Ambiguity of Instruments
30 July 2021
At this age, impermanence takes a turn for the permanent. Not those old-style hair-dos that twist wire across the scalp but don’t earn the term they’re given. “Get your hair done” means to have it cut, arranged, fixed in place. So many ambiguities: “done,” “fixed,” “place.” She took a picture of her head beside hydrangeas, added that her image was only for size. The large clay vessel had broken. The potter’s son mended it with gold “thread”; in it were bright yellow furry heliconia. The hanging house was neighbored by a dry well where the main character went to meditate alongside his baseball bat. She asked if a bat were not too violent for my wedding cake, and I said think of it like a violin’s bow. It's nothing in itself, no music comes of it unless you hit ball or skull, both of which require metaphors to catalogue. Sound is so infrequently itself. A bird of one note accompanies more melodic others, over the background noise of machines. They had every size chain saw, Bryant marveled, from small to long. What they cut before they cut the tree was a mystery because the rain forest keeps so much to itself. There’s beauty in this lack of communication, more lush than simple sentences, or spaces where light falls on dead trees, trunks orange behind the bark. She told her landlord trees threatened her cottage, but the landlord said there was no problem. She had insurance. You wouldn’t want to explain it then, like trying to say what a photograph resembles when it resembles nothing that works for a living. The bright blue truck with patches of lichen on it hauls nothing except this image now. Behind the spider webs and dirty glass, a pile of board games, among them Pictionary and NASCAR. With Harry gone, the circle is either complete or forever broken, which may amount to the same thing. Time to turn to other shapes, the melding of a herd of sheep from a drone, pouring like beads in water toward a grid of troughs. Not that the drone sees anything; it only records and sends images back to its operator. Many operators suffer from moral injury; one watched as his drone missed an alleged terrorist and killed his kids, later found in a dumpster. The judge split hairs, putting him in prison for revealing state secrets, while acknowledging the good he did to protest. He saved his soul, a friend writes. (Not the judge.)
Harry Dog, RIP
29 July 2021
Harry circles, counter-clockwise, as if to make a future of his past. His circles tighten; he corkscrews until he drops from fatigue, sleeps, then starts again to wander. The last time I saw him walk down the hall, it was for no reason. He walked away from us, from the dog next door, from food, from attention. He turned his stunned eyes back, wobbled into the traffic pattern. It was as if the traffic controller walked away, leaving Harry in constant, hyperactive delay. You start circling over Indiana, brush stroke after brush stroke, until the circle breaks at O’Hare. The monk rehearses broken circles each morning, placing them on desk or table in front of garden or water. This is not a sign of failure for the monk, but of sketching a brokenness that doesn’t ache. Transcendental realism. But Harry goes to the vet this evening to die. He still wags his tail, eats, wants to be petted. Then goes back to his incessant geometry. This morning, Lilith circled back to the bone yard where last week she found a pig’s hip joint; there was no bone this time, just grass by the side of a private lane.
23 July 2021
Rust’s gentle. The rain forest a reverse cocoon; trucks molt back into earth. No wings, just a settling in. Like a slow motion tourist, a dying butterfly, the hip bone of a pig beside the road. If you put a can in Tennessee, it works on its own absence, organizing nothing. The workman next door, 68, hates Trump, but has never had a flu shot. Mention of the new vaccine makes his face pucker. Some patients with COVID beg for the vaccine as they’re dying. Rust’s a perpetual lateness, like a sun slow to set. Unintentional art that oddly celebrates decay. The word “deconstruction,” I tell Bryant, didn’t start out in a cook book. Nor did it start in a yard full of rusted cars, the occasional fern growing from a wheel rim; rust and green complement each other, though each turns to each. In one yard, there were two old bathtubs, the kind with feet. On one end of one bathtub, there were three circles, approximating mouth and eyes, through which you could see the tub full of water and dead sticks and fronds. Laughing at its own apocalypse. The feet had feet, curled claws, a crooked smile above. Who needs a torso when you’re a tub with feet? They were part of my depression’s inventory, these tubs, along with newer, American Standard types. I see those in yards, too, but not as decorations, just junk. I didn’t have you pegged as crazy, a friend wrote to me. A neighbor’s truck sprouts ginger and ferns on its roof; the front grille resembling torn lace. Chaos in process is form. The landlord gestured toward a “formal chandelier,” which made us laugh later on.
22 July 2021
I spilled water on my shoes as I left the room. My role had been the hooded teenager who wished only to be left alone. Depression’s a cocoon; I grieved when I left it, knowing it to be my central fiction. I pulled my hat down over my eyes, which stared at the floor. Another woman was trying to get through to me, asking questions I refused. To be in the moment when it’s past is its own genre of hurt; to be there when someone caused pain to make his pleasure is to rehearse the play until you can’t get out of it. All the stage doors have been locked; not even the audience (who is you) can get out the back entrance. You will run in circles until you fall to the floor, panting like an old dog. Let’s hope the circle gets broken, if only so we can re-trace it with two edges jagged, blues and blacks surrendering to white paper. You say “I should have known” in the present, which cannot forgive the past. The difference between a bad memory that was made to happen, and the accidents of brain chemistry that know memory itself as a form of suffering. It’s not a difference in the time sense, but in the intentions of our bodies, ones we ascribe to pronouns or those for which we can find none. The mind cannot see itself, except as discursive thought, which lies about time, makes a fiction of our photographs. Bryant called it the Red Roof Inn, the tiny rusted shack off Hilina Pali Road. It yielded rust silhouettes, rust abstractions, a white FIRE sign whose I was mottled with black. An empty cache, as it turned out; nothing there with which to fight a fire, just the color of fire framed against Mauna Loa, off an asphalt ribbon two pigs had sprinted down. Linear memory only works at a close remove, or approximated in grammatical sentences. Give this two more days, and nothing is left except staccatos. Detail flees like the pig, who finally turns into the forest to the tune of a whimpering dog in the back seat of our car. The beauty of rust's material forgetting itself, making topo maps of weather conditions that come and go. The plaques and tangles acquire a lovely shape we cannot see, even when we concentrate on our mid-brain or let time fly out the top of our skulls. The bones that ran the show now stand in for breath. Alternate nostrils to make a circle, then go back the other way.
Susan M. Schultz
Susan M. Schultz lives in Hawai`i. She is author, most recently, of I Want to Write an Honest Sentence (Talisman, 2019) and the forthcoming Meditations, also from Talisman. Her central obsessions are memory, forgetting, and the St. Louis Cardinals.