"This winter is in for a lot." —Inger Christensen, "Winter"
Inger Christensen, "Winter," Light, Grass, and Letter in April, University of Arizona Poetry Center, 39,800
Odd and sad that on page twenty-three of Inger Christensen it is necessary to occupy the whitespace with a stamp: "Property of University of Arizona Poetry Center." This and the morning light suggests that this book is in danger of being stolen. This morning is a danger too—of being filed away, unmarked, unlisted, uncelebrated, unfilled with words. How many mornings do I have left? On my left, outside, the "Steve Orlen Fountain," flat and wide memorial to the dead poet, spits its liquid epitaph onto rocks, unceasingly.
I left my laptop power brick plugged into this same outlet in the UA Poetry Center two days ago and found it here this morning, undisturbed, still humming slightly, warm, in a sun surround. Yesterday was cool for Tucson, July 4th, monsoon rain and firework spark and boom above us, raining down trails of light all night. Christensen reminds me that "This winter is in for a lot"—from her poem "Winter," in her first book, translated into English, published here a year after her death. You can see her starting the ascent to her masterpiece, Alphabet, in which she approaches eternity by iteration of all that which exists, in Fibonacci sequence.
The fountain says little in response: a water wash. If it could somehow smoke, it would be fitting. Orlen has been gone twenty months. I work in his former office, which stunk of thirty years of smoke, even after cleaning and coats of paint. We were instructed not to smoke inside the building, but no one believed he cared. After he died, I salvaged a stack of his discarded manuscripts from seven boxes left out for the trash. It seemed wrong to let those words go without mention. In my small way I loved that man. Others did as well. His heart, it got around.
The water spills itself outside in shade. Eight bamboo, eight feet away, gain from its precipitation. My project here is iteration, too, to collect—also in my small way—a series of moments, objects, abject items defaced by human hands or processed by unspeakable machines a generation away from ours, and by so interceding in the march of hours, the process by which the world becomes obsolete and begins to fade, to make an echo, record, an impermanent reminder of what is and was and will be still here for another generation, yours perhaps, if we could be so lucky.
These things exist. Orlen existed and still does in trace, in memory of water. Christensen exists on these shelves, marked with these stamps. As a rule I don't recommend stealing from libraries, but you could do worse than to lift a book of Christensen's or Orlen's from these shelves and furnish your life with it. So I do.
Playboy, December 1998, Volume XLV, No. 12, Braille Edition, Part 1 of 4 Parts
It's an easy joke to make, amusing contradiction, the Braille Playboy, holding it and trying to make a point about the book qua book: that the codex form isn't always as we think, that different books must serve different needs. Magazines, okay, not books, and there's the question of how to represent the airbrushed female flesh that defines the magazine (that flesh—itself a simulation, standin for real bodies we might once have believed we'd touch as we touched our own—is not included in Braille translation, only the articles and other text). So, stripped of whatever sex it had, I hold it here, and holding, see (a joke) the appeal of books in Braille, light like puffy paint printed on puffed rice, not the dense untextured pages that the slighted sighted use. Holding an artifact like this I know what I am missing: dreams of passing light, the feathered breath of paper, comprehension through touch, unceasing darkness that I don't know is darkness.
Those girls in those puffy-painted shirts: I don't want to say they haunt my dreams (they don't, or not exactly—the 80s style returned without my knowing so recent days in malls are arrested by reminders of the past), but I wonder what light it might have made in my life to run my hands down their shirts, faces, pretending I was blind.
I get that writing this this way won't reach you either; I'm not just a chump for irony. Better would be translating it to Braille, etching it in skin with a needle tip so you could feel it swelling up all along my book—my back I mean, these things with spines get entwined in brain; these corpuses are so easily conflated when we lose ourselves in books—in time. When did I wonder what it would be like to live in a sightless world? When did I try it for a couple hours? Dilettante, blindfolded, idiot trying to learn a world by wading in it, then I felt a fool, forgot it until just now.
So far I am untattooed, not just because of wussiness but for lack of an idea good enough to sear on flesh. I've got a commitment problem, and I'm not just talking about the increasingly unhinged activity of lonely, isolated relatives who collect delusions and cocoon themselves in snowy climes. Something must be done. Nothing can be done. That's called living, homes. The only thing I've ever thought enough to ink on me would be an image of an arm, and on that arm, a tattoo of an arm, until you could no longer see it in the density, but then the thought: too cute to be worth the pain? Too self-reflexive? Or else as many digits of Pi as I can remember and stand. My wife's name. A heart, not the simplified kind but the bulbous ugly blood nexus that makes us go.
I've considered signing in to Shelley Jackson's Skin, a 2095-word story in progress "published exclusively in tattoos" according to her FAQ. Check its progress here. Weird to offer up a link that might as well be down or gone or disappeared by the time this meets your eyes or hands or ears or heart, but it's the most honest way to direct your attention there. Like ass-crack abutting lower back stamp reading "irony." What if I committed a URL to skin, a gateway to the cluttered paradise we thought the Internet would be. In WilliamGibsonWorld we'd all have dataports by now to allow the net to penetrate us physically.
I've been watching 1990s movies about the future of the world: virtuality, immersivity, and verisimilitude; then we felt that we could lose ourselves in bits. Now it seems a little quaint. We ain't got that far that fast, and the meat we walk around in continues to exert quite a bit of force: bodily desire, revulsion, the sunburn peel, hunger for Doritos, a memorable scent like sandalwood: these things are hard to shake. We'll never shake them, shackles. Even writing them I think of them. I suspect it'll be the same for books: if there's something in the artifact that connects to us and what is written there, then they're not / we're not just ghosts in shells, waiting to shed ourselves and become something else.
Ander Monson is the author of, most recently, the forthcoming book in a box, Letter to a Future Lover, short essays on 6"x9" cards, including these two, written in and on libraries and things found in libraries, and published back into the spaces where they originated, and collected afterward, unordered, into a box which he supposes is a book, since it is after all bound and collected there. Find him at http://otherelectricities.com.