from The Ivory Tower
I am nowhere, and if I were to tell you the story I would tell you first plainly that location is not and has never been what it seems. We are ultimately fixed by other means regarding where we truly dwell. I am drawing near the influence of persons. Persons, not place create residence.
The land resides in itself. And that is why it is such a comfort. It asks nothing of us. But that is the flaw of the century, in our thinking. Because nothing is asked does not mean nothing is required. But dare I speak in such a way to the persons whom I am soon to meet? I will walk within the residing land. What is left of it.
What is left is the preoccupation with forms. The form of this body and what it will intrude or command. Before I enter how is my name carried? It is assumed by these persons that I am in some sense a child. Who ever heard of a speaking land?
I was sent away and then summoned. In the interim I have learned that in order to be effectual here I must learn another language.
The name of the language I must learn has not yet been revealed to me.
I am listening intently—
Trying to determine the language.
Much later I may learn that it is not a language of forms, or characters but a language of listening.
Becoming is part of the premise means nothing is complete. To be alive is to remain unfinished. And this unfinishing continues in a manner that seems both endless and minute. I will never get used to it. And at the same time I have surrendered in a curious fashion. I am an undone premise. This demands of me only persistence.
But how will I tell this to the unresponsive, the gadget happy, the drones and the ambitious, to those seeking only their own pleasure? Even those in the Institute obsessed with advancing civilization are missing something beneath the mechanism of movement. Who they are in the pursuit pushes the entire container we exist within. How we speak and are spoken to. But I cannot expect anything to become clear before the eyes of the Institute immediately. I must walk and not calculate. I must listen and not insinuate.
Yes I have done so here, assumed unfairly and perhaps idiotically. But it is not without reason. And reason, or the misperception of reason may be my worst contradiction. How can one reason about persons one has not seen in two decades? I speak as if I know, when in fact I know only memory and a record of the actions of these persons and this place. I know its mark upon the skyline, sharp graphite rising and angled. I know the reflective glass, in pictures. I know I was somehow carved here. There is a semblance of me. And though I have been absent, I have also been listening.
I know nothing about what occurs inside the building of reflective towers.
Let me tell you where I have been. Sent off from a landscape of measurements into one of forging. There were no numbers, no hours, no chart upon the wall to mark my growth. No contained parameters. No scaffoldings from which to lean out and look down at an artificial garden.
I have been in a place which waters the night and calls day a rest. In the darkness I can remember the quietness, how shocking it seemed to me at first. And the land in it’s own design seemed initially untrustworthy. Remarkably independent, More so than any being I had ever met.
Mine is the story of a boy estranged from any sanctuary known as home, affinity. I was what you might call sent away from my identity. When my mother told me we were to leave there was an enviable corner in her eye which I noted. This told me I could change things. It was her way of asking a question without admitting she was deferring to me. At twelve I knew this. What was this other location and what had become of her once more determinate facial features? There was suddenly no protection from the land of what absence had determined. Suddenly like departure, only we had yet to leave anywhere. My father leaving only his beautiful hands which I felt on occasion clasp my shoulders from behind. Did she know? I knew them at this threshold, his absent hands, urging me to investigate with the undertone and taste of question. What would I make of it, he seemed to ask. Or so I imagined. A boy of twelve in somewhat befuddled falling apart clothes. So I went where one is to go hidden toward one’s confidante. Away from the land of surface seeming certainty and into the more fragrant regions of adolescent scribes who would know what wasn’t spoken.
Spooked, he said, that was how I looked. We sat on the curb in the usual manner, knees visibly knocking together. Almost not touching at all. But certitude. Here. Buzz had absconded something from me. There is no future he said. Now is where we are. So I questioned him. Must I go? This was partially pleading for him to take me. Secretly or suddenly. Away from the question entirely and into a region I only imagined as safe harbor. What did this antiquated phrase mean? I had read it in a book. About boats or boys, perhaps pirates. I didn’t know. A boy of twelve with ghost hands upon my shoulders. A mother trembling of some indeterminate dis-ease which for lack of a better reason I ascribed to grief. What did I know, besides the curbside reverie as a means to unburden my somewhat unbearable sense of self-enclosure?
But Buzz didn’t take me anywhere exactly. He sent me. Was this a betrayal? How could it have been when I’d never even asked what I had wondered. There were no words even, only an image of a boat. The missing physicality of terse engagements. The night which kept encircling something I couldn’t have ignored anymore than I could have described. But I knew at least that he inhabited, or had recently inhabited such a question. The way he held his body and moved akin to some invisible current.
Safe harbor, safe harbor. But his eye loomed again. Preposterously, or disastrously, or anonymously. Nothing encircling the neck. No netting. This is where we are. Must I go? And even though I never uttered those exact words his gaze, which invariably tore through me, told me in no uncertain terms. There is no safe harbor. What you imagine is what you imagine.
Is it dangerous to imagine this? It is futile to imagine this. But relatively true if you are to leave.
He was basically saying, I am not that. I am not what you imagine. I am not your refuge, at least not of that sort. The grand entrance cannot be found in me. So exit instead through this particular porthole. And go willingly, where she will take you.
There wasn’t any “why” amid the interchange. “Why” interested me then as little as “no” and “later” and “you must.” Because “why” existed in the same region as reams of books in which any point could be argued to infinity. I could have culled as many volumes of “why” on each side of the equation. But what I did not realize was that the “why” of the question was much more pertinent to understanding where I was soon to be, to become. There is no making up for age, blindness, which is just as well. So seeing only what I was able to see, I went.
I dutifully followed my mother to that destination with no sense of “why” and stubbornly resisting any inclination to say goodbye. So his eye loomed again and again from the safe distance of no curbs and no knees. And from this safe harbor, which I never knew myself to reside within, my questions began distractedly to walk.
And in the cities-systems I visited care was taken to shield me from anything reminiscent of the Institute. No uniforms and research laboratories. Instead science infused with academic ethics. Think tanks alongside questions of what was deemed, the flaw of the assumption of the “eternal atmosphere. “ We had seen it disappear, due to human idiocy. How to retrace, and curtail further maiming of the planet? This against the backdrop of everything elsewhere, all rush and media. Medical thrusts brought to bear upon first, regardless of the cost. The endless debates. And to escape and to examine these debates there were the usual cultural amusements to which I was drawn, objecting all along to the consumerist aspect of inhaling it all simply to say one had done so. That was the climate though, to say one had seen a show or heard a composition or been present for a performance. This was to replace possessions, even food. Persons, live transmission of works were to replace facts. Walking was to replace the sedatives once taken by my guardians. I recall a tangle of city nights unslept. Unredemptive atmospheres in cool colors, the length of various planetary days. Unblinking I resolved that neither one life nor the other could be called correct. The pursuit of earth science or the pursuit of the art of exile. Neither the land nor the person. Neither consumption nor non-consumption. Intoxication or sober awareness. I compiled my lists of opposites, choosing none of them.
In secret, I supposed I was alone in this occupation, except once. The moon was visible in our imaginations alone, though we insisted the sky had never been veiled and painted. I took out the memory only rarely. We walked to a place, a firepit constructed of stones we had found along the path. Of course this too was a prevarication, the real soil, actual original stones, had been replaced. In this spot the lists were burned. At least, metaphorically. In this spot many silent vows were made. I say vows because the unspoken knowing between various versions of myself comes into relief when I look back at these occasions somewhat piercingly. Secret volition. Paper to ash. And other things we were not to name or to know.
(recounts a dream)
Substantially a dream we wish to cling to and not to forgo forget forge within incendiary mechanisms therefore go less childish wish—
From memory. I am invisible. There is a boy, in an old buttoned coat, somewhat secondhand military, or of some mysterious empire. Do we speak the same language?
Another language, instant kinship, affinity.
Is his name Gray? He has no name. It occurs to me that he is from the destroyed city.
We are in some abandoned castle, ruination. Cold and hungry. He must be saved from something. Unbathed. No matter. Longing is childish and innocent.
When I awakened I was lying in bed trying to retain the apparition. So pure in insisting upon merely presence and nothing else. Stirrings uncolored by adult consciousness. Complete belonging.
Clasping his hand in greeting or recognition —t his has nothing to do with possession, as it wouldn’t occur to us that other worlds could interrupt, interject.
Running down a hall where we were vaguely aware we should not have been at all. Damp grey stone. Where are we? Whose form is asking? I am propelled down another tunnel and another.
Covering the same ground again and again. The expression on his face saves me. Is this how all children — when they fall? The difference between falling and falling has everything to do with the scaffoldings we construct.
Finally he reveals it to me—why we have run to this dark passage.
Colin wanted to meet you, he says.
Where are we?
Colin, he points.
He points to a small stained glass window, visible only through the window we now look, to another, across a locked courtyard. The head of a small bird etched in the glass.
O, I say, examining the bird.
He must be a close friend.
When I try to take the dream memory further, there is no crossing the threshold of innocence.
There is no bordered kiss, no reclining embrace in the original.
That Colin is his best friend is sweetness saddened and pulled. He has somehow been deprived of companionship. As if crossing a sea, continually, there are certain ports at which he is able to stop. Colin is a port. There are other points in crossing where he cannot bid his mind still enough to enter.
That he has somehow been deprived and I myself as well I see. A dance between present and not, indulgence and deprivation.
In the dream, I think, it is a great mark of his confidence that he has introduced me. The glass bird stares and says nothing.
We skip contentedly down the dark damp hall again and out into the light
You can live here, I say because you are invisible.
Copyright ©2009 by Laynie Browne
Laynie Browne is the author of seven collections of poetry and one novel. Her most recent publications include The Scented Fox, (Wave Books 2007), Daily Sonnets (Counterpath Books, 2007) and Drawing of a Swan Before Memory (University of Georgia Press, 2005). Two collections are forthcoming: Roseate, Points of Gold, from Dusie Books and The Desires of Letters, from Counterpath. Her work has been anthologized recently in Not For Mothers Only (Fence Books), Wreckage of Reason, An anthology of Contemporary Xxperimental Prose by Women Writers, (Spuytenduyvil), and in The Reality Street Book of Sonnets (Reality Street Edititions, U.K.). She has taught creative writing at The University of Washington, Bothell, at Mills College in Oakland and at the Poetry Center at the University of Arizona, where she is currently developing a new a poetry-in-the-schools program for K-5 schools.