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. 

With the Boys

July was such a busy month but one of its delights was working on the design for this book, With the Boys by fred spoliar. I’ve been so buzzed about upcoming SPAM releases (more to be announced soon) and what better way to kick off our 2021 roster than with this vivid purgatorial rush of a book. The cover design is a collage layering of illustrations, colour effects and old woodcuts (including those vomiting sun battle scenes which divide the book into sections and contribute to the faux ye olde vibe) which gesture to the book’s primal scene (imo): the confrontation with the boy laying down >insert meme here: “you winning son??”< as the OG basis for all the boys, are we for or against them, might we let them rest? As fred reminded me at a recent reading in Crystal Palace Park, “masculinity is no joke maria” and this book explores how the cascades of climate crisis, austerity, property relations, ‘fake news’, ongoing colonialism, racial capitalism, transphobia and pandemic are all bundled up in the ancient, ever-mutating violence of patriarchy. The demands the boys place on us and those placed on the boys, we understand them in a camaraderie of the here-and-now that is our future ancestral citation, cracking a cold one for the world that is burning ice and going online. With the Boys is a book of post-internet poetry, an adventure story, a lyric dalliance with historical epic in synchronic form. It’s a book that refuses linear models of transition, progress and accumulation, and ideas of history as a totality; a book that finds residues of love and care among masculinity’s ‘trashfire’ (in Al Anderson’s words). I want to think of it partly in the realm of Keats’ ‘negative capability’, the idea of lyric identification as doubt, the pluralism of the boys as a quivering flame or rippling plasma, capable of being more than what essentialist gender ideology would deem the boys. Your ‘brain on elegy’, your ‘stupid hurt’, your ‘buzzcut chorus’ and ‘apple products’ – humming, ubiquitous, they belong to all of us, in a way.

Process sketches for the book cover.

There is something about a (re)birth in this book; fred has called it ‘a purgation’. Something been set on fire or released, the way of touching abysses of sleepless thinking and facing up, fuck, to the impossibilities of work and not-work. To morph, mourn, join together, be commoning or calling out, be warm or hard or wet or sore, be there and gone. One thing that resounds is the refrain, the sonorous sense (something Verity Spott commented on at our recent launch, and something I love about Verity’s work also) of lyric in the book as a musical sprawl, fever, affirmation. For me, this is totally synaesthetic and electric, ‘a crucial magenta song’ and ‘like aleatory dance departing’ in the sacred gatherings of the rats — the animals that survived 2020 (their epic and terrible year) and will go on thriving beyond us. Like, we are not supposed to be here. Like, we crawl over the language that won’t want to hold us and we throw out this ask. Are we to be comrades? Sometimes you read fiery poetry that enflames and hisses (kisses) and makes you want to attend the protest, make the call, offer your body to the line (the book’s closing poem, ‘kludge time‘, was written in response to the recent Kenmure Street anti-raid action), and With the Boys summons this fire, but also sings in the muscly erotics of its cinders. These cinders which catch in the breath before and after the poem, which can’t be reduced to this or that reading; which burn with occasional satire, twinge and catch of meaning.

You want to say the boys are a folk knowledge, they are song, they are the startup code that ceaselessly reboots until lyric glitches in ‘fertile crevices’. They are a compost, the dregs of bad schooling, an institution of historical impotence, a gesture of care and play (‘I push you on the swings’), an orientation towards the vibe, a grammar of suspension ‘stopping by the interchange‘, a big fucking ‘nova‘ that hopes to find you well. Hi, hello, hi. *WAVE*. Everyone in some sense knows them. They are obviously so much more. I’m this hush-breath away from saying the boys are a hyperobject. You decide. The boys are shoegaze distortion all over capital’s weeping, the road less travelled, dazzling and pregnant and ‘wilding’. They will do your makeup and hum the ‘harmonic law to / love to leave to love’ — bright pink and chartreuse. You better have a go at them.

With the Boys is available for £8 from SPAM Press. You can get in touch with the editors for review copies or to stock in your bookstore at spamzine.editors[at]gmail.com.

Playlist: July 2021

Have you followed me closely through the long four years of being caught into list like thistles do make this white stuff, fluffy July of it, caught pale against purple and green indelible sunsets. I appreciate all kinds of writing and sometimes a product has a good line like, rain and dark gold the podium and ringtone, we’ve got to get ready, there are some stones that remain. For memory and in VHS.

*

Something happened which I could not write about, and it was scary. Summer is smoky, you see it all around and when you don’t you know it’s still there, if you know what I mean, everywhere you look and don’t see it you know. The smoke grows lilac from the country song and it’s a new one, drawn from the old one, Waxahatchee is also known as Katie and I like how sobriety opens a songwriting and settles. Not that a loss does settle. This is a week and more soberly in the poem, reflecting the dust bits, it’s not clarity it’s cornflake crushed beneath foot. Tonight is my exhibition and a stupid person cutting the lawn, I try to look outside. The curtains are just gauze and Mau texts to say there’s something funny about ‘gossamer sounds / on the porch’ as a line and we agree all spiderwebs are kinky because ‘entrapment / constraint or binding’, and spiders eating their mates and like, how this conversation occurs mint green on lilac as in nature, bad NYC illustration, having whatsapped the last chalice or lapped from, critical, I owe you a whole month of blog there’s a backlog, the real foxes coming around the lot. Joey says a blog is useful if it has a playlist, music is useful. I’ve been reading his pamphlet again, let’s do it, which he wrote for / dedicated to our reading group, and thinking about poetry and collectivity and action. And what you can do on the face of loss. An old woman chides the speaker to not plant vegetables on private land and the speaker replies by ruminating on the conditions necessary for flourishing, I love this line ‘some people think its cool to have / shit / like a forest what the fuck but it doesn’t stop’. I am reading this poem for its labour and dreaming in a flat it’s not mine, for its fight and for what it makes me want to do, this it which is like the it of a pop song, more of a doing and pronoun, Ily, who do you think we are? What do foxes think about music? I hear a gate creak outside as I write this and imagine on the bare patch of grass where the bins are the block became meadowed and fred gets targeted ads for hydrangeas, having told the story of the hydrangea wars one time too many and I also want my targeted ads, if I must have them, to sell me wildflower seeds and the bulbs of potential vegetables. I bought an album and it had two flower bulbs and a cassette tape included, everything wrapped in beautiful tissue paper. Hungover I am thinking about that and about Joey’s writing on the pale yellow paper you sensed was artfully stolen. There are lots of important thoughts in this pamphlet like ‘it’s dreamy to dream when the real & necessary work / is ugly like steps clogged & knotty with nauseous / exhaustion’ and what does it mean to say something is dreamy, I wish I could ask Bernadette and get her poem for an answer like an answer machine where the words are crackled but everything you need to know is in the tone of the voice and the space between sound and how there is a breeze through the line, a wise one. Or just like, the 3 second double space between songs on a playlist where you turn to the other and know. Time pass. Calcined eclipsed as if I scrolled mortality site with its many many awful ads about products for tooth decay and viagra and thinking is this the absolute dramatisation of death on the internet, can we not have something clean, a kind of writing. After our phone call all my targeted ads are for lingerie no person would wear, it makes me alien to say so? Someone tells me that the databases are inordinately complex and there’s nothing a layperson could do to pull out that code and so you have to trust the abyssopelagic practice of software developers. The speaker wants to find things in the gaps and ‘that’s something’ like when knowing your neighbours, I smile at my neighbours say hi, my old neighbours were good we swapped books and furniture and talked about work and what we were reading, one of them was always reading long, historical muscular novels but he also loved Lispector like me. One of them a ceramicist’s apprentice. What of a poem encased in clay, all the animals of this room are poems, more than we could know, as I swallowed the memory of their crumble and form. This pamphlet of Joey’s is always worrying about what poems are and can do even as it stays true to the ethic of let’s do it, we keep pushing even as we question what it is we are doing; I like this, it’s what I want to call ongoingness. It’s poetry that makes me hungry a kind of lush hunger like the dew upon new gardens and sparkling water that is also natural, holding glass to the light and clink and chime, we share a bottle, we share blossom, ‘i only want to read with friends / in the actual field of experience / in the garden of ourselves / exactly not edenic since we built it / in the future’ I want to epigraph, keep this close, eternal bindweed in the garden of ourselves and something to build in the future, let’s do it, like kick off your trainers into the sun, it’s so funny but I’m crying and sneezing. Ever since I moved I keep Gloria’s poem, ‘dig it some no place’, ‘a real-time no-time edited response to Bernadette Mayer(BM)’s “Utopia”’, as a printout by my bedside. I got this from a Zarf launch G. read at back in 2019 at the Glasgow Women’s Library, and I remember wanting to live in this poem in a way that rarely happens, I wanted to understand its address and who was living in it, what was happening. It was a year of climate strikes and the fucked election. I didn’t see any butterflies for a whole year. Joey’s poems make me long for the good things we learned in lockdown and also to be with friends and doing ‘preparatory work’ which might mean learning to cook for ten people or just learning to hold space, be present, show face ‘& we hold it far away’, this garden we built and are building. What can this plant do. How do you like your tea. For a while it is a Zoom garden. The roadside wildflowers are great this year, tall and showy purples and yellows. I ride the wave of heat and instantly miss it to wake up shivering at unsent texts in my dreams; in the middle of being held or not held by you. I learn this Irish phrase about it being so hot the ground’s cracking open or it’s hot enough to split rocks, I don’t remember, and once or twice this has actually happened in the saying of the phrase. Kirsty works in a glasshouse library by a motorway. ‘back in june / when it felt like everything / was cracking open’ and the ‘visceral’ like how I read this poem in February along the canal, like how I walked with it and wanted to do something like punch thru glass or send an email, but mostly I wrote instead and to hover where that scream was, placeholder, what was inside the rock of the day, how I gave it to the air of the field in Lambhill, how I miss those walks. ‘Theories are ok, but what patterns of movements will we trace through the streets as we go about our lives, who will we pass there, and how will we pass them?’ Joey asks in let’s do it. Someone asks me the time and someone asks for directions and someone is asking can I stash my booze in your pannier bags to my friend. I watch the police call children away from the fountain and I sip water and cycle home. Sometimes like the speaker, Joey’s speaker, ‘I’m dissociating from the city’ and I don’t know anything about it, who built this, how am I gonna do a wash or refresh these conditions, how am I gonna drink coffee on a Friday morning and wake up to the songs that I want, how am I gonna tell or not tell you. Nothing anyone can say and being scattered, needing encouragement, our friends are elsewhere, we hold each other through words because it is the flowers we have, gifted or put there, not to wilt, speculative to put anything in the soil and see if it grows the way I write a paragraph on discord, that’s something. Heart fires tripled and inboxed. Joey’s poetry teaches me to go beyond realism but not be complacent about something in the present as if that was enough, the eruption itself as utopic. I’m excited about what happens next once we begin changing, as if by the inward and outward transformation we would get to the place, hug emoji, to speak on the radio against enclosure and the ‘no place’ of Gloria’s poem maybe where you ‘Leave page […] to begin this’, and what Joey says: ‘If this place is so radically unrecognisable that to get there we would lose ourselves, then perhaps this imaginative effort is the beginning of a willing self-transformation, which we might hold onto in the midst of all we do in the hope of its eventual collective completion’. I imagine my face in the mirrors of dust shop windows, becoming something else when you say in the dream We shouldn’t… There is nothing left to buy but time. I am still trying to write about that thing whose impossibility is the basic problem of how I can feel and look around and know you, know me, how we are here and still have breath and like food, and like mornings ahead of us still possible to hold and break fruit and run for trains, share music. I appreciate the way this work is a writing back to itself, as if to reclaim the errata and do more with the adjacent claims and forms and changes — to acknowledge that anything we write academically exists within a context, it has this limit, something weathers through it and what is afterwards done is gonna crash through the words. I wish I was cycling long and hard along the canal today, I wish I was breathless and flush. I like what Joey says of poetry’s ‘glittering / incomprehensibility’ and how it disrupts ‘capitalist (etc) subjectivity’ and how at the exhibition everybody wanted to eat the sparklehorse, Jack’s sparklehorse, like it was this giant animal-shaped sugar plum cake with hallucinatory and erotic properties if you just had a slice, a small bite, a scoop of the horse. People want to imbibe the air magic they want to transform and be more than flesh, I think that’s poetry also the wanting to tip all the glitter right down your throat and come up rosy, aura, in excess of yourself, beyond consumer. Morvern’s dream of white horses on the beach. To read this, you had to be born and you had to feel something opening, hydrated, sapped of sense. In the pamphlet one of my favourite things is the scribbles, curlicues, tumbleweed gestures drawn on some of the pages, the sight of photocopied handwriting turned asemic scrawl — this gesture of something in excess of the language, a tending of the page, a tender unknowing. That I made a mark and remarked it. It is something to long for. Whose hand do you hold when you say let’s do it, not to ask what follows but move into that shimmering space of the it, which is always in motion. I want to work harder, have stronger hands and language. 

*

One day I will be champion at hula hoop or retire from the athleticism of the long poem, the turbulent manner of a short moan, long-term loan, poems to unravel barbed wire fences, and how I had the library book but they lost the library book, found it. Everything turns up sometime. The turnips are good this year is a financial statement for racoons all around us. I want to go slow but I keep speeding up. Riverside champagne and bicycle, some of your Guinness, Pinot Grigio, Cava and fern, curl inside me a thought of the night and night club, lilac book, not yet. Ice rub, hot flush. Everything good in my room is mint green and white and nightly 

I want music to be everywhere, remembering

slenderly the first month in your new place

and all these milestones of 

the lake at twilight, Elliott Smith

you say

“can you play it for me”

I’ve been here a month, I am getting to know the roads

I’m supposed to buy furniture

I get home 

Kind of still drunk at 2am I watch that film about London, 2007, Giddy Stratospheres and it felt really lonely. I longed for more party scenes and more of the beginning running to ‘The Rat’ and you’ve got a nerve, more of a carelessness of the edge of history where you still have money or you don’t, sinking a wine and running for trains in the capital city and not falling asleep and the timeline’s messed up, how did we get there, landfill I die, the country is lonely. I love the whole boy/girl friendship and especially what it means to wait or go meet someone and the thrill of being out with them, swap hats, wrapped around each other, unconditional, laughing and wholesome and immune to other ppl. Platonic hold hands. I’m lucky to have had that. In 2007 I read NME every week and collected a sense of what was happening in London. Squat raves and indie discos and gigs that ended in broken glass and fights and the end of any sort of neoliberal consensus about to be voiced and soon. I was just walking the empty crossroads, smoking menthols. The girl Laura with the peach-orange hair is an artist and wants to claim club promotion as a kind of art, I get her, I get that she should be able to do that and contribute to the living as art, and nobody dies. Anagram of my name is ‘lame red armies’. Clubs always felt total elsewhere it seemed impossible that they really existed and now even more so, what is the fee, but I want to be in them. Who cares about satire it doesn’t care about anyone. You never see her without a hat and this is protection, wearing a beret against the world at the fierce mercy of cab drivers, “look after her yea?”. Everyone is wearing leopard print and looks good. We should be able to do this and nobody dies. Ventilation. The coloured tights and short skirts. Art school. When I cried at this film I cried for the twist, was I prepared for it, the way it screams something

against that hedonism, delusion, but they keep going on. The film isn’t sexy at all and the only sex hinted at is kind of gross, creepy or regrettable. I knew even drugged it had to be better but bad sex in films is so British. I felt the moral message was too strong. The boys in bands are more or less all annoying and druggy, sometimes endearing but mostly dumb, the long familiar ket nights of blurry talk. But the music is good and the guys are fun, it’s just acting. Besides, I miss that. To be a dumb boy in a band with the boys I alight from my slip and reach for the door, it’s always open, do you have a light. Now I go out alone if I go out at all. It’s a lonely film because something of the isolation of the pandemic overshadows it. What does it mean to care for someone? That I watched this on a sofa alone, that it was filmed in 2020 and they had to do artful camera things to simulate a bigger crowd, that we could only get one limited slice of the action. How to ask for help. I wanted bigger party scenes, more of the hedonism, rat sightings, I loved seeing people take drugs more or less constantly. I felt completely neutral, then indulgent, until I didn’t. The film confirmed my fear of bathtubs. That somehow you will never get out again. Some people feel like it’s a womb. And afterwards I was crying for the friend I lost. Everyone is wearing hats and I remember when Camden was full of hats you would go to just buy hats, and everyone looked cute and cared about clothes and music in this way that doesn’t seem possible now, wearing a bowler, there are so many ways to be serious now. What do you take from the film with you, having seen two decades compressed and the living room where you can always bounce.  

*

The Long Blondes — Giddy Stratospheres

The Walkman — The Rat

Arcade Fire — Neighbourhood #3 (Power Out)

Bleachers feat. Lana Del Rey — Secret Life

Angel Olsen — Gloria

Oneohtrix Point Never, ROSALÍA — Nothing’s Special

Caroline Polachek — Bunny Is A Rider

Porches — Okay 

Sharon Van Etten, Fiona Apple — Love More (By Fiona Apple)

Faye Webster — I Know I’m Funny haha

Le Tigre — Hot Topic

Hole — Softer, Softest

The Sugarcubes — Birthday

Moon Duo — Sevens

St. Vincent — Sugarboy

Billie Eilish — Oxytocin

U.S. Girls — New Age Thriller

Dry Cleaning — Leafy 

Prefab Sprout — I Trawl the Megahertz 

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: September 2020

Darklands

what if she entered  
the sliver of morning and haemorrhage
left for her

on the rooftop, signal
that someone was still coming in caustic shoes

theorising a free continuation 
of handsome disorder, to access the paywall
and free us from pain 

she could breathe here, just 

to feel like getting trains, filming herself 
speak only to speed 
and lag

in practice of relative motion, to feel it

“how all the protests ceased”
but not to look 
was to watch the hard tomatoes soften from green
and the weight 

to glow awhile, orange
and I miss

a strategy of oratory whereby someone has a line 
from beautiful afternoon television, like
“who would buy this house?” 
as if there were choices

next to the undiscovered 
shaven lawn

*

I’ve been having dreams about family
and scaffolds

how she just lay there
literally
until the child began throwing soft toys at her
in the 1990s 

anyone could come to life and be numb

I want to read Graeber’s thesis on magic,
slavery and politics

she didn’t say to me

do you ever feel free, for instance
in fugue state when brushing your teeth 

I’ve been dreaming about ancestors
stuck on trains 
killing rabbits and eating crackers
it was that easy

all season 
complaint of what’s coming, knowing nothing
of photography

when you can’t measure the wind 
by the grass

she had this enormous laughter 

*

dwindling into ambivalence
if this isn’t a dream exposure

and we can’t enter houses

I’ve been trialling sentences, Bernadette Mayer says 
I’m not faulting being periodic but sentences with caps and end marks do seem so bloodless to me

You swing gazelle legs over the actual
You wait in the room for the wine
You pull collectives out of the sink

distracted, I watch through windows
turn on my flash
to lead workshops on trash 
and poetry as finance, like
eons of speculation 
had brought us to nothing but numbers

and the anxious among us, cooking the numbers

I watch her slice an avocado in the dark
and the police van
opened to reveal us
with leaves in our molars, perfect hello
it’s autumn

in the bloodless sentence

dreamt I was tidying the rooms
of siblings

this mad kind of everywhere acid 
I couldn’t clean up 

in the panic of rich, linguistic Monday, you are 
part of the story, too smart for me

the interminable smell of pine resin, kimchi
and menthol gum
yes, just there

in lightness rimming

I made this commitment to sleeping ‘upstairs’

taking pleasure
on my editor’s credit
before the treehouse snapped

*

I can barely listen to music anymore
it’s all error

describing her pain as shooting

when I smashed my thumbs in my eyes
you kept going
it was Jupiter

now

cruising down Alexandra Parade to send you 
the voice message 
of not seeing nightingales, a bathtub
attached to a car
I wish I could touch
between times is when I most feel ‘we
exist’ and just like that
the cornflowers won’t die

and we can’t enter houses

and you end 
with the fresh heat of illusory commute

I could say anything new

in dumb, erotic anonymity 
where all this falls

*

she had lit up the sad remains
of the tree

bound to other seasons, even look good

despite not hearing this live
I like it, finally
summer light on the same

even if we live 

in adrenalised versions of trying to keep warm
on the video call
or wavelength

of audit continuum

she was all 
“it is up to the unassuming […]
to represent reality” 
in The New York Times

and the well-oiled loss of taste

feels the same 
the shadow

years of tax avoidance
edible sundown

*

what if she knew before all of us
doubled in running away with me

I dream all my friends 
attending the burning

“where have you been”

and you could put this to archive

swipe left for the hidden
indentation of nothing happening

20,000 years ago

mostly I worry if she lived in the dream
I had to wake from 

cradling the ersatz animal, sprigs of rosemary 

having clambered reality over again
and knowing you survived the scaffold
GESTURES FOR LIVING AIR
as the art was told
“I just need to check
your temperature” 
a rough kind of festival kiss
that was listening

in the underpasses of everything
prior to millennium 

installs a magical feeling that 
:heart:
you would be at the station

and my bouquet emoji of blood
flowers await.

💐

Fenne Lily – Solipsism

Sylvan Esso – Ring

Gus Dapperton – I’m Just Snacking

Sufjan Stevens – Run Away With Me

Fleet Foxes – I’m Not My Season

Chastity Belt – Ann’s Jam

The Durutti Column – Sketch for Summer

Frog – Photograph

Adrienne Lenker – anything

Tim Heidecker, Weyes Blood – Oh How We Drift Away

Bill Callahan – Sycamore

Gillian Welch – Picasso

Margo Guryan – Why Do I Cry

Norma Tanega – You’re Dead

Elliott Smith – Speed Trials

Kath Bloom, Loren Connors – Tall Grass

The Jesus and Mary Chain – Darklands

Alice Boman – Heartbeat

Edwin Organ – Self Alarm

Broadcast – Echo’s Answer

Cocteau Twins – Aloysius

Yo La Tengo – Bleeding

Perfume Genius – Valley

William Basinski – Tear Vial

Oneohtrix Point Never – Long Road Home