Memories? The memory is of nothing. The memory is of abortion and not-being. What was it that I had said about the repulsion of the physical world? That was a lyrical cheat to solicit Q.’s love, denying overlaps between me and things. Only now do I recognize the irony in his response: that he had a friend who at one time ceased to be able to read words or to recognize faces, and was my dilemma something like that? At that time, ‘touch’ was simply how I witnessed objects falling from my hands, a muscular deficiency — and the ‘touch’ of my voice, also, was a dimension inappropriate to the space. To dare to move was to cry and shake. I was in a glass box, although my screams remained hidden beneath its transparency. Somehow my cries dispersed all gazes.
Yet I am a risk taker! Others don’t see the risks in my withdrawals. Don’t you see the great risk of my flight? People say I am a coward — but don’t you see what violence I summon around me, what destruction is beginning to pool around my ankles in this absence? No, I put myself into battles all the time — battles to keep my eyes flush to the light, tacked to the prisms of space; matter excoriates me, yet still to it I yield my unarmored flesh.
I managed, yesterday, to frighten myself into a second dawn and dusk — I wrote July 4th when it was still the 3rd. Something had finally made its appeal to me on that night (the true “second”), in the form of that unnerving visibility that saints affect. It was Q. pressing up against my sight in the half-darkness.
Even now to write this account I falter: I repeat, misspell, redact, insert — my hand takes on my own alienation, to remind me what I had discovered. A number of recent days have been similar flukes, like one still hour reentered again and again by slips of the clock’s hand, quickly rewriting the entire calendar. The room I write in records the steps above it like the darts of line left in wood by the ax — the paths upstairs splinter upon and onto my walls, and I quiver at the thought of the pyre being built above me; I crank open the window despite the freezing air. I imagine them up there. They’re pacing and circling, Q. and my departed, parting and embracing, closing and opening. I fall silent in the reliability of this new chaos — my silence is a manner of wakefulness, of not blinking, because I believe there may be a clue of a possible escape — some light under a door, the gleam which hints at a makeshift weapon, a chink in this brick wall…
So I have been making these slips of the hours — divisions to suggest time’s passage — simply to drag you along with me. In truth, mine is one unbroken vigil, whose loneliness I ration out across the seasons. Q. is thereby immaterial, the body of a portrait that hangs down outside the frame, swaying its legs in impatience.
When I glance at others, each face is there with body like the run-off from a storming precipitation of its mask: the colors of cheeks gather in vertical clouds to their torrent, barely separate out of their natural farrago of shadows. Q. used to paint me, and there I would be after the sitting, glazed onto white, dripping. Something in the paint was always loose, the coloring frictionless, and the reds seemed to vanish. I recall one critic remarked “I see! This woman is sleeping. Her gaze droops — and see how things fall from her palms!”
Now in silence I do not waver, it is firm upon me — I am pressed up on either side by the inexpressive like an arch. The reticence braces my spine. Only when I return places am able to “see myself from the outside,” as Q instructed, which I could never do with any portrait he made. Again I took a trip to his favorite gallery today. There, the guard’s surprise — “Were you here yesterday?” — inaugurates my return. Not until then do I “come back,” having infiltrated the space, Klimt and his Adele having remained beside me. Only at that moment when my body has been recognized does the whole sequence run through itself and extract me from what I originally beheld, at which point I say: “Yes, I’m back again…” But even here I lie: “back again” is an expression for the third time.
I write over my shoulder, in passionless fear, observing myself. The active body is the one beneath, enclosed. I wrote of being my apparition, but today — in these layers of today — it seems I wait upon the shell of me, and that exterior informant probes me for the hidden. Tell me my armor, my twin, my skin — shouldn’t you seek to ply my limbs off of me, set me down behind the glass of a curio cabinet? No, it retorts, even that is too much: it is already my protectorate, and tends my bracket of space like a vast country.
I feel pressed to mention the streetlight that goes off whenever I pass it on my evening walks — even when it is not morning yet, and still the other side of safety. The darkness meets me as a stencil over a white canvas — except that its coverage is gapless. I want to stretch my hand to the other side — I want to get my fingers around the screen to mark its tracery, though it will have to be invisible. I would like to have that watermark that will come from my pressure against its encroachment — like a fabric just before it is torn.
You see, my nothingness is baroque. Although there is, in my memory, a story of some small sentence, a gift of some mantra that had to be unspoken or else be emptied. When I finally spilt it before other tongues, was a new one granted? I don’t remember anything about myself. I am maybe packed into the mortar, or ground beneath the rampart of some castle. Did I give some gift that was never opened, mistaking a temple for a person? What has got me thus suspended? There are of course other dramas like mine: escaping from a death sentence; being the nominated assassin of a target whose life expired naturally before the crime.
It is not unheard of for ruins to be mistaken for modern commissions. Thus even in my self-dispersal I am met as something new. I do not yet meet myself alone, without a mirror, which suggests to me that what dies in me came first, and that I am the umbra of this first existence, whom I now trail. She is a density that mocks me who upon every surface breaks and bends. In our procession of two the rhythm of our march can claim no pattern of a pulse — it varies like the rifts upon an eggshell that is cracking, an untamed melody that quickly turns the prey of order’s rage. I arrange and arrange again. I like to think the child would have merely been worn down, out of myth — nothing much of a painting or a girl. Yet I cherish one dream of her in an open space, sitting in its center and singing as though the field were a vessel rocking her towards dreams. Q. would have said what he always did — that the harmonies were trackless, the vibrato undisciplined. But how she would have moved across a stage! She would have glided even as Maria Callas did, striding still like a gust amid the flames of Ms. Lammermoor’s madness.
Almost (now) to my horror, it delighted me to thrill Q. with my code and pattern, I who exist somehow intact as a membrane shaped between two voids, holding one and held by the other. Emptiness is enough for me, it keeps me upright like the battery of water against the capillaries’ skin, it flatters my double infinity — which is folded round and depthless.
Q. had tested the world upon me, I was his medium and he showed me to this cusp of myself, around which I am wound. He risked so much to so little effect that I came to seem illusory. I received him as a neutral. He became tied to the surface of himself, his hand always resting on the doorknob of an exit. Yet I was one of those stage props that opens once more onto the dirt, unto the sky — it might have seemed to him at one time that, by walking thus through me, he had simply missed or been misdirected — but it was true, I was nothing, a joke of a threshold, entirely historical, entirely air. Now I am being taken into something new — a corridor. Perhaps that space of a cloister, everywhere passageway except where is gathered rest and sky. There the hue that comes out behind all colors is a dull purple, dried blood muted, which makes a clearing for the light of the day’s unrest. When Q. tried to capture that shade, it always seemed in need of sealant to gather its original intensity and to soothe whatever corrugation caused the color to interrupt itself.
No, no one is born with faith, no one begins kneeling at the foot of the Pietà. I am not done yet; I am still obsessed, I’ll never forget the jokes about my “bitterness” after Q. had left. It might have occurred to those jesters that I was early with child, since of course this face could not be a pregnancy of thought, but a mere mask taken up in competition with another life. Even so, “scowl” misnamed my inexpressiveness — though I know the catatonia of my neutrality deceived by not simply causing my features to shrink to one point. If only stillness would grant diminishments! Yet I would have to be sucked back whole eons to accommodate the negative growth of my paralyses and their contractions…
I am tolling tomorrow, which is why I miscount myself among the hours. I sharpen my seconds, winnowing them down with a pressure like that of tombstones pushing into unthawed earth, flaking off all evidence of past time. I hope to find that placid heart of earth where image meets the lips and hand will not have to scamper after but to simply dip into the inky basin of the seen world, and each word be simply plucked from the bath…
Oh, but I still long for that demi-life in paint, in which I might not straighten my legs, but only bow, or kneel! It’s under the spell of that lost feeling that I recite what I now know, as though Q. is watching enchanted from the wings: I have never suffered — I am ungenerous — I have nothing inside of me. I live void so as to house the disappeared.