January 2015

Lightsey Darst


For People Whose Souls Are Already Formed

Where was I? Darling asleep. Or is it me that's asleep. The always pane of ice that slides or blooms between. Someone's stomach swells, gets hard like a deep inhale. A nut. I dream of dreaming all day, lying propped up on a million pillows, eating strawberries and cream. No one's life, and yet the vision persists. Darling, meanwhile, has gone on a long trip (a dream?), so if the cream curdles, no one will bring me more.


Take a break to read something. A break from what? To read what? The other day I thought, why do I read such difficult books? Why don't I read murder mysteries, memoirs of fashion queens, histories of famous gems, exposÚs of industries that exploit women.... Why not, because you'll make yourself sick going in circles that way. Better to read the difficult works in which women reckon with the wicked, wonderful world. Thus, Virginia Woolf's The Waves, Clarice Lispector's The Passion According to G. H., with its prickly author's note (as translated by Idra Novey):

This book is like any other book. But I would be happy if it were only read by people whose souls are already formed. Those who know that the approach, of whatever it may be, happens gradually and painstakingly -- even passing through the opposite of what it approaches. They who, only they, will slowly come to understand that this book takes nothing from no one. To me, for example, the character G. H. gave bit by bit a difficult joy; but it is called joy.

Is my soul already formed? Do I know the feeling of "the approach, of whatever it may be"? The approach (watch the grammar) that passes through the opposite of what it approaches. "They who, only they" -- two beginnings, creating a statement and a fragment, leaving the chosen readers stranded between description and action. And then "it is called joy"; by what authority or standard? Does Lispector hearken to some platonic truth or to her own tuning?  -- Barely a page in and the difficulties mount high on either side.

Alice Notley's Disobedience. Selected poems of H.D. I read a little about her life, H.D.'s, and feel trapped in it. I would rather disregard what went with her, start from the freedoms of now. Maybe I would rather not read her at all -- all that longing. But I can't leave her. For some reason I have to walk backwards a little ways, pick up stitches. That's what reading is, sometimes.


Queens eat things they shouldn't -- all the petals instead of three, both flowers instead of only the pink one. Consequences bloom. The swell of her belly is watched with alarm, its own dire season. When a queen gives birth, she gives birth to everything she's done. The sum is the story. Her whole life, she gathers its folds.


Break to read some poems that don't make sense. I can't follow them more than three lines or so. Occasionally I can guess at the train of associations that led from one scene or person or conceit to the next, but the associations themselves are casual, not causal. Drive-by poems, public transit poems in which the journeying body becomes diffuse and either unimportant or global. Transparent eyeball poems, only pomo, worldly-wise. No verities. Poems you write in your twenties.

There are no verities -- that's part of the trouble. But one must act as if there were. Write as if there were, too, often. Uncertainty takes its meaning from certainty; bearable pockets of uncertainty must be cultivated like moss gardens. This allows action, personhood to arise -- arise in the abyss.


It snows at last. The quiet, steady drift comes down over the green landscape. It crosshatches, blowing one way right next to the window, another further out. We are both awake for once and watch.

In that sentence, it snows, I wonder what it is. Snow comes out of nowhere in an event occasioned by the overlap of impersonal processes; like evolution, weather defies English grammar. So we introduce this "it" that can be responsible, in the same way evolution is responsible for us. "Snowing," we could say instead. In some languages perhaps people do.


It's wicked that something can come inside and change you.