Monday, October 29, 2012

"Open outside!"

-for Morag

We'd agreed we'd do a mail exchange, a sort of "object writing;" we'd each send to the other an assemblage of objects designed to tell a story.   "Like messages in a bottle that are released into the ocean, [object writing reveals itself] to someone who is willing to unpack the sealed contents," read instructions we'd picked up from Anne West's book, Mapping the Intelligence of Artistic Work.

It had been raining for days the week I bundled my package off to Winnipeg, and so I didn't go outdoors, as I'd wished, to pick up leaves or twigs or stones or rosehips, or the fragment of a paper wasp's nest clinging to a bush that I'd wanted to send to my friend Morag. Instead, I cannibalized my office desk, the stickers and pictures and items I'd gathered there, along with a few printer's tools. I felt lost, divided, frustrated, separated from the air and earth and world, overwhelmed by duties and words. I imagined Morag would understand, if anyone would, how unhoused I felt, how astray.

As indeed she did.

A couple of weeks later, at my place at the table, when I arrived home, was a small bubble-wrapped package. OPEN OUTSIDE it said.  And so I did, although it was dark, and the stars too far off to see by.

After walking about a bit, I came back indoors with the dog to see what I could see, the scent of sea and wind and grilling sausages clinging to us.

Inside the package was another one, a clear plastic bag stuffed full of things. Crumbles of black earth fell out as I removed several items: a small cotton sack, a fragment of a poem, and a packet of items bundled together and tied with a knot.

I undid the knot and pulled out a pen, a seed pod, a bundle of roots, bits of earth, a small weaving that featured a few stitches at one end, a rough canvas swatch containing four needles, a strip of brown paper, a swatch of olive green fabric, a crumpled leaf, an unmarked label.  The writing was there, but what did it say? What would I say? I was stumped for a time.

The next morning I sat and read the fragment of poem--
(Oh people of the word, you always think words will save you.)

I was looking for a clue. What may I make of these disparate things? How do they speak? What did they mean?  I reread the words:

My heart is moved by all I cannot save
so much has been destroyed

I have cast my lot with those
who, age after age persevere,

with no extraordinary power
to reconstitute the world.
--Adrienne Rich

The message was clear, and yet for a long time I could not hear it. Could not understand it. Could not find my fate in these bits of earth or swatches of cloth, of needles and thread. Could not figure out what I was to do, ought to do, with this small collection of things.

Still, the packet haunted me and altered my imagination. Once it arrived I began to see differently, to mark form and shape and knot and handwork. Now and then, words failed me, but that wasn't a disaster. What I was after was a shape in the light, another kind of composition, a way of rendering aside from, instead of in words. 

Weeks passed.
I drew out the packet again. This time its message seemed transparent, lucid, manifest: 

Here am I. Take me, make something; make me; look at your hands.
What will you do now?

Hope angles this way--here, over there--outside!

Cast the seeds in the earth and then do other things.
In time you will see what comes up.
Why had I been so puzzled before?

I had had to take the time to see as if from the point of view of objects, not language. To be elsewhere, otherwise, to make some things, to go outside.

Thank you, Morag.

II. And again 

Here's something else those objects say (I hear them as they whisper in the dark):

We are newly rooted
no, we are uprooted

The seeds have been 
severed from the root

Our earth is scattered:
these are the threads of my life.

I need someone else to stitch them
to write the words,
to persevere,
to hold fast to 
whatever is