A restless perambulation on the threshold of being. This is the definition of a poem.
For me, there is something so significant and evident in the Salton Sea as a place, as a space. Gaston Bachelard in The Poetics of Space: “The poet speaks on the threshold of being.” Then, quoting Pierre-Jean Jouve:
“Poetry, especially in its present endeavors, (can) only correspond to attentive thought that is enamored of something unknown, and essentially receptive to becoming.”
The Salton Sea, as a place, becomes a strange sort of refuge, sanctuary. The sublime experience of being in a place, the beckoning and conjuring that happens. For a non-religious person, this is the correspondence of a spiritual awakening, a poetic spirituality that can be found, here. Here: God, present, via the failure of language, the inarticulateable nature of the being in a place.
I have been going on these annual pilgrimages to the Salton Sea. Though I had been here as a child, my first “pilgrimage” was in 2012. It was 115 degrees outside. A strange and nostalgic tune, Django Reinhardt, playing out of the car’s stereo. The thickness of the air. To step out of the air-conditioned car, into the density of the heat, the burden of silence, here, the retracing of a melancholic achievement, the spectral acoustics of the sea, the localization of memories.
“There is nothing like silence to suggest a sense of unlimited space.” – Henri Bosco
“Memory—what a strange thing it is!—does not record concrete duration, in the Bergsonian sense of the word. We are unable to relieve duration that has been destroyed. We can only think of it, in the line of an abstract time that is deprived of all thickness. The finest specimens of fossilized duration concretized as a result of long sojourn, are to be found in and through space. The unconscious abides. Memories are motionless, and the more securely they are fixed in space, the sounder they are.” – Gaston Bachelard
Here is a place that truly hovers between life and death. This is living and dying.
From the blue way you envelop the world,
the blue way you adore it.
I’m saddened and in love with your blue way — with the blue way of presence in which you attend my readiness to live and die in this world.
– Jaime Saenz, “The Immanent Visitor”
Here we imagine being in the apocalypse. We are, already there, approaching, the beautiful and final end.
We are living in the apocalypse. The first moment of time was the first moment of apocalypse and death. Please, don’t fear the apocalypse.
– László Krasznahorkai
Here it makes sense to linger, the slowness of the world that exists without you, how beautiful the world is in its indifference to my moving around in it, my idiotic and futile “pursuits” and “gestures” and “goals” and “things to do.” Here, Bela Tarr shows us why it makes perfect sense to watch a slow moving herd of cows for 10 minutes. This is a privilege. The ability to feel content or elated or sad, as privilege.
How to be reminded of the suffering of life if not through the intense beauty of death.
Salton Sea, 2012:
Salton Sea, 2013:
Salton Sea, 2014:
Let’s think, too, about the poetics of a space, or rather the inarticulateable articulated.
To look at the end,
the text without words,
some words led toward it
(almost to it),
they came to a halt,
no, they flagged
in awful grief
because of all that.
– Ernst Meister, In Time’s Rift
“Apparition is repetition of repetition, repetition’s repetition. Then what could it possibly mean to say that a ghost returns for the first time if the ghost begins by coming back?” – David Appelbaum, Jacques Derrida’s Ghost: A Conjuration
The Salton Sea starts to embody a poetic form, the sestina. Here the sestina is performed better as wordless words, its rules bent and the haunting quality of the repetition that defines the sestina for me, the constant conjuring and reconjuring of ghosts, that uncanny feeling of déjà vu, that unmistakable quality of being haunted, this is the creation of the poem.
I think of Wilco’s song “Jesus, etc.” which Eileen Myles, in a poetry workshop I TAed, used as an example of the “quality” of the sestina. Meaning the song does not follow the rigid scheme assigned to it, but enacts the conjuration that only the strange and irregular repetitions, reminders, ghosts within a sestina can do. Or the poem “In the End, They Were Born on TV” in Douglas Kearney’s phenomenal new collection Patter, the uncanny anxiety induced by the possibility of repetition, the potential of it, the déjà vu, or the vociferation of ghosts that phantomize the language and space of the page in a way that guarantees the revenant of language’s failure of precision will return and return again.
people in their house on TV are ghosts haunting a house haunting houses.
pregnant women in their houses on TV are haunted houses haunting a house haunting houses.
our living room a set set for us ghosts to tell ghost stories on us.
Would you be to-be on TV?
to be the we we weren’t to be and the we we’re-to-be to be on TV.
the pregnant woman agrees to being a haunted house
haunting flickering houses. yes ok yeah yes.
– Douglas Kearney, Patter
The Salton Sea’s repetitions: fish, water, birds, sky, mountains, pink, blue, water, pink, bones, fish, bones, the heat, water… The enactment of a haunting, a haunted place, a haunted body that reverts between the haunter and haunted. I could write a sestina here, I suppose. But partially, the experience is it, the lines, repeated, the remembering, the inability to remember, these moments that compose the poetics of this space. Whose space? Who ever occupies it for a series of moments, or lets the space occupy her.
I write in my journal:
Here I confess that the sound of the fish bones crunching under my feet is so utterly satisfying, that the strange absence of the dead fish today (there hasn’t been a die-off) is disappointing. Because there are no fish, I notice instead the dancing glints on the water, the red and yellow and golden glints and shimmers that jump and hop their way towards the shore, fading into the white foam or ebb into the light pink shore of bones. The strange quality of light that casts a surreal aura over the garbage that litters the beach, the rocks. The garbage almost looks beautiful here. This is my privilege to say so. A place of death, of sadness, of incredible beauty. I take off my sunglasses and it is so bright I can barely keep my eyes open. The mountains fade farther into the backdrop of the sky, the beyond. People are landscapes are changed are ruined. The sky is not blue, brackets us together, the disjunctions are fabricated within us, withered branches of trees, dry bones of fish, the layers of death are not just beneath our feet. I can not empathize with a dead fish. Familiarity is a weakness. No, it is persistence from one history to another. The pitch of my voice when I scream underwater, mottled.
The foam wall approaches.