This past weekend I went backpacking with my brother in Point Reyes National Seashore in Marin County. I had been looking forward to it for quite awhile. There is a certain calm and unsilent quietude that can only be felt when far away enough from the city.
Giving oneself over to a territorial time and space. No cell service. Somewhere and sometime when the traces of something beyond become more than just the residue on my boots but an entirely spatial and real environment to be in.
Recently memory fails. Recently, memory is failing.
As an ode to Brett Zehner, here is the list of what we brought with us. This isn’t a comprehensive list as no list was made ahead of time. So from memory only & divided between two backpacks:
- 2 sleeping bags
- 1 Tent
- 1 pair extra socks each
- 2 Flashlights
- 1 Pocket Flashlight
- 1 Glowstick
- 2 Multitools
- 2 Pocket Knives
- 1 Fixed Blade Knife
- 1 Portable Saw
- Notepad & Pen
- 1 Foldable Stove
- 1 Propane Tank
- 2 Individual Flameless Ration Heaters
- 1 Emergency Pocket Stove
- 2 Fork/Spoon/Knife Sets
- 2 Lighters
- Stormproof matches
- Firesteel & scraper
- 2 Beanies
- 1 Hat
- 2 Cellphones
- 1 Radio/charger/flashlight/weatherband
- 1 Deck of Cards
- 1 Pot + 2 dishes
- 2 Cans vegan chili
- 2 Cans vegan soup
- 1 Loaf sourdough bread
- 1 Pack tortillas
- 1 Jar salsa
- 1 Jar picked vegetables
- 4 Packages ramen
- 1 Towel
- 1 Bandana
- 2 Pairs of gloves
- 2 First Aid Kids
- 1 Insect Repellant
- 1 Sunblock
- 1 Lotion
- 2 Toothbrushes
- 1 Toothpaste & Floss
- 2 Mirrors/Compass
- 2 Emergency whistles
- 1 Canteen/pot
- 1 Roll toilet paper
- 75ft of paracord
- Carabiner – loadbearing
- Maps (Trail map plus emergency road maps)
- 2 50 gal garbage bags
This list has nothing to do with anything, really, except that lists do also operate as poetic forms, and as I was walking and feeling and uttering words to myself in silence, I started to think of the poetic form as a stance.
I’ve already written a little about the sestina as a form that tends to conjure and reconjure ghosts, the uncanny repetition that induces haunting, déjà vu, strange warpings & relocations of memory. Echolocation?
So the way my eyes wrap around the tree, wrap and rewrap around the trunk, the branches, my eyes darting between leaves and green and trunk and moss and sky and leaves and dirt and green and green again, this uncanny experience of the tree might be a sestina.
But a different stance, one in which I step back to observe the tree as an isolated and outline object, the one tree sitting among many, the outline of green in the context of a backdrop that serves to spotlight this tree, the tree. Perhaps, this might be a haiku.
Or a another stance altogether. Perhaps, as the sun sets, and the colors that the setting sun’s create, the altered saturation of greens and oranges and purples and the shadows that are now cast on and from the tree, a strange illumination of something majestic, royal, yet sad, loyal, fixed. This, perhaps, is a sonnet.
Or the lurking group of quails that congregate around an empty camp site, scurry down the path just ahead of me, unafraid, beckoning or mocking or completely apathetic to whatever it is I’m doing, their sounds and collaboration with the tree. Here now, a pantoum?
And then, out here, there is too the simultaneity. On the way up to the camp site, a 4.6 mile hike with our backpacks, we see a deer in the path in front of us. He is unafraid. In fact, he approaches us. He approaches so closely that he circles the perimeter and as I get out my phone to take a picture, stops for a full moment to look at me, posing, before skipping into the green. As I think about the beauty of the moment, I am plagued simultaneously with Louis CK’s voice in the background, his bit on the stupidity and audacity of deer, his anecdote of the deer, that he claims, actually ran into his car. Out here, all memories and stories and myths are simultaneous.
Lately, it is as if all my senses have been heightened. In The Vampire Diaries, and in countless other pop culture vampire mythologies (and here now I’ve just outted myself and admitted one of my guilty pleasures), one of the side effects of being a vampire is the heightened sense of everything. Heightened sense of touch, emotion, feeling, sensation. The wind feels more intense as it passes across your skin. Anger is intensified. The sex is more passionate. Etc. In general, one feels more. Is this possible?
From my particular point of view at this very moment in time, I look back and see my life divided up into three periods. First, the period before my mother died. Then a period of flatness and depression. Then a period after an intense heartbreak. The details are extraneous. What matters is that I have trouble remembering anything from past periods in my life. As if they happened in other lifetimes, or not at all.
There is something I want to say about Pasolini and the long take here.
Triggers for memories now can come in the form of a hawk circling overhead or a song lyric on the radio. Triggers for memories now may no longer trigger memories but stories and myths.
While driving back to Los Angeles, moving forward in my car, I am thinking.
That sounds simple.
I’m thinking in the car. But I get some of my best thinking done in the car.
Every single detail that I pass through becomes a potential trigger for a memory or a thought.
That crevice on the rock: the feeling of being small.
That field of wheat: the pleasure of pretend labor in a video game.
Trust me when I say that the impulse to observe and feel everything is overwhelming.
Trust me when I say that the impulse to observe and feel everything is also compulsory.
Trust me when I say that my relationship to language has changed completely.
First, perhaps, with Damnation, which I wrote towards the end of one period of my life. In Damnation I cared about the preciseness of language and the momentum of sentences in a way that I hadn’t cared about before.
Now, it feels like there aren’t enough words for anything. That language, which always and inevitably fails yes, seems even more inadequate to describe anything, any feeling, any experience.
Sitting silently in a space, this space or that space, or another space, I am feeling something that I have never felt before. This is felt partially via the silence of the space, or at least the silence of myself, the silence that occurs because I can not and will not find words to describe the space. Instead, the moment of the space becomes a silent utterance, felt inside my own body only, an encounter that happens once and to never happen again, a stance that constantly adjusts itself, wanting to become a poem perhaps, but as yet too overwhelmed to try and find the words.
Where are the words?
Today, I am speechless.
I am increasingly speechless. Or wordless. Or —
Let’s just say that I don’t know how to handle words the way I used to. Or, they don’t handle me the way they used to.
Trust me too when I say that I don’t fear death.
I’m composing this piece in the car while driving back to LA. I’m composing this in the car while speeding down the highway, my eyes trying to focus on the road but instead darting frantically around me watching the sky, the clouds, the quickly changing landscape, my eyes moving between outside and screen.
Yes, scold me. Absolutely. This is a dangerous and irresponsible action. I agree.
Yet I am compelled to do so. In the space of the car. Which is strange because it exists in the context of this much more open space. An open road, an open landscape, this California that speeds by through my windows, as I move by in this confined vehicle which is closed and restricted yet I feel the movement and I feel the air and I feel the breath and I feel the speed and I feel the sadness and I feel the joy and I feel that there is someone that I miss and am I speeding to see them or am I simply traveling at a speed that has been dictated by the blue, blue sky.