a room! – one folds into it against will. there is a small light and regenerating grass. desire, too, folds you in against will, now regenerating, now derelicting. inside anything i think directionless to you – your trustworthy hair, downed belly, bewildering cuticle. in love as well as beyond love i go mad, from ideals of domesticity to ideals of non-domesticity i fling, i bloat, i play at being demure, i am careful, i wait for you to return to a recognised version of yourself. this is the third body we make, and then a fourth, my own darling clone. it shrivels into insect space, your planetary foot a crater over me, then a shadow, then only the night. a room! – it disables me, i tunnel inwards all-directional, my legs are the first to surrender, all six, benumbed. if there is language i regurgitate it, tender, disgusted, why, only in song, only to myself.
the final reams of the dream were of a modest corner supermarket, in japan — perhaps yodogawa, where i had stayed for those months, teaching myself to bike, eventually able to predict the groove of this part, then that part of the street, faltering each time before the asphalt hump at the mouth of one alley, in another eye knowing where to narrow into, rejoin, anticipate the perfectly-designed waft of fresh laundry, the talcum so artificially sweet yet never failing to enter our bodies genuinely. the sentiment of mothers, some mother on a first day of spring, in the meadow, the wind billowing her skirts from behind, baby powder, lavender sunlight, freshly-birthed kittens and puppies. it goes on, that smell of warm laundry, an endless imitation of something from childhood, something maternal, feminine, infantile; something undoubtedly cared for.
i wanted to take the picture. she sat in the tub, inflated with her eight-month belly, her flubbery, eight-month arms. her face hung over the rim of the bath, damp and blue, now silvered, now blue again, mirroring the laptop screen, sensitively, the narrative of the episode, the laughing tracks, each character passing over her face as light, shadow, something red now. over the face and into the pupil, where it remains, firing. in the corridor i paced and paced, softly around the widely-cast doorway. the shower room with its japanese translucence, a perfect reception of light into and along the steam, which purls and hangs in an eternal amniotic time, between the three pinky walls, within which you sit, wombed, and observe your body. it has become strange to you, but you are not fearful. you raise your feet high out of the bathwater and find them charming, and grin. outside this wall and another, and more yet, the city carries itself on into the night, wherein a rowdy seafood restaurant, a fish from the tank hears its ancient name and leaps out from the chef’s scoop-net over the heads of diners along the bar, onto the floor, flailing. the bursts of laughter, of surprised laughter, surrounds you and the fish, whose final moment of life is one of embarrassment, or which perhaps buys him another night in the tank, listening underwater, watching human life.
the city opens, closes its many multiplying mouths, receives and expels ambivalently save for certain minutes or hours of light: grand illusion of surfaces suddenly bitten alight, a face and then another sliding over the hood of a car, briefly interfaced but unidentified. i enter or do not, i stand with my body against a tall pillar, inside its long shadow, waiting. i slouch, i straighten, i realign and make a show of fumbling through my bag. it’s wednesday. scientists have discovered new evidence for the link between full moons and earthquakes. it was perhaps in okayama city, evening, in tiresome hunt of an international ATM, that we had stopped by the sidewalk and either jose or alejo had remarked on the strange moon, and then something to do with earthquakes, relatedly but still, too indistinct now in memory. the days are longer now. i am not altogether healthy, though what it comes down to is perhaps not so alarming but more a general suspicion of unwellness, an undigested peel of cherry tomato, the usual public paranoia and some [more unusual] aches. altogether unalarming and uninteresting.
it was tuesday in the cafe with its open glass front. a good, pale light entered as i ate, trying to punctuate with regularity the writing with eating and the eating with writing, but more or less ending up awkward. another afternoon and inside the apartment i decide on a pot of tea, fancying the idea of its pacing me out into evening, a repetitious pouring and refilling which would, optimistically, act to reaffirm bodily presence. it did not. my own fault, really. the teapot, being, since always, dysfunctional with its impractical, leaky spout, and thus, the refilling of tea took me each time up from my chair and into the kitchen where the pot of tea sat, wet, on a towel, now also wet, and then a walk back to the table to sit down and try to remember what it was i had last been thinking, or which sentence i had been reading. s sat across the table. like my father he too can whistle. hard to control pitch, he says. from across the table the cool air he expels while whistling arrives either before, after, or simultaneously with its sound. the late afternoon arrives, announcing itself with a lucid, cellophane light which falls over s’ face, and creates new shapes as he bends and raises his head to the paper.
in this past week there were perhaps three or four or five murder trials, two marital, one in indonesia, the others domestic, along with the usual political gaffes. confined inside, there is, most sadly of all, nothing to overhear. but in the tuesday cafe, too, the nearest coherent table speaking in a different tongue, and the other, behind, two women and a pram, muffled by the gestures of their cutlery. later at night, s suggests we take the car rather than the train, and i am pleased as we walk through the carpark into the alley behind the apartment to his small, irregular baby, dented on its face, yellow and a terrible blocky green, my favourite of all machines. for a person who thinks so often about driving – where to, perhaps the mountains, perhaps the coast, perhaps the next state or even all over to the other side of the country – i think so little about learning to drive.
at the university book fair a round-bellied, bearded, spectacled man, middle-aged, remarks to his younger female companion, both with their heads down browsing – “postmodernism – ha! well, anything goes.” is this a piece of noise worth any attention at all? how do we sort through it all? in another aisle, in the philosophy section, the young philosophy majors graze, each with their brown curls. on a quiet monday night one bar is full all the way to the door, warm with bodies, of all ages, all singing – robust, guttural and boozy, each pitching in at different points to the smaller nucleus of voices further inside – to what seemed a kind of sea shanty. across the street and perhaps a half-block down, the bar there was restful, with a giant plaster penis upstairs beside the bathroom.
there is, in this week, a historiography book with a chapter or two on haiti, and clinton’s pneumonia, and a new apple update that has changed the typing sound from clicks to a subdued popping, like air bubbles. there is a story of a xinjiang driver from a 1984 journal, a loud, faulty fridge, and a forecasted thunderstorm that has yet to arrive. another houseplant has died, the roses are hung, the dirty socks remain on the floor. no bagels are attempted, no job offers arrive, no full moon is seen through the clouds. some pictures return, scanned, from a shop, and memory moulds to the pictures, then returns to you, changed, somehow.
along the late afternoon, again and as always in recent weeks — or has it been months already, why, two months already and still i think of it as a small compression of weeks — and the steam from the hot water rises at an uncanny speed, the pimply ceramic lip in a partial slant of light. reading Arcadia and feeling the details of the set cohere and feeling myself bewitched, moved somehow, perhaps something akin to seeing Kryptonite at the theatre with K all that time ago, when we had first met, and that night something so warm in my memory, taking a different route back around to the main harbourside — a route to me unfamiliar and which in memory has remained or retained something mystical — before finding ourselves with cake in some reddy pizzeria. but yes, something akin to seeing that play, with its mattress and the miserable tv light shedding downwards onto it, perhaps or perhaps not, and that scene repeated obliquely in Danny and the Deep Blue Sea, such a thin papery book, which i took back from L’s without, i think, mentioning it, and felt good when replacing it on my bookshelf, to have something so hysterical and humidly desperate nearby, despite not having a single urge to open it back up again. and i haven’t read many plays, really not so many at all, just a handful, but it was like in Miller’s After The Fall, too, which i remember so little of, only that it was charming and clever, but not in the way that Stoppard is. but Arcadia — what a gem!! and before that, The Real Thing, which was also very enjoyable with its odd poetic monologues (a Stoppard trademark, i think), which feel utterly performative but not at all obnoxious or off-putting, despite the unlikeable characters (not all), and despite, in my secondhand copy, the highlighting and scribbles by some prior owner, some acting/theatre student, with her comments along every margin and between lines and at the bottoms of pages exclaiming what a COMPLETE WANK so-and-so character was being.
now the water stops letting off its whirly steam, now the sun penetrates further into the room, now the cat dozes on the granny couch by the front door and is sweeter than when awake– now, now, now. now she walks a little, talks a little, slips her hand under his shirt and rests it warmly on his stomach (though it is his stomach which is warm, not her hand), a habit, only just a habit. now they kiss a little but it isn’t romantic, and they do not have sex. now and now and now. i think of that part in The Real Thing — “…Knowing, being known. I revere that. Having that is being rich, you can be generous about what’s shared–she walks, she talks, she laughs, she lends a sympathetic ear, she kicks off her shoes and dances on the tables” and want to dance, too, though not on the table, only in my room with the door closed, drunk off some very bad wine, and trying hard not to think of Jude, of A Little Life, which i may never be able to write about, for it could never be quiet nor tremendous enough.
four-thirty p.m: an interstitial time in the living room where the afternoon sunlight is long and seemingly endless as it lulls into the evening. the room is warmed, the yellow couch deepens its glow, recalls midsummer. my body becomes pliable and translatable to myself. among it all there is also the flight of dust.
it’s a good, trustworthy time. a reorientation. impressions and rough cuts of conversation reemerge, and what previously was an incoherent, malnourished mass, now begins to separate itself and seek some loose form. i’m reminded now of the following paragraph from Mary Ruefle’s Madness, Rack and Honey:
“Paul Valéry, the French poet and thinker … described his perception of first lines so vividly, and to my mind so accurately, that I have never forgotten it: the opening line of a poem he said, is like finding a fruit on the ground, a piece of fallen fruit you have never seen before, and the poet’s task is to create the tree from which such a fruit would fall.”
–perhaps the passage can also also be relevant for writing outside of poetry? a glint of memory appears like the fallen fruit, and then perhaps one must begin following the trace backwards through time, though not so much to cobble together a source/tree, but perhaps simply to see what else is lurking, related yet dormant. why this fruit and why now? something like that…
someone down in the alley is yelling and the pu’er is cold. the back of my hand smells pungently of soy sauce.
but what of this week – ? K came over and showed me how to make gnocchi. some other day S and i had driven east and walked over the rivered and granular sandstone of the headland, picked our way along the coast. banksia, oak and feldspar. one of these words does not belong. but — anyhow. what a startling midwinter’s day. along the rocks i am very happy, so i become playful — or is it the other way around? — a child delighting in their own play. i take pictures, i point left and right, marvelling, sweet, astonished, hopping everywhere. a small bird newborn. it is surely one of my better selves, i think to myself some days later, sitting in bed with S. it is late, very late morning. half-past 11 actually. outside, the day is gusty, while inside, the chill hangs inertly. i am reading over S’ shoulder, some NYT op-ed article about Bernie’s awkward endorsement speech for Hillary. i lose attention, i think of Ferrante, whose earlier novel Troubling Love i had finally just begun to read. i had read her other books more than a year ago, all at once (except for Troubling Love), voraciously and with a greedy necessity i hadn’t felt in a long while — perhaps too long. along with Anne Carson’s Autobiography of Red, Bhanu’s Incubation (plus the archives of her blog) and Lispector, these were my most, perhaps, ‘transformative'(?) and provoking reads of the past year. now, returning to Ferrante i feel the same feral urgings. reading her i become, in some way, my most naked, hostile self, devoid of self-illusions and pretence. and with everything stirring and brewing inside me, it feels almost like an infidelity — reading her next to S, who sits warm beside me in bed, easing safely and blissfully into the late morning. daily repressions become unrepressed and declare, daringly, their importance. unrepressed thoughts about my entire life, about S, my mother, myself, all of it. even as i read on, i feel a vague, unbalancing awareness of the hostility i am capable of. it is dark, primal and exhilarating, making it perhaps all the more dangerous.
i have been sitting here for an hour now(!) it is no longer warm. the writing comes slowly and distractedly.
back to the coastal day. when i first recalled it, i was reminded almost immediately of a passage in Last Words from Montmartre by Taiwanese writer Qiu Miaojin. funnily enough, it was initially that passage which, upon my reading, had reminded me nonspecifically of my own, similar breed of childlike joy, and perhaps in that moment established some neural connection which had then set itself off when i thought of the coast — a recalling in reverse — a ricochet. in the passage she is invigorated and vivaciously at joy upon leaving a film? a play? reading it i feel the bright, unfettered movements of her mind like my own. it is a gently rupturing feeling of being beautiful, too — despite only so temporarily …
much more i intended to write, but perhaps next time. still feeling clumsy writing here, and unsure if i’ll ever get the hang of it. anyway. i’ll finish now with links to some readings (essays/articles/poems, etc.) i’ve enjoyed over this past week or month:
- from Longreads: Why I Hate My Dog by Richard Gilbert
- This Is A Story About Nerds and Cops: Predpol and Algorithmic Policing: an essay by Jackie Wang
- from Asymptote Journal: Poetry from Uljana Wolf (trans. from the German by Sophie Seita)
- these two blog posts (first, second) by Sara Ahmed
- an essay/article by Teju Cole; and lastly
- a poem by Mary Jo Bang
PS. in my previous post i mentioned, rather sloppily near the end, writing and self-transformation. i am disproportionately overjoyed now that i’ve finally stumbled back onto the passage. it was maggie nelson (whose newest book The Argonauts i highly, highly recommend) speaking in an interview:
“When I’m writing, there is this ongoing question of whether or not you can write yourself into more knowledge, understanding, or insight than you actually have. Can writing deliver those things unto you, or is it a kind of chicken/egg thing, that you need to have them before? And nonfictional, autobiographical writing has that chicken/egg question of how a self gets made, moves, or gets constructed. It’s always an issue for me. I’m always interested in if my writing has changed. You sit down to write for the day, and you always end up somewhere a little different. Did something happen to me? Did I write myself through my rage or is it still there? I said in my book Bluets that writing doesn’t really change anything, but I think it’s only in retrospect that you can see how a book changed someone or their thinking. That’s very interesting to me.”
what a day is possible of doing with itself. elsewhere i wrote, the day carries in itself its own ruin — and later thought, perhaps this is true of clay, too. its own limits, its own dereliction. as it begins so does its potential for ruin. every action containing its own betrayal, opposite. suddenly now, it feels i’m paraphrasing some line of obvious, common-sense thinking.
in the rain walking up the road with S to pick up our pizza from San Remo.
was it tonight?
(every sentence or half-sentence noted down for later comment or elaboration creates distance between present and noted event, despite simultaneously + paradoxically pulling the event closer, warding off its forgetting)
but ah — yes, it was only just now, some hour or perhaps even two ago. in the receding, intermitting rain i anticipated the grease of the pizza (soon after i was pleasantly surprised by its lack). upon exiting the store S remarked — kindly — on the meekness of the boy-man who served us. most likely new staff, we agreed. walking still, i replied to messages from my dearest L, who lay on a warm rock-face someplace in HK, feet upturned to the sea. she had sent me a passage from Whitman’s Song of Myself, the red core of the wider passage one we had loved together before, months ago:
“I swear I will never again mention love or death inside a house,
And I swear I will never translate myself at all, only to him or her who privately stays with me in
the open air.”
this time, re-reading, i recalled the quality of light and air in the Chichu Art Museum on Naoshima — though it was in fact a recall of my earlier recall in the afternoon. to L, who understood, having been a year earlier, i said:
especially that room w the big sphere, and the way the light fell downwards onto the long steps
and then a person would walk up and enter it
and be held there in the light, looking at themselves or others [trapped] inside the sphere
i remember my marvel, as well as my vague agitation at not being able to photograph it. the body held and held. the light fallen, there — exactly there. a gracious record of a particular time of day, the luck of seeing time in the quadrilateral form of light and — doubly so, for it winked at itself, sagely, from the giant, adjacent sphere.
and all around: the gilded gold, another source of light and its astonishing, ongoing game with itself.
in fact i remember most clearly (and regrettably) my out-of-body numbness. the mountainous hills and my own sweat. thankfully, with it now having been a month since i returned (from Japan), i have mostly let go of the retrospective frustration and regret. instead it has transferred into a deeper feeling of unknowingness — what has this recent period of my life been? what have i learnt, what have i gained, who was i then and who am i now. so on and so forth. and everyday as of late i continue to ask, despite constant self-reminder that coherence and understanding will only come with more time past.
still, i didn’t enter into the wildgrasses by the shoreline. but yes, at least now this acts less as a chastising of myself — only a semi-nostalgic point of memory. it is a bed of memory foam. i lie down in it and try to remember the hush and bent of those tall grasses. i try to remember myself.
but — what can i say, what can i say. i was in that country for 3 entire months! i left with the want to create the conditions within which writing could more easily occur, rather than seeking writing itself. demanding it — which i had been doing, anxiously and depressively and self-repulsively — while my part-time waitressing job at the cafe flattened me out. i quit the waitressing job and with half a year of savings i went to japan. i hoped to come back more courageous. and i sit now and say, tentatively, that i don’t think i did. but enough of that! — enough now.
now that i have started over here, there is so much, so much to talk about. upon realising i had a dollar left in my bank account i recall Adrienne Rich in the phrase “interstitial living,” and start — almost humorously, almost ridiculously — googling “the myth/romanticisation of the poor artist.” then i am distracted and suddenly too heavy to read any of them. i turn away from myself. i turn away and later i think briefly of this past half a year, wondering most of all where my writing is at (answer: nowhere. as always). to trust in what is incubating — what does that mean? each day produces a different article or essay on what a certain renowned writer claims about writing. “perseverence” rather than discipline, i remind myself, recalling James Baldwin in a Paris Review interview. but the days continue to muddy themselves.
what is an idea when it is not entered and explored? and where was it that i read or glimpsed (or imagined, even!) some sentence or two asking whether transformation in writing could sprout only from transformation within the body or self — from unnamed, perhaps unknown accruing of memory, movement, life etc. — or whether transformation in writing could in some sense, with its own separate + subterranean mechanisms (whatever that means, exactly) engender self-transformation itself. the question here i think is also about to what extent. i should read more into the psychology of creativity, perhaps.
but: must the writer write herself into existence? can she afford to wait, to continue incubating? are these questions worth asking? can you understand me, anyone, under and amidst all these dry, new words?
night, again. from where did i come here to write? i did not so much as exit the other [writing] space as glance away, let it gather a sour, quiet moss — and gradually unmark itself. unmark from what, exactly? both myself and itself. i, who have become so very much used to writing in a small, perimetered white box, arrive here, now, in this new whiteness, a large sheet of it which extends from one side of the screen to the other, fully lit and serious. what am i doing here? what is a writer, and how does one become it? and more precisely — what is a serious writer? i feel serious with this serious layout. yet how did i find myself here, echoing into this newly unseen, un-audienced space. i hear only myself and am afraid. what am i capable of here, away from the archive — albeit a very laughable, measly one — of writing on that other site, each post (most, at least) originating humbly from that bounded white square. i go to the square — it floats against an unpleasant yet entirely familiar blue — and i begin, i feel at ease with the knowledge that i am writing into a space that i have established (however slightly) over some time and a sense of who or how many or the sort of people who will happen upon it, read it, etc etc. and to sit here now is a disruption. do i write to be read? — as Ferrante had emphasised in an interview? unsure. but as i no longer regularly write to/for myself in my paper journal — a space which is itself a different kind of silence, a more private/unembarrassed/self-consoling type — the silence here is entire. neither deafening nor demanding, but simply awaiting. here — here i am newly hesitant yet newly assured. how many people tapping away into this exact page in this exact moment? unknowable.
jackie wang writes:
what happens to the texture of your writing
the moment you are
i want to finish Ali Smith. i want to feed myself another slice of cake and feel its rough grain cross my tongue. i am tired so i choose the cake and now as i leave it is a new departure, though not so different after all — having written, as usual, nothing that i intended or imagined to. only the rest of it, which was perhaps simply incubating (as Bhanu says), sitting in an elsewhere plane — of memory? self? other? — waiting to enter or be entered: into language, into space, into some semblance of knowing, some semblance of being.