Saturday, May 11, 2013

Ruminations while re-reading Anne Carson's Kinds of Water

From May 3rd-May 5th 2013:

Sitting in a café on the French-Swiss-German border reading Anne Carson's Kinds of Water. It has been 23 years since I first read Carson's poetic essay. I've since read every other text by her I could get my hands on and have myself walked over 1080 kilometers to Saint Jacques de Compostelle--not because "Something had to break" (Plainwater, p122) but because something was broken, had broken--or at least cracked--in me at the end of my PhD thesis as I read and re-read Susan Howe, Anne-Marie Albiach and Myung Mi Kim. I'd gone out to see whether going out could fix the rift, I suppose, or just because the question of possible recovery, change, recuperation, rejuvenation, visitation (of / by past or future ghosts?), meditation infused me with the same question she asks at the end of section I, on the eve of the summer solstice (June 20th) as she is about to embark on her own walk: "What is it others know?" (p125) Because, "Pilgrims were people who loved a good riddle." (p125) Pilgrims are. Because, when I first began her essay in the back recesses among the tattered shelves of the used books at the Haymarket Café in Northampton, MA, waiting for a friend, I became a pilgrim. I jumped up out of the sinking old comfy chair at 19 years old because nothing had ever quite electrified me, hurt me, left me wounded and alive quite like Carson's words. I could not contain them, had to shed (share) them right then and there with my friend Alexandra who was still in line for her coffee. I had to shake them off, fling them outwards. I knew so little, then, of myself (the world). But I had unwittingly fallen onto a path (outside myself). I'd begun to travel. I'd opened a door. As I sit here now, in the café, alone--because here one is mostly alone (it is a peculiarity of this city bordering other places, that its betweeness is not as well-rounded or radical as being marginalized, that its aloneness is hollow, like waiting in line, like being part of the line between places, or languages) in the blue bowl between les Vosges and the Black Forest not far from the snowcapped (Swiss) Alps. I look up. Have I stepped out once again? Turned? If this is a road returning, the route of my return, certainly it does follow Carson's own rule for travel: "Don't come back the way you went. Come back a new way."(Plainwater, p123) 


I begin scribbling about Carson, here in the offensively named Café le bon nègre. That's one café name I'll never include in a poem. It is horribly grey out today and I actually feel both pained by and furious at it, as if my anger could spark a bright yellow light somewhere behind the clouds and transform it. I keep feeling I am on the verge. I am eeking out, leaking. It is still early morning so I cannot escape myself, call someone somewhere (in the States?), chat about it. Time differences are made for long-distance consolation. But here, now, I cannot escape myself. A dog barks loudly 8 times. People mill and rush about on errands outside. There is the sound of construction or perhaps just a loud lawnmower someplace wherever a lawn might be hiding. A phone. A tram. An espresso machine. A printout of a receipt and the quick steps of the waitress. I do not know how to be in the world. I lack the tools. How is it that these tools were not automatically given over to me by some member of my well-adjusted family, or my friends? I know they know I do not entirely know how to be (behave properly) in this world. These are the kinds of things no one says to each other. 


Some of us are hardwired into a space between full tension and slack disconnection. I've never been able to find the right formula for maintaining equilibrium. This is a grey day. A grey block. A grey view. A grey mood? A gaze as grey as it is blue. If all of this is about  reading, re-reading Kinds of Water...then? I am afloat. I dive under. I inhale. The depths of the ocean have always terrified me. Often I (we) fear the thing we (I) cannot see. The riptide. The shark. Things that rumble in the night. In the empty dark of my own house I sometimes awaken and think another someone is there. What might they be doing? Reading my books? Trying out my nail polish? Eating my crackers? Watching over me as I sleep? I wait and listen, eyes wide open to the black dark as if I will see a shadow move against shadow. In the night there is the low hum of the walls, the fridge, the building, my body. The subtle, almost indistinguishable vibration, keening.

On the 6:46 TER from Mulhouse to Strasbourg, we pass les Vosges at pre-dusk. Rays of sun and shade stripe down from under a grey cloud. The mountains become layers of lands rippling away from us like waves. I feel the world's a tide approaching, departing. The oncoming night is tender and sorrowful as I read, "What is the fear inside language? No accident of the body can make it stop burning" (Plainwater, p 141). Nothing is burning (here). I am blue or green--a cold color for a cold mood, though in California a wildfire rages closer and closer to L.A. Fires are a summer menace but I have not fully given myself over to spring. Will it snow on the 12th? It snows still, high up, on the mountain peaks nearby. We pause to let out a few passengers in Selestat. A few passengers embark as well. The day is suddenly brighter. It is at its end. The sun's below cloud-cover, exposed, rays of light extending over the stilled factory outlets and truck containers left abandoned near them. And now some red-earth fields awaiting growth, tufts of a few lawns, wildflowers and trees like spring broccoli. I cannot tell whether I am fully awake. A thin finger of neon yellow points overland towards the Germanic towers of a village church. Mustard yellow. Fluff of forest. Another, closer village circles a white church--clapboard--with its traditional, modest spire. The clouds grow darker to the East. The woman passenger in the seat in front of me says "Bene" and "Enthusiaste" and "Certo". The music of Italian makes me want to dance, to make love, to be able to sing libretti, to belt out a perky string of notes from Mozart's The Magic Flute.


A little later. Little time left before arrival. I read, "When is a pilgrim like a letter of the alphabet? When he cries out." (Plainwater, p 143) and think a letter cries out for a word, to be connected, made into meaning. Lexique. Lexical. Semantic. Sense. To be. Being. I think about the nights I have not slept of late, of how, when I do, I often wake myself. Not with words or dreams or snores but a kind of groaning. I can feel myself pressing a kind of moaning sound out of my chest, a subconscious forcing of vibrato. In my sleep, I become a kind of instrument which sounds out the hollows of the sleeping self and seeks resonance. What am I waking for? Or sleeping? Our train pulls into the station and I have to give up on this odd series of automatic writings to hop out, be with others.

Cinco de Mayo. Sun. Woke in an unfamiliar house in a room up under the eaves with no charm except for the quiet and the bright light coming in a little, high-up window. Downstairs a note's been left on the table to help me figure out how to get from this banlieue back to Strasbourg Centre. I take a quick shower then head out but catch the bus in the wrong direction. Out and out into the country we go. At one point the driver hops off the bus, crosses the road halfway--standing in the lane for oncoming cars (there are none)--to meet an older woman, weatherworn face, rugged hands, who unlatches her large garden gate, steps out to greet him, a little potted plant on her palm. She lifts a sprig like a limb, showing him something about the sprouting green, then hands it over quickly as they head back to their places, out of the suddenly oncoming traffic. We drive past lots of colorful little Alsatian houses, gardens in bloom, past a canal opening beyond into fields. Joggers, late morning strollers abound. We pass the kind of half-highrises one sees on the generic edges of cities everywhere, though some have large balconies more fit for a seaside village with a view. At the terminus, Gare de Hoenheim, the parking lot is entirely empty. I catch Tram B back towards town, changing at Homme de Fer opposite Printemps' spectacularly designed decorous windows bulging from the flat walls of different floors like unexpected glass and metallic growths, for Tram D to Gare Centrale. The timing is perfect: I catch my train almost immediately.


There is something about leaving one's home. Once out the door, you can just keep going. The difficulty is in closing the door behind you. Our train pulls into Colmar station. I spotted a red brick spire not far back and the mountains beyond. What kept me from getting off the bus to walk along an unfamiliar canal? Or through that green, inviting field? What keeps me from disembarking right now in Colmar? A stroll awaits. Unknowns. Streets, ruelles, streams, forests. But the difficulty remains. To open and close the door. Leave behind the projects, plans, rules, tasks, objects that people one's life. My sack is too large. My chapter needs to be written. Someone must feed the cat, dog, bird. People are animals who need a nudge. Even the most adventurous among us must find the activating force to dis-inertia. Once in motion, though, the body remains in motion. Perhaps it is this I / she / he / you / they / we fear. "Pilgrims" Carson wrote "were people who figured things out as they walked" (Plainwater, p 129).



tony jolley said...

More than interesting, Jen.... Love the description of alone on the border: so near yet so far. Will send you a poem on the subject. Tony

Jennifer K Dick said...

Hey Tony--Thanks for your poem! As I said in my email, I loved the way the words wove down the page, drifted river-like. Thank you for readng this, too! You are so kind!