When it was my grandmother’s house, I told him as we sat at the kitchen table in the half-lit morning, she used to keep blueberry muffins in the freezer. The refrigerator was black, she always liked to keep a black refrigerator and the freezer was at the bottom; the muffins tasted like cake. Now the refrigerator was also black but had the look of shiny and dark wooden planks. I doubt it is a coincidence that this good friend now lives in my grandmother’s house, but on the other hand, no one could have made it happen that way.
Perhaps because there were no muffins I decided to go to Wal Mart. There were people filling the parking lot under tents, as if there were a fair or festival of some sort. I realized that many were protesting and many were defending the store. I wondered how committed they were to defense; they were mostly the elderly and wearing red smocks over their elasticized jeans. They were angry at the thought that their jobs might be threatened by these protests, creating a barely suppressed violent tension. I considered the ease and pleasure even, of physically harming these defenders and simultaneously the rhetorical futility and political banality.
I found her in one tent; I realized it was the tent passing out the pamphlets, inciting revolution. One woman had long, grey-ish hair; she was smiling and calm. She seemed kind, her kindness bearing no direct relation to the moment, in the way of kindness.
You were with me in the passenger seat and I knew, as you did, that you were impervious to automobile accidents, perhaps because you were already dead, but so was I, I just didn’t know it yet. We were breaking up, which felt more difficult than dying. I felt as though I were trying to convince you to stay close by until I actually died, it would be soon.
The streets were so beautiful that day, sunny and treelined with red bricks and houses nestled together. They had been there for a long time and one could tell because the landscaping was lush and mature. Perhaps there was something about the proportions and the scale of houses to houses and houses to streets and pathways that suggested it had not been built for automobiles, although there was no particular problem accommodating them now. There is something about the sun in my eyes that changes the state of things, from waking to sleep or from life to death.
The officers came to pull me out of the car. I felt as though I would be fine to walk, although my legs felt weak and I knew that even if I could walk it did not signify living or dying. You were already out of the car, organizing things. The white Honda that had driven towards and into the front of my white van was apparently driven by someone who was already dead. The officer said there was a dead man in the car, but that he had already died before the accident, implying perhaps that his being dead was the cause of the accident.
I heard many birds, the way I like to, and I waited for what came next.
I will practice replacing girls with other girls. With moving them into the background. All of them, so there is nothing to be distinguished between a landscape and a swath of hair. The hills around my house and the back of an animal.
A puppet theater in the bathtub: two twins moving back and forth between personalities with a simple incantation “you be me.” And then to switch, “ok, now you be me.” Mimicking each others speech and manner. Telling one another’s story. Becoming one another like jumping rope double dutch style.
Just the body sitting in for another body, learning to speak the language.
“We, however, are not prisoners. No traps or snares are set about
us, and there is nothing which should intimidate or worry us.
We are set down in life as in the element to which we best
correspond, and over and above this we have through thousands of
years of accommodation become so like this life, that when we
hold still we are, through a happy mimicry, scarcely to be
distinguished from all that surrounds us. We have no reason to
mistrust our world, for it is not against us. Has it terrors,
they are our terrors; has it abysses, those abysses belong to us;
are dangers at hand, we must try to love them. And if only we
arrange our life according to that principle which counsels us
that we must always hold to the difficult, then that which now
still seems to us the most alien will become what we most trust
and find most faithful. How should we be able to forget those
ancient myths about dragons that at the last moment turn into
princesses; perhaps all the dragons of our lives are princesses
who are only waiting to see us once beautiful and brave. Perhaps
everything terrible is in its deepest being something helpless
that wants help from us. ”
DREAMLIFE: A collection of women’s dreams, recorded and then translated here as part of the Female Background metabolism. A way in, a way out.
I gave birth to a son, small like a baby. He began to gesture to me in signs and a verbal language of his own and I slowly came to suspect that he was keeping something from me, this newborn with language. And filled with love I looked at him and asked, albeit cautiously: “You can speak?” He nodded and told me, using English words, as if his previous communications were only to dissemble the miraculous truth: he had been born fully conscious. As this became more clear, he grew into a brown-haired, blue-eyed boy and just as quickly into a man all before he could nurse or be held like the newborn he was. In virtue of this other-worldly transformation, this miraculous incarnation, I asked him about his care. Did a grown man who was newly born nurse from his mother? Indeed. He saddened as he explained that this miracle could turn dark, there could be a reversion to some undone state and breast milk was a feature of resistance to the curse.
I wonder how often that actually happens in writing. What that means cognitively. As if we have always recognized orientation to space as foundational to meaning, as the necessary underpinning to whatever may come. And is come the correct word, or issue? I suppose to be precise one must indicate whether it is a coming from or a coming to, and yet what of coming next? All of these seem quietly significant. They are background – notions that mostly go easily along without being considered, but belie all sorts of allegiances, perhaps better left unexamined if one chooses an “active” life, in the parlance of the underground. But what of the background life? Shouldn’t one know what it means if they love the novel that sets the scene? Or if one’s first impulse upon sitting to write and describing that he is in NY, at a blackened table, cold to the touch. A wobbling teacup that is not actually a teacup but holds tea and matches the clay-slab-books some wrapped in paper and pine tar. Why does this orientation preface consideration of what belongs in a sealed box? Not only what belongs there, but treats the question as if there are correct answers. Not to say that there are not infinite answers, but a specific infinite, one that is less than the alternative infinite which would include anything that fits in the box. It is important to consider the world that defines the box-content this way. It is not unlike consideration of the cat as alive or dead. And it is the consideration of background- any number of things could be, but not anything. The content of the box is undeniably different if the box is opened or unopened. In a simple analysis, it is either known or unknown. The quality of that difference is more important than the technical attributes. If books are solid, there is no inside or it is all inside, and if a box is full, but you must destroy it to discover the contents, what is gained and what is lost? There is undoubtedly another box inside the box, only it probably doesn’t look like a box and so one might assume he is finished with opening things. There is something to the impenetrability of solid books. Something to the undifferentiated solid space. Something to the homogeneity of all the books. Is that more accurate than a sealed box? There is only theory in sealed boxes. I suspect it require more than opening the box to transform the theoretical, although I can’t say I know what that requirement is.
If you never see these things again, there will be a part of you, something real, that will be gone, despite the extraordinary insignificance of these things. They are spaces in memory and meaning that can only be filled by their unique shapes and mass. In sealing them up, knowing they may so easily be disregarded, discarded, it proves difficult. I have committed to them for so long and now I am committing to their absence. It is an absence, that as with memory, once it is gone, it is gone forever. These are mummy boxes because they are packed for a true death. I won’t remember them, and I won’t ever feel the things they conjure outside without being reminded by their presence. In this way, the absence is more pronounced. I am preparing to forget.
One was not an animal-birth but an artist-birth and unlike her first birth, this one, in 1977 was in East Orange, New Jersey not far from Belleville where the animal-birth was taking place, close to family in East Orange and Newark. In the summer of 1977 Beverly Buchanan exhibited Frustula sculptures; she committed to this artist-life, ending what had come before. Much later the small animal born in Belleville would receive money in the name of Ana Mendieta. In 1977 Mendieta described the works of a group of women-artists, thereby casting a spell on the young animal, incubated nearby, these works were “point[ing] not necessarily to the injustice or incapacity of a society that has not been willing to include us, but more towards a personal will to continue being ‘other.’”
The spell would materialize in the Female Background works, the midwifery of Mendieta this time in the guise of her memorial funds. Buchanan had secrets that she did not keep. She marked a place once with a pile of rocks, an ad hoc monument in an industrial area that had only recently hired black people. She told Park McArthur that she made a little pile but that she didn’t put a sign. Did then she put the sign, when she told Park? Did Park put the sign? She once put a sculpture in a river. She told people she did so. I don’t know if it is a secret then, if it has the quality of invisibility anymore. I don’t know if you have to let other people always tell your secrets, it would be too indecent to tell them yourself. If you were to hide something, forever, only to tell someone about it, does it then matter if you ever hid it at all? Or maybe it is not the invisibility that ever mattered after all. Maybe going around hiding things and making things that no one sees is not enough, but telling people is too indecent, so instead, Beverly whispers about acts and in that whisper, no matter how soft, the act no longer exists, it is only an idea. And an idea is nothing if not visible. It is nothing if not not-‘other’. It’s function is communicability. An idea is pulled from the riverbed of endless possibilities and just in this way Beverly pulled her sculpture from the riverbed when she turned it into an idea. She didn’t want to do it, I’m sure. Perhaps culpability lies in fact with the first person who betrayed her secret, relieving her of all bad conscience . A critic worries about the “discrepancy between the [work’s] sociopolitical “affinity” and its formalist predilections: Despite Medieta’s avowal of otherness, most of the work here extols the phenomenological the lyrical …“ These Female Background pieces, these Fineries, their secrets were never betrayed, they lay in the Background refusing to “announce themselves as subject or object” adhering instead to a “nuanced complexity of form, in which intensely subjective histories grounded in the politically-informed worldview of the artist are manifest through minimal or abstract techniques.” Beverly Buchanan sacrificed her secrets so the Finery could be invisible. So that when Female Background makes small, papier mache boxes with secrets inside, someone would destroy that mummy to find reveal them. The secrets can’t be told, they only exist as secrets. The transition from potential to actual would be a real one should one open the sealed box and that alchemy, that transmogrification guards against the revelation of the original secret. Perhaps just knowing there is a secret is having revealed too much, but ‘otherness’ is by nature a secret, and one that resists translation with its life. If someone were to look straight at Female Background, it would cease to be background.
It was earliest spring. I remember once, when we went down to make her lunch, to talk, to discourage the installation of more carpet, that her appliance was caught in a privet briefly. And she yelled for help, and the yelling shook it loose, but we came out anyway. I could tell you were repulsed, but hiding it well.