She remembers the story he told her, about taking a walk with his former lover during one of the very first days of spring, a spring which soured then ripened then soured then ripened before beginning again, a spring which kept swelling out of winter in a way that Chaucer’s spring would never do.3 During this walk, which her present lover took with his former lover, her present lover reached up into a tree and broke off a flowering branch, of which he did not know the name, but which the former lover accepted as the grandest of all romantic gestures. She asked her present lover to describe the flowering branch that he had plucked for his former lover. He said the leaves were many and attached to long, thin twigs in the way that weeping willows hold their many leaves and that the flowers were pale pink puffs that smelt slightly but not enough to be a proper flower to bequeath upon a lover at the beginning of spring. She agreed. She mentioned that daffodils, narcissus, lilacs, and hyacinth were all more fragrant and therefore more appropriate choices. (Actually, she was telling him about how a bulb flower bursting really marks the beginning of spring, and that since these flowers grow from the ground, and not from the high branches of flowering trees, they would be, in keeping with earthly things—she considered herself too ethereal when compared to his former lover—would be more appropriate for his former lover since he would have to bend down instead of extending his grasp to heaven in order to retrieve them.)4 She told him, although he did not believe her, that the branch he plucked for his former lover, who had since moved on, who had since had many children and was now working at a nightclub called Juicy, was from the mimosa tree. Of course, he did not believe her, saying that the mimosa was an orange drink and that the flowers he described were pale pink and so this didn’t make sense at all and she must have been mistaken. What she knows that he does not: in summer, it is always cool beneath a mimosa tree because the tree holds so much water, so much heat, and when it cannot hold much more, it does weep, and that is why its leaves are the way they are, full of many tiny leaves to mist upon the dreamer that chooses to lie beneath them during summer, a summer that is not an extension of spring but a symbol of a sordid love affair not beginning but ending.
Actually, she is telling about how a dwelling becomes empty when she moves in.5
It would be wrong. It would be wrong because the promise told would never be the promise given. And so, the life that she thought she could have, the one of sea breezes, of peeling paint, of something sweet smelling from the back porch each day, of lazy cats and bad coffee, would never make itself real for her. The days of leisure, of wondering, of reading and writing, of dreaming would soon be over, replaced by a waitress apron, a jar of barely enough. And when the weariness, when the tiredness sets in, then so too does the hate, so too does the spite. (And so, do you see? Do you see what I gave up to be with you?) And years later, when trees were no longer birch and sycamore, but other trees that did not seem to sprout from mythical books, she would remember a certain picture she took before it all went wrong, in that irreproachable promise of something different.6 She would remember an orange boat tied to a dock, a dock that she wanted, and know that it wasn’t him but the water she was in love with.
The Ingestion of Petals7
And after the ingestion of petals, there were, suddenly, the tiniest of nosegays sprouting forth from the stones of the path, which lead somewhere, too far away for the couple to ever discover, and besides, it stretched on and on forever through the hillside and, although it was summer, it could, if it wanted to, get dark very soon. In a field of rye, rye which did not allow for solitary moments, but opened one up to each flaw and freckle, in a way that Duras’s rye would never do,8 the couple put down a blanket and dreamt things: in the sky, a million wallowing anemones; in a shaft of rye, a landscape of hills and boulders, a crenellated planet’s covering; within a stone, a billion years of plate tectonics, cross-sections of sediment and historical evidence. She would know and she would be afraid and she would not care, at least not yet, at least not then, that she was happier this way, but later in the summer, when it was approaching September, in that last recess of August when things are always too close and too hot, she would realize that the mushroom jar was too empty, too sparse, and she would know that she would have to learn to somehow begin again; but now, it is still June, and ah, the lushness that only the ingestion of petals will allow one to see: the creek bed’s flora all a-jungle, the water creepers tranquil and light as feathers, the desert pinks and specks of turquoise hidden in willow bark (the faces lingering there, the hand that beckons there), celestial yearnings heaving out from flecks of creek rock. (Somehow, she knew, even while knowing that the scene was constructed, that it was too beautiful even as it was and one false move, one sudden blink, one wrong glance from out of the corner of her eye, would reveal a grimace, a malingering entity emerging from the scenery.)9 And in twilight, when everything was more lovely for it having been in the glow of twilight, and when the fireflies came out, and when the dust motes flared and when even the heads of rye and strands of hair were spread over with gossamers of milky way, he would turn to her and say that they should eat, that they needed to eat.
…its smell of books and solitude10
And when we grow old, we shall grow old in a way that we will forget one another, she wrote. And they did, and they have. And she invents, she imagines11 that perhaps he was writing in his diaries, in his letters, I did not visit her, though I missed her all the time I was there and, in the nature of things, had a guilty conscience.12 There is a hand that touches, and when it touches, all goes awry. And so, as it will be, as it must, she never once, while she could have, while she still had some way, reached out to him. And all the while, the light around her grew into the color of starch, the yellow of Prufrock’s fog. And all the while, there would be smells to haunt her: the smell of her water breaking in her dream of pregnancy; a smell of a bay, a salt-stained crumbling; celery stalks, the frail heads of radishes bulging from the scenery. And all the writings of Ruskin could not help her to accept the fact that in living, some things are just broken and therefore own their own beauty. In her garden full of ravenous rooks, in her dreams of kidnapped youths, in her study of frail and reread books, a flower that emerges to sprout over and over.
…where sad, incomprehensible scenes were played over and over13
And she burned many things—letters, photographs, keepsake flowers and leaves, journals, newspaper clippings—as people do in novels, but never in real life.14 What must be done had more to do with the hatching frogs, with the fact that she was caught simultaneously within the musky wetness of an unrelenting mosquito season and a scratchy series of late-summer dust storms. She remembers the story he told her, about taking a walk with his former lover during one of the very first days of spring, a spring which soured then ripened then soured then ripened before beginning again, a spring which kept swelling out of winter in a way that Chaucer’s spring would never do. She would remember an orange boat tied to a dock, a dock that she wanted, and know that it wasn’t him but the water she was in love with. And in twilight, when everything was more lovely for it having been in the glow of twilight, and when the fireflies came out, and when the dust motes flared and when even the heads of rye and strands of hair were spread over with gossamers of milky way, he would turn to her and say that they should eat, that they needed to eat. What must be done had more to do with the poppies all gone to seed, with the old lame sheep, with the dried apples, the hollow tree somehow still surviving.
Writing is the art of taxonomy15
She takes for a moment certain words and tries to decide whether or not they belong. His name makes it on every one of her lists, although he is at the bottom of these lists, and she acknowledges to herself that although he is at the bottom, she had him in mind the whole time of the making of the lists, in fact, had him in mind the whole time of the last few years.
Her lists: Things that bruise Things that fly Things that ripen to die plums gazelles plums flesh airplanes, departing flesh, girl flesh letters read too often spinnerets love affairs the bulbs of flowers sycamore leaves, falling the unborn child (in dreams) … … … [his name here] [his name here], away [his name here]
[What the reader should know: “pupa” comes from the Latin word “doll.” Lolita, “Dolly,” Humbert’s unhatched pupa still undergoing metamorphoses, is forever threatening to burst free as a ripened being. She hangs from a silken strand in the theatre of pupas.
What the reader should know: “Tahla” seems to have its roots, phonetically at least, in the Greek ταλας, meaning “enduring,” “patient,” “suffering,” and “wretched.” At the heart of the word is pain and misery. So are we to assume that Lol (another pupa, another doll, but not the one of Humbert’s world, but of South Tahla ) is suffering from a “southern,” sexual pain, a pain that she is patient to endure?]
Within the eating of mangoes, during that summer of the never-ending ingestion of petals, when he said that they should eat, that they needed to eat, therein lie the difficulty, as the mango could be classified as a thing that bruised, as a thing that flew (on account of it, because of the spell of the mushrooms, resembling a million sea anemones, beckoning, and thus resembling the clouds), and as a thing that ripens to die.
… the obligatory doses of sex, obscenity and indecency16
And when dawn captures us, and when it happens as it does in clichés but never in real life, that the doves begin to hush and then cry, they themselves began to move as tree snails, or how tree snails move in a mollusk’s dream.17 And there is something quite frightening when the body, against its knowing, begins to slither, begins its slide against a greater anemone in the sky. They ate mangoes because he said that they should eat, that they needed to eat. How does the body manage the next day with no sleep? She knew that it had something to do with aging, something to do with somehow being able to do this now but never again. After work, she would begin again, as she would and as she must, knowing that what must be done had more to do with the poppies all gone to seed, with the old lame sheep, with the dried apples, the hollow tree somehow still surviving.
… that kind of age which lies lurking, within the insane.18
Schelling believed that melancholy grew from one’s yearning for the infinite;19 she thinks it grows from one’s yearning for dogwoods, for lilacs; Robert Burton says that “Of all causes” of love melancholy, “the remotest are starres.”20 So then, perhaps there is, after all, more love of earthly beings, earthly things. When we grow old, we shall grow old in a way that we will not be able to forget one another, she wrote. And if, after all, the peeling blue paint, the workmen spying in, the orange boat, the seaweathered dock, the calico cats should prove to be—because she knew that he knew that she knew (yet he pretended not to know) that he heard things, saw things—all but a false mimicry, then perhaps all things, even the most remote, were present all along, lurking underneath. The poppies have all gone to seed. What she missed most were the dogwoods. (She wasn’t sure if she had ever really seen, really seen a real violet or a real forget-me-not, or a real four-leafed clover; although she is certain that had she really seen these, she would miss these more.) Underneath the mimosa tree, that is unlike the dogwood, that can never acquire the false eyes, the seared petals of the dogwood, there is a continuous mist, like a world without end. She remembers the story he told her, about taking a walk with his former lover during one of the very first days of spring, a spring which soured then ripened then soured then ripened before beginning again, a spring which kept swelling out of winter in a way that Chaucer’s spring would never do. And if she were now, to write a letter that may or may not reach him, a letter written before dying, as they write in novels but never in real life, and asked, “Tell me, when you said that the mountains were beautiful, that they reminded you of me, what exactly did you mean?” would the urgency then of water rest? There was a boat; it was orange; it tethered, like a tied balloon, against the salt-eaten dock; they were in it and they loved and then they were out of it again. (Cats are scared of water.) The trees of the elderly are brambles of gnarled wood, not the fresh green splitting of that violent snap of love or the abstract idea of love violently snapping.21 The hollow tree, somehow still surviving, and its sorry leaves a ridiculous love letter addressed, or so it seemed, to something already deceased and concealing somewhere in its brittleness, another, invisible letter.22 And when dawn captures us, and when it happens as it does in clichés but never in real life, that the doves begin to hush and then cry, they themselves began to move as tree snails, or how tree snails move in a mollusk’s dream.23 And there is something quite frightening when the body, against its knowing, begins to slither, begins its slide against a greater anemone in the sky.
1 The title of this piece is taken from the cover of The Voice Imitator by Thomas Bernhard (Bernhard, Thomas. The Voice Imitator. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997). This entire series of prose poems is meant to illustrate how, when reading, our minds oftentimes supply another narrative. This series of poems is thus the narrative that snuck in when reading the following books which are documented in subsequent footnotes.
2 Bernhard 44.
3 Belaño, Roberto. By Night in Chile. New York: New Directions, 2003. cf.: “And I also found out, years later, while watching clouds crumble, break apart and scatter in the Chilean sky, as Baudelaire’s clouds would never do…” (120).
4 Duras, Marguerite. The Ravishing of Lol Stein. New York: Pantheon. 1986. cf.: “Actually, she is telling about how a dwelling becomes empty when she moves in” (73).
5 Duras 73.
6 Duras: “…in that irreproachable promise of something different” (61).
7 Sarduy, Severo. Cobra and Maitreya. Normal: Dalkey, 1995. (103).
8 cf. Belaño: “And I also found out, years later, while watching clouds crumble, break apart and scatter in the Chilean sky, as Baudelaire’s clouds would never do…” (120).
9 cf: Belaño: “…although I knew that the slightest scratch would reveal yellow under the grey” (58).
10 Belaño 68.
11 cf. Duras: “This I invent, I see” (46).
12 Bernhard: “I did not visit her, though I missed her all the time I was there and, in the nature of things, had a guilty conscience” (46).
13 Belaño 124.
14 cf. Belaño: “And I shrugged my shoulders, as people do in novels, but never in real life” (96).
15 cf. Sarduy’s refrain “Writing is the art of…” in the “Lyrical Theatre of Dolls.”
16 Belaño 13.
17 cf. Belaño: “We move like gazelles or the way gazelles move in a tiger’s dream” (83).
18 Duras 10.
19 Belaño: “Schelling’s notion of melancholy as yearning for the infinite” (30).
20 From Robert Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy.
21 cf. Belaño: “…like a lightning bolt, or the abstract idea of a lightning bolt” (72).
22 cf. Belaño: “…a ridiculous letter but somehow it seemed to conceal another, invisible letter” (73).
23 cf. Belaño: “We move like gazelles or the way gazelles move in a tiger’s dream” (83).