I look up from a page where I am working out this thing about the flying men that came and went, and find Buzz, the resident cat, with that look. Like, what about you? where is it you fly off to?
My secret I suspect has to do with being a creature of ritual, prone to long bouts of longing for ecstatic states. I move a pen across the lines of a page, as a younger me used to move feet over miles and miles of sidewalk concrete
road / trails / following something––
I knew I wouldn’t reach it, but I would reach the end of an attempt at being in its presence, and I knew there was worth in the attempt alone and it was worth more than any I –––
At the time I would have called what I was after a better time but secretly I called it a synonym for light, some word I didn’t have yet. I still don’t have it, don’t think that I would say it if I did. It was for this luminous something I could almost see near the end, and I knew it––
to be worth collapsing for I wanted it to take me from my body that I may know something–– just beyond its reach––
The owl came for flying lessons. She followed, remembering snow, purging minutes from herself until gone and she shone, tuned to the ice- bright noon, transparent with time, carrying only what would not be spoken into the coming night.
Take the long view, starting from any horizon where it gathers like rain. Then try a movement in time, leaving reason behind. Go from moment to moment to moment, but no bridges between them. Cellar doors will do, no stairs. This allows for the sudden drop from one to the next.
We move these tiny flames on sticks, and then wait. One sign is the flash of sunrise around the window. Another is a breath of letters flooding the veins, flowering tongues, chiming the ear.
These are useful reminders. Let go, syntax, let’s go. There are more ways to arrange a voice beyond the tired grooves of your worn paths. You can cut the ankles again on low thorns, catch webs in the mouth, know your face by the cheek kissing the cat tail, and forget the mirrors.
What crawls and flies far from clean in its joy is often the subject of revulsion, but some forms of rage are raw enough to keep a crawling body painted with mud, and ripe enough with love to offer flight. One held nothing back of substance and much of detail and familiar story lines, to keep each mouthful tasting fully of itself. Eat, she said, there is enough for everyone, but cautioned that some would find at first bite, something raw enough to break the heart. It broke mine, she said, but then came a challenging joy. This angered some, but creatures of the earth are often hated for not making themselves more pleasing, more beautiful, for living just as they are.
An old fantasy: the flying man. Faust would die for it. The better to study stars, he said. After all, he reasoned, weren’t the heavens more suitable for study by the dead than the living? If a bird may, why not a man? They kept trying.
For some of the women, long trained in the art of dying, flight was one of those things you simply didn’t discuss, like the daily deaths or predawn dreams. Who was asking?
I think my grandmother knew how, as the grandmothers before her also did. It was one of those things that came with death. In certain situations, learning how to die was just another one of those things that one did, for the living.
Only symbols. When I saw that the architecture was burnt out in me, I became a poet. Now I am grief, hunger, the embers of cities. But making is older than killing, and what is this man to make of this life but a brief flight in darkness, now and then on a rainbow?
This morning I learned that it was the birthday of poet Andrei Andreyevich Voznesensky, who Robert Lowell once distinguished as the greatest living poet in any language. He came to fame during the Khrushchev thaw and was known as an outspoken critic of artistic censorship of any kind. I don’t have a complete translation of Voznesensky’s work, but I was able to find some selections online. The above is assembled from my a small sample of these findings, adapted.
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.