Man One / Small Town

man for man blog

The man is on his chair in his house in the village. Behold the man amid his Shaker furniture. The man’s white dishes grow gray as fish in the slanted light at the end of the day.

The funny man is rattling in his chair like a car over spikes. He is filmed with a pale slicker. The envelope of his body twice, like a cat’s eyelid. He is casting wet around him as he turns and smiles. A smile of effort, O here are the sizes of his mouth: the demonstrations his bones make down into his open mouth. Wet + the man like sparks + a wheel.

The man is sloppy with longing. He is quaking in his chair.

All of his body is a phrase of desire, and water and semen rise to every open surface of his skin. Stupid with a love that splits from the man to every direction. Wet goes off the man like busted porcelain, milk-glass popping off itself. Tyndall man!

The living man is bouncing in his chair. Slop from his arms like teeth in a fight. O you ugly man, you are spilling all your information; it is like weeping. An embarrassment to yourself and others, and this is the achievement of your purpose.

This is the state the man should be in—this is the most like God. I am watching that horse come down. Everyone will laugh at you as you head between the cottages; ugly man who rises from his chair, I am using the words for you, and I know what you are. Head muscular into the village, man, and be murdered by your neighbors: you are the best one here and anywhere. This is the walk the good gods take. Here comes the viscera of the human body. Here comes love and twelve hundred pregnancies.

The Big Rock

The Fairy Tale Review didn’t want this piece and I don’t think it’s marketable elsewhere, so I am sharing it here. I hope you enjoy it. It’s based on my favorite fairy tale, The Hen Trips in the Mountain.

The Big Rock

The eldest sister went looking for her mother’s hen. She went into the mountain. She lived with her mother and her two sisters in a house against the mountain, and its rock established her idea of the world. The white shape of the mountain was as constructive to her thoughts and her head as was the skull for her eyeballs. Whenever she stirred batter the thought of the mountain occurred to her: while any color screwed into the color of the batter and lost its boundaries and changed the color of the batter, the mountain with sun on it occurred to her. The sun moved against the rock every morning and then blended into it, and the rock and light swam in one shape in hues for the rest of the day until night. Now it was late winter. It was too warm for snow but too cold for plants. The land was sear and pink.

A mountain troll had secreted the hen away in his rooms. The troll lived near the house of women, if you measure distance horizontally, like a prairie person. Really his rooms were very deep in the earth, where there was water; but the troll regularly ascended to a tall fissure near the mountain’s root, and from there he could hear the women singing, and their conversations.

This morning, the hen had made its little squeezing walk among the white stones and the troll observed an opportunity. He took the chicken in his shirt and waited for a human woman to turn up looking.

The eldest sister called the hen’s name. She was lifting her boots to the height of her hips and pushing her head up toward the stair-white sky. She was climbing higher than the hen could go because she wanted a good view of all the spots where the hen might now be slowly careening. She was calling the hen’s name and then the voice of a troll said “Down here.”

“Where?” the eldest sister said. There was a lot of quiet in every direction. She was hot in her fur-lined boots and her fingers were very cold. She was looking down from a little platform onto the tall personable stones which made this space so tedious to climb. The stones were shaped like squashed white tents. She looked at her own legs and feet.

“Down here,” said the troll after a while.

“Where’s that?” she called.

At length the troll rose from the dark ramp inside the mountain and through the fissure, some feet below and before the eldest sister. Of course she knew there was a fissure just there and she had supposed it to be the source of the voice. She didn’t know about the troll’s rooms or how long he had lived there, and she had never seen a troll so close. The troll looked up at her: sheepishly, she thought.

“Will you be my wife?” the troll asked.

“No,” said the eldest sister quickly.

He asked the same question again. When he caught her, he put one big hand over her scalp and face and twisted her head off her neck. It was an extraordinary feeling. She was dumbfounded all the deep way down to the troll’s home, swinging in his two hands, separately. When he reached his rooms the troll opened the cellar door and he threw the eldest sister’s head down into the cellar, where she rolled against the earthen floor. Her ears hit her bright hard braids at great speed. It sounded to her like a musical instrument. Then the troll flung her body down, and she saw it land badly.

In 50 hours the troll opened the cellar door and he threw down her second sister’s body and her second sister’s head. Later, the second sister said “I talked and talked to you but you wouldn’t reply.” In the cellar their heads were not far apart but the second sister’s head faced the wall.

In 200 hours the youngest sister arrived whole and standing at the top of the stairs. In some respects she was the smartest person in the family. From the floor the eldest sister looked at her youngest sister and her youngest sister looked down on her with an expression like late winter.

Altogether the eldest sister spent a week on the floor of the troll’s cellar, but she didn’t experience a wait or any kind of progression, whether away from familiarity or toward rot or in hope of rescue. She was astonished and she encountered astonishment like a phenomenon. Astonishment, and the scent of the damp earth floor and the air which she inhaled seemed to be a road which she rushed over, toward no object. She had no sense of exhaling. She did not feel breathless. Interest like an item held entirely in one hand completely occupied her. It was glossy, black.

In this time her youngest sister had married the troll. Her youngest sister waited and evaluated all of what she saw, which was her way of doing things. After a little while of this she discovered that the troll had a canteen of magic balm. At her first opportunity she went down to the floor of the basement and applied the balm, which was fat like honey, to her eldest sister’s jaw and the neck of her body, and with some difficulty the youngest sister connected her sister’s head and neck together again. It was difficult because the youngest sister was small and the eldest sister was tall and her muscles were heavy.

The red fist of her neck returned to the inside of her throat was warm and tough. For a minute she thought she couldn’t breathe, because the feeling of putting air inside of her had become strange.

The youngest sister had contrived to smuggle her sisters out of the mountain. When this was finished she shot the troll with the hunting rifle. The eldest sister was sitting dizzily on the porch of her house, beside her second sister and against her mother’s legs, when the troll went down on the dry silent yard. The youngest sister shot him three times, in panic. Later the second sister’s lover brought his brothers around and they carried the troll’s body away to be burned.

On Saint John’s in the evening they were sitting out and eating party food. The neighbors were there, and the second sister’s lover and his family. The eldest sister was taking a drink when someone said something funny, and she laughed and she aspirated her drink. Straightaway she stood up. No one minded her as she went away.

She had felt and understood the experience of having her head twisted off. It was like a patting on the base of her throat. The thought overwhelmed her and made her walk. She was blown to the field opposite the house and mountain. When she settled down from the thought and saw the things around her, she found that she was looking at the well. The well was old beyond reckoning. It was soft and low in the grass, which was green in the light of the long and elliptical evening.

The eldest sister watched the side of the well. It occurred to her that there was an egg in the well, an egg whose base was nearly the circumference of the well’s old circle. The egg was taller than a woman. It seemed that the egg was blue like a robin’s, but luminous, like a meteorological event. This seemed to her to be the case although the egg was inside the well, below the open space at the well’s ending, and she could not have seen the egg if it really existed in there.

The eldest sister understood that the egg was moving upward, from the cold water to the air which she could see; and it seemed that the egg arrived into her sight. As it rose out of the well it changed its exterior and flooded the land instead of being an egg. It was very blue and long, like a lake. The eldest sister breathed more easily. She felt better.

arcades photo one

arcades photo two

Thrilled to receive my copy of Arcade Materials: Blue, in which you will find my piece “U is for Head: an Alphabet Adventure!” (here printed as “U is for Head: an Alphabetic Collection”). This volume is the third of a trio of monographs on Walter Benjamin’s arcades project. My piece engages with convolute H. I consider the magic-alphabet quality of the practice of art collecting—as usual I am concerned with the perfect individuality and unintelligibility of each figure in such an alphabet. Purchase this volume or all three here.

Mi Casa

mi casa

Last night I dreamt that my lover died. I was amazed by the news. At first I didn’t weep. I wept when I had the thought that he could no longer speak his own name.

What a relief to wake up. In real life I head home in the late afternoon. I am turning toward Ventura from a side street. It is very hot and the light is papaya-colored. Above and beyond Ventura there are slanted hills, real laundry-piles of hills, green and white. Houses on the hills’ angles, facing various directions like kids on round sleds, rotating as they descend by the weird laws of snow, which is not solid or liquid (snow is a little like sweating skin). The houses are white like soft animals’ bellies, and fish-pink, and fish-orange, in the light and because they are as usual stucco.

On Ventura beneath them there is a long white sign above a storefront. The shop sells lamps. Cursive lettering, “Mi Casa”, and at either end a little faded posey of roses. Lamps are not on yet. Stalks of palms.

 

Color

jean shrimpton

Image: Jean Shrimpton by Irving Penn for Vogue, 1966

The designations of experience were ad hoc and we have done ourselves a disservice by allowing them to become customary law. We had at some point to say, for the sake of efficiency, “this experience has mostly to do with the nose and so we will call it smelling”, and “our means of deliberately conveying messages is most often word, and so we will place language in the domain of word and call word’s duty the conveying of messages”—Adam hit the ground running and you can’t blame him for these choices. Presumably he thought he’d have time to refine them later.

The fact is that our designations are inaccurate and their limits criss-cross and dent the real forms of things. Possibly no designation can exist—possibly the lines are only misplaced. At any rate, we are badly dividing a big alive thing when we talk about touch or sight—or sensation, or color—or language, or word. The act of involving information with concept is language; and of involving information with the body; and familiarity is language.

I grew up around Hair. My mother was important in that world. The rolling sound of scissors through hair, like a marble over pleated iron; the smell of dye mixing; the artists with their fingers stained blue to the bed, like they’ve been digging graves bare-handed. The conditions of childhood shape the brain: these facts are elements of my internal grammar.

A chart of the woman’s head, sections labeled. Runway music so loud that it is more impact than what is called sound. Proofs of a model straight-on, 3-quarter, profile; the same woman in three shapes. Hair which is not meant to be worn—it is expressive of strategy and skill and sometimes a gigantic speech of trend (satire or education or omen or force). Red dust on my pillowcase and red in the drain: the color of my hair, not-on-my-head.

I was an adult when I realized that by “synesthesia” is meant my ordinary experience of understanding things which are not, materially speaking, things which can have color as having color or being colorful, and things which are not understood to take form as having dimension. In fiction, synesthesia is psychedelic: I cannot overstate the homeliness of synesthesia in actual experience. It certainly isn’t a hallucination; nor would I call it an artistic trait, at least not in the customary sense of artistry. Letters have colors and numbers have colors and the year and history and my lifetime exist in space and are faintly hued. The fact that the year is orange is not an act of naming on my part any more than it’s an experience from an altered state. There isn’t a relationship between orange and the year which could be called literary (relationship of character, expressive of meaning) or logical (likelihood of sameness, naturally related). In fact I don’t say it is a relationship at all, but rather that the year has qualities, and one of these qualities is Orange.

Synesthesia is an expanded understanding of designation. I think it is true that there are plastic differences between my experience of the world and others’. I think this thing which is called synesthesia is the reason my memory is spatial and sensual. Maybe it is why I am prone to absorption. Maybe it contributes to my religious sense.

Hair artists and talk about “the chair” as a means to describe the career and the practice of the career and to orient the subject and the actor. I hear about the chair more than I hear about the head or body. Hair work is on the body and for the body—this contributes to the mockery of hair artists and “beauticians” and barbers. Popularly, the body is where we have come from and out-of-the-body is where we are going, to a space of completely delineated ideas which no longer have anything to do with growth or loss or my shape or yours. People who work with the body are back there, like our mothers’ wombs—you’ll notice that it’s only with the technologicalization of doctoring that doctors have become admirable. Back in the day, the doctor and the midwife and the beautician and the whore and the cook were all in the same gutter together, tending the thing we aim to leave.

And what if there is no leaving the body? What if the experience of memory and sensation has to do with the encounter we will make with time? What if there is a big land I already stand on, which includes my hair and the color of the alphabet, and my womb, and my hopes?

Sun

limbourg page

Image: a page from The Art of Illumination: The Limbourg Brothers and the Belles Heures of Jean de France, Duc de Berry, ed. Timothy B. Husbands. The images I discuss here come from fols. 211 and 212.

Squinting bares my teeth. My head is tracking the clouds: I am on the balcony in the afternoon in May and where it is clear the sky is blue as rubber. Clouds cover the sun and so I am cold.

I don’t understand the Limbourg Brothers. The colors of Belles Heures seem distinct to the point of isolation—like a wide blue sky on plains of snow, and people in red jackets and blue hats on the snow in the sun, regarded from below or watched from high above. The bewildering experience of “this shape is only these elements which are seen and easily handled, and that’s all entirely.” You think some evasive shape must be inside the shape of the color, but the shape of the color is excessively limited. A world in which the shelves at an office store comprise all sensibility.

In fact a dominant strategy of the Limbourgs is to grade colors from a pure hue into a black of hatch-marks, and a darker shade beneath. Christ, bare as a shaved bough, stands in a little rush-lipped pit symbolizing a lake. John drops blue strings of water over him: the water stripes Christ’s head and face and clavicle and lifting hands, then crowds his crossed forearms and falls in paint-straight lines toward his long thighs and active knees.

The sky is a rope of gold and red and blue, and in reproduction the gold looks black—gold in reproduction always looks black. At the summit of the scene, a half-circle of God’s-sky, and God too, collared by red seraphim, really the orange of sun-dried tomatoes but red in effect—seraphim, lucky square knots who circle against the sky like planets on a Swiss clock. Blue sky brushed with clouds, and fine blades of light from God, down to the baptized man.

John in his furry coat, curved at the knee in motion rather than grace, robin-blue bucket in his right hand. An angel with wings colored like thick German bread has Christ’s robe ready: blue as chalky pills, draped from the angel’s two hands in the shaded half-moons that frocks with triangular hems fall in. The open neck of the robe shows cool inside.

John flops on his breast out of the wall of the palace in the next image, neck spraying blood onto the blade of the sword. The blood goes with more pressure than water, and drives angular toward the foot of the pillar. The head is on the ground, hair rolling. On this page—if the head were on the body and the body were standing, this John would look with some symmetry into the face of John baptizing.

The last of the cloud network has passed over, and the sky is open and the sun is hot as summer. Sun like a hot shower.