Out of Sight

With Italo Calvino.

The cities were born a little at a time––not unlike poems, you said––of various inspirations. You had a habit of collecting odd strangers and mythical heroes, and notes on places that you had been, might be, would tend to imagine. What happened was not a book exactly, but a geography to move in. You mapped cities of memory, cities of desire, cities and signs. There were continuous cities and hidden cities. These cities were braided: cobweb cities across an abyss, a microscopic city, spreading. 

Watch that one, you said, and as it grew, it revealed concentric cities like tree rings. Sometimes, you said, you would come across a city that would write itself.

Into what? We wondered, and you said yes.

***

Inspired by Calvino’s Invisible Cities, in honor of his birthday.

Expanded Expansion

The artist makes room.

Your aim was an art that would not behave as art. While dying, you made your untitled rope piece, layering industrial latex like paint over string and wire suspended from the ceiling. It resembled a decimated fishing net after a storm, or the work of an overworked spider gone mad. You welcomed unseen others into a shadowy space, inviting us to attend to what crawled, flickered, and flashed. You did not specify how long to look, or where. How is it possible, we wondered, to feel so in the way in a mostly empty room? 

Touch, you said, and meant it. Who could do that now, with all the insurance? Come in, you said. But try another door. You left it to us to find it. There are other openings, you said, and more hollow spaces than we were accustomed to noticing. 

What do you know? One skeptic asked and you said Nothing.

***

Inspired by the art of Eva Hesse, and by Mignon Nixon’s article “Eva Hesse Retrospective: A Note on Milieu,” (Spring 2003 in October).

Risk of Becoming

With Antonin Artaud.

All he wanted was a change in the human condition. They can laugh at me, he said to the mirror. When it came to the question of what a human might be, he didn’t claim to know. Over time, he grew distant from those who did, and these were many.

All he could say, when it came to describing his predicament was, it’s possible. He sought reconciliation––between matter and mind, body and soul, fact and idea. But people loved their borders, and he kept being detained at the boundaries of his body.

Then he turned on words, preferring only sound detached from the old symbolisms, and he let these run through him, imagining that their resonance, after all, might affect some inside-out change.

Really? Someone asked. 

It’s possible, he seemed to respond, and he did not say a word.

***

In honor of the birthday of French artist, poet, dramatist, and writer Antonin Artaud, I spent some time this morning in Naomi Greene’s 1967 article in Yale French Studies, “Antonin Artaud: Metaphysical Revolutionary.”

Like a Caul

Thoughts on perception.

Continuous stream in perpetual motion,

no levees until we build. The mind wants

a fixed pattern, some mollusk shell against

the swell. So, we make and remake ourselves,

these others, our tools these numbers,

tests, images, sounds, scents, records

like Remember this. Color me a Milky Way

in turquoise, violet, rust, crimson tides of

possibility, a membrane across

these newborn eyes.

Blessing the Torn Sky

A few hours ago, I learned it was Lucille Clifton’s birthday, and thought immediately of her beautiful “Blessing the Boats.” Then I knew what to do with what I was meaning to notice, from yesterday’s time at Balboa Park, which is right near San Diego’s airport, where the planes fly very low.

May the sky
that tears above us
every ten minutes
with the next landing
hold you still
in its infinities, barely
contained. May you notice
the webs noiselessly repaired
in the shade-giving tree. 

May you hold the noise
and feel its impact, understand
what it means to live
in the time of tearing skies
and then turn your ears 
to the hush of leaves against
leavings, expanding in chorus
above you and to the hawks
overhead, and then to the drums
beneath the tree down the hill. Watch

––the dancers in unison and each 
their own, leaves singing the leaving 
of an ancient dance, remembered
in chorus in ways that it may never be, 
alone, in the place you go first to notice
the dead 
        before they are named. 

May you see
​             the bird on the low, long branch,
how violently its blood-red breast sways 
with each new tear in the still-aching
sky. May you study like these near the drums,
those songs that time and distance and generations
of death would have killed by now if they had not 
recognized, first alone and then in chorus, 
how the only way to mark the days of 
separation by sea and torn sky
is by gripping what moves beneath you

as you grip what moves through you, as
the same song, the same flight, holding
first until you can move into it, even as
you notice each fresh wound, tearing a 

body you once thought eternal, prone to 
capricious moods but never injury, and 
may you know how something new happens
now, even if: the wound is real and yes, it is

another man with a sword, eager to pierce
the next heaven, and you know what this
is because flesh won’t forget, insisting against
its own small space, on dancing eulogies in 
concert 

with the still uncounted souls waiting
here, beneath this torn heaven, for the next 
sign, and may you trace it, holding the line and
waiting to carry it, may you wait and hold, listen

and then cry out when the time is right, as the hawks
above have been doing ever since you arrived, finding
in the act of swaying with each pointed arrival, each
still-dripping wound, some way to recognize, 

even as you feel each cut from your crown 
to your feet, how none ever sever you from it. 
May you hold your hands up, open to 
these wounded forevers, 

and sway.

The In-Between

In any rite of passage, there is a state where the pilgrim leaves the known world and prepares to enter the place where she is transformed.

In any rite of passage, there is a state where the pilgrim leaves the known world and prepares to enter the place where she is transformed. This is called the threshold, or liminal state.

​The first version of this word I ever heard was called limbo, and according to the nuns this was where you got stuck if you skipped confession. Apparently, doing this was about as damning as failing to wear clean underwear, because you could get in a terrible accident at any time.

What’s it like? We all wanted to know. They said it wasn’t exactly eternal fire but it wasn’t clouds and angels, either. It was just forever. And who wants that when you are so close to a final release? They were not forthcoming with other details, so the rest was left to the imagination.

I turned the word over. Limbo. It called to mind the image of a doll version of a person floating in a watercolor atmosphere with limbs outstretched.

I thought about people running and then swimming toward higher ground when the floods came. And about the dream monsters chasing, the jolt in the stomach, shouting So close! I thought about my grandparents, how they would stand behind me in church before I was even old enough for Communion, the pillars of their bodies like trees, and me in the shade. I wanted to stay in that place forever, but I felt it coming, the shadowy force coming closer with every passing year — so close! –– and I dreaded arriving in the space of being severed from their shade and the quiet of being nowhere and no one, with no one asking, What now? 

Then, years passed, and I felt far removed from this moment, but close enough that when I thought of it again, something flickered at the corners of my lips, in recognition of how there had been a time when it was possible to think of such an endless in-between as a threat for something that might happen, and not as what already was.