The Importance of Where; A bi-weekly glance at Grayson Russell (#1)

I’m two-thirds of the way through a bottle of wine and trying to catch up with ideas that are running away from me. What I’m looking for isn’t going to be caught in this windowless, often depressing hole. I decide to leave my cavernous room and head into Nashville’s creative air to see what ideas chase me down. What I end up stumbling upon happens on a walk through my neighborhood while on the phone with a great friend and spectacular writer, Grayson Russell.

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On the other end end of this call is a man who has a story you’d want as a writer: the bouts of homelessness, dropping everything and moving to France to just get away, living in a crack-infested apartment in New York, working a shitty, backbreaking job in South Carolina, writing fantastic essays in obscurity, or balancing on the cusp of giving up writing all together. The idea hits me to post his genius here as a guest writer to break up some of the monotony of my work.

What draws me to his style is the premise of his writing. He shacks himself up in dive bars or rundown buildings in the middle of nowhere to give himself a new setting to dance with. While Grayson may briefly mention whatever structure he is in or around in the essay itself, the magic comes from the stories he sees while there. He takes a piece of history or literature and ties it in to wherever he has locked himself in to. It’s an interesting approach that bleeds out his emotions as well as any memories the building may offer up for his essay.

Here is his first essay he wrote in an old warehouse across from his house in Athens, Georgia. It’s well worth the read. Be sure to look for more of his work every other week:

The Art of Self Reflection.

This place is old. The wind is high today, braying among the sycamores by the river. Every now and then I can hear it move against the glass panes, those that remain. When I first entered it must have caught one that had been broken and worked at it until a shard of it fell. It must have hit a piece of metal and then sounded, if there is a way to say this, like glitter. I tore my shirt, climbing through the opening in the fence. It will rain later. I can feel it. That is why the wind is so high. The leaves are passionless.

Sunlight enters this place like magic, waves of it furl, unfurl and distil and are swept up so that it is repeated over and over, so that time seems to be something more intricate than imagined. I can hear its presence, feel it. I am tempted to speak aloud, to see if the echo of my voice will carry. It does, so much that I barely recognize it. The wind cuts it in half and it fails quietly among the higher lofts.

I brought with me some books, an old journal, a bottle of whiskey, and a tumbler of tobacco. I am tired of the modern world. Still, I can hear the impact of it, like that of a vacuum, though further off in the distance, where everything dwarfs around one, like a body stranded in the middle of a freeway, — the roar of metal and light, the artificial winds that storm about the body…

Diary: I do not know how the artist is formed. Whether his visions were born with him, or they were turned from birth into a kind of distant aphasia that kept like light around the sea of his voice. If they return like memories back to his person…What will affect this climate?

Diary: If it is happiness, then why is it so hard to share, as pain can be the most personal thing one can experience, but rarely do we ever share it…Of the things we share are fear, certain quiet joys. We share more often than we realize a passing of personal anxiety, just as we share our bodies, and that like laughter…but the true privation of things we dare not hand to our friends, our families, or our lovers as we would a glass of wine. We can pass in moments of ecstasy together. We can glare at the sunset…but deep happiness like deep pain must be held alone, concealed. Why, have I sought my life to understand this…to understand my own? Is it too much to ask? Perhaps, it is. For what should I know for something like pain or that of happiness when it has all of its resources outside of me…

Diary: I feel vengeful today for no reason, vicious.

Diary: jettisoned. I walked away with the feeling that I had already gotten to know the place, like the unfolded conscience of a place.

Diary: Leaf, is the weight of a leaf…Is the weight of a feather heavier?

Diary: I cant cleverly denounce my life anymore.

Diary: Resentment is a positive thing, — a link between your present feelings, and past feelings. So resentment is precious because it is unique. I am put in a place where I feel something familiar, but want to know more. It is as if there is the possession of a key…

The fact that all of my senses seem to be appreciated. Luminosity comes from this. Luminosity through

resentment.

Diary: Montaigne. Stendhal: Love.

Diary: I am less concerned about my external appearance than what people find of me in their souls’. The rest, I would be content to know that it humored them.

Who wrote this?

Diary: [They]…must, miracles, see as us the silliest of creatures. For we betray them, not when we lack the faith to see them, not as we pray for them to occur, not as they happen, not even when they are missed, but exactly at the moment they are most revealed. We betray them because they were born out of our own despair.

Diary: The deep resonance in human nature…That a sense of compassion outlives the circumstance of all relationships. This can be felt easily, and with a renewed motive. One of compassion, one of hope without regret, one of fantasy without apology. That this ties the solid loop that will forever keep two people entwined.

Diary: The contest of growing older and facing intimacy as a stranger, — it is very much like seeing an old lover and almost begging them to remind you of why you fell in love with them in the first place. For bliss should never know that it was alone.

Note: “What is the motive of the light? What is the light? I must confess ignorance. I can tell you very well what it is not…” The Soul of the White Ant – Marais.

Diary: Is there a point where the cold intellect thinks No..This is a sham, it is rubbish, weak…but elsewhere, the heart maybe or the soul warms at the wonder of it. Beauty forever pacing to and fro along this bridge.

Diary: I must keep repeating this phrase to myself. ‘Everything has value. Everything. Without it you are cursed.’

Diary: We lay together, not long after making love, linked by the same chain of personal suffering. The world drifted far beneath us. I asked her if she ever feared being abandoned. “Always.”

Diary: Today I felt…a {grip} upon my existence. It was the first time I have ever looked out of the window, from the doorway into the world, and looked out over the nature of things, and felt myself aware of the room, and everything within it, that I was standing in. The longing and yearning one feels looking out of a window, I felt revolve around me, and I turned, happy to feel the sphere of this. It made no difference that my desk faces in the opposite direction, that it looks at only a wall, which is cream-coloured and not very high. There are plates hanging from it. A picture of that is made like a box, with grapes, a basket and a small bottle of wine, like a picnic. The other is a photograph of a French bakery. Then the wall folds and comes about my left where there is a hat rack, with a tiny mirror inlaid at its middle. On either side, Rome. That the outside world grows still behind me, I can feel. Murmurs of wind and sunlight trail on the marble floor. Every now and again a cat purchases a shadow and slip of light that holds along my iris briefly. What are these strange words beneath me? Do they have means? They say things, are written in a florid and hurried scrawl. They are barely readable. The books I have: Dickinson. Brancusi. Faulkner. The Scarlet Letter. Wittgenstein’s Journals. Keats. The Paintings of De Kooning. There are a few typed pages, a cup of coffee, my ash tray, my journal, and a tumbler of

tobacco. The desk is high, slightly above the waist. The chair as well. I cannot touch the floor from here. Its surface is smooth and dark, save where it seems scratched it is new and has the complexion of mahogany. In the corner stands a hurricane lamp. False lilies. And a pitcher filled with candles. All this accompanies me now when I turn, even the shape of space beneath the table, the density of my chair, the smooth marble floors that are slick a friendly. The air outside is lustrous, lighting, and the wind conveys various chains of green, like garlands, that lift and flutter.

Someone said to me once..”You may never understand this, but I…I can’t help you if you wont listen.”

“I have been. I tried. I was young. I was rash. I was hurt. I was a fool, obnoxious. I felt the weight of you. It bruised me. Listen.”

And she replied, “I tried, but I can’t dissuade you from yourself. You are never satisfied.”

I walk out onto the deck. The grass has been cut, for the last time. It is Autumn. I light a cigarette. The high easy grace of the trees. Each has a face, a word or two. My God, I think! I have been writing on a corpse! It is smooth like I said, and bear the colours that leaves find inevitable this time of year, and it is built high, slightly above ones waist. It could be mahogany or even something cheaper. The walls fold around it. The splash of light fails. I can no longer feel the wind. My coffee is cold.

{Existence}…yes, Yes, it is something I’ve heard in passing.

Diary: De Kooning: [T]hat wonderful unsure atmosphere of reflection – a poetic frame where something could be possible, where an artist could practice his intuition.

 

He said this of Cubism. And I thought distinctly of my case, that if I could wake with this for the next few weeks, having it float around the edge of my consciousness, face it boldly and then let it go, like a ritual. I think its something I have tried to always find, in the language itself, — a realm of possibilities, clamouring with thoughts, that suddenly become sensations and then when they are taken as far as they can be taken, before they snap back onto themselves like a rubber band ruining the atmosphere they have just made…I have always felt that when they weren’t able to solve themselves or come to rest on a firm point, they could drift like smoke in a room, sometimes gathering in the light, drawing a bluish appearance…Of course these are sentences, something I have always struggled to write. I have felt often that a sentence, it is a thought in its own right and has a kind of birth and life of its own. And then to magnify this, they have the power to become, or are born as sensations. This is where my intuition leads me. But very often its hard not to cloud the entire piece, like a full barroom in the days when smoking was legal. Sometimes I feel that it leads into a strange, fluid world, putting the reader, dipping them in a bath of ether, or causing them to swim around in the warm amniotic fluid of memory and prenatal emotion. This is where my intuition leads, always has. It cant help but be enamored by this world. It rises at first light like an old fisherman and spreads its seines…

I dont know if this world that is captured reflects easily in the light. Somewhere there has to be a great flaw in this. Where, is the question? I can’t fully believe that it is intuition alone, but maybe like shells that are brought up from the ocean floor and have a certain incredible colour that shortly fades…maybe too, I have to invent this circumstance of light in my composition. The actual convalescence and death of the creatures that live within these shells. But they are abraded once more by the wind, the dry air. I dont know if this is possible, if it is a fool’s errand. At times it seems so, and then within me a dark force — something that one cannot put words upon reshapes my entire exterior

world. Everything that once emanated inside of me ceases. It is as if I had struck a withered branch from my mouth, or thrown dust into my eyes. The length of this varies, the time of it, but I writhe about its causes with something…an image that comes to mind like that of a stunned bat caught in a low ceilinged room beating at the walls for freedom. Then it passes and something of that same light that blanches the luminous colour from the surface of a seashell is taken in. I find, all of a sudden, a precious joy in personifying the rays of this sun. I am able to wield a certain torment to this world. The the morrow, I think… ‘Ah, but it is all so fluid. It needs the jag of wind slapping the water, tearing a portion of white from the waves. It needs to be struck, and dazzled, chipped into something real. Something physical….’

Then I look back on this…its depth and clarity, the profusion of things it has the ability to touch. Its digression’s…the simple beauty of its gesture…

It would, if wrapped around a brick and thrown through a window — have something of the force that I would like to capture.

Diary: I dont feel that I am anywhere near what I wish to achieve. There doesnt seem to be a language for it. As suddenly as I feel close and say to myself — Here is the line. It does something unique, it bends, hesitates like Matisse, and then entirely dissolves. I never know if I am getting deep enough, if there is a grace to be apprehended in this confusion, or if it is merely the filth of pathetic human reflection. It seems as though it were sundried to death. Then it wont lift, it seems to refuse to breathe. The luminosity I crave dies from it, and all seems dim and foreign, eaten with the pallor of death, decay. I must remind myself that this too is Art. Its intention. That which cannot be spoken, cannot be conveyed, cannot be dreamt. And here I used the word absurd, which to me seems the natural state of life, but I hesitate and refrain from its use. If precisely because it is that natural. That obvious that it need not be uttered. Beauty is a word, but it is rarely found shrouded or met with such contempt. It comes to be that of what an Artist is after that leads to greatness, and this is what the work will always lack. This is what the work builds around. What it sought, what it still has the power to seek. As though it held it there arrested and all the artist’s labour were nothing more than a fragrance that drifts around the unknown.

I hope that I can build something like this. That there will always be that voice inside of me when caught in the calamity, when I reach for some fact or illusion of reason, certitude, or the flat tone of logic, that throws this asunder with such violence that I know longer see what it was. A voice that causes me to invent another sensation no matter how outrageous it may be, and that causes me to go blind toward everything that I know, so that I must imagine it all again. In this way I am always creating. Its the capability Keats speaks of, and one that I have misunderstood for years. Art should never be held in the light of reason. It should never be subject to anything but itself. It has perfect tyranny. The anarchy of one’s soul, of his most internal visions. It is a map of intuition, of what could be possible, of all that was possible. If it were found more easily and more readily, it wouldn’t have the power to house those rare and even mythical extremes that have long been the language of the human spirit.

To be convinced that there is something more numerable and simultaneously, as a leaf falls from a tree, that it was in all truth merely a leaf…Of Course there was wind, and there was a season, and to anyone it would be normal, but given the conjecture of a world tilted on the balance of this, the belief that everything is hinged upon something as it descends. That something has happened that nothing has. That one could even disparage the leaf’s existence, while it is seen floating like a feather to the ground. That the imagination could turn it suddenly into a white bird that coils up into the air never to be seen again. That it is still falling as I speak. That it fell last year or the year before. That a Roman solider saw it drift

over the battle fields. That it grew in Naples. That there was a light rain to accompany it. That it was carried into the underworld. That it fell in midsummer. That a young girl caught it with the palm of her hand only to discover it years later in between the pages of her favorite book. That it touched to a web where it hung from a long strand of gossamer, twirling in the early twilight. That it is being swept up from the surface of a street, or that it burst in flames on the way down. That a child named it for its colour for its graceful stirde, or that it was entirely clusmy, clipping every branch until it hit the empty air and swirled like a feather. That it had already mouldered, wet from the late Autumn rains so much so that it stuck to the outside of a kitchen window. That it lay moistened and decaying that winter. That it was touched by the first flake of snow that hit something and melted. That it lay along the forest floor near the blood trail of a wounded animal. Or that gathered gently on the surface of stream where its travels had worn into transparency. Or it is still hanging with the transference of its colour that is gradually begining to take. That beneath it is the white web of a cocoon. That one shoulder of it has peeled ever so slightly from its stem. That it was in another life the other half of a wing of a butterfly. That it curls toward the sun when it hits the face of water. Or that it is buried beneath a million instances of awareness and self reflection. That it was broad like a sycamore. Or it may have folded like those of mimosas. They have a way of trembling, the whole colony it seems. That it made a shadow, its first ever. That it caught up in the gutters above. That it fell, much like any and every leaf that has fallen. That winter will soon drive the rest. That there will be too many to watch. They will cover the entire yard. They will be burned and bagged. That the trees will have a new significance. That they will cease to mean much. That they will be barren. That to the right eye they will have turned into the perfect abstraction they have always been. That it was merely the beginning of something. That it had to be believed. That this was mere fantasy.

It has darkened and a soft rain pours into the building. I have begun to notice my breath, moved by a bluish tint among the shadows. I should light the lamp soon. The wind is still high, high and moist, and unbroken in the trees. The colours like that of lavender and mauve are quieter, older. The colours of evening. Earlier I thought a bird might have moved through lofts above, stealing in through one of the broken windows, discovering glimpses of itself in each pane of glass, the ones that haven’t broken. What does it mean to be both inside and outside at the same time? “For me …it is to be in an unheated studio with broken windows in the winter.” There is that, but there are a multitude of other things that I am here to discover. Namely, the deepest of where Art and self reflection cross each other. De Kooning says something of this as well… “What fascinates me about Van Gough is that his sundries up everything. Maybe he was melodramatic but my point really is.. ..if you are a painter you have to face that self-consciousness. You get dirty and pathetic; very miserable. It makes me self-conscious to talk about it. There is something corrupt in art.”

It is this that I wish to specifically reflect, that Art never repairs or repatriates one to a former time, to the home of his past. His emotions about this are always lost, because emotions are prenatal. They later discover feeling and sensation, or rather the man does, the artist. He cannot hope with Art. It is as De kooning has said, — corrupt. It would be hard to say it is even graceful. It can gracefully become, but by then it is separate from this reflection. One could even say it is a dream. It has its grip upon the eternal, and like lichen is unaffected by spacial winds, time, untouched by poverty, by wealth. The thing created out of this reflection no longer bears its resemblance. It continues to grow. The vulgarity is lost. It is the practice of Art that can be so pathetic, because it is like the practice of living, or

that of making love for the very first time. It is clumsy, only because it is caught first in that mirror of self reflection, which is as vulgar as it is seductive; and the more the Artist works the more nervous he becomes. The easier it is for him to lose the thread of his intentions and the safety of his intuition.

What bridges that world between the objective and the subjective is Art. The world between the familiar and strange, but its terrain is as dangerous as it is unique. The man is often lost, and it becomes a loveless task. The desire to strangle one’s self to death is ancient, as old as the rain, the sea, deserts, rocks. If it is shame and disgrace, it is a physical shame, like wounds inflicted upon the body that measure the degree of consciousness still left. Many have spoke of Art over the centuries as being an act, believed it to be the like of suicide. Yet, it is more the image of negation, where the man is wiped completely away. A metaphorical one, philosophical, but rarely physical. Art betters not only itself, but the man, the artist, through a feeling of Love, even if it is a Love captured in loss. It is a salve, though it never repairs. For the man as well as the artist, his sins will continue. But it can remind him in a way of the memory of his innocence, before the life was bled out of it, before the image of the gallows…

Like the wind in this building, it infects me.

It is the horror that I dream of, to perceive myself. The horror the Artist faces, alone. The horror that perfects life in its peculiar way, because it lends us the importance we need, and at the same time humiliates us. It is this horror, this place where one loses ground. Of course every artist has the fear of his talent perishing, of never being able to grasp even the slightest grain of mystery; and he is never quite sure how to trust in this particular nightmare. As any man or woman, any human, has fears toward uncertainty. But there is something very certain in the way in which ones reflection turns back to them. It is never as vague as we would like it to be; and it speaks directly to us, with rumours of who we were, with guidance of how to become. It misleads us. It endears. It mocks. It surprises us. With cruelty and malice and often with a tender affection, it can give us a divided sense of where we stand. It rarely measures, but when it does, it does so purely. Some even fall in love with this image. Some wish to tear it apart. And some do both with an equal amount of force and precision. If the greatest sin is to dream, it is the wish to be something else. If by returning again and again to the same thing, oneself, is corrupt, then it is sacred. For the soul wishes to reveal.

…have the shadows now wholly exhausted, burned around the image, the lovely determination of the rain..If anything, I have tried to live inside my tragedy. I have cared for it, nursed.

If it were possible to recover the first hour of life…the pathetic would be a miracle alone.

The wind has stopped, and the dark has taken fully. The sound of water, draining, running, drifting. The noise of inlets, pools, the shimmering essence that lifts from their surface. I grow weary. My conscience seems empty. It is late, and my thoughts struggle to form themselves…I am asked again to live in this world. Why? I slip over the balance of Time…Forgive me. For these are old emotions that I’ve had, those that I can remember.

Years ago I fell in love with a girl named Amelia. It was that kind of love, fierce, that cut like a torrent through the middle of me, dividing who I was and who I was becoming, who I intended myself to be. It was the kind of love one feels when their existence first seems endangered. The kind of love that one dreams of but is never truly prepared to encounter. She brought a fertility to this, but in a deeper sense she caused in me an awareness, the desire to see myself. To wonder at how I might be reflected in her eyes. The import of “I” became something else. I was caught suddenly with the pathetic, or rather somewhere between it and something else. I had no idea at the time of who I had wished to

become, all of that was raw and frail. When I met her a new universe had begun.

The display of everything inside of me crystallized like frost, and the ice was swept by harsh winds. I said I was divided, because of the other side. There was Spring, light, life what have you.

I could never see what it was that she adored and somewhere this hurt me deeply. She had remade me in her image. My existence became very rich, but the passions it awoke in me were movements of ultimate tenderness , but also those of an open violence to the world around me. I felt betrayed by what she saw, and I always worried if what she loved was an idea, an idea of potential that I could never reach.

Love: language is so feeble to describe this, –it trips, stumbles, banging its head against rafters, coughing up bits of blood and mucous, and climbs into a rare atmosphere where it is deprived of oxygen; it weeps like one overtaken with grief, or it soars above the burning continent of the heart. It does all of this simultaneously, and in the end becomes defiantly numb, speechless. It resigns like a frightened child tripped up on a playground. It cant say for the love of itself, or even reflexively within the limits of its hatred what it is after, what it perceives, what it has gathered. It becomes its own world, and universe. It has the power to deny and accept, but it does neither, and this is precisely what keeps it aloft.

Somehow I lost myself in the midst of it.

I am nervous now, aware. What is this thing? [Who] is this thing? When one thinks of it, its rarely different from leaves, or old cigarettes lain in an ashtray. They are things, like wind. The heaviness of saying…myself. It is a part of that reflection we must all endure. I…I hesitate, because I draw around myself like a veil, like closure. I dead end. I havent a future or a past. Nothing surrounds me. Myself. Who will believe this when I tell them, there are things I have dreamt, images. There are things other than myself I have seen, but I have seen them here, and only here in the core of who I am. There are your dreams, confined…dearer than mine. They flower. The heaviness of You, but it is light. How is it different? How I am refreshed by this? Do I mean much, I mean this pathetic palisade, this cliff, this wind, these cigarettes, this voice…It captures me. Myself captures me. It captivates the nothing I am, empty, surrounded by the frail passions of life. {I}…is my raft, my true solace. Heaviness is the place I have cast aside. I drift. It must be something. Your dreams crowd me, the cities, the world. Aphasia. But who are you? Have I glimpsed you before, familiar. You bear such likeness. This isle. Ah, when will the world come back to me? For I have seen you…

This afterlife.

Rembrandt must have felt the same, or something very similar in the painting of his own portrait. The emptiness with which he approaches it, curious, distant and restrained. He isnt moved to tear himself to shreds. His own melancholy, which is all that can guide, governs his appearance. He stares into that abyss, which himself, much as he stares into the eyes of any of his models. His lovers. It becomes more precious to see the many shades of nuance the man possesses, the artist. Yet, there is still a slender thread of something that ties him. He cannot quite break from it. With Van Gough the passion overwhelms , he feels it. He paints it in the form of an alienated majesty, with fever of a dream that has finally returned to him. These palisades. This pathetic paradise where the artist is called to use all the wealth of mystery at picturing himself, where the precision of his very soul becomes exhausted, and simultaneously reborn in the ever complicated eye. It triumphs because it wishes to see itself, rather its reflection. It gives the words…my-self…a chance. He paints in a place where awareness suddenly

transforms into dismissal. Later, the pain of this guilt may settle upon. Later he can argue. Later, much later he can question his right at birth, he can cut a piece from his ear, or drink himself into various oblivions, later he can worry, later he can weep, later pity, later much later he can dissolve. Still, later he can continue to perfect his hatred for his own existence…

But for a moment in the paradise of the pathetic, he sees himself as he was made. Love has this insistence like Art of abnegation. It cuts into the quick, the pith of one’s self.

This was a wharehouse I think at one time. There are so many windows. I feel, I don’t know what it is, the murmur of the windows, their reflections replaced. The light dancing through and the darkness as well, pouring. Both carried by wind…

One summer after we had been together for some time, we vacationed with her family at the beach. For the majority of the week I behaved well. Until the last day when we woke early and chartered a fishing boat. I makes me self conscious to think of it. We fished and I drank most of the morning. Toward noon we headed in and got up behind the shrimp boats in a flurry of mewling seagulls and set bait for shark. Within moments two rods dipped quickly. Amelia’s brother and I rushed to the back of the boat. He caught the first rod, and I the second. As quickly as I leaned back and felt the shark pull, there was suddenly nothing. For the next hour we fought her brother’s shark until it tired and we go it to the boat. Its skin was tawny and silver, slick. It was young, maybe four and a half feet long. I remember reaching over the side as the boat tipped in the swales, and the shark thrashed, not to gather the lead, but because I wanted to touch it. I kept reaching as it thrashed, slapping the side of the boat and then turned to run and was brought back. Everytime it broke the surface, throwing its head up, thrashing about, the lense of cartilage closing over it eyes. For moment the boat tipped so much that I almost fell in. Then finally I caught my hand along is dorsal and felt for a moment, which seemed longer than it should, the provocative strength of its beauty and then a sudden docility of it as it slipped below the waves and vanished.

When we docked, I remember how bright the sun was. When we got back to beach house the first thing I sought was whiskey. Whatever was happening inside, whether it had been there for a long time did not matter.

The house, the main part of it was built above the garage, where below there was a patio and a table. I drank fairly fast. Amelia came and sat down beside me. We didn’t talk at first. Her eyes were deep, sorrowful and moist. Everything that I wished to say seemed covered with a film of disgust. When I looked at her, the voice inside of me grew, but I couldn’t formulate it. What I wanted to say was something like…’Help. Help me. I don’t know who the fuck I am anymore.’ I wanted to say many things, but I couldn’t speak to her. I couldn’t tell her that my heart was tearing itself apart, that I knew nothing of Love, that I felt an immense something, a wonder for her and that it was killing me to feel it, that I needed to hate myself for reasons I might never understand, that her sympathy was too strong, that I was dying inside like some kind of pathetic animal, that I was being eaten at, by ants, aphids, everything, that a cancer was born on the side of my soul and it leaked and leaked and leaked…That I was afraid, afraid that somehow it would infect her.

What is happening to you, she asked.

I…I don’t know.

The wind has gathered again, flowing about the trees. The rain has ceased. It shouldn’t be long till morning. I am nearly finished…

After she left I went into the bathroom adjacent to the garage. I felt it coming, nausea. I stumbled about for a moment and then reeled into the toilet, and then lay back against the wall where the shower was. It took a moment, but then I realized I had shit myself as well. It covered the insides of my legs. There was an aluminum bar above, for towels. I managed to stand and sweep my body into the shower. I turned the water on, it came flushing out, cold, very cold. I laid there in a ball, in a pool of my own filth. Some kind of fire burned incessantly around. My mind, it swam such distances, it poured over itself. The water warmed. I saw the eyes of the shark, the layer that covered them. And I begin to laugh. Slowly at first and then hysterically aloud. Then I wept.

I ran my hands down the length of my body, through my hair, the follicles. I bit the back of my wrist and finally wrapped my arms around my knees and rocked. What was this pain I felt? This nameless disgrace? I realized my whole life I have only been something I wished to overthrow. That I was safe, only as long as I kept the air of hallucination about me. I thought of Art. Of De Kooning at fifty, sixty, grasping a bottle of whiskey and in a blind fit of pathological rage crouching in a corner and cursing his mother who had already passed. I thought of the worn figure of Modigliani wandering the streets of Montmartre, embarrassing even Picasso. Of his friend Brancusi being jailed for drunkenness, lying in his cell alone while they threw buckets of cold water on him. I thought of Hart Crane especially, losing his mind, slashing his portrait to pieces and throwing himself into the Gulf of Mexico. Of Hemingway shooting himself in both calves, or the burn on Faulkner’s back when he fell against a radiator. The men he hired, when was older and famous, to keep him away from his family when he decided to binge. I thought of Fitzgerald when he cut his foot on the window of a car in the south of France after he kicked it out. Of Verlaine weeping in prison. I thought of the day James Agee died drunk in the back of a taxi cab on a New York street, in the midst some season.

I thought of myself, the moody elegance of it all. There is something corrupt in Art. I left, wandering the island alone, barefooted. I was still drinking, thumbing for rides for even a reason that I couldn’t fathom. The sun was setting, all the questions of life were setting. It seemed so ancient and bizarre, that it barely seemed possible. Fools. Who wishes to see themselves? I sat down in the sand. I buried the bottle. The ocean was in front of me.

 

 

Coda

In the eldest of my dreams there is the image of a fisherman, at dawn, standing knee deep in the coastal waters of somehwere, drawing a large seine, maybe six foot in height and twenty feet in length from where he has staked it along the shore and drawn an imperfect circle cut by wind, light and fatigue. Its fabric caught against the tide, where the wind flutters the heights and buoys as the waves break. He is wearing a pair of old jeans, rolled past the knee, a white t-shirt that is stained and you can see a tanline when he dips down, wetting the shoulders of his shirt. His face is rapt, sunburned, windblown and serious, almost desperate, but desperate with peace. For a moment he stops, holding the limb of the seine with one arm and lights a cigarette, a cigarette that is suddenly washed ashore. He pauses still, and lights another. The bodies of fish swirl in a broil near the center of the net. A broth of blue and grey and mercurial silver swarms the water. You can hear the thrashing of the fish and the sound they make against the net.

He is looking out along the horizon where the sun is clandestine and still secret as yet. He turns suddenly catching the limb that carries the seine into the heights. Then he begins, moving into the center of the circle.

Beyond, a flock of pelicans dip and rise in the waves in that clumsy majesty that they have acquired over the years. Three, then two, then one all dip into the waves and the rise in the up-send and catch with their flock and pass on. After they pass, he turns from the circle and heads toward shore. The top of the limb, the mast of the seine flounders a bit in the wind and he fights with it. It tips and dives and is caught. The waves rise and sink, scouring his thighs and calves. His feet sink as well, drug into a berth of sand and are released. The glimmer of the shoal of fish begins to fade. When he makes shore, he walks slowly down the beach, rolling the seine neatly. The sun is caught up in the fibers, sending them into periodical flickers of fire and light, that as they are seen are suddenly lost. In the last twenty feet he looks bravely out to the sea, and then back toward the woodlands, toward the earth, and then again out to the sea. The pelicans have been replaced by a series of flocks of seagulls that fly in an undetermined but nevertheless volatile calligraphy. There is a chain of them, and they are terns and they fly like worn black and white kites just beyond the breakers. They fly like this, without the confidence of wind which throws them not into fear or confusion but into the magic of flight, a coherence that allows them leave their shadows.

The last thing I remember is how he draws the seine into a unified coil. I always feel to remember every molecule of water that fell was momentarily adorned by the sun. He lights another cigarette in the raw wind, and the lost migration of gulls passes, and passes, and passes.

-jbb.21500717014

 

 

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