The reflection between an event in time and the memory of that event: “something shimmers like a heat wave between them.” The event throws its mirage forward to the point of memory; the memory casts its shadow back over the event like a distorting cloud, pretending to polish it. The memory takes out its sharpening knives.
The memory’s parachute darkens, swells like a jellyfish in night waters. It too has its stinging nematocysts, released by a hair trigger. How can a memory travel to its event, kiss it, and shoot back to the present? The memory floats aimlessly in an open sea. There’s a brain trying to capture it! Look, that memory is trying to reconcile with its event. It has no trustworthy mediator to help it along. Something has caused the memory to cock, it’s taking aim, ready to fire . . .
a) My grandmother teaching me to dance around a coffee table. You move your hips to the drums, she is telling me, your feet to the rest. She’s drunk. We’re having fun in that way you do with someone who might punch you in the teeth at any moment. Like standing at the edge of a dark cliff, below you, the nighttime waters aglow with dense possibility.
b) When she was dying in our living room, she’d show me pamphlets that sparkled with teal water, quetzal feathers flying through the trapper’s mind. How she wanted to go to Grenada!
c) When she got sick, a healer called orange a curing color, and soon everything around her was orange: orange telephone, orange walls, orange spatula, orange clock. One of our early human tones, drawn from rocks and folded into animal fat to smear on cave walls. The color of the jungle cat; an ochre exclamation of warning.
d) The Christmas we spent in the desert, she wrapped all my presents in a great ball of string that came up to my waist. At midnight, I began unrolling the ball of yarn. First, a few rocks fell out. In my mind, they are milky opals, culled from the desert, shining and anodynely evil as a goat’s eye, the bluish-green veins iridescing as if a bright thought had dropped from the brain.
In Proust, there is
The novel being lived
The novel being written
The novel that was written/life that was lived
The novel being read
a) The Stari Most bridge at Mostar, a town named for its “bridge-keeper,” reflected in the river. “The bridge is like a rainbow arch soaring up to the skies, extending from one cliff to the other. . . . I, a poor and miserable slave of Allah, have passed through sixteen countries, but I have never seen such a high bridge. It is thrown from rock to rock as high as the sky,” Evliya Çelebi wrote in the seventeenth century, when the bridge was already a hundred years old.
b) Four hundred years later, the bridge blown up in a terrible war.
c) The stones pulled up from the Neretva river: the reconstructed bridge.
The consonant and the vowel. How the tongue surrounds the two. Possibilities: a) the events are rich, give character and depth, consonantal firmness to the word, like smoke patina-ing the walls in an old cigar room; or, b) the events are as devastating as the “o”; c) on the other side of the incidents, we can live in the rift, between the tongue and the teeth.
The Genoese tower on Capo Rosso, Corsica, built as a pirate watch, and the rock tower on which it is constructed climbing out of the sea (built by nature). Measurements between the two are meaningless and must be dropped.
My mother almost had three babies. Two died in the womb. Me, and another white and one half-black fetus. There are no distances between these shadowed disconnections.
Can there be a proliferating sense of mirroring unmirroring? Scraping the silver nitrate backing? Our enantiomorphic bodies wandering through a backward world. In mother’s mother’s mind is the black obsidian mirror in which you see the future loping toward you to adorn the face and kindle fires. These are the gifts of the jaguar, yet “why do the mirrors display a conspiracy of muteness”?
What is the root word for “mother.” [Look up.]
What does the baby say when first let out of the womb? Remember the soft consonant at the beginning encompassing the “ah” (sound of pain in the mouth, of delight), the nasal “mm” at the beginning of the lamb bleat. The world’s most widespread root. And the lips come together.
a) In this morning’s dream, Elaine K., who is not my mother (Elayne S.) but my editor, had a baby who, as we spoke on the phone (I’m so sorry I’m late with the corrections, I was saying) stopped breathing. I think he’s dead, Elaine said. Hang up right now and call the hospital, I said. In the way of dreams and life, it was seamlessly and instantly the next day, and I was crying. I couldn’t decide which was the real intuition: Elaine’s baby had died; Elaine’s baby had not died. Elaine K. does not have a baby.
b) I was following a path of pearls. I was a pearl finder following the crags and ridges in a black (lava) cliff. The dark, nacred, gorgeously opalescent pearls, though somewhat small, glimmered opulently in my mind, but when I picked up the shell all was dust and dirt, powdering under my fingers. I moved on to the next pearl along the path, which still glowed black, shine-skinned in my bare mind. I knew that each shell I picked up along the path laid raggedly along the cliff would only reveal dust to the touch, yet each pearl glittered until I got there.
c) I am staying in a tin house in California. That part is true. Someone’s half-crazy brother was playfully chasing my daughter, tickling her, etc. I was struggling to keep up, and his sister was saying, don’t worry, my brother’s got an eye on her. We caught up, my daughter lying on her back half under a chair, the brother with his pants partway down, just barely, his briefs exposed. I stepped very close to him and said, Have you touched my daughter. No, he said, I was anticipating. Have you ever touched my daughter? No, he said. Good, I said—struggling to do the thing you’re supposed to do: walk away, report the man, not scare the child, not threaten, but report him—Good, I said, because if you ever touch her—or any other child, I’ll fucking kill you. How do I slice this dream right here, away from the brain, out of the world? Not in the dream, in varying forms, this sexual violence happened to my grandmother, my mother, her sisters, and me. How do I keep my daughter or any daughter or son free of it, in this world, the world of waking?
d) THE SCOLD. Some humans are built with an android ghost doubled up inside so if you do the wrong thing (lie, rape the neighbor’s daughter, lock a child in the closet, cheat on someone or something, make a simple mistake at the grocery store, abandon a newborn to the elements) the android double comes tumbling out of your body, does a flip off the balcony, and leaves you lying on the floor panting, as if all living elements had left your waters. This is called THE SCOLD.
How can a woman get on the right side of the bridge? How can she start from scratch in the briar patch and get on the right side of the bridge?
x marks her
An ochre muzzle collapses into a plastic
figurine, “a rock shop collection
of my professions,” it shouts, struggling
to be a secret self, an oyster shell
still closed Our little plastic stone falls in love
with a wolf over Martin’s Ferry then
discovers it was the moon
& too soon a pile of words drop
from love There they are, distant
and real Jesus-
pimp lounging on a park bench pocketing
his hazards & cautions like a hard-on, he’s no
Madonna, no plastic Mary
Magdalene What number can turn a
She claims, in short, she
clamors, what can turn a girl back
from scratched metal meat-sound
The geraniums in the window boxes, red as blood pooling from her thumb.
In Dorothea Tanning’s 1952 painting Some Roses and their Phantoms, a few nearly colorless beheaded roses lie on a table, while their ghosts seem to be sitting down to eat them, or clambering up the walls. “[M]y canvas splintered . . . I broke the mirror, you might say.”
It turns out we were made from piles of shit, and we have been working ever since to make it Shinola, said a stranger to the sculptor.
You have the void for face, says Jabès.
I look for my grandmother (my mother) in the night, but which night is she lost in? She is separate and separated from the night but can’t find the light switch either. Worn down past the nub, she has fallen somewhere on the other side of her skin and is wandering in the nocturnal receptivity of the mystics.
Eleni Sikelianos is the author of six books of poetry, including The Loving Detail of the Living & the Dead, Body Clock, and The California Poem; the hybrid memoir, The Book of Jon; and translations of Jacques Roubaud’s Exchanges on Light and Sabine Macher’s the L notebook. She teaches in the creative writing program at The University of Denver and for Naropa’s Summer Writing Program. “Soft/Not-soft Doppelgänger” is an excerpt from You Animal Machine (The Golden Greek), forthcoming from Coffee House Press in June.