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the booklog

Pause Traveller

As if I’d come overcome by feverish passion to mistake fluidity for stability: to see mountains in the green waves breaking around a boat. Should I have said “I know you’ll read her diary”? Would she have turned to me, eager to protect her brother, and let the unbidden word come to her lips: “Who won’t?” I’d actually wanted back in at another point entirely: to intervene. I had no desire to be walking in Grasmere with the sister and brother, and also no desire to be here writing the words “I had no desire.” Something a little ‘off’ between them, not anything easy like incest but something more subtle, weirder, perfect for my highly developed skill (or so I would have said then) at sensing atmosphere. They held the clinches a little too long and too close, used both hands to take your one in theirs? Making intense eye-contact. Humming “I Fall in Love Too Easily” under my breath I considered the facts. They seemed to be performing for each other, but I confess the whole of that century looked to me like an enormous and only intermittently successful masque. The exaggerated display of their responsiveness to Nature, for instance. But since I had very little responsiveness to Nature (what was left of it) myself, beyond a fastidious shudder…. (And wasn’t there something so fin de siecle before the last about my reliance on gesture to be legible, or speak?) I was more than a bit bored by their raptures, hesitant and precious and affectionate. If the daffodils looked great by the lake, I tried to explain, it was because blue and yellow are…but they sort of drifted off. This ‘as if I wasn’t there’ thing was a favorite trick of characters from history and why not? I wished I wasn’t there myself. I kept trying to get back to 2005, to hear myself convince myself that the high cost of airport parking was worth it—it was going to cost a lot more to leave the car in Kenner. But I kept finding myself on the shores of another lake. And if the daffodils look great to me is it because they looked great to you, so long ago, and you said so, so memorably that every daffodil I see now…? I didn’t try it. In a way you could say that Romanticism—that particular understanding of Nature and landscape—led my stepmother to her death. What is it that that language left untouched? Something like the scale of the disaster, its extraordinary extension in time and space. Did they hold hands as they walked, Bill and Dotty (as I called them)? Sometimes. They’re just so…white. When they forgot I was there or succeeded—depending on how you look at it—in convincing themselves I wasn’t there. I wasn’t there. I hadn’t really put it together that there was a hurricane on the way: I flew out early on that Thursday morning in late August, headed ‘home’ because of my stepmother’s death, and it was almost impossible to get back. “Catch up with you later,” I called to their retreating backs. They were dressed—but of course I’d think this—rather formally for the walk. If I could just go back I’d take the Stein seminar notebook out of the car, and I’d drive down to the lower 9th ward and then the lakefront, Cassandra in her red Honda CRX (16 years old & no a/c, but…), saying LEAVE NOW, saying pack up and go…somewhere else. Who’d have believed me? In the blank and busy depression of the aftermath’s aftermath—lasting years—sometimes it seemed that little car was the only thing I would allow myself to actually miss. The words, as so often, feel stupid and slow and inadequate. A list of past tense verbs: broken shattered busted…I tried. Too late and much too late. The emotionless, mindless force of the water collapsing walls, twisting structures off their foundation, setting gutted houses down a half a block away and leaving a boat or a truck on the smashed roof. And it’s almost as if the words “there’s nothing left” level the site, clean up the debris, and staunch the accurate fatal wound that’s both the original harm and the ongoing consequences. The land itself is left and on it the traces of the lives lived out on these nameless broken streets. Bill asks me to talk to him about contemporary poetry: he wants to understand what happened to Romanticism, you know…since. I’m mostly struck by the slow pace of our talk, how laden with citation. I go back to my collages as soon as I can: each daffodil has a gramophone’s trumpet at its center, or bullhorns of solid gold, or brass. From such bling pours a tireless musak interspersed with advertisements and urgent announcements of a victory or a disaster along with pronouncements about the strength of the economy or the strength of the president’s faith in the economy. I’d hoped to go back to the fall of 1991, actually: I just wanted to reassure myself. You’ll be okay. That’s a pretty sad ambition. I was wearing a paper dress and waiting to feel well enough to go out and join the young man who was no longer going to be a father. I was waiting for the local anesthesia to wear off in a room full of mostly younger women, all there for the same procedure, and mostly not there for the first time. Attendants carried in those who’d got the general anesthesia and were still knocked out: I watched the consciousnesses come back. It’s a closed system. I am. In one of the earliest recordings ever made, I tell Bill, the recorded voice speaks in the persona of the machine playing it. That was how we thought of the self. The rim of each flower, in my collages, is replaced by a satellite image of that monster storm, on a loop, endlessly spinning slightly closer and then back. The clouds look like filthy clothes, a load of whites grey with age churning in a top-loading machine stuck on Wash. To the siblings my art looks like the Maelstrom. In the whole of that century or what was said about it you have the feeling that really awful disasters were things that happened far away and to someone else. It’s no exaggeration to say they find my art disturbing. I paid someone to vacuum a life out of me, and if I hadn’t I’m not sure I’d have this job. Which? At some point I’ll have to go back to the latest belated moment of my actual present, but that won’t happen while I’m writing this. “Why don’t you write me / a letter would brighten…” I hum to myself. On the one hand there seems to be endless time in the 19th century (if you are of a certain class), on the other it’s obvious to everyone that there are endless tasks required by daily life—all still mostly done by hand. She’d read him her diary entry, as it turned out: he asked her to and she was pleased. She’d started the morning with a headache and then he had, she thought, over-tired himself. It takes him forever to find what seem to be the simplest rhymes, “breeze” and “trees” for god’s sake. And there’s a lot of lying on the couch. The lake expands rapidly and silently and the rising water is oily and dark. The flowers that are both the event and the report of the event dim and go down, drowned in it. It. If I want something like mylar for the surface effect I’ll have to go home for that not-yet-invented substance. I never meant to be here: I never wanted to be here I say when they—holding hands and acting as if I haven’t said anything—turn and walk off. I regret almost everything but because I didn’t ever really exist for them my brief interruption of their literary lives is something I don’t even have to think about. And after all it was only an elaborate performance of privacy. Think about that.
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