a madman’s lullaby

 

it’s an obsession, the doctor said, but you disliked hearing that word, obsession. it wasn’t the colour that you disliked. in fact, you said, the word is colourless but tastes like burnt toast.

obsession, your brother once said, is hazy-lavender.

my son’s words are extraordinarily colourful, but he’s never tasted language. my words are neither coloured nor flavoured.

 

~

at the time, you were trying to figure out what becomes of meaning when two coloured words rub up against one another. what happens, you asked, when two primary-coloured words, such as sunshine and concrete (yellow and blue), bump into each other? does that make meaning green? is concrete-sunshine green?

perhaps, i said.

perhaps concrete-sunshine is green.

 

~

i don’t know how spirals work, you told the doctor. only that they do. only that spirals are the fingerprints of god.

 

~

what is called a beautiful bouquet nauseates me. what i admire is the macabre-scent of a single flower dying, with the colours fading and the petals so brittle they disintegrate when rolled gently between my fingertips. what i admire are flowers that delight in death and decay.

 

~

for several years we, your father and i, brushed off your spiral infatuation. a phase, we told one another. a passion. just a creative preoccupation.

at times you endeavoured to hide your desire, tried to act as if nothing was going on. but there was no point, you were transparent. you wanted to be normal. but you disliked fleshy-umber, aftertaste of dirt, normal.

 

~

as a small child you nurtured certain words, such as: galaxy, the sharpest red; and fairy-floss flavoured yesterday; and bright-electric blue, with a hint of peppermint, ripple. your favourite word was purple which just shimmered and tasted of plums. this made jacaranda-mauve, 8, your favourite number.

i remember how your dark eyes shone as i listened, nodding my head in agreement. i still cherish those moments, when your reasoning made sense to me.

 

~

there are certain sounds, like the fracturing of autumn leaves underfoot, that evoke something within me reminiscent of childhood. even still, during these times of tender nostalgia, i lack some fundamental ingredient in existence. i lack the flavour of being real. as a child i would tell myself that if i believe i exist then i think i exist then i do exist.

 

~

every picture, every early doodle, you drew was a maze of spirals. the repetition, the troubled insistence of curved lines, alarmed me. the absurd intricacy, the assiduous attention to detail, always astonished me.

 

let’s presume that, in a twist of fate, you were born with this passion. let’s presume that, indeed, you fell in love with a shape:

a spiral…

a pattern persisting in time.

a romance, unfolding slowly: an early fascination followed by appreciation, adoration. and in an instant lust becomes love.

 

the outline sweet and terrible

shaped like a madman’s lullaby

how dangerous… you wrote

to finally have something worth losing.

 

~

did you use your whole body to taste that first instant of love? did pure silence vibrate within you? did a melody of diabolical joy dance in the shadows of your loneliness? did you tremble with pleasure and, for a measure of unutterable instants, were you free?

 

~

when you finally started speaking, your little voice always sounded plagued by pain. as if every word uttered had just escaped the torture chamber of your mind. each word released in a state of mutilated shock.

you were 4.

i was more than alarmed.

 

~

your father denies synaesthetic tendencies. i remember how thrilled i was by the idea that we’d created synaesthetic twins. as though, together, we’d produced humans with a language of their own. i imagined the microscopic meeting, dancing, twisting, twirling and replication of our genes occurring in a helix of colour and flavour.

i was mystified by my own capacity to create. i was mystified that my children could feel the smell of words, that they could see the silence that follows each sound, that my children were four dimensional.

 

~

we gave you butterfly nets, snorkel sets and totem tennis for your eleventh birthdays. that night, when i tucked you into bed, you said: sometimes i wonder about the silent colours, the ones i can’t see. then i feel empty. then i bash my fists into my eyes until i’m lost in a labyrinth of colour. then i feel better.

you were attempting to explain. i was attempting, desperately, to understand.

 

~

once i had a dream within a dream where reality and fantasy both had instantaneous lifespans. one could not interfere with the other for one became the other. reality was fantasy and fantasy was reality. reality was not to be confused with fantasy and instantaneous lifespan was not to be confused with average lifespan. but in this dream within a dream the spiral was the only one who left everything as it was, the spiral was neither fantasy nor reality, but the spiral was a real thing. i woke sobbing, and my pillow was damp with tears.

 

~

as a child you spent your days building kaleidoscopes: aluminium tubes; triangles of mirrors; tiny windows, and coloured plastic-globes caged in acrylic perplexity. you spent your nights peering into the soul of colour.

 

~

‘my soul is a black whirl pool, a vast vertigo circling a void, the racing of an infinite ocean around a hole in nothing.’

—Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet.

 

~

in a later attempt to explain, you told me: my thoughts simply appear in the form of spirals, circles that begin but never end, continuous circles refusing to return to the same point.

que será será, i thought, my daughter’s mind moves fatalistically into the future.

other times, you said. my thoughts begin as a single interstellar spec and spiral inwards, evasively entangling my mind. twisting my thoughts, tighter and tighter, until i’m completely fixated, isolated, and confined in despondency.

 

~

in lipstick you wrote on the mirror: like ripples in a galactic pond, my lover’s spiralling arms, simultaneously, embrace me and show me the way. Our passion moves in circling waves.

then you carved three deep spirals, one on each thigh and one on your left wrist, allowing the pain to orbit out of you. i found you coiled, like a haunted fetus, in a pond of your own rippling blood.

 

~

we’re here to help, they told you.

you didn’t go peacefully.

with the brown buckles strapped tight, you screamed and struggled in the straightjacket until, finally, you passed out.

 

~

‘i’m no more your mother

than the cloud that distils a mirror to reflect its own slow

effacement at the wind’s hand.’

—Sylvia Plath, Ariel

 

~

a form of objectophilia, they told us, an intense love of inanimate things.

you rejected this completely.

spirals, you said, give birth to animate matter. they shape the precise instant when inanimate matter is endowed with sentience. spirals are the pulsing lifeblood of all inspiration, of all creation, of all thought, of all being. circles that begin but never end. spirals are the souls of things.

tell us, they asked, why do you hurt yourself?

that was your first admission, this is your eighth.

 

~

you have less spirals in the asylum and the medication locks every word, every sound, every number in a military green, flavoured of hailstorms. you spend your days horizontal, in sedated fits, tangled in bed-sheets. you spend your nights, in heavy silence, believing your lover waits in the shadows just beyond the gate.

Advertisements

Intertextuality, Influence, & Gertrude Stein

Intertextuality, Influence, & Gertrude Stein

It was during an experimental writing class that I first fell in love with Gertrude Stein. Since that class, I’ve fallen in love with her time and time again. So, imagine my delight when, awestruck in City Lights Books, I discovered Tender Buttons, The Corrected Centennial Edition. Corrections. In Stein’s own handwriting. Need I say more…

 

http://www.citylights.com/book/?GCOI=87286100683310&fa=description

 

In 1914, Gertrude Stein—an experimental writer in a lesbian relationship—had her revolutionary prose poem published, which has undoubtedly stood the test of time, immeasurably influencing the past 100 years of experimental, female, and queer writers.

I could write a thesis on the title alone—Tender Buttons. The words tender & buttons placed together conjure a concrete yet abstract image, not only redefining preconceived conceptions of buttons, but also brilliantly summarises the entire book with two simple words. Buttons, the most domestic of objects, are radically redefined by the word tender, emphasising the malleability of understanding and definition, and the possibility of polyvalent interpretations. With active participation, buttons function to keep things closed or to open things up. Which represents Stein’s invitation for readerly participation in interpreting, defining, opening-up and shifting power dynamics within text.

An example of how Stein manipulates phrase in order to critique, deconstruct, and undermine meaning and patriarchal traditions can be found in the first two lines of the first stanza of ‘A Chair’. A widow in a wise veil and more garments shows that shadows are even. It addresses no more, it shadows the stage and learning. Here Stein foregrounds the fact that death and shadows do not discriminate against race, gender, class, religion, or sexuality. While subtly calling attention to the veiling of this wisdom, found in death and shadows, through the generally accepted, unquestioned, and repetitious patriarchal and imperial representation of the world. However, the ever-present indiscriminateness of death and shadows are constant reminders questioning the automatic repetition of patriarchal traditions, It addresses no more, it shadows the stage and learning. Stein’s refusal to conform to traditional literary conventions at once interrogates, unhinges, bends, and reinvents representation in prose and accepted ways of knowing.

Like everybody else, I am influenced by everything that has come before, especially by that that has dramatically changed the way that I think. Coincidently, in January this year I had my prose poem ‘A Pound of History’, which pays homage to Gertrude Stein’s Tender Buttons, published in the 2014 prose poem & microfiction anthology, Writing to the Edge.

 

Interviews with the authors in Writing to the Edge can be found here: http://shortaustralianstories.com.au/blog/

 

WttE & Tender Buttons

 

A recording of ‘A Pound of History: after Gertrude Stein’ can be found here: https://soundcloud.com/spineless-wonders/a-pound-of-history-4?in=spineless-wonders/sets/writing-to-the-edge

 

Gertrude Stein reading ‘If I Had Told Him a Completed Portrait of Picasso’ over Keith Jarrett’s The Köln concert, “Part I”.