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At Altemps, after the MRI...

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The problem with a story that everyone is living.

I don’t know how I came to this essay by the poet Tishani Doshi, on the death of her dog.  It feels like a long time, the time in which I’m reading it.

I want death to be peaceful.  To be able to go to sleep and never wake up.  But here is her body and here is death moving through it.

I think of Şımarık, of course.

We cover her with sand, leave her bowl beside her.


But I think too, because it is an essay that was written at the end of 2020, of everywhere else the essay goes.  Is still going.

I think of earlier this year, when I shared a poem in a workshop.  It was one of those poems that we, some of us, have been writing or anyway trying to write, for a while now.  One of those ways in which we keep trying to make sense of the massiveness of what has happened, and what is maybe still happening.  What even the what, is.

Some day I will post the poem.  But in the meantime, here is Doshi:

It has been inside me this whole year, this anticipatory grief – a knowledge that you will lose something, and after that you may lose some more.  It is a directionless, unpredictable grief that settles inside you.  You cannot know which way to look, which new thing will destroy you.  What you know is that eventually you must mourn, so you must be alert to it.  It will come in the form of death and something about you will have to change in order to hold this death.

I’ve been thinking about what the sound of this collective grief that has settled in so many bodies all over the world could be?  Is it a hum, a chainsaw, a maddening drip?


I think of that phenomenon in The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes—a river rushing nonsensically upstream, its wave and wash lit by half a dozen chasing torchbeams:

I don’t think I can properly convey the effect that moment had on me.  It wasn’t like a tornado or an earthquake (not that I’d witnessed either) – nature being violent and destructive, putting us in our place.

It was more unsettling because it looked and felt quietly wrong, as if some small lever of the universe had been pressed, and here, just for these minutes, nature was reversed, and time with it.

Except of course, now, this.  More than minutes.

More than now.


What happens when anticipatory grief meets itself downriver...?  Or when a tidal bore makes for a river that returns, momentarily, to wash over what it was?  When we stop like we do sometimes, at these thresholds between one year and the next?  When we turn to look at the people we were back then — look, they’re floating so close you could almost reach out and touch them.  Those people who worried about all of us, here and now.  How we’d manage.  How many of us, would be left.

The work of survival is the work of mourning...

...but what you end up remembering isn’t always the same as what you have witnessed.

Who we would have become.

[Santo Spirito, Firenze | lunedì 19 dicembre 2022 ore 23:03:23] []
[Julian Barnes] [Tishani Doshi]
[apocalypse] [covid] [grief/loss] [making meaning] [memory] [other ways of knowing] [time]

(He also talked about eternal vigilance.)

This today, some things I’m thinking, in response to an old post / newsletter essay by the poet Andrea Gibson (whose work — don’t get me wrong — I love and treasure...), about forgiveness as a necessary step in creating a truly peaceful world:

South African anti-apartheid and social rights activist Desmund Tutu said, “Without forgiveness, there’s no future.”

And so I can’t help but think, and want to say, that yeah, sure, Desmund Tutu talked about forgiveness, especially in the context of achieving peace and moving forward — moving on.  But he also talked about truth and reconciliation, reformative justice, and accountability.

Because listen, here’s the thing.  When there are two sides to a picture, it takes two sides to change the picture.  Otherwise, you’re just covering over half the picture.

(Of course, I can’t help but think, likewise and alongside, about how much white folks love to quote Desmond Tutu and Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela, when it comes to this stuff.  I’m thinking about that in general, because by now, in 2022, how can I not?)

[Santo Spirito, Firenze | venerdì 16 dicembre 2022 ore 17:03:05] []
[Andrea Gibson] [Desmond Tutu]
[anger] [boundaries] [empire & settler-colonialism] [family] [memory] [no] [progress narrative] [race & racism] [whiteness]

How can I explain.

Reading “Allegory” by Diane Seuss.  And so this today, perhaps to tell.  Perhaps to keep:

You had to go to them. They did not come to you.

—being Diane Seuss, on dictionaries.

(Being Diane Seuss also, and effectively, on words.)


Elsewhere in the poem, this part—is this not the making of a poem, that she is speaking of?  Is this not all writing, that she is speaking of?

I am talking about this part.  This part here:

I collected materials from the woods floor,
and using a toy hammer and tiny gold nails
built a boat that would carry a message out into water.
I enjoyed building it and composing the message,
which was not unlike every other message sent into water.
It was a child’s message, really.
I rolled it into a scroll, and encased it in a plastic film cannister,
and attached it to the boat with waterproof wood glue,
but as soon as I launched it into deep water,
and watched it drift and bob toward sunset,
I lost faith in it, or interest.
Once it sailed away, it seemed to have little to do with me,
or nothing at all to do with me.

It feels so exact, except that you feel it with a sense you’re not used to feeling with.  Like when you recognize a favorite earring, on your tongue.


And then there is this:

Whatever the north was, I miss it.
My life since has grown thick without it.
Thick, like sorghum syrup, with experience.
Heavy with memory’s tonnage, such a drag, such a load.
It has no place here.  Be, or leave.
I wish I was less, a recipe composed of a single ingredient.

Can you see with me, what she’s getting at?  That way a life feels, when it feels like a body in its worst way.  The weight of it, a burden inescapable and ever-growing.

Thick, like sorghum syrup, with experience.
Heavy with memory’s tonnage, such a drag, such a load.

Ever-slowing too:

Be, or leave.

But then, that last line of it.  Like the end of a rope you have been pulling yourself up with, all this time:

I wish I was less, a recipe composed of a single ingredient.

I think of my long obsession with single-varietal wines.  How I wanted to learn and understand, and how I thought learning and understanding was best, likeliest, most manageable and doable (maybe even most beautiful, where beautiful meant essential...), when it was done one thing, just one thing, at a time.

[Santo Spirito, Firenze | mercoledì 14 dicembre 2022 ore 14:10:14] []
[Diane Seuss]
[language] [making art] [making meaning] [other ways of knowing] [selfhood] [the inner life] [unlearning]