11 May 1993
After the rain two days of such strength of sun that the plants have
boiled up to fill their beds. Zephérine Drouhin has boiled into bloom.
"Unrequited in the sense that I'm not going to do anything about
it, it would be a disaster."
Two things. The one I was with all the time, what's it like to face his
The other, that I had to keep 'til after, my hatred of Louie's having
left a mark on him,.
What else. Yesterday early as I was still lying in bed a starling flew
onto the sill and twice said something I didn't understand. A bit of grass
in its beak.
He isn't stupid. He didn't say anything goofy.
It has to be likely that my leg is part tho' not all of what decides
him against, and what does it mean that this time I have declared myself
tho' I know it's so. I've declared myself to a man with nothing wrong with
him, and I've let him turn me down and what comes of that? Another conception
of dignity, that I like. I've made a relation possible.
The sky has been cheeping, back and forth, invisible birds, maybe martins.
Zooming cheeps. Trains. An open night with voices. It's toward 4 o'clock.
At the corner of the park chestnut flowers are white dabs on two of the
five trees. Gulls.
Birds yelling in the wild area poplars today all day. Tonight a change
Happy at the NFB alone. Sort of editing. Extracting. It sometimes works
best to start a shot in the middle of nowhere, or end there. Why? It gives
the object an outline. Run up. Time for the eye. Thrills. Daddy's skirt
rippling across yellow flowers. A red sock. Rowen's eye. People in relation
to the frame. Their gestures in reference to it. The time it takes, seeing
a person, to become them. Oh the freedom of video edits. Do it by feel.
Let the tape run and hit the button when the time comes. The suspense of
an eye's exits and entrances from the frame. I suppose it's mannered. It
can be. The formal interests. it will have to be roomy to accommodate them
and still have a story told. The formal interests presumably are subliminal
to the story.
About Read Island. What to say. The road enclosed everywhere in the same
new green, alder, salmonberry. Friday hid out in my notebooks, Saturday
Rowen's birthday. Nothing to say about any of that. Why. Blank. The long
day traveling on Thursday, sore and stuck - him and her. Blanking and not
minding, thinking I'll arrive after a few days. Coming back with Michael
in the boat, in the rain, the light on Sheer Point. Silver luminosity off
rock and trees. That point sold for ten thousand, says Michael. Next day
on the rocks looking across, working at making a house. Knowing a lot about
it. Satisfied and absorbed. She and he vanish as if one sort of beauty does
the work of another. Then I have that house for the rest of the days.
The last hour on the ferry, falling asleep there.
Tuesday I took the kayak to look at the site. Then it wasn't the point
but the shadow side of Shadow Bay that gave me complete attention. A young
tree grown flat against the cliff, simple, backed with rock complicatedly
faulted. Shallow ledges with few plants. Clear water. Paddling close past
it, very slowly, small sounds of water off the paddle sent back strong and
single like drips inside a jar.
The house I made had something to do with the beautiful man, but not
that he was there. I was there alone. More as if he was built into it. I
am in relation to visual disorder as if it does me harm, and beautiful order
makes me well.
It's six in the morning, raining. Earlier there was a rainbow where I'd
never seen one, a bit west of south, just a band, quite dull. It was a rainbow
without sun, a pastel stripe on a porous uniform grey.
Not knowing what to do, undriven. The house has many roses, paeonies
on the bench in the bathroom. There's nothing that can be said about these
frail orders. Why she thought of the electrical organization of the brain
as a rose.
At a conference hungrily looking around for the wrong thing. Things.
A husband, sort of. Sex. A liking look. A liked look. Dopey and hopeless.
Mind not engaged. What would engage it. Territory. Mind not engaged,
is that what alienation means. Mind naturally engaged, like a garden meeting,
is that what power means. Mind naturally engaged, is that the base of power.
What do I see. Shabby-headed elderly men. Uninspiring sight. The famous
ones whose voices I've heard get picked out. The rest resemble each other,
shiny heads, glasses, beards, dull clothes. Departments. Pretty young women
sparsely distributed and carefully dressed, not ganging together. Often
set next to older men. Men with young hair sometimes exploiting it. One
black, two orientals. Three? older women. Young women and earrings. Men
and beards. Why I hate beards: they register more distance from women.
Meeting Paul Churchland yesterday. Looking up at a giant. It must be
what it was like at 6 years old. I felt I came to his belt. The way he announced
himself round about, "Now that I have introduced you all we
are going to talk about perception and you are going to listen if you like."
"We two are hicks and we like US better than we like YOU."
What about the dream - oh the memory of immediacy - oh immediacy - freedom
- isn't it what you need too? Beautiful one - with your friend - do you
forget to be right there? You do - you close down - like I might when you
have to phone your wife. We learned it young. Oh if I had the presence I
had with them, I could meet you better, I could meet you with what would
be true. Not to close down, not to close down. The false connection people
make real connection from, the opportunity, the material.
After the Shaughnessy women - that strangely uniform bunch, the postmenopausal
dullness of gardening women who look like old lesbians, arriving in couples
as they do, but are Mrs something, his initial.
I'm at the Princeton, an empty bar, old, warm, quiet, sitting in a corner
with the Australia notebook, drinking whiskey waiting for my beautiful young
man, who has finished his thesis this very day. Happy. Strangely quietly
certainly happy, not frightened. Sipping, not drinking. The happiness there
before I began. Leave a message saying where I am. There'll be a moment
I look up and it's him coming across the room. It's a floating peace. Men
I can't see are talking about train shunting and the union. I have on my
red underwear teeshirt. I'm ready to say sit here so I don't have to stare
He's holding his arm across himself at first and I know to back away
into my corner so he can feel I'm not going to push him, I'm very fine tonight.
It works. He opens up with his arm on the back of the seat. I see him in
sideways brushes. Old black teeshirt with paint on it. His bony shoulders.
He braids his hair. Takes it down and braids it again. An elastic like mine.
I look at him with what I can feel is a soft face. Satisfied that I'm with
him and can see him there sometimes. We look at the room together. Stucco
from hell he says. Slathers. Painted tan.
He tells a dream, early morning, cool air through the window, warm in
his bed, he dreams big solid geometric pieces floating together into a perfect
The barman comes to say time. It's only eleven-thirty. We walk across
to the parking lot, I drive him home very vaguely talking about house dreams,
he very distractedly directing me. Park at his house in a position he knows
expects nothing. 'Bye. Will do the concrete this weekend. Saturday. It's
only two days from now. Come home sweetly but don't sleep.
Dream he's touching me in a certain way, rubbing my torso up and down
maybe, a furry dim dreamy excitement. There's more. Three women in his household,
one is the one he's involved with. They speak to me. Everyone going to a
scat concert. Will I come? No. Carrying something and having to step out
of a harness that goes between the legs. Having to step out of it backwards
in a complicated way because of the package in my left hand. He's doing
The long day closes last night. As the audience was getting up
over the credits, a man's voice behind me, the smooth spoilt centre-of-the-culture
soulless whiny urban voice of someone situated at the easiest possible point
of race-class-gender-appearance and sensibility, saying (to a woman) "It's
very slow." "It isn't a bit slow" I say in an uncontrollable
flash over my shoulder, not looking at him. "Ellie!" Rob
is shocked. He has no idea.
Wonderful work, oh wonderful work, so brave and new, someone so in touch
in touch with his childhood, the pace of it, faces held in their emotion,
seeing it feeling it's possible to make something of one's own, it's possible
to declare. Everyone in the film is going to die, the camera moves, the
light moves, he's crying in the coal cellar. It's the silences in childhood,
when there isn't too much of things, people are lit that way, particularly
solid, like doorknobs - talk and action hasn't thinned it out. It's like
The waves isn't it, the blind-pull dragging on the floor. Much more
to say about it.
Here two coast women, mother and daughter, pass with the soft short-legged
tread that makes me see a path in a forest. Then, going the other way, the
rigid narrow small body of a greyhaired woman in pigtails, a long skirt,
her shoulder blades immobile, cigarette in her left hand.
When DC phoned yesterday I didn't hang up on him, I didn't lie to him,
I told him the truth, agreed to meet him on Sunday. Then sat in the big
chair saying "emotional mistake," crying.
Limbus, a border. A place or condition for the relegation of unwanted
or forgotten persons, things, etc. A region on the edge of hell. A prison.
I can cry now, saying "emotional mistake."
How to get on with the editing, I don't know what sort of film it is.
It's a neighbourhood, that's all. Community of persons and plants and lights
and skies. Commonality of place and commonality of names. They should be
set in black like slips of presence.
An iron ship, a grain ship, Pioneer Star. Goosequill rattling on the
helicopter pad. A man in a plastic leather jacket hunched rocking in some
stoned misery yells as I describe him. It's beautiful here, young cottonwoods.
Train bells. Cumulus charged full of light, sizzling. This bit of ocean
pouring like a river. Pigeons over the massed machine of the grain terminal.
Wind makes the grass heads quest. Pigeons are wind of their own, flapping
bits in a complicated curve that drops them slowly onto a row of structures
like boilers. The big leaves of the small poplars rattle. There's a play
of light on the black paint next to the Pioneer Star's anchor, thin white
light faster and more ethereal than firelight, light like a rapture. There
go sixteen Canada geese up this narrow inlet beside the tracks, five more
rocking on a backwash. What it is about them is that their paddling is invisible,
they look as if they're riding a current. The drunk man got the two ends
of his jacket zipper together. Twenty yards down the road standing with
his legs apart to stabilize the ground. There was a patch on his right eye.
Black fringe flowing from his arm. Wracked skeleton man.
Am I steady? Am I light enough to turn on a dime? Going to meet an occasion.
I wanted to say a death, but that's dangerous. Neither of us will die.
You look like someone, is all. You're somebody, a traveler I'm going
to thank and set on the road. That's one story. Another says, I have to
say no to you so you'll feel it, and that will get me back something you
Why does this stilty bird squash down on the gravel. Seagulls keening,
willows blown silver.
Did I turn on a dime? I knew the moment to say it, I knew how to push
through the thickening of the air that says, you can't do this. Say the
first word and the rest will fall out after it, and then you have only the
consequences and not the deed. We were the doors on either side of the table.
He had loved the induction of the sides. I think we went into a trance together,
he came out of it softer. When I was asking I had the same dark soft time
around me that he did. I found my intent, I had time to. Do I have to? I
didn't know showing him the photo would be the test. Got up when we'd sat
down to supper and brought it. "Is this your family?" "I'm
ten there." He looked, he put it down. He doesn't love me, the plainest
fact, it was pain and comprehension together. I saw it, I didn't stagger,
I kept moving, I didn't pick it up and take it away like someone whose feelings
are hurt, I left it on the table between us knowing I was on the way to
action responsible to it. Calm certainty. Action well prepared, beautiful
pictures, Rowen, Michael, Rob behind him, my own face. The wind turning
poplars' coats. My kung fu jacket and red sneakers. Hypnotic trance. Beer.
More than I'd need for one so young man. I was making sure, now I'll be
able to love you without anger. "You've given me a lot" he says.
"I wanted to." "Can't I just call you when I get back?"
Trying it out, why. Shake my head. "That's fair enough." Hopes
he's given me something too. What's he imagining. "Amazingly so, though
I don't know whether you intended to. Mysteriously so." The
energy of finding the word. We laugh. I don't like writing this, I like
recalling it, I don't like he said, I said. I can say the surge of rightness
that came with the word mysteriously, it came out on a wave of delight,
[Roseanne takes me out into Vancouver Harbour in a kayak] Still feeling
the swell and hearing waves. The sensation of sinking backwards, wallowing.
Do I have the energy to write what it was like heading out around the point,
biting through the swell, ignoring the danger, driving through with
the power of my shoulders, reaching at the same time as sliding in three
dimensions. Like cantering, hanging secure from my elbows as the water humps
up and falls away underneath. No time to think of you, but you come like
a spirit when I'm silent on the rocks. This is the far side of the ordeal,
now we'll diverge, and you'll take me with you in the right way. Once I
knew a woman who was beautiful and had a bad leg and was smart and liked
me and wouldn't hang around when I said no. She was the one who told me
about this book. She gave me seeds for this plant.
Ed abandons me. I'm at the dinner table and I see he does not love me.
I see I must remove my feeling from him. From this two ongoing emotional
lines. I can be confident in my strength, that dark light of proud autonomy.
And passion goes underground into fantasy. That's how I am both Orpheus
The king of hell. I am in limbo, I don't want to live there. Hell's king.
Shadow king: that is, the non-father, the figure built to keep passion alive
though misgiven. Uneasiness of missed giving ongoing.
When the shadow king inhabits someone in the world, oh then there is
contrary knowledge. Yes I have been writing the book of love. The voided
heart of pain. Contrary: this is him, this isn't him.
The real young man of this time helped me make a fire platform. Was patient
with misgiven passion. Did give. Loved rocks and forms and order and is
a woman too, thinks and feels. Was lonely in high school, was smart, wanted
the truth. Said "I want to know you."
Aphrodite can give more than a lover.
What about that end of the story, he lets her slip back because he looks
at her. Looks at her instead of takes her into his body. Ovid's end of the
story is his own, maybe.
Who could anyone be looking for. Someone is looking for another one.
Someone is looking for her state of love.
The story doesn't have the mother in it. Hatred that is concomitant.
Whose invasions, hers. I insist I want him. She does abandon me. With him
I give up feeling. With her I feel the loss of feeling. With him I feel
giving up the feeling. With her I feel feeling abandoned.
You thought, what part of safety do I still have? I have my ability to
find myself alone. I am alone is a phrase that works in more than
one place. Relax. You are feeling something and the other person is still
there. The other person is still there. Some way to stay in touch
with them through the moment. It's a bridge. Practice it.
Where something is lost again. Where is something lost again. When I
said goodbye to him I was no longer looking at him, I wasn't looking him
in the eye.
Having taken it through the cycle again partly seeing partly blind, what?
It's difficult to do, feeling is convinced of its object, feeling has to
be allowed and at the same time knowing has to know this is not the object,
or in what way it is or isn't.
I was reading Sunflower in a hotel in Victoria in such a bed - a bed like a pillow or envelope, nothing but white, no public spread, a white duvet with its puff pulled tight so I went first to release the sides. Reading at night under a bedlamp, saxophone down in the alley, warm black air, stage lights in strings on the façade across the way shining in through the nearer of two long windows. A perfectly set-designed room, #30, door opens onto green carpet and a dark red armchair, tough old velvets. Large writing desk with a brass lamp. A sliding door into the bathroom, white and green tile, a mirror that in the morning on the euphoria of West's acuteness shows me a body quite possibly lovable by the man I have in mind - cut off at the top of the legs, a classy animal not cow but lion, breasts not flat but sharp and brown, power all over, broad triangles meeting in a twist at the waist.
Have I ever been less interested in looking at a town. Have I ever cared
less what people thought of me, or what they were, than in that town. The
smell of piss in public places, as if a saboteur goes everywhere secretively
dribbling and no one notices.
That room and the book were the delight of the trip - that and leaving
the city by the harbour, seeing the long green arm of Stanley Park with
it clean shore-finish stone seawall, and back there by the white wings of
the convention centre the beautiful clump of magic towers distributed like
poplar trees that have climbed up from common roots and then spread out
toward the edges.
This morning thinking out names of our visual styles - intimate realism, baroque minimalism, male experimental, normal documentary, elfland/surreal, fairyland/romantic (including luminous background), dynamic synchronicity/expressionism, formal realism - and their mental styles - female love, rigorous meditation, anger, socialization, fantasy, sex, wide focus, solidity/logic.
Corresponding sounds cd be clear and in your ear, voices as person-texture,
loopy Cleghorn fantasia for baroque but not minimalism, silence for minimalism,
information talk for normal, singing-muttering for elfland, clean clear
resonance for romantic, wild sync for dynamic synchronicity, silence for
I still miss you. Every day.
What do I like about my voice - the way I talk to Rowen - it's light,
it's flirty, conscious, dancey as if a little body is on its feet balancing
in it, performing enjoyingly for a fond watcher.
What was your voice - fear and bravery - putting yourself forward without
abandoning the quiver of fear of the other's existence.
What I don't like about our interviews. There's nothing for a subtle
ear. Except Tony the story teller.
Honoring it with simplicity. Crying at Dutch Pannekoek. Don't interpret
it. Don't evade mourning. I did regognize you. I might never find you again.
My life with women writers, the continuing life I have with them aborbed
as if they are the love story I should write, Montgomery, Lessing, Richardson,
Dineson, Le Guin, Gordimer, Woolf. (Early Updike, Yeats.)
It's writing lives though, not books. The way they live among all the
years of their own two-handed work. (Why Rose is a pianist.) What I wanted
when I was a kid reading Edna Ferber.
What I can take from West's biography, that what's intoxicating in her
writing is that it frees me in a way it freed her - "living well in
imaginary circumstances" - from the bewilderment of her own incoherence
- it kept her moving maybe. "Every document of civilization is also
a document of barbarity." At this moment Wachtel speaking to Saïd
quotes Benjamin. "Do you try to hold it in your mind that they are
both?" She kept moving. "Imperialism is connected with a certain
kind of creativity." "A society that is expansionist in an essential
sort of way." - This in answer to a question about the relation of
imperialism and the development of the novel. "Part of the structure
of identity." "Possession of the rest of the world enters into
the imaginative life." Writing and struggle for territory. And what
does one need territory for, to exercise energies rather than not.
So no it does not free me 'in the same way', since I am using her fantasy
to immobilize myself and she used it to claw in an astonishing empire, an
empire of action that energized her writing for her other true and correct
enterprise, speaking women's intelligence (and now it's Wallace Stegner
reading from Wolf willow). Does it mean that if I were going to write
I'd have to go stand my ground in Alberta, and throw myself into an effort
to get social speed? And then there's Dorothy Richardson, who didn't get
territory, or support empire obviously enough to be made a dame - "for
Stegner every time you remove a myth you get closer to the bone" -
though she lived long.
Lying in bed this morning talking to myself about moral intelligence.
I meant by it, I said, knowing what's good for spirits. One's own and others.
Rebecca West's atmosphere of being aware of it. The way Dave Carter has
it, or has it in a way I can see it.
Now I'm crying about the way the air around him was full of finesse.
She and Dickens had a way I don't have, and Dave Carter does, and Louie
does, of accommodating the minor characters.
A chair on the street, next to water, energetic rain. Detonations jumping
on the pavement, on the cab of a red truck. When I look at Vito's across
the street, Vito's with its lights on, the smell close up of a fresh crust.
Four days devouring Rebecca, I thought of it shamefully as hiding out,
but it's been an energy that takes me through the whole of a day, I put
out my hand to the book when I'm still in bed and am there agains sixteen
hours later reading with sore eyes. What is it?
- It's being with the exercise of astonishing spirit capability, that's the fiction that can't be false, because of the skill it takes to fake it. It's imagining being that capability myself, which is true in several ways, ie to the extent that I'm able to see through it and to the extent that I am taken by it. It's imagining I could or will do it myself, which is dangerous. It's being taken by my own form of what drives her - it's the pleasure of imagining times of day and year and place, seeing what I'd see of white swans in the dark, birds in a hedgerow in a mist on a morning in December, a boy standing in a doorway at night with moonlight on a chandelier behind him. Reading and dreaming. Just before I woke, walking toward a room where a very deep bass voice was holding a note. Interpreting and composing. What sort of composing it is. How it's done. The way reading has been a core of my life as it has been in no other life I know. The way Louie has done something like reading but out among people (which makes it composing), enough so she can imagine me reading.
Twist movie last night. Empty Plaza Theatre on Broadway. Marvelling
the way I did in 1960 in La Glace - o dancing - the girls' legs - what we
got from African bodies - not knowing how we got it, jiving at recess in
a school very far from New York.
'A generation,' an age group given something they could recognize though
they could never have invented it. Does anybody write about that ability
to recognize a good thing, a bad thing? "We don't know enough about
the conditions of our existence" - said Rebecca.
Rebecca a sort of jitterbug of free feeling. But what's Dorothy, I was reading Rebecca anxious for Dorothy. Louie saying she was happy reading Rebecca, as I was, elated. But I was elated reading Dorothy too, 29 in the bedroom in Burghley Road. And there is something tedious about Dorothy, her glows and radiances cast by something or other, but she's doing something Rebecca doesn't attempt, she's becoming a third in the relation of mind and world. It's what I said, phenomenology. Philosophy in the form of an account of a lived time. Rebecca is the whiz of metaphor. Something social. Dorothy asking what is it to be conscious. Rebecca is asking what is it to feel. Rebecca's embroiled in sex and Dorothy is not embroiled but poor and obscure where Rebecca dies a millionaire and packing St Martin-in-the-fields. Meaning that Rebecca doesn't scorn tricks, allows herself to be tricked, plunges through and offers an energy useful to those who aren't independent of social form. "You're seen as staggeringly independent" said Louie. Dorothy sends ether waves, strong and abundant but from the brow and to the brow. Her constituency is maybe only the few women who by some very deep catastrophe have learned to live alone in their foreheads. What does it mean that she can be read again and again. Her mechanisms aren't assimilated and they're local to the sentence. I'm seeing springs, wrapped clockwork. She doesn't invent said someone who preferred Virginia. Rebecca is brilliant at making situations. Rose goes out with Len to stoke the church stove, frozen December midnight. She's good at moonlight. Rose and Mary in the Chicago hotel room. Dorothy - I haven't got it yet - I feel she's further into the future, finer-spun, harder-working, would be sitting in different company in heaven. But no, it would be like me at the Council, Dorothy with Einstein and Dante sitting on the grass, Rebecca comes along and they perk up in a way she can't understand. Hegel, though, sticks to Dorothy. In fact Dorothy doesn't notice Goethe's wandering eye. and where's Virginia - sitting with Bloomsbury scrutinizing the crowd for talent worth inviting to tea. (And why aren't these women talking to each other, if rivalry is done with?) Ovid would like Rebecca. I saw that reading the story of Baucus and Philemon, where the meal and the house are so loved. They would be like Rebecca and Andrew telling about places they'd been.
This evening, twilight at the garden. I've come to turn off the sprinklers
and find people in the herb garden, Swedish farmers with a prairie look,
grown daughters and a dog, on the benches facing east. Couples converging
on both paths. Turning off a tap says I'm a stage manager here. Sit there
on a rock, see the colors have changed, brown light is picking up the pinks
whites oranges. Startling salvia patens turquoise blue. Some of the yellowing
leaves shine out. The sky's pale at zenith, white pink blue in bands down
to the eastern edge, round white moon a flat floating thing over Burnaby.
The way you would speak to be making a contact, not caring what you say,
visibly present behind these acknowledged pretexts - that's Dorothy's way
of saying it. Your beautiful self is there facing me and you are speaking
and I am speaking and what we are actually doing is standing and smiling
at each other in silence, and I'm admiring the way you know how to do that
and know you are doing it.
The moment when I can't remember your voice hasn't come yet.
Then I cry, then I stop crying, then I go out.
"Starlings will imitate the sound of doors opening, feet scuffling,
grain being poured."
Driving back from the airport yesterday, a taxidriver with forearm baking
in the windowsill, slipping through the lane changes with hand signals,
what is it I so much like about the left turn's indolent reach of arm out
into common space. It's always an occasion, it says how much it's pleasing
me to feel the car as my body carrying these people in my easy will through
this California crest of freeway summer.
And last night on the steep grass bank opposite Louie's building, snug, holding her round, with a tree over us defoliated to small few leaves, thin spring branches showing through to dark sky simple with two bright stars and one white cloud. The birch on the corner not simple, layers and flounces and billows of small leaves astir, a cumulus rising out of sight. So peaceful and satisfied an hour. Louie grieving and fretting and I know to hold her snug and love the night. Sitting on the toilet in Leon Trotsky's house she saw a square of light and leaves on the floor and knew what it would be to live there and imagined writing, page after page, "I miss you," like lines at school.
Thinking this sentence, that Louie recognized, is the first sentence of something: What happens to a spirit abandoned so young?
Yesterday the work I did with Louie. She reads me her counting piece.
We say she must have a reading. Renee will give her one. I fall into terror.
At Renee's she will be in their territory, they will like her work, see
her and want her and offer to make her an artist. I'll be unable to move.
She is able to say, When were you unable to move? They knew how to paralyze
me. When there were two. Now you have to ask, What do you see? Where are
you? I see my leg. I'm in a crib. I see the living room beyond the bars.
There is something over there, it's like anger, an area of fury. It makes
me think of my father when the truck wouldn't start. He was like an animal,
snarling, growling. He would be foaming. I see fangs. I say Ich kann nicht
gehen. Ich kann nicht gehen. She's digging around my spine. I don't see
more but there is something I know about my father's anger. My mother said
he was angry because he thought I was fooling around but what I see is that
he was angry because he understood instantly. He knew about polio. He saw
the catastrophe. He saw that he was going to have to drag a crippled child
around in the world, his childhood humiliation would never end.
What I see with this is the connection between not being able to move my leg and something about men. He wasn't able to be my father and help me with it. He abandoned me at that moment. And she abandons me too by refusing to know what was happening. He won't take emotional responsibility for weakness, she won't take responsibility for knowing bad things.
I can't move my right leg. Everything that's happening now is happening
on my right. There is my round leg that I can't move. There are the bars
of a crib and beyond them the unseen shapes of furniture in a small living
room. I'm awake before my parents. Puzzled that I can see my leg and not
move it. I'm not frightened. I hear my parents in the next room. They're
getting up. I'm excited. I jump up - no, I don't jump up. I collapse back
onto the bed. My father strides through the room in his long underwear.
He's going to make fire in the kitchen. He hasn't looked at me. My mother
comes toward me smiling. I say informationally Mama ich kann nicht gehen.
She is a woman who doesn't believe bad things before she has to. She is
still on her way toward the crib smiling. He calculates bad things like
lightning. The trip to town. The truck broken down. Ellie and Mary walking
to La Glace. Next day the child is sick, fever and a sore neck. He knows
what it means, and he sees not only backward but forward to himself, his
handsome family, walking into church trailing a crippled child, his humiliated
childhood not left behind but visible with him everywhere like a dragged
leg. He's furious. He is a horizontal howl of rage pouring toward me through
the bars of the crib, he's a beast's mouth snarling, barred, foaming. I
can't move my leg and my father is screaming hatred. He is disowning me.
My mother picks me up out of the crib, hugs me against her warm front, disowning
knowledge. Says, Don't fool us Ellie. Sets me down on the floor. I fall
against the couch. She is misunderstanding both him and me because here
is one thing she knows she has to do, which is bring her voice down heavily
over a fear, like a hand brought over a child's mouth in a marsh in Russia,
while Menshevik bandits slash at the grass three feet from her head.
I can't move my leg. My father abandons me to save his pride, which saves
him from shame which would make him helpless. My mother abandons me to save
her self control which saves her from fear that could kill her in a second.
I haven't been able to write my story because I haven't understood that
this is the question I should ask: what happens to a spirit abandoned so
young? Lifted out of everything it knows, taken away.
There is nothing I can find by remembering. I feel helpless to find anything
to say about it. But maybe there is something I can infer. The spirit I
am, writing, is the spirit structured by that abandonment. It sets out,
is halted in fear, inability. Sets out again, but alone, no longer what
it was, so that it is no longer a person (made of Mamalie, Papalie, Opalie,
Omalie, Bingo, the hidden baby, the house, the yard) but has become a spirit.
Something that travels and talks to itself, alive but invisible and unattached.
So that, when this spirit returns to the place where it had been a person,
it is a spirit in the place of a person.
In January of 1948, before my third birthday, I had polio and was sent
away to a hospital in the city. I didn't see my family or anyone else I
knew for seven months. Then I was brought home and was again my parents'
child in a house on a yard. I was walking again, but with a brace on my
right leg. Later I would walk without the brace, but I limped and had a
The fact that I had become a spirit rather than a person was so unnoticed
that I myself did not know it. My parents and the others at church, in La
Glace, later at school, thought a bad thing had happened to me which made
me a partly ruined person, a socially ruined person maybe, a person whose
degree of social ruin was still uncertain. My parents did not see that I
had become a spirit because they were needing to watch something else: how
other people were taking me.
This confused me in more than one way. It taught me to ignore the facts
of my actual physical damage, so that I learnt to manage it only in an averted,
unconscious way. I never thought it out. I ignored it because I wanted other
people to ignore it.
I was also confused about my actual difference from other people. I thought
it was that I was socially ruined and they were not. This was often their
understanding too, and it made bad feelings on both sides, anger on mine,
guilt on theirs. Bad feeling of this sort was hard to bear, and I often
didn't want to bear it, so I learned very little about the people I knew.
Because I did not know how they felt or thought or regarded each other,
I did not know how to think of the increasing differences between my life
I did not know what belonged to social exclusion, what to intelligence
or giftedness, what to pride and anger, and what to the difference of experience
that came from these things. This was an important confusion because it
meant I could not be confident of my gifts - I could not know whether I
was strong or weak and so I often could not tell real social derogation
from envy and jealousy.
Under these confusions was the more important difference, the fact of a catastrophe built into my emotional foundation. A fact of structure and not experience, and so a fact that can't be recovered as experience.
- What it's like considering Kenneth. What I am is curious. He shows
up early and without hat revealing that he does have hair. Ruddy. I say
I want to just finish this edge. He says he'll go read. It's a fearless
mutually steady exchange, I notice. I go fetch him from my round hill where
he's lying with his bare feet up on the bench. His weapon of destruction
lying by his side. He's reading Conrad, Mirror of the sea, for a
quotation he saw in German on the side of a monument in Bremen. A piety
that remembers simple men and their ships that are gone. I'm guessing it's
a key. Lost father he searches for in the engine room of an unlucky fishing
boat. My curiosity is about the sort of man he is, old fashioned and displaced,
carrying some mind of a Scottish town, wife and children and a shipping
business. Handing him herbs, accidentally touching his hand, finding it
very hot. A reader he says, not a writer, though he talks as if he is writing
all the time. And in relation to me, is simple enough to think he will attract
me by manly talk. I oddly don't resent it, because I am peering through
it to see what I can find about his sort of man's life and being and also
because he is presenting himself to me in so unhedged and responsible a
way, like someone who thinks his intentions are honorable. I look at him
thoroughly to discover his qualities - mashed hands of harsh labour with
machines, a chest showing slight in his coverall, white fuzz like a tuft
of frost in his ear.
Tracking the sore ankle two nights ago. Occurs to me it's at a scar and
might be memory. I lie down with my back flat and feel into it. Very sore.
Pain moves around the foot to other scars, the one on the left side, one
on the back. I don't remember the order but it goes also to outside of the
hip socket, inside of hip socket, knee and especially shin, which hurt so
much I had to talk to myself to stay with it - telling myself it will change,
it will move away. Two more places, visits the spot in my midback briefly,
and the second try, during the night when I wake from pain, gets as far
as the left shoulder. The last place before (as I was thinking of it) it
exited, a ring around the head. Sometimes between shifts I drift into a
little dream. Is there anything else I know about it. First time quite active.
What does it mean if a pain isn't local.
Gaps and terrors in him, also a long worried kind of study I know, serious
interested conversation with the solitary knowledge of his own long story
which is all he carries and earns. A house in Labrador, with a rowan growing
from a crack in the rock. Carding machines that are frames with removable
teasel heads. Shetlands, Ayrshire, Hull. Show chrysanthemums. A gentleman
whose kind has gone forever, ex-army, a life of service. (Catherine's gentleness.)
The rapid excitable rumble of his talk when he's nervous, setting himself
forward not daring to listen in.
In the afternoon, Rowen and Jim and the other blond kid in the sand at
the garden, pant legs rolled up, wind and sun as if they're at the beach,
bricks, sand and water. They're intensely happy. Mary Lewis comes by with
her big-headed son, lies down on the slope of the grassy hill, 6'2, army
boots and a dress, white sunhat and bright bush of brown hair, beautiful
huge English girl lying with her big hip high and round against the hill.
Early autumn, yellow in the light, a lower angle, and this wind turning
the coats of the poplars. A sublime quietness in the garden grounds. Sit.
Louie weeds her plot. Mary wanders. Louie works under the white hat with
her hair down, pretty. On the bench watching the kids, I sit up against
her side. She is reading their characters and I am not. I'm wanting to be
told how smart I was to make this space that works so well - trough, benches,
sand, cement gutter, hill, to be here gathering these people in this light
and wind with plant colors in all directions. Jim's dad talking to Mary
Lewis, then Michael in straw hat and sunglasses, whiskers, lip beautiful
as ever, kind eye corners for hungry Mary. The herb garden up there past
the vine walk that is a tunnel for the first time this year has Graham Thomas
in a second flush, yellow centres so intense they are funnels, leaves light
yellow-green so the whole bush stands forward in the yellow light. Stands
forward on the front edge of its bed. Limpid warm water in the tank. Heat
in the gravel path streaming up into the wind. Hot granite curb for sitting
and seeing the poplars shipping wind down past the bees. Could I ever leave
"Did you ever look for your father?" I say, knowing that's
where the quick is. And I saw it too, a flash of red up over his face. He
went to the Fair Isles once when he was twenty-three or so, asked a few
questions, was directed to an old woman who left a message that he should
call in on his way to the ferry. Showed him photographs and gave him potted
meat sandwiches. Said, with her head to the side, "The man yee'r looking
for is not here." He was too well brought up to insist, or too much
the bastard to feel he had a right. His mother says, many times over, she
was raped on a pile of sacks in a garage. She traveled back, a long journey
in those days, to speak to the man's mother. "Mrs Lawson, I have to
tell you ." "It can't have been my boy, he's engaged," crooned
in the Scotswoman's way. And so she went away again. And Ken years later
making the same trip in the same way and telling her and regretting it in
relation to the Englishman who had no part of it but had tried to be a father
and had been a father - though not a deep sea fisherman - "well-respected,
well-dressed and well thought of."
I'm looking at what I suppose is also his father's face, eyes close together,
very blue, narrow upper lip, fine fair hair, sharp nose. A keen face, what
they call boyish, carried as a type through Labrador, the High Arctic, Iceland,
all the places he's been a good-looking Englishman.
Oh, a lost man. Twitching. Screwing up his eyes, jerking his really stiff
upper lip that carries fine line scars. What's that one? A dog opened its
jaws and closed them on a seven-year-old's face. He was a child who'd been
his mother's ruin, and is ruined. "One works with it, one works around
it." I could see his ruin and my own with it.
In the garden yesterday. Early autumn's extraordinary light. I forget
what fairyland it is. I stood looking north into the herb garden and saw
it as if there was an intense yellow spotlight on it. Looked around, is
it in the orchard too? No - that's a whiter weaker light, this is like syrup,
a yellow like fire, gravel squares and turning leaves, coreopsis, maybe
the concentric order and open gravel, maybe the yellow leaves and the coreopsis
flopped on either side, maybe my eyes dilate when I look at it like this.
Mr Li and his wife cutting orange dahlias in the brown light after sunset,
she in a pink sweater. That light.
Drove up Broadway toward red sky looking for someplace to eat and read
under a lamp, to be out. Gogol at the miser's garden. He's stretching out
in the middle of the book. A man in half a tent in Labrador reading Dead
souls in a storm of rain that soaks the page as he goes, so there's
a block of pulp in his left hand. Occasional Harbour.
That picture and another yesterday of a man going into an engine room,
putting on headphones, tidying tools away onto pegs, touching up the engine
with an oily rag.
What I see sober is what I can choose to take on or not, something I
would have to do as a moral exercise. Body says pick a man. Self says it
will be lonely and dangerous. Body says, I give you joy and confidence,
it's what I do if you don't starve me. Self says, what do I have to do?
Body says sleep with the enemy, don't forget he's not your friend, be lucid.
Self says, lonely responsibility. Body says, sweet times, deep times. Self
says, this is how it looks, I see my father's weakness, I see there are
no enemies, I see there's no shelter. There's adventure though, there's
knowing I'm where no one knows me, no one sees me, and then stepping forward
with kindness to both children and making them see each other.
Of all that what to pick out. How she looked when she was angry. White force shooting forward out of her face in a broad solid column. Features finer and tighter. We'd cracked the issue. I didn't want to eat on Commercial because we would run into him. She's furious. I half lose it, lunge at a spot just short of her breast, kick the air next to her thigh. I DON'T WANT HIM TO SEE YOUR TITS. Barred teeth, the taste of pure hate. And then she's more than furious, a towering fury, a Greek rage. I know there's something. I'm thwarting something. She does want the moment she wins something from me by way of a man. She's far from admitting it. To admit it she'd have to admit her love for the mother conceals a poisoned knife. That's threat to goodness at the root.
Meantime my fury is gone. I'm thinking, look at this about her breasts,
the mother's. First she uses them to keep me with her in life, then she
uses them to keep him away from me, and that's a way of starving me of the
other, energetic, life where I want and act. The way I go on feeling I don't
have breasts. The way yesterday having been brought 'closer' to her, having
come to open bodies, not altogether open but a glowing nest in the womb
and cunt, I was so weak that her beauty in the bath, her breasts, had made
my spine wilt so I was curled over my solar paralyzed and weepy.
Night with the furry man, civil above the neck, bright smooth and narrow,
with a gold tooth in the corner of a good white smile; civil enough from
thigh to sole; and then between the cut lines of his clothes - neck, sleeve
and shorts cuff - a fur deep soft and warm, muscles deep soft and round,
breast and back deeply divided by hard faults between symmetrical pads.
The evening after we'd woken up together K phoned me "to say hi,"
a courtesy call maybe, scandalized me. Then next morning showed up at Calabria
both times expecting to be allowed to download anything he likes - his fencemaking
job for a beekeeping Jew, his mother's comments on his sister's marriage
breakup. Tells me people give him advice, he doesn't take it, but figures
out what to do just from talking, "They don't do anything." "What
do you mean they don't do anything - you figure it out because they are
listening to you, you are feeling their grasp." I knew he was
thinking of Sylvia, who I'm sure processes him days on end without his knowing.
This is the worst of him, his unconscious sponging. He sits there freaked
stiff declaring this and that needing to be heard and felt and tuned and
brought up to the moment, the work I do for myself here, and Louie does
for me. His habit is to do manly things in exchange - he'll help me paint
the ceiling if I like. Hangs a show for her.
What am I learning. My impulse is to lecture him. It won't work. And
already oh the little penis he hides the way I hide my foot, keeping the
covers over it. Uncircumcised and hidden under its own cover, a little knob.
He wants to blame the feminists.
Last weekend telling L what happened with them. "I had to understand
there are things ego doesn't know. Ego comes back, it's still ego but it's
enlarged. Now there's a dialogue with something else." Long sigh. We
laugh. I kiss my left shoulder.
He looked me in the eye unsmiling, a straight unfrightened look I felt.
If I put my green bag on the ground to open the hood he picks it up for
me. "Saying I walk with a limp is a euphemism" I say. "But
other parts of you are not atrophied" he says, using and skirting the
word in quite a graceful way. Sitting next to him in the dark feeling how
I'm always wanting to be touching him and he is always wanting it back.
David is the day seen, beautiful. I teach or read the elf in a person,
some sort of free spirit. How's goin' David? Fairy man. Why are you tears.
I have you living at the base of the spine. It's the root. You're an address.
If I name you I find myself in sorrow. It is that: myself, central, sad,
and happy to be sad. This table. I can still hear your voice. Being sad
is a way of still hearing your voice. Teaching spirits might mean educating
a circuit. Fairy world of isolated love. Saying any of this I keep thinking
of a book or film. Maybe she finds a beautiful father, a face, body crossing
the yard. Maybe a two year old hears and sees in a way I could recover,
maybe 'beautiful' began there. No, surely. Use the image, Orphée.
It's at the wedding something goes wrong. Oh colors in the dark. We know
the place, the marriage fails at the point where it is meant to begin. She
falls backward. What am I doing. Oh breath. Falls backward. Orphée
is a poet as well as a gold fairy. I'm not Orphée. I go away into
the land of dead time, maybe not down but sideways, I can't assume the direction.
I look for the loved one who is hardly more than an image, we don't know
each other. It means reconstructing circuits. I stand in one spot constructing
the web that is a sequence backward of dead times. I am not in the
land of the dead, I am the streaming passage and the land. I am constructing
it, I am experiencing it. I am Orphée in that I am the traveler.
I am Euridice in that I am there, the point of arrival where the traveler
says, this is as far as I need to know. I track a man's image to find a
woman. That is true. I am a woman traveling as a man, tracking a man's image
in order to find myself a woman. I see a tunnel that feels, and the feeling
at the first deepest ring of the tunnel is Euridice. The other mouth of
the cave. The cervix from inside. There are babies whose circuits are capable
at birth. At marriage she springs back into the womb and must be brought
out with consciousness. Once brought out they are a poet. Missing him is
the thread in my hand. What is love in the emerging child. That baby is
in love. Now I'm shaking.
After this weekend I'm saying to him, I'm going to fight you up the block
and around the corner. Now I know who I'm dealing with, I saw him on the
pillow last night. Seventeen years old, angry, hard and soft, mother's favorite
in a way that makes him cynical, another rotten at the core boy. Gorgeous.
I came into the cinema row, he behind me, and saw a gay man who looked
at him. Saw them look at each other.