This sort of reevaluation can happen when events disrupt your life’s habitual ways and means. You may be taken not only out of yourself–the boon of successful work in every art form, when you’re in the mood for it–but out of your time, relocated to a particular past that seems to dispel, in a flash of undeniable reality, everything that you thought you knew. It’s not like going back to anything. It’s like finding yourself anticipated as an incidental upshot of fully realized, unchanging truths. The impression passes quickly, but it leaves a mark that’s indistinguishable from a wound. Here’s a prediction of our experience when we are again free to wander museums: Everything in them will be other than what we remember. The objects won’t have altered, but we will have, in some ratio of good and ill. The casualties of the coronavirus will accompany us spectrally. Until, inevitably, we begin to forget, for awhile we will have been reminded of our oneness throughout the world and across time with all the living and the dead. The works await us as expressions of individuals and entire cultures that have been–and vividly remain–light-years ahead of what passes for our understanding.
(“Out of Time,” New Yorker, April 13, 2020)
“We shouldn’t intervene, we shouldn’t get involved in the problems another person has with reading. We shouldn’t be upset with the children who don’t read, we shouldn’t lose patience. It’s about discovering the continent of reading. No one should encourage or incite a person to go see what’s there. There’s already far too much information in the world about culture. We must set off on our own for the continent. Discover it on our own. Bring about the birth on our own. Take Baudelaire, for example, we must be the first to discover the splendor of his writing. And we are the first. And if we are not the first, we will never be a reader of Baudelaire. All the world’s masterpieces should have been found by children in public landfills and read secretly unbeknownst to their parents and teachers.”
“Me and Other Writings” p.71
In the middle of a three day visit to you, we sat in the dark quiet having recounted the story of a long ago trip undertaken separately in youth, you know, with the intelligence of willful children.
The light at/through the window was very specific. The time elapsed was accounted for in our quiet and in our feeling. Restraint arose.
I mean what I mean is you went to Barcelona without a cent somehow.
I went from Eugene to New Orleans as a young blonde person, hitch-hiking.
We both 1) survived and 2) are telling each other the stories we’d ourselves forgotten.
And they now exist in the other’s head to be brought later to the ceremony.
We’d forgotten them because of the attempt to live and become expectations.
In the darkening yard, days later, after I’ve left you, I have both bees and monarch butterflies back from a brink.
“The tightest, most self-involved knot is connected to strings that go everywhere.” p.273
“The desire to describe voice, gesture, skin color, is a desire to eat, take over, make into part of a pattern. I am happy every time to see a writer fail at this. I am happy every time to see real personhood resist our tricks. I am happy to see bodies insist that they are not shut up in this book, they are elsewhere. The tomb is empty, rejoice, he is not here.” p. 297
“What are the commandments?”
“One is that I am the only zoo animal currently living who has the key to my own cage. I can open it and go outside.” p.303
re: Emily Dickinson “People assume that the shutting-up made her smaller. But locking yourself up can be a way to shrink the castle down to your size, and to expand your body toward the wider limits of the walls, until you are rooted at the foundation, see sideways out the glass, and do your highest thinking when the smoke leaves the chimney. And still, through the window, you can send out sweets. Emily did not show her face to the children, only the hands and arms that set down the poems. What if she wanted simply to reveal, and not to be exposed? What counts as hiding and what as devoted contemplation?” p. 305
Others do a version, a
trompe l’oeil of affection, not
showing the crack,
in a narrative of love and climate menace.
In writing a book on the mind as organ, one can
begin to regard the mind with dispassion as lacking
authority so that the thoughts that
populate a rant pointed at you begin to float.
I do not have to believe thoughts,
neither is there only reason
to think with. Once toy soldiers of mind
are on my counterpane I become the bed
that cares as a matter of course.
My painty fingers ask: what is the name of that color? The one that instigates this shirt? Is it a green, a light green, a sea foam, a blue-green plus white, whiter? A kind of wish?
And with this shirt I thee recall. Because I wore it on our streetcar ride. I beg to remember that you must have looked around for that color as you (protective) looked for where I was following.
Now it is washed and hanging in the sun, later because the visit is gone, the sea of it, the ether of it, the summer in a Nordic country.
(I check the vodka level in the glass. I wasn’t sure I wanted to travel this far with my self this evening.)
The color calms but induces flutter. The shirt had my body in it as you looked upon.
(How long does it take for vodka to evaporate? A drunk worries how much is lost. I’m so embarrassed. The fern leans out over the walkway.)
In the square foot of ground immediately before me now, in the present, scene of my remembering, is a beginning oak tree, cilantro, alyssum, clover, oregano, and teeny white flowers attached to what I thought were weeds. So happy about my gardening philosophy which is to notice when the taskmaster-weed-killer shouts in my head and then I go lay down. Many a plant has been saved. I bend down to them and look. They all arrive by disparate but precise stems. I’ve never seen them before and they are right in front of me.
I am so glad of paintings today which are the color of the shirt. How could you possibly think that was not lovely for all time? How could you recede?
I’ve butterflies in my yard, a kind of paint. Love is, in the end, an attention, math attention, language attention, love attention. Please come talk to me.
I’m in the yellow silk chair in the living room, lit by a lamp from the 50’s. Even though it’s plenty morning at 7:45, I need the spotlight. One foot tucks under me and my notebook lies open. I’ve read some poetry. Gone to the bathroom and come back to the chair with a line that I like. I write it down. There’s a plan and a topic…Spring, aloneness, a funny incident yesterday.
And I get the line down, all good-school-girl with her pen, look away, and while I’m not looking, the line drops off a cliff. In the course of half a breath, an inhale, I decide to let it fall. Maybe the line triggers a memory, another word, a cliche that needs undoing, a long ago day or person. A space opens literally over a canyon where there are no letters. The line has to fly.
This thing veers only when I’ve decided it belongs to no one but air, here quiet in my privacy and I am good enough. That is the critical aerodynamic–that I am good enough and deserve to launch, to swing, think up new things. I deserve to establish in ink especially odd syntax. Others have done it and given permission (with their weird ways). Now I get to take the permission that has been given. Take it, the kite of it.
The main thing is no logic. I have fallen off the cliff of logic. I run and run and pick up speed and fall off the cliff called “logic,” that sloping rock.
Bearing witness is the only nature project available. It comes from the title of Victor Klemperer’s memoir about Nazis from 1933 to 1941. Or bearing witness could be from a Roman writer about 219AD. Like we are watching the slow downhill, watching as the percentages shift from hope (50, 40, 30) to non-hope (50, 60, 70). NOT to despair because that is a thing in itself and sort of final, inasmuch as it has to be turned around by something convincing. This is an on-going, living, breathing thing, this non-hope, this thing we have to see out of, the lens of our days.
Of course the following paragraph must be deposited. I mean, yesterday eve about 7:30p, the light a twilight due to escaping dark clouds and I drive up to my house arrived back from pizza with a friend, undo myself from seat belt, and step into the street. Down the block are folk at the intersection and therefore a wide view from my corner lot which on this particular summer eve includes a double rainbow high high above where I normally don’t look. The people are my favorite people come to share this with me. They who always make me feel safe and singular do so this time too. We point and exclaim, wondering in which part of town lies the pot of gold this evening as opposed to any other. The youngster’s glasses reflect the light tempered as bright twilight in the breadth of blues and faint pink which undergirds the clear, obvious flare of a full prism, green to violet, sharp as a color wheel.
What did the ancients think this was? Obviously a message from a very very large painter, something having to do with rain, or an omen endorsing the plans for war tomorrow. What do we make of it? We are charmed and glad to be together, silently crediting our respective spiritual practices to give us the calm and largesse to be at ease with this very mysterious phenomenon, not dismissive as though this were TV. On the contrary, whatever the contrary is.
While perambulating the perimeter of the estate, walking the fence line, assessing the damage, this morning of this thirty year old lot, I found: bees in the bee balm, instar in the milkweed, and a rabbit (of mine, can I say?) which, once flushed out of the phlox, made its way under the lilac on the far side through what I could see was a tunnel only after he’d ducked through the rose of sharon coming up and the grape vine. He’s happy now.
This July day does not belong to me but apparent to my vision are yellow lilies just coming on, giant milkweed with a few monarch eggs I am watching, tomatoes ripening slowly, Echinacea all over the place, St John’s Wort (where did that come from?), Queen Anne’s Lace, white phlox heavily damaged by powdery mildew, fading anemone, rue still with no flowers, white statice. And umpteen greeneries and opportunists. But most importantly bugs, lots of bugs. I find I thank heaven (a terrain no different) when I see a bug now and I wish them safe passage. If they are inside I take them outside which they will like better.
Riot of Monarchs. Is that a term of venery? It should be. They, the monarchs, revolted not too long ago, very mad and asking for habitat back which some of us have done, e.g. me, with milkweed, two kinds. Lucky for butterflies, I am here (what possible help could luck be to a butterfly, their whole thing being completely improbable and contrary to the laws of weights and measures). Milkweed grows like topsy, maybe it is topsy. Lucky for you, I’m no botanist because botany is boring. Until it’s critical of course, like life or death, as in fruits and vegetables. Until you very much can’t live without it.
As the wine this evening comes on, I have bees again in the monarda which next to monarchs flitting and flitting is my favorite thing. This old tired human loves to look at them as they devour whatever there is in the purple center of that soft flower, and they project joyfulness (the title of this notebook, the reason I write this down) orgasmic in its thoroughness, legs and torso and top of the head, roving and rolling in the equivalent of music, your choice here, Mozart maybe. And that they undertake this “work” for the sake of the hive! That this joy redounds to the whole lot! is actually required!
Ah, another monarch or maybe it’s the same one. I’m too dumb to know. And from where I sit in this wicker chair in early evening on my own patio, I can see three separate caterpillar bodies. Of course, they’re separate. I mean discrete, unique individuals is what I meant.
Riot of monarchs. Funny and ironic. A contradiction I suppose, as what would monarchs have to riot about being in charge of everything? Only the king of butterflies is not in charge of anything, is he.
The dill is gone. Not “the thrill”, you libertine, but the dill. They ate it all, the black swallowtail caterpillars of which there were a dozen ate every little lacy bit. And then disappeared. Pfft. Gone. I can’t see them or anything my meagre education informs me to look for. There were so many and now there are none. I’ve plenty of ideas about it, none of them meaningful, e.g. birds got ‘em, whole swoop of caterpillar eating birds came for a feast.
(there’s a monarch couple off to the southeast)
(Oh, one’s stopped on top of the Echinacea which, as you know, is a burnt orange color this time of year. The butterfly is at it like a drag queen loving what she does, saying “oh gurlfriend, look at you!”)
What do people see? the ones who drive by on 6th street just beyond my fence? This is a residential street with not much traffic but what do they think? …an old lady with her Pinot this eve, munching celery and salmon, sitting gob-smacked in her garden. Is this what they see? Keeping them in mind, I go inside to lick the plate. The mayo-mustard-soy-garlic-lemon thing was so good. I couldn’t be this way if anyone were here. Not even if anyone had threatened to be here, when all at once I would have had to attend to nut bowls, napkins, and goldfish from Pepperidge Farm.
Found egg casings under the food scrap bucket. I moved it after weeks. I don’t know why. Maybe, what with summertime and all, y’know, you never know what grows. And I’d been all elegiac about bugs so it came to pass that giant blue-bottle flies were getting ready to hatch from their little envelopes or something. I’ve no idea really and cannot bear to put on my glasses to find out. Have brief but intense thoughts of poison. That’s the real barometer of disgust. Other people might react differently. I calm down. No poison. I put the bucket outside. I write about bad bugs, a kind of cleansing.
I’ve never loved summer so much. It’s all out there in the immediate near, a damp heat, a humid dirt, new little trees arise in underbrush overnight. I’m composting illegally. Feels like the rightest thing there is. Also had beets in my salad for health which produced red pee which I thought was death when I first saw it. Renal failure! And then relief. Health, death, that close in this story.
A butterfly has alit on milkweed flower like three feet away. I feel star struck, like I’m in the orbit of a celebrity. She/he is there, wings more faded than I would have thought. She is unfolding wings very near beginnings of baby caterpillars who are also imbibing from mother milkweed. I get to see the whole thing. Oh, there she goes.
Can’t believe I used to drive around NY CO all summer for some reason. What reason? Distraction from giant aloneness. This yard and the me and the stuff in it is plenty this year. I’ve no running to do. Thank you, Voltaire.
But truly! And a juvenile, whiter than I would have thought, lands, luxuriates in the purple just in front of me. I’m at the burnt orange tip of summer here this once, right now. No one knows. There are weeds about.
The buddha I bought for the garden long ago fell over last year and lost its head, a clean break. I’ve thought of it as “no thought”. Now this year there is a pink phlox arising where the head once was, the nature of me this year, this day, the fruit of meditation.
As I watch the monarch again range her territory (my yard) I think of it as an emblem, in the eighteenth century sense, for happiness. That fluttering movement, that avidity. I see you perched on an echinacea, warmed by a slant of late sun. You are relaxing. No more metaphoric work to do.
So habituated to regarding the Outside as meagre, insufficient, disappointing, (a chronic delusion), I watch a single bee at a head of clover, another butterfly resting on aster and see also a peek of orange daylily off to the left and wonder: what if this is enough?
A breeze lifts the page. A cardinal alights. A jay passes over head. The traffic noise like an ocean far away and the electric pole I live with not 30 feet from me belies the idyll. I’m here trying. Shall I join the living? The texting?
“You are both the detective and the criminal.” Tim Morton Dark Ecology
I turn the key in the ignition, I’m a criminal.
I forget to take my own bag to the grocery, I’m a criminal.
I fired my clay sculpture at x degrees, I’m a criminal.
I read about lie of carbon capture, I’m a detective.
I forward articles about ocean of plastic, I’m a detective.
I hear how Europe failed to pass resolution to go carbon neutral by 2050, I’m a (sad) detective.
At some point you figure out (detective) that you did it (criminal).
Anagnorisis = Eco-awareness.