Nostalgia

Dreamscape in a fog.

Women in sweaters and long skirts walk through an uncultivated pasture in the fog, above a lake.  They retreat from the lens, toward something else. No one speaks.

Now comes a car on a nearby road. It takes a moment to stop. A woman gets out. The light reminds her of autumn. The man from the driver’s seat corrects her speech. I cried the first time I saw it, she says. He will not come.

I will wait for you, she says. She roams away like this often, in stubborn wonder. He follows, eventually. By the time he catches up, she will no longer be the woman from the car. By the time he catches her, she will be a woman who has been walking alone on a dirt path for some time.

***

Inspired by the work of Andrei Arsenyevich Tarkovsky, and specifically his film, Nostalgia.

Time Out of Mind

A quilted retrospective.

After the sand of the hour had spilled from the mantle, I kept watch beside myself in low tide mirrors, the sea at my ankles returning us to the corners of childhood libraries. With bare feet resting in tulip beds, I borrowed confidence from open pages and read to them. Their still-unopened faces swayed in blind brilliance and we held there, unknowing.  

Seasons passed and we were separated until I was alone at the edge of a wasteland. I had a threaded needle and no pattern in sight. I spent a long time dreaming. Once in the warehouse, time’s gears were in pieces on the floor. I held a face in my hands, and it whispered reminders. I would need to fold the fields behind me first, then set to stitching. 

I wore fire against the rain and cut a new dress from the remnants of the last harvest. Gorged on ripe losses, my scalp sang anemones. Hold, I whispered to the new blooms, that they might stay until the hour returned. 

***

Inspired by images in this article about the work of Ukranian artist Oleg Oprisco, known for creating surreal settings from everyday elements.

Recorded Visions

Dreaming forward and back.

If memory is the first fiction, then so is the history of a group. As a group evolves, so will its collective chronicle of becoming, but the process is as fraught as any reconstruction. If history is a cathedral and facts are the stones, then it’s worth considering that all somebody can do before a complete building with a single stone is throw it or sit on it. If all that happens in any reframing effort is the collection of a pile of new stones, you may end up with a whole lot of broken glass and all of us outside. But if people are challenged to build with them, to create new architecture, new gathering places, new halls of worship and dreaming, transcendence and offering, then what? Unless someone is feeding the dreamers from the same table as the builders, planners, architects, masons, and those tasked with moving each stone, a cohesive vision won’t emerge. Imagination is no luxury, but a life skill, and as critical in times of flux as any other preparation: for famine, attack, natural disaster, invasion. No group who makes outcasts of its dreamers can endure.

***

I first explored Tamin Ansary’s insight, “History is composed of facts the way that a cathedral is composed of bricks . . . But the bricks are not the cathedral,” in an earlier post, “Cathedral.”

Histories

Elegy for the erased.

Sure, it all seems impossible today, but remember. Once in our wandering we moved in search of a strange beast, something misplaced while we played in and out of schoolyards, a chimera of childhood heroes and the nightmares they would slay––next time, and again. And again.

Remember, forget. Here is the mystery, unsolved, and there, the legend, the remains buried beneath the statues of famous men. Once an ancient voyage, and the albatross, too. Imagine. What’s this one now, here? A gossamer dream, true fictions among make-believe facts. Look, we are looking.

Here, the old mine shaft. Who put that mirror there?

Family Albums

You think you know someone, and then here is a whole other person.

One possibility, when it comes to telling what is commonly called one’s “own” story, is to take one’s own memory out entirely, and is to limit yourself to the favorite anecdotes of family members. A person can create childhood memories based entirely on the number of times a given story has been told. 

Parents can be especially amusing sources of these tales. The time you had your mother, eight months pregnant with your sister, just up three flights to the third-floor apartment with the laundry, go back to the basement to retrieve your imaginary friend. Another time you were in hysterics because your father sat on that same friend. 

How you cried when the street sweeping truck came by, the horrible beep-beep truck, you called it. And there was that redheaded boy, do you remember? He would push you down, take your shovel, walk away, and you would sit there, not wailing, just quietly sad.

“Bubbling” by Kimli on flickr under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic license.

And the gravy! How you loved it with croutons from a box. Your concerns over the new baby, over your mother getting up and down the stairs. Your favorite hiding place behind the couch. How you could speak nonstop or not at all.

Huh, I think, remembering by power of suggestion what it would never have occurred to me to know on my own. You think you know someone, and then here is a whole other person. The fact that there were even specific moments to remember is what really gets me. I recall only a constant susurration of light and color, sound and touch. It lends credence to the idea that a person may have parallel simultaneous lives: the one they remembered, and the one I felt I was living. They have images, even pictures, and there I am, and it must have been me in that bowl haircut with those eyes looking back, holding the garden hose, but all I remember is the colors of light filtering through shallow water, and the way I would fly in my dreams. Palms and fingers in bright paint, and the hollow space among bushes in the back yard. How I would go in and wait there. The sense that I had of finding a secret, tiny room in an endless forever, and it was quiet all around, and safe except for the possibility of snakes and other monsters I had not seen except on TV and in books.

Funny, the pictures they show. This is what is, this is what was. They shaped me then, as they do still, these stills. But the image I had was constant, and I wasn’t in it because there was me watching, squinting sometimes, as I took in was the shifting light and colors on the surface of an ever-moving stream, wondering about the world just beneath it. 

Up, up!

You could feel it, the way no one could help themselves, the way we were laid bare in our reaching wonder.

Here’s an idea: consider something you used to do often. Or be. Trace a line of relevance to the moment. 

Once I was a runner. Once titled, there were days when I would put off beginning, and it would take me until late afternoon just to put on my shoes. Then there were also moments near sunset, and into twilight, when I could not bear to stop. I knew there was a risk of injury; I knew that these would come later, and they did, but in those extra dusk miles: five, ten, fifteen, I would feel the potential forevers in each stride, and all I wanted to do — all I had ever and would ever want to do, it seemed then as much as now — is keep reaching. The difference between running and walking is the liftoff. In a walk, one foot remains always on the ground. But in a run, there is this moment– and it gets shorter and shorter as age advances and pace slows — when neither touches. There was something about that moment, how quick it would come and go, that invited repetition, as if with enough practice, it was possible to leave entirely, and float somewhere just beyond gravity’s reach. 

 “shades of sunset” by July Dominique on flickr under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial No-Derivs 2.0 Generic license.

I am no longer a runner, just a lady who runs on days when this is scheduled––jogs, even,  an observer might say. There’s nothing loaded about it, just exercise. But the reaching part, that doesn’t leave. I thought of this as we walked and ran among the streams and streams of other pilgrims, up the long hill, to see the big sky. How we waited for the telescope. Is it time? Is that it? What is that? The faces, bathed in dusk light, everyone looking, pointing.  You could feel it, the way no one could help themselves, the way we were laid bare in our reaching wonder.

We looked and looked. It went on. Gravity holding us where we stood, tethering the moon in its orbit. There was Venus, and was that Mars or a satellite? It was our eyes we looked with, and of course whatever we could find for looking through. But it was something else doing the reaching, as it always was. She was now my height but once she had held her arms up and the fingertips of her widespread hands did not reach past my legs, singing out, “Up! Up!”

Learning by Imitation

Imitation is a wonderful teacher. One learns this especially by failing at it.

Today’s post arises in part, from a quick-write exercise I did with students some time ago, about how we learn by imitation, inspired by a TED talk by the artist Hetain Patel, “Who Are You? Think Again.” When possible, I do these free writing exercises with them, and whenever I do, I vow to do it more. Invariably, some interruption will void this intention. Still, it’s always worth repeating. I am thinking about the subject of learning by imitation today. The other part is that I needed to find this post for my offering today, because of time constraints.

I drafted this one awhile back, but never posted it. I wasn’t blogging daily then. More like 3-15 times per year. Now it’s daily and after forty days, I added a time constraint. Doing this takes away the luxury of being too choosy. I can’t hem and haw over what goes up; all I can do is offer the best I have within a given hour. Today, as I was preparing to enter the 15-minute “think of an idea” phase, I got distracted by another question: What other poets/literary writers are keeping blogs and what can I learn from them?  There went my hour. The good news is, I can learn a lot. I’ve already learned that I am going to have to migrate to WordPress in order to be able to have some of the functions and features I will want long-term, so now I am adding “learn how to migrate website to WordPress” to my to-do list. It may take a little while, but I can learn. 

 “Sample Book” by scrappy annie on flickr under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial 2.0 Generic license. 

So now, it makes sense to share this other thing. One, because it’s what I have right now. Two, because it just happens to be precisely relevant to today’s thoughts. It’s funny how unexpected diversions and interruptions can lead to new discoveries. Come to think of it, that’s exactly what I mean to be showing and doing here. It was fun to find this one again. It was about a ten-minute exercise, I think. I was most likely interrupted by a hall pass after about five. But I had forgotten these things, and finding them today made me chuckle:

I used to covet the friendship bracelets of my older cousin, Kelly. Even at thirteen, I knew that what separated me from Kelly was more than the two years she had ahead of me, and more than her fashion sense. We were different types. I felt this with a sort of ominous dread. Kelly always had a boyfriend, and it was hard to imagine her ever suffering through the malaise of generalized heartbreak that was my consistent companion.

I remember wanting to have some sort of word that I said differently than everyone else, that could be “my word.” My first friend, Tara, had “beltseat” and “brefkast”, my grandmother stacked my grandfather’s t-shirts in the “armoire,” my dad could say “fuggettabbouttit” believably and my mom said “draw” instead of “drawer.” My third grade teacher, Mrs. Reynolds said “idear” and “umbreller.” I tried out different ways of saying orange — or ah-range, and I could never decide which fit best. Eventually, I forgot the whole endeavor.

Then, one day when I was fourteen or so — maybe younger, there was this girl. I can’t remember her name anymore. She was a varsity swimmer — confident, self-assured, and never without something to say that people seemed inclined to listen to. She was the sort of girl who seemed to operate on an ingrained assumption that the things that went through her head would naturally be of interest to others. In short, she had certain qualities I sorely lacked, and I watched her with some puzzlement, wondering how one would go about attaining them.

There was one thing tangible I could discern. Whenever the subject of bagels came up, she said “bahgel” and she never hesitated to get extra cream cheese on hers. It was a horrifying amount of cream cheese, a giant slab that appeared about as thick as one of the bagel halves it came between, an amount I could never imagine consuming with any degree of ease, especially not in public. She could, though, and did, and as I watched her eat with relish in the team van, without any sense of shame,  I understood that there was something greater than age or pronunciation quirks separating us. I gave up trying to say the word as she did, because it felt like a great pretension. I didn’t mind a pretension; in fact it felt like I really could use one or two, but “bahgel” felt obnoxiously contrived and false. So I went back to saying it the regular way, “Just plain, thank you,” no butter and no cream cheese, and peeled mine slowly from the outside in, trying to make it last, fighting against the urge to tear it in half with my teeth like a crazed wolf.

Imitation is a wonderful teacher. One learns this especially by failing at it. As Patel observes in his talk, “. . . contrary to what we might usually assume, imitating somebody can reveal something unique. So every time I fail to become more like my father, I become more like myself. Every time I fail to become Bruce Lee, I become more authentically me.”

I’ve been looking at poet/writer blogs all morning, and I don’t see a single one I can imitate seamlessly. I see many I can learn from. I take a lot of hope in this: the idea that imitating means I don’t have to start from scratch, and failing at it means I am being real about who I am, what I do, and how I see. In a world that often praises an empty and misunderstood “authenticity” I want something lasting, something that is honest, and something that surprises and renews my perspective by never being exactly what I planned. So here’s to learning by imitation.

Remembering Forward and Back

A cannibal galaxy has such gravity that it may eat other galaxies. Some moments in time are like that.

There are moments when you are inside something, noticing what you will remember when it’s done. Or there are exploding moments and you can’t help but notice the blast of certain solid-seeming ideas. It’s a protected site: caution tape, guards. You can’t go around taking things from it, so you look, gathering images for later when you’re no longer at the site, for when the site itself no longer exists except perhaps as a memorial, for when you are considering, in memorial, what remains.

A cannibal galaxy has such gravity that it may eat other galaxies. Some moments in time are like that, eating any memory of what happened before or after. You try to recover, but can do no better than metaphor.

It was like being inside a Dali painting, melted face propped on a stick. It was like being stuck on top of the monkey bars or like one of those dreams where you are trying to scream and the words won’t come out. The problem with trying to tell some stories is that the origin point was consumed by other origin points, cannibal moments.

It was like another dream, also: driving a car up a ramp. The ramp is so steep that it’s practically vertical. The road is narrow and it is over a bridge and the bridge is over sky and space and water and whatever you might be about to fall into is on both sides, close, and there is no way to reverse, but you see that the road ahead of you will very soon drop off into sky. You head up anyway, accepting a certain lack of choice. Or choosing to accept that the original decision was already made when you got into the car and started driving. That moment never shows up in the dream, not once.

Or it was like being underwater, in the quiet susurration of it, trying to resist the temptation to surface for air.

Or it was like flight/not flight, as in jumping up, bouncing off, or being thrown, that moment in midair when the breath catches.

And while you’re catching your breath you know that it was indeed like all of these things, but none exactly, and for the time being you are all out of words. Sometimes all you want to do is hang on to some scrap of fallen silence at your feet and close your eyes, as if doing so could make it possible to return to some moment just before.

Big and Little: a Reunion

You announced, Play a game, and you returned me––back to what I’d learned how to renounce. 

BIG
I held you in my arms and breathed against the silence. Then, when you were speaking, you announced, Play a game, and you returned me––back to what I’d learned how to renounce. 

When you were speaking you announced, Tell me a riddle! and I held you high above me toward the stars. Here is how to croon what I am learning to announce, of wonder: here is Venus, now Orion; there a satellite, now Mars.

And everything we shared came out in singsong, and every note within it came out true. Teach me spaghetti by the moonlight, drink a spring song. Everything contained a season; it was you, in this loving cup, now brimming, lands the chorus of a soul; long bent on new receiving, long past dying in its hole. Would you wait and listen for the riddle I would tell, beyond the point of speaking past this silence of this well?

Where I have fallen will you find me, if I give you certain clues; will you listen if I play now, every verse of these late blues?

I’m finding now a riddle, and I’d sing it if I could; but I’m out of rhymes, so share here: once, man living, cut for wood.

What’s tall when young, short when old, and can die in a single breath?

This is the end of the time when we rhyme.  But wait!  Consider these words. Another puzzle goes like this. I kept it for you: Consider a fork in the road. 

A stranger in a strange land arrives at an intersection: East or West? One will take you to your destination, the other to hopeless despair. At the fork, two men. Each knows the way, but one always lies. What to do?


LITTLE
Remember how we used to play the guessing game?

Animal, vegetable, mineral: over time, like this: whenever the seahorse, during the age of the narwhal, from time to time, the tortoise––sooner or later, a ferret.

From time to time, a gem squash as long as an English cucumber. In the meantime, this heirloom tomato, and all of a sudden- Rutabaga!

At this instant, taste the snap-peas, until zucchini, okra, chives, until adamantine and agate, since granite, garnet, jacobsite.

Before, until now. Ever after, return. Again!

BIG
Back to the crossroads question, and the two men. Remember this: ask either, “What direction would the other say?”  Whatever you hear, do the opposite, and you will be on the right path.

Whatever you hear, take my hand, in this silence, where I’ve fallen, show me:  Laugh!


LITTLE
[laughing]

Again!

“Baby elephant” by Georg Sander on flickr under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial 2.0 Generic license. 

Remembering, Borges, Flights

The trick was to remember the state of dreaming. Then I had to flap really hard.

Morning.
Morning!

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?

And why can’t I?
We probably used to.

But I can’t remember.


“Dragon” by Aqva on flickr under an Attribution-Non-Commercial 2.0 Generic license.



*The idea of a patient with amnesia as having the least contaminated memory comes from Sarah Manguso’s Ongoingness: The End of a Diary, as described beautifully in Maria Popova’s Brainpickings article: “Ongoingness: Sarah Manguso on Time, Memory, Beginnings and Endings, and the True Measure of Aliveness.” 


* 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.