Sunday, August 17, 2014

Rebbecca Brown, "Squall"

It’s worth distinguishing among some ways in which media may interact—for instance, accidentally, or in a relationship of subordination, or of coordination, or of integration, or of synthesis, or of conflict. When worlds collide, all sorts of things can happen. At (or near) its worst, this can take the form of that idiot’s cellphone going off (perhaps playing a few bars of “Stairway to Heaven”) precisely at the emotional climax of Bergman’s Wild Strawberries. It is also the case that one painter may fill her studio with Mahler while another loops a ceaseless hiphop or bluegrass mix. Flannery O’Connor turned her writing-desk to face a blank wall, while Freud filled his office with archaeological doodads. (Any desk, any office, any bathroom, can tell the story of a life. HD read Freud's mind when she walked into his office.)
Often, I think, media work their way into written works as Jimmy Page’s guitar solo disrupts an old man’s tears in Swedish, a kind of smash-and-grab on our attention. And who knows, maybe sometimes there’s a kind of victory in that, a mediatory transformation from one mode of attention to another. We may forget the movie and leave the theater humming that melody to ourselves.
One can certainly say, too, that history is a medium, or rather, with Foucault, that historical epochs mediate human possibility differently. As such, writerly strategies for invoking variant histories may act upon us as differing media do. Rebbecca Brown’s “Squall” plays a perilous delicate game of balancing pure composition (which I mean in the same way that Hitchcock used "pure cinema" to describe a passionate attention to style) with some tricky historical allusion—not only those classical terms for linguistic figuration (you can find them all, except for “tautophrase,” here:; “tautophrase” is roughly the same as what this page lists as “tautologia”), but also the dueling classicisms of Mae West and Gabriel Garcia Marquez—two geniuses of stylistic economy, cultural symbolism, and ceaseless mediation who I think would have got along splendidly.


I. Epizeuxis
There are birds in my throat. The vibrancy of their wings is thrashing. They are false starts fledged with the humming—how many sentences stir with those tiny, truncated hearts?
Now that I’ve begun, there is no beginning, no return to the days when the breath hushed up and the moon was a source of wonder. We looked at it from a blanket on the dewy grass, and lately, when the comets chase their tales around like ragged, stupid dogs, all I can see are wisps falling through the sound of this lousy light. We are in the city where my little life lies, sifting the smog of a hundred years, where the streets stretch their lines of splintered trees as if their backs could never curl from cricks pained, deathly arthritic.
There there, now, I do not have to wait for you. There, there, now.

II. Conduplicatio
This story repeats itself. Them again: the lovers like lightning seeking the wobbling earth, heat dazed in their death march, slicing through those sorry constellations, currents sharp as prickly pears, happy to strike here again. I withstand their smoldering heat. Shut my eyes and count the silence in between them.
When I was a little girl, my parrot flew out the window—disappearing quickly into the abundance of trees, flapping its frightened wings. He never learned to talk, to mimic the tape we played over and over called “Make Your Bird a Star.” An imitation Mae West repeated “Ah . . . [long pause] . . . Come up and See Me Sometime . . . Ah . . . [long pause] . . . Come up and See Me Sometime.” He would stare with those distant, black-beaded eyes, clanking his crabbed and tetchy feet along his perch, happy to get the hell out of there as soon as he had the chance, I bet.
You lived far away from there, where my little life lies, where the weather wears the trees to bone, shifting those struggling leaves around in shrouds of wind. I visited you often, and sometimes you would come up and see me. This story repeats itself, etched beyond those fickle tales of sorry constellations.
In Love in the Time of Cholera, Dr. Juvenal Urbino slips while reaching for his lost parrot and splinters his frail spine. The illusions of love are ultimately unable to sustain him. Newly widowed, Fermina’s lover returns after fifty-one years, nine months, and four days, yet Fermina still refuses. For a while there, refuses. Ultimately, she gives in.

III. Antanaclasis
This summer we stood in the petrified forest, gold chimeras littering the feet of pastel mountains, and as the clouds blew dandelion fluff over the desert floor, we joked about the hieroglyphics. A swarm of bees kept us from moving closer. The wind blew without noise and the sky slanted gray rain where there were no people. All that was left was stone.
I looked into the distance because I could not see your eyes, the disconnected depths that betrayed an often angry mouth. When you yelled, I thought I heard my father, saw those disappearing wings on the bird who could not have his way with words.

IV. Anadiplosis
I did not know you then, when she left during the night that knocked the power lines around, bending branches, breaking backs. Swarms of birds flew through the perilous, flickering lights.
Afterwards, you avoided her absence in everyone else’s eyes, and carried her sunglasses wherever you went. I did not want to touch or scratch them, but when I put them on, they illumined the loss that kept you hunched.
One day, we climbed to where the water fell. I took you to the hidden place with the crumbling mother Mary. Someone else knew this secret spot, had covered her hands with decaying frail thin roses. Beneath the roses, salamanders stealthily slithered and hid. I did not know that at the time those final moments were both yours and mine. I never saw the same again.
Here is a poem I wrote for you:
the cracks daze the cup,
shatters determined during

grains fusing toward temporary
stasis. we both understand

the nature of this—those
minute fractures, the future.

leaves scatter, temporarily adrift.

the silken scuff of the tulip
bruised by calloused fingers falls.

I loved you interminably this time,

wanted the fissions gracing the skin,
desire, desire, tethered so thin.

the finale is ending, another
spin on the soft spoke suffering.

each new love is this last loss,
inevitably these needs

that bereave you.

V. Anaphora
Marquez writes: He was aware that he did not love her [. . .] but as she kissed him for the first time he was sure there would be no obstacle to their inventing true love. They did not speak of it that first night, when they spoke of everything until dawn, nor would they ever speak of it. But in the long run, neither of them had made a mistake.
This story repeats itself, like the nights we talked of futures we would not have, accompanied by the beating wings I mistook for a rankled heart. I hear the sound of the storm we clutched through, when the wind bent the trees like beggars and blustered with fervent breath.
We were on the river when it struck, and had to forgo our leisurely float. As we climbed onto the bank, the silt slurped at our feet, and covered us with twigs and muck. We sat on a fallen branch and you shuddered. I thought you were frightened, but you said the rain was trickling through your bones, turning them to stone. You held out your hands, decaying frail thin roses.
On the night she left, the power went out and thrust you into darkness. You were afraid of getting struck. You drove away and the rain lashed at your windshield like a father’s fuming tongue. When the weather cleared, you went back and found that she had gone. After years of all that sickness, she had finally gone.
You told me this as we found our way to the service road. I felt we had made it, that the worst had happened early on, but I was wrong. I was wrong. I was wrong.

VI. Tautophrase
I’d rather remember that underwater world, where we walked with held hands among the subaquatic seclusions. The fish stared at us with diaphanous eyes through the blurry glass. I’d rather recall how the jellyfish blurted toward the surface, only to sift down again, tendrils of their currents defused in the vacant, constrained light. There are no wings in that liquid life, no chance for false starts or quick pleasures, no chance to flit or shift, to move beyond the confines that love and shelter in. A fin is a fin is the end is the end.
I do not want to recall that vibrant, silent bird that never seemed to listen, to see his wings beat freely. I am sick of repeating what I do not understand, come up and see me sometimecome up and see me sometime, come up and see me sometime, those grainy old illusions. I will not end like Marquez: Forever is Forever.
It’s been a while since we’ve spoken. The sunglasses you gave me sit upon my desk. I do not want to look through them. I do not want to watch the wisps of ghosts that wind away with flight. I hear the squalls reaping in the distance, illusions of a love last lost, there there, again, again.

Rebbecca Brown’s work has appeared in American Literary Review, Confrontation, 88: A Journal of Contemporary American Poetry, Eclipse, Requited, H_ngm_n, and Ekleksographia (among others). She is the recipient of an Honorable Mention from the Academy of American Poets, the Rachel Sherwood Prize for Poetry, and First Place in the LACC Writing Contest for Creative Nonfiction. They Become Her, her first novel, received Honorable Mention in the 2009-2010 Starcherone Innovative Fiction Contest and will be published in October of 2014 by What Books Press. She lives and works in New York City.

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