Originally published in Bayou Magazine, No. 63, 2015 (as Elizabeth Aether)
Originally published in Bayou Magazine, No. 63, 2015 (as Elizabeth Aether)
Originally published in Berkeley Poetry Review No. 46, 2016
Here is a reinterpretation and mashup I did of Sappho fragments in ’15
I taught English and History to the girl in the mountains. Her devoted parents had constructed a dreamhouse schoolroom in the high attic. The house stood along the bouncing heights of the canyon, topped and shouldered by live oaks and chaparral and lavender and sage and olive trees and horned cactus and cactus whose paddle-leaves were the texture of expensive bags.
Out the northern windows the far heights, houses and community buildings, small and infrequent. Throughout the day the land around the buildings would rise from blue to green like a happy face flushing.
The schoolroom was painted teal and sneaker-white. The big-lipped, sloe-eyed fashion doll on its stand beside the computer. The precious saddle, huge as an octopus, on its rack in the alcove.
Out the west-facing windows the staircase, the oak leaves level with our eyes, the wall of land and the slope of the hill which had been partially cleared and leveled for the chicken coops. The corner of land where the wall, its balancing trees and thick herbs, met the slope. When the drought broke that spring, a little waterfall stood there like a melting gray candle.
The portion of the hill which had been customized was a series of blonde, fence-straitened grades, dusty, flat to build on and simpler to climb than the natural hill. At breaktime the girl let herself down the ladderish staircase and took out her goose, carefully embraced it, and filled its kiddie-pool. It splashed and smacked as we learnt about Julius crossing the Rubicon.
One day I came in and the girl took me to the western windows and lifted her phone. She showed me a video she had taken from this vantage the afternoon prior: there was a lynx, its baroque sleeves crossed at the wrist, relaxing on the grade above the chicken coops. The lynx was an easy downward jump from their roofs but made no gesture toward them.
“My God,” I said. “Are the animals okay?”
“Yes. The cages were locked.”
The lynx’s muscular body, dog-sized but weighty and fat as a chain of train cars.
“She’s so calm.”
“She knows I’m filming.”
The lynx turned its face without anxiety, its pronounced, human nose, its black lips.
“Did she even try to get into the chicken coops?”
“No. She just left after a while.” The girl hesitated. “I kind of wanted to see her jump. Just to see it. Just to see what would happen.”
The girl and I looked up from the phone, into each other’s faces, and met there in a moment of perfect understanding.
In the foreign country I take the train to the northern city and I take the bus to the airport and I take the shuttle to the airport hotel.
I leave the old city in the rain. On the bridge over the river the rain stands suddenly up, palms flat to the tabletop, chair banging down, and the brown river vibrates entirely—full-body gooseflesh rises across it. I am pulling my suitcases over the bridge and I am as wet on the surface of my body, the limits of my body, as I am inside my body, inside my skin. The raindrops hitting and squeezing my eyelashes; water pouring over my cheeks and into my mouth through my closed lips. Beauty like a big tree or snow on a mountain.
In the station my clothing is wetted to transparency and a young punk woman turns onto her hip beside me where we sit on the floor and she tells me she is worried about the way the men look at me. I can’t imagine there is any serious danger of rape but the twenty-something pornographer with a camera asks if he can take my photograph—“I’m a journalist.” I change my shirt in the bathroom. The anxiety of the women rattles me more than the men, whatever the men mean and whatever they are capable of.
I am alone on the bus to the airport and by this time the night soaks into the air out of the ground. The bus slopes over the highways which are mostly empty. The land and sky go black then glow green in the desolation of airportplace, a zone for miles around every airport. Waiting in the bus in the parking lot at the station I cry effortless tears, like water out of turf when the boot presses it. Without tension or real sadness. It is only that I am very tired. On the highway the black and the green like the orange of fireplace pokers—my eyes pointed into it and being inside it, surrounded by it—it gives me the old frisson, the frisson of the prairie. Not the equilibrium of water and water but a fearful depth-on-field, a stone made into a missile, a running fox, the spot of a flashlight. Naturally, a joyful frisson. And alongside this rolling-of-the-skin, beside it like the next thing, I desire warmth, loving comfort, to be childed by a body much bigger than mine.
The airport, and the little airport shuttle with other passengers in the dim, and then the airport hotel, an orange upright stone. Its silent chapel, its glacier-plain grounds in the black.
I am thinking about Brutalism this week. I am thinking about Brutalism last week. Brutalist wall as prairie …
It seems to me that Brutalism gets loved by two means and neither love Brutalism as it is described in its lines. The first means is the coming to Brutalism with a memory, and therefore body, filled with roses and the breadloaf smell of human skin – which rolls like aquarium marbles behind the silhouette while meeting with Brutalism, noisy and sensible; the second is the language of the structure, which is to say the language the human creates using, for, about the structure. The structure is taught to the infant body as a pidgin (the structure “itself”, its lines – the structure beheld by humans instantly), then structure and all Brutalism is made a creole by the body, which labors naturally to involve and complete.
To live against Brutalism – against it in the sense that lover is against lover in love or an infant is against the breast – is to complete it, especially when the body loves it. To live against the Brutalist structure and love it is to build it to the same invisible texture which the first one brings to the structure which they love and don’t know. The first involves Brutalism with / into their body, the second conpletes Brutalism using their body (body, of course, I use to mean person, personality, and living form and presence).
Neither loves what they see as they see it, unless you can say that the first impact of sight is also the entire act I describe, the building of the experience using as materials: the sight of the structure and the memory (sensual, adult) or the building of knowledge using: the structure taken as ground and also one’s own body (linguistic, infant). It’s important to note here that I do mean the person loves the thing-that-is-seen, only that they don’t love the thing for and only with those aspects which light and air present to the eye.
It seems to me that the structure also builds. It builds itself. Is it like a human, which involves-and-completes (I think involvement-and-completion is uniquely human and is in fact the character of human nature, which would explain why the person becomes Buddha when she supremely ceases to involve or complete)? Or is the structure godlike (like the terrestrial gods, Loki and Odin, Osiris and Set) who telescope their self-natures? All English words for this type of extension, expansion have to do with being witnessed – “radiate, express” need bodies which are warmed or which hear. This growing enacted by structures and gods, self-construction, is phenomenally without audience, or without audience besides the self.
Probably there are humans who are insensitive to sights and like Brutalism for its associations or dislike it for its effect on the light on their faces – this insensitivity is doubtless a shortcoming, a flaw in the body’s capacity to read and experience, and as such according to my beliefs it has special nobility. It is a kind of involvement-completion, but seems to take place entirely on the body …