The Glory of Everyone
A couple weeks ago my friend came home after fifty days in the desert, and spring came with him. With him, with spring, and after making a last pass on my book, I started candy-aisle reading: anything and everything. TURN SOFT AND LOVELY ANYTIME YOU HAVE THE CHANCE, says Jenny Holzer. My computer desktop answers in Pip & Pop glitter-sugarscapes.
With spring I shelved my Epsom and started bathing with Moldavite salts, which only cost seven dollars so can’t be one hundred percent real, but whatever, they’re deep green and the package says METEOR and PULSING and APRICOT KERNET, which I thought must be a typo but isn’t. Apricot kernet is cold-pressed from apricot kernels, and you can use it on your face or in food. It smells so rich it runs into almonds. Spring means going to the Denver Botanic Gardens, and reading Cassandra Troyan’s Kill Manual and plaques for roses called SPIRIT ABUNDANCE and SALMON ABUNDANCE and HELLA LACY, meeting an iris named HELLO DARKNESS. Whenever my notebook content veers towards horror vacuii my handwriting turns ant-tiny and curls like shells. HELLO DARKNESS looks like script for a metal band shirt.
In the Botanic Gardens there is a green gazebo slash squirrel squat, and there I gripped my wrist through the end of Sarah McCarry’s About a Girl, which is set in part in the forests where I grew up -- sudden gray cliffs, rhizomatic mosses -- and features a trans person whose gender is not a plot point, skin color described without food words, and rad tingly sex written without shame. Like Cristina Moracho’s Althea and Oliver, The Hernandez Brothers’s Love and Rockets, or Georges Bernanos’s Mouchette, About A Girl follows a cool, fierce protagonist, confused and sincere, and I loved it like wanting to put ten copies in my backpack and just give them out on the bus. I need heroines who try to love just as hard as they look for it. I love growing older so I can read these stories again, as someone who wants to make spaces in a world where she chose to stay. I believe this is a process I went through, cause and effect -- meet these girls in books, know to look for them in terrestrial life. I love how Mouchette smiles after whiplash, not because she’s serving anyone’s power but because she’s deeper in the world every time.
Freedom and spring also mean visiting the Denver Art Museum to see Sandy Skoglund’s “Fox Games,” which I recognized from a postcard I kept taped in my junior high locker, next to Stella Marrs on late-stage capitalism and a picture of Yayoi Kusama’s macaroni girl. Three images yelling at each other in red, black, and yellow, like fast food for anxious robots. “Fox Games” is all polyester resin foxes, foxing their way through an installation of 10 tables, 20 chairs, 15 breadbaskets, 124 breads, and a chandelier. It is a terrific place to kiss, or to read aloud from the fox parts in Sara Veglahn’s The Mayflies: “she cannot help but notice that no matter how fast she walks there is always a large snail, the size of a potato, at her heels. Eventually, these snails become foxes. The foxes are a luminous, solid red. They freeze into statues when she turns to notice them. She does indeed believe, for a while, that they are statues.” In Skoglund’s piece it’s the room that is red. The foxes are gray, so reading Veglahn in that space makes negative afterimage.
Editing this column, I keep scrolling up to cut that first sentence -- Why does it matter? Would I have read different books if my friend was here? No way, right? Etc. -- but then leaving it because I did read differently while he was in the desert. I stood differently in space. What I mean is: what my friend Dana said about how people stand when they look at paintings. Some are shoulders and knees square, like prepping for free throws. Others cock a hip, shield their eyes with a lens. This effects how we see and experience work. I spent fifty days memorizing everything I read -- okay, not everything but a lot of it, and definitely all the cool stuff -- so that I could mostly precisely transport the experience, or at least try to translate it. Now that my friend is back my body is more relaxed. I’ll stop in the middle of a poem to talk. I’ll swerve through rooms or chapters, be more generous with reverie. Consequently I read with a greater generosity too, with less anger and a greater patience for blurred or blurring shapes, or buildings on fire.
This example is simplified -- I read books with different people! I love looking at stuff by myself! and I practice critical distance regularly so I can work -- but since this is a notebook: those fifty days gone made me made me think about the spaces I allow for myself as a writer and reader. As a lover, which means: partner, teacher, editor, citizen. How did my stories change when I realized, for real, that not everyone grew up with my special guilt and homesicknesses? Which books do I keep but have yet to start? Which for learning something I still don’t understand? When did I stop reading for a best friend?
Are these obvious questions? I don’t think so. The answer is different than knowing your audience, than deciding whether or not to call work fiction. I used to coax myself into finishing drafts by pretending each one was a letter to a friend. My work stepped up when I realized hey, try writing to yourself sometimes. I love the beginning of Sandra Doller’s Leave Your Body Behind: not Sing, muse! or Once upon a time or Dearest Stella, or whatever, but “So let me notebook show:”. Let me show. I wrote this. I was here. (On days when I have no idea what me notebook is showing, it is comforting to re-read this page and imagine hearing it in sasquatch-voice. Me notebook! A-wooo!)
Towards the end of winter I copied one of Bernadette Mayer’s sonnets into my notebook. Just before the couplet: “Do you love me when the earth’s sun / Sets on your song on your tongue / This is ridiculous the universe / is no longer uniform.” Cross-reference Morgan Parker’s “These Are Dangerous Times, Man,” which begins “Do you know what I would do / with the glory of everyone? / I would set it on my tongue.” The next page is quotes from Saidiya Hartman’s essay “Venus In Two Acts,” for example: “Unfortunately I have not discovered a way of deranging the archive so that it might recall the content of a girl’s life or reveal a truer picture, nor have I succeeded in prying open the dead book, which sealed her status as commodity.” Etymologically, derange means to move out of orderly rows. Set it on your tongue and chew. Drag the stone from the tomb. Look for glory, look for ghosts.
Also, always: francine j. harris’s poem “enough food and a mom.” Don Mee Choi’s poems in Joshua Marie Wilkinson’s The Volta Book of Poets, which are music. A half-dizzy list of quotes from the breakbeat issue of Poetry magazine, because I was so excited to see my friends I drank an extra beer. Also: a partial list of the animals my six-year-old friend included in our alphabet game: dragon, quartz, undead shark. Another partial list, of Paget’s illustrations of orders for Puritan children: fire and lightning, winds, rainbows and rain, elephants, metals, waters, and herbs. These too are deranged. The six-year-old’s sister said dragons aren’t real and quartz isn’t alive, and he gave her a Look. Quartz is alive. It must be alive. We are. It’s spring. My friend came back from the desert. We eat, we look, and then we know what’s next.
Mairead Case (@maireadcase) is a writer in Colorado, where she is also an English and Creative Writing PhD student at the University of Denver, a Writing Consultant at St. Francis Center, and, through Hoist Point Writing, a poetry teacher at the Denver Women’s Correctional Facility. Her book See You in the Morning comes out from featherproof in September 2015.