Late October, Cycled home in my t-shirt, thru the industrial estate and beyond. you and I remember well the opening sequence, credits to all those sly cartoons who lived in colours not of their own choosing. what I’m trying to say is the warmth comes not explicable from crisis, to say ‘i was warmed by crisis’ seems wrong, and yet as I walk in a light denim jacket purchased on the day of the kenmure raid, people are still debating who was the OG lady of sadcore, adele or lana del rey? there are two versions of the skins episode where cassie escapes to new york and she runs through an impossibly empty city: one which plays an Adele track and another which plays ‘My Town, My City’ by an unidentified artist which now seems relegated to the half played halls of ancient youtube history, yet also the chorus that would seem to claim for its singer something of a belonging in cold despair. in memory the piano begins when she bites into the apple and starts crying but this could have happened in any dimension, especially considering every time i bite into an apple now my eyes smart, crunching into a moment straight from chris marker and sugar brushed with what he doesn’t know, bright red, i mean ordinary feminine pain, or like, the year 2007 in bristol. i didn’t know what UK garage classics were until i keyed my first car or like buzzed myself athletically through the other door where i would be welcomed as a stranger to victorian milk and honey, reversing the version where you can’t wear that necklace for it has bumped against her sternum and now something of a soul is dead. my friend died but ever since july i have compulsively worn purple. when i get synaesthesia it’s usually for songs, words, general emotions that in relation make up grids or curlicues surprisingly happy to coexist, like if i draw a lilac spiral where your name once is, i feel better, i feel better. it’s a schoolgirl trick of the selfsame like writing out names in our jotters, yours or mine, walking the perambulator back to the moon where exhausted mothers are calling their mothers to war. we benefited from working tax credits and educational maintenance allowance, i asked friends born with particular chromosomes to buy me yorkie bars, i remember the feel of warm summer tar against my skull better than i recall my first fuck tho a kiss was easy, it was like pulling another fish through a big comma soaked in bourbon and the bright lights were on and everyone watching? sometimes i have to go out a room to remember something like what are you doing here, now i have to walk around to even get writing or find eloquence in pavement slopes. where i live now you smell hops on mondays and thursdays the cats are not ginger, i let them nuzzle against my leg in exchange for a purr. tonight there were electrical failures in the library so i decided not to imagine my evening as a series of blocks defined by the hours locked upon flat surfaces. this house has a shed! if i listened to anything it was to the street lights twinkle as mushrooms do when stamped on, baby screeches, we come home with medical certificates and iron deficiencies with mouthfuls of words about aurora borealis and sandstone. thru the periurban and elderberry. i create a sequence and it forges a colour for itself, can’t be changed. i’m wearing a white t-shirt and it’s late in the autumn and i’m telling you this because the sky is purple, it’s 16 degrees and i want to change
Last year’s April was a leap year. For every 29th day I summoned to think of the hours as gifted, secret, strength. I spent the actual leap of February in somebody else’s bed, a cherished cliché: cradling sadness, cat-sitting, reading Anne Carson and rolling the word ‘tableaux’ around my stressy mouth, whose hostile environment required twice-daily salt-rinses. On the 29th of last year’s April, I wrote about vermillion and silverware, ‘the lint of your heart’ and hayfever. A friend and I exchanged tips on how to best work from the floor, how to make it your best work. I miss ‘working the floor’ in other senses.
What do you want is not the same as What would you like?
There was a reading group on Lisa Robertson’s The Baudelaire Fractal (2020), and the Zoom chat was elliptical pursuit, a good fuck pendant, fractal kissing and restless deferral. The word besmirch which isn’t a word search.
I remember cycling long into the hard sun; I recall better eyesight.
Okay, recently. Do you want to hear this? I spent a week of anticipation, languishing with migraines and digestive upsets and the kind of blues where mostly you curl foetally into the fantasy that really you, or this, doesn’t exist. Sip worry coffee and brush the hair, tweeze or shave, sit patiently on top of the abstract, waiting for something lucid to hatch. ‘Opening up’. A weekend bleeding, the minor cramp of womb in Autechre rhythm; then a further week of physical ailment whose primary treatments, according to the lore of reddit, included punching one’s spine, counting to ten, pinching between nose and lip and lying in hot baths. I did not have the baths, which seemed terrible and luxurious given how faint they could make me. I read two books by Samuel Beckett.
In Garments Against Women (2015), Anne Boyer writes that ‘Everyone tries to figure out how to overcome the embarrassment of existing. We embarrass each other with comfort and justice, happiness or infirmity’. It is awkward to smile and to squirm. To be red-faced and faint after a luxury bath. To be found frowning in the Instagram reel of somebody else’s dreaming. To apologise, to dwell upon, to ask for help. To be the one clutching a hot water bottle in the Zoom call; to hide or show this. To sip beer, the migraine coming. To say “hello” from the room next door. To deem something luxury, to partake of it. ‘I have done so much to be ordinary’, writes Boyer, ‘and made a record of this’. Say I learned this month how to paint my nails grape soda, define hypercritique, appreciate the slept-in curls of my hair.
It is awkward to be unwell, to express this without clear definition. “Sorry it’s all late, I’ve been sick” and to not elaborate on that sickness, the specific ways it kept you up all night, kept you retching or clutching something tight inside yourself which seemed to want to give birth. A stray barb or small contaminant. A numb pill. Transpiration is the process of water movement through a plant and its evaporation from aerial parts. Plants are not awkward; they just grow. Sometimes upwards, sideways; sometimes back inside themselves. Wilt logic. ‘Let’s be happy insofar as we were for a few days not infirm’ (Boyer). The ecstasy of a new morning where the body stretches out, the mind clears and one is ready to work. Who gets these mornings? Can they be traded? Is their delicious ease somehow fungible? What would I give for more of them? Fungus, rot, the fangs of lilies.
Maybe it starts with crisp garments. But pretty soon the neat attainment of day will unbutton. Watch it happen in Lorenzo Thomas’ poem ‘Euphemysticism’:
Some happily sing
They have joy for white shirts
Singing “O white shirt!”
And that’s just the start
What ecstasy to declare the white shirt! What embarrassment! The chiaroscuro of lily-white shirt against the everyday’s dull shadows, but then showing up ‘baby pictures / Of pollution becoming disaster’ and Thomas’ poem is all about this. Disaster. Headlines, emissions, confusion. And that’s just the start. ‘A man crashes with his shadow’, perhaps because there is no one else. I did this for months on end because nothing else was safe. I could go the long walk for my safe grassy spot and crash there along with my shadow. I crashed in sunshine and rain. Crashland. Why did I bring the lily. It was like being fourteen again and walking for miles just to find a safe, anonymous place to smoke or weep. Sleep crash. ‘In the prickling grass in the afternoon in August, I kept trying to find a place where my blood could rush. That was the obsolete experience of hope’ (Lisa Robertson, XEclogue). It was like staring at the potential of Marlboro Golds tucked behind books and wondering what version of me they belong to. Synecdoche. Rising swirls. The poem burns out but also gets better. Blood rush and screen crash are lyric in pop songs. Sorry my windows. They are getting cleaned today.
Narrate my day again to you.
Thomas’ poem turns to the reader: ‘I’d like to check your influence / Over these ordinarily mysterious things’. The poem takes pictures or talks about it. What is a photographer responsible for? Do they re-enchant or estrange? If someone took a picture at this point or that point, if there was evidence, who would need to be told. How do you photograph pollution? Is this merely witnessing? In the past year and more, I have become witness to my own inability to really see. Disaster itself recedes into medial condition, blood swirls, scratching matter. I think of the way Sibylle Baier sings ‘I grow old’…
Some happily sing the white shirt and are they complacent with their conditions of work? Influence! ‘Desire is a snowscape on a placemat’ (Thomas). I trace its snowy lines in the stray thread of this weave. Ant-sized bloodstain. Am I to be made safe, or eat giant buttons? Put your plate on a place elsewhere and devour the rolling hills. Artificial snow is delicious. Crinkled thread. The white line curls around my tongue like spaghetti. Lila Matsumoto has a poem, ‘Trombone’, about hammering buttons. I unbutton the top three buttons of my blouse to walk around in fifteen degrees, absorbing/zorbing, and call the sunlight oil inside me.
‘There is a risk inherent in sliding all over the place’ (Boyer). This is what language does. There is a risk in crackle, in static, in the O shape of ‘sorry’ or ‘love’ or ‘alone’. Petition to upgrade for bubble emoji.
Last night, on the train back from another city I had not visited since August, I opened Sarah Bernstein’s new novel, The Coming Bad Days (2021). I did not close this novel again for several hours, except to pass through ticket gates or beyond groups of steaming men whose presence was vaguely threatening. They seemed cardboard cut-outs, stumbling towards me. When a migraine began burning my temples, I took paracetamol and kept walking, reading. When the light became gloam I walked faster. When I got home I sat at the table and opened the book again, like a schoolchild eager to begin their homework (as a ticket to freedom) or revisit a dream. It is risky to write about something you finished barely twelve hours ago. It’s embarrassing, the way talking about illness is, or happiness. To gush. You risk offering a raw piece of thought. Something has stuck to you and you are trying to convey the exact, impossible, vicious way in which you are changed by it. Still steaming.
This is what I understand by gorgeousness. As in, I gorged on it.
In the book’s last third occurs a fabular moment. The narrator is often telling their inner life through external surroundings — textures and fluctuations of weather. This is also to tell disaster. It is not the dramatic crash so much as a slow, implacable violence whose consequence ripples below and above the surface of our lives. Sometimes there is rupture: a cyclist is hit by a motorist, a storm occurs, an unspecified act of harm is committed, a life-changing conversation alluded to. But so much is in the insidious atmospheres which turn between dream and reality, which refuse to be nailed to the moment:
I dreamt of a landscape, overgrown grass, trees blanketing a hillside, leafy canopies moving against the sky, a deep river bisecting the scene. Fat berries pulling on their stems, apples weighing down their branches. Then a breeze came through with a slow hiss, and I knew it carried poison on its back. Here was a green abundance that I could not eat, a cold stream from which I could not drink. Take care, a voice said. Take care to call things by their names.
(Bernstein, The Coming Bad Days)
In this Edenic scene of harvest and green abundance, nothing is properly named. The landscape is unspecified, generic, anywhere. The voice belongs to anyone. It could be a serpent, a god, an angel, a person. Unlike Adam, the narrator cannot name things in nature. It is not their purpose. They came to Eden in dreams and after the fall. What fruits of knowledge exist are overripe and almost a burden to their branches and vines. In addition to the biblical resonance, this passage recalled for me the fig tree motif in Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar (1963),the poison tree of William Blake’s poem from Songs of Experience (1794). Wrath is in the air, and failure. I want to wrap around the passage like a kind of vine. Hold and be held in it. Is language a kind of taking care? A watering cruelty? What are the ecological arts of attention and tending to, towards, against?
I was struck by the possibility that Bernstein’s narrator embodied the abject and porous, slow and injured thought of an anthropocenic subject. This statement feels inevitable. The only abundance they could conjure was unconscious and laced with ‘poison’. It could not be imbibed; was not nourishing. But somehow such dreams nourish the text. For all its depiction of coldness, cruelty and the failure of communication, the cold stream of suffering, the weathering of Bernstein’s lyric prose effects a possible intimacy. Weathering, for Astrida Neimanis and Jennifer Mae Hamilton, ‘names a practice or a tactic: to weather means to pay attention to how bodies and places respond to weather-worlds which they are also making’. I think of the narrator skittishly eating cheese sandwiches at the window of their office, every single day of the week. I eat this sandwich with them. What is it they see? Each iterative mention of the weather reminds us that the social and interpersonal dramas of the novel are part of the medial, immersive or remote dramas of climate. The agential presence of rain, frost, clouds and fog, the turn of the waves, the ‘glistening violet evenings’: it’s more than metaphor. It sinks into the prickling skin of Bernstein’s language. Maybe you’d want to call this a weathering realism.
This novel seized me to read with compulsion, the way a dream does come and the writing of the dream is luxuriance that only later you bathe in. Not quite vulnerable or resilient. Responsive. Exposed to something.
On the 28th April 2019 (no entry for the 29th), I wrote in purple ink:
We would do better to sleep now, I have been sleeping much better and trying to resist the pull of insomnia, trying to perfect a monologue. What comes and goes in a dream without noticing, whose handwriting on the sun you recognised chancing your luck with yellow corn and fields of trials against sensitive, colours of smear and floral obstacle. Hyperboreal data flow into the crinkle cut futurity. Applying for latitude, acid.
Not sure about ‘we’: did I mean the ‘we’ of me reading back, and the ‘me’ who was writing, there in the moment? Are you also included, reading this passage over one of my shoulders? Can we take care to name things in dreams? But when I dream of people — friends, loved-ones, family, colleagues the famous — as I often do, what happens when I write their names? Am I opening them up to something that could harm or exhaust them? Is their presence a giving over of energy? Am I to be persecuted by the purple, anonymous flower of somebody’s need? What if I didn’t even know? What if the mark-making of initials was key? Will it bloom or wilt?
Go back to sleep in the forest, soft cosmos of dissolving forms.
There is a sense of missing someone that grows an acorn in your belly. It hardens and rattles with new life. It burns out of place. Leaves you with a feeling of placelessness. Impregnates every word with the possible, the fizzy wake, the fear and hurt. Makes you grow sideways. Hey. To exist in no-time of not knowing when the feeling comes. Pastel vests are back in fashion. Pull over. Kisses. Rarest flower emoji that doesn’t exist. To be sometimes well and other times racked in a well-documented
madness that pays various attention to weather. Something painful. A few days of goodness seized. I would leap out the door, do 15,000 steps each day; so I would name the colour chartreuse when I saw it. Watching for changing bone structures in Zoom tiles. Your hair grown long and lemon blonde. My internet broke for a whole day and night. I felt old-timey in the pdf archive. Phoned you.
Bebby Doll – Weeks
Ana Roxanne – I’m Every Sparkling Woman
Zoee – Microwave
Cowgirl Clue – Cherry Jubilee
Laurel Halo – Sun to Solar
trayer tryon, Julie Byrne – new forever
Life Without Buildings – Sorrow
Cocteau Twins – My Truth
Kelsey Lu, Yves Tumor, Kelly Moran, Moses Boyd, ‘let all the poisons that lurk in the mud seep out’
Iceage – Gold City
Le Tigre – Deceptacon
FKA twigs, Headie One, Fred again.. – Don’t Judge Me
Porridge Radio – Wet Road
Angel Olsen – Alive and Dying (Waving, Smiling)
Big Thief – Off You
Perfume Genius – Valley
Grouper – Poison Tree
Sonic Youth – Providence
U.S. Maple – The State Is Bad
Sky Ferreira – Sad Dream
Waxahatchee – Fruits of My Labor (Lucinda Williams cover)
The Felice Brothers – Inferno
Bright Eyes – Train Under Water
Weyes Blood – Titanic Risen
Lucinda Williams – Save Yourself (Sharon Van Etten cover)
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
I remember burgundy jumpers
I remember the sleeves of them
I remember the wet feel of wool in my mouth
I remember sucking pencils, taste of lead
I remember when tall people gave me badges, they said FUCK ESSO
I remember how the oven door never closed
I remember lighting the back with a long match
I remember the feel of it striking
I remember sunrise from bus stops
I remember it all morning
I remember they supposedly fucked on the green
I remember the security cameras, all six of them
I remember bottles of cider the size of a baby
I remember being cold
I remember being so cold I thought I was dying
I remember being this cold every day for a year
I remember when the bottle smashed in front of me
I remember wearing everyone’s clothes
I remember when he fit his fingers around my thigh, at the highest part, and they touched
I remember the colour of sunsets and ocean spray
I remember cranberry juice
I remember that song
I remember listening to the sound of a tape click over and over, softly
I remember using too many purples
I remember being told about liking petrol
I remember the first cigarette, menthols by the sea
I remember when someone said poppers were moreish
I remember how she did her makeup, turquoise glitter gelling almond eyes
I remember shoplifting bourbon
I remember endless packets of gum
I remember an abstract notion of madness
I remember the expense of American candy
I remember the headless cyclist my brother saw, but I wasn’t there
I remember a series of accidents
I remember the muscles in my legs were so weak I could hardly walk
I remember illustrious textbooks
I remember falling over in the deli, very subtly
I remember when he pushed me over
I remember black coffee
I remember safe foods
I remember being sick
I remember eating three pieces of cake
I remember throwing away
I remember the chord progression to the song called ‘Angels’
I remember the virgin who wanted to know
I remember telling her
I remember being in class and infinite and nothing
I remember the feeling of three tongues in one mouth
I remember pissing against trees
I remember pieces of crisps stamped into carpets
I remember the invisible bugs on her palms
I remember selling bracelets of luminous, plastic materials
I remember light-up trainers
I remember hot soup
I remember vodka for lunch on a Wednesday
I remember they knew my name on the bus
I remember coming online and seeing you
I remember this
I remember holding them
I remember being told I’d fail
I remember failing
I remember failing to fail
I remember taking the train alone
I remember glossy pages
I remember wanting to be warm enough to bare my limbs
I remember nothing but
I remember the river was all that I was
I remember walking my dog the morning she died
I remember a rainbow
I remember the bruises
I remember the bruises all over my breasts
I remember biting my arm not to cry
I remember weeping all winter
I remember the welt
I remember he bit the inside of my thigh
I remember feeling dumb
I remember the empty train
I remember being illegible
I remember losing my grammar, my handbag
I remember that winter it snowed forever
I remember counting tips
I remember we said sorry to each other
I remember it happened again
I remember holding your hand so hard
I remember it not being you
I remember fireworks from the library
I remember that friend’s apartment
I remember hot water and lemon
I remember backcombing my hair
I remember messaging you the morning he touched me
I remember not wanting
I remember stupid bowls of muesli
I remember the smell of linseed oil, white spirit
I remember being thinned, and thinning
I remember the lyric
I remember the clarity
I remember yesterday
I remember the time you drove all night
I remember the dream where my hair was three times longer
I remember we made it to the beach
I remember being told my kissing was good
I remember gold stars
I remember so many stars
I remember gasping
I remember being so thin the air passed through me
I remember that too, the wind
I remember thinking that girl took crack
I remember the word capsule take shape in my mouth
I remember asking for it
I remember not having asked for it
I remember getting it anyway
I remember being turned over
I remember the river inside me as
I remember that picture where I stood in the river
I remember wanting everyone inside me, I was so hungry
I remember a dress code
I remember the unreal election
I remember the absence of insects
I remember the first time, you said
I remember we should have done this sooner
I remember the hot bright sense
I remember falling out of the hour
I remember the view
I remember he didn’t come
I remember coming home
I remember not wanting to
I remember the burning look in her eyes
I remember being sorry for something I hadn’t done
I remember dropping it boiling on my arm
I remember stripping off in the kitchen
I remember the phone call
I remember the gentle white lie I carried around all year
I remember a series of elaborate bandages
I remember more than a friend
I remember avocado emoji
I remember I knew it all
I remember telling them
I remember this one cool trick for making it pop
I remember your irises amethysts
I remember my blood
I remember the word ember
I remember saying a sunbeam
I remember red velvet
I remember you well in the Ibis Hotel
I remember the size of a blouse
I remember she said, it’s worse over there
I remember a hip flask of whisky
I remember a docile reply
I remember falling asleep with the bass underneath us
I remember Arran
I remember Luss
I remember wearing skintight jeans
I remember graduating into the falling leaves
I remember falling up stairs
I remember the clots
I remember my fingers in your hair
I remember being golden
I remember doing it again
Remember I wasn’t there
*Written in response to a writing exercise during Tawnya Renelle’s workshop on Memoir and Memory.
There is this Anne Carson poem, ‘God’s Work’, which ends with the line ‘Put away your sadness, it is a mantle of work’. By chance, I was reminded of the poem via some post on Instagram that came up an hour ago. I want to think about this ‘it’, like how it is the sadness and also the work, and the pronoun of living, the abstract embodied. ‘Mantle’ is something that covers, envelops or conceals, it is a portion of the Earth, a sleeveless cloak or cape. Is it also the bevelled edge of a door? One can be mantled with a blush, the mark of a covering shame. Is it a mantle of work to hide your sadness, or does the ‘it is’ refer to some other thing whose outcome is that we must put away our sadness? We must close a passage of time behind us? Notice I am switching to a plural pronoun, because I have entered the poem, sharing the position of both addressee and speaker. I am the the person with this feeling; I am the person addressing this feeling. To speak at all, I am doing the mantle of work. There have been these tectonic shifts in my life of late, the underlying move or loss that is a portion of everything. ‘Put away your sadness’ asks you to imagine a physical form for the affect, a classic poetic move: my sadness is a bird, my sadness is a stone, my sadness is a rose, a scrunchie, a sea. These are things you can put away, tie back; or you can hide with a cloud, or you can dive in. Typing in ‘my sadness is a’, Google suggests:
a father introduced
a joyful dance
It seems these things are all correct, at the present moment. For instance, I drink from this mug and I think about Prague, and how it looked in the rain of a flickering image. That is a souvenir, but it is somebody else’s rain. The internet offers ‘Healthy ways to deal with sadness’, ‘Why am I sad all the time?’ and the old adage, ‘It’s okay to feel sad’. I have been reading Heather Christle’s The Crying Book (2019) and Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking (2005). Didion insists, ‘The way I write is who I am, or have become, yet this is a case in which I wish I had instead of words and their rhythms a cutting room’ where one could ‘touch a key and collapse the sequence of time’. In one of my favourite Laura Marling songs, ‘The Captain and the Hourglass’, she sings ‘Behind every tree is a cutting machine and a kite fallen from grace / Inside every man is a heart of sand you can see it in his face’. I love the pessimistic, teenage fatalism of this album, Alas I Cannot Swim (2008), its jump cuts of warning and love and familiar pain. Is the man the whole of humankind, or men in general? What if instead of words we had the bark of a tree, its abrasive shavings; a shaven novel or heart of sand in which to bear our suffering? Dissolve is imminent. There would be the rings of your life, the brief achievements of flight, but then the fallen linen, the tired old string, the particles blown. Didion wants it all at once: a simultaneous display of the frames, the scenes of a life. You would then choose what to cut, reassemble or stow away. What doesn’t matter to be dispersed. In the cutting room, a mantle of work is required. And what of the work that is to write who you are, when what that seems is only pencil shavings, sawdust and woodsmoke?
I have not walked in the woods for so long, and the last time it was with you. But let that not be the last. I was cloaked in so many layers; I could not get rid of the cold. It was a damp and green, needling feeling. It was not so much inside as around me.
Heather Christle puts it really well, this question of the cutting room and the cry:
Maybe we cannot know about the real reason we are crying. Maybe we do not cry about, but rather near or around. Maybe all our explanations are stories constructed after the fact. Not just stories. I won’t say just.
It is a relief to write while crying. There is something comforting about the simultaneous flow, as though letting two substances at once run through you: one being language, the other chemical; each in a woven relation. Crying, then, is the anarrangement (ana being Greek for ‘up, in place or time, back, again, anew — OED), of a state of things that are happening in life, in the body, in the social, in various temporalities. There is the before and after of a break; there is the running on, running behind, the sense of feeling this from ‘above’ or ‘below’. Like when for ages I didn’t properly eat the world was a glassy thing I was seeing from underwater, poking the ripples, falling backwards. To cry is to indulge in both prolepsis and analepsis, to slip and collapse, to blur and feel into. A friend says, you have to work through and not around it. I try not to cry about, but recognise the ambience of sadness. I won’t know until later what is really happening, what narrative this can all be placed in, or slip from.
Somebody nearby is playing a flute really badly.
The chime of a text message. It’s okay to feel sad.
In the office, friends and I exchange tales of election night. One of us is trying to fix a puzzle, the other drinks for sorrow; there is a mutual sensation of violence which can only ‘end’ in blackout, keying a car, throwing a punch, posting a rant or falling through sleep’s amnesia. For a while, I could only listen to songs that came out before this happened, and before the Tories were a bad new government, which felt forever ago.
What if daylight itself became elective, and that was the bold democracy of what it was to enter a day. Do you choose the light, or does it summon you? I just make playlists.
The moon has been flagrant of late, or was it right before. I remember seeing rainbows around the moon for days at a time. I remember that seeming too much, like I’d overdosed on the dust of this planet, like there were molecules of colour in my nose I could not sneeze or shake out. Like there was a terrible high about to happen.
I have not seen the moon at all this week.
I write this raining.
A thought of the before and after which remains unfixed and semi-colonic. It is to say and not say of what was said.
There is a special release in crying by bodies of water. I believe in a clairvoyant sadness, one that predicts some upset to come. It is the body’s sincerity of knowing. So you cry by the sea, or lately, a river. All that I have. Cry your eyes out by the Clyde. When you arrived, I was reading about the horror of purple, that ‘which hurts both sides’, ‘the horror’ (Hannah Weiner, The Fast). I wear it around my sleepless eyes. It is a bruise colour, the muscular failure to move through the day; it is a pile of clothes, a burgeoning energy of the horror. So I turn to blue, which is a star, or a gas flame because someone is cooking.
That line in Joni Mitchell’s ‘A Case of You’, from Blue, a lifesaver every Christmas, which goes, ‘Just before our love got lost you said / I am as constant as a northern star’. And it’s that ‘I am’ that I like, the moving throughness of it, the insistence that this is and not was. Because there is something of forever which is getting lost, or a wound that is hidden and cannot be healed. That is forever opening up. For we were so close, a year ago. And of course Joni flips, deliciously, to the mundane. She asks ‘Constantly in the darkness / Where’s that at / If you want me I’ll be in the bar’. As though to look down in your soupy negroni, you would find that hot abyss from which love is turned, over and over. And maybe you’d shed a few tears in it. And you’d struggle to say the location.
I remember dressing as a wise man for a play at school, wearing a homemade crown and parading slowly towards a manger. Somebody was acting the part of the star, and we followed them.
Somehow in a notebook I wrote, ‘I am going to be fine. I am going to shine at it’. To be shiny in this being fine, I wrote that in a café and I remember my hands were trembling, my earrings were not real gold.
There is this dream from last night where I wear a blindfold made of a banana leaf, and you are helping me cross this road, this road that is river.
In Goodbye, First Love, there is a hat that floats away in the river where Camille is swimming. This happens at the end. It is either too late or too soon, and she is crushed. This is the wiki summary. From the film I remember the widening shot of the river that flows on but closes, and the sunlight, and crying as I watched this at six in the morning, after reading about it on somebody’s blog, the link now lost. It was almost spring and I had not cried since winter. Back when I would add things to my weekly list like, ‘more on lattices’, ‘a setlist’, ‘a more explicit weave’, ‘reply’ and ‘pack’.
Writing this now, am I attempting to ‘put’ this ‘away’?
When he tried to be practical, mentioned ‘In the long run…’ I could only think of that song by The Staves. It was a churlish note, curled at the edge and not mine or yours. That night, there was a cat called Olive, a taxi to Greenbank, sleeping in a friend’s sister’s bed, waking up face to face with Sophie Collins’ small white monkeys again. In the notebook I had written in a slurred hand, ‘I wish I would cry now but I feel afloat’. It was the elated tiredness, the denial. I had a freezing shower to cool my shame.
Climate breakdown is also a breakdown of the heart. We have to admit that. Something is always stinging, ‘I’ve been thinking’, a mug of hot water. I could not sleep, I was reading Clarice Lispector’s Agua Viva in fits and starts, which is perhaps how it demands to be read:
I swallow a mouthful of blood that fills me entirely. I hear cymbals and trumpets and tambourines that fill the air with noise and uproar drowning out the silence of the disc of the sun and its marvel. I want a cloak woven from threads of solar gold. The sun is the magical tension of the silence.
A spoon of blood, not sugar, not jam. It is the hot lump in your throat when you cry and the blood that is anyway. About to. Remember I bled for thirteen days, or was it more. It was because of hot liquid, a rush, a pill. How you nourish yourself or not. A friend says, when I cry on buses and trains I listen to specific kinds of music and pretend I’m in a movie. Is it detachment we want from that? Would there be cymbals and trumpets and tambourines in this movie? I want you to put me in it, the noise. I want to stand at the front of the gig, be buffeted. I want to be bashed around like a note that won’t break from the instrument. I want to find a post-it note stuck to my back, but what should it say? Over time, I garner respect for the sun. It is not that my nocturnal years are ‘over’, but I am wondering what it would mean to truly love and rejoice in the sun. The giver of life, not Byronic darkness. To lie in a colourless sea. What would this clarity that Clarice writes of look like, the woven cloak of ‘solar gold’, its ripples? Is it the mantle one could wear to cloak a sadness? But what if the sadness was the clarity itself? I say, I think you are brilliant. It is a mantra. It is a giving away. When the van swerved and nearly hit me, I felt the sunlight so incredibly brightly. The east coast, the sense that this was someone else’s morning. The silence remains still, and I look for it in that ‘magical tension’ of the said and unsaid, and I am doing what Didion does with her grief, the magical thinking that is arranging all these scenes at once for something to emerge as possible. That is trying to sort a timeline or feeling yourself ‘invisible’, between things, the living and dead, an incomprehensible love.
In Ariana Reines’ recent collection, A Sand Book (2019), the pages of the final section, ‘MOSAIC’, are black. She introduces the scene that prompted this section with italics,
The sun’s warmth kept filling me, and what had begun as a slightly above-average warmth kept growing. It was starting to fill my body, and just before I totally surrendered to it, I had the inkling this might be something like the “bliss” I had heard about in old books. I had to sit down.
What is relayed as a religious experience, a spiritual experience, is then a series of transmissions (‘MOSAIC’ is in reference to Moses). But it is also fundamentally a solar experience. I think of Laura Marling’s heart of sand, something grazed by a coming warmth, the lap of a sunlight like the sea. A hot liquid thing that is coming inside me, causing the bleed, the bliss, the generous massage of some hormone. It is embarrassing writing, it demands a hot bright mantle. To feel it, feel through it, you have to sit down. You might go to the bar, as Joni does. In fact, I write this lying in bed, as is often the way. There is nothing to set out for or plan, so much as the needling of this ‘inkling’.
I go to see Little Women, and focus on Jo’s ink-stained fingers.
I have not been ‘on holiday’ for so long but if I did I would make a solar panel of my opening chest and lay where the river and the light would take me. I think the black space on Ariana Reine’s pages is just as important as the whitely capitalised text, ‘EARTH IS SPECIAL […] THERE IS NO “BACK” TO GET TO’. We can’t get back to any bliss other than what is felt in the present. And there has to be so much energy. Put down your phone.
Dorothea Lasky says she tells her students ‘not to have a plan, but to collect things and poems and then put them together’, there is this ‘holy idea’ of ‘emergence’. I write mostly by assembling quotes I like, streaming things down (for to ‘jot’ implies a decisiveness, an almost violence) whenever they do or don’t make sense. Text myself so the thought is received as though in reply. I have all these poems from the month I don’t yet know how to assemble. They are as much of the rain as the rain. Someone comments on a fresh sense of ‘scarcity’.
‘I wish I had a river so long’. And there is no snow here. The lines feel hard and overly sweet.
Candy canes hang upon the tree.
On Christmas Day, we walk by the canal and stop by the locks. The trees seem anorexic, as in a Plath poem; as though they had chosen to strip this pure and gleam on the water. They too will see from below, but they know a different renewal.
I can’t say a certain five letter word.
I want to know what the seven words are in the Weyes Blood song.
‘I wish I could swim in an ocean / As cold as’ a line I can’t finish, listening to Grace Cummings as though it were autumn all over again. But people on the internet are still going wild swimming. The world is not everywhere cold. The caption reads, literally all I want for xmas.
Two photos on different accounts of a landscape blurred by the motional train.
It’s funny, I even wrote, ‘it’s like The Topeka School and the failure of language’.
To sob into the warm, soft fur of a cat.
The want of a cigarette.
Astonishing winter light.
I couldn’t finish the wine.
In The Fast, Hannah Weiner writes, ‘I didn’t know any golden light people, but I knew a couple of blues. I knew I had to be rescued (I thought of it that way) by a blue, or someone near it’. One of my closest friends and I both Instagram a snapshot of ‘River’ on Spotify at separate points across the festive period. It is this secret, not-so-secret gesture of the living-on, the warmth and possible. I think she is one of the golden light people, in loops, and I wonder what I am, if one of the blues. Who else is a blue? But I have always loved green eyes. And the Earth, which is a globe of something like green and blue, (de)pendant on/of the universe. Whose. And I have seen the garden in four seasons now, but just barely. The scene is still swinging and won’t stop to focus.
What Reines writes of how there is no ‘back’ of the Earth to get to. I think of the back of a tapestry: a ragged collation of stems, snipped-off threads, criss-crossing lines. A simultaneity, a mess, a work in progress. When I am trying to write about the anthropocene, about what is happening, about the earth, is it this ‘back’ I am trying to write. It is not to get back to, but a back that is happening, the other side. I have been trying and failing to learn crochet; I think those who succeed are beautiful and perfect, I won’t turn over their lovely creations. In her song ‘Other Side’, Grace Cummings sings ‘The fall of a raindrop / Returns blue to the daylight / Your mind must return / To behind your eyes’. One drop of blue can restore the day. I think of Bob Dylan’s ‘Tangled Up in Blue’, living on Montague Street, in one or more stories. The worried thread. It is like putting on makeup to stop yourself crying, but doing it anyway, later in rivers of mascara and other clichés. When you are watching a movie and the crying is about to happen and you feel it as a sparkle, because it is not about the movie for which you are crying, but something around or near the happening, the space of it, being there in the other imaginary. And then what is going on ‘behind your eyes’. Crying happens in a space. It is all the prettiness we do while we can, which is a mutual hurt, a hot slide of a tear that catches your neck and means something small and inexplicable.
The Bright Eyes song ‘Train Under Water’ begins, ‘You were born inside of a raindrop / I watched you falling to your death / And the sun, well she could not save you / She’d fallen down too, now the streets are wet’. I used to think that song was about miscarriage, now I know it could be about any kind of love and loss. Remember when Jeremy Corbyn said something offhand about getting the train to Orkney? I dream about the sub-thalassic train sometimes, northerly moving, passing by jellyfish and flashes of shapeless light. Where are you going, where have you been. The milky unborn thing that we bear yet. Feeling sick from relative motion. It is the glassy way we watch from behind falling water, all of our lives. What touch do we really share of each other?
The air is a key change.
At the reading, Gloria says something like, we have all been thinking of writing as a practice of moving through the days, a practice of living, of marking time. Here are the days I give you in words. In Utopia, her little red book, Bernadette Mayer writes, ‘Everything you or I or anybody says always seems 100% wrong sometimes, unless you keep forcing it to be closer to the truth’. There is a truth quality, say, to the way plants photosynthesise or a starling assembles her nest. The percentage quality in which I can or cannot get out of bed, and whether you are ‘Active Now’ or in fact just barely online. Again, it is a question of green.
Marianne Morris has this beautiful poem, the last in her collection Word / World (2018), that a friend and I once read aloud together on a patio in summer at the XR climate café, the first I’d attended. Everything seemed shimmer then. The poem, ‘Lion’s Gate’, is a prose poem of some intensity. It is about what it means to love and to hate, and what is worth keeping. I really want to quote the whole thing but I can’t, so I’ll make do:
We do not want to go back with more questions pertaining to life on this Earth. We must learn them before we leave, loving every possible second upon this beautiful Earth, because we will not come back. We will move on elsewhere. It is like a heart breaking feeling suddenly, I see it all so clearly and I want this moment to stay. This feeling of certainty that the only thing that matters in this life is that you enjoy your time here and keep thirsting and seeking and do not resist the lessons, rush towards them and learn them all, so that you can die to yourself, die into light.
Green Day – 2000 Light Years Away
Caribou – You and I
Market – Told
Angel Olsen – Lark
Fleetwood Mac – Dreams
Pinegrove – Skylight
Rob St. John – Your Phantom Limb
Laura Marling – Tap At My Window
Karen Dalton – God Bless the Child
Joni Mitchell – River
Grace Cumming – Other Side
wished bone – Pink Room
Nirvana – Something In The Way
Wilco – An Empty Corner
Belle and Sebastian – We Rule the School
Vashti Bunyan – Winter is Blue
Connie Converse – I Have Considered the Lilies
Bright Eyes – Train Under Water
Big Thief – Dandelion
The National – Guilty Party
Organ Tapes – Simple Halo
Björk – Sun In My Mouth
Eartheater, LEYA – Angel Path
Mitski – Last Words of a Shooting Star
I felt the only thing to do was to write a Book of Rain. I was reading all these San Francisco poets. Sure, you can get detailed climate data on more or less whatever you like, but it meant nothing on its own to me. I looked at the annual hours of sunshine, average precipitation. How many days of rain. I mean you could say Glasgow was like 329 or something. How many days in a year again. I have never been to San Francisco, let alone lost my mind there. Or maybe I have, the latter I mean. I googled what’s a box of rain and it started relaying info on radio access networks, because I’d left out the ‘i’ in rain. Access all radio until the signals run streams in your mind forever. We ran out of the box and into the street. I had a dream someone was coming for me in the bathroom of a restaurant and I had to escape but the floor was ridden with rats. They were beautiful rats made of iridescent glass, and I was nervous about shattering them. Beautiful soundless rats all around. You could drop a box and break them all. The waitress was crying outside because the boss had discovered her glass menagerie. “How beautiful it is and how easily it can be broken” I was murmuring to her, quoting Williams in some echo of what I had wrote in some essay, forever ago. Not for Emma. She was like, “But what is that it of which you speak?” She had a thick Polish accent and the tone of her breath was like full-fat butter, melting inside me, running down the side of the walls of the box. Animal ashes. I tried to give her a key, a single silver key to my office. I was like, you can hide in here and bring all the plants. The plants were also made of glass. There were avocado glasses, lemon glasses, aloe glasses, spider glasses. I’m not saying it was “unrealistic”. She carried them with such tenderness I remembered the names of many friends I’d abandoned to youth. Everything we said in the street outside was set to music. These kind of Vivaldi swoons of violin, with pizzicato flutes from the boys by the roadside, doing parkour. I felt stupid and reached for my cello. She was like, “do you not have a viola d’amore” and I had to demure I did not know. “It’s okay,” she said, “summer is in G minor.” I took off my dress and walked down the street, shrinking. I was waiting for a bracket to scoop me up. Something of her molten voice had shattered the glass heart trembling inside me. But where, but where! Where would I go. Summer is so stressful, those bloody erratic strings. I needed something that felt more like the rain. Soft rain pouring a chord inside me. What they say of the viola d’amore: with sympathetic strings. Whose love are we even soft for. The extra resonance of the rain lent weight to the future. The future auxiliary is. What did he die for. At the end of the rain, the air is composed of cinders. I missed Edinburgh before the Fringe. I was in a bathtub drained of water, lighting cigarette after cigarette and letting the ash pop the bubbles of thought. When I ask the internet of cinders, People also ask: ‘How did Derrida die?’, ‘How many languages did Derrida speak?’. I want the resilient self-presentation of all this nothing. My mother goes out in relentless rain. I composed a sonnet of the city, it went like All devices lying down and already I’d fucked up the iambs. So I googled it properly, what’s a box of rain. Any morning, any evening, any day. The box of rain is what this is not. I put pressure on the ash to summon a dormitory, the many-bedded archives of sleep. The world is a box of rain. The world is as fugitive as the bubbles of a sad geometry. Whose idea to play. They blew of our world a glass with walls and lid and corners. The rainbowed edges of slender aporia. Container for rain. You could prise open the box, its sticky lid, as though inside you’d find the most opulent yoghurt in the world. Imagine a yoghurt that would fill your belly with billions of tiny, glassy eels. I made of my guts the Hudson River. A lyrical gesture of elements came to count. I can’t listen to the song that makes me so happy I am instantly sad, like being stuck in a dream of a dream where all you can touch is reflection. I had all these stupid lines about gemstones, trying to hold that feeling. Cleavage. It’s existence, you idiot. ‘The reflection / itself’ (Cedar Sigo). They were all swimming inside me and I had a dream about swimming and chlorine depression and all the red sucked clean from my hair. The water would leave me a mousy self to crawl into her former corner. I would let the glass mice eat me like sugar. In the aquarium a sea mouse is pushed quite cruelly towards the water filter by a petulant scampi. Nobody puts baby in the corner but scampi. He was cute though, bug-eyed and orange-pink. Crustaceous slice of sunset, all feelers and limbs. They sometimes add colour to salmon, there’s a whole gradient of petrochemical pellet effects. A dark wild salmon is best. Dark a wildness, swimming. Pure aesthetic pigments. In the café, she spoke of how octopuses feel with colour and then I remembered everything. Everything I loved of your ruddy shade. Politics talking. Glass rats and pint glasses brimming with gold. A clip of the soft, panicky salt of the dark. Then morning relief. I sensed the light through my skin which was also glass, shaved glass reformed into something more convincingly epidermal. I was camouflaged, cold-blooded, cuttled into daily life. I cradled a corner. The eels propelled to the surface and left tiny blots like shingles. I’ve let them swum. I felt sick with all that had happened. In the salon, I read Plath’s Letters Home with my hair in shiny, sci-fi foils. ‘I plan to build up into the lovely creature I really am during the next two weeks’. First blush of ‘“champagne ambrosia”’. The herbal tea in Largs was better. Everyone crusted with salt & waves & exhaustion. Little roses among the leaves, expenses. The silver quality of island light fell on a speech. Someone recited the seasons in tiny, seed-like stanzas. I was handed a hazelnut shaken from the roadside fresh, cracked at the back of my mouth a green sort of sweetness. Yes, Sylvia, it all ‘bear[s] a whirl’. August is almost over. The sympathy of your cephalo-strings. A low kind of aching tremolo, plows through the intertidal zone, the reef, the abyssal depths of later. Paradise froze on a brooch. I had opened the blinds to nothing like light. Your diamonds are studded on tentacles, prodding their way through the window. They were sticky with yesterday’s circadian tears. When I dream, I wake up wanting to see the person. Palm oil on toast. My cutlery grief. People are having sex in swimming pools at Christmas. Tinsel of lindens lining the parks where cats enjoy their kill. A river runs into the sea. I am touched by a terrible language, the jellyfish trying to erase me. There was this wasp, we were trying to eat lunch. My fingers were black with tapenade and wine. You cannot swat this call away. I was a lover in the telephonic sonnet. I need a scholarship to write my Book of Rain. The kind of money that weeps from a nourishing prairie, melts like chocolate. I needed a whole milk scholarship. How to prove I was worth it. There was a green banana, a frazzled conscience, island jealousy. False green money, emoji, insomnia. There was all this ink on my sheets, like an oil spill. I was nobody’s refinery in the dead of the night where life was a story poured out on my shoulder. Oh you are lovely. We have our boxes of rain now, so many. I had not thought the rain would undo so many. Rain overflows its glass. Once again, sand again. It is a crisp apple rain. Held in the ampersand between days. I drew one on my wrist to mark that night where the colours were heavy inside me. I singed the fledgling arrivals of chorus, red-skinned greens. After ‘The Gilded Cunt’, I never looked at a bin-man the same. They are doing the rubbish in the garden in sync. I flung syrup from the window to tint the rain, and all the black bags would glow with gold. We had too much, it was sodden. Woke up at 8:am to find my laptop was streaming a video on pyramids. I watched Lana Del Rey step out of the screen and shake up the car where the cheats make out. Everything became an off-peak day return to the sea. Sunday of twenty-seven degrees. Triangulate clouds to a future point. In my Book of Rain, it’s stopped raining. ‘It’s stopped raining. My fingers graze the yellow flowers beneath my window as I turn back to my desk and write. These past two years have been difficult. I keep thinking of the time I’ve wasted. I was the undergrowth—always underneath taller trees, always wanting’ (Rae Armantrout). I was wearing white and not crying. If you could see my bones underneath. The order mattered not like an emptiness. A sculpted classic of ashes. The rat let out in singular, rain afresh. On your mother’s instruction I hiked in the wild farmland around your dreamhouse to find the Marsh Library, the Library of Marshes. The air smelled of opium incense and late summer pollen and I sat with my brushes, painting false dreams inside the dreams of the movies, and then the dream that held me melted. Directive. Natalie says, I felt cheated. I missed the marshes, required an Air. The broken hyperlink became a book by Nicholas Royle about the plaza of bootleg pdfs and I opened the book which was a sandwich, leaking sweet potato mush onto brown lunch paper. That was so disappointing. I would feed it to the rats; the rain had melted the words into gluten. End of the box of the endless rain. How do we say an object is ‘teeming’. I would bite the brittle stars of September.
Angel Olsen — All Mirrors
Björk — Virus
Tropic of Cancer — I Woke Up And The Storm Was Over
The Velvet Underground — Venus in Furs (Demo)
Cat Power — Blue (Joni Mitchell cover)
Leonard Cohen — Master Song
Fionn Regan — Riverside Heights
Silver Jews — Room Games and Diamond Rain
Sufjan Stevens — All Delighted People
Four Tet — She Moves She
Gross Net — Of Late Capitalism
Slowdive — Changes (Demo version)
DIIV — Taker
Black Country, New Road — Sunglasses
Swans — Blind
The Grateful Dead — Box of Rain
Anna Meredith — moonmoons
Big Thief — Not
Pinegrove — Moment
(Sandy) Alex G — Southern Sky
Nick Drake — Northern Sky
Lana Del Rey — Bartender
Red House Painters — Medicine Bottle
Jeff Buckley — Sky Blue Skin
Weyes Blood — Away Above
For Patrick and everyone in o.p.s
This sweetness had not been said before, of powder and dust, how gorgeous perhaps. Perhaps. Remnants to look sharper, look over the tennis court, embrace from faraway, as if he could say he was waiting to enter, as your palm and it hurt. Berrying friction. Possible to collide if not to ruminate, he would be ghost-like. What makes this momentary encounter a landscape; what if only it was crisp like this all the places in your palm where the sleep craters, slosh of white wine yes crisp yes up my eyes, yes to the whites coming off, fir trees sheltering and catch the triangle tips that, crumbling signage is nice that yes he said be there, which is as it is when the cold train noise you were showing me scoop of honey in the centre of the ! and speaking just so, that hesitant drunk speech bottles of varying price, ask how so without summit. Summit about it. Can you imagine him here, to think of him here even impossible; I say it again, yes he said therein, you are climbing a wall and under the dark, which draw themselves in as body. Body of log. What we can’t know, googling maps of googling blue. Considerations of the scent of a seashell, Powdery, illuminations demand attention to muscle, chunk a spiral: elasticity of neck, you showed me a rub of the whites is milk, you lighten, too little, we crossed under the bridge and the coppery stream I could say a true adoration of crackle, powdery beautiful snow, they came between each other we look into, the water in solacing descent not want to exchange, having the sweet point say hello to a stranger, infinity pool; steam rising from that is sheer attention, that shelf’s arousal into plain scraping of surface, the moss comes off, the sleep was possible, it was a possible select a purpose and the making is as ever he was, subtly clicking away, you even if without plans for lunch, the big soup, solace to say, yes therein sweetness, nutmeg and it swills in the glass, you realise there was a theory I nourished but did fennel tea and the streak of blood would be it, turn up with several cumin into your eyelids nicely, bay leaf for girls. In his tangerine hat, imagine the dusk this is pure exclusion, no reason to argue, use this, brokered semi-colonic kind of weather; no degree of flesh. Fresh. The hills here coated in | if he had not entered, very sweet it snow, the moment you relayed to me coated in shoe to climb harder, ascendance is yes pale pink streaking a trace of the eye, adjacent to rain, people were waiting in clear and crispness, mushrooms to compliment everything, more cardamom, more sumptuous; is there a place around here where people arrive. They were green and rosy, he got webs of the pipes which rose all green, speak each to each this way, ground down in snow; a certainty of shame to fill. Imagine he was here and burning up lichen yes where you get the blood in, accidents to reach the end of the day and lifting just is. Icicle treacle. Layers of rice eat bourbon girls. Small label comes off where harmonic lift and another dropped pencil. Sentient crumb. Very sensuous in time; there was such overlap as to the time, if only the powdery blue like landscape, as if it was over there, as way, just hold enough of your body to lie supine, you stay awhile. They kept going here, not there, as if it was then. Then. Of it, dusted just so, moving to short have to nourish it, you have to let up wanting, which fear the light as much body here moving, his figure just entering the around, it wants a certain positing of the window ledge shell and wanting to say so pure, thinness and slender you stay awhile out, mint, expedient kitchens inside the illumine. Autechre farm. Oat cakes and whisky. It is the brain away. Away. Slowness comes over, long the glass whose origins meant nothing, whose origins the haze of shiraz & something about Neil Young on Christmas Day, where the ear just works, and lift, and and that is exactly what break occurs, riverrun, your skin had sloughed off, friction by friction, and clack and we don’t want to return. Fall thru room. What morbid yes waiting for you, time not of the air you said was petrichor; it on a slick perpetuity, you ascend the aquarium just so, we would provide a likeness, the moss softens, it invites us to roll. Roll in bars. The clouds in the photograph went bananas. We’re 75 metres away according to this or that china-white bathroom in your grandmother’s house; the taste is there to catch up on, slide over snow, far away people were meeting in cities with rosy cheeks and we watched the was not was sweet winter air, prior January, dark & sweet. We were so warm in the sun despite happening here, as if it was always to pylon, the lameness of brown-eyed moths which rise a light place, it is a crisp place. Heroin, your best friend vomiting all over the ice, that is all of a break-apart language. Language. Massif you could slip, don’t hold me that ill between fingers; you could reduce to a sort over there, knowing this isn’t the way, dipping as it was on Christmas, you message through with sugar, the sky was sugar on the bread of a sentence, golden pool, nothing we could say weather you could pinch and rub and dissolve rich onion scent, cutting the eyes into weeps. We are to get apart, as if this was happening from which we might see sunset? Sunset? The sky tongue and strain. No rain, like politics. Cherry sleep collapse in the snow. Sky of depleted lozenges, horizontal. Mountain chord. Imagine he was just here is the way as if the way was. Was.
Lately I’ve been haunted by a couple of lines by James Schuyler: ‘In the sky a gray thought / ponders on three kinds of green’ (‘A Gray Thought’). I can’t work out what kinds of green he means. Funny how the trees of London still have their leaves, mostly, and how the city keeps its own climate. Sunk in a basin. Schuyler names the source of the greens: the ‘tattered heart-shapes / on a Persian shrub’, ‘pale Paris green’ of lichens, ‘growing on another time scale’, and finally ‘another green, a dark thick green / to face the winter, laid in layers on / the spruce and balsam’. A grey thought to match the greyer sky. The sky has been grey in my life for weeks, it came from Glasgow and it came from England; I saw it break slightly over the midlands, a sort of bellini sunset tinged with pain. I just wanted it to fizz and spill over. I saw my own skin bloom a sort of insomnia grey, a vaguely lunar sheen. Schuyler’s greens describe a luxury of transition, pulling back the beaded curtains of winter and finding your fingers snagged on pearls of ice.
There is a presence here, and a space for mortality that starts to unfold like the slow crescendo of a pedal, held on the upright piano of childhood, whose acoustics promise the full afternoons of a nestlike bedroom. Which is to say, everything here. Protection. Which is to say, where every dust molecule seems to glow with us, which makes us multiple. A commodious boredom that opens such worlds as otherness is made of, ageing. Annie Ernaux in The Years (2008):
During that summer of 1980, her youth seems to her an endless light-filled space whose every corner she occupies. She embraces it whole with the eyes of the present and discerns nothing specific. That this world is now behind her is a shock. This year, for the first time, she seized the terrible meaning of the phrase I have only one life.
There is this life we are supposed to be living, we are still working out the formula for. And yet the life goes on around us, propels through us. It happens all the while we exist, forgetting. It is something about a living room and the satisfying crunch of aluminium and the echo chamber of people in their twenties still playing Never Have I Ever. And the shriek and the smoke and the lights outside, reflective laughter.
The many types of grey we can hardly imagine, which exist in friction with the gild of youth. He shows me the birthday painting hung by his bedside. It is blue and green, with miasmatic tangles of black and gold, like somebody tried to draw islands in the sky with lariat shapes. I look for a roar as I walk, as though something in my ears could make the ground tremble. The air is heavy, a new thick cold that is tricky to breathe in. It requires the clever opening of lungs. I stow cigarettes from Shanghai in my purse. My Nan says she gets lost in the city centre. She gets lost in the town. She looks around and suddenly nothing is familiar. She has lived here for years and years and yet. It is the day-to-night transition of a video game, it is the virtuality of reality, inwardly filtered. She sucks industrial-strength Trebor mints and something of that scent emits many anonymous thoughts in negative. How many worlds in one life do we count behind us?
There is something decidedly Scottish about singing the greys. A jarring or blur of opacity. We self-deprecate, make transparent the anxiety. There is the grey of concrete, breezeblock, pregnant skies delivering their stillborn rain. Grey of granite and flint, grey of mist over shore; grey of sea and urban personality. We splash green and blue against the grey, call it rural. Call it a thought. Call out of context. Lustreless hour of ash and in winter, my father lighting the fire. In London they caramelise peanuts in the crowded streets, and paint their buildings with the shiniest glass. It is all within a movie. My brother walks around, eyeing the landmarks and shopfronts fondly, saying ‘London is so…quaint’. He means London is so London. I stray from the word hyperreal because I know this pertains to what is glitz and commercial only. It does not include the entirety of suburb and district; it is not a commuter’s observation. Deliciously, it is sort of a tourist’s browsing gaze. Everything dematerialises: I get around by flipping my card, contactless, over the ticket gates. There is so much to see we forget to eat. It is not so dissimilar to hours spent out in the country, cruising the greens of scenery, looking for something and nothing in particular. Losing ourselves, or looking for that delectable point of loss. As Timothy Morton puts it, in Ecology Without Nature (2007), we ‘consume the wilderness’. I am anxious about this consuming, I want it to be deep and true, I want the dark green forest inside me. I want the hills. I’m scared of this endless infrastructure.
Some prefer a world in process. The greys reveal and conceal. The forest itself pertains to disturbance, it is another form of remaking. Here and there the fog.
In ‘A Vermont Diary’, it’s early November and Schuyler takes a walk past waterfalls, creek flats, ‘a rank harvest of sere thistles’. He notes the continuing green of the ferns in the woods, the apple trees still bearing their fruit despite winter. Our craving for forest, perhaps, is a primal craving for protection of youth, fertility, sameness. But I look for it still, life, splashed on the side of buildings. It has to exist here. I look up, and up; I j-walk through endlessly aggressive traffic. What is it to say, as T. S. Eliot’s speaker in The Waste Land (1922) does, ‘Winter kept us warm’?
Like so many others, in varying degrees, I walk through the streets in search of warmth.
Lisa Robertson, in Occasional Work and Seven Walks from the Office for Soft Architecture (2003), writes of the inflections of the corporeal city:
Architectural skin, with its varieties of ornament, was specifically inflected with the role of representing ways of daily living, gestural difference and plenitude. Superficies, whether woven, pigmented, glazed, plastered or carved, received and are formed from contingent gesture. Skins express gorgeous corporal transience. Ornament is the decoration of mortality.
So with every gorgeous idiosyncrasy, the flourish of plaster, stone or paint, we detect an age. A supplement to the yes-here fact of living. I dwell awhile in Tavistock Square and do not know what I am supposed to do. So Virginia Woolf whirled around, internally writing her novels here. There was a great blossoming of virtual narrative, and so where are those sentences now — might I look for them as auratic streams in the air, or have they regenerated as cells in leaves. There are so many sycamores to kick on the grass. There was a bomb. A monument. Thought comes over, softly, softly. I take pictures of the residue yellows, which seem to embody a sort of fortuity, sprawl of triangular pattern, for what I cannot predict. Men come in trucks to sweep these leaves, and nobody questions why. The park is a luminous geometry.
I worry the grey into a kind of glass. The cloud is all mousseline. If we could make of the weather an appropriate luxury, the one that is wanted, the one that serves. In The Toy Catalogue (1988), Sandra Petrignani remembers the pleasure of marbles, ‘holding lots of them between your hands and listening to the music they made cracking against each other’. She also says, ‘If God exists, he is round like a marble’. The kind of perfection that begs to be spherical. I think of that line from Sylvia Plath’s poem ‘Daddy’ (1960): ‘Marble-heavy, a bag full of God’. So this could be the marble of a headstone but it is more likely the childhood bag full of marbles, clacking quite serenely against one another in the weight of a skirt pocket. Here I am, smoothing my memories to a sheen. I have a cousin who takes photographs of forests refracted through crystal balls. I suppose they capture a momentary world contained, the miniaturising of Earth, that human desire to clasp in your hand what is utterly beautiful and resists the ease of three-dimensional thought. How else could I recreate these trees, this breeze, the iridescent play of the August light?
I like the crystal ball effect for its implications of magicking scene. One of my favourite Schuyler poems is ‘The Crystal Lithium’ (1972), which implies faceting, narcosis, dreams. The poem begins with ‘The smell of snow’, it empties the air, its long lines make every description so good and clear you want to gulp it; but you can’t because it is scenery just happening, it is the drapery of event which occurs for its own pleasure, always slipping just out of human grasp. The pleasure is just laying out the noticing, ‘The sky empties itself to a colour, there, where yesterday’s puddle / Offers its hospitality to people-trash and nature-trash in tans and silvers’. And Schuyler has time for the miniatures, glimpses, fleeting dramas. My cousin’s crystal ball photographs are perhaps a symptom of our longing for other modes of vision. They are, in a sense, versions of miniature:
“Miniature thinking” moves the daydreaming of the imagination beyond the binary division that discriminates large from small. These two opposing realms become interconnected in a spatial dialectic that merges the mammoth with the tiny, collapsing the sharp division between these two spheres.
(Sheenagh Pietrobruno, ‘Technology and its miniature: the photograph’)
Miniaturising involves moving between spheres. How do we do this, when a sphere is by necessity self-contained, perhaps impenetrable? I think of what happens when I smash thumbs into my eyes and see all those sparkling phosphenes, and when opened again there is a temporary tunnelling of sight — making a visionary dome. Or walking through the park at night and the way the darkness is a slow unfurling, an adjustment. For a short while I am in a paperweight lined with velvet dark, where only bike lights and stars permit my vision, in pools that blur in silver and red. The feeling is not Christmassy, as such colours imply. It is more like Mary of Silence, dipping her warm-blooded finger into a lake of mercury. I look into the night, I try to get a hold on things. On you. The vastness of the forest, of the park, betrays a greater sensation that blurs the sense between zones. I cannot see faces, cannot discern. So there is an opening, so there is an inward softening. What is this signal of my chest always hurting? What might be shutting down, what is activated? I follow the trail of his smoke and try not to speak; when my phone rings it is always on silent.
It becomes increasingly clear that I am looking for some sort of portal. The month continues, it can hardly contain. I think of the towns and cities that remain inside us when we speak, even the ones we leave behind. Whispering for what would take us elsewhere.
Write things like, ‘walked home with joy, chest ache, etc’.
They start selling Christmas trees in the street at last, and I love the sharp sweet scent of the needles.
There is a sense of wanting a totality of gratitude, wanting the world’s sphere which would bounce back images from glossier sides, and so fold this humble subject within such glass as could screen a century. Where I fall asleep mid-sentence, the handwriting of my diary slurs into a line, bleeds in small pools at the bottom of the page. These pools resemble the furry black bodies of spiders, whose legs have been severed. A word that could not crawl across the white. I try to write spellbooks, write endlessly of rain. Who has clipped the legs of my spiders? I am not sure if the spells I want should perform a banishing or a summoning. The flight of this month. The icy winds of other cities.
The uncertain ice of my bedroom: ‘tshirts and dresses / spiders in corners of our windows / making fun of our fear of the dark’ (Katie Dey, ‘fear pts 1 & 2’). Feeling scorned by our own arachnid thoughts, which do not fit the gendered ease of a garmented quotidian, the one we are all supposed to perform. I shrug off the dusk and try out the dark, I love the nocturnal for its solitude: its absolute lack of demand, its closed response.
In the afternoon, sorting through the month’s debris. A whole array of orange tickets, scored with ticks. The worry is that he’ll say something. The dust mites crawl up the stairs as I speak between realms. This library silence which no-one sweeps. There is the cinema eventually, present to itself. I see her in the revolving glass doors and she is a splicing of me. Facebook keeps insisting on memories. People ask, ‘What are you doing for Christmas?’ Wildfires sweep across California and I want to say, Dude where are you? and for once know exactly who I am talking to. I want to work.
On the train I wanted a Tennents, I wanted fresh air and a paradox cigarette. They kept announcing atrocities on the line.
She talks in loops and loses her interest. She gives up on her pills, which gather dust in the cupboard among effervescent Vitamin C tablets and seven ripe tomatoes, still on the vine.
Every station unfurls with the logic of litany, and is said again and again. Somewhere like Coventry, Warrington. This is the slow train, the cheap train. It is not the sleep train.
In Garnethill, there is a very specific tree in blossom; utterly indifferent to the fading season. It has all these little white flowers like tokens. I remember last December, walking around here, everything adorned with ice. Fractal simplicity of reflective beauty. Draw these silver intimations around who I was. An Instagram story, a deliberate, temporary placement. Lisa Robertson on the skin of an architectural ornament: well isn’t the rime a skin as well; well isn’t it pretty, porcelain, glitter? Name yourself into the lovely, lonesome days. Cordiality matters. I did not slip and fall as I walked. One day the flowers will fall like paper, and then it will snow.
It will snow in sequins, symbols.
Our generation are beautiful and flaky. Avatars in miniature, never quite stable. Prone to fall.
Maybe there isn’t a spell to prevent that, and so I learn to love suspense. And the seasons, even as they glitch unseasonable in the screen or the skin of each other. Winter written at the brink of my fingers, just enough cold to almost touch. You cannot weave with frost, it performs its own Coleridgean ministry. Anna takes my hands and says they are cold. She is warm with her internal, Scandinavian thermos. Through winter, my skin will stay sad like the amethysts, begging for February. Every compression makes coy the flesh of a bruise; the moon retreats.
I mix a little portion of ice with the mist of my drink. It is okay to clink and collect this feeling, glass as glass, the sheen of your eyes which struggle with light. A more marmoreal thinking, a headache clearing; missing the closed loop of waitressing. Blow into nowhere a set of new bubbles, read more…, expect to lose and refrain. Smile at what’s left of my youth at the station. This too is okay. Suddenly I see nothing specific; it is all clarity for the sake of itself, and it means nothing but time.
Paint my eyes a deep viridian, wish for the murmur of Douglas firs, call a friend.
Katie Dey – fear pts 1 &2 (fear of the dark / fear of the light)
Oneohtrix Point Never ft. Alex G – Babylon
Grouper – Clearing
Yves Tumor, James K – Licking an Orchid
Daughters – Less Sex
Devi McCallion and Katie Dey – No One’s in Control
Robert Sotelo – Forever Land
Mount Kimbie – Carbonated
Free Love – Et Encore
Deerhunter – Death in Midsummer
Sun Kil Moon – Rock ‘n’ roll Singer
Noname – Self
Aphex Twin – Nanou2
Martyn Bennett – Wedding
Nick Drake – Milk and Honey
Songs, Ohia – Being in Love
Neil Young – The Needle and the Damage Done
and the new day forms
like a china cup
hard, cream-coloured, unbreakable
even in our travels
— Adrienne Rich
Whatever else requires a lightness.
The man with the vacuum is making love among dust in the corridor, a clack clack clack that wakes me each Wednesday, before my time.
To fuck in the dirt, the dirt. To forgive.
I am crawling around the floor at work, the shadows pressing into me. In the dream I cannot access the glass of water I want. The ice coruscates, tumbles over and over in a distant machine. Its absent-presence smoothes me, the creases in these dreams; once the ice went missing, we had to replenish. We have ran out of the beer she likes and she is twisting my arm and when I wake I cannot move it for half an hour.
Whatever else of lightness.
I smell the metallic tang of me. The perfect little cigarette you rolled, like you’d preserved a secret wave from the sea, a roll of paper and salt-clung thought. I’m trying so hard to be sweet for the world.
The ice is a panorama of what’s happening. I catch a landscape and watch till it melts into memory. Mottlings of familiar tulip glass. The peach-struck colours recede into this chiaroscuro of hills, mist of sky and sheep. They are the blurry insistence of words, each one a cloud, a bleat. They emblemise time.
To say it lightly, I love you.
There are two songs called ‘Heavy Water’. One works like this: ‘We bully clouds now’; the other, ‘I want the love I fought to say’. I leave one zone for another and sometimes bring you. Bring little motes of dust, and so struggle to breathe.
The air here is heavy.
I am dragging myself up out of dreamtime, requirements of lightness. You drift as snow, your water is crystal. It tessellates, the shape of your thought which is silver. The sound of silver.
Autumn is restless, there is more of it in me.
How the wind came, named with volition, stealing the limbs of the trees! I felt good in all the arboreal catastrophe, I relished the chaos. It beat the blood back into my cheeks. Climbing the hill at the park. Air sign. I sent letters, felt better. I arrived at the bar and asked for a double.
To write of starry-eyed narrators, textual chalices.
‘If you can look across the distance without wanting to close it up, if you can own your longing in the same way that you own the beauty of that blue that can never be possessed?’ (Rebecca Solnit).
My best clause is a blue you can’t see.
We look for each other in mysticism, she seizes us. When I inched my way to the moss and felt the fronds of that fern betwixt my fingers, when my own skin became mycological x-ray. We look for the eye that already recedes, a flash in the room, twinned in blue. Verisimilitude.
We floated ideas like spores. Those songs were both tender and epic.
I am going to take a fresh notebook and paint every page blue before I write in it. The watercolour tinge will be green on blue, a cool viridian. To swirl, then invite lines.
Each page like a pool you can swim in.
You walk along the river and walk along life. I am so drowsy I can’t feel time, excepting the hour of sunlight this morning. The permanent sofa. I’d rather be sleeping. This is not to say, I won’t cherish a week, a week to come. I hope despite blood this one’s a good one.
To suck out the essence like liquorice.
In the shower the dream water came gushing reams of hail. My skin red raw and amazing. I notice the spidery cracks on the back of his hand, how they make a sort of Pier Kirkeby sketching pattern, a blueprinting cobweb. He pours pints like a pro. We are clean out of work but otherwise dirty.
I would like to be ‘splashed and held’, like Schuyler’s bluet.
Paring acoustic versions of old Kinks songs, leaving the core of my sadness around the room in plural, like apples. To say thank you and mean it, there is always a breaking, the lit parts eking their news into juice and crunch.
I need a day elsewhere.
The dark is just circumstance when you touched my shoulders, a situation thinks its way out of the rainbow. I find them now scattered on cream plaster walls, and twilight is terror. The reflection just happens, occurs in circles. Somebody comes to mop it up. The upside smile.
This is a shimmer. It stirs in me.
Peter Mannerfelt – Shining Beacons of Light
The Jesus and Mary Chain – Blues From a Gun
Fred Thomas feat. Anna Burch – Altar
Lana Del Rey – Venice Bitch
Kurt Vile – Loading Zones
Beach House – Drunk in LA
Surgeon – Seven Peaceful Deities
Yves Tumor – Limerence
Sarah Davachi – Gilded
Thom Yorke – Suspirium
Peter Broderick – Two Balloons, Pt. 4
The Clientele – Losing Haringey
The Kinks – Days
Kiran Leonard – Unreflective Life
Jeff Buckley – I Want Someone Badly
Alice in Chains – No Excuses
Low – Rome (Always in the Dark)
Airiel – In Your Room
Hiro Kone, group A – Pure Expenditure
Tim Hecker – In Death Valley
I always have this sensation, descending the steps at Edinburgh’s Waverley Station, of narratives colliding. It’s a kind of acute deja vu, where several selves are pelting it down for the last train, or gliding idly at the end point of an evening, not quite ready for the journey home. The version that is me glows inwardly translucent, lets in the early morning light, as though she might photosynthesise. I remember this Roddy Woomble song, from his first album, the one that was sorrow, and was Scotland, through and through as a bowl of salted porridge, of sickly sugared Irn Bru. ‘Waverley Steps’, with its opening line, ‘If there’s no geography / in the things that we say’. Every word, I realise, is a situation. Alighting, departing; deferring or arriving. It’s 08:28 and I’m sitting at Waverley Station, having made my way down its steps, hugging my bag while a stranger beside me eats slices of apple from a plastic packet. I’ve just read Derek Jarman’s journal, the bit about regretting how easily we can now get any fruit we want at any time of year. He laments that soon enough we’ll be able to pick up bundles of daffodils in time for Christmas. The apples this girl eats smell of plastic, of fake perfume, not fruit. I’m about to board a train that will take me, eventually, to Thurso and then on via ferry to Orkney. I wonder if they will have apples on Orkney; it’s rumoured that they don’t have trees. Can we eat without regard to the seasons on islands also?
I needn’t have worried. Kirkwall has massive supermarkets. I check my own assumptions upon arrival, expecting inflated prices and corner shops. I anticipated the sort of wind that would buffet me sideways, but the air is fairly calm. I swill a half pint of Tennents on the ferry, watching the sun go down, golden-orange, the Old Man of Hoy looming close enough to get the fear from. Something about ancient structures of stone always gives me vertigo. Trying to reconcile all those temporal scales at once, finding yourself plunged. A panpsychic sense that the spirit of the past ekes itself eerily from pores of rock. Can be read in a primitive braille of marks and striations. We pick our way through Kirkwall to the SYHA hostel, along winding residential streets. I comment on how quiet it is, how deliciously dark. We don’t see stars but the dark is real, lovely and thick. Black treacle skies keep silent the island. I am so intent in the night I feel dragged from reality.
Waking on my first day, I write in my notebook: ‘the sky is a greyish egg-white background gleaming remnant dawn’. In the lounge of the hostel, someone has the telly on—news from Westminster. Later, I’m in a bookshop in Stromness, browsing books about the island while the Radio 2 Drivetime traffic reports of holdups on motorways circling London. Standing there, clasping Ebban an Flowan, I feel between two times. A slim poetry volume by Alec Finlay and Laura Watt, with photographs by Alastair Peebles, Ebban an Flowan is Orkney’s present and future: a primer on marine renewable energy. Poetry as cultural sculpting, as speculation and continuity: ‘there’s no need to worry / that any wave is wasted / when there’s all this motion’. New ideas of sustainability and energy churn on the page before me, while thousands down south are burning up oil on the London orbital.
When we take a bus tour of Mainland Orkney’s energy sources, we play a game of spotting every electric car we see. Someone on the bus, an academic who lives here, knows exactly how many electric cars there are on the island. There’s a solidarity in that, a pride in folk knowledge, the act of knowing. On the train up to Thurso, I started a game of infrastructure bingo, murmuring the word whenever I spotted a pylon, a station or a turbine. Say it, just say it: infrastructure. Something satisfying in its soft susurration, infra as potential to be both within and between, a shifting. Osmosis, almost. The kinesis of moving your lips for fra, feeling a brief schism between skin and teeth. A generative word. Say it enough times and you will summon something: an ambient awareness of those gatherings around you, sources of fuel, object, energy.
The supermarkets in Kirkwall seem like misplaced temples. This was me idealising the remoteness of islands, wanting to live by an insular, scarcer logic. The more we go north, the more scarcity we crave—a sort of existential whittling. Before visiting, I envisioned the temperature dropping by halves. On the first night, warm in my bed, I write: ‘To feel on the brink of something, then ever equi-distant’. The WiFi picks up messages from home. Scrolling the algorithmic rolls of Instagram, I feel extra-simultaneous with these random images, snapshots of happenings around the world. Being on an island intensifies my present. In Amy Liptrot’s The Outrun (2016), a memoir of recovery and return on Orkney, Liptrot writes of ‘waiting for the next gale to receive my text messages’. On the whims of billowing signal, we wait for news of the south to arrive. Maybe I was an island and I wanted my life elsewhere to vanish, disappear in a wall of wind; I wanted to exist just here, in a hullabaloo of nowness.
I say an island, but of course Orkney is more an archipelago. And I’m on the Mainland, home to the burghs of Stromness and Kirkwall. Here for the ASLE-UKI conference, there wasn’t time to visit the harbour at Scapa, or the neolithic village of Skara Brae or the stone circle Ring of Brodgar. I spend most of my time in the town hall opposite Kirkwall’s impressive, sandstone cathedral, aglow by night with fairy lights strung in surrounding trees. Yes, trees. Orkney has trees. They are often gnarled-looking and strange, stripped by wind or held up inside by steel plinths. Anthropocene arboreal hybrids. But still they are trees. Using my plant identification app, I find hazels and birches. Autumn is traceable in the swirls of thin leaves that skirt the pavement, tousling our sense of a general transition.
At one point in the trip, we visit the Burgar Hill Energy Project in Evie, alighting from the bus to stand underneath several massive turbines. The sound is wonderful, a deep churning whirr that feels like the air pressed charge on repeat. Under the chug chug chug of those great white wings we gathered, listened, moved and dispersed. I watch as our tight knit group begins to fragment; we need time apart to absorb this properly, little cells bouncing off and away from each other, quietly charged, loosening dots of pollen. Some of us finding the outer reach of the hill, looking for a view or panorama, leaning back to snap a photograph. I film the shadows windmilling dark the rough green grass. Capturing the turbines themselves seemed almost obscene. I don’t know why I was making them into idols, afraid to reduce them to pictures. It was easier to glimpse them in pieces, a flash of white, synecdoche. My friend Katy and I agreed the best photos were the ones out of focus, a bird-like blur against the blue.
Places I have been hit by wind:
- The cloisters at the University of Glasgow, a wind-tunnel roar to blast out your thoughts post-exam.
- The hills of Aviemore, my first and last time attempt to ski.
- Ayrshire beaches in winter, icy particles of hail cast into my eyes and ears.
- The last day of the Wickerman Festival, wrestling with tents that needed drying and folding, the wind blasting against my cliff of a hangover.
- On the deck of a ferry, mascara stinging the black black veil of my lashes.
I am an air sign, Gemini, and there is something about losing your breath to elemental forces. I think I once finished a poem with a phrase like, ‘lashing the planetary way of all this’. We used to stand in the playground at school, brandishing our jackets like polyester wings, letting the wind move us forward, staggering in our lightweight bodies, our childish intuition of the way of the world. The pleasure in surrendering. Making of your body a buffeted object. Returning to Glasgow, I soon find myself hit with a cold, preemptive fresher’s flu; a weight on my chest, a diaphragm lag. A sense of my body heaving against itself.
On Orkney, I can smell the salt from the sea. Earlier in the summer, I was struck with wisdom tooth pain, the kind that requires salt-water rinses every half hour, not to mention agonised gargles of whisky. Wasting my precious bottle of Talisker. Amid the haze of those painkiller days, I felt closer to an elemental heat. Metonymically, I was inhaling islands. The taste of self-preservation, of necessary self-sustenance, is never as strong and unwanted as when you want a part of yourself to be wrenched out of you. Pulling teeth is an easy metaphor for lost love, or other forms of psychic distress. Breaking apart, making of the self an archipelago. There’s that song by The National, ‘I Should Live in Salt’, which always sticks in my head in granular form, occasional line. Refrain of refrains, ‘I should live in salt for leaving you behind’. I never knew whether Matt Berninger was singing about preservation or pain, but I saw myself lying down in a kelp bed, child-size, letting the waves lap over my body, salt suffusing the pores of my skin. Begin again, softer.
The rain here is more a tangential shimmer. I wake up to it, dreaming that my window was broken and no-one would bother to fix it. Fear of boundaries loosened, the outside in. The future as a sheet of glass, a shelf you could place your self on and drink. Salt water rinse and heat of whisky. We leave the hostel early and wander beyond the Kirkwall harbour, to the hydrogen plant bordering an industrial estate. Katy and I discussed our fondness for industrial estates as homely reminders. She would go running, and wherever she ran the industrial zones were inevitable. As if in any city you would reach that realm, it called you in with its corrugated fronts and abrasive loneliness. My love for the canal, biking up through Maryhill where the warehouses watch serenely over you, loom behind trees, barely a machinic rumble disturbing the birds. We traced the edge of a man-made waterfront, a crescent curving lip of land. The way it curled was elliptical, it didn’t finish its inward whorls of land upon water, but still I thought of Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty, or the cinnamon buns I bought from the Kirkwall Tesco. Finding a bench, we ate bananas for breakfast, looking out at the grey-blue sea, our fingers purpling with the cold. I like to think of the banana, Katy said, as a solid unit of energy. Here we were, already recalibrating reality by the logic of pulse and burn and calories. Feeling infra.
I love the words ‘gigawatt’, ‘kilocal’, ‘megabyte’. I like the easeful parcelling up of numbers and storage and energy. I am unable to grasp these scales and sizes visually or temporally, but it helps to find them in words.
We learn about differences between national and local grids, how wind is surveyed, how wave power gets extracted from the littoral zone. My mind oscillates between a sonar attentiveness and deep exhaustion, the restfulness gleaned from island air and waking with sunrise. I slip in and out of sleep on the bus as it swerves round corners. I am pleasantly jostled with knowledge and time, the precious duration of being here. Here. Here, exactly. This intuition vanishes when I try to write it. A note: ‘I know what the gaps between trees must feel like’. Listening to experienced academics, scientists and creatives talk about planes, axes, loops and striations, ages of ages, I find myself in the auratic realm of save as…, dwelling in the constant recording of motion, depth and time. Taking pictures, scribbling words, drawing maps and lines and symbols. We talk of Orkney as a model for the world. Everything has its overlay, the way we parse our experience with apps and books and wireless signals. Someone takes a phone call, posts a tweet. I scroll through the conference hashtag with the hostel WiFi, tracing the day through these crumbs of perspective, memories silently losing their fizz in the night.
I grew up by the sea, in Maybole, Ayrshire (with its ‘blue moors’, as W. S. Graham puts it), but a lot of my thalassic time was spent virtually. I loved video games like The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, where the narrative happened between islands, where much of the gameplay involved conducting voyages across the sea. The interstitial thrill of a journey. There were whirlpools, tornados, monsters rising from the deep. On Maidens Harbour, I could hardly reach that volcanic plug of sparkling granite, the Ailsa Craig, or swim out to Arran; virtually, however, I could traverse whatever limits the game had designed. The freedom in that, of exploring a world already set and scaled. Movement produced within constraint. In real life, mostly our bodies and minds constrain. What excites me now is what I took for granted then: the salt spray stinging my lips, the wind in my hair, the glint of shells bleached clean by the sea; a beautiful cascade of cliches that make us.
‘To wake up and really see things…passages from a neverland.’ Back in Glasgow, fallen upon familiar nocturnal rhythms, I find myself craving the diurnal synchrony I achieved in Orkney. Sleepy afternoons so rich in milky light. The vibrational warmth of the ferry’s engine, activating that primitive desire for oil, the petrol smell at stations as my mother filled up the car for journeys to England. My life has often been defined by these journeys between north and south, born in Hertfordshire but finding an early home in Ayrshire. Swapping that heart for air, and all porosity of potential identity. Laura Watt talked of her work as an ethnographer, interviewing the people of Orkney to find out more about their experiences of energy, the way infrastructural change impacts their daily lives, their health, their business. Within that collaboration, she tells us, there’s also a sense of responsibility: stories carry a personal heft, something that begs immunity from diffusion. Some stories, she says, you can’t tell again. The ethics of care there. I wonder if this goes the same for stone, the stories impregnated within the neolithic rocks we glimpse on Orkney. Narrative formations lost to history’s indifferent abstraction, badly parsed by present-day humans along striated lines, evidence of fissure and collision. All that plastic the ocean spits back, co-evolutions of geology and humans. Plastiglomerates along the shore. But Orkney feels pure and relatively litter-free, so goes my illusions, my sense of island exceptionalism. I become more aware of the waste elsewhere. The only person I see smoking, in my whole time there, is a man who speeds his car up Kirkwall’s high street. Smoke and oil, the infinite partners; extraction and exhaustion, the smouldering of all our physical addictions. Nicotine gives the body a rhythm, a spike and recede and a need.
We learn of a Microsoft server sunk under the sea, adjacent to Orkney. There’s enough room in those computers, according to a BBC report, to store ‘five million movies’. And so the cloud contains these myriad worlds, whirring warm within the deep. Minerals, wires and plastics crystallise the code of all our text and images. Apparently the cooler environment will reduce corrosion. I remember the shipyard on Cumbrae, another island; its charnel ground of rusted boats and iron shavings. The lurid brilliance of all that orange, temporal evidence of the sea’s harsh moods, the constant prickle of salt in the air. The way it seems like fire against all those cool flakes of cerulean paint. I wrote a blog post about that shipyard once, so eager to mythologise: ‘Billowing storms, sails failing amidst inevitable shipwreck. It’s difficult to imagine such disasters on this pretty island, yet there is an uncanny sense to this space, as if we have entered a secret porthole, discovered what was supposed to be invisible to outsiders…The quietness recalls an abandoned film set’. Does tourism lend an eerie voyeurism to the beauty we see, conscious of these objects, landscapes and events being photographed many times over? Perhaps the mirage of other islands and hills glimpsed over the blue or green is more the aura of our human conceptions, archival obsession—the camera lights left buzzing in the air, traced for eternity.
I come to Orkney during a time of transition, treading water before a great turn in my life. Time at sea as existential suspension. There have been some departures, severings, personal hurts, burgeoning projects and new beginnings. A great tiredness and fog over everything. ‘Cells of fuel are fuelling cells’. At the conference, my brain teems with this rich, mechanical vocabulary: copper wires and plates and words for wattage, transmission, the reveries of innovation. There is a turning over, leaf after leaf; I fill up my book with radials, coal and rain. My mind attains a different altitude. I think mostly about the impressions that are happening around me: the constant flow of conversation, brought in again as we move between halls and rooms, bars and timelines in our little human estuaries. We visit Stromness Academy, to see Luke Jerram’s ‘Museum of the Moon’: a seven-metre rendition of lunar sublimity, something to stand beneath, touch, lie under. I learn the word for the moon’s basaltic seas is ‘Maria’, feel eerily sparked, spread identity into ether. We listen, quietly, in the ambient dark, taking in composer Dan Jones’ textures of sound, the Moonlight Sonata, the cresting noise of radio reports—landings from a future-past, a lost utopia.
On Friday night, Katy and I catch the overnight ferry back to Aberdeen. Sleep on my cinema seat has a special intensity, a falling through dreams so vivid they smudge themselves on every minute caught between reading and waking. Jarman’s gardens enrich my fantasy impressions, and I slip inside the micro print, the inky paragraphs. I dream of oil and violets and sharp desire, a pearlescent ghost ship glimmer on a raging, Romantic sea. Tides unrealised, tides I can’t parse with my eyes alone; felt more as a rhythm within me. Later, on land I will miss that oceanic shudder, the sense of being wavy. I have found myself like this before, chemically enhanced or drunk, starving and stumbling towards bathrooms. We share drinking tales which remind me of drowning, finding in the midst of the city a seaborne viscosity of matter and memory, of being swept elsewhere. Why is it I always reach for marinal metaphor? Flood doors slam hard the worlds behind me. There are points in the night I wake up and check my phone for the time, noticing the lack of GPRS, or otherwise signal. I feel totally unmoored in those moments, deliciously given to the motioning whims of the ferry. Here I am, a passenger without place. We could be anywhere, on anyone’s ocean. I realise my privilege at being able to extract pleasure from this geographic anonymity, with a home to return to, a mainland I know as my own. The ocean is hardly this windswept playground for everyone; many lose their lives to its terminal desert. Sorrow for people lost to water. Denise Riley’s call to ‘look unrelentingly’. I sip from my bottle, water gleaned from a tap in Orkney. I am never sure whether to say on or in. How to differentiate between immersion and inhabitation, what to make of the whirlwinds of temporary dwelling. How to transcend the selfish and surface bonds of a tourist.
The little islands of our minds reach out across waves, draw closer. I dream of messages sent from people I love, borne along subaquatic signals, a Drexciya techno pulsing in my chest, down through my headphones. My CNS becomes a set of currents, blips and tidal replies. A week later, deliriously tired, I nearly faint at a Wooden Shijps gig, watching the psychedelic visuals resolve into luminous, oceanic fractals. It’s like I’m being born again and every sensation hurts, those solos carried off into endless nowhere.
Time passes and signal returns. We wake at six and head out on deck to watch the sunrise, laughing at the circling gulls and the funny way they tuck in their legs when they fly. These seabirds have a sort of grace, unlike the squawking, chip-loving gulls of our hometowns, stalking the streets at takeaway hour. The light is peachy, a frail soft acid, impressionist pools reflecting electric lamps. I think of the last lecture of the conference, Rachel Dowse’s meditations on starlings as trash animals, possessing a biological criticality as creatures in transition. I make of the sky a potential plain of ornithomancy, looking for significant murmurations, evidence of darkness to come. But there is nothing but gulls, a whey-coloured streak of connected cumulus. The wake rolls out behind us, a luxurious carpet of rippling blue. We are going south again. The gulls recede. Aberdeen harbour is a cornucopia of infrastructure, coloured crates against the grey, with gothic architecture looming through morning mist behind.
Later I alight at the Waverley Steps again. Roddy in my ear, ‘Let the light be mined away’. My time on the island has been one of excavation and skimming, doing the work of an academic, a tourist, a maker at once. Dredging up materials of my own unconscious, or dragging them back again, making of them something new. Cold, shiny knowledge. The lay of the heath and bend of bay. I did not get into the sea to swim, I didn’t feel the cold North rattle right through my bones. But my nails turned blue in the freezing wind, my cheeks felt the mist of ocean rain. I looked at maps and counted the boats. I thought about what it must be like to cut out a life for yourself on these islands.
Home now, I find myself watching badly-dubbed documentaries about Orkney on YouTube, less for the picturesque imagery than the sensation of someone saying those names: Papay, Scapa, Eday, Hoy. Strong names cut from rock, so comforting to say. I read over the poems of Scotland’s contemporary island poets, Jen Hadfield for Shetland, Niall Campbell for Uist. Look for the textures of the weather in each one, the way they catch a certain kind of light; I read with a sort of aggression for the code, the manifest ‘truth’ of experience— it’s like cracking open a geode. I don’t normally read like this, leaving my modernist cynicism behind. I long for outposts among rough wind and mind, Campbell’s ‘The House by the Sea, Eriskay’: ‘This is where the drowned climb to land’. I read about J. H. Prynne’s huts, learn the word ‘sheiling’. Remember the bothies we explored on long walks as children. There’s a need for enchantment when city life churns a turbulent drone, so I curl into these poems, looking for clues: ‘In a fairy-tale, / a boy squeezed a pebble / until it ran milk’ (Hadfield, ‘The Porcelain Cliff’). Poetry becomes a way of building a shelter. I’m struck with the sense of these poets making: time and matter are kneaded with weight and precision, handled by pauses, the shape-making slump of syntax. Energy and erosion, elemental communion. Motion and rest. My fragile body becomes a fleshwork of blood and bone and artery, hardly an island, inclined to allergy and outline, a certain porosity; an island only in vain tributary. I write it in stanzas, excoriate my thoughts, reach for someone in the night. I think about how we provide islands for others, ports in a storm. Let others into our lives for temporary warmth, then cast ourselves out to sea, sometimes sinking.
Why live on an island? In Orkney we were asked to think with the sea, not against it. To see it not as a barrier but an agential force, teeming with potential energy. Our worries about lifestyle and problematic infrastructure, transport and connection were playfully derided by a local scholar as ‘tarmac thinking’. Back in a city, I’ve carried this with me. The first time I read The Outrun was in the depths of winter, 2016, hiding in some empty, elevated garrett of the university library. I’d made my own form of remoteness; that winter, more than a stairwell blocked me off from the rest of existence. Now, I read in quick passages, lively bursts; I cycle along the Clyde at night and wonder the ways in which this connects us, its cola-dark waters swirling northwards, dragged by eventual tides. I circle back to a concept introduced by anthropologists at Rice University, Cymene Howe and Dominic Boyer, ‘sister cities of the Anthropocene’: the idea that our cities are linked, globally, by direct or vicarious physical flows of waste, energy and ecological disaster. This hydrological globalisation envisions the cities of the world as a sort of archipelago, no metropolis safe from the feedback loops of environmental causality, our agency as both individuals and collectives. On Orkney, we were taught to think community as process, rather than something given. I guess sometimes you have to descend from your intellectual tower to find it: see yourself in symbiosis; your body, as a tumbled, possible object: ‘All arriving seas drift me, at each heartbreak, home’ (Graham, ‘Three Poems of Drowning’).