The Sorrow and the Fast of It
by Nathanaël (formerly Nathalie Stephens)
Nightboat Books, 2007
I am afraid of silence.
I am afraid of the dark.
I am afraid to fall down.
I am afraid of insomnia.
I am afraid of emptiness.
Is something missing?
Yes something is missing and always will be missing.
The feeling of emptiness.
– Louise Bourgeois
This past January I wander through an exhibition of the work of Louise Bourgeious at Bellas Artes in Mexico City.
The vulnerability of a torment: you have to begin somewhere: the color blue, the damage is repairable.
– Louise Bourgeois
Let’s just start with a question here.
What is silence?
Silence as excess.
What I am afraid of: to be alone with my thoughts.
Lately I am living in a period of life where I am drawn to the devastating, the beautiful, the devastatingly beautiful. I am in a period of recovery, of getting-to-know-myself, of hiding, of darkness, of wiping the grime off the window with my elbow. Here we are together. Here we are.
Only part of the window is blurry. Yet it is the part that wants to be looked out of.
Let’s begin, too, that the acceptance of the tightening “this is all there is” is a comfort, a squeeze. I mean, am I afraid of dying? Am I aware of my mortality? Today? Aware?
On the other side of the cell, a grate. Openings large enough for fingers and eyes, but not the rest of the body. A phantasmal movement.
If the present is a measure of culpability, it is because of its immediate anteriority.
– Sisyphus, Outdone
Lately I am captivated by sunsets, the charcoal darkness of daylight’s mini-death each evening.
On the plane leaving AWP in Seattle, we are sitting on the runway, it begins to rain outside, I am listening to Elliot Smith, and I read:
After an aftershock, there is stillness. There are reverberations and then there is stillness. The stillness itself is reverberant. Reverberant with the reverberations of the shock. I am shaken and then I am still. Instilled in me is the shakenness.
This is the mingling together of realities, the awakening of devastation. What does it mean to have a heavy heart?
Standing and suffering as in exists. As in the train exists.
How do I explain the feeling in my body when I read this? The undecided, unrecognizable feeling that washes over me. Suddenly, in this period of my life, there are no more words. I lose the ability to conjure the right words. Words. The immensity of the stare, the words, as they gaze back as me from the page. This is not a book. This is the conjuring of the words I have lost in my own incapabilities.
It is raining in.
Can I even describe to you the number of things I have been currently mourning? Can I capture to you the relief of a life that requires it? Mourning, I mean. As required, as necessary, as absolutely shakening, as absolutely devastating, calming, suspending.
Having brunch in Brooklyn with Brenda Ijima and Sueyeun Juliette Lee, we talk about loss and death, and the straddling of worlds.
The conjoined cries are the seismic matter of the dream, whose tremors reverberate into a state of waking and remembering.
This is no threshold: it is a reiterated collision that belies the possibility of situation.
This is not a book review. In no way is this a “review.” This is me reading and feeling and reacting in my body, a space for words, for resonances. This is all that I am capable of today. Today I refuse to “review” the language that asks my body to toil in a new way, a blurred sense of being that is absolutely certain and uncertain at the same time. The certain uncertainty of a strong and still shakenness, tectonic, stuttering. What does it mean to be tormented? To have a tormented mind? To be unable to sleep?
The tremors register within me a sincere affect.
These are its resonances.
There are only so many attempts at expression, infinite failures of language, finite spaces to feel whole again. Some attempts at approximations of this “feeling,” the feeling of this book, in its material form, in the reaction it produces in me, a reader, on a plane headed back to Los Angeles from Seattle, then again, on a plane headed back to Los Angeles, my home, from Philadelphia. Here, language inevitably fails as it always does. This is another relief.
Approximation #1: The Salton Sea. I’m walking around the Silver Lake Reservoir with a guy I’ve only met for the first time. We are having a conversation, among many things, about experience and the inarticulateable. I want to express my inability to express the experience of being at the Salton Sea.
– Really, I can only approximate to you my subjective experience. And anyways, you would see it differently, experience it differently.
– Describe it to me anyways.
I try. I say: Well, first imagine a sea, or a giant lake. The water is beautifully stagnant, blue. The sky, for whatever reason, is sort of pink, like there’s a slight blur or filter over it, a strange impressionist painting with water poured over it. Around the water there is a beach, sand, but it isn’t sand, it’s the crushed up bones of fish, fine like sand, and everywhere there are dead fish, scattered, in piles, in various states of decomposition, and in the water, dead fish floating on the water, and near the rocks there are the bodies of dead fish, still, but slowly moved by the water lapping back and forth slowly, the subtle movement of the corpses by the natural movement of the water, mesmerizing. And it’s hot. Fucking hot. It’s the middle of summer and it’s the desert and it’s like 110 degrees outside and the smell of the fish is also everywhere, consuming, and the heat emphasizes the smell, and all of it, the death in every corner, the intensity, sublime, devastating, and most of all, so fucking beautiful.
This is probably not what I said. This is an approximation of what I said because I don’t remember. I only remember walking and trying to describe an important experience.
The city presented a sky that demanded an ocean, but there were none of these.
I am, again, able to be affected by music. I am, too, capable of murder.
Still the mouth is catastrophal. It kisses catastrophe into the world.
Today this book is an excuse to bear to you some of my soul. This is perhaps a confession. I confess that I empathize with Sisyphus immensely. I confess that I believe there is not enough empathy in the world. I confess, too, that I believe there is way too much sympathy in the world.
My current lens is the only lens I can filter this through. Today I remember that yesterday there was an earthquake in Los Angeles. It was also 91 degrees. Yesterday I was walking around in Philadelphia where it was snowing and 25 degrees.
There is an assigned significance to the aftershock, too, the stillness, too, the movement, too, the acceptance, too, the pain. What of desire? What of unrecognizability? What of the cold?
Today I am okay with uncertainty.
Historically speaking, our nothing is in our forgottenness.
Historically speaking, our nothing is excessive.
The first difficulty is location. The second removal.
– The Sorrow and the Fast of It
Approximation #2: Catedral Metropolitana. I enter the cathedral and sit down at one of the benches. As I sit there, I am suddenly and completely overwhelmed by an intensely uncomfortable feeling. Something incredibly heavy is weighing me down from all angles. It is more than uncomfortable. It is painful. It feels sort of like the heavy twist in your chest when you are utterly heartbroken, that wrenching of your internal organs, that incredible sadness and pain that I can not control no matter how hard I try to breathe, just breathe. It feels almost like the residue of the space has unfurled itself from the building that contains it, the inarticulatable suffering of all the people who have entered this space and cried, their tears, then mine, I can not control it, I cry. But through the pain, the fucking heaviness of it all, I do not want to leave, I do not want to get up. I will never feel this again, I think. I will never have this experience again. I want to hold on to it for as long as I am able. When I finally do leave the cathedral, the sunlight and crowds awaiting me outside, the feeling immediately dissipates. I can not even remember anymore how it felt. I remember the memory of the feeling, the words I used to try and articulate the experience to myself.
What does it mean to feel something? To feel and forget? To feel and remember?
Is death inevitable? What else is inevitable?
What does it mean to break?
We wash the dirt from our hands. We are that cowardly.
Every possible sentence is incomplete.
I am hallucinating. I care to know what the temperature is. I care to be capable of incredible kindness. I am capable of incredible cruelty.
Today I am capable of crying. I was not always. Today I don’t remember any of my education in literary theory. I am incapable of literary analysis. I am only capable of feeling, of comparing feelings.
What outdid Sisyphus.
– Sisyphus, Outdone
I am dying. I am living. I am simultaneously dying and living.
This is life. No. This is death.
Let’s talk about the geometry of life. It’s all wrong. The geometry, I mean.
I have killed before.
Of a lack of.
Approximation #3: Rain. Why suffer? In order to suffer. Lying in bed, being on Molly. Purgatory. This is not living, not dying, not relaxing, not. “I’m glad you decided to live a little,” he says to me. This is not. Heartbreak. Hot. Cold. Hot. Cold. Where and when? Register of being dispensed with. Living, not. The next time it rains, an impulse to lie down on the sidewalk. I lie down on the sidewalk. It is raining.
Let me try the afterall, the afterthis, the after. Let me try this body, already washed down river to arrive again at my front stoop. I was not home when this happened.
– I’m back.
– Why did you return?
– There are worse accusations.
It is not the body you died in. That one is still tucked away underneath your eyelids, still, the body, still, the composition, still, the hindrance. The sign above the door says “Emergency Exit Only.”
Would you believe that right now I am flying above a sea of white clouds? Ripples of blue sky that softly designate waves in the cloud-ocean. I am flying. “Hoist point.”
A theatre of the castrophal, with its figuring of untranslatability is also in this sense a theatre of the mind. A catastrophic theatre that exceeds thought. In other words it is unthinkable.
In this does it resemble death.
Death as it is distinct from agony.
For example: The door opens into nothing but itself.
Before this book, the last piece of writing to make me cry: Kit Schluter’s translation of the poem “The Cold” by Jaime Saenz, 1967.
Before the book, the last thing to make me feel: it all.
Is death inevitable? What else is inevitable?
Today, I remember. It is already tomorrow.
Before, before. After all. Today.