Living (1983–85) by Lyn Hejinian

BOMB 17 Fall 1986
017 Fall 1986

The world gives speech substance and mind (mile) stones

My outer ear looks like a shell, and if you put your ear to it you will hear the Gulf. The obvious analogy is with music … I do love to compare apples with oranges. Many versions of aspiration … like Russia. The child was held by a radical, embracing woman, that primary homesickness I’d known as a child, as for when and where to breath. The woman slept on a lawnmower. Meanwhile a mouse in the wall is rolling around its acorns. They are dumb buttons, those that govern bombs. As for we who “love to be astonished,” the saxophone is a diplomat. The spouse is working on its high tones, while opposite its opposite sits writing in a book. I could hardly raise my pen-bearing hand (the page a body’s prop)—yet a word is a buoyant burr. Each artichoke leaf had been repeatedly flensed, leaving only shreds of the cellulose supporting structure to be discarded at the end. One after the other the windows of the building opposite lit up, to braid and coil the cold, and when the stars began to dim, when the last immobilizing glare of the frost charred the birch tree suddenly and for several minutes under the window, when neighbors began banging the entry door downstairs, I, folding the hot curtain of tobacco smoke on my tongue, decided out of the blue to see you. I had returned from Russia banal with shock-value. Tak. And borrowed a phrase to say that the mechanics of perception turn psychology into aesthetics. Just as years earlier, riding behind my mother and father slowly in a deluge toward Cheyenne, I could see, though it was like an apparition under the boiling thunderheads, a shabby farmhouse, sheds, some horses and a barn—and my disembodied spirit, as if casting off body and car, flew toward it, longing to take it on. A laser beam was reading inventory digits at the check-out counter beneath the conversation between the clerk (Faustina) and me. There are new names perpetually in products, in poetry, in geography. More recently mothers for modesty were marching to the corner store to protest against some magazines sold there, so I shopped there. Which are gestures, not politics—for we do not now speak of politics but with them. On the upholstery fingers rapping out the distracting rhythms of the trustworthy world. Women wearing Walkmen who were interviewed at random rejected the notion that they were exhibiting alienation: “It’s the 80’s,” said one, “and we’re simply subjecting space to a non-historical perspective.” Concert a to goes one as conversation a to go doesn’t one. No one is a prophet in his own country, no one is a musician in its own city. Blunders into a babushka’s courtyard where stood her vast glass urn of aging wine, touching its tongue of red and yellow light to the shadow of a great stone egg. Soon dogs and sun are bugs and moon. Such displacements alter illusions, which is all-to-the-good. The bricks made from their dirt are a different, darker red. We walked away from the car toward the cabin in the utter silence of the late, dark country night after a long drive up from the city to the mountains and we rested for a minute on the dirt path through a field where Larry said, “Listen, come here, can you hear, residual noises are coming out of my ears.” They are confirmed on prevailing winds. In the corresponding sky float ashes of audibility. In an ancient bowl of portrait cobalt. He says his head spins in the south wind’s lateral light that ends winter with the breaking of ice. No, I agree, he says further, the night doesn’t owe the sky moonlight, but I, to be candid, might agree with everything. So the principled citizens of our country are gauche about caution. One looks out from the blue-green rock across Bloody Run to Bald Mountain, one begins to work in plane air. No one is keeping a diary, where the founding confusion is restored. I boosted the volume on the stereo, because I can type faster when I don’t hear my hands. The grasses in the fields are dairy-white and yellow, and the sunlight shining on them seems uneven, inconsistent, unstable. Suddenly the ground over the plates more great than states quakes, and the bureau wiggles in aftershock. Vividly my father from Oakland was able to imagine someone Gertrude Stein. This is mysterious. My mother was born just ten years before Rilke died, but boarding the steamer from Alaska as a child she never encountered him. Ear-marked, sound-bound. To goggle at the blessed place that realism requires.


A word to guard continents of fruits and organs

A landscape in a landscape, an appointment in my house, there can be a summer in a summer. To dread differently. The clock’s tick-ticking is talking, Now where on our long walks my grandfather had gone with is walking stick I go with my mace, to the hills behind Oakland, along paths where even in the abrupt absoluteness of the dark shadows which are characteristic of redwoods the air carries white and yellow motes of spinning visible light. There is tension in the connecting string. A person all partialness and mouth never knows where to begin. But any translator will complain, woof is translation and gav transliteration. Jealousy—by bomb, laser, sidearm, terror, poison, strangling, drowning, virus, starvation, electrocution, old age, or machine. It has a large head on its geometrical body in a rare combination of the mystic and the person of action. Such is the rhythm of cognition, a maudlin source of anxiety. We are ruled by the fantastic laws of clinging. There is pulse on the pit of paradise. The night is rubbed shiny and resembles an egg. Is this food or sex for thought, a person wonders. The woman is the hostess of a bulb, and not its prisoner. Certain solitary pure numbers resemble a farmhouse, sheds, horses, and a barn. Requited differently. It is as if the dust cast off by the redwoods and perpetually forming the atmosphere of the forest with its warm yellow light and cold blue shadows makes a prison of the air, or prism, which confines the light. Morphemes of evidence, units of appeal. Its time in spines. I drone the phrase of discontinuity who have the landscape under realism. So I take the pen and paper with me as I set out for a walk, on which I intend to set out a problem, sure that I’ll work. The old grandfather was raging with his crutch in the courtyard, flailing at the full stone egg, but he smashed instead the giant wine jug—the old woman shrieked, crawling in the dust, and sucked at the filthy pools of spilled wine. They do not speak in sentences but in battlements, of pleasures and of necessities. Things are real separately. And I in the middleground found therefore solace in the chores. Rendition. In the jungle, decrying, is a toucan with burning lips, bellows the mockery of helicopters. Faustina said, When I get home with my groceries you better believe it I’m not unpacking the car—if they want to eat they can carry the things in and I’ve got a lock and chain for the refrigerator to prove it. Theory is a principle of presentation. Please, I imagine a foreign language to be like a thin stick over a creek, one must run on it with great speed so it won’t have time to break and without stopping for a second so one won’t lose one’s balance—even to pause to blink an eye can snap the stick or topple the speaker. The adult son and daughter of we “who love to be astonished” … and really want other chance, conclusion, power could I … resume. Now it is night, and in the window through my face I see the tree in a streetlight, its branches swaying, the twigs fluttering their flags through the walls. Pouncing are the reflections, on the adhesive darks. As persons think so are they thoughts being things. One summer I worked as a baby-sitter and lived with a family and its babies at the beach (this was the same summer that I read my father’s copy of Anna Kareninaand thus made it my own, so that later it was logical that fall that I should write my name in every other one of his books), and I remember hearing about Susanne Langer, whose grandchildren I was taking care of, who, years before, day after day, when working to complete her distinction between discursive and nondiscursive symbols, oblivious to the occasional rain or the cold, would come to the beach and sit, knocking two rocks together between her hands, staring out at the waves, and the image attracted me, symptom of obsession, but I could see it must have been hard for her children. Nature is infinite mediation. Its random rocks the size of heads soon become our friends. But that sentence isn’t exactly right—it’s not foreign policy but assumption to a jungle paradise. And the hot dust of the tobacco smoke fills a sound pot, the mouth. As when I read in Charles William Beebe’s account of his descent a halfmile deep in a bathysphere the transcribed rapture, the rapture of units—and phrases are units. Music is very complete. I do not suppose I really am a consolation—very complete, when each link is directly abob. The boat, our lozenge, floated between tall meters of the canyon walls charged with colors so close together that we had to shrink to continue. At the very end the objective world will withdraw as the handblades approach.

Christoph Scharff

Christoph Scharff, Vienna, 1984, black and white photograph. © 1984 by Christoph Scharff.

Lyn Hejinian is the co-editor (with Barrett Watten) of Poetics Journals and a poet. Her books include My Life and The Guard.

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017 Fall 1986