When you require renewal, is there a particular poem or book that you return to? A particular author?
When our baby was born with a grievous, unexpected birth defect, flown to Riley, and lived thirteen days, we had no words to describe what we were feeling. In fact I'm not sure we were even feeling-- a word like 'feeling' might be too comprehensive, and even the word "describe" seems like drawing a line around something that cannot be bound. To gesture towards it, I'd say: the feeling was like falling down the stairs--pain, disbelief, peril, terrible momentum, perceptual intensity, and knowing that it will be worse when it is over. Time went so quick. And yet, it was the time of illness, it was hospital time, so it also distended and dilated, we were inside some stoma of time, bacteria living in the lidless eye of time.
And our baby in her warm room on her raised white bier began to remind us of an image, from Art-- it was the image of Mario Montez at the beginning of Jack Smith's queer, underground, and notoriously unfinished film, Normal Love. In the opening shots, Mario Montez is black-eyed screen-goddess, in white bonnet, in a bath of pearls and milk. Everything that happens in the film goes away from and returns to this image. And so it was with our baby, in her incredible glamour, under her heat lamps, arrayed on white sheets, her black hair swirling around her white bandages, and tubes cycling all of her holy blood out of her and bringing it back at the neck-- we couldn't take our eyes off her. I would glance at my husband sidelong, and, in extremis, repeat:
normal love, normal love.
I found at the hospital that Art did not desert me, and I realized then that Art was truly my faith. And, for a creed, lines of poetry, images from film-- when my consciousness could not collect itself to form a thought, my brain relayed images and lines, and it gave me comfort to rub my raw self up against that Art a child rubs a scrap of soft worn shining fabric-- the more drastic the Art, the more it was able to reach me in my extremity. Artaud, Cendrars, Bataille, Breton--all that intensity and frottage. When we finally removed the respirator, when the tube came up from her throat, I was afraid to watch, afraid I would see something ugly that would flap like a black cloth over my whole life. But I didn't turn away. I opened my eyes in the dark (Ro. Bolaño tr. Chrs. Andrews). I looked on my dying baby and felt a prayer come to my lips:
Let beauty be convulsive or it shall not be at all.
Later, at home, in the dark, when I could not close my eyes, I would recite: "Night is the insane asylum of the plants." That's the great Chilean poet Raúl Zurita translated by Anna Deeny Morales. And often are the times I recall this quote by Zurita, translated by David Shook:
I felt that pain and death should be responded to with a poetry and an art that was as vast and strong as the violence that was exercised over us. To place in opposition the limitless violence of crime and the limitless violence of beauty, the extreme violence of power and the extreme violence of art, the violence of terror and the even stronger violence of all our poems.
And often are the times Johannes and I will turn to each other in our Rust Belt kitchen, in our distraught, 100-year-old diva of a house, with the house and the world falling down around us, one dead child, one foster child we love fiercely, two adolescent daughters picking a path through a world of ruins, and we paraphrase a sacred dialogue for Blaise Cendrars and Little Jehanne of France:
--Are we going to go all the way, Blaise?
--Yes, we're going to go all the way.
And then, like Mary Shelley, we just keep going.