Walking to the supermarket today cost wild amounts of strength and energy, for which I am grateful to have spent now that I can eat nauseating Roquefort cheese in the hope of coaxing my numbed-out tastebuds to attention (so far semi-successful) with lathering of French mustard on wholewheat bagel. Semi permasick seemingly from something in the walls in me. MOULD. Watching the Easterheads peruse giant boxes with undersized, foil-wrapped eggs inside reminds me of a lecturer I had many years ago whose primary exam advice was to study always with such an egg by your side, because curved chocolate is ‘superior’. Trying to summon childhood memories of Easter and all I get is something hardboiled and glum, rainbow-painted free-rangers being rolled down the smashed-up concrete of Minnoch Crescent estate. What were you supposed to do next? Retrieve the egg. I forget. I roll over. I have to sleep on my side or something in my organs hurts; but I believe cats have healing powers and if a cat wants to sleep right on my chest, sure, I’ll sleep on my back and wake up better.
So I’ve been enjoying The Blindboy Podcast and recently the episode where he talks about the internet before it became, well, everything. The total bombardment. Blindboy has charming tales of what cultural scarcity was like before you could just shazam the shit out of any sonic phenomenon, google every micro-thought that comes into your head or find your brain rewired around the big-ass anxiety MMORPG that is Twitter. I’m geriatric millennial enough to remember this and especially tapes. I had a thing about tapes. I wrote about this already, way back in 2014, my thing for tapes. That was kind of before the indie tape revival (is it still going on?). Seriality in writing is irresistible to me. The backwards and forwardsness of it. Krapp’s spoolish jouissance. Bernadette Mayer’s tape recordings in Piece of Cake, Memory and Midwinter Day. The glossolalic Mr Tuttle in Don DeLillo’s The Body Artist.
Recently, editor, writer and absolute king [<3] in the poetry community, Aaron Kent, published a pocket-sized pamphlet called The Rise Of… (Broken Sleep Books, 2022). The back page features the familiar anatomy of tape reels encased in clear plastic. There’s a kind of Side One/Side Two vibe: a long essay-poem, ‘The Rise Of…’, which documents the process of coming to know what happened in the wake of a sexual assault; and a poem ‘Inkmist’ dedicated to ‘CRASAC group therapy; for saving me‘. This is a breathtaking work that doesn’t so much ‘confront’ its difficult subject as enter into a kind of ‘momentum’ capable of thawing the petrification of trauma. Of central concern to the speaker is the notion of hallucination, of letter-writing, of ‘difficulty’ itself. I opened it gently from the envelope as I once would a cassette from its casing, read the whole thing in one go and found myself at this point upside down on the sofa, blood rushed to my head, kind of too stunned to even cry. The fluidity and force of Kent’s words are such that all kinds of dormant synapses in my own brain began to take flight again. This is poetry which dials up exposure not exactly to ‘tell a story’ but to disclose the whole affect-storm of a writing that could approximate a traumatised consciousness — one that is at once deeply singular, embodied but also permeable within language itself. A writing that soaks up the residues of thinking’s trillions. It’s hypnagogic, syncopated, a rush; full of swerves, stops, broken clauses, syntactic mania. Forget punctuation. This is a book about the secret. About a wild undersong of constant, yet fluctuating pain. ‘I’m like a sponge i’m always shedding and if i don’t deal with it the pain won’t go away’. Anhedonia, itching, ‘something so simple and powerful’ about a scream. ‘There must be a word for losing melody’. In a blurb for the book, Day Mattar describes this not so much as ‘a stream of consciousness’ but ‘a flood’. There’s something mesmerising and unstoppable here. ‘I am the rapture!’ Buy this book.
When I was in London I also picked up Emily Berry’s new collection, Unexhausted Time (Faber, 2022), a book I’d hotly anticipated owing to Berry’s excellent previous titles Dear Boy (2013) and Stranger, Baby (2017) but also because the book cover perfectly matched the magenta of fred’s new iets frans tracksuit. I read this last weekend in a few turbulent, food coma type nights, marvelling at how my brain could just pick up a special Berry ellipsis, steal it for a dream and then awake to another suspension in the poem. This is a book full of ghosts and twisted souls, a kind of carefulness around utterance itself; spellbinding in the sense of a spine for holding together our weathering lives. A book bound by some kind of spell. You have the sense of a secret, and a holding back:
All statements purporting to be act are true. Nothing goes away… You carry it with you, if not on your back, or in your arms, then somewhere behind your eye… So be careful… See the ghost scratching at the door frame for the note that will free her. The past is parked next to me like a dirty van with messages fingered in the grime…
(Emily Berry, Unexhausted Time)
These lines summon us but also disintegrate on the page as dust. I imagine the automatic typing of a super-intelligence gleaned from our messages. It feels intimate, uncanny. Where is this person speaking from? I want to take their advice seriously. There’s a lowkey lockdown hauntology, the house turned inside out by a kind of social toxicity. Anything natural is also sort of monstrous: ‘It always seemed to me a kind of madness, / the gardens all in flower year after year’. It’s sort of obscene to me that the blossoms are all out and I feel about as disconnected from them as if they existed purely as pixels. Is this disintegration of the senses a prefiguration to ageing? How do you stay involved with the big delicious ‘madness’ of the sensory world? The hyper-pitch of birdsong made audible by the lockdown of spring 2020 was lush, but also spooky. As if to be always in the dawn song of 5am, alone with the birdly chimeras — too piercing to surely be real? I miss it. The feeling of being wholly alive in waves. Write something to the ghost?
It always comes back. And there are new messages…
The digital eeriness of felt presence. New messages. Poems in their seasonal palimpsests. I want that unexhausted time, a time we haven’t yet strung out, a time to be rechilded. A time for birds.
Dearest, Happy pink moon!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Lastly, the new Ludd Gangarrived. Mark Francis Johnson:
Those birds of passage present as fists.
I think we fauns may learn more from those birds than
half-hours by the sea teach us.
In the summer the woodcutter wanted to fell my home
and I let him.
(from The Faun Book)
You go stumbling, burned your pineal gland, phone mum. I keep the doors open in my dreams in case a deer walks in. ‘With my eye’, says Jesse Darling in the same issue, ‘I wanted to go / there, to the end of that road. With my whole body I wanted to go / there’.
Let the cold, curved chocolate fit the lip of my tongue, from the fridge.
Want also to melt.
Earlier I wrote something of our weathering lives. It’s the most beautiful and encompassing thing you can say to someone, becoming the spooky sweet hail in flux with sunbursts and mugs full of snow, a rainbow.
Something like an offering, snowballs of silver foil. Blossoms and more blossoms.
Again, from Ludd Gang (the last poem), Gloria Dawson writing for Callie Gardner:
hey, you were my weather sometimes arriving at my door
It’s been a fair while since I posted. Struggling through Covid, another supercold (emerald phlegm forever), more transitions, finishing my thesis, April snow, more streaming of the body and ache, but here we are. It’s good to get words down. I can’t smell or taste anything at all right now (coffee is just…neutral earthiness, sweet potatoes are…mush of the orange variety, bread is…send help) — so the vicarious pleasure of language is all the more heightened. Sometimes it’s a barrier: why read about anything when your senses don’t respond? I’m drawn to the elliptical which doesn’t hold me for too long. I want to be let go or dissolve a bit. Like eking my reading through a fine mesh of muslin, a semi-permeable membrane of comprehension. Or pull it over my head, this paragraph, the whole fabric of the thing. I was gonna write about a month’s worth of reading: mostly while walking west to east along the polluted, outer commuter belt of the city; on trains between Glasgow, Inverness, London, Leeds; in frail, unwaking mornings; at the park, in that golden week, sitting in the grass with salad from Juicy and daffodils. Instead I wrote about sleep.
Finally I got round to reading Ottessa Moshfegh’s My Year of Rest and Relaxation (2018), a book I wanted to read especially because a trusted friend described the ending to me as ‘disappointing’. I love to glut myself on disappointment. For some reason the novel produced a similar effect on me as Tom McCarthy’s Remainder (2005), in that the pleasure was all in the premise. I would love to exist endlessly in the loop that is prolonged sleep or the reconstruction of a highly specific sensory memory. I want these novels to just go on and on like that. Of course, there has to be escalation, as per the rules of plot or ~human nature~. Is it true we can’t circle the mobius loop forever? That after a while the pleasure is desensitised, and we need to dialup on the extremity? McCarthy’s novel sort of preserves that perfect figure of eight in its set-piece ending, and you’re left with the image adrift to loop back on the primal, inciting moment of falling debris and trauma. I found the Moshfegh ending ‘cheap’ in that it seemed to cash in its bulimic character for a kind of tragedy whose fate was to fall. Bulimia, I can say, is generally an experience of permanent insolvency in the body, resulting in a loop time of binge and purge. You pay the debts of fasting by devouring; you pay the debts of eating by purging and fasting. Rinse, brush teeth, ouch, repeat. The sociologist Jock Young talks of ‘bulimic society’ as one where the poorest and most marginalised are often the most culturally enmeshed in the desperate iconography and desire economy of consumerism. The most excluded populations, according to this view, absorb images of what is apparently available under the veil of late-capitalism; but simultaneously they are rejected from accessing this culture themselves due to material inequality and class difference. As Young puts it: ‘a bulimic society where massive cultural inclusion is accompanied by systematic structural exclusion. It is a society that has both strong centrifugal and centripetal currents: it absorbs and it rejects’. But does capitalism spit us out or do we boak back? This is why I am scared to go on TikTok, like fear of lifestyle saturation to the point of nauseating breakdown.
Often powerpoint slides defining bulimia for this sociological context mention an ‘abnormally voracious appetite or unnaturally constant hunger’. In Moshfegh’s novel, the character Reva (an insurance broker) is constantly eating or constantly fasting; something our protagonist describes with pity or nonchalance. Reva is tragic because she wants too much what the protagonist effortlessly has by birth: beauty, thinness, style, money. Thinness is kind of the ur-sign for WASP privilege in the aftermath of the heroin chic fin de siècle. Reva is jealous of the protagonist’s weight loss, steals her pills. Both women are after control (or its relinquishing) in a world in freefall.
This is a period novel: set in the early 2000s, New York in the lead up to 9/11. It’s full of that inertia following the boom of the 1990s. The desire to just sleep in the unit of a single year is like a microcosm for not just an end of history, as per Fukuyama, but a refusal of history altogether as this thing that keeps growling, accumulating, disrupting sleep. I kind of buy into Reva’s bulimia as something about the consequence of being voraciously invested in a world that wants to expel you, sure. The sky’s big whitey’s the limit around Manhattan. Chewing on this feels productive. The violence of the novel is primarily in the gallery where the narrator starts out working. The gallery’s prized artist, a young man called Ping Xi, has these ‘dog pieces’: a ‘taxidermied […] variety of pure breeds’, which are rumoured to make their way into the artist’s exhibition via premature slaughter and industrial freezing. The work apparently ‘marked the end of the sacred in art’. The narrator is kind of offhand disgusted but eventually comes to identify with the young animals in the freezer, waiting to be thawed into art. Writing can be a bit like self-cannibalism; the denial of which leaves you stoked for a snack.
There are several kinds of hunger in the novel: primarily for sleep and food, but also for meaning, intimacy, loyalty. Love is a strange relation that moves uneasily between two girlfriends whose friendship is based on a premise of inequality and co-dependency. The hungers are sated by devouring emptiness. Sleep, junk food, fleeting talks. That bit in Melancholia where Justine screws her face up deliciously and says the meatloaf tastes like ashes. When I realised the same of my dinner, I didn’t even react.
We look more peaceful when sleeping. It’s worth lauding, like Lana singingPretty when I cryyyyyyyyyy………….
O, and the concept of the sad nap:
There was no work to do, nothing I had to counteract or compensate for because there was nothing at all, period. And yet I was aware of the nothingness. I was awake in the sleep somehow. I felt good. Almost happy.
But coming out of that sleep was excruciating. My entire life flashed before my eyes in the worst way possible, my mind refilling itself with all my lame memories, every little thing that had brought me to where I was.
(Moshfegh, My Year of Rest and Relaxation)
The brutal awakening cashes in on the extra expenditure of napping. I’ve written in a poem somewhere, ‘I wish I could sleep forever’. It’s different from wanting to die. It’s more like, wanting to feel aware of the nothingness and calm in its premise. Nobody needs anything from you and you can’t give anything back. It’s restful or at least prolongs the promise of rest. Stay awake super late to relish the idea that you could go to bed. I don’t remember the last time I woke up feeling energised by sleep. </3 I remember listening to an interview with the editor of Dazed where he talks about sleep being his great reset. I remember thinking wow sick cool. Whatever mental health thing he’s going through, sleep will heal it. Sleep can otherwise be a kind of emulsion of depression. You’re in the weight of it spreading right through you. I carry sleep along even when I don’t ‘have’ it.
I want you mostly in the morning when my soul is weak from dreaming (Weyes Blood, ‘Seven Words’)
I used to wake up extra early before school to steal back from sleep. I felt sleep would eat me alive. I used that time to browse the internet, write, read. Eat shitty muesli. Puke.
I’d sleep in class. Teachers would bring it up at parent’s night. I just couldn’t understand why everyone else wasn’t regularly passing out over their schoolbooks.
The perma-arousal of bulimia is a counternarrative to the inorganic sleep cycles pursued by the novel’s main character. I got a similar vibe from watching Cheryl Dunn’s Moments Like This Never Last, a documentary snapshot of the pre- and post-9/11 world of New York’s underground, showcasing Dash Snow’s graffiti and outsider art. Dash is always cheating sleep to go tag, paint, take pictures. There’s a ton of cocaine and consequence. 9/11 had toppled right through all of that leaving a wound. You know by the law of entropy that it can’t be sustained, this life, writing on the walls and all that. Maybe tagging is also about a kind of hunger-purge. Colour’s aerosol vom marking time, presence, ideas. It’s permanent, but then someone can just go clean it up; the ultimate fuck you.
Whose space does this belong to? Remainder is a novel about gentrification, the white guy’s obsessive reorganising of London spaces as precursor for the gentrification of Brixton. A novel of the zombie flaneur, fuelled on flat whites, iPad swipes and vape juice, as Omer Fast’s 2016 movie adaptation brings into focus. Moshfegh’s novel is set around the same time, but her protagonist is decidedly not a flaneur, even if she carries that vibe of the waking dead. She barely leaves her apartment to get coffees from the local bodega, and when she does venture further it has all the amnesiac disaster of a night on the NY tiles with Meg Superstar Princess, furs and all. I find this zombie existence an irresistible metaphor for the numbing effect of late-capitalism: we are overstimulated and aroused to the point of just turning off. It’s banal to say that, sure. What’s great about the Meg Superstar Princess blog girl revival is the way the writing itself is charged with like, full off-kilter zaniness. The opposite of zombie. It’s like barhopping around A Thousand Plateaus — cheap wine in one hand, vintage Android in the other —to the tune of Charli XCX and it’s absolute chaos: ‘spitting e pillz out my mouth, trying to live normal, disco n apz’. You get smashed. You’re alive! I’ll have it in writing because I can’t really have it elsewhere rn, the same way I sleep but I can’t really sleep. Apps (f)or naps?
For all this tangent on (post)pandemic hedonism (let’s say post to mean, posting and not to signal some wholescale shift in era), it’s weird how history just hits you in the face at the end of Moshfegh’s novel. Falling debris, bits of glass. Words:
On September 11, I went out and bought a new TV/VCR at Best Buy so I could record the news coverage of the planes crashing into the Twin Towers. […] I watched the videotape over and over to soothe myself that day. And I continue to watch it, usually on a lonely afternoon, or any other time I doubt that life is worth living, or when I need courage, or when I am bored.
(Moshfegh, My Year of Rest and Relaxation)
Earlier in the novel, she’s frustrated when someone replaces her VCR player with a DVD player, even though she doesn’t have any DVDs. She kind of hates the concept of the DVD. She likes the process of rewind. Video tapes, with their seriality, make you confront duration; whereas DVDs allow easy random access to specific scenes. The over and overness of Moshfegh’s careful, clean, lethargic prose is at once soothing and disturbing. When the pandemic first hit, I couldn’t stream anything because the thought of having all that content at my fingertips seemed appalling. Like accessing a trillion orderly dreams of someone else at the very moment I couldn’t even touch another person. Maybe video tapes would’ve been different. The residue of wave matter at the edge. The analogue sense of fossilised images, decaying in visible time.
In a poem called ‘Along the Strand’, Eileen Myles is like,
The times of the day, the ones with names, they are the stripes of sex unlike romance who dreamlike is a continuous walker
I love the rhythmanalysis of daily life here. VHS stripes in descending order of luminance: white, yellow, cyan, green, magenta, red, blue and black. How the speaker clings to named moments of the day as like khora: receptacles unseen for adhesive feelings. ‘Vigorous twilight’, ‘noon’ you slip into, ‘Morning’ as ‘something / I could stay with’. The times of day are lovers. If romance is continuous walking, there’s not a lot of romance in My Year of Rest and Relaxation. So after reading the novel I’m sorta stuck on wanting the romance of sleep again. Exhalations as stripes of sex. Like when you have a new partner and after a few weeks of breathless sleeplessness suddenly the first thing you realise is how well you’re sleeping, like being beside them all night just fixed your life. And so to be in love you know noon tastes different, and twilight has a lilac halo. And you’re sharing this shiny sticky static in the air like asterisks, so much more to say.
Sleep. After a long walk, I remember circling South Norwood Lake and humming Elliott Smith’s ‘Twilight’, because of the time. You asked me to sing it. I had a low voice, a high voice. I was just waking up; the air was all lavender, leaves in fall.
‘I work for my success, I earn my accomplishments. […] Maybe you can learn to be smart like me. I doubt it, but you can dream’.
I would really like to exorcise Anna D*lvey from my present obsessions, having blitzed through the hyper-cringe miniseries and comparatively breezy podcast in barely a week, pursued a bunch of Instagrams and finally shut my eyes only to dream of that accent grinding through a void.
I used to draw pictures of infinity pools and flick through brochures of luxury hotels for no other reason than my dad works in travel.
In Anna’s story, to dream is compensatory for the actual accomplishment of success, and your dreams can be extracted by an app called Shadow…….and all that dream data you uploaded gets aggregated as part of general projects of self-optimisation, leading to what?
I prefer my shadow-realm in dreaming device; what other people dream. You can listen to the stories of other people dreaming by pressing yourself to the groundwork of a landlord nation. So many people have pressed themselves to the skin of these floors and walls. Why the old hard rain or old hard road? It’s nice to stand outside in the rainy asylum of television.
There’s a loud buzzing in my flat like a fly the size of a building is stuck. It’s been going since Thursday.
Today at four o’clock a dark grey cloud.
Everyone on the internet seems to criticise AD for not using conditioner but I like seeing out of context screenshots flash across google — prison is so exhausting, you wouldn’t know — and everyone asking where is she, what’s that bridge — boys with names like Hunter and Chase
Get off on development
Writing this adds to the AD economy, but I can’t help making notes. For a while now wondering what a dream is and wanting it always to be more than compensation for the struggle we’re put through — dreams are not opiates for mass depression — ineluctability. luxury.
We are suffering a mass shortage of pleasures at least in the narrow world of these isles and especially what I imagine to be england……..who else watches this and thinks, I don’t even like champagne. I wanna be adored comes to mind………I find the soundtrack flashy and intrusive like TOO ON THE NOSE but perhaps being gauche is aesthetic necessity……if you are trying to do a satire on the people whose lives you incorporate fully by lassoing the loop holes of their own system — weakness, lust for novelty, a good story.
Court fashion. What it is to be well-heeled. Attentive to somebody’s daily post. I miss outfit posting thus Polyvore and lookbook but also, ouch. It’s all in posture? Like how you present the myriad proprioceptions of finance itself, plus conceptual finance & platonic finance. Get your eyebrows done.
Obviously this whole show is about whiteness and how this is performed, tacitly stratified and constructed for actual material consequence, a f f l u e n c e. In the Netflix show, Rachel says something about not wanting to call the cops on a young, immigrant girl in Trump’s america.
What would you do with access to an app called Shadow? What invocation of the shadow realm does this offer? My eyesight is getting worse the singer is a blurred intimation of human blue on the stage. My dreams blur as with eyesight, so become less of narrative detail & character — more of feeling. I wake up with spillages of emotional pigment all over my chest, belly, brain. Sometimes it makes you wet too
which is to say, we read each other.
Deeply? Every time I blink there are several billion more tweets in the world, you have to know that. Know it all the time like feeling your white blood cells come up. I have a bulimic consciousness I don’t want any more info, the words are burning my throat
for how long has acid been pouring upon them
Los Angeles in fall?
You can tell by the podcast voice. Someone says ‘scammer and scammer – a match made in heaven!’
spoiler alert for other fake vocal fry heiresses.
This one is the largest dream database in the world, it’s in her heart. You gave all the dreams by watching it, like & subscribe. Self-identity as Futurist means you floss everyday on the internet. I’ve been studying the little bits.
Last night a tiny centipede crawled out of the spine of my copy of Susan Sontag’s As Consciousness is Harnessed to Flesh. I want to go to San Francisco. I want the noise to stop.
AD = After Death. Anno Domini. Anna Delvey. Advertisement. Advantage. Analogue to Digital.
Bin man outside is singing INXS.
Dumb socialite lite lite extra cherry diet coke
‘I wanted to learn everything. So I could be anything’.
The Anna D*lvey aporia of February.
Scam trends of 2022 as response to crypto?
Tindering loneliness, paying for soap operas of algorithmic advantage, buying virtual real estate including the non-fungible artefact of a HEX number.
I wonder who I spent a long time being real in.
How much I paid a month to use all that purple.
It’s so convenient to log into all the channels at all times, listen to other people talk of their dreams in computerised accents, dream exactly their dreams until you are what kind of god posting anyway, just to reblog them in the 24 hour window of the story
you feel accelerated then smoothed, depressed as in self-love
just to be in their world at the click of a button
I like her best in the lilac pantsuit and classy copper
abyssal sensation that some of this is really true, even the fashion. Slip diamanté talk of I love Dostoevsky accordant to telly
A book she says her father passed onto her, it’s all about struggle, and telling the psychiatrist, Look, that character who said he was going to america, “he shoots himself in the head” — you know what happens
cesspools of debt
“to girls like me”
precognitive data analysis [ crisis ]
augmented saturates of the dream economy
plus size appliances
Turns out, a scam, you can use right now for free
taking out money the same as taking the bus to just get somewhere
It was the morning I had decided to stop living as if dust wasn’t the primary community in which I sobbed and thrived, daily, towards dying. I spent Tuesday night in a frenzy trying to discern what particular dust or pollen (animal, vegetable, floral) had triggered my allergies anew, what baseline materiality had exploded in my small room its abysmal density. All recommended air filters had sold out online in the midst of other consumers’ presumably asthmatic dust panics; the highly desirable Vax filter seemed sold out across all channels, and I eyed up the pre-owneds of eBay with lust and suspicion, through a fug of beastly sneezes. A friend recommended the insufflation of water as a temporary remedy: ‘I drop some drops on my chopping board, get a straw and snort it up like a line of Colombian snow’, he texts me. I sneeze at the thought, but have to admit that the promise of clearing one’s nasal cavities with water is somewhat appealing. For isn’t water, like sneezing, a force in itself? Some kinds of sneeze come upon you as full-body seizures of will; so that to sneeze repeatedly you must surrender an hour or so, sometimes a full day, to the laconic state of being constantly taken over by this brute, unattractive rupture. ‘Sneezing’, writes Pascal, ‘takes up all the faculties of the soul’. My soul is in credit to the god dusts, who owe me good air. It’s why I am always writing poems (the word air meaning song/composition). But maybe I need good water, a wave of it.
In Syncope: The Philosophy of Rapture (1990), the philosopher Catherine Clément characterises sneezing as an instance of ‘syncope’: a kind of ‘“cerebral eclipse,” so similar to death that it is also called “apparent death”; it resembles its model so closely that there is a risk of never recovering from it’. My muscles ache; I eclipse myself with blood, cellular juices and water. What kind of spiritual exhaustion results from being cast into eclipse repeatedly? Quite simply, one becomes ghost: blocked, momentarily or otherwise, from the light of consciousness. One becomes lunar and attached to the dark bright burn, the trembling red of their inflammation. Those who suffer respiratory allergies might better glimpse what Eugene Thacker calls ‘a world-without-us’. I sneeze myself to extinction. It is the hyperbole of a felt oblivion. I do this on random days of the year, at random times; it is beyond my control. But can I derive pleasure from it, as one does the other varieties of syncope (orgasm, swoon or dance)?
Let me admit, I have always had a fetish for those moments on television and film where a character is administered, or self-administers, an intravenous dose of painkill so sweet as to enunciate this ecstasy simply by falling to a sweet slump, their eyes rolled back accordantly. The premise of silencing the body’s arousal so completely to blissful inertia (suspending the currency of insomnia, hyperactivity, anxiety and attention deficit) is delicious. The calmness of snowfall, as if to swallow the durée of its full soft melt. From quarantine, I fantasise about having adequate boiler pressure as to run a bath and practice the khoratic hold of hot water’s suspension. This is not what I text my landlord.
Recently, my partner spent several hours unpacking boxes from the attic of their parent’s house, in preparation for moving belongings to a new flat. The next day, I found myself suffused in the realm of allergy: unable to think clearly, or articulate more than three words without the domination of a sneeze. On such days, I am held on the tight leash of my own sensitivity: I tremble pathetically, my blood temperature rises; my nose glows reindeer and no amount of fresh air, hydration or sinus clearance will appease it. I am not ‘myself’. The body has enflamed itself upon contact with the ambient and barely visible. I feel an intimate, but non-consensual relation to the ghost trace, the dust trace, of all boxed things — finally been given the attention they so summoned or desired in dormancy. I mourn with objects the passage of time and neglect so betrayed on their surface; I never ask for this, but my body is summoned. Dust presses itself upon you, even as you produce it. I’m scared to touch things because of the dust. What is it but the atmospheric sloughing of something volatile, mortal — the grammatology of our darkest spoiler, telling the story of how bodies are not wholly our own, or forever.
Sneezing disrupts and spoils nice things; it is an allergic response to both luxury and decay. Cheap glitter, rose spores, Yves Saint Laurent. Sneeze sneeze. ‘When a student comes to class wearing perfume’, admits Dodie Bellamy, ‘my nose runs, my eyes tear, I start sneezing; there’s nowhere to move to and I don’t know what to do. When the sick rule the world perfume will be outlawed’. Often I have this reaction too. It prompts a fury in me: Why can’t I have nice things, as I used to? During my undergraduate finals, I developed phantosmia: a condition in which you smell odours that aren’t actually there (olfactory hallucination). Phantosmia is typically triggered by a head injury or upper respiratory infection, inflamed sinuses, temporal lobe seizures, brain tumours or Parkinson’s disease. Often I have tried to conjure some originary trauma which would explain my condition: did some cupboard door viciously slam my head at work (possibly), did I fall over drunk (hm), was I subject to some terrible chest infection or vehement hayfever (often)? Luckily, my phantosmia was a relatively benign and consistent scent: that of an ersatz, fruity perfume. It recalled the pink-tinted Poundland scents I selected as a twelve-year-old to vanquish the horror of body odour raised by the spectre of Physical Education, before graduating to the exotic spices of Charlie Red. I was visited by this scent during intervals of increasing frequency as I served customers at work, cooked or studied; I trained myself to ignore them by pinging a rubber band on my wrist, or plunging my nose into scented oils I kept on my person. Years later they returned at moments of stressful intensity; the same cryptic, sickly smell.
More recently, phantosmia, under the umbrella of a general ‘parosmia’ (abnormality in the sense of smell) is associated with Covid-19. Not long ago I realised I hadn’t been smelling properly for months, despite not testing positive until very recently. Had I, like many others, a ghost Covid that went undetected by symptom or test? Drifting around, deprived of olfactory sense, I felt solidarity with the masses of others in this flattened condition. I eat, but when was the last time I truly enjoyed food? My body doesn’t register hunger like other people’s; unless it is a ritualised mealtime summoned in company, I eat when I get a headache. Pacing around the flat, I plunge my nose again into jars of cinnamon, kimchi, mint tea bags, bulbs of garlic. Certain things cut through the fug: coffee, bleach, shit. I remember a friend, who was born without a sense of smell, telling me long ago that the absence of that sense made her a particularly spicy cook. Often she wouldn’t notice the over-firing of a chilli until her nose started running. What does scent protect us from? What does it proffer? Surely it is the unsung, primal gateway to corporeal desire itself: the gross and indescribable comfort of a lover’s sweaty t-shirt, the waft of woodsmoke from a nearby village, the coruscation of caramelised onion to whet your appetite. Scent is preliminary in the channel of want. Without it, I feel cast adrift into anhedonia. I begin chasing scent. Still, I sneeze.
Dust gathers. Is it yours or mine? Can we really, truly, smell our dust? How does dust manifest as material trace or evidence? In Sophie Collins’ poem ‘Bunny’, taken from the collection Who Is Mary Sue? (2018), the speaker interrogates an unknown woman on the subject of dust:
Where did the dust come from and how much of it do you have? When and where did you first notice the dust? Why didn’t you act sooner? Why don’t you show me a sample. Why don’t you have a sample? Why don’t you take some responsibility? For yourself, the dust?
It would be perhaps an act of bad naturalisation to read the dust allegorically, or metonymically, as a figure for all kinds of evidence we are expected to produce as survivors of violence and harm. This evidence is to be quantified (‘how much’, ‘a sample’) and accounted for temporally in terms of cause, effect and responsible agency (‘first notice’, ‘act sooner’). The insistent repetition of dust produces a dust cloud: semantic saturation leaves us unable to discern the true ‘meaning’ of the dust. That anaphora of passive aggression, ‘Why don’t you’, coupled with the where, when and why of narrative, insists on a logical explanation for the dust that is apparently not possible. For anyone summoned to account for their trauma, the dust might be a sort of materialised psychic supplement: the particulate matters of cause and effect, unequally distributed and called for. It seems as though the speaker’s aggression, by negation wants to produce the dust while ardently disavowing the premise of its existence. The poem asks: is it possible to have authority over one’s experience when others require this authority to take the form of an account, a story, with appropriate physical corroboration? The more I read the poem, the more ‘dust’ becomes Covid. But it could be many things; dust always is.
‘Bunny’ also reveals the process by which testimony is absorbed into a kind of white noise, a dust storm repugnant to those called upon to listen. As Sara Ahmed puts it in Complaint! (2021), ‘To be heard as complaining is not to be heard. To hear someone as complaining is an effective way of dismissing someone’. Collins’ poem performs the long, grim thread of being told to ‘forget’, bundling us into a claustrophobia whose essence, the speaker implores, is ‘your own / sense of guilt’. Does this not violently imply (from the speaker’s perspective): as producers of dust, we take responsibility, wholly, for what happens to our bodies? I take each question of the poem as a sneeze: it is the only answer I have. I feel compelled to listen.
As she is asked, ‘Why don’t you take some responsibility? / For yourself, the dust?’, the addressee of the poem becomes conflated with the dust itself. I often think of this quote from Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar (1963), where erstwhile sweetheart Buddy Willard announces to budding poet Esther Greenwood, ‘a poem is […] A piece of dust’. Poems can be swept away; they are miniscule in the masculine programme of reality. They are stubborn, perhaps, but easily ignored by the strong and healthyy. In ‘Bunny’, the addressee’s own words are nothing but dust, ‘these words, Bunny’: the name ‘Bunny’ hailing something beyond the colloquial term, dust bunny — a ball of dust, fibre and fluff. The invocation of the name a kind of violent summons: you, the very named essence of you, are nothing but words and dust; there is no proof. The more I say the word ‘bunny’ aloud, the more I become aware of a warm and tender presence; this entity who has lived so long in the house of language — under the stairs, on the mantel’s sentence. Bunny, bunny, bunny. Clots in syntax. Dust can be obliquely revealed to all who notice; it coats the surface of everything. It is in the glow of wor(l)dly arrangement, the iterative and disavowed: a kind of ‘paralanguage’ Collins writes of in her nonfiction book small white monkeys (2017):
similar to ours but that is not ours […] when a writer manages — nearly, briefly — to access this paralanguage, we get a glimpse of what could be expressed if we were able to access this other, more frank (but likely bleak, likely barbaric) reality.
Running parallel to, or beneath ‘Bunny’, is the addressee’s reply, or lack of: the dust of her permeable silence, or inability to speak. It catches as a dust bunny in the throat. So how do we speak or listen, when faced with the aporetic knots of a hidden, ‘barbaric’ reality that is glimpsed in various forms of testimony and written expression? ‘Citation too can be hearing’, writes Ahmed. The title of Collins’ poem cites implicitly Selima Hill’s collection Bunny (2001), which she writes of extensively in small white monkeys as a book ‘I am in love with’. This citation opens ‘Bunny’ through a portal to the household of trauma that is Bunny: documenting, as Hill’s back cover describes, ‘the haunted house of adolescence’ where ‘Appearances are always deceptive’ and the speaker is harassed by a ‘predatory lodger’. Attention (and reading between texts) offers us openings, exits, corridors of empathy, solidarity and recognition. Its running in the duration of a poem or conversation might very well relate to the ‘paralanguage’ of which Collins speaks, in the oikos of trauma, grief and counsel. If poems are dust, then to know them — to write them, read them aloud and listen — is to disturb the order of things, one secret speck at a time. But the sight of each speck belies the plume of many.
The morning I tested positive for Covid on a lateral flow, having assumed my respiratory problems were accountable to generalised allergies, I decided to blitz my one-bedroom flat of dust. In the hot panic of realising my cells were now fighting a virus, I vacuumed my carpet and brushed orange cloths over bookshelves. I was really getting into it. Then my hoover began making a petulant, rasping noise. I turned off the power and flipped it upside down. To my horror, in the maw of the hoover’s rotating brush, I saw what can only be described as dust anacondas: huge strings of dense grey matter attached to endless, chunky threads of hair. Urgently donning a face mask, I began teasing these nasty snakes out with a pencil, as clumps of dust emitted from the teeth of the hoover and gathered on my carpet, thickly. All this time I was crying hysterically at the fact of my having Covid less than two weeks before my PhD thesis was due, the hot viral feeling in my head, and of having to deal with the dust of my own flesh prison: the embarrassment, shame and fail of it all, presented illustriously before me.
If only I could have purified my air! Forced to confront my body’s invasion (this time coronavirus, not just dust), I try to settle into the ‘load’. I make lists of the smells I miss, research perfumes online (aerosols glimpsed from the safe distance of text). I sneeze a lot, cry a lot, wheeze a lot; and then my sinuses go blank. Is this breathing? I imagine the cells of my body glowing new colours from the Omicron beasties. I re-watch one of my favourite Studio Ghibli movies, My Neighbour Totoro (1988), which features anthropomorphic dust bunnies known as susutarawi, or ‘soot sprites’ (which also appear in Spirited Away (2001)). The girls of Totoro, Noriko and Mei, initially encounter these adorable demon haecceities as ‘dust bunnies’, but later they are explained as ‘soot spreaders’ (as per Netflix’s Japanese-to-English translation). When the younger girl, Mei, gingerly prods her finger into a crack in the wall of the old house she has just moved into, a flurry of the creatures releases itself to the air. She catches one in her hands, and presents it proudly to Granny, a kind elderly neighbour who reassures her the soot sprites will leave if they find agreeable the new inhabitants of their house. When she opens her palms, the sprite is gone, leaving just a smudge.
An absent-presence in My Neighbour Totoro is Noriko and Mei’s mother, Yasuko, who is in hospital, recovering from an unexplained ‘illness in the chest’. Mei’s confrontation with the animated dust mites, or soot sprites, acts out the wound of her mother’s absence. With curiosity and panic, she and her sister delight in the particulate matters of the household, of more-than-human hospitality. What is abject about history then, or even the family, its hauntings, is evoked trans-corporeally through the trace materials of a powdery darkness, dark ecology (see Timothy Morton’s 2016 book of this name) that is spooky but sweet. (S)mothering in the multiple. My sense of smell now is consumed entirely by a kind of offbeat metallic ash; I’m nostalgic for cheap perfume. I’m not sure if this essay is a confession or who is speaking; it seems increasingly that I speak from a cloud of unknowing coronaviruses. And so where do I end or begin, hyperbolically, preparing my pen or straw? The ouroboros of my dust anacondas reminding me that I too was only here, alive and in this flat, by tenancy and to return from my current quarantine having prodded the household spirits for company, with nothing for show for it these days, except these, dust, my words.
You’ve got a nerve to be embodied. Lana says it pains her how good the male vocals are on ‘Dealer’. Season of frivolous spending I call you from the floor of a mall, you spend £16.90 on coffee, I don’t know what prose is.
At some point I must have remembered the password to the room of amphibians, Analysis.
It’s not like the contact is there. A plate of sliced ham many decades ago, the puppy ate. A palate refined into podcasters who go out for cheeseburgers, murmuration of commas, choleric entropies. It’s a form of sleep paralysis. Horny letters to environmentalists.
You lucid dream or you stop / shall it be blessed to touch the furnace a hard-light, the caterpillar blonde.
The door is locked. It needs a medicine. Rivers of cognac coagulate arterial: one is gold, one is white. Nightmares of Fancy prose. Aperitif or signet ring. Solid aura.
The barista gifts me free lemon cake “for someone that needs it” and it might be me or I half it with you? All canal walk I sipped the glow of that coffee their human kindness
The city a hologram out of Musk’s Eye™️
Sharing our name with the semblance of oatmeal, remembering for the business of hibiscus. It’s not as if I don’t want to say sky leaf, high staples, the charcoal nights of London. The bars are still apparently ours, a sensibility measured by flood vibe. Names of boats.
I can’t listen to music it’s all ships. The pillow faults of true music. Soundcloud was a planet. Salad Daze. Salad translates leaf array, a contour irrealism, swarm economics, morbid blonde. Wafer arrangements of transistor radio.
A feedback loop of the dark. The edifice of gelatine.
Time goes off like a triangle.
Photoelastic buoyancy; saline; bone; lime.
Nearby they are sleeping so I am the night elf
I miss tinsel I want so much tinsel I want Porphyria’s Lover erotica tinsel I want to be metaversed into the scintillant realm of tinsel a mass effect class tinsel I want blonde tinsel a gold physiology I want reddish the trad version tinsel ikr
Silvering with these destroyer lawyers
What was the original chipmunk music?
tinsellllllllllllllling total tinsel insensate a hard sell 🙂
I sue you!
Remember the xmas we listened to psychology podcasts as we hung gold baubles on the natural tree I wept in the eighties before sun lamps were invented
Wet-leaved, walking up hills with chain oil on my elbows, knuckles, knees. We are on the eve of the ‘big climate conference’, which is to say, to be a host city of preemptive closure: there will be no more roads so that nobody can block the roads without authority, no more bridges for your tiny feet. I imagine a commute that takes me north to Kirkintilloch and back along the canal, an extra hour and a half of leg power and stamina and to arrive like of a beetroot complexion to the moment when somebody speaks. These streets are mostly broken glassed, and I see nothing to sweep that; I see buildings go up, see extravagant plant life grow from abandoned houses. I dream about bike punctures from enormous shards of glass. A mushroom sprouts in the brutalist building. I should have planned to do something. More tired than words can.
Imagine awaking beautifully at 5am each day, to actual birdsong and car sounds, still going through the night to Edinburgh or the general east as they do. I miss the ocean, which I have not seen since May. Sometimes I forget that its quiet, rhythmic hush is always in my ears, a tinnitus with the switcher dimmed. All summer I swapped the ocean for industrial estates, teeming with buddleia. If I go to a club, it gets full bright. The hush. At 6am I make atomic coffee, await words, say rain. I could tell you about the new university building and how I will never find a space to work there, doomed to circle identikit floors like airports in a suspended time that nonetheless eats into my time of work, a starship, doomed to fill a cup of hot water and carry it up and down escalators only to be cast back outside with scalded hands, cried into blustering autumn. A hazmat suit to be a student, studying the microparticles of your love in blunder. If I could study on the floor, in the street, with the leaves stuck to me. But I am a sufferer of frostbite and poor circulation, owing to damp homes, an unfortunate experience in the snow and damaged nerves, fragile metabolism. I am not there anymore, in the place we have been
Canned words taste better with more salt on them. Fuck you. Sitting on the curb in the 1990s surprised us when a plane went by, it was carrying my childhood. Remember we used to put each other literally in bins, until that wasp stung your ass and I was sorry. We prise open tins for the juicy bits of the story like, what would it take to get the attention of a virulent benefactor? Should you become a red squirrel enthusiast, or take up the statuesque hobbies of sportsmen? What beneficent largesse would require it?
Imagine not living by the anticipatory hormone storm of a coming menstruation, or like, the cramping wildness of the night and morning or blood gushed trying to have coherent thought in the day when your mind is fog. I want to transcribe some of that fog to writing, to remember how it was when again I am in clearing, to be like this is the place, it’s never gone. I was held in it, the tearing itself to shreds sensation to write this at six in the morning before work. Plants don’t have to go through this; is it that they’re always ‘working’? How do trees feel when they shed their leaves? Is it like an annual period and do they miss them? Should I develop fondness for shreds of blood in the toilet, abject bits of me and not? I saw a leaf blush out of my mouth and into a leaflet. Smoking kills. I watch the men in high-vis sweep up the dead leaves, more like dying, into black bags by the side of the road. Someone around here is always burning rubber tyres in secret. It’s kind of erotic to watch people do something repetitive and with great concentration, as if no one else could possibly notice this. To do your work that way. O your beautiful butterfly shoulders. Missed opportunities.
For instance, I could have lived through this moment to learn another language, write a curriculum vitae for the purposes of waged employment, called you.
“It feels so good to walk in nature.”
Blood drop in the shape of sycamore.
Where is Canada?
The revenge fantasy is only that trees are flirtatious as hell, winking pollen so that you watery-eyed have to look up at the stars sometimes and beg, like take me. Let me out of the forest so I might see
(fantasies of committee,
the ground to tie
my own laces in figures of eights.)
The figure of eight in Karla Black’s sculpture which is pink-smeared recalling everything I used to put on my face. The idea is to find a sort of peace with it. School bathrooms where a face was pressed against glass and cruelly examined. I dream of rooms filled entirely with blizzards of eighties-blue eyeshadow. Angel Olsen, 2014, Pitchfork Festival. Having lived with the spirit not for resale, traded on a stark memory of that colour where every remembrance seems to intensify blue, until all I have is the pigment itself, ultramarined into oblivion. To wake into that blue and not see beyond it. I put my sore arm through the right-hand loop of the eight and pulled this out for you.
In the dream we pass an armed convoy and into the bakery with coins allotted to us by authority figures, and we buy pastries adorned by sugar ice drawn in mobius curlicues, and the pastries flake away as we eat them, greedily on the street, so many flakes falling before the guards. And we are butter-mouthed in the face of conflict, war and summit. A kind of shout chokes the air but the golden morning goes on, the falling leaves. I have these cramps and double over in the falling leaves. Men come to sweep around me, where I have fallen. One of them bends down — he is so young to be working — and pats my head tenderly and I see a leaf fall behind him and I know that leaf to be us, so we embrace platonically for one moment, as though I were his long-lost twin, before the foreman calls his name, which I can’t recall—
No, not that at all — he touches the soft part of my ear, goes “are you not young to be leaving?”
In trash, the language of trash, the trash piled up against the highway of your declaration. The men stopped coming.
Azalea, camilla, plum blossom, hydrangea.
Rizla, tin foil, styrofoam, gum.
The noise of vehicles pulling up around the city, emitting fumes.
The petals shed and I sleep on them, dreaming my blue becomes turquoise
Late October, Cycled home in my t-shirt, thru the industrial estate and beyond. you and I remember well the opening sequence, credits to all those sly cartoons who lived in colours not of their own choosing. what I’m trying to say is the warmth comes not explicable from crisis, to say ‘i was warmed by crisis’ seems wrong, and yet as I walk in a light denim jacket purchased on the day of the kenmure raid, people are still debating who was the OG lady of sadcore, adele or lana del rey? there are two versions of the skins episode where cassie escapes to new york and she runs through an impossibly empty city: one which plays an Adele track and another which plays ‘My Town, My City’ by an unidentified artist which now seems relegated to the half played halls of ancient youtube history, yet also the chorus that would seem to claim for its singer something of a belonging in cold despair. in memory the piano begins when she bites into the apple and starts crying but this could have happened in any dimension, especially considering every time i bite into an apple now my eyes smart, crunching into a moment straight from chris marker and sugar brushed with what he doesn’t know, bright red, i mean ordinary feminine pain, or like, the year 2007 in bristol. i didn’t know what UK garage classics were until i keyed my first car or like buzzed myself athletically through the other door where i would be welcomed as a stranger to victorian milk and honey, reversing the version where you can’t wear that necklace for it has bumped against her sternum and now something of a soul is dead. my friend died but ever since july i have compulsively worn purple. when i get synaesthesia it’s usually for songs, words, general emotions that in relation make up grids or curlicues surprisingly happy to coexist, like if i draw a lilac spiral where your name once is, i feel better, i feel better. it’s a schoolgirl trick of the selfsame like writing out names in our jotters, yours or mine, walking the perambulator back to the moon where exhausted mothers are calling their mothers to war. we benefited from working tax credits and educational maintenance allowance, i asked friends born with particular chromosomes to buy me yorkie bars, i remember the feel of warm summer tar against my skull better than i recall my first fuck tho a kiss was easy, it was like pulling another fish through a big comma soaked in bourbon and the bright lights were on and everyone watching? sometimes i have to go out a room to remember something like what are you doing here, now i have to walk around to even get writing or find eloquence in pavement slopes. where i live now you smell hops on mondays and thursdays the cats are not ginger, i let them nuzzle against my leg in exchange for a purr. tonight there were electrical failures in the library so i decided not to imagine my evening as a series of blocks defined by the hours locked upon flat surfaces. this house has a shed! if i listened to anything it was to the street lights twinkle as mushrooms do when stamped on, baby screeches, we come home with medical certificates and iron deficiencies with mouthfuls of words about aurora borealis and sandstone. thru the periurban and elderberry. i create a sequence and it forges a colour for itself, can’t be changed. i’m wearing a white t-shirt and it’s late in the autumn and i’m telling you this because the sky is purple, it’s 16 degrees and i want to change
If you wanted to know, I’m from Mars, like men are, or in the order of things what a man doesn’t know the controverse of other waters, almost all of us exist as ice. Never to be ready for end, its artificial blush, to edit and close to the distance of light.
That you await water or more, gone muscle of the month nothing happened, acres of pleasure gone and into the stadium, more or gone to wake pink and stinging the dream, everybody wants to. The many-stomached among us arrive and wearing lace. We eat bees, we half kiss
If it is a mall and if analogue. I begin to forget the difference between, how easy it is to order hard slushie, rewind and loop myself into the fretless moment, a whistle of football, a slow man. Test acids:
No cup of coffee is hot enough. You up, you accuse me of people, I seem to have revelled in the air for too long. Where did our liquid water go? The intriguing discovery of three buried lakes, surface bruises. Had I the famous grouse and soda of your eyes are bubbles, we sup on the luminous and blemish, generous language. “Lack of a substantial atmosphere” was our review. Not to advise a trip here. Wait.
But trip, you go. Sip peaches under the bleachers, three poems. Not up yet. Not bright, not early. Waiting on me for the thirst. Bloglore, blueness, periorbital circles. Why so much neon pigment, not sleep, you go bass it is sultry “just pretend they’re your friends”. Advantage of entering thirties is the austerity of early sanguine, no YOU go to bed at noon; I will iron your watercolour until it is warm.
Victory to the internet so said privacy, party, my vice a nightly garment, smelt pain. At the left desk dream-amaze you save me, take pictures in natural formation, go see frog. Conflagrate lateral flow, high up in the sentence is forfeit, your sweat.
There is a courtyard on Mars where daylight, nay the leafminer, leaves scarification. No more raids. I have been here in flesh and blood to salsify, lightly the oyster plant is edible and does not grow. You do shrub mail, you don’t hot. Everything to do could else refuse.
No more scare, cup ring, close your accent permanently.
Plans for the Fall. Accounting.
Enrol to all that and wear a cloud, I want to write this you, to you, lower ourselves to parallel tarmacs; am I to speak the particulate deltas of this planet, no this one, you are a rainbow. We could be anywhere. Alice says ‘sad foam’, ‘Disappear’.
The money forth comes, does not accommodate thought; it is the feeling that I saw a seal. Start your bitcoin emptiness and pyre of light; I wrote on afternoon this letter. Ocean goes away.
Fullness and not to floss sleep from prison but I think the Marxist rabbits are fucking released.
Maggie says of the urge to begin mistakes. A surprise that the flotsam arrived here, not of shape, are you the sleekit to enter say the sea isn’t real.
We build whole houses with roofs of sequin. Desperado attic of saltheart, salvage flower. Meadow / Black / Wild / Yellow varieties.
I deleted 54% of this article.
Substantial genitalia of the not getting wet.
1.6% argon, we are gone where softly the walls sag.
Knit you a fortress of seasonal transition. Khora my lame electron.
Martian quality relayed in me a voice, surface, can’t get a full-length mirror from you, get dressed, exit the internet. I exist in this flat and wait for the post. No more furnishing.
Lemonade also goes this way.
How did I thinner the telescopic? Lop a water? Log into the apple?
Well, it is Red.
Starfish suck excess from solar landmass.
Sometimes gravity, shoots you up, does not come back. Inelegant hipbone blue and yonder. Sometimes very close to the ground I like spiders. Eat you up. You up.
Last year’s April was a leap year. For every 29th day I summoned to think of the hours as gifted, secret, strength. I spent the actual leap of February in somebody else’s bed, a cherished cliché: cradling sadness, cat-sitting, reading Anne Carson and rolling the word ‘tableaux’ around my stressy mouth, whose hostile environment required twice-daily salt-rinses. On the 29th of last year’s April, I wrote about vermillion and silverware, ‘the lint of your heart’ and hayfever. A friend and I exchanged tips on how to best work from the floor, how to make it your best work. I miss ‘working the floor’ in other senses.
What do you want is not the same as What would you like?
There was a reading group on Lisa Robertson’s The Baudelaire Fractal (2020), and the Zoom chat was elliptical pursuit, a good fuck pendant, fractal kissing and restless deferral. The word besmirch which isn’t a word search.
I remember cycling long into the hard sun; I recall better eyesight.
Okay, recently. Do you want to hear this? I spent a week of anticipation, languishing with migraines and digestive upsets and the kind of blues where mostly you curl foetally into the fantasy that really you, or this, doesn’t exist. Sip worry coffee and brush the hair, tweeze or shave, sit patiently on top of the abstract, waiting for something lucid to hatch. ‘Opening up’. A weekend bleeding, the minor cramp of womb in Autechre rhythm; then a further week of physical ailment whose primary treatments, according to the lore of reddit, included punching one’s spine, counting to ten, pinching between nose and lip and lying in hot baths. I did not have the baths, which seemed terrible and luxurious given how faint they could make me. I read two books by Samuel Beckett.
In Garments Against Women (2015), Anne Boyer writes that ‘Everyone tries to figure out how to overcome the embarrassment of existing. We embarrass each other with comfort and justice, happiness or infirmity’. It is awkward to smile and to squirm. To be red-faced and faint after a luxury bath. To be found frowning in the Instagram reel of somebody else’s dreaming. To apologise, to dwell upon, to ask for help. To be the one clutching a hot water bottle in the Zoom call; to hide or show this. To sip beer, the migraine coming. To say “hello” from the room next door. To deem something luxury, to partake of it. ‘I have done so much to be ordinary’, writes Boyer, ‘and made a record of this’. Say I learned this month how to paint my nails grape soda, define hypercritique, appreciate the slept-in curls of my hair.
It is awkward to be unwell, to express this without clear definition. “Sorry it’s all late, I’ve been sick” and to not elaborate on that sickness, the specific ways it kept you up all night, kept you retching or clutching something tight inside yourself which seemed to want to give birth. A stray barb or small contaminant. A numb pill. Transpiration is the process of water movement through a plant and its evaporation from aerial parts. Plants are not awkward; they just grow. Sometimes upwards, sideways; sometimes back inside themselves. Wilt logic. ‘Let’s be happy insofar as we were for a few days not infirm’ (Boyer). The ecstasy of a new morning where the body stretches out, the mind clears and one is ready to work. Who gets these mornings? Can they be traded? Is their delicious ease somehow fungible? What would I give for more of them? Fungus, rot, the fangs of lilies.
Maybe it starts with crisp garments. But pretty soon the neat attainment of day will unbutton. Watch it happen in Lorenzo Thomas’ poem ‘Euphemysticism’:
Some happily sing They have joy for white shirts Singing “O white shirt!” And that’s just the start
What ecstasy to declare the white shirt! What embarrassment! The chiaroscuro of lily-white shirt against the everyday’s dull shadows, but then showing up ‘baby pictures / Of pollution becoming disaster’ and Thomas’ poem is all about this. Disaster. Headlines, emissions, confusion. And that’s just the start. ‘A man crashes with his shadow’, perhaps because there is no one else. I did this for months on end because nothing else was safe. I could go the long walk for my safe grassy spot and crash there along with my shadow. I crashed in sunshine and rain. Crashland. Why did I bring the lily. It was like being fourteen again and walking for miles just to find a safe, anonymous place to smoke or weep. Sleep crash. ‘In the prickling grass in the afternoon in August, I kept trying to find a place where my blood could rush. That was the obsolete experience of hope’ (Lisa Robertson, XEclogue). It was like staring at the potential of Marlboro Golds tucked behind books and wondering what version of me they belong to. Synecdoche. Rising swirls. The poem burns out but also gets better. Blood rush and screen crash are lyric in pop songs. Sorry my windows. They are getting cleaned today.
Narrate my day again to you.
Thomas’ poem turns to the reader: ‘I’d like to check your influence / Over these ordinarily mysterious things’. The poem takes pictures or talks about it. What is a photographer responsible for? Do they re-enchant or estrange? If someone took a picture at this point or that point, if there was evidence, who would need to be told. How do you photograph pollution? Is this merely witnessing? In the past year and more, I have become witness to my own inability to really see. Disaster itself recedes into medial condition, blood swirls, scratching matter. I think of the way Sibylle Baier sings ‘I grow old’…
Some happily sing the white shirt and are they complacent with their conditions of work? Influence! ‘Desire is a snowscape on a placemat’ (Thomas). I trace its snowy lines in the stray thread of this weave. Ant-sized bloodstain. Am I to be made safe, or eat giant buttons? Put your plate on a place elsewhere and devour the rolling hills. Artificial snow is delicious. Crinkled thread. The white line curls around my tongue like spaghetti. Lila Matsumoto has a poem, ‘Trombone’, about hammering buttons. I unbutton the top three buttons of my blouse to walk around in fifteen degrees, absorbing/zorbing, and call the sunlight oil inside me.
‘There is a risk inherent in sliding all over the place’ (Boyer). This is what language does. There is a risk in crackle, in static, in the O shape of ‘sorry’ or ‘love’ or ‘alone’. Petition to upgrade for bubble emoji.
Last night, on the train back from another city I had not visited since August, I opened Sarah Bernstein’s new novel, The Coming Bad Days (2021). I did not close this novel again for several hours, except to pass through ticket gates or beyond groups of steaming men whose presence was vaguely threatening. They seemed cardboard cut-outs, stumbling towards me. When a migraine began burning my temples, I took paracetamol and kept walking, reading. When the light became gloam I walked faster. When I got home I sat at the table and opened the book again, like a schoolchild eager to begin their homework (as a ticket to freedom) or revisit a dream. It is risky to write about something you finished barely twelve hours ago. It’s embarrassing, the way talking about illness is, or happiness. To gush. You risk offering a raw piece of thought. Something has stuck to you and you are trying to convey the exact, impossible, vicious way in which you are changed by it. Still steaming.
This is what I understand by gorgeousness. As in, I gorged on it.
In the book’s last third occurs a fabular moment. The narrator is often telling their inner life through external surroundings — textures and fluctuations of weather. This is also to tell disaster. It is not the dramatic crash so much as a slow, implacable violence whose consequence ripples below and above the surface of our lives. Sometimes there is rupture: a cyclist is hit by a motorist, a storm occurs, an unspecified act of harm is committed, a life-changing conversation alluded to. But so much is in the insidious atmospheres which turn between dream and reality, which refuse to be nailed to the moment:
I dreamt of a landscape, overgrown grass, trees blanketing a hillside, leafy canopies moving against the sky, a deep river bisecting the scene. Fat berries pulling on their stems, apples weighing down their branches. Then a breeze came through with a slow hiss, and I knew it carried poison on its back. Here was a green abundance that I could not eat, a cold stream from which I could not drink. Take care, a voice said. Take care to call things by their names.
(Bernstein, The Coming Bad Days)
In this Edenic scene of harvest and green abundance, nothing is properly named. The landscape is unspecified, generic, anywhere. The voice belongs to anyone. It could be a serpent, a god, an angel, a person. Unlike Adam, the narrator cannot name things in nature. It is not their purpose. They came to Eden in dreams and after the fall. What fruits of knowledge exist are overripe and almost a burden to their branches and vines. In addition to the biblical resonance, this passage recalled for me the fig tree motif in Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar (1963),the poison tree of William Blake’s poem from Songs of Experience (1794). Wrath is in the air, and failure. I want to wrap around the passage like a kind of vine. Hold and be held in it. Is language a kind of taking care? A watering cruelty? What are the ecological arts of attention and tending to, towards, against?
I was struck by the possibility that Bernstein’s narrator embodied the abject and porous, slow and injured thought of an anthropocenic subject. This statement feels inevitable. The only abundance they could conjure was unconscious and laced with ‘poison’. It could not be imbibed; was not nourishing. But somehow such dreams nourish the text. For all its depiction of coldness, cruelty and the failure of communication, the cold stream of suffering, the weathering of Bernstein’s lyric prose effects a possible intimacy. Weathering, for Astrida Neimanis and Jennifer Mae Hamilton, ‘names a practice or a tactic: to weather means to pay attention to how bodies and places respond to weather-worlds which they are also making’. I think of the narrator skittishly eating cheese sandwiches at the window of their office, every single day of the week. I eat this sandwich with them. What is it they see? Each iterative mention of the weather reminds us that the social and interpersonal dramas of the novel are part of the medial, immersive or remote dramas of climate. The agential presence of rain, frost, clouds and fog, the turn of the waves, the ‘glistening violet evenings’: it’s more than metaphor. It sinks into the prickling skin of Bernstein’s language. Maybe you’d want to call this a weathering realism.
This novel seized me to read with compulsion, the way a dream does come and the writing of the dream is luxuriance that only later you bathe in. Not quite vulnerable or resilient. Responsive. Exposed to something.
On the 28th April 2019 (no entry for the 29th), I wrote in purple ink:
We would do better to sleep now, I have been sleeping much better and trying to resist the pull of insomnia, trying to perfect a monologue. What comes and goes in a dream without noticing, whose handwriting on the sun you recognised chancing your luck with yellow corn and fields of trials against sensitive, colours of smear and floral obstacle. Hyperboreal data flow into the crinkle cut futurity. Applying for latitude, acid.
Not sure about ‘we’: did I mean the ‘we’ of me reading back, and the ‘me’ who was writing, there in the moment? Are you also included, reading this passage over one of my shoulders? Can we take care to name things in dreams? But when I dream of people — friends, loved-ones, family, colleagues the famous — as I often do, what happens when I write their names? Am I opening them up to something that could harm or exhaust them? Is their presence a giving over of energy? Am I to be persecuted by the purple, anonymous flower of somebody’s need? What if I didn’t even know? What if the mark-making of initials was key? Will it bloom or wilt?
Go back to sleep in the forest, soft cosmos of dissolving forms.
There is a sense of missing someone that grows an acorn in your belly. It hardens and rattles with new life. It burns out of place. Leaves you with a feeling of placelessness. Impregnates every word with the possible, the fizzy wake, the fear and hurt. Makes you grow sideways. Hey. To exist in no-time of not knowing when the feeling comes. Pastel vests are back in fashion. Pull over. Kisses. Rarest flower emoji that doesn’t exist. To be sometimes well and other times racked in a well-documented madness that pays various attention to weather. Something painful. A few days of goodness seized. I would leap out the door, do 15,000 steps each day; so I would name the colour chartreuse when I saw it. Watching for changing bone structures in Zoom tiles. Your hair grown long and lemon blonde. My internet broke for a whole day and night. I felt old-timey in the pdf archive. Phoned you.
Bebby Doll – Weeks
Ana Roxanne – I’m Every Sparkling Woman
Zoee – Microwave
Cowgirl Clue – Cherry Jubilee
Laurel Halo – Sun to Solar
trayer tryon, Julie Byrne – new forever
Life Without Buildings – Sorrow
Cocteau Twins – My Truth
Kelsey Lu, Yves Tumor, Kelly Moran, Moses Boyd, ‘let all the poisons that lurk in the mud seep out’
Iceage – Gold City
Le Tigre – Deceptacon
FKA twigs, Headie One, Fred again.. – Don’t Judge Me
Porridge Radio – Wet Road
Angel Olsen – Alive and Dying (Waving, Smiling)
Big Thief – Off You
Perfume Genius – Valley
Grouper – Poison Tree
Sonic Youth – Providence
U.S. Maple – The State Is Bad
Sky Ferreira – Sad Dream
Waxahatchee – Fruits of My Labor (Lucinda Williams cover)
The Felice Brothers – Inferno
Bright Eyes – Train Under Water
Weyes Blood – Titanic Risen
Lucinda Williams – Save Yourself (Sharon Van Etten cover)