What was December? December was arguing for far, far longer than I should have, with a not-so-mysterious but rather hybrid being: one part “well, actually” mansplainer, two parts hit-and-run sealion (a.k.a. data dude), three parts charmingly clueless lovechild of David and Justin, and some random sprinkles of hysterically entitled masculinity. (December was remembering, eventually and at last, that quote that everyone ascribes to Twain, about exactly this kind of argument...)
But December was also about discovering Dario Cecchini’s new food truck, and the taste of pici in San Quirico d’Orcia. December was remembering, the way only skin and muscle can remember, how a night-time swim through the glow-green water at Fonteverde can still still, so much inside...
December was watching Harold and Maude at La Compagnia, with all of five other people in the entire theatre... (Not because of Covid, but because of Harold and Maude...) December was discovering — when there are only seven of you in a full-sized, two-tiered cinema hall, watching a movie that all of you are rare in loving — what it feels like to be able to hear each other laugh.
Oh, Harold... That’s wonderful. Go and love some more.
December was watching Ingrid Bergman In Her Own Words—though this one at home... December was the way we cheered like children, at every flash of Santa Marinella. (That house on that curve, the way you knew on the train then, that you were home...)
December was a teal-colored typewriter, and all the years I have wanted one.
December was missing my cat—another month of ways to live this soft, small-and-always, goneness.
Where there was something and suddenly isn’t,
an absence shouts, celebrates, leaves a space.
I begin again with the smallest numbers.
December was three precious days with a friend who knows like the best kind of friend, that good conversation is art, craft, and architecture all at once. (And space. Absolutely also space.) What did we talk about? We talked about mansplainers and whitesplainers, about anti-vaxxers and monsters and messiness, about Amazon and Meta and Shell, and about families bestowed, chosen, and in between. And of course, we ate. We ate soft clouds of tortellini stuffed with soft clods of potato. We ate barberry rice with saffron chicken. We ate the seeds of pomegranates. We ate bistecca fiorentina (come deve essere), and bakhlava and blue cheese. (We ate a trilogy of blue cheese.)
December was being told something about someone who has not deigned to speak to me in over three years. December was another month in this long lesson I’m learning.
December was our first time getting tested for Covid. (I didn’t write it that way, initially. Only afterwards it occurred to me, that it might have been—might become some day—“our first time.”)
December was also the solstice. December was a day or two then, with Bernadette Mayer and her Midwinter Day.
I know backwards the grief of life like chance...
December was re-reading George Abraham in The Paris Review—the shape of thin air, the blood on our hands and in our minds, the streets heavy with a language both new and familiar.
December was sitting down to dinner and discovering that this was the year (every year for the last few years I have been wondering if this would be that year...), in which Didion would go.
You sit down to dinner and life as you know it...
December was more of me trying to understand and make space for this self I am—and am becoming. For how long this is taking. Will likely take.
Everything goes. I am working very hard at not thinking about how everything goes.
December was all of Florence saying silently and not-so-silently, in this seven-hundredth year since the death of Dante, in the papers and in posters and in blue-purple lights across the start of Via Serragli, e quindi uscimmo a riveder le stelle.
It is easy to see the beginnings of things, and harder to see the ends.
[Santo Spirito, Firenze | martedì 04 gennaio 2022 ore 19:35:00] [¶]
[Bernadette Mayer] [George Abraham] [Joan Didion]
[covid] [memory] [grief/loss] [time]
Today I woke up remembering a line from yesterday’s re-reading of that Paris Review piece from a few years ago—the one by George Abraham on “Imagining a Free Palestine.”
(A re-reading, all these years later, because of that good conversation with Carlotta from the day before yesterday. One of so many good conversations — more even than I had hoped — that we managed to squeeze into these three precious days together, thank goodness and thank wonder and thank friendship...)
The line was a kind of definition of the word “system,” as meaning both the state and the people who build it... And as I woke up thinking of it — of that italicized and and all the work it was doing — I thought also (maybe a little too conveniently I know, for I love to find reasons for what I’m about to do here...), of that magnificently annoying and staggeringly myopic interview with Zadie Smith at CBC Canada—the one in which (among other things, because don’t even get me started on that hai-scoperto-l’acqua-calda shit about hate and contempt...) she high-horses on the one hand about how I’m not really concerned with individual morality, [because] what interests me is structural change, and on the other about all those people who consider themselves “activists” (you know there’s a tendency these days for everybody to express themselves as if they were “activists,” but I really have a lot of respect for the word [and] I grew up around them [...] so I know the difference...), and how impatient these “activists” seem to be with people themselves (if you want a revolution—if you’re interested in justice for people, you have to have some conception of people...).
From there I think, more usefully perhaps, about that thing Sara Ahmed has said so well (and that I have written about before...). About how the individual is always “disappeared” (in the good way of course — for the individual anyway — the protective way of being disappeared...), whenever the spotlight or searchlight (or whatever) comes suddenly and unfortunately to land on him or her. How the system steps in, almost unfailingly, to protect the individual as one of its own—to argue and insist that the individual must never be seen as anything more than an individual, must never be made to stand for, bear any responsibility for, have anything really to do with, the system.
And how interesting: the individual disappears at the very moment he is called to account.
How the individual must not be judged in any way that faults him, as an individual, for the overarching pattern and everyday reality that he is not only part of, but in fact completely coherent and resonant with. And how (oh the irony...), it is always a consistent and repeating pattern of other individuals that does this arguing and insisting. All of them behaving in step. All of them forming what is, effectively, a system.
“Oh don’t pick on him/her. S/he’s just an individual.”
“Every one of us is an individual.
And So But none of us should be picked on, as individuals.”
A kind of magic.
I think of that Kimiko Hahn quote I have loved so long, for so many other reasons that have to do with writing, my writing, and the lyric essay or zuihitsu as form, container, and fabric... But I think of it now, and look. Look how it looks, when you paste it in here, next to all this that has come before:
It is lovely when a fragment can be [the] whole. Not just suggest entirety.
Anyway. In pulling up the Paris Review piece to get that line/definition (about how a system is both the state and the people who build it...), I get curious about George Abraham, and so I wind up reading another essay of theirs, this one over at Guernica. This one, on what it means as/for a Palestinian to have to exist within the English language. (And so, as I read for myself too, on what it means as/for anyone whose language is the language of the colonizer or oppressor — the language of an occupying and at least erstwhile [if not currently] malignant other — to have to exist and think and be, in that language.)
There is much I love in this essay. In my very first reading already, I keep wanting to circle things. Like here, when Abraham tells at the start, of struggling to teach poetry in the apocalyptic scenario that was the fall of 2020:
I did what any young Palestinian instructor of literature would likely do: I returned to Audre Lorde, who reminds us “poetry is not a luxury,” and June Jordan, who gives us models for writing against and despite the state.
(How the little voice inside of me cheers in recognition, solidarity, and togetherness, at that returning to Lorde... Jordan too, of course. But especially Lorde.)
And I love too, the big-and-little, intertextual gift that Abraham makes in their essay, of the poem “The World Keeps Ending and The World Goes On” by Franny Choi:
Before the apocalypse, there was the apocalypse of boats:
boats of prisoners, boats cracking under sky-iron, boats making corpses
bloom like algae on the shore. Before the apocalypse, there was the apocalypse
of the bombed mosque. There was the apocalypse of the taxi driver warped
by flame. There was the apocalypse of the leaving, and the having left—
of my mother unsticking herself from her mother’s grave as the plane
barreled down the runway.
I was born from an apocalypse
and have come to tell you what I know—which is that the apocalypse began
when Columbus praised God and lowered his anchor. It began when a continent
was drawn into cutlets. It began when Kublai Khan told Marco, Begin
at the beginning.
(As you may have noticed by now, I love when a writer makes a gift to a reader, of another writer’s work.)
Just after Choi’s poem, Abraham tells us this (already and at once, I want to paste it into Facebook or tattoo it onto myself, as a way to render myself seen and recognized for what I believe-know-breathe, even if it means I may be unsafe in that very seenness and recognition...):
To fear apocalypse as a singular moment in time is to imply that one’s own world has never been in danger of ending. This line of thought is unimaginable to someone with my history and ancestry, to victims of colonialism and other apocalyptic crimes. Impending planet-wide catastrophes such as COVID or our climate crisis were the first time some (read: people with proximity to Western power) reckoned with the possibility of their world ending; many of these same people continuously fail to see that capitalism and colonialism are to blame for these catastrophes, and that nearly all of this could have been avoided by listening to victims of colonialism. To those who call today’s state of affairs newly apocalyptic, I ask: where have you been? Who have you been (failing at) listening to?
I think of an essay I had saved from a while ago, by Caleb Rae Candrilli for the Poetry Foundation. It’s an essay about keeping one’s love of poetry alive. About finding ways, as Candrilli puts it, to write and create when the pressures of the world, and of capitalism, are too weighty. But there were also (the essay was published in September of 2021), at least a couple of places that touch on American fantasies of the apocalypse:
Put plainly: having the time and space to imagine Armageddon is a luxury in and of itself. [...] I suppose all of this is to say: having a go-bag and having already used one are two very different things. And to need a go-bag but not have one—more different still. Apocalypses are all over, scattered about our past, present, and most certainly our future.
From there I think too, of a meme/tweet I saw recently somewhere, so I go looking, find it, and pull it in for here:
(Further down in the thread of tweets, someone named Jay Odick asks: Are we talking about the world as a whole ending or YOUR world ending?)
Where have you been, indeed.
Back in Guernica, I think about the way it feels to read the word ya’ani, in this essay. Once, and then again. Not only the home of it, but the cyclicality — a kind of mise en abyme or Droste effect... Inside of a shibboleth, another shibboleth.
What it feels like to know that I know, what ya’ani means.
And it’s funny how I’m feeling and thinking into this cyclicality, already. (That way when you walk into a party, and you know at once without even knowing you know, what kinds of conversations you will likely be having...) Because look—look what comes a paragraph later:
As Palestinians have been tweeting and otherwise telling the world, every single city in Palestine was once Sheikh Jarrah, and Silwan, and Lifta, and and and. As a Palestinian living in the United States, I witness my homeland’s cyclic apocalypse, as newer victims of Israeli ethnic cleansing replace older ones in the hashtags; as news met with Western apathy and zionist suppression dissolves into silence. Palestinians – having no choice but that which the West fetishizes as “bravery” – rebuild, survive in ways the West couldn’t begin to imagine, and above all, continue resisting. Every year, this organized resistance peaks on or around May 15 – the day we mourn the ethnic cleansing of Palestine, from the Nakba of 1948 to the Nakba of present day. And, on nearly every Nakba day of my adult life, I have witnessed the same pattern of Israeli aggression towards Palestinians, namely Gazans; Israeli aggression births Palestinian resistance births an excuse for further Israeli aggression.
The idea of cyclic apocalypse: Israeli aggression births Palestinian resistance births an excuse for further Israeli aggression.
The way we watch (and the way we watch ourselves watch) until we get tired and turn away.
And and and.
Later, in examining the magic of June Jordan’s lyric “I” in her revolutionary embrace of Palestinian identity, Abraham explores something that feels very important to my own sense of self — or rather (more importantly and maybe more to the point) — of selves:
And here, Jordan exposes a truth about the apocalyptic self: the contradiction of our many I’s. I’ve always hated the lyric “I,” or at least, the imagination of a lyric “I” instilled in and upheld by white canonical English poetry. Jordan gives me permission to find not a singular “lyric I” in my writing, but the existence of many consciousnesses, my many selves: the “I” that witnessed Lifta in 2017, the “I” that is witnessing Lifta Boutique in 2021, the “I” that will see Lifta Returned to all of us in a future – these I’s that I don’t yet have a name for. My poetry is a reckoning with the disembodiments of the many selves housed within my body; the selves I survived to work towards the self I am becoming. The selves I had to kill to become.
I think of course, and immediately, of Claudia Rankine in Citizen, and in Don’t Let Me Be Lonely. Because that is the lyric “I” — and maybe even the lyric “you” — that Rankine is speaking, and speaking to. But I think also (as Abraham must have) of Lorde, for she too, was incredibly conscious of these “I’s” inside her. Conscious not only of their presence, but of what they already knew in a way that the outer, everyday “I” does not always know. Conscious of what these inner “I’s” have to offer and teach, our outer “I”.
(Much the same way maybe, as what the inner eye has to offer and teach and give to the outer eye...)
A little later, and for slightly different reasons, there is this line especially:
...we are always doing the work of (re(dis))becoming.
And so of course, that nested feeling again. But also, how it makes me think of that thing I am always trying to tell the people — especially the women — that I think might listen, might hear (and there are not too many of those...), when they lament, even if sometimes obliquely, in jest, etc., about getting older:
But listen, don’t you see? This is you, becoming more yourself.
And finally, like a parallel mirror into which we’re both looking — or rather all of us, a parallel mirror into which all of us are looking — Abraham ends their essay with a turning toward that very you—the you of all your selves:
Because some of you are behaving like you’re terrified.
Because you should be.
Because I am inviting the rest of you into a lyric collective beyond our present selves; a collective of who we are and are become.
A turning toward, too, that gestures for me (the echo of that effect again, the feel of fractals unfolding...) to a line from Lorde, elsewhere. Toward love as a word, another kind of open:
is the total black, being spoken
from the earth’s inside.
There are many kinds of open
how a diamond comes into a knot of flame
how a sound comes into a word, coloured
by who pays what for speaking.
Love is a word, another kind of open.
As the diamond comes into a knot of flame
I am Black because I come from the earth’s inside
now take my word for jewel in your open light.
In thinking of fractals, I look up some definitions:
...in which similar patterns recur at progressively smaller scales...
...extremely irregular curves or shapes for which any suitably chosen part is similar in shape to a given larger or smaller part when magnified or reduced...
...a curve or geometric figure, each part of which has the same statistical character as the whole.
I think of Hahn again, and her fragments. The ones that suggest entirety, and the ones that are.
[Santo Spirito, Firenze | sabato 01 gennaio 2022 ore 16:16:01] [¶]
[Audre Lorde] [Caleb Rae Candrilli] [Claudia Rankine] [George Abraham] [June Jordan] [Kimiko Hahn] [Sara Ahmed]
[apocalypse] [covid] [individuals & systems] [empire & settler-colonialism] [lyric essay] [palestine] [whiteness] [zuihitsu]