Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Save as evidence of your voyage

My husband loves the wording on airplane ticket stubs, advising you to save them as evidence you have traveled. There's something wonderful and spooky about the idea that you might, in fact, forget that you had. At 50, however, I find it's often less interesting to think about what you remember than of what you have forgotten. But there's no evidence for the latter, so what are you to do except take sharp intake of breath when someone else remembers.

We have been traveling, a family trip to San Francisco, where we met Radhika's birth sister (and Sangha's sister by affection and fiat) and adoptive mother. We also saw an elementary school friend of mine who was visiting her parents and brothers in California with two teenage boys I'd never met--they had not existed when last I saw her. I spent two days in L.A., reading with Deborah Meadows and attending a Dodgers game with her, Andrew Maxwell, Aaron Belz and son Elijah. Already I've misplaced that internet-generated ticket as proof, but there are photos.

As proof of voyage, some moments, thoughts, in no particular "order":

--The questions. They still catch me off-balance. "Where do they come from?" "You said 'your kids' sister'; what did you mean?"; "Oh, Radhika's sister"; "Was she an orphan?"; "Do you know their origins?"; "How old were they when you adopted them?"; "How did you find her sister?" And on and on. The questions are not hostile, but they are insistent. I choose fluttering like a butterfly or I choose rope-a-dope, and I usually change the subject. I have a vocabulary for our extended family, but no one else does; I only have it because I've developed it. Sangha's two sisters. My calabash sister (mother to my kids' sister). Then realize I no longer care so much about categories; remember that once I did. Somewhere in there an active forgetting of terminology, of names for families that do not fit my own.

--The Bridge. Joseph Stella's (Brooklyn) bridge painting is at SFMOMA, but the bridge that dominates San Francisco is Golden. We biked across it (two tandems and two single bikes) in the fog, rode through Sausolito to Tiburon, returned on the ferry. Deborah Meadows reminded me later that I criticized Michael Palmer for aestheticizing the shoe piles at Auschwitz. Beauty and horror. The emergency phones on the bridge that assure you--no, inform you--that jumping will be fatal and tragic. Call here. I watched, in short sections, Eric Steel's documentary on the bridge in my hotel room. He videoed the bridge for a year, caught (as in filmed) most of the jumpers. Some only witnessed as splashes, others seen pacing the bridge back and forth, those who looked nervous, furtive, climbed over the railing, jumped. Variations on that theme. The bridge in sun, fog, rain, gorgeous. Steel found witnesses, families, friends. The guy who survived assures us he changed his mind as he lept. But my sound didn't work that evening, so I don't know what else he said. So many ethical questions. The act is public as soon as it occurs on the bridge; to film and then show it adds another layer on. The jumpers' odd non-privacy is our own. We don't know what to do with it. I wish he had not ended with the most dramatic jump but with the most banal. But who's to judge that!? What he does best is get at the histories behind symbolic acts. If the jump is as symbolic as it is deadly, it represents not just pain, but long histories of pain.

--At Duchamps' urinal a grandmother leaned over her tow-headed grandson (age 6?) and said, "this is an important work. This destroyed art. If this is art, then everything is art, and nothing is."

--At SFMOMA, Sangha asked me, "what's so special about this?" He did like layers of paint on a canvas.

--Simplicity is an acquired taste. Rothko is not so simple.

--SFMOMA had a Robert Frank exhibit. I saw it there, and again in L.A., where there were fewer rooms of "The Americans." Frank as Whitman, tucked between bride (wrote "bridge") and bridegroom. Frank as bridge. An open casket at an African American funeral in South Carolina in the 1950s; two shoes on a desk at a military recruiter's office (no body attached, just the shoes); horn in front of/ instead of face at a parade; a black couple turning to stare at the photographer (I overheard a guide say this was one of Frank's favorites); the photographer's exhausted family in the front seat of an old car, lights illuminated; from New Mexico or Arizona, photo of the three large photos for sale at a rest stop (1. beautiful canyon, 2. beautiful foliage, 3. beautiful atom bomb explosion); starlet blurred, her fans crisp. More than hints of what was to come. Race, gender, cars, wars. Like Ginsberg, a Whitmanic vision after the fact of optimism. And yet . . .

--Needle Woman: Kim Sooja. LACMA. A room with screens. On/in each screen you see a woman's back. She has long hair in a pony tail, a light blue jacket on, and she is standing perfectly still looking out toward a river of people coming toward the camera, toward us, around her. Nepal, Chad, Tel Aviv, Havana, Yemen, Sao Paulo. Couldn't always figure out which was which. Kids mugging for the camera. A boy in Yemen(?), one eye directed at us, the other away. Evasion of eye contact. Stares (mostly in Tel Aviv); a man running his hands over his chest and belly (this made the children in the room laugh). The guard--it's his first day, he says--has decided that people pick their noses in all cultures. He's seen at least one nose pick per screen.

--If I answer people's questions about my children, what do they do with the answers? There is a need for closure when someone dies. How did it happen? The answer quiets us, for a time. Is there a complementary need for dis-closure, for knowing the prequel? Those who search their own origins would say yes. But the rest of us, why do we feel we have earned the right to know? The need? [The cat meows loudly. He was found 15 years ago at the Early School in Honolulu, lived 11 years with another family, which disintegrated. The new dispensation did not agree with him. He came to us, a new being in double digits.]

--Installation of hanging plastic ware, many rows of it. Like a garden of Babylon except made of plastic salad dryers, tubs, bowls, cups, hampers. Children thread the cords of it and laugh.

--Installation of street lamps, short ones, middle ones, tall ones. A gray forest with globes on top.

--Buses, trains, cable cars, BART, CalTrain, electric, diesel: San Francisco. Cars cars cars (L.A.)

--Rachel Loden's husband, Jussi, asks me to explain Language poetry. I gather he's asked before, and perhaps often. I do my best. He's skeptical. I try another tack. He's skeptical. I gather he's been skeptical before. Radhika asks for mango ice cream to follow her mango milk shake.

--Omnidawn, Cusp Books. Editors, Rusty Morrison, David Lloyd. To blog about. Both presses are what we call eclectic, though that word resembles "quietude." Rachel Loden says the word demeans silence; she does not like that. We talk about Silliman's categories: location, generation, inclusion, exclusion, avant, post-avant, school of quietude. Then there are the poetic dangers. "You have 7 readers and I have only 5!" 7 deadly sins, at least. Though if we're lucky, only 5.

--Daniel Tiffany tells me that Dementia Blog contains a mystery. What is the relationship of the observer to her mother? I say I tried hard to leave myself out. He says he knows. I'm reading Peggy Schumaker's Just Breathe Normally; she puts herself in. Uses a near death trauma to expand into family narrative. Marvelous exfoliation, in starts and stops. DB so claustrophobic. Six months and nothing else. Two ways of reading trauma. As wide angle, or as microscope. Either angle magnifies. Horrifies.

--Aaron Belz tells me it's funny. Why am I a bit taken aback? He's right.

--Marjorie Perloff says, "at my age!"

--Diane Ward says at 50 we need to figure out how to live with others for the duration. We agree that we think differently at 50. Quotient of remembering, forgetting, and the prospect if not diminished, then put in intense focus. My eyes in the morning refuse their focus.

--Deborah Meadows: "the most interesting poets are not in groups." She reads new letters, and a piece on primate thought, along with poems from Goodbye Tissues. We are at a salon. How Bryant laughed at that word last summer! Americans have reduced it to a word about hair, perhaps.

--I fly back to San Francisco; the plane lands wing to wing with another United plane. I hear my name called; our friends Joe and Hans are in the airport. We fly to Kauai to save money. The clocks there are all at the same time: Bikini Atoll, Honolulu, London, places whose names we don't recognize. Nothing on-line about whose project this is, this bank of clocks running at the same time, the same second. Hawaiian musicians, a hula dancer, Radhika dancing too. Radhika performing a chant for Queen Liliu`okalani as we land in Hawai`i, her hula arms telling part of the story.



Rachel Loden said...

I guess my question is, what's so quiet about the school of quietude? Seems to me they're honking all the time, like most poets. If by "school of quietude" Ron means what I think he means, wouldn't the school of loud mewling self-pity and rending of garments be more accurate? Conversely there's a lot of quiet in The Alphabet and in the alphabet, if you know what I mean.

Philip Metres said...

great post. I agree with you and Loden both.