here, my lungs are tea-stained & soft

Five Stanzas to Thoreau, by Tomas Transtromer

Yet one more abandoned the heavy city’s
ring of greedy stones. And the water, salt and
crystal, closes over the heads of all who
truly seek refuge.

*

Silence slowly spiraling up has risen
here from earth’s recesses to put down roots and
grow and with its burgeoning crown to shade his
sun-heated doorstep.

*

Kicks a mushroom thoughtlessly. Thunderclouds are
piling on the skyline. Like copper trumpets
crooked roots of trees are resounding, foliage
scatters in terror.

*

Autumn’s headlong flight is his weightless mantle,
flapping till again from the frost and ashes
peaceful days have come in their flocks and bathe their
claws in the wellspring.

*

Disbelief will meet him who saw a geyser
and escaped from wells filled with stones, like Thoreau
disappearing deep in his inner greenness
artful and hopeful.

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Rilke on books x books x books

“A world will come over you, the happiness, the abundance, the incomprehensible immensity of a world. Live a while in these books, learn from them what seems to you worth learning, but above all love them. This love will be repaid you a thousand and a thousand times, and however your life may turn — it will, I am certain of it, run through the fabric of your growth as one of the most important threads among all the threads of your experiences, disappointments, and joy.”

two oh oh one six

The year I did not write.

I wrote the stories of people I was paid to meet, I wrote the stories I was paid to write, I wrote narratives and presented them to clients – but they are attempts at objectivity, they are representations of an ethnographer, meant to be consciously reflexive but also unconsciously detached.

I spent time trying to slip into stability, perhaps led by some Singaporean bone laden with pragmatism, with the desire to stop standing out as a wanderer – coming home was also a nod to try and be normal. Netflix nights, a partner that sounded great on paper, family meals, weekend recovery from weekday exhaustion, the bi-annual holiday to cities to eat and shop. I was trying to grow some roots. I wanted time to pass quickly, to be thoughtlessly brought through tasks and activities, and it seemed that conventional stability should be achieved on autopilot. Thinking slows things down.

In the middle of 2016, as we sat in a womb in a city of dust, I felt I was truly happy, if not in the city then at least while trudging for 8 hours along the ridges of Ourika valley, watching the earth break along brown swirls, still impatient for rain. Later, when he told me he had been unhappy, I was horrified, because it was the best vacation we had taken together, with tension minimized for a largely happy exploration, affirmed after with love letters, happy photos, public declarations of having levelled up in life somehow. But then today I found out that I wrote a few weeks after, randomly, to myself, in a note, “Had a very unhappy weekend. How much time does it take for two humans to settle, to get used to each other, whittle down to smooth edges?”

Too much time, it seems, or not enough – there are no answers now, and to quote from “Days of Abandonment”, ‘…but above all I no longer wanted to know if it was strychnine or something else that had killed Otto. The dog had fallen through a hole in the net of events. We leave so many of them, lacerations of negligence, when we put together cause and effect. The essential thing was that the string the weave that now supported me, should hold’. I searched for answers and found them to be multiple and confounding, each memory colluding with the present, signs that said I should not have gotten back together with someone who had already abandoned me carelessly so many times, who did not even remember doing so at times – whose feelings and memories are adrift on a turbulent sea that determines their directions, even if away from me, outside of anything I could control – how did I decide to try again with such a trajectory? How to risk waking up again, to an assumed partner, who says, and who does not know why he says, I do not want you in my life? How to risk having that burned into constant repetition in my mind and memory, in various forms, shapes, words, and women?

On hindsight, it’s been a ridiculous four years. No, I am not free of imperfections, flaws, or unkindnesses of my own – but perhaps it is the exact degrees of difference of our flaws, or the jarring angles at which we view the world, that made whittling a painful exercise instead of a happy one. It is perhaps what puts these qualities into my closed fist, making them unbearable.

So now, at the end of this year, the words are flowing back, finally. It’s been two months of struggling to understand everything, to getting the specifics, to re-visiting, to stalking, to desiring, more than ever before – and then to letting it all go. And now lightness descends. I’m starting to ride again, into the natural world, by the coasts I’ve always loved. I’m walking again, for hours, whenever I want, wherever I want. From afar, so early in the morning, the trees shimmer green gold at their edges, then slowly come back into focus.

on evolution and devolution

“Are you well?”
“Me, yes.”
“Is it true that you don’t love me anymore?”
“Yes.”
“Why? Because I lied to you? Because I left you? Because I humiliated you?”
“No. Just when I felt deceived, abandoned, humiliated, I loved you very much, I wanted you more than in any other moment of our life together.”
“And then?”
“I don’t love you anymore because, to justify yourself, you said that you had fallen into a void, an absence of sense, and it wasn’t true.”
“It was.”
“No. Now I know what an absence of sense is and what happens if you manage to get back to the surface from it. You, you don’t know. At most you glanced down, you got so frightened, and you plugged up the hole with Carla’s body.”

He made a grimace of annoyance, he said to me:
“You have to take the children more. Carla is exhausted. She has exams to take, she can’t take care of them, you’re their mother.”

I looked at him attentively. It was really true, there was no longer anything about him that could interest me. He wasn’t even a fragment of the past, he was only a stain, like the print of a hand left years ago on a wall.

– Excerpt from Elena Ferrante’s “The Days of Abandonment”

Excerpt from “Minerals and Biomass” in Alexandra Horowitz’s ‘On Looking’

Each building is, of course, forged of stone or hewed from a once-living tree. So-called man-made objects are just those that began as naturally occurring materials and are broken apart and recombined to form something customized to our purposes.

Viewed with this lens, the city feels less artificial. The cold stone is natural, almost living: it absorbs water, warms under the sun, and sloughs its skin in rain. Like us, stone is affected by time, its outer layer softened and its veins made more prominent. And viewed as a natural landscape, the city feels less permanent: even the strongest-looking behemoth of an apartment tower is gradually deteriorating under the persistent, patient forces of wind, water, and time. Weather continuously wears at the building, carving its influence by subtraction. Dirt stains; rainwater leaves a trail of salt tearing from a sill to the ground; a decorative copper touch oxidizes – and then its greenness washes onto the stone below it; steel rusts earthly red. Little is as convincing of the naturalness of the city as the process of weathering. Stones become covered with moss; ivy creeps up, disjoints, and eventually obliterates brick; wood darkens with moisture and lightens with age, then gets worn into a soft-cornered version of its former self.

Eventually, this town – all towns – will dissolve and become fodder for another generation’s construction.