Eurydice Dead

Eurydice dead

is another creature

than Eurydice alive

 

Eurydice alive

perhaps also illusion, tricks of light 

hair moved by wind

body held upright by the grace of

lapsing gravity

 

eyes open because they forgot to close

 

her skin soft from the poison

’s quick link between ankle and heart

so fast its rush

polished the skin from within

 

homophrosyne severed

loving minds parted and

Orpheus halved, empty

Eurydice full, took your flesh

and mind with her

 

Eurydice dead feels no love, no burning

desire lives in her blood

replaced by less capricious fluids

detachment and stillness, compressed

 

Eurydice dead is not empty, not an urn

for your need, Orpheus

Eurydice dead is a pearl

full and dense with herself

 

homophrosyne severed

and Eurydice dead is a bark

silent on waves

no longer Eurydice pines

empty of you, Orpheus pines

empty of self

 

Eurydice dead is a pearl

took your flesh down

to the infernal bog

made silence

to soften the half

that carries the dawn

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The Mermaid

The Mermaid has spent too much of her life with water in her ears, the pressure of several underwater atmospheres weighing down on her, and sometimes she forgets which element she is currently in. On land, she whispers; underwater, she shouts. It confuses everyone.

Out of water, the Mermaid becomes light-headed, and quick to dismiss her strengths, choosing to see only the ways in which she falls short. Her body, she thinks, is too dissonant in its composition to be the object of love. The Mermaid often wishes she were a fish, and although many of her features call to mind those of a fish, her tail contains the reproductive organs of a mammal, and her scales are only a mammalian approximation, based on hasty evolutionary guesswork. A worthy body, she thinks, is one that makes sense, like those of her terrestrial cousins, or else the sleek blubber rhombus of a dolphin or whale; those, she thinks, are harmonious compositions.

She envies humans whose bodies seem carved from a single piece. The Mermaid’s tail is, of course, impossible to ignore, even when she hides it under a long skirt. She doesn’t really have a gait and can only slither. Lithe as she can be underwater, the Mermaid is cumbersome and unwieldy on land, not the sort you take out dancing.

Most of what she does involves lounging, and while her sexual appetite is voracious, she doesn’t take much initiative beyond fanning out her fins and batting her lashes. While she possesses something akin to gills, the Mermaid still needs to come to the surface for air. Her mass of long, diaphanous hair conceals two small blowholes below her neck, one to each side of her spine. When she comes up to breathe, seagulls pick at her gossamer hair, which is heavy out of the water, the way wet sponges are.

The truth is, she is physically ill-equipped for life in either element. No matter where she is, her movements are those of a creature who doesn’t quite belong, an imposter of sorts. Underwater, her skinny forelimbs and simian hands can only helplessly slap the water as her tail propels her through it, and the lack of fatty layers on her upper body means she feels everything too intensely, even there in the thicker element. Unlike her terrestrial cousins, who are endotherms, warm-blooded, the Mermaid thermoregulates like an ectotherm. She spends much of her time basking so as to store heat in her small body for the inevitable cold of the watery depths. Every day she lies on sunny rocks, eyes closed like a lizard’s, batting away the courting of seagulls.

Because her material existence is steeped in the other-worldly, the Mermaid can find heat in something as abstract as love; an intense bout of affection can warm her small body for months.

Humans give much attention to her wide-boned face and soft, enormous eyes, to her mouth which many men want to sink their hooks into, but the Mermaid finds it difficult to accept their interest. She worries about the way being out of water makes her smell. Her fears all amount to loneliness, understandably so, as very few of her own kind remain, scattered across the seas. Many fall in love with humans and leave the waters for good. The Mermaid, too, feels closest to humans, feels drawn to them, yet she knows she can only engage them for a while before encountering their limits. Eventually, humans become disinterested, or too aware of her otherness, of the fact that her skin doesn’t feel or smell as it should, the fact that she doesn’t have two legs that spread.

On land, it takes the Mermaid a long time to process what occurs, and she feels dull compared to the rapidity of her underwater movements. None of what she is underwater can translate onto land.

Humans consider water an object of ingestion and utility, and they consent to its presence in their lives as long as it isn’t dirty or uncomfortable. They like the way it looks in photographs. The Mermaid wonders if humans know the teeth the water has, the way life inside it often feels like being eaten and absorbed by a large, limpid organism.

There is much about the Mermaid that is translucent: her nails, hair and teeth. Even her tail is see-through when held against the light; looking in, one sees her reproductive organs, and then emptiness surrounding a ladder of bones. All this translucence only makes the Mermaid feel more forgettable. She is only half woman, after all, her other half a bad imitation of a fish.

In humans, the eye is the most see-through part of the body, and at the back of their eyes one can see right into their vascular system. Unlike much of her body, the Mermaid’s eyes are dense, covered by a thick membrane that makes it hard for her to see what is visible to humans right away.

They look at her opaque, baffling eyes, and fail to see through to what they might call a soul.

People quickly tire of the Mermaid’s appearance and find there is nothing they want from her after their initial curiosity is satisfied. Who needs their life weighed down by a creature who sleeps in a shallow bath, who carries salty smells into the house, who needs to disappear for stints in the sea, lest her skin dry out? What draws them in initially is the novelty of her shape, her hair clear as glass, the feel of scales under their hands.

They ask her to demonstrate her various breathing skills in a hastily filled kitchen sink. They ask her if she likes raw fish, if she ever just swims around with an open mouth. She abhors this question, and what it implies.

They ask her to sing to them, something they’ve heard about sirens. When they realise her voice is nothing but a fractured scream, they frown, and then forget to call her the next day.

 

 

The Vampire

The Vampire is a rule-follower. If unbidden, she doesn’t cross your threshold and simply stays away. Once invited in, however, she will tear and eat the flesh of your home.

Although she has a dwelling place, sometimes more than one, the Vampire doesn’t have a home. Hers is not a nest-making kind. Where she lives is immaterial – any interior space she entrusts her body to evokes nothing but a practical exchange – but imagine hovels, small rooms hardly bigger than cells, an enduring dampness in each wall. She needs only an outer shell, devoid of significance, could be the most ornate, frilly-lipped conch, or a rusty soda can, no matter; the Vampire looks only to fit the extent of her undead body into something, anything will do. 

It doesn’t matter where the Vampire lives because her vampiric aim is not to suck you dry or eat your flesh, what she wants is to live, be allowed to live, in your home. A home is what a human makes, and the only way the Vampire can experience one is if she is invited into yours.

Because of this, the Vampire needs to make you love her, or at least like her, which is hard for her to do because living in small, damp rooms doesn’t exactly exacerbate her natural charms. Still, she is small and tender, and looks nothing like a Vampire ought to look, and so sometimes she somehow manages to endear herself to you, to make you want to hold her close.

When you visit her, her powers allow her to change the parameters of any hole she lives in so as to sustain the image we all have of vampires’ homes. However small her dwelling, however dank, she can blow it up temporarily the way one engorges a bouncing castle or inflatable child’s toy; all of a sudden, and for your eyes only, she appears to live in an ornate and immeasurable villa, full of large hallways and lavishly decorated rooms, a complete set of creepy servants and unsnuffable candelabra. The moment you leave, or die, whichever comes first, the simulated villa once again deflates and the Vampire finds herself in the dark, in a small musty room, alone.

Then, when you invite her to visit you in turn – and, make no mistake, you will – it is too late. She crosses the threshold to your home and finds your ceilings tall, the bright colours of your walls compelling, she rolls her body on your thick blue rugs, breathes the dust in your corners, jumps and writhes on your heavy sofa, she delights in your kitchen cupboards filled with plants and spices, her nose twitches at the green and herbal smells, she sees your bed and sighs as she crawls her small body between the pillows, she enters your bathroom and imagines herself in your tub, her neck and arms smell of your soap for hours, and God help you if you cook even a single meal for her.

The Vampire thinks about nourishment and realises she doesn’t understand the concept when she is alone, locked inside her dwelling place, whose musty walls suck the livelihood from her skin. She opens the door to your fridge and shoves a handful of fruit into her mouth, chews the soft mass into wetness, thinking, Yes, this makes sense, this is what sustenance must feel like, I want more of it. She clings to your fridge door as though rows of teats were growing from its flank. She eats from the dishes on your stove, sticks her fingers in your potted soil, lays her shallow breath against your closing palms. She licks the air in all your rooms.

It is your home, but you have invited her in. To a human an invitation of this kind is temporary, fierce defenders of our private spheres that we are we are. We have invented volumes of Law dedicated to protecting what is ours and only ours, but to a Vampire, the invitation to come in and share your home is permanent. It is the feeling of existing in your home that feeds her, and the longer she stays the more her eyes turn from yellow paleness to a deep, satiated grey. She does not intend to leave this place where she has found nourishment, where she has found an indication of what it means to be at home.

Tied

she rolls back and forth in bed until the sheets have wrapped around her limbs in knots that feel alive; she feels them pulling back when she pulls away.

then, finally, she can sleep.

it takes a while for sleep to rain its many fine needles into her and sew her into heavy immobility, make her one with the mattress.

once things are settled, she is gone, meaning free rein for the mind. there are sparks, flowers opening. she hasn’t made many decisions in her life that feel like decent ones, so not needing to decide what to dream every night is restful and reassuring.

the mind goes into some other place and follows a series of paths, which may just as well be wide open spaces the mind carves through as it goes, dragging its weight with no predetermined plan and leaving a blazing gorge behind. 

when she wakes in the morning, that’s when the trouble begins.

overnight, the sheets have rolled into ropes and her limbs still belong to their grip.

some mornings she can’t find the strength to loosen herself from it. she lies there for nearly an hour, opening and closing her eyes and hands, stretching her neck. when she finally frees an ankle or wrist, she sighs, and the bed’s warmth begins to glow harder, as if saying, “Don’t leave yet, there is nothing else as warm or as kind for you out there.”

of course, this is both a good argument and a bad one. the bed isn’t free from pressure, a pressure which is its own form of cruelty. the bed is a delicious trap.

already shivering, she undoes another sheet rope and slides towards the floor.

Orpheus gets distracted

During the past couple of months I’ve spent increasing amounts of time in what my therapist calls the ‘Sandpit of Archetypes’, where I play with archetypal figures as if they were my dolls. Since Nanowrimo, I’ve begun to weave bridges between my arche-puppets, to see if they bring something out of each other that wasn’t there before, although in all honesty, all I’m probably achieving at the moment is more of the same.

Grief has a way of knocking your mind full of holes, which has kept me from spinning my thoughts as far as I wish they went. But I don’t think the archetypes mind too much, they just want to be played with.

Anyway, here is my precious baby Orpheus, intercepted by my favourite castle-building sea-witch Melusina, who seems to be taking a break from Siegfried’s crap. 

*******************

Orpheus has lost count of the times he has gone down to the Underworld, carrying a mound of increasingly artificial hope on his back, so as to reconstruct the lacework between himself, the part that wants to love, and Eurydice, the part of him that cannot trust, cannot open herself to the world. Worn out from the recurring descent, Orpheus has automated his mourning; his emotions change so quickly, and with each step, that he has, for the first time in ages, lost interest in logging them. His feelings skid across the ice, they are so fast, so fleeting – they are no more to him now than the buzzing of flies.

Orpheus emerges from the Underworld, where he has yet again lost Eurydice to the depths, had to watch her slide back into the dark, and here he is the bright light of day with his lids pinched together because after each ascent the sun seems harder to bear, its heat less like nourishment and more like paper cutting into a pre-existing wound.

Each time he comes back up to life for air, Eurydice’s silent refusal rings in his ears, I cannot love, not now, not you, not the world. Orpheus can’t make himself whole again because his missing piece, Eurydice, listens only to the poison in her foot. We were hurt once, we will be hurt again. She isn’t wrong when she says this, but her approach creates nothing but inertia. 

*

And here he is now, up here in the waking world, where birds call to each other and the wind makes music in the trees, Orpheus hears a new voice, unplaceable, one he hasn’t heard before. The voice is saying:

“Take a seat, Orpheus, take a break. You’ve been doing this for, how long now? I’m not saying you have to stop, but it might be time for a change, no, a little distraction from this business of being Orpheus so relentlessly.”

Melusina’s eyes are like lichen glowing on a tree. They don’t burn Orpheus’s eyes the way the sun does, and so he sits on the ground and listens. Melusina has found her way into his story, somehow, and he doesn’t ask how. You don’t ask a witch how she does things, or why.

“We both belong to our damage, our myths,” she says, “and we know this, so maybe we can help each other out, just this once, change masks and bodies, let our roles become translucent for a while. What do you say?”

*

Confusion is a great place to be, the faith healer says.

They both know the path they’re on, the inevitability of it. They will try their entire lives to fix something that cannot be changed, to regain the love of a part of themselves that has forsaken them. Eurydice is the part of Orpheus that will always be submerged, will always withdraw from love, the part that won’t leave Hades no matter how much Orpheus struggles. Siegfried is the part of herself Melusina will never cease to please, do right by, the part that can never be satisfied. So why not give in to each other for a while, leave aside their myths, the paths they will later have to return to. Melusina has no bearing on Eurydice, no interest in Eurydice’s damage; Orpheus cannot explain or make up for Siegfried, and Melusina doesn’t want him to. 

*

Crossing over and putting your own myth on pause is a risk, the shrink advises. You know you can’t escape the repetition you are always working your way through. The thing you escape will find you again, no matter whose story you hide in.

But what sweet release it is to imagine a moment in which they can be something else, act as a roadblock in each other’s automatic progression. Cut through the fog of repetition and eternal recurrence, screw up this whole inconclusive trundle. Rip them for a moment from their fate and see if it leaves a mark, see if it changes the way of things. Rub them against each other, see if their sparks transform the scenery from forest to desert, see if they can clear what’s overhead to reveal a night sky full of stars.

Confusion is wonderful, the faith healer says, because all bets are off, and there are no maps telling you where to go. 

*

Melusina says: “I think it’s time we suspended what we’re carrying and found some solace in each other. I know you Orpheus: you get distracted when you’re not rewarded. You think of yourself as a patient man, patience is your virtue of choice, not your singing, which is beautiful, not your body, which is love. Patience is how you love, and yet your patience traps you in a deadlock with yourself: the part of you that seeks connection versus the part of you that wants, above all else, to protect herself in isolation. Such a long-lasting stalemate, don’t you think? And so familiar to me. Couldn’t we both use something else to wipe the slate, something to spark a fire in the palms, a stomping rage inside the lower parts, remember what the body feels like when it tangles up with another’s limbs. Let’s step into each other’s myths, Orpheus, see what things are like outside the deadlock. Let’s give this to ourselves now, Orpheus, to each other, during this lull in our patterns, this waiting time before we head back down into our respective Underworlds – yours in Hades, mine a castle on a hill – before we return to fighting for the parts of us that refuse to yield, back to the ache we nurse so ceaselessly. This is the time to remember what it feels like to mourn without sorrow. To bite a lip that isn’t your own, nor Eurydice’s in dreams.”

Orpheus nods and walks through the door she holds open for him, a passageway she clawed from the air with her hands, which are magic. He walks through to see another wood there, similar to those he knows, yet different, further north, its greenness lusher, and not a juniper in sight. There is no sea salt in the air, this is a landlocked kingdom.

This is the wood Melusina inhabits, and around her are valleys hollowed from the gentle slopes of black and leafy hills. It is in these woods that Melusina waits for man after man, each one of them Siegfried, all of them waiting to be Count, all of them impatient men wo repeat Melusina’s painful pattern, men who have no patience with who she can be, who she is becoming. Siegfried is distressed by transition, by what wavers and mutates. Each version of Siegfried who finds out how erratic Melusina’s physical form is, blending human and serpent and bird and fish, chases her away in fear, cannot find in himself the ability to love such a confusing being. And yet it is this person Melusina must return to each time, Siegfried after Siegfried, until she comes, with each successive involvement, closer to an answer. 

*

David Cronenberg, who is in many ways a fish, says: “Everybody’s a mad scientist, and life is their lab. We’re all trying to experiment to find a way to live, to solve problems, to fend off madness and chaos.” (Cronenberg on Cronenberg, p.7)

Melusina and Orpheus look for themselves in the pain of a no, look for themselves in every instance of reaching out to Eurydice or Siegfried respectively, and in this repeated no they look for the part of their psyche they are missing, have been missing for so long, and they look, most of all, to understand. Their path, they tell themselves, is scientific, but even this motivation cannot save them from becoming tired, becoming discouraged, becoming bored.

*

The aim of the experiment, if there is one, is fuelled by the masochism of the scientific mind: to return again and again, like a Hegelian self-consciousness, to that which says no to you, refuses to yield, which like a glass flower fools the eye and cuts the palate to shreds; that which looks edible but cannot be bitten without shattering, without a violent disappointment. In the name of science you return to it and make it happen to you over and over, to see, not if you can make it yield, make it say yes instead, but to see why its refusal tears these clumps out of you, to see where in your body this no hurts the most, and why it feels the same each time it occurs.

“The point,” says Martyn Steenbeck about science-fish David Cronenberg, “is to follow the experiment or hypothesis through to the end, unrestrained by social or political consideration.”

The reason this is permitted, is because Orpheus operates in a dream, Melusina in a tale. They are returning something to its wholeness, something that may never have been whole, but they know wholeness can never be attained without admitting that parts of oneself will always be hidden in others, where they may have been for much longer than we imagine. Eventually, both Melusina and Orpheus will have to abandon distraction and return to their quests, their experiments, repeating again and again the patterns that are theirs alone.

*

Orpheus says: I’ve spent so much time with my ear pressed to my own sternum, and yet I know almost nothing, except for all those things I’ve wrapped in words, concepts of my needs and thoughts, what I think I know myself to want. And all of a sudden there is Melusina, who knows nothing about me, knows only what she sees, and she says, ‘I don’t think you’re scared of being unloved, you’re scared that once you are loved in return you’ll realise you don’t know how to act, that every word you say seems heavy or wrong, you’re scared that once you are loved you begin to doubt yourself immensely, your abilities, your temperament, you start thinking you’re a monster, you think “I’m not worthy of this person’s love, they must be mistaken, they can’t possibly love me and know what they’re doing, they must think I’m someone else.”

Her arms fall around me and she says, “No-one can know you the way you want to be known, Orpheus. Nobody wants to. It would be like wanting to know water, wanting to know it as if it were a person, beyond knowledge of its chemical composition. Wanting to know what water dreams at night, if it has aspirations, what its relationship with its father was like.”

And her voice is such that I don’t care if she’s right or wrong, what matters is that she puts me somewhere in an imbalance of comfortable and ill at ease, and she smells like seaweed and her hair is split like lightning at the tips, I feel the calluses on her hands and think, so what if I don’t know where this is going, so what if Eurydice and I are trapped in an endless cycle of denial, so what if love is never more than a whiff of God that wants to quell His absence.

*

The setting of Melusina’s world changes when Orpheus enters it, though of course he doesn’t know this: shadows have a lilac shimmer like Orpheus’s eyes and hair, no longer the rich gold of Siegfried’s shade. Melusina notices the air is cold and light with Orpheus here, not the dense and temperate wafts that curdle around Siegfried’s fiery frame. Orpheus has brought tenderness into the atmosphere, a playfulness that Siegfried cannot find, Siegfried who says, “I don’t know who or what you are, you’re too many things at once. I’m just trying to run a county here.” And Orpheus, who’s seen it all, who’s been to Hades so many times now that he’s surprised when rivers aren’t full of flames, the air for once not veined with wailing souls.

They sit and drink the coffee Siegfried won’t allow himself to drink.

They touch each other’s bodies the way Eurydice will not let herself be touched.

*

Remember, says the therapist, the enormous, underlying grief, so large that even standing right on top of it you could not see the outline of its face, could only see the texture of earth instead of skin. It’s not Eurydice who will make you feel whole, it’s learning to be without her, to let her stay in Hades for as long as she needs. The grief you are both dealing with in your own ways is primal and eternal; you can’t shake it from your bones nor write about it, put it into words, but it is what has driven you from copy to copy of the same person, it has rubbed you into the most translucent version of yourself, into someone who, for fear of hurting, eats only sand and leaves, drinks only his own piss, whose hands touch only his own skin; but Orpheus, before you head out into the plain to have what’s left of your scraggy little body mutilated and torn, think again that each small pain, no matter how displaced, is a manageable way to mourn that unfathomable death. Get distracted, Orpheus, create some chaos for a while. Remember what it’s like to be rewarded. In time you will return to yourself, your Eurydice. You will return to caring for that which eats only itself. 

*

Glass Teeth

I believed for a long time that the roof of the mouth resembled a ribcage, its doming shape with its display of spokes to either side of a central line; the ribcage, that crown of reaching hands protecting the left-leaning heart, the fat wings of the lung, the huddle of liver, stomach and kidneys. This is what I imagined when my tongue stroked (over and over to the point of making the area so sensitive my ear itched for days afterwards) the hard, silky roof of its cave.

But I’ve lately come to realise that it isn’t so much a ribcage the palate resembles, although the similarities are there, but the muscles in your lower back when you lean forward, when the bumps of your spine poke upward like a small mountain range under the skin, like the pads of a paw artificially aligned under pale sheets, the erector spinae doming on either side of your backbone.

This is what I see in the palate now, not the front of the body with its vital organs, not the side that opens up for an embrace, no, I see your back naked in the shower, reaching to wipe foam from the leaves of the spider plant.

*

I nearly lost you, but our teeth have been in each other’s skin, our arms have held like gums, like fleshy earth, what is savage and unyielding about both of us. 

*

The palate occurs only in vertebrates, so it makes sense that it should appear to have a spine. Don’t we like to replicate our patterns in smaller, fractal ways? This is how our bodies connect to one another, and to themselves, how we think of our embodies minds in the world. In German, vertebrae are called ‘Wirbel’, which brings to mind vortices and whirls, an implicit and continuous gyration, hidden there in the solid spine, in the bone.

I think of the transition where hard palate turns soft, where the bone stops and the tender part begins, that knot of nerve endings that I let you touch and it makes me heave for just a second. And after the softness comes the ravenous empty hole, where things (edible things, the glassy-hard ideas of things, your words and promises) disappear, never to return, and the gullet continues to lie open expectantly even when the sustenance it craves has ceased to come.

I think of the seam, which feels like a much more gradual transition than it perhaps is, but aren’t all transitions slow, even when, looking back, you can pinpoint the exact moment where it all went wrong, it takes so long for it all to sink in, for what was beautiful to stop seeming so, when you were so used to the awareness radiating between your bodies, it takes a long time to realise that you haven’t touched each other anywhere but in your thoughts for weeks.

*

You were there when I heard he died, torn from sleep by the only voice I would allow to do so. You were there with your hands pressing down on my feet when my body shook and lost access to its words.

*

Maybe feeding one another is what we suck at. Hinting at nourishment, and like certain flowers draw the matter of their growth from the air, feels easier. Not to need the sort of food that involves taking from another, that involves a dependence on something more substantial than air. Not to need each other for pleasure, not to require each other’s presence in order to brush from our skin the leaden residue of living, does this feel like freedom, finally?

*

A month or two after his death I looked into a basin of shimmering carp on my way to a restaurant bathroom and stayed there for a long time watching the silent bodies trace their way through the shallow translucence. Though differently coloured, each had in its scales a tinge calling to the hue of another’s body, each of them linked in some way to the tone of the others. I think of the way the colour of the veins in your feet is the same as the colour of my eyes; the colour of the lines between your teeth the same as the colour of my pubic hair.

*

Screen Shot 2018-12-16 at 12.19.37
https://hmnh.harvard.edu/glass-flowers

Bilateral symmetry in terrestrial mammals, in fish – in many of us – is a grand idea, but not one we can as individuals live up to. We like to think we can be sliced down the middle perfectly and still make sense because all we’ve lost in that missing half is the exact thing we still own in the other.

In so many ways we, who are our bodies, fall short.  We look at each other and even though we can’t see it happen yet we know we are falling apart, always shifting around in our decay, and we know that we weren’t made – we occurred, grew out of one another. Our fragility lies in our lack of teleological purpose: all we are is a step in an experiment that can never reach its apex, the perfection a more godly experiment might work towards. We are a step in the dark, a feature of not knowing what this all works to obtain.

*

The infuriating thing about seeing your father’s dead body stretched out in a coffin a few days after he passed is that people warn you of ‘that waxwork feeling’, when that doesn’t cover it. Waxwork replicas are based on living people, made so as to imitate their living face, but a dead face cannot be made alive again. The jaw hangs loose in the head, all wrong, his skin never this colour, his eyes never so brutally shut. If only he’d been a flower, someone could have blown his likeness out of glass, someone could have copied him into something willing to accommodate even his flaws and spots, the parts where his body had begun to die while it was still alive, all in a medium without smells, without the touch of what it is.

So that we don’t realise the Harvard flowers are made from glass, we keep them behind glass, where the temptation to touch and break the illusion doesn’t occur.

And why did a god so invested in permanence

choose so fragile a medium, the last material

he might expect to last?

(Mark Doty – The Ware Collection)

I read Mark Doty’s poem about glass flowers for the first time on the morning of the day whose evening claimed my father’s life. Before he collapsed on the kitchen floor, his hands had been, as they were every night, immersed in a sink of cold water, swirling between the delicate leaves of that evening’s salad, washing their flimsy green fabric. The softness of the edible plant, the hardness of the floor tiles against his skull. And then, when my mother found him, the seam was ruptured, and the words could no longer find their way from the brain to the mouth.

My father’s body wasn’t behind glass, and it wasn’t his body anyway, the way bad taxidermy doesn’t come close to evoking the liveliness of a fox. My mother’s hand lay on my father’s forehead, she spoke to this body she knew so well as though it were alive and could still hear her words, while I held my spine close to the wall, held the soft part of my torso which my ribs can’t protect, felt the nausea stir and come out through the eyes with the itch of tears.

The transition of life into death was abrupt, took, it seems, only an hour or two, and yet those who are left now spend their days looking for those moments that caused the transition to begin with, the moments which could have contributed to a sudden-seeming interruption of the living body, a flinging of life into non-life. Should he have moved more, eaten differently, was it his sadness that did it? Was it an accumulation of things? Unless death comes from the outside, it almost always is.

A disappearance is a lack, but like the lack of a body in Cardiff and Miller’s The Killing Machine it doesn’t mean we don’t suffer with and for the invisible body tortured in the chair, it doesn’t mean we don’t see the very thing whose outline is suggested, still burned into our retina from 30 years of exposure to its presence.

There is no way to say where the transition from living to dying began, from loving to indifference, except that it was always underway and rose to the surface in a unified manner like those vertebrae in your forward-bending back are made visible by a certain movement, despite the fact that they were always there, holding you upright, allowing you to look at me, the centre from which you spread your arms open to me and closed them only once I was safely in their midst.

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Mark Doty 2
“The Ware Collection of Glass Flowers and Fruit, Harvard Museum” by Mark Doty (in My Alexandria)

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It is too soon for me to close these threads, tie them off one after the other. The mind in grief seems to be a place of holes, capable only of opening, not of bringing back into a knot. For now, I will leave things as they are, glimpses of unrelated images on a map, in hopes that they will, over time, merge into a coherent shape, perhaps only months down the line. All I can do now is arrange them in ways that leave enough space for the filaments to form.