Thursday, March 14, 2013

Source Material...

Some days, it just seems to be like this.

For no reason that I can discern, I've been crying a lot today.  Not wracking sobs or anything -- just the slow squeezing of tears that roll down my face, almost as though I'm an incidental part of their journey, out of my innards and into the Atlantic Ocean.

I'm not aware of any particular sadness I'm feeling -- nothing that arises, verbally, that would explain this surfeit of salt water.  I don't think this is an anniversary of a momentous loss, or any other sobering event.  As a matter of fact, it's been a lovely day, if a bit on the cold side, and the only real responsibilities I'm facing is the usual weekly laundry, augmented just a bit by my decision to wash all the polar fleece blankets we've been using.

It's not allergies either.

I do have to admit that, this morning, when John slept much longer than is usual for him, I was sure that he was dead.  Because I had decided to sleep downstairs, where the icepack on my shoulder would make less of a mess, so when he had his (insert fatal medical trauma here), I was blissfully unaware.  But thoughts like these are, unfortunately, not especially rare.  I regularly expect to get a phone call from the police, some evening when he's driving home from New Brunswick later than usual, in worse weather than usual, on a football weekend or something.  I have to admit that I live with a more or less constant dread occupying... a significant portion of... whatever place we have inside... that's full of the things we're full of.

So maybe this tear-fest is a normal (as in, physiologically and maybe even psychologically normal) response to my socially unusual focus on my own fragility, mortality, and a kind of global uncertainty that, because I've harbored it for so long, seems perfectly... normal?  I am an unreliable witness in this matter, I'm afraid, being indistinguishable from the subject matter.

Well, there is one thing that's a possible trigger, possibly, for all the water-works.  (Besides my bum shoulder, about which I'm afraid to consult a doctor, and about which I'm annoyed, that I might have to consult her anyway.  I feel like I should just give in and stow a roll-out cot with my name on it in the men's room...)  I might have mentioned that an amazing doctor/artist/activist, Dr. Eric Avery, visited with our Combat Paper group two weeks ago, to talk about the exhibit he has on display.  He was remarkably clear and focused and eloquent, I felt, about the various prints he'd included in the show, weaving from technical insights to the emotional underpinnings of this work or that.

One of the older works was a large black-and-white self-portrait, done either while he was working at a Somalian refugee camp, or just after he'd returned from his tour there.  With what I think was remarkable clarity, he sketched out what his first few minutes at the camp were like, and then gave us some insights into his routine for the year he spent, fighting rampant disease and starvation.  The work is powerful enough on its own, but these skillfully-chosen details sank like stones into my imagination, and for the past week or so, I've been... nagged, I guess... by the inkling that I wanted (or needed) to write a poem about this man, and his experiences, and on and on.  I did go online (thank you, exo-cranium) to look up the particular camp in question, and discovered excerpts of Dr. Avery's journals about it, in the book 'Para-Sites'.  (Which I almost immediately bought from Amazon, unsurprisingly...)  More details.  More insights.  More little stones, sinking and sinking.

So, today, I finally gave in, and put something down on paper.  I don't know how finished it is -- it feels pretty done to me, now, but these new works can change, can't they?  And as usual with these things, I feel lecherous, like what I call an emotional vampire, sucking creative sustenance from the misfortunes of others.  It seems indecent.  But at the same time, it's as though, after those details, that I likened to stones, disappear beneath the surface of daily memory, something new and different, yet clearly related, seeks to push its way back up and out, into broad daylight.

Sometimes, I regret to say, I am more successful than I would like to be, in quashing these urgings.  Other times, though -- as with this new work, which I think of as a tribute to Dr. Avery -- I'm either not as clever, or not as brutal, with myself, and something does emerge.  I've reworked it a tiny bit, and am still unsure of whether I need all of it or not.

I feel somewhat cheeky doing this, but I think I'll transcribe it here anyway, just to see...

Song (from the Somali)              In Thanks, to Dr. Eric Avery

There you were, in the sun,
Looking so soft and plump
And so... unbaked.
You seemed, to me,
Like some stray canine
Caught in a house,
Eating what it shouldn't --
Its body cringing one way,
Its head another,
Its loyalties torn
Somewhere in between.

You took your first step
Across the transparent border line
That we all know
To separate a viewer
From what is being viewed.
You took your initiation
Better than most,
Up to your ankles
In the oozing mix
Of the raw easrth
That we had not yet been able to consume,
And the raw remains
Of what we had.

You took a breath --
A sharp, quick intake
(Even I could hear it,
Far across the dark, runny field)
Your mouth the gape of disbelief
That most newcomers wear,
When -- zip and zip -- in went that fly!
I thought I would choke
Like you were doing --
But you were struck with shock,
And me with silly laughter!
What a first morsel
For you to take,
Before you could be sure
Just what, exactly, you were doing here!

(And by the way --
That fly you ate for lunch?
He had a name,
You know.
I called him Foo-foo.
He had a sister, Loo-loo,
And a brother too,
Named Va-va,
And many many cousins,
Too many to count.
They all had names
And they would come
To visit with me
Every day,
To make a living, magic carpet
That would crawl across my face,
And I would give them gifts
Made up of what I had,
Which was myself.
It's so much easier, I've found,
To give,
Than to feel that one is being

After that,
When I saw you,
Sometimes your hands were on my head
Or on my tender belly.
You were across the way,
And slightly reeling,
It seemed,
Off balance, it seemed,
Like a rock
That's in the process
Of being ground
Against a greater, harder stone,
And getting smaller
All the time.

I really tried to understand
The gifts you brought --
The strange adornments
I was supposed
To choke upon, or wear inside myself.
The colorless wrappings and pinnings,
The foods, from sources
I could not grasp.
And in exchange,
I made sure
We gave you all we had --
Cracked skin.
I think you called it.
I think you said it was.
Everything we had --
A stunning numberlessness,
Our adamantine hunger,
An inexhaustible poverty,
The plentiful ailments,
The most exquisite helplessness --
All like a handful
Of the rarest gems
Left to you, to set
Into their proper crown.

And you did what
You felt you had to do --
Prying at me,
Opening my mouth
With your fingers,
And pouring something in,
And not being pleased at all
When all that I could do was give it back again.
Not pleased at all --
I read it in your eyes,
And in the way your face would get,
Like a tired, clenched fist.
You might have tried again,
But another cried,
Then others, more and more,
And you went to him, or her,
Or them.
And Foo-foo's aunt
And everybody else
Came flying back to visit me,
So what I dimly felt
Would be our final banquet
Could begin.

And afterwards?
It really didn't matter so much,
I hope you know that.
What would I have done?
Where would I have gone?
What could I have known?
Who could I have been?
You did your own beautiful best,
Your own shit-besmeared best,
Your own broken, sickness-bedazzled best.
And me?  I just happened to be one of those
Who slithered through the desperate net
You spread for us,
So cleverly,
And so diligently,
Every day.

But nothing ever really leaves,
You know.
No one ever really leaves
A sump of woe like this.
Even now,
I am becoming part of the semi-solid place
On which you first put down your incredulous foot.
I rise up again -- this time, without a face --
To mix myself
With what my beaten,
Unnamed family
Has been unable to digest,
Of the little that I've been able
To provide
For them
To eat.

You're here too,
You know --
I told you no one can
Escape --
But I think that, since you still have
Your body on,
You get off easier.
You're being one of
Foo-foo's distant cousins,
Fanning another little girl's face,
Just the tiniest bit,
But the best you can --
Which relief
May well be all
That keeps her here
Another day or two,
While she looks up at the harsh dry sky
And tries to grasp
Just who it is
That she should thank.

Now I think I'll go check on the laundry again.  And cry a bit more, in all likelihood.

©         2013       Walter Zimmerman


No comments:

Post a Comment