Stand

This is the part where someone doesn’t stand up for someone. Or doesn’t stand up to someone. But that’s not the kind of standing up this part needs.

Maybe someone simply stands up, to go to another room, to go into the bar, to walk to a corner store, turns back as if compelled to say something that gets forgotten right there on the spot.

After he’s been gone for months, maybe for years, she’s still driving herself crazy with it: what was he going to say? She’s got this feeling there’s something she should’ve known even if he didn’t say it, or just that there was something she didn’t know, that he was going to tell her something she needed to know. Life becomes impossible, there’s something she doesn’t know that she needs to know, for what, to avoid danger, to pursue delight.

Sometimes it’s like something she’s circling, sometimes it’s like something circling her, getting tighter in, making it hard to breathe. Sometimes it’s as if she’s living there where it is whatever it is, that that is where she has her life, or where her life has gone, but she has no access to it. This life she’s in now, the one she does have access to, this life feels like an approximation of something. She’s not looking for something in this life. She’s looking for it in whatever life she might have had if he had said whatever it was he was going to say.

Conjure

This is the part in which you are strolling with the conjure woman in a garden filled with inexplicably scary or scarily inexplicable prehistoric looking plants, gigantic things, dwarfing, one supposes, the mere humans in the middle distance and reminding us of the, oh, the ephemerality of it all. Of course, the reason you’re with the conjure woman is that you thought she could do something about the ephemerality of things, specific things–fading, fleeting, gone already, in the kind of past that really is over. She is saying to you or maybe to me “I tol’ you and tol’ you so” or, perhaps, “I tol’ you so-and-so” or perhaps she is just nodding her head in that tired you-wouldn’t-listen way.

No matter. What she told you before that you wouldn’t listen to is this: if you have to make a charm for someone to love you, you have to take whatever kind of love you get from it, but you also have to take whatever kind of love it makes you give. Or, rather, you have to take the person you become when what you want to have for love is something that the person you want it from really doesn’t want to give you. In other words, in the scene from the past that may be appearing in a thought bubble in your vicinity, you asked for a mojo hand to make something happen that wouldn’t happen otherwise, and she warned you.

She warned you then in that other part that you are now remembering in this part—by the way, she’s not wearing a head-rag or a voluminous colonial skirt, she looks rather like a successful businesswoman, like really successful, like the clothes are understated and exquisite, and if you keep thinking about this you are going to get a fair idea of exactly how much business she does, even though it’s of basically three types: get and re-get and un-get. At any rate, she warned you that the outcome of the thing she could make for you and the let’s-bake-a-weird cake things you’ll have to do with it that these things are unpredictable–maybe help, maybe harm, that’s what she said. And then she gave you what you wanted, which has amounted to simultaneously giving you what you want and punishing you for thinking it was something you could have.

Which is why you’re here now after begging her to meet you. And now instead of asking her to undo it, you are asking her to do more to it, and you know it’s like that time you agreed to cut your girlfriend’s hair and your attempts to correct your mistakes and then to correct your corrections ended up with her having a more or less skinned head. And, of course, how do you think Miss Conjure got those fine clothes that you could never in a million years afford, if not by giving people what they deserve when they think they deserve something else?

She’s answering her phone now and giving you the cellphone finger. You wander down the path like a kid headed home after being shut out of a game. Or maybe you’re just starting to give in to the next outrageous thing that’s going to come out of your mouth. You realize now that you’re in the arboretum not some mystical garden though there is in fact a kind of mystical slant of late afternoon light coming in from somewhere, big stripes of it across the path full of what looks like extremely fine gold dust and you could just crawl up under that tree where shade has given things clear edges.

And then she’s saying she won’t do what you want, and you shouldn’t want it done [three-beat pause], but she knows someone who will. Suddenly she’s gone and you are standing there looking at the back of one of her business cards on which she’s written a phone number and a name. But you won’t pause to consider whether you should explore possibilities other than calling Madame Virginie and taking that taxi that’s going to miraculously appear when you get out to the street. Or at least you’re going to think of it as miraculously appearing, along with other things you’ll interpret as presaging in a happy sort of way the world you’re going to be living in when you are defined by the love that you are thinking of yourself as merely nudging along.

Listen: cicadas, that sound that winds around everything until there’s nothing else.

Tol’ you so.

Know

sea serpent near galveston crop short mod 1

This is the part where you don’t know what you know. Later when you know what you know, you don’t like what you know, you wish you didn’t know it, you wish you’d known it sooner. But you did.

Right now you are dreaming, strolling, lollygagging, in a place where you don’t know what you know. So it’s more like somebody is dreaming you, sorting you out in the dream bins with the other detritus of the day, some other dreamer who gets to wake up while you dream on.

First there are some bad things, though the really bad things aren’t what you think the bad things are, you think he’s sad. You’re sad, but your sad doesn’t matter. It’s like always giving him the better part of whatever it is that you are cooking for dinner, everything you take for yourself is something not good enough for him. No big deal, you’ve got love, you’ve got a lot to give. Everything you have in life is something with a nick in it or a smudge on it, you get the crooked, he gets the straight, you get the old, he gets the new. It’s what you do till you don’t even know you do it.

His sad, now that’s something, that’s some kind of sad, something’s got to be done about that kind of sad. Your sad, that’s just some little old thing you keep in the nevermind drawer. One day you’re going to be looking for something and you’re going to open that drawer up and think where did all this broken stuff come from, how come I kept it when it didn’t get fixed? But that’s later, not now.

Get this: he’s not loving you, but you cannot imagine that, so you think he’s sad, you think his mind is off in some lonely place, of course he’s not talking, there aren’t words to say whatever the big sad is he got coming down on him. You get a cat, you think maybe he needs something small to love, you think maybe he needs to work his way back up to loving you—what the hell are you thinking?

You’re thinking there’s a story here, a story of restoration, a story of return. Or maybe it’s just that you think whatever the story is, he’s in it, you’re in it. Now the cat’s in it, and the cat needs your love too because he’s not loving the cat and what you move on to thinking is that if he just loves the cat it’s ok if he doesn’t love me, he just needs to love something so he can start living again. Doctor Jesus, please come on in my house.

You’re not thinking he’s got a story and you’re not in it. What kind of story would that be? If you’re not in the story he’s in, why is he still here and what the hell are you doing here?

What you got girl is a baby man: a baby that ain’t a baby, a man that ain’t a man. So you think: must be a man man thing, letting you see his softer side, oh how you’re gonna take tender care of it, oh how you are gonna abide with this little slump here, this soft side. The side you get when the other side’s already packed its bags and gone off somewhere else.

Oh, you worried so about that man. Everybody loves that man. How’s Derek? they say down at the store. Oh, you know, you say and shake your head. How’s Derek? they say at work. Oh he’s coming along little by little, you say. At church, How’s Derek? Oh, you say, he just has not been the same since his mama died, I miss her too. And you do and so you think you know his sadness. Your girlfriends, now, they’re not saying How’s Derek, they don’t even say his name anymore but you don’t notice that, how’s he, what’s he doing, he’s he to you too, and by the time you get it, your friends, they’re gone too.

Later on you think. What kind of man, you think, what kind of man, what kind of words come after what kind of man. What kind of man what kind of man what kind of man. But right now you wait, you’re patient, but you don’t really know how to be patient, never have, so you don’t know that what you are experiencing is postponement.

So you wait. And then you drift. But even that isn’t what you think it is. You think you’re drifting, drifting in all this waiting, waiting for him to be the man who used to love you, waiting for him just to be the kind of man who can love you, waiting to be the woman that kind of man would love. Drifting. Postponing what you know but don’t know you know: you’re not drifting—he’s cut you loose, he’s thrown you back in, he’s got bigger fish to fry. He’s got the life boat. Look at all that water running over your feet.

One day you reach out to touch him, to comfort him, he’s so sad, he’s so lost, you think, and he recoils. Now there’s a word your mind has never coiled around, a word you’ve known only in books: the mortal coil, snakes coil, guns recoil. Now you know men recoil. You think about it the way you think about things you learned in school. Isn’t that something? Men recoil. Who’dathought.

And here you’ve got to hand it to your mind: if you knew what that meant, there would just be no living, so it just becomes another fact. And everything else becomes another fact. And you are living in a world where nothing can mean anything because if anything means anything then it can mean something that he won’t even touch you now. Though he does seem to be warming up to the cat.

And that, you will think later, is what people mean when they say it is what it is. It is what it is because we can’t say what it is because if we said what it is it would really be what it is which is what it really shouldn’t be but is. When you get back to it later, that is how your mind is going to run on because a mind that can run on like that is a mind that can run away.

One day you think he might as well have killed you. And then you know he did. And that’s when you know that nothing you know is any good. And that’s when you go see the conjure woman. Because you can’t live in the world you’re in, and you think if he loved you again it would be a world worth living in.

Now you know.

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altered image; original image: Oudemans, The great sea-serpent (1892), Biodiversity Library: http://www.biodiversitylibrary.org/item/129989#page/75/mode/1up

Part of the Part

This is the part, alas, in which we meet
our posey rosy end, remembered things
that never were, things undone despite their
doing, broken things that just fell apart,

shiny things that really were quite shady,
thoughts we’d not wanted orbiting our heads
like Saturn’s spinning detritus. Our parts
require our meaning all the stupid things

we’re meant to say, the sorrow sunk beneath
the earnest face, the broken voice we smooth
through all the words that make our world unmade.

This is the part where you think you don’t

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This is the part where, you think, you don’t know anything, for surely if you knew something, you would feel compelled to say something, unlike, you think, the other part when you knew something and didn’t say anything—that past part, the long part, the part eating up your life, the part you tell yourself you’re not in now. Tell and tell.

This is the part where you try to act like life is the same but you can’t because it’s not.

Always behind any surface that you show, it’s like you’re some cartoon character who—running away from some danger—has sawed a hole in the floor only to fall through it a long, long time and end up on the opposite side of the world. But no matter where you are, run away and it will keep you running. You think. You think that, but you don’t believe it.

Then one day you know this part you seem to have fallen into is really going nowhere—it’s static, it’s like waiting but not waiting for anything in particular, or maybe forgetting what you’re waiting for—but it’s just the waiting part, a part without the usual parts of waiting like being patient or impatient, like checking and checking the time, like daydreaming at a stop light or idly flipping through a magazine in some waiting room. It’s not that kind of waiting.

It’s waiting that’s a kind of absolute stillness in which you’ve stopped trying to know anything because there are so many things you know that you wish you didn’t. The phone bills, the messages—endearments, pleas—not meant for you but written nonetheless in searing letters in the front of your mind.

Maybe you were waiting to know but when you knew, the waiting didn’t stop. Maybe you gave up on knowing—so much transportation, so many ways to get to the wrong place. All those other things you didn’t think about then or didn’t do—doors you opened when you should have been locking them, things you looked into when you really should have run away. Now there’s no not knowing.

And now you know what part this is. This is the part where you keep in deep silence the other’s secret, the secret that is also the secret of how you’ve been wounded, the burden of it, this part where all that’s left of you is where the secret is, the part where the other’s secret is all you have left of him.

 

 

 

 

Saying Not Saying

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This is how you make it stay still.

This is the part where you pick up a piece of paper and inspect it to see if there’s writing on it. This is a thing you do, it’s part of the part.

You want to know what everything says, that’s what you’d say if someone asked you, but no one will ever ask you, no one ever asks you anything, no one even listens now when you talk, so you’ve given up on saying.

But if someone did ask you something and then actually listened, you would say this, you would say I want to know what everything says, and so the one thing you would say that someone might listen to would be untrue because you don’t want to know what everything says–everything is too much saying and not enough said, there is entirely too much saying, nothing ever gets finished because there’s so much saying saying saying, uncontained promiscuous saying, it snakes into your house from work, it snakes out of everybody’s house out into the street, it’s wrapped around everybody’s head, the air so thick with saying you can hardly breathe, such a glut of saying that no word means more than any other word anymore, and anyone is someone-everyone-no-one.

This is how you make it stay still. This is how you look for saying that says.

This is how you got to the part where you’ve picked up this piece of paper, something lost or discarded on which someone might have written something, like all the other things you pick up, something public that has now become forever private by virtue of never arriving anywhere, except where you are picking it up, reading it in the expansive dead letter office you’ve become.

Grocery lists, phone numbers scribbled on the backs of flimsy receipts, take out menus with every fifth word heavily underlined or circled, crumpled and mauled looking high school exams with vines and flowers heavily inscribed in the margins, pages from coloring books, a photograph of a lost cat on a flyer, some yahoo has scrawled a penis shape over its face, a drawing of a doll, or a girl, with crosses over its eyes, a story underneath something that could be a hat or a pot: thn the spicemens kam from arisona en thir spiceshp an flewd al ovr up n hir.

One time a piece of notebook paper on which someone had written damn over and over, slanted left, right, straight up, even upside down exactly one hundred and thirty-two times, nothing good can come from all the counting you do, all the counting you can’t not do.

A letter, nobody writes letters anymore just rafts of email and barges of twaddle, probably then some ancient artifact: I hope you really didn’t see me at Bob’s the other night and that you weren’t just acting like you didn’t see me, though I don’t recall your vision being that bad. What is wrong? What? Why don’t you call me back? When we were down at the lake I thought we were happy. I thought you said you–the rest was a rip, a ragged edge, you keep expecting that missing strip to turn up somewhere.

Lost, tossed, looking all lonely, things that aren’t going anywhere. A notebook page covered with drawings of piles of cannonballs and knives and what appeared to be guinea pigs on their backs with their feet in the air, at the bottom of the page, the curlicued legend I conker all. A notecard on which someone had written in an old-fashioned fancy hand they shot him, they shot him.

The one you are now unfolding, written on stationery from Gramma’s Quainte Inne, written with a crawling sort of hand, someone has been needing to say something, someone has given up saying anything, someone has no one to say anything to: When I die, I want to be cremated by the King Tut society to. I will make arrangements for my body my bodily remnants remains my remains to be Arrangements have been made or will be made soon for the will be having have been made by for King Tut society to cremate me my body after I die pursuant to my death don’t scatter me over water don’t say anything. When I die I want

These orphan messages—once you read them bad luck to keep them, bad luck to throw them away, you’ve been stashing them in the crevice of a tree in the park down the street from your apartment, let the tree undo them, let the bugs chew them into lace, let the rain wear them down, let the world grind them down like everything else gets ground down till you can’t tell one thing from another.

There will be other pieces of paper you’ll pick up and read. One day one of them will be for you. There is a room inside you waiting for it, waiting for its saying, waiting for its numinous words.

_______________________
Altered image. Original image from: “The Art of Onfim: Medieval Novgorod Through the Eyes of a Child.” http://www.goldschp.net/SIG/onfim/onfim.html

Face

We hope this friendliness will guarantee a future without details.

This is the part where we become not exactly friends, but friendly, or, rather, we enact friendliness. This enacting is some way of having a face for each other that is not the face we have for each other. That face doesn’t know what to do. Or, rather, that face knows things to do but those things are too unseemly or unruly to be done.

This face—the face of our friendliness–knows what to do because it knows nothing. It’s rather like the face one of us had when one of us found out, the open face with a door closing behind it, or the face that pulls some sort of amnesia along behind it, keeping its luggage with it at all times and not agreeing to carry something in it for a perfect stranger.

In retrospect, it’s astonishing how alike those faces are—the face of the one finding out, the face of the one being found out. Though, of course, the one being found out had been wearing that face for some time, a rather long time in fact.

This friendliness itself is a tacit agreement, a step-down, a pact without details. We hope this friendliness will guarantee a future without details.

If one of us thinks this friendliness is a truce, one of us doesn’t understand. If one of us thinks it’s like let’s do lunch, one of us doesn’t understand. If one of us in the future thinks help me move my furniture, one of us doesn’t understand. If one of us in the future thinks take care of the cat while I’m in the hospital, one of us doesn’t understand.

If one of us keeps mementos of a past us and the other one of us discovers the thumbed box, the thumbed photos, the thumbed postcard from twenty years ago, the lock of hair, that one, the discovering one, will be alarmed.

If one of us just happens to be passing by some trash receptacle in which the other of us has deposited, say, something that had formerly been valued—apparently valued—as a shared object—that perfectly good painting, for example–that one of us just passing by and just noticing might also be alarmed. This is why friendliness must be enacted in public where it will bear no resemblance to evisceration.

Violations of this friendliness will require the invocation of busy-ness and absence, so friendliness establishes busy-ness and absence in advance, a general kind of busy-ness and absence, a future state of things already beyond one’s control that insures the stateless state of the present.

The face of this friendliness is like a mirror that doesn’t reflect anything. It is something that cannot be studied or searched for anything other than its general look of interest or goodwill. It is the face from behind which one can say things like you poor thing how terrible! or that’s great news! that’s really wonderful!

It’s a face one thought oneself incapable of, there’s always so much cheerful sweeping up behind it.