Photo credit: Trisha Peck
Oscillations: to hear it as a form
To look out the front window and see her come through the gate, so that I
open the front door before she knocks. To guess she walked the long dirt
road this morning in order to ask how I’m doing alone, without internet or
cell, in this house she and her friends have lent me.
C says, instead, “Western Flycatcher.”
She’s answered what I hadn’t thought to ask myself about this bird I watch
return regularly to the branch outside this wide window.
To hear the ways her words have listening in them. To hear how such
listening is a form of greeting.
To realize I’m talking to myself, again, in lists—this one, infinitives. As if a
list of infinitives might add up, might answer some question I hadn’t yet
understood I’ve been asking.
“On the one hand living… on the other, apparatuses in which living …[is]
incessantly captured.” (Agamben)
Over the next few days I’ll feel an event-echo of C’s words surround the
bird—taking more of my attention than the bird itself—when the flycatcher
alights again on this branch. But the echo slowly dissipates if the bird sits
the branch long enough to become an event in itself—it’s like watching a
contrail dissipating so slowly into sky’s blue that I only realize afterwards
that the thinning white line has vanished.
“Western Flycatcher,” C repeats, as we both look at the wire vibrating now
from the bird’s departure.
There’s a wry lift to the corner of her smile—as if she respects the distance
between two people that speaking and listening make.
Looking at each other is a clarification that we’ve each arrived here, but
from our own direction, which might change the arrival entirely.
I appear to myself sometimes before, sometimes after, sometimes years
after, who I am.
Maybe, too, her smile acknowledges that I don’t answer her in words right
away, which isn’t my usual pace, but is a pace she may sense I’m learning in
this house—with its few rooms, all having windows wide with waiting for
the incremental changes outside them of trees, sky, creek.
“How am I doing?” I realize is entirely my own question about this month
I’m spending alone in a house on the edge of a forest preserve.
I’ve been talking to myself, aloud, rather than only in my head—talking
aloud makes time more pronounced, marking subtle differences between
the self just speaking and the one ready to speak again.
Selves—discrete panels of an unfolding, the whole of which I can’t see
—discrete feelings I’m having about the saying, as I’m saying it, even as
feeling has already changed
—discrete differences, how suddenly or slowly any self becomes only echo
of who I just was
—discrete fears about each shift
—right now, this fear, its panels of an unfolding I have to train myself to
I say aloud, “Right now, this fear,” surprised that it’s quenching something I
hadn’t known was parched.
Oscillations: had to be divided
“How” is the question.
More subtle than asking “what.”
How is it that I want from this window
—the museum of what I’d seen in it yesterday, just as I’d left it?
—the mural I was making of it, with my own brushstrokes apparent?
—a marmot so craftily described in the novel I was reading last night that
its fur’s gray sheen has infiltrated how I see this sky and horizon, before the
sun rises and turns the tree-line green?
How do I want from the words I say aloud, how does saying words aloud
change what I want?
The creek is churning up white currents, too many. I find that I’m counting
instead, people I know, counting what I’m afraid of in some of them,
counting what they do and don’t have in common. Counting casually
enough, since I’m not getting too close to the crowded mental cubby-holes
where I keep them.
The creek seems, at first, safer if not easier to watch. But each leap of water
is, for an instant, lit from within by whatever pulls each one back down
—which also might be whatever pulls a leaning branch nearly to creek’s
surface, or, in the next windstorm, under creek’s surface, to drown
—and might be whatever pulls air from me as I breathe out, and, for now at
least, what pulls air in again.
“There is no duration. The ‘sentence’ had to be divided infinitesimally”
In the wake of these divisions, the “how” itself upends any uniformity.
House, eddying around me. How is it that I stay buoyant here, when I hadn’t
been buoyant before coming to this house?
The house and land belong to O. She is cared for by her close friends
including C, who offer me a month to live here, in the midst of the land’s
gestures—where I feel a churn-up of change in me, improvising.
A new gesture enters the world. Or is it the world entering this gesture.
Light from under the bedroom’s closed door, where it is obvious, until
sunrise, that I’ve intentionally left a nightlight lit.
Out the window, a few leaves ride the wind, fall, rise briefly, fall again, and I
stop working to watch. Each flight pattern a different geometric necessity.
The creek’s current is so agitated I could put my hand into the white and my
hand would disappear, if I were to go outside.
Anaximander invented infinite space, infinite duration.
I stand up on more legs than I’d had a moment ago, and then the idea of
standing up rushes ahead of me, as if it is what wants to topple me from the
tenuous equipoise of spontaneity.
Not “what,” but how is direction then? if not infinitesimally improvising the
rhythms I recognize in “when.”
When O had to leave this house because of her Alzheimer’s.
When I notice the white grave-marker, outside the other window, slightly
behind the desk where I work.
When I walk outside to read on it an inscribed name, and below the name:
“Born Jan. 25, 1890. Died Sept. 8, 1899.”
When the stone, before O brought it here, still had the purpose of marking a
family member’s remains.
Is “how” the improvisation?
Shade, from the shrubs above the grave-marker, changes shape as sun
moves across the stone’s face.
How does sun’s clarity and shade’s shadow make together a third thing that
seems, as I watch it, to distinguish itself, and then to divide?
This morning, another field mouse is in one of the traps I’ve been asked to
set and check daily. I carry the trap outside before I open it to toss the
mouse’s body far into the brush, as I have been taught. The body, still
limber, its fur, still the color of disappearing between a door and its frame,
between shrubs and shadow.
“Between its alleged color and its alleged visibility is a lining.”
I let my fingers touch the mouse’s fur, let myself feel the resistance and the
give of a small body, before I open the trap. Something I want to touch—the
lining between intimacy and revulsion—when I touch the mouse.
This morning, I let intuition find my hand, my wrist, shoulder, spine as my
attention arrives in the act of tossing. I give the small carcass enough
velocity to reach the taller shrubs, which begin the forest behind this house.
Rusty Morrison’s creative nonfiction &/or essays have appeared in Kenyon Review, Pleiades, and during previous National Poetry Month, in Harriet. Her poems recently appeared in Colorado Review, Fence, andIowa Review. Her five books include After Urgency (Tupelo; winner of the Dorset Prize) & the true keeps calm biding its story (Ahsahta; winner of the Sawtooth Prize, Academy of American Poet’s James Laughlin Award, Northern California Book Award, & DiCastagnola Award from Poetry Society of America), and her recent book, Beyond the Chainlink (Ahsahta; finalist for the NCIBA and also the NCBA Awards in Poetry). She has been co-publisher of Omnidawn (www.omnidawn.com) since 2001; her website www.rustymorrison.com.