The Color She Gave Gravity by Stephanie Heit
the operating system: Brooklyn, New York, March 2017
Fragile mail, Andrew F Giles
Dear Penumbra, dear Z Cycle, dear Lake Etymology (& Enter Amnesiac), dear Quiet Anatomy, dear coda (writing to all, writing to one – you ‘talk in errant time signatures’),
Today I read a letter that never reached its destination, written from the Leganés asylum in Madrid (could have been 1935, or 1985). Such fragile mail, checked and filed by the psychiatrist as an (unsent, filtered) clinical record. ‘…instead of be with you, hold your hand and shut the fuck up,’ you write.
All the birds were scattering across the lawn, some scattered into sun – I think I said? Then you sent me your ‘compression of many worlds’ (Solnit), it came by post and was left in the greenhouse for a few days – I was worried the mailwoman had left it under the roof’s only hole, but no. It arrived, thank you: the operating system invokes publication as ‘documentation: an act of resistance, an essential community process, and a challenge to the official story/archive.’ Judith Goldman, Jay Besemer, speakers in the community: poetics of resistance and reparation. Stephanie Heit writes in her ‘Field Notes’: ‘I included an earlier version of The Color She Gave Gravity with my suicide note. I placed the manuscript in a manila folder with instructions to loved ones to try to find a publisher.’ Intense depression and suicidality. ‘Many hospitalizations and treatments including electroconvulsive therapy […] the shock treatments caused brain damage and long term memory loss.’ Your ‘field,’ your bodymind – doing research in the field of ‘changeable fluxes in energy, interest, concentration, capacities. Labile depression, mania, hypomania and mixed states.’ I am not citing these as definitive. I am honoring your storying, dear coda, dear interstices, dear margin, dear center. That is what poetry can do, make a network of intimate selves, a matrix of listeners: the potential of non-univocal, indeterminate, imprecise exchanges.
I wanted to write to you about precarity. I think, these are words unfiltered by diagnosis. You say, ‘I remember the ease of bodies before words,’ and ‘we breathe out the windows / light someone not yet arrived / will understand.’ The survivors, the scholars of survival, value this as a ‘psychiatric survivor narrative,’ yet that is one world and this is a compression of many. ‘The life of the book as it breathes itself into your hands. Thank you for your entry. You are a vehicle moving the pages and giving the words alternate lives. The beauty of collaboration.’ This is the color she gave gravity: it ‘traces longing for connection between women. An ecopoetics of the bodymind, these poems take us inside a dance inside an imaginary city inside sculpted spaces inside sister grief inside she. The work emerges from a landscape of somatic engagement and from experiences of psychiatric systems and multiple hospitalizations.’ Your works, your words. ‘Your story. Having people say they understand.’ The generosity of open fields. Dear Z Cycle, sometimes the sun didn’t reach the corners and stayed with shadow, never silent.
Times ‘before the night took root in your brain and spread like electricity / multitudinous, genomic, internet codes coding neural / pathways rocking out to suffering.’ The impossibility of sleep seeps into me as I enter, the busy sweatiness of not waking/ not sleeping. Prose poems written in the ‘unconscious pool of raw’ that stays ever alert to the uncatchable Z Cycle. World War Z. The otherworld of cinema cuts across the cycle, scene after scene, ‘spinning reel of thoughts like / projector film that circles and flaps after the picture is done and / light blasts the screen.’ The words bunch up, sometimes collapse into white noise, always absolutely exhausted. You grieve sleep, ‘like falling in love when you’re not.’ Ativan. Toredol, flumenazil, propofol, succinylcholine. Ambien. Names lean into their italics, pushing out of the text, crushed back into the stop-start of its screening. Are these the sounds you offload, your voice, your she? ‘You slowly realise the guttural / sobs are coming from you.’ Tears. The material of compressed worlds is liquid, dear Lake Etymology: ‘to connect one body of water to another.’
Crystal Lake, Benzie County. I understand the text is borne of water, of shifting, of currents. ‘I am gilled and finned. / Water trial. They must breathe for me. I fight my way back to fluid.’ Your sister, your you, your ‘I is a slippery vessel,’ your she. Not univocal. Liquidity, water in water, definitions running off the spine of the text. ‘One of two, I would not drown.’ I am relieved that fish, that water, do not mean – are not obvious signs of psychoanalytical thinking (somebody said this to me the other day, in search of rigor). Poetry, story, memory, testimony, grief, lived experience, slipping between selves with the quality of water, not rigor. I am so relieved the poem does not have to mean, Lake Etymology. The origins of water are amnesia, or the sound of amnesia in the opening out of the page. The lightness of ‘breathing horizontal.’ Enter Amnesiac was ‘written inside Richard Serra’s sculpture installation The Matter of Time at the Guggenheim,’ Barcelona, and I come up to breathe too. This is a project to ‘practice reverse walking,’ to spill space into page, dimension from three to one to three: ‘there is delight in the exchange between forms,’ the shape of pain, the color of gravity. I like it here, look around – up to the high ceilings, sit back – in this world, compression is loosened. I feel decompressed.
Poetry does not have to mean, and words are off-center, a series of actualizing sounds. ‘[She] only spoke parts of words.’ Dear Quiet Anatomy, I am listening to your indeterminacy, the dazzling imprecision. There is still birdsong in the garden, even though it is nearing dusk: ‘The breadcrumbs / before the birds.’ The sounds before the words. The sounds at the center of your own voice with no deflection. How ‘language was./ A river she did not wish to shorten,’ and how a critical reply imposes itself, opens wounds. But there is potential in the impulse to fragility; the precarity of my presence here.