lost childhood friends. I disappeared for a decade, lost all contacts. Do you remember the playground on Euclid with the green monkey bars, near the school? I kept your scent on me as long as I could make it last.
You would know when you met me, that I am also missing childhood friends and lost cats, at at least a dozen sets of keys, not to mention those years when who knows what we were thinking, live and learn, not to mention that season when someone left the cage door open overnight and self-respect got out, and I can’t remember why; not to mention, have you seen these memories? Not to mention, have you ever wondered if they really happened?
Not to mention the way that––– –––that thing that –––I meant to tell you –––was more real than anything I have ever witnessed –––and there I go, losing the words again.
I lost that one paper I was supposed to deal with. I thought I put it in the special pile with the other Very Important Documents, but it’s not there, and all that is in the pile are a bunch of receipts for things I don’t even own anymore. And where did the time go?
Don’t even start. Have you seen my mojo?
Girl, it’s right there, check it out. Now turn! [Turn, turn, sashay, turn]
I see you! That’s it, right there. There you are!
* This is why I love craigslist, for the poetry of “Lost and Found” and “Missed Connections.” Others in this series:
Once, studying some recurring questions, I encountered a phrase: Be the hero of your own life.
Correction. He did have a few words; he just didn’t seem to string them together into anything that sounded like a sentence. While we were marching, I could make out something like, “Yes, Success! Yes! Are you . . . ready to rumble?!!!”
He shouted the word “Legacy!” in a similar manner, but with a more elaborate percussive element.
The attempt at – (what was that, anyway? making an impression? branding? was it meant to be instructive?) whatever it was, would likely have landed much differently on someone less porous, less susceptible to wonder about where her body ends and the next one began. It might have been recounted fondly as one of those turning point events so popular in American films, as in: “I was just sitting there, or dancing in a circle with no discernible ambition and then––Whammo! Blinded by the light and a sudden potent animal heat, I was moved to the summit!”
Of what? One might ask, but this is often wasted breath. If so inclined, it’s probably best to step back and simply regain what breath can be had, given the prevalence of such attacks by the spirited and hairy successful creatures, lauded throughout the land for their immense strength and variety of name brand merchandise.
You can know them by their talk: by their obsessions with legacies, their playbooks of endgames, their hostility towards doubt in all forms.
For a carrier of other bodies, the points of endings, like the points of beginnings, were equally irrelevant and often not even on the map, if there was one, which started either in the branching alveoli, or the ventricles (Which one? Right, left? Upper or lower? And which came first, arteries or veins?) or in the sound of a mother’s heartbeat, or her own, or her child’s, and if most of this is water, where would I find the source? Do I go back to Eden, the four rivers, or further, to some original droplets of cosmic condensation?
There were good reasons to struggle with the question of beginnings, which naturally impacted the question of focus, and, regarding various inquiries around one’s own life, where exactly it was.
A better suggestion, in my case, might have been, Come here. Look ––for example, at the aspen, to notice the unseen roots. I might have been instructed to sit and listen, in good company, which I did ––and I was, eventually, and there wasn’t a hero among us, only a song in the distance and the waiting, and everything that mattered