I never learned nothin’
of much use at all
in a world full of theories
that can’t won’t keep anyone warm
when the lights go out
This sitting in a circle is no good
when my hands can’t draw a single line
and my fingers feel clumsy in sewing
Names and data slipping out of brain
as I try to remember why the hell I exist
and am sitting at a table
only gesturing toward laughter
The soup might work
with peppers grown in the eastern county
and okra in the lawn
a chicken raised up on the coast
spiced and thickened
arrowroot in the water
It just might work
that sort of kindness
is my lot in life,
what it will take?
What will it take?
I’m going out dancing on Tuesday,
gonna paint this morning.
It’s as if the more I love my life, the more I can tolerate my life, the more I feel reasonably and authentically grateful, hopeful within my life, the less I am inclined to think about spies and sub-plot, the less I need to bolster my reasons for existing with an imagined life, a supposed purpose.
(That feels like defeat to me, in some small way. I can feel the construct of my madness stirring around, a heap of sticks, leaping into animation to pull into a geodesic form of reason, where everything can make sense, and everything can be true, if you look through the spaces between bars, depending on the light. I remind myself: Everything was real, at least in small ways, in absurdist potentials.)
(I have a relationship with my madness, as it is a worldview and a set of accompanying experiences and sensitivities. Most worldviews and experiences and sensitivities can become null, dulled, distracted from, adapted to…negotiated with, re-conditioned, torn down, re-constructed.)
(Nothing can be counted on as being real, or true. The forces of injustice are just as real as justice.)
(Trees are real, true. Birds are, too. The part of me who howls over what has happened, that is real.)
I am working with the wildebeest to teach it to move on, to stop stamping its feet, to get up from the circle it’s made in the dirt, to stop lying about in such a sullen defeated mass of fur and sweat. We’ve become friends, the Wildebeest and I…so, I understand that it hates what I have made of it, soothed and constrained animal in the bonds of some desperate comfort, some desperate triumph. Now, I am trying to make it go away again, this time out of love – rather than disgust. “Go find your friends, Wildebeest.” I had thought it to be a solitary creature, a rare burdensome vector of a creature, existing only to bestow upon me sorrows and rage, sharp pangs in my bones, pushed by hooves. I wanted it to wander off, alone…to die out at the edge the desert, where its bones could settle into the dirt and it could, finally, lose its power over me. Silly thing to think, to want, that something bothersome to me should not even exist, that I would be safe from it only if it did not exist. Now, I see that it is a creature that, like all creatures, cannot help what it is and only wants to be free. I am the first person who has ever loved it. It does not want to go, but I see that the force of its wanting to run, to stampede, to snort and piss and kick away out into the sunset, to be what it is…that it has begun to weary the animal, leaving it to lay defeated, caught between loyalty and instinct.
So, maybe I will let it stay…but, I will play with it more. I will go for walks with it. I will welcome periodic stampeding.)
As I was saying, I feel fairly sane lately. Then, just as this was being written, time interspersed by feeding dogs and thinking about art work, the day…I looked up and saw the most incredible clouds. I noticed this morning, out my window as the sun rose, that the clouds were held in the shapes of pink birds, one grouping a heart if viewed from the side. I didn’t feel much, just a small flutter of acknowledgement that there was a time when I would have leapt out of bed and fumbled for the camera. I would’ve been so amazed by the flock of pink in the sky.
At least I knew enough, this morning, to wonder what has become so dreadfully dull in my heart.
I’ve begun to forget things that I once knew, the lyrics to Pancho and Lefty, the names of things. So much information was useless, but it was – and is…still, I am sure – a part of who I am, or was, will be.
I am pretty sure that, if given the opportunity, I could remember everything I’ve forgotten.
In the meantime, in my 3D life, I am sorting papers and drawings for another art show. It will be a fine event, a lovely presentation.
I have already forgotten that the clouds were all lit up and carved this morning. Remembering feels good.
Every time I try to make the claim that what once mattered no longer matters, I am proved wrong…
I think that I have found a space, where there is no need for espionage and telepathic plots, contorted gridlines across space and time…though as I write this, the wind blows a little and the day has turned all grey and I have art to do. I will bake cookies today, too.
I have learned, finally, that being who I really am is not a matter of audacity, but of tenacity, patience…faith.
[It’s worth noting that while all of this is quite valiant, I am feeling a little wary.]
If there were an image, of lines laid over lines laid over lines, within ragged blotches and wild departures, chaos threads but still a line, laying over another line, with maybe some glowing in watery yellow, blue run through black, the rising of clouds, with lightning and spaces that feel like ellipses…
I’d have to sew in an old photo, and the one that comes to mind is that one of me running, when I was very young. [I was that person! That person was me!]
Oh, I’d say I’m in a quandary, but I feel so very calm.
Last night, sitting at the table, I said, “I feel way too calm. I mean these things are really upsetting. There have been some big changes. I mean, I might not even work for ______ anymore. I don’t know? Do I? I mean, I have the work to do, but am I doing it for _______? Then, shit, the art show…but, I don’t really feel freaked out. I should be feeling a little freaked out. I feel way too calm.”
Saying this, I understood that something was wrong, in the way that a pause in the ocean brings about a leeriness, the sense of a force at work, something about to happen because under the calm there is all this moving…there is all this pull and push.
I can feel it in there, inside my body, between my ribs. Like those birds, the grackles, on windy/still days, landing and launching, explosions of wings, dead silence.
It’s amazing what doesn’t get told here. I did impromptu tai chi on the front walk of a state-funded setting just the other day, with a person who might have held me at the Farm, when I was just a little baby. A long time ago, we were there for the same few months.
I haven’t been answering my phone much. I have arrangements to talk with someone about emails that need to be sent here in about an hour or so. My porch is covered in big white walls, particle board and old walls, for the art show.
I need to wash my hair, make my bed.
Last night, people came over, ate food, put paint on things, mashed paper into the approximate forms of legs and torsos. I have my own art to do.
A FAFSA to fill out, so that I can go and finish my studies.
A dog that needs washing, a small house to tear down.
It was nice to have company, to have music being played in the living room, portraiture in the dining room…
But this, this, this, I haven’t done this in quite some time, emailed myself for the sake of just writing and remembering my own story. I have been existing for other people lately, the demands of human relations. I understand that we work through one another, and that laughter is generative, safety healing.
I think I need to spend some time alone though. I feel a little tremorous underneath this calm. When things are jammed, they grind into immobility, with the great force of everything that is held in the balance exerting itself onto and into the compressed matter until the force reaches such a potentiality that it explodes or crumbles onto itself in the way that a clay ball splits at its sides and caves at the top.
Standing in my kitchen, I tried to say, ”you know when there is a great mass of sticks and flotsam caught between stones in a river, and it breaks loose and then falls back? Breaks loose and falls back, but pieces are freed to spin away and then…it all goes?”
Today I briefly wondered
about writing you another letter
and how it might say
“This is the strangest thing,
but it seems that I’ve almost
You were real to me.
Now, I have to remind myself
that I was that person
who sent those messages
that I believed
to the extent that I believed
in everything that is magical
in the world that existed
on that day with elliptical clouds
What was I going to say?
That I’ve had nothing to say?
I thought for a minute about writing you.
Oh, what’s the use…and where would I even start?
I could write a whole book about last week and the sense that I had that as I threw the pictures down
across the floor, spinning against eachother
something was happening
I was bringing something back to life
I saw her again two weeks ago,
the woman from park three years ago
And, wouldn’t you know it,
right there on the street
she put her hand on my sacrum
“It’s always a blessing and light
to see you.”
I almost fell over as I was hugging her.
I tipped on my feet, and wasn’t so sure
as I had been before.
Days later, I was a figure in the window,
with the workmen in archways
just across the street
watching me stretch
a woman turning the corner of picture
making a snowflake
that they couldn’t see.
That night I paid twenty dollars
for four old chains
and a blank hexagon
right after I sang part of the entry
as summed up by Roget
on some day
43 times 375,
There was a time when I could have told you
what number that was
I could write you a letter about that
12,000, 2,800, 200, 1,125 or 1,168.
17,125! or 17, 168.
Depending on leap years
and when they begin.
I don’t know if the answer is correct.
Fortunately, it doesn’t much matter.
Some years are a hundred years long
in a single sunset.
An older gentleman bumped my fist against his,
without saying a word
and I was pretty sure
that something still believed in me.
I could tell you about that.
I did do a brief performance – singing without accompaniment – of the original entry for the concept of “Importance” in the work that would become known as Roget’s Thesaurus.
Have you ever seen the original work? It was not, in its inception, an alphabetical list of synonyms. It was a taxonomy of related meanings, organized around concepts that define our lives and experiences.
The first entry is ‘Existence’.
It’s an odd system of classification, seeming incomplete in some ways, though wonderfully biased toward Jupiter and witchcraft in the categories under Religion. It seems like there are small jokes and made-up phrases scattered throughout.
It took Peter Mark Roget 43 years to complete it.
The summer my mother made the Bird Hat, we traveled across the country with our father, me and sister did. We left on July 1st and didn’t come back until the end of the month, after my mother’s birthday.
She was already making the Bird Hat then, but it was just a circle of fabric, the leg of an old pair of pants that sat on her head like a tube. She’d put it on her head and look in the mirror that was a part of the mantle in the dining room, turning a little to look at herself in profile, in 3/4 profile, then straight ahead again.
I’d wander into the kitchen to get a cheese stick or a yogurt and there she would be, with the sewing machine out on the table and this piece of a pants leg stuck on her head. It was soft black, like a stove pipe.
My mother doesn’t look like other mothers. She has long, long hair that she wears in two braids, like a little kid or a frontier woman, or a Native person from somewhere where the women had long hair that they didn’t cut short as they got old.
She cut all of her hair off when I was 7 and I cried, because she used to hang her head down and let me walk through the wall of red-brown strands, hair that smelled like soap and damp and pillows. She braided it at night, when it was wet. The valleys in the waves, the very inside parts of the braid, were always cool when the braids were undone, never fully dry.
When she cut her hair and I cried, she told me that she would grow it long again, that it would be long again when I was 12. She was right. Her hair was long again, the summer I turned twelve and went cross-country with my father and my mother stayed at home, doing whatever it is that she did.
Her work was something about computers, and meetings, mental health. She was an activist and organizer, I heard her tell some people that once. Other times, she said she was a peer. Sometimes, she called herself an artist and it’s true that she does art. My sister and I, we saw her art in a gallery almost 4,000 miles away, on her birthday, when she was at home. I took pictures of it, and told her I thought it looked nice. It did. I wasn’t lying.
Sometimes I could hear her get excited during the meetings she had with the computer, with it sitting on the dining room table and her talking to it. Mostly though, she seemed unhappy doing whatever it was that she did.
I don’t much like computers. I wouldn’t want to work on a computer.
When my mother started making the Bird Hat, she put the computer on a shelf and the sewing machine took its place, white and metal, with a bright spool of real thread setting atop of it, like a flag almost. The sewing machine looked like a castle, and it sounded like a factory, banging as what my mother called, under her breath, “the fucking bobbin” lurched and slammed somewhere near where the needle stabbed into under the surface of whatever my mother was sewing.
It took her a long time to start making the Bird Hat. She kept the pieces of it in a box, an old metal box from a Special Edition Whitmans Sampler, a box that – before our trip – had sat on the front porch for at least two years. She had brought it inside while we were out of town and she was moving things around and doing whatever it was that she did.
She didn’t get much moved around, because she had to work, or was tired. She was tired a lot, in those years. I think she had been tired since the day I was born. She was tired before then, too…I’m pretty sure. In a lot of the pictures of her, even when she is young, my age – standing beside the rusted curve of a beach-crashed plane near where they – my mother and my uncle and my grandparents, my mother’s family – used to go on vacation, every year for a few years, until a hurricane came and destroyed the whole island. I would love to see a plane all crashed and rusted on the beach, but even in those pictures of her by the plane, touching it and sunburnt, she looks tired.
If she wasn’t so tired, she’d probably get more done. I understand why she is tired. It makes sense to me. I’m tired, too…sometimes. When I am not tired, I feel like a different person than I feel like when I am tired. My mother can’t stand the feeling of being tired. She doesn’t talk about being tired as much as she used to, which is a good thing. She said that she figured out that talking about being tired just made her more tired, like she was programming herself to focus on how tired she felt and so just ended up feeling more tired. I wonder sometimes if she is sick in some way, and that maybe that is why she was so tired and still is sometimes very tired. She doesn’t have health insurance and so I guess she couldn’t find out if she is sick. If she wanted to, she could probably fill out the papers and get some kind of insurance, but she doesn’t want to go to doctors, and she doesn’t like paperwork and so she doesn’t have health insurance. She isn’t so tired as she was. She probably isn’t sick.
It felt like a good sign that she was making a Bird Hat, even though she looked tired with that pants leg around her head, with the circles under her eyes that she has and her shoulders looking sharp and still, somehow, sagging.
She nags my sister to sit up straight all the time.
She is a hypocrite in a lot of ways, my mother, but she knows this, and – I can tell – feels badly about it.
We laugh sometimes about what a terrible example she sets for us – for me and my sister – with her cigarette smoking and cursing, her naps and procrastination, her not taking care of things. She has too many things to take care of. We know this is true.
She took care of my dog when I was out of town, going cross-country with my father and his friend who is a lady and my sister and our dog, the dog we have with my father. I have another dog at my mother’s house, a puppy that I “made” her get me. My mother is full of shit sometimes. Most people are. I know that, and so does my mother. She was the one who told me that she was full of shit. She told me, also, not to say ‘shit.’
My mother did take the bearded dragon to the veterinarian, twice. She hand-fed the lizard and she cried when he died. She did do that.
She used to cry more. She doesn’t cry so much now. On days that it seems like she might cry, she wants to wear her Bird Hat. She doesn’t wear it out in public much, because she knows that it will draw attention to us and that we do not want attention drawn to us. She knows that it will make her even more of a weird mom and so she doesn’t wear it out much, only to places she goes alone, and I don’t know where those places are.
Maybe the grocery store or something…
[I was not aware of the small green spot here, until I uploaded these images to my computer from my phone, which is also my camera. I don’t know what the small green dot is, nor do I know what the odd almond shape that seems to surround it is. Glitch, I guess. It’s a pretty color green, isn’t it? I didn’t see it when I was taking a picture of those cloud formations, which something about them or the way I felt when I saw them must’ve taken my breath for a minute and seemed amazing…otherwise, I wouldn’t have taken a picture.]
[This is graphite dust on yellowed paper.]
A few weeks ago, she stood at the edge of a large, open room, feeling the floor hard under her feet in those black boots with the buckles. It was the first time she had worn them and she felt as if she was not quite who she used to be, standing at the edge of that room, and not quite who she might have thought that she was.
She was in-between, standing there in her boots, and she knew it.
The floors were old wood, dull honey and scarred in places. The room had been a furniture store at some point or another, and then maybe a clothing store. She didn’t know what sort of store it had been, only that it had big windows, an open floor plan. It was part of an old building that had been reconfigured to hold studio apartments with a small office space on the ground level, down by the parking lot, away from the street.
She had worked in that space for over 3 years. She should’ve felt at home there. In way, she did – as much as she felt at home anywhere. However, she was at an in-between place wearing her boots and all black, talking too loudly or not saying enough, not able to pay attention, not sure where to stand upstairs in the old store space with the big windows, the tables of miscellaneous foods laid out with an entire army of plastic-held cookies, perfect bright circles.
She wandered over to the cookies, after the thin woman had spoken about her survival – not recovery, but survival.
She had used the phrase “a rich, soft wanting” no fewer than 3 times. The first time the woman had said it – “a rich, soft wanting” – it had seemed almost like a mistake, an indiscretion. The woman had still been standing at the edge of the room, just listening, nodding because she felt what the thin woman was saying, she really felt it, how close she had come to giving up. She almost felt herself blush with the words – “rich”, “soft” and that most tender demanding word, “wanting”.
She didn’t want anything.
That wasn’t true.
When people asked her what she wanted, she replied that she wanted to laugh more. That was all she could think to say that might explain exactly what was missing in her life. She understood that what the woman was saying, with her phrasing of desire – desire! – was somehow speaking of the same thing she was missing and knew she was missing, standing there and feeling keenly aware that she felt uncertain about who she was and what she was meant to do.
She felt like the woman had told her secret, had spoken right to her, had given a name to what she longed for.
To long for desire is the loneliest sort of wanting.
[She takes a deep breath as she writes, feeling something tremoring into life inside of her heart. Last night, as she wrote about the Bird Hat, she understood that there is absolutely no reason why she should have to explain or make sense of why it is that her voice feels so free when she writes of herself in 3rd person, seen through the eyes of some external observer, a narrator that is not herself, but somehow is…because she is the one who is writing, after all. She is the one telling the story, as it might be told by anyone. She knows that any telling is dubious. She understood, last night, that regardless of what it is, whatever endeavor it may be, that she must do the things that make her voice feel free, she must do the things that cause this feeling in her heart, this love and admiration and sheer wonder at how it came to be that she finally discovered, for a minute, what she needs to do to keep her heart alive, to be who she truly is and that she needn’t explain it to anybody, why she has to tell her story in the way she must tell her story or justify the telling of her story or defend the telling of her story. She knows, again, that telling one’s own story is not a luxury, nor is it narcissism. She laughs a little, nothing out loud, about the fact that – even now – she is defensive.]
The second time the thin woman uttered that phrase, the words clear and intentional, directly and specifically stated, with pauses between each word – a rich
The woman shifted her weight on her heels and looked down, feeling a little as if her head were not entirely secured to her neck, a bit wobbly, uncertain as to how to hold itself. She lifted her eyes and looked at the woman speaking, smiled a smile that she understood was her secret smile, the one that turned up at the corners a little without her wanting it to, looking – she feared – like a half-smirk. She willed her eyes to appreciative in clarification of her peculiar smile, and felt that her expression might have looked, instead, a wee bit laughing. It didn’t matter. Nobody was watching her. They were listening to the thin woman speak about how she had stayed alive.
She could feel the laughter, it was pushing around behind her ribs and making her hips tingle. The woman looked down again, and let herself grin, turned her toes inward and looked at the scuffs on the black leather, the grain of the golden floor.
She knew she was in the right place, and she wanted to cry in that knowing – in that knowing of who she was and what she was missing, what she had tried to stop seeking and had forgotten how to find. She could feel it in the phrase, that was said again in the closing of the thin woman’s story, “a rich, soft, wanting…” She stopped fidgeting, as people applauded the woman’s telling of her story, and let her face beam the solemn appreciation, the grave gratitude for giving the feeling a name. She wondered if anyone else had noticed the phrase, if it had caught anyone else’s ear as being important.
She didn’t know what to do with herself, and so she set herself to task straightening up the cookies in their plastic trays, putting singular cookies in with others, re-fitting them into the recessed slots, so that they leaned back slightly, showing their icing, full-faced.
The empty packages clattered as she picked them up. People looked at her. She didn’t know what to do with the stack of crumb-sticky plastic, the torn price-tag sealing and clattering open lids. She felt nervous and silly, a rich, soft, wanting ringing in her ears. She wove through the thin groups of people standing and talking, listening. She saw a garbage can. She should recycle. She asked someone, “Where should I put these?”
The person, a young man with a young child, didn’t know. She didn’t know. She put them in the trash. Looked at them. Pulled them out again. Put them in a smaller trash can, that might have been recycling. They had crumbs in them, the packages. She didn’t want to rinse them. The corner with the garbage cans was dark and she could feel the loudness of the room there.
She wanted to hug someone.
She left the plastic trays where they were, walked back to the cookie table, stood there feeling the feeling that she knew was just under the surface of the phrase that had defined the day, the loneliness of wanting without wanting to want, and of desperately longing for some unspeakable tenderness that felt impossible to find.
[All these pictures of flowers? They are from the Mountain State Fair Exhibition Hall, c. September, 2014. That was, seriously, about a hundred years ago.]
[the two photos above (window and figure w/ carnations) are by E. Fletcher]
The last phrase that I sang from Roget’s list of words and concepts related to Important and Importance was “never to be forgotten.”
Pink carnations mean “not to be forgotten.”
Had I mentioned that?
[note: this is all draft and notes. scant documentation of a very long month.]