—Peter Handke, Absence
“There is no absolute beginning, for each ‘beginning’ comes after an unwritten past that awaits a new language.”
—Wilson Harris, Jonestown
A voice comes to one in the dark. Her voice or mine.
There is hope in the cadences. The rising and falling rhythms of speech. You take them unto you. You work your way toward the center. In the grass you note the circle of shadow where you and she were just sitting. The permanent circle in the grass where you and she were once sitting.
At noon you will go out and come back to find her waiting. A voice waiting in the dark.
Not with, but of, the water that consumed head and torso. The weight of bodily value, white along the skin’s surface, its prolonged duration of resemblance. The impositions of ancestry.
‘To this day I resemble little of what she has told me. I carry the portrait, the signature shell of rings, a piece of fabric. I don’t doubt that she will reiterate my body in the wake of its arrival. The duality of each inflection that proposes an alternative ending. I don’t begin to surmise the gaps in telling that halt her entrance and impede my own. The wretched rime of gestures, paralysis of last days, nothing on earth resolutely affirmed or denied.’
Forager or designate. I was brought into the room, I was made to stand for hours, I leaned into the arc of stillness, I watched for sign of movement, her body that suggested the pathos of spiritual loneliness, the rigid fascination with which she, then I, held onto it, each of us roving the circumference of pierced rock, of jealous night, her arm that laid down across a piece of flannel, her abdomen and breasts exposed to me, I learned to watch for sign of movement, to gauge imprisonment by the hours we would remain together, by the solitude of our disposition, her hand that carried the light from ankle to mouth, that roved the air, sought accompaniment in deep solace of my companionship, a bridge formed, the querulous dark in which she composed and deformed me.
To apply my own personality to the record: I found myself similar to those who had abandoned me yet remained indifferent to the struggles of others. I exhibited no tendencies that could have been misinterpreted. At night I sympathized with the conversations held above ground. Their untranslatable idiom.
The period of mourning ends, gradually it ends, women exchange black for dark blue and brown clothing, black for dark blue, they end in the brighter colors of everyday life, they practice the mystery of return, bright brown, the hue is missing from the tablet, they expect to mourn again, they expect to return to brightness, to the color of everyday, they encircle the ground with their habits, their strength of will, they listen for the first sign of betrayal, in the dance that scatters them they come together again, they perform the rite without help, black to bluebrown, they enter the dance, a lament burned into the chest of the newborn.
The eye returns to the scene of its betrayals. A seascape exhumed by figures. The rising and falling wind. Her laughter when she knelt to pick up the shell. A return to essentials. The sea in which they drew each other near. My hand that drew her toward the surface. Light that bound them together.
This was the assault of initial sensation. An equation between affliction and reality. Permanent bruises around the thumbs and wrist. The waters into which first he—then she—was taken.
‘You had come to persuade me, to offer me counsel. I saw you coming toward me through the evening light. The simplicity of your movement up the stairs, childhood movement wedged against small pillars of dusk. Your empathy that could shift toward anger without notice. I had no motive for shame, none for betrayal. I was unspoiled on the linen as you undid my blouse and lay its corona on the board. Your wrists that crossed in a pattern through the air above my head.’
The slow and incurious texture of your lips along my thighs. The intangibility of my mouth wedged against your cheek. The repeated closure.
I was arguing with my mother, I was struggling with Haros, let me go Haros, let me go, I want to go to my mother, I want to hear her voice, I was arguing with my mother, she had driven me away, she had cleansed my flesh then left me on the side of a hill, I was crying out when she returned to her village, she left in the clothes of mourning, I will never return to you, she said, I will wait a hundred years but never return.
The voice comes into it, goes away after a time. I remember the plasticity of objects, the integration of control and fury when you wept on the bottom step, your hands fluttering above your head. The need to hear that voice again. Far off in the middle of my forty-second year. The bracketed and formidable recollection that is always doomed to beginning. To a recovery that insists upon repetition. Your voice that comes into it again and again. Adrift. Drafts laid on the table. The smooth sheets of paper on which you wrote I am absolved now I have nothing left to consider. Your devotion that crawls and falls and is the momentum of each new day.
‘Now you will ask me why I stayed there when it would have been far easier to leave, to be on my own. You will ask me why my life turned toward hers, why we stayed together through years that were more difficult than I can say. You will ask me if she was happy, if we were happy there, if and when the circumstances altered, if and when we said we had had enough, marriage was not forever, the necessity of home and protection of a child’s upbringing all not enough. You will ask me to reiterate what I cannot now even begin to imagine: the weight of ten thousand days, one alike the other, the ease with which we once moved, a woman with whom I thought to share my life, a woman who was both mother to you and sometime friend to me. What can it matter now, what difference can it make, why do you persist when the world has so completely changed.’
The casual and grievous intertwined.
Fatigue. Remembered respite.
There was no end to what I imagined had happened. Scenic memory that conspired against actuality. The blighted vine that was laid next to each body. The slow drawing of blood from our veins. In the morning I woke to the odor of alcohol. My heels inflamed and bandaged from the fall. Around my neck the scarf she had given me. A token of matrimony.
The dream in its evolution. The high whiteness of my parents’ faces at sundown. Along the seashore the white rocks, their canopy of rooted estrangement.
‘Every trait was a deceit. The scar along the elbow. The black mark under her eye. For awhile I believed these were transitory manifestations. That they would be resolved in time. The arduous record I kept of each removal. Visitation was impossible. The caretaking had been left to others and I traveled outside the circle to find her. A glimmer of what could pass as sensibility when the character I had proposed stood by itself for awhile. An arrangement of arms and feet. I lay my packets at its entrance. I took up the pieces one by one. Their remonstrative powers to heal and assuage. She had told me it would be common to find. The labor that assented to every task. I had written so many things there. I had informed her of the “mournful appearance of water at the edge of the verdant isles.” I creased my palms along the index of privacy. “Amid pauses of nightly wind” I invented the speculum by which to view each feature in its actual position. I told her I’d alongside the banks of a river condensed by drought. The conversation like a mirror in which dictates of identity were recorded, my words come back to me, impertinent, disguised, I answered them in unfamiliar tongue, in abridgements of speech, I took white cloth through my hands and rummaged for twine. This external nature confessed to her.’
Outcast or outlandish. A tension of obdurate impulses coiling and recoiling within.
Well stones. The piloted cursive of each incision. His name that was a token of what would come later, the random dimness of anger exerting an image of loss.
Mutilations of hands and feet.
A history of burning flesh.
‘I turned myself into a fiction of myself, I became the anti-theatric compulsion drawn to the vacancy of voice. Any natural feeling that I had—that woke in me nighttimes when “she” and “he” were likewise awake in other rooms of the house—I fought against. I succumbed to the plural memory of dreams—of forgetful loss, rapture, reverie in place of revulsion.’
Dialogue was translated into deformed heroism. Murder at the crossroads, an inventory of images rising from the blood-soaked earth. Always and never-before, an after-all that led to the tragedy of reformed fable. This near and persistent dream of living that goes on before us, that supercedes memory in the fitful stages of winged vocabularies.
Our life of no one inside. Our life of mistaken identities. The faithful hand of the living that does not forsake the fateful hand of the dying.
‘What affords the wealth of this cartography. The humanness of a report that comes from before you were born. Each union begets its strangeness. A foreign element invading the narrative until it too suggests the aporia of resemblance. What our father has enlisted us in (he is forever at our side), organic grouped figures of emblematic meaning. Once on the bridge between things their beams and bright torches pointing the way. A continent envisioned as covenant.’
‘This extraordinary feeling that rose up inside, admiration the world knew for the family of the dark deed (seed?), something no one could explain or reconstruct in simple terms. It had been so, is so, generation after generation, irreversible, a recurring myth of pleasure and loss, a fable fired into the landscape of souls, exposing the features of reflection and recalcitrant pity. It was the naked recognition of themselves that they averred; it was the stripping of ancient veil and masquerade that they sought in the opening days of their union, then opposed, threw off, bracketed by the light of spirit.’
In the porousness of partitions a play of boundaries. As if to listen inside the room in which she and I stood (aftermath of voices’ painstaking dance) were to bear witness all over again: momentum of the stalwart push, head and ankles drawn through blood, the unrecognizable features, encapsulated, lifted from the basin, shoulders and head, reciprocal formations of nape and collarbone, crowned along the seam, her eyelets, shimmering and blue.
That death comes, that it came, to her not him, throes of it, in the guise of greeting, interpolations of light and shadow, he comes crawling toward it, comes near the center of what was, is, cannot be reckoned with. A voice apart from him. Steps into the room where he has been—is now with the woman again—a sort of ungathering of spirit—tide of language that draws the two of them in. He sits with her. Not old—no longer young—he sits with the woman where she has been—the glamour he imagines of such contact—as if to say I am the one you once took to your side—slowly the language of it that might recreate the tenor of contact—viable memory of line and ligament.
All of it integrated into his memory of it, the time it took to see it, arms trailing into the evening’s colorless light, pieces of fabric attached to a railing, all of it inside the years it took to recognize, methodic absence, where she had stood and now taken the place of, now something in place of, not altogether what he had seen, but angling forth, the provident ‘o’ of an oasis, visualized emptying presence, the appropriation and sundering of voice, to have entered the finality of it, inexorable pull of scratched material surfaces, cleansed human contact, separate selves embarking toward tetherless associations, head and torso bathed in saltwater, the annuity of its depletion, its wavering insistent song. He’d rushed ahead, his heart borne by what it couldn’t fend, a kind of midpoint, where once he’d stood in half-greeting, compelled by the fiction of return, all that he now saw of it, heard in the tale’s reenactment, what it once had traced, equinotical flashes of cupped sensual anchorage: the adjustment of clothing when wind rose out of the east, morning in which they were found, the man beside the woman, their palms white from salt.
You couldn’t have said how long it took—there had been no notice—evening held at the threshold—context was always part of the plan, you’d availed yourself of its itinerant music, its thousandth degree of recall. Was it ghost lore that led you or breath’s signature along the wrist? Ghost of the forged handbook, godless cloth of the summit. You buried your sandals beneath the ledge, a watchword of designated disuse, the bent and forgiving ledger suspended on a beam of light. Etched before you: legend of the burning sail, the failed missionary, his arms outspread to catch your form. Mariner’s call, his thumb extended, his finger uplifted, sun darkened. Failing this….Phantom awareness that spread from edge to edge, as your body began its descent from her, succumbing to a nature that preceded vocabulary, your reflection captive along the surface of water, an interaction between shell and cord, threnodic flame, your flesh transected by wires from above.
In his memory of them there had been no son, no father, the woman had been childless and would remain so for the entirety of her forty-seven years. The son had journeyed away, the father had abandoned them in the middle of their passage, his name erased from the record. The father and son no longer alive, though the woman had seen them, moving among the trees of a city park near evening, one then the other of them crossing through the triangle of color. There was evening, another had come, the shadow of this third figure generations that haunt us as we haunt themanother was waiting bound to the control and ecstasy of unstated origin the woman without child, black flagstones on which two were opposed, intermediary kinship, the boy without the father arching toward jealousies pageants restorative fictions now receding from view, one aslant the other, orange blossoms at the center of a bowl, the sheen of palm writing, gravitational pull of its record, the effort to recombine what had been set apart, a chain of refracted parts, set down, adrift.
In each gloss the phantom of an article.
In water the debased flume of offering.