Sleep Felt Productive

cn: mention of bulimia; spoilers

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 singing Pretty 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 don’t want to see the day when it’s dying.

Cowboy Gardening

It was supposed to snow in the night and the not snowing was sore as a missed period. I awoke with two crescent-shaped moons in the palm of my hand and thought of a sacrifice unwittingly given in dreamland. Said Jesus. Peridot phlegm and the scratchy sensation, knowing that speech too could be cool, historical, safe. Could not see beyond pellucid rivulets, Omicron my windows, my streaming January. January 

streams from every well-known orifice of the world. Its colour is shamelessly stone. I seem to be allergic to inexplicable moments and so keep to the edge of the polyphony of yellow. I am cared for. The Great Barrier Reef dissolves in my dreams the substrate of yellow. It goes far. Pieces of the GBR are washed ashore in Ayr, Singapore, Los Angeles, Greenland. I go to these places by holding a polished boiled candy in my mouth, like the women in Céline and Julie Go Boating. My ankles licked by truest shores / but January didn’t fucking happen. 

Put together the orange-purple rose, your possible outcomes are red or gold (if you are lucky). Two reds together, with the golden watering can, could result in the rare blue rose. A novel rose. Black velvet roses grow in the old woman’s garden because she has infinite time to tend them. I’m not saying she’s immortal, like the Turritopsis dohrnii jellyfish; only that she doesn’t exist in our time. It’s rude to assume so. I’m not saying the lines of her face are asemic writing — nobody did that to her, or scarred her. She’s not scared. She just lives and dies all the time. She waters the roses.

Sometimes I imagine her in fisherman’s clothes, in meshy nightclub outfits of neon flavours, in extravagant ballgowns, blue boilersuits. Sometimes I’ve seen her before. The only way I can see her is to climb a few steps on the ladder by the village store, its red paint flaking, and I hang my body upside down the other side, risking exposure. I never eat before doing this. She doesn’t see me; she doesn’t see her roses either, not the blooms. In the village, people walk around with handfuls of rose seeds sometimes strung in little hemp bags. These are the currency of care. I have tended the young with haircuts and watched the flourishing of teenage roses. They say I am an old lady in the garb or garbage of former actresses. I hear them sing to me their stories. “Remember 
she shot the guy who brought the astrograss”.
What they don’t remember, whippersnappers, is the incorrigible realism of that turf. Fuck it, 
I have done nothing wrong. I perform for them my cowboy gardening. Broadcast the surplus value of our mutual twilight. Halloween roses for everyone. Every night I wake up from someone else’s childbirth and the world is so sore, the wound in the sky the snow wants to fall through. They bandaged it with realism. I need to go far. Do you remember the last time you awoke and felt like a person?

The roses grow up in the gaps of the cattlegrid, knowing they will be trodden on. Again and again. We can’t stop them from doing this and they do it so often we have to account for a portion of Waste. Kissing you is itself a trellis. But we are propped and grown sideways with the vines strung betwixt our ribs. We are babies.

I like the tired way the roses intonate colour. The economics of the roses. Their euphemistic fetish. I tried to avow my commitment to rosehood the day I saw your calves all torn, and saw about women getting their labias reduced, and the red, blood roses sold on the internet, and rest. I lay this on your grave, the world.

My love, as a redness in our rosette
That’s newly worn in June
O my love, like the melt 
That’s sweetly played in turbines 

So fairway artery thou, my bonnie lasso
Defiled in love as I 
Will love thee still, my decade
Tinged as the seas are garlanded dry 

Tinged all the seas as thee, my decanter
At the romantic menagerie of sunset
I will luminary still, a debutante
Of the lighthouse sarcophagi 

And plough thee well, my only lathe!
And plough thee well, awhile!
And I will come again, my love
Though it were ten thousand millennium.

My love’s rose-coloured highlighter really hurt the extra-textual, and thus booked trains to bed. I had an identity. I knew what you had done to the text. Austerity of the meadow to blame for ongoing culling of kin. You are abandonable as you have always been. Saplings for pronouns.

I feel wild and sad. 

I feel pieces together stirring inside the world. Little bits of coral awake in
my throat, the shape of eight billion sun-spike proteins I was dumb
enough to swallow. It is not my fault but in my dreams 
I get product emails like, Forget-me-not
a pair of jeans, high-waisted Levi’s 
as if to wear at the end of the month 
we keep saying sorry for delay, embroidered 
our thighs with spiders
excuses to use lighters
without smoking
does it make us vectors
the warning of snow and ice still issued
from inside the snow globe of the rosehip 
changes as it withers, glass shards
pissed from acid clouds in all colours:
black, blue, burgundy, cherry brandy, coral
cream, dark pink, green, lavender, light pink,
lilac, orange, peach, purple’s timeless red,
salmon, Hollywood white & yellow, rainbow
chosen for the significant other, a masculine flower
dipped in fortified light, I’m thankful
I look good lying down, the long unconditional stem 
aka Lemonade, l-l-l-lemonade, l-l-l-lemonade…….

Particulate Matters

An unmade bed with mint green duvet showing an open notebook,hot water bottle and dressing gown

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)?

From Spirited Away (2001)

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 wherewhen 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. 

From My Neighbour Totoro (1988)

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.

Dorothy

Dorothy

Dorothy’s Opiates is the name of the real Arcadia 
not to be busted, learning that sleep deprivation is a kind of
spiritual death from a podcast featuring the Nap Ministry
I set off to sleep under three duvets: one is representative 
of snow, the other a sleep mode, the other a body. I write to you
from beneath this slumberous context to wonder why anyone
who ever lived in a single glazed tenement loved the cold.
I can think of reasons: always something to look forward to
such as the crocuses and milder temperatures, the searching of
someone to warm you, wanting to dissolve into their skin
this someone who is never cold like you. I can’t explain this cold
but I can summarise its various sensations, cold as in a kind of disease
that eats your bones from the inside with terrible icicles 
and lives in your back as a demon, cackling from within your kidneys;
a small child dependent on your energy, the cold needs fed.
The cold is in your chest, your throat, your head. 
It throbs in your fingertips until they are red and puffy and burning
like nothing else you have ever felt: imagine every orgasm of your life
summarised and congealed as an opposite evil — pain — and concentrated
in the tips of your fingers, as though a malformed heart had grown 
in each one, beating out of time, each heart individually failing 
at the tips of your fingers until the pain spreads out like a juice
all the way down your fingers, hot, the nerves pulling into your arm
but it is so concentrated at the tips, you can’t really move 
and to hit them against each other is like clanging vegetal matter
against blunt metal, they are thumpy and numb, now the pain 
is melting it becomes a warm sensation of somewhat release
as though only a generalised bruising of the nervous ends 
of all your digits. And by this time I hope I’ll have gotten home
to run them perilously under cold water, bringing them to room temperature
as if they could crack off and crumble into snowflakes of ache
it takes ten minutes or more; after which they will sting 
with the feeling of having been battered. And it will happen again 
the second your blood spikes, you go outside; they may as well 
have been trodden on or run over by a van the way they feel right now.
I ask you sometimes to squeeze my hands so hard it bursts the blue of us.
            Once I knew a worse cold
accordant to body weight this kind of cold is all-consuming for all seasons
of the year, a kind of inverse fire that licks your insides with its ice 
so you feel it as a constant in your sternum, the cold that is eating 
the meat of your ribs so you become a delicate succulent, always with 
sugar on your mind, wanting to be watered. Always watering yourself
fruitlessly
    and feathered of flesh, wilted
as if to float upon a snowdrift and not leave footprints.
                                    Sometimes it is barely to speak 
or, having dry Januaried the masses, some lubricant of society was missing
sorely from our dreams. So we did not dream of touching each other
so much as falling from breezeblocks, frosted, the hard fuck that doesn’t come
bounding down stairwells to greet you at sun-up with cigarettes and coffee,
which you cannot touch, which aggravates your nerves to a passion. 
Nicotine, caffeine, dopamine. The endocrine systems of our dreams 
    are running on empty
and I have fed this day with the manifest boilersuit, as though to fix my own boiler
with mechanical prowess, die in your arms and so on. There are parts of the city
whose arteries confuse to the point of a general surge, desirous of insulation
    and drivers 
arrange the marzipan animals of their dashboard tenderly. 
            Snowfall. The first of the year’s cold drama
gone to pick up a wardrobe through the Narnias of other vinyl records
caught on the loop of the sweltering imaginaries a slice of life, of liquorice.
   Flying by the Vogue Chippy of Cumbernauld Road.
You play loose with it, as if the rain alone would melt 
what meadow remains of the innocence. A summary of the movie
of other Januaries: asking if I am a bad feminist for not liking such-and-such 
a book, the enclave of housing utopias, the sunshine duration of the ad 
for Stella Artois, the scene in All is Forgiven where the drunk kids dance 
to The Raincoats’ version of ‘Lola’. I want to be inebriated 
with chips and cheese on the corner and kissing you darkly
in the overlit takeaway. Anniversary of another fascist coup. 
The cold in blunder, spraying my tongue with Vitamin D, worrying about sleep.
                        ‘Dorothy’ is a song by Kevin Morby
in the video, somebody plays a trumpet underwater. I drape a cardigan
over my daughterhood, pull stories across my knees until I am deep 
in the grass with you, the snow grass, a long sore note, we have pink faces
keeping up with each other’s sleeps, to rotate
in the bed, the powdery dreamscapes gathering form. 
            Dorothy,
Your warm apparition not to be sold or bought, an account 
of the aspirin sunlight, too much, taking the flower pill 
that makes me react as a plant, long stem in your arms 
and coaxed of sap. 
   Calcium is a luxury to those who might keep their flesh self-
sustained and hard and warm. I thought of Kansas and corn 
with the morning yoghurt as a viscid snow, spoonfuls 
of what we are missing to kiss 
goodbye of the freezing streets of Partick, melt in your mouth, 
   the pressure of boilers
adjusted by release, the way our bodies incline to the light
even when it is missing, how I wish you could trade
kisses for calories of actual heat, the truthfeel of one in the morning
stands for baggies of memories
    the prized alacrity of exercise, 
            I insufflate 
                                   the nervous internet.
            If this poem really were sentient, this would be the queue 
for the doctor’s office, which is a location after all, novel
in its banality, after the fact of actually being here, a state of waiting
requiring the mortal presence of your body.
  I stopped asking what a poem can do
when it seemed like I was done typing 
with my fingers searing hot white words like arrows 
tearing the flesh as they wrote, O Dorothy, listening 
   to a band called Trapped in Kansas.
I was born. Wrestling with duvets to change the music sheets
afresh, up close with the soot-covered mountains, 
called to the room with thermometers jammed 
in the hole of the poem, its quavers jostling with old composition,
   bloodstream, organ, snow.
                                             It is safe, it is safe. 

A Breath

A BREATH



Writing in the gloaming I would even call meadow, its scorched-out centre you can probably see from a helicopter, a drone, should you choose the option of aerial photography and remote capture in a time of social distancing. Should you have access to that tech, perhaps in a speculative way; should you have access, the way children have access because they discuss so thoroughly the possibilities, and they do this illicitly into the night. My excellent stenography skills, if we are calling this shorthand, were honed from adolescent hours on Microsoft Instant Messenger, affectionately known as MSN. Any one of us born in that particular bracket of the fin de siècle will understand what it means to spend time in one’s room alone, not quite as in ‘Adam’s Song’, but touching the void through sign-ins, statuses, emoticons, nudges. To live in the delirium of many glimmering windows. I wanted to call you up from my bower, listening to ‘Lime Tree’ on repeat because it carries me away; I wanted to call you up, but could I bear to put down my pen for this. You will never know if I am writing or typing; ‘this kind of thing’ bears no performative ellipsis. Had I known anyway what you would say, as someone who needs access to their own face to talk, something is coming away for free. We have been watching each other watch our own expressions: as with emoticons, each manner of the face feels curated. Some of us collapse on the phone. In the fractal reality of self-isolation, I divvy up zoomy contingencies of speech. When was the last time I talked without seeing my own face. Deleuze and Guattari argue that faces ‘define zones of frequency or probability’: the face ‘constructs the wall that the signifier needs in order to bounce off of’. Hoping to give you a meadow — multifarious and mysterious plenty — I yet give you the wall or the screen. A zoomy contingency that you are happy, that you had signed out of the chat. Against it I file down my voice to its lower registers, taking the edge off an earnestness. If you could measure the frequency of sleep, perhaps architects of the dream-state would salve the true riddles of twenty-first century expression. I wanted to call you up with a slow, perfected drawl, relay how I was hanging upside down from my bower. How I imagine the song to end is a very beautiful flower, floating down the river, but that is only how the song begins. It really ends with a daydream, ‘now that living is no good’, and the singer is lost and found as they enter the woods, barefoot like a child. Why am I telling you all this, barefoot like a child, now that I cannot tell the woods from the trees in my nameless life. And Coleridge sings, this lime tree my prison, my prison / feels like prism. If a wood haloed the meadow, if a moat, if a liquid loop — arboreal, molten, stupid. Walking in the scorched-out meadow an hour or more to be here, sometimes dreaming of this place, needing to be here — no longer a meadow for having been burned. What occurred to ruin the centre. I want to bounce, bounce, bounce with it. All my friends active now and forever. I stumble on the grammar of an instant; are you online, are you online in the meadow, I am calling you up to say this. I am checking-in, the way people used to on Facebook. What is the name of this place? The meadow goes undocumented. What is the probability that your face means the shape of a grassland, a patch of unruly narcissi, a noticing gesture that I would say I have been here before. At least in dreams. Someone is trying to brand the meadow. In quarantine, my old longing for those messaging days recurs. We all talked on that singular platform, confessed under pseudonyms, and ever since I have been lost in the trees of each channel — their foliage concealing the one true thing. Someone is trying to sell the meadow. Infinite recursion of memes and secrets and finance. There was a purity to MSN, something about its frequency. Namelessness. You see what I mean? Sometimes in the poem, I mean the scorched-out cindering middle of the poem, you take grace enough to say fuck it, hiya, wait, no, I can’t hear you. You hold ‘us’ in brackets. If I could timestamp the start to end of that, like debt. One time C. messaged me on Instagram to ask what is really meant by the gloaming. What time of day was this asked, did that matter? I think gloaming would be different at four in the morning to noon; but what did I give as reply? A quick skim of the platforms comes up with nothing. Besides, soon my battery will die in the old archaeology of dissolving thought. There was a purpose in calling you up for this, and now ants are crawling all over my notebook. Nothing has touched me for weeks. I want to say I have a lascivious craving for seaweed flakes, tousled hair, disco kisses, regular breakfasts, offline status, cetirizine, romance and saffron cakes. I have been touching nothing; lately asking myself what is it we do that makes us fruit. The blossoms are stirring on Montague Street. And you click and collect, you drag us backwards. I know that faceless, somewhere you construct the wall. Last night I ran down Great Western Road, my Spotify shuffling back to ‘Adam’s Song’, ‘Tomorrow holds such better days’. I felt burdened by the days inside the days, their seeming neon-fold, ‘the time goes by’ in the flicker of your eyelid. Because my eyes are screen-burned, hot-taken, hypothetical, exhausted; because my eyes looked too long at the meadow. Its torrified heart reduced to this logo. Because your eyes held green astride creamy lindens, to only open the same elsewhere, ‘No sound is dissonant which tells of Life’, etc. I was overwhelmed by the sweetness of power chords, the lines about apple juice spilled in the hall, harmony, the burden of a loss the size of adolescence itself. St. John’s Wort doled in the morning, soft-bitter ersatz taste of the sunlight and sensitive. I have no heart for war but air. How did I get here, on the brink of my phone battery’s untimely death, filling my notebook in the moonless April? Otherwise it would happen, haze, my father posting endless on his wall, unbeknownst to the standard quota expected on the book of the face. This feels so banal and yet I am telling you the grass is beautiful, endless, strange. Marigolds cluster around glitching trees, impossible to reach. If I could I would give you a pool of marigolds. Only just realised pool is loop backwards. Yellow and / I drag into blue and backwards to call you. I’m sorry I’ve been listening to ‘Lime Tree’ again — it’s just that this song came out in 2007, I was only fourteen, yellow + blue make green, I was starving and ever since then I’ve thought of this story. Something you could cut out from inside you, could burn from the meadow. A little kernel of narrative you tap with your tongue and your teeth, you give to me slowly. I want to leave the message to assure you, ‘It’s done’. Would you know I was talking about the disease? I was coming down from my bower, coming down, breezeless and sleepy, wishing I could call you up and quote the line, ‘Don’t be so amazing / Or I’ll miss you too much’. I wish I could climb through a window to see you, smooth myself right through the glass. Could I miss what I had not yet touched, in April’s middling haze of something receding. All those years you had told me to eat. Oh you know and you know and you don’t. Remember those hours? If we could give them back, little gifts of death, as Derrida says, like an ethics. It’s only me. I’m sorry if calling freaked you out from inside the machine. What I wanted to say was, it made me ecstatic, on GWR, zoomy the song and the voice and I could see Venus so bright in the sky. And the sky was rich as ganache, thick filled with more sky; Matty would say like chocolate, or saffron, or debt. Such a spooky ecstasy! (<3) The calorific night…I write you this so as to cut into it, hazy, reflecting, give you a slice of my dreams. Whatever anyone says feels charged with history, so I want this to be utterly redundant, depletable, delectable, careless as crossing the road without cars in the city that now never wakes or sleeps, but only deletes. The adventitious device, zoning close to us, is taking a photo. Is this a kind of labour. There are such archives beyond access they try for. Here, I will be always the small green light in lieu of a meadow, the lyrical unfinishing of cringe to know this. A breath I took / You can just call me up. 

— 17th April 2020

Soft Friction

New publication: Soft Friction by Kirsty Dunlop and Maria Sledmere

Here we present you a bundle of our dreams, wrapped in something like a rhythm, or did we mean a ribbon? Soft Friction is an intimate gathering of dreams from 2018, written during a summer of ‘existential soup’, fainting at gigs, pulling all-nighters and panic surrealism. Extracted from a longer diary, these fragments wear the sensuality and sass of an active dream life shared between two people getting high on each others’ brains. From dolphins thrashing in kitchens, to maths equations, celebrity encounters and shopping for underwear, the pamphlet runs through the four stages of sleep and wakes you with a cheeky tickle of incompleteness.

44pp (A5 B/W)
Printed on recycled natural paper 100gsm
Cover by Maria Sledmere
Published by Mermaid Motel
£5 inc. UK P+P

To order, email kirsty_dunlop[at]hotmail.co.uk or simply paypal £5 to this email with your postal address. For orders outside the UK drop Kirsty an email for postage.

Now available.

Playlist: April 2021

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.

Those days

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) 

Playlist: February 2021

you want snow, personally want to know will it end? The snow was a space it kept filling until the light went down and there was no song, just white in a sepia, sepia song. Was friday night, first night, and you could get a wine right now, a wish right now, you could fill it with wine. I do it all the time and there’s another card to prove it. Notifications softly accumulate in organic bright square. I have to stay awake; there are these bordered gardens I walk on the boardwalk I’m bored of walking I do it all the time; we stop sometimes (pensive) we watch each other not-smoke over the Zone. You want snow and I fill a glass of it, crisply; gushed from the tap but I still have precision, white grapes sour my organs hurting. We’re in the milk bar in some novel, some game, is it Clock Town? I am always taking you to Clock Town where the moon’s tears shimmer and there’s always a love affair to intercept with letters. Dearest…I meant, putting these shiny earrings in for you, quartz chips, I lost one? There is a proverb, a space; you fill it. Don’t fill anything right to the brim unless it’s coffee, I’ll drink it, overfull the stars and so on only as old as they think they are! We’re never too young for clubbing, the air is infectious you go out with mittens you glow — I am taking pictures of Kelvin Way, the avenue, the sorry trees. Likes of likes fill up like snow, like pc4pc like another moratorium on the heart react but you are bees. Drape inwards where the nape of a neck is pearl. We are weeping in the reading and we never were too young for this. Her version of treble mix in blackbird, favourite, a yellow call. Stereo. Some things a poem keeps secret. We’re in the milk bar and I am the tender of bar, a bar of milk (chocolate!) that gets you high, highest on wednesday’s the hump day pack it with double the sugar. Let’s grate hours upon hours, shredding plainsong, blackbirds, milk. The calorific value of daylight is only that you live it, don’t let anyone tell you they can harvest good will from the sun, it’s all watts, you know, I always fancied myself gentrified sunbeam for lunch but only on vicarious fridays, like I’m in love and it’s caused by coffee, something S. said once in a poem or essay, it’s easy, you take off your clothes and go swimming in the ice melt, SPACE, it’s sentence. We’re never too young for air, I’m greedy for oxygen like it’s 2014 and having moshed for sufficient number of hours in the outdoor crowd of this gentrified field I will take this body to the oxygen bar. You have the summer bod, the winter bod, the hot bod, the boy bod, the girl bod, the professional bod, the Zoom bod, the new bod, the non bod, the gains bod, the ghost bod, the fire bod, the ice bod, the willow bod, the swim bod, the shame bod. We sat in the oxygen bar anyhow, C. spent obnoxious amounts on a bottle of water that lasted forever, BPA-free, we cradled it all morn like our baby, she was, the clarity in that! Sparkling, milking, added vitamins. It is friday night on my desk there are innumerable pamphlets of poem, wires (no liquorice), f.’s glasses, a pink slab of crackle quartz, a coaster (forever unused) that says ‘please don’t leave’ inside a heart, melatonin pills (I will take one later), the bottle cap from a bottle of nye’s Classic Hooch, a lukewarm of tea (green), three-way pencil sharpener, hair clip, an orange pomander candle which I am horrified to say advertises itself as ‘Harmful to aquatic life with long lasting effects’ — so in any case you won’t catch me throwing this fire in the sea! Special aquarium babies we are. It contains limonene, geranyl acetate – the candle, not the sea – and asks to be disposed in an appropriate disposal site. A film called Dive in which I am force-fed squid in the back of a taxi, now where have we seen that one before? A. has a vegan fridge a white shelf a row of spices. Tell me where do we all go lay rest our candles, how to elegise that which symbolises elegy, say prayer. Is this merely to blog or to bathe in pond life, gentle aquaria, I see through other glasses the reflective lettrism of darknesses unknown to us! And you’re still reading! Snow person melts into people. There is melt poetics. I clip back the starry excess to say wait here, we’re on the brink of something is it the beach in the email the long bright stretch of waiting, white sand, gold sand, brown sand, blue sand under the moon (!) how long it’s been I hope you’re okay and other famous online statements the daffodils wilt too soon is sun they want so much blush pressure it’s barely gone february, melt and blush. A year ago today we all kissed I did cartwheels the vodka was long and delicious, the room was huge, our hearts acidic. Monopoly for dogs. Sharing a space, you hold. Is it to never feel correct in the body, what is correction? Not lighter fluid or erasers, not rubber bullets, silver bullets, see that spray you put in your tea or under the tongue? It’s sultry. Tip-Exx the sky of its sentences: And the man at the station asking about rizlas; I wanted to be inside the movie somehow; grunge boys in their teens wearing mum dresses. On the phone elsewhere I cry on the way to vaccine because of the wind is alarmist and two days later my arm is bruised but something is glowing we call it glitchflu. More like, what do we have energy? I am carelessly humanist transition I walk on pavements I pin my life to the side I kiss your brow I am kissed regardless the stars are yes say here the waves a glissy sensation a wine or is it the dawn so aeropressed. How long? I want a dial-in thesis, drive-by thesis, dive-bar thesis. Double shot — What exists? This is going to argue [that] I don’t dare ask to hold my breath I am falling from air, extra shots, impasse, salted caramel, the jag didn’t hurt a bit but all night the ache and a glandular longing to be again born on the brink of full moon the wires and coming along the Clyde coming up was almost the sea or when the air hit my face it was a whip it was west; I saw you in the loch in july. There is a bird and curlew, bless you, how many times we had to admit this was happening and pangs for an X and cutely go as it does then stain us. How easy to forget a persona. The shape contains us. I was even incubated as a baby for what, for not being able to breathe or die. What remains is the sand and the wind alacrity then scrap matters for how a throat hurts get so leafy. Breath. Swipe here a useless space. E. says I look languid I am wearing all white my hair hurts my breath hurts the glass is apparent, scalp clip, red-lipped to say you are blocked and so far outside and the subtleties in difference between silence and mute. Ecru! Career poetess of the sea except. How to protect yourself and others. The comment section filling with memory snow as the sky is a mattress, let’s bounce from it. There is time after time after time last seconds ago the edit came down from the rain and your tongue and shining. Don’t say it? Don’t say it at all? The arrangement of tulips a mathematics what do people in American movies really mean when they say Do you want to come over we’ll do some trig? Mothers not mothers arranging the vase it is glass the atoms are careless. You see the one yellow tulip had flopped down in the window this is the yellow we are a very strong yellow a limp yellow a lip, equilateral, let’s count stripes or feel inside they are silk, the trestle, assemble the trestle, the trellis. I’ll grow across pink suns to see you, extra life of the indolent, a quoted splendour; the dinner we coated with rain, with lexical deference, with delta waves, with petals, equations. Pass me cigar. I am propped against sunset. The smoke is to say

~

Hannah Diamond – Hi

SOPHIE – UNISIL

Janelle Monáe feat. Grimes – Pynk

CAN – Waiting for the Streetcar

Jeff Buckley – The Sky is a Landfill

Silver Jews – I’m Gonna Love the Hell Out of You

Judee Sill – Down Where the Valleys Are Low

Zella Day, Weyes Blood – Holocene

Porridge Radio, Piglet – Let’s Not Fight !

Julia Holter – Sea Calls Me Home

Dorothea Pass – Container

Cocteau Twins, Harold Budd – Ooze Out and Away, Anyhow

Playlist: January 2021

Not long ago a blog was destroyed. Inside the blog was a forest; what they called forest but by all intents and purposes was more the unknown contribution to chronology which made up many pages of codes and trees. Codes and trees. The liquor in a small pool was seemingly endless dirty martini, where olives float in lieu of lilies. I meant to say it was destroyed and the incident being customisable, now to look back, I see a particular man at sunset wielding buttons. Pop, pluck, glock. Boys share the same blouse as me. Then gingham and dungarees to write in the blog another hour or more, sleeves rolled, plunging seasons into seasons. Keep yourself sewn. Don’t get shot. This winter will you change your life. This summer will you lose it. All of the paper incineration. Sound of artificial camera flash in the dark, razor the code from the trees. This change, not the life, not necessarily. Scrolling the trees. 

What will it take for the server to work? There was a dark room of my childhood filled with blinking lights, layer-bake hard drives, wires and cables. Bringing you coffee, I go there closing my eyes to the electronic warmth at the heart of the office. Whose office is this? How can I work there? Will you give me a job? I am a fine typist / I like the word ‘twilight’. 

But not long ago, a blog was destroyed. We were in generic city, you know the one with buildings, and something swerved into us. I was scared at first, weren’t you? We kept left-clicking the breeze to stop, but the way your hair looked, lifted — I could’ve almost gone with it, the hum and song of the breeze just pink. Remembering lines like January is endless and ‘the Northern Line is the loudest’ as I consent to give cookies, consent to be multiplied in the archive of giving me moments in capital city; where is my iPod? Small things you can do, exchange of fruit, the scale of it. Something swerved into us. I was scared at first, weren’t you? My blood was all scattering berries, clots, poisons. We knew the album was amazing. We said this many times. I said we have to see a doctor. Just a guess but the crescendo fucking kills me. I breathed too hard it was scary. The road was quiet but something swerved into us. Couldn’t tell if it was a truck or a set of emotions. Kisses from France. I was climbing to get to the good bit. This is a painful song coming on I won’t talk about further, being dull and adult, seeing old college friends lost. What is a moon. I said we have to see a doctor and we did, we got in line outside with our masks; it was a time before masks but I add them. Losing your pearls, losing your solace barometer. Remember X overmind of me. We were turned away at the last. Did not see doctor. Jellyfish. I wore the blouse that all the boys wore, proudly.

Driving to Brighton, not driving to Brighton.

The ocean washed up masses of cash, bank notes sticky with kelp and salt, tons of pennies in lieu of pebbles, bits of glass. I paid for a book of poems with a cheque signed on behalf of my father. I paid for my life. The blog lived inside of the sea. It was being destroyed and so the blog called tsunami. It had a world in it. Tsunami_93. Commission you tell me the endless failures of Wednesday, Thursday, watching the ants by the ocean accumulate broadband costs. Watching the ants and cash. Spiralling ants and cash. I said something swerved into us, it was fucking horrible. I saw it, the long hard crash of the numbers, upwards. The colony of allied ants just clicking away in the dark like we already knew them. A politician comes and goes from the hole where you fall through, nightly, clutching at sand. A burlesque of sleep. The patent glitter of policy, it gets in your body. The ants made a moat of the hospital.

Silently, you came to town in my closing dream which was killing our molars from kissing too much in any forsaken house by the sea, endless you climb inside me — figure this in, you figure this out. Sometimes the text at the bottom of the page just disappears. Tell you a blog was destroyed and my concern is for glutinous sentences, stretching. Planetary hardship was relative. Tell me, hold me. I write about dying in my diary, how will it feel to be six or five and not knowing about the dying, how will it feel to look back knowing you lived through it. Tear off the blouse the boys gave to me. There is a coming through of such dreams I have had, splashes of sick pink light, infinite distance — and can I say the animal I never met was nice, they were so nice, the album was amazing. The animal pronoun that therefore I am. Something swerved into us; it was the whole fat year of pink rain. Where a blog was destroyed, you put down the stone. It is shaped like a heart that needs convincing to beat.

Kept diaries of numbers kept easy job kept crying. Felt like portraits of femmes in rose blush and yellow and emerald green, leaking, felt like looking into you back from Matisse or wherever it was in generic city we saw what doesn’t is seen. Domestic bliss. I remember the wires in my childhood were totally opaque. Quiet symphony of dialup and call you. eBay and a “flurry of cosy ideas” says eye, closing for the last time, plated. Down a long gold tunnel and DNS error. “Are you alright? Are you alright?” I hate this question but whacking a drum and bass beat right HERE was good, if originally ballad but easy

to me, this song is less about a particular situation, and more about that feeling you get looking back
on things that have meant a lot to you, or you
feel could have meant more

I hide the application anyway. It is spring 2008, no forests exist, the bathroom sounds of lemongrass scent and harshest bleach. I’m sick. I’m sick of parks I want genuine forestry and a place to be lost and call you. I remember football on the low green, barging into silver, not knowing a wave meant more disease. Not knowing the waves as anything other than the earnest self-abuse of the sea. Salt heal. It hurt to listen by the long thin phrase of your cigarette, smoke getting up in the hours of my eyes. I remember kissing in tents / remember running home drunk from school. Remember who watched us. The man who squared-up for no good reason other than the sound his own voice made, which was a sound of bright cash howled from the sandy reminder. There are memory dunes where stuff piles up, stuff gets sucked or dragged away. Stuff gets pissed on. Something swerved into us and we did not phone the cops. I carried the hurt for a while instead. Walked from one end of the green to the other. Now in the city. On the mobile phone a big red sound passed beta-waves through us and you asked, “what was that?” and pleaded “please don’t die”. I minimise the year, I always reply. I fantasise portals to London.

Dreamt the prime minister was crying on Mars for the ninth time and it was a ninth wave and it was very bee loud it was glandular. Second wave, third wave, watch out for next winter. A man who swallowed all of the cash of the sea was blatant in wanting to touch this and ruin my life. It hurt to listen. A novelty sermon on visions, ecstasies, roses and bread. Something H.D. says about a jellyfish and will you sign up for infinity melt club — it requires the overmind, sad to miss, buoyed up by salt water always. We passed the number we wanted not to pass. Will Alexander writes that poetics is ‘a place where language becomes a fertilised concentration that explodes’. I’m talking about everything we used to do. Another life. Voice barely makes it to audible status. Every month I turn fifteen again and my mouth tastes of Yorkie bars, acid, ice cubes painted with crude sweet oil, Diet Coke, extra salt. Maria, it says, and I wonder. Someone is a shadow they are painting the walls with it, more and more, the paint fizzes up. Crude sweet oil, the blouse of the boys. Softly you bring me the water, more of it, enormous with cash, I hate it. I mix all the paint with us. 

That person who used to work, I miss her. January is endless. Should the blog be destroyed? It was Platonic like kissing the stone at the place where sunflowers grew upside-down by a crumbled temple, they let us go. You say, “this is wretched” then turn on the radio. Elliott Smith in front of a mural, covering The Beatles. That I a girl from Maybole would like to be consulted; would like consultation. Because. The doctor turned us down. The river was frozen. Salt. Pretzels of fallopian tubes. Someone on the radio said poverty. The blog consolation of be love because you. Remarkably clean air I remember? What comes next is older and older, how early the cruel was, forecast, thinking in paradigms and not glassware. “You look young!” It might be I always hold out. Still you smash, the failures of Tuesday, no melatonin. Blissing Chamomile Mountain. Payne’s Gray, Davy’s Gray, Naples Yellow. Salacious impression of what is a gesture. I have all these dreams about ladders like—

å̷͈̳̉u̵̞̰͊̐̕ba̵̱̺͌͊̏de

The problem of the marry a cloud of the martyred morning
In the soft-touching laminate space of the morning
The promise of a landing, striped by the morning
We edit cumulus, collect yon fish by the morning
A rain passed wetly over our morning
The actual cat got into the morning
My proletarian alignment against the morning
Is only a maths class happening this morning
Did you want palaces in the light of this morning
To feel you never got hurt this morning
When it swerved into you in the morning
Of comparative hotness at morning
Equivalent to mattresses morning
That planets lie down inside us, warming

And the flowery agenda of what they would do to avoid this scarcity. Kept saying science, science like a car advert, £500, kept you awake at night. Salt. The technology trusts us! Liberating production to what freeing from labour a person being careful would order milkshake. Water this artificial strawberry. Audit the communal blog was destroyed. Salt and oil. A wheat field in a movie. I remember aspartame sunrise at which close to the not-top of Louise Bourgeois’ many ladders was a droplet of hooch blood, red-to-punk-pink. Under the fairy lit trails of Tuesday, I said FUCK YOU to the motorist, I said OUCH! Today is Blue Day, tomorrow is Green Day; expropriation of serotonin to Bad Day, it is quite a state; put back ice that you stay on, tulips; a sugar-lift etch to keep say [“I miss the nineties”] belong to my early days of still love indie. Weeks become necklaces I am choked inside them. Tending the forest, drive out of the city. Impossible tacos in landfills pass us, having never harmed animals. Nothing swerved ever in heaven; you get really close.

Study the lightning-shaped graze on my knee. 

~

Burial – Chemz 

SOPHIE – Is It Cold In the Water?

Honeyblood – Super Rat

Billie Eilish, ROSALÍA – Lo Vas A Olvidar 

Sharon Van Etten – Serpents

Widowspeak – Sanguine 

Infinity Knives – In The Mouth of Sadness

Lana Del Rey – Chemtrails Over The Country Club

Xiu Xiu, Liz Harris – A Bottle of Rum

Fishtalk – Hummingbirds 

Los Campesinos! – Got Stendhal’s

Tim Heidecker, Weyes Blood – Oh How We Drift Away

The Antlers – Solstice – Edit 

Songs: Ohia – Boys

Field Medic – chamomile

Vagabon, Courtney Barnett – Reason to Believe (Karen Dalton cover)

Sun June – Everything I had

Coma Cinema – In Lieu of Flowers

This Familiar Smile – Flawed Fables

Hamburger – Supersad 

Donovan – Colours 

The Velvet Underground – Sweet Jane

The Replacements – Skyway