You who would see the wind. Psst, are you there? I don’t think I’m alone here—that’s what the philosophers say anyway. Here’s what I see: flickering shadows on blank walls of the afternoon, the sound of leaves rustling in the wind.
Who lets the water seep in. We stand at the navel of the world, a grey circle in the sand, and I am overcome, utterly flooded. The tide runs over me; water pours in my mouth and fills every space around me; it rinses away our footprints. I gasp for breath and water pours from my mouth; as the tide recedes I call out sandy imprecations. You cover your ears against this rooftop to my world, this small dwelling where we live. I blink, think you are gone and yet here you are and I am awash again, dying to speak and exhaling only debris. An eyelash or feather or ciliated filament slips from my throat: listen as I speak my love for what comes and goes, for a world of shifts and tidal surges, for the mercilessness of water. Sooner or later, we will all drown.
Afternoon glimmer. Is this real light? Are these real leaves or simply impressions, shadows like our wavering thoughts flickering on those infamous cave walls? I am beside the lake waiting for you; the water is blue, leaves red, the light like fire. Wind whispers through the trees. Winter is coming, the beauty of the light notwithstanding: I wonder where you are and will we have time enough to do what we want, to live?
Blue surge. So much light so much blue sky, pink clouds adrift in the water, you wouldn’t know it’s almost night. That’s how it is in the north. The water gathers the light as it slips from the air and holds it, you said, minutes longer, as if to prolong our lives.
Green drift. I try to remember where we were that summer afternoon when we were swept along a shallow inlet in the current, seaweed streaming, pale fronds bending and wavering before the rush, the air cool and green and live with birdsong. You can’t see it, but the islands we slipped by were encrusted with dead oysters and tumbled down cabins, mossy outposts of failed rural industry slowly being reclaimed by the rainforest: wherever we disappear, other living things have a chance to thrive.
Orange crush. I can’t explain my fascination with jellyfish, how they float through my dreams, almost formless, gender-indeterminate, their neon colours shimmering, dropping through the deep alongside streams of marine snow; I love them, their bright threat, their efflorescence, the way they mix fear with pleasure. I suppose I envy them their slow drifts upon the currents, their trailing stingers, their wavering watery sacks, the way they seem equal to any temperature of sea. But oh my lovely jellyfish, my radial beauties, for all your versatility, if not a turtle’s snack, you always wind up, as I do, inert, tumbled on the beach, boneless, spineless puddles of jelly.
Our thoughts are but shadows. You know this is true: our thoughts are but shadows, leaf flicker and mouse click, the grain of others’ movements in the films of their lives. When movie cameras were new they walked stiffly before them, eyes turned to the lens, but now our least gestures are recorded and we pay them no mind; worse still, think nothing of them, save perhaps as fleeting regret. It’s far too easy to live life onscreen. Just look what we’re doing now.
Red tide. Of course a red tide arrives when the water is finally warm enough for a good swim. The tide stains the water like blood, waves turn crimson in the afternoon light–I do not think this is what Homer meant when he spoke of Odysseus and his men sailing on the “wine dark sea”–the purple bruise of dead matter exhaled by corals and other tiny organisms drifts along the shore, oily, suspended, stinking slightly, burning and itching if you decide to swim, which you may anyway because life is short and your time in such light even shorter and the beach is gorgeous and the sun is hot and so you will always do what you will, even if you live to regret it.
The watch at the edge of the night. Let me tell you a secret: the watch at the edge of the night is always bittersweet—slow, but too quickly the light fails until at last only the water pools its remnants; in minutes you’ll have to gather your wits, deploy your other senses, sight is useless. This too, is what frogs’ songs will tell you if you listen in on their intimate chatter across the pitching night: come hither my best beloved, why are you always leaving, how have I lost you, I am here, can’t you hear?
Until the ice breaks. Ssh! Stop for a second and listen with me; if you’re really quiet you can hear how the tide contends with the ice: inch by inch a dark line widens, liquid overtakes solid, an infinitesimal oscillation that redoubles every night but come morning is broken by a whirl of wild animal joy—the sound of a dog playing, paws shattering the surface, sea ice skittering and tinkling, blurred window between sea and shore once again broken. We stand, so close again to the origins of life, to limns of salt, to mud.
Images are all stills from videos edited for a joint project with Ryan Josey called “Caught Looking/ Looking After Albers.” (See https://www.instagram.com/lookingafteralbers/ for additional still images & source materials.) These videos form part of an installation–really a sort of preliminary proposition of sorts with Josey–of some of the possible terms of looking now, after modernism, after Albers, when everything in the world passes through the windows on our screens. This project was initiated at the request of curator Jolee Smith, who asked us to produce some work for a show centred on work by artists who sometimes work in collaborative pairs. Entitled Videlicet: A Group Show, Smith explains:
Videlicet is a Latin term meaning, “that is to say,” “as follows”, or “namely.” It functions, similarly to a work of art, as link between the articulation of a concept and an illuminating example.
This group show features artists who create in collaborative pairs. The works examine the complexities of partnered making through notions of power and the gaze, absence and presence, reciprocity and exchange, and synchronicity and dissonance. Each piece exists as a synthesis between the makers as well as a bridge between the artists and the gallery visitor.
The prose poems above emerged in response to Smith’s request to produce “audio descriptions” of the work in our installation, part of an effort to render visual materials spatially and sensuously accessible to visitors facing mobile and visual challenges. I realized as I began to write that I’d stumbled upon a new method, for me anyway, of generating poems. More will follow. Thank you Jolee! An audio recording of a first reading of these poems is available at