In his Orphée, Jóhann Jóhannson sampled the voice from a polish number station that, throughout the sixties and seventies, syncopately reproduced numbers in a haunting, disconcerting fashion. A Song for Europa, it is called. Zwei, acht, null, fünf, sechs. ACHTUNG! One month today marks the passing of my grandfather, and never have I been in such a loss of spirit nor have I felt so earnestly that which is the weight of things, thus, I will allow myself once the honesty of words, though I’d otherwise reject it. It is important that I write, and, knowingly, as I rekindle a silence I seek solace in, it’s no importance I can yet grasp, but one that comes to me in washes.
Manner, like art, has a sense and travels frontwards. My grandfather put on his sunglasses, since only with them could he sleep, and to sleep he went. Restless, as he always was, he got up, arranged a rope, laced it poorly around his neck and fastened it to the frame of the hennery door, from which he lunged. His knees were 13 centimetres from the ground. He was wholly able to get up throughout the entire process of asphyxiation, and unstintingly unwilling to do so. Anne Carson writes, in the end of her Plainwater, that “on the other hand death, yes stealthy enough, ignores no one and never sleeps.“. Literature, flawed as it is, accounts for life with its feverish stupor. My grandmother called us all, and then stood as still as a burning mountain. Flashes of life went by, some wept, some screamed, unleashed some sort of performance that I hadn’t yet learned but observed candidly, and my mother was a month to every moon, cycling between, or rather navigating through, a small planet rehearsing its never-ending collapse. The rope was cut by the time I got there, but I still saw a body. I recall seeing a body, I do not recall the body.
It took me a lifetime to realise that stillness is a habit. One doesn’t grow accustomed to stillness, but instead learns to simulate oneself and to inhabit the simulacrum, as if under a keratinous shell. That is not a process of defence nor one of cowardice, but of paralysis. One poemifies the skin, the eyes, the mouth, the pores. The shedding of the leaves causes one as much a wound as does the visions of a dying society, as the light of renewal is undermined by the contamination of the self, and so, leaves are shedded and so are we, brushed off from the nape of a running horse. Each daylight becomes critical. My dear friend warns me of mourning: it causes one to see death in everything, and to feel it pulsate. She’s right, and not just slightly. I see death in everything because I notice everything dying. “at times i think that flowers bloom after being cut. war is also that: a body-time falling upon a living-time. when the chronic swells up, it isn’t any death, but one that adds up, therefore things change beyond the end of changing. like the sun doubles a mountain in the impression of its shadow, so too does the end impress on time the tilted trauma of its violence.“, I had written, addled, but not by grief, but for the lack of it, as any manner of written grief is the lack of it. Only after. “the slight smile of the horizon surges also from me. i’m not more now than i’ve once been, and the sun twirls, reviled, dilating itself in its homicidal light.“
I recall seeing a body and I recall the rest. In me, cities have been flooded. There’s nothing I cannot recall in immense and cruel detail, and when the detail lacks cruelty or immensity, I become a poet. A poem is something remaining, and the something is fabrication, and the fabrication is human, reeks of it, like a factory reeks of it, or Berlin’s opera house, whose colours bleed that ghoulish human scent, or Artaud’s plague, that too reeks of human, like all plagues do, and so did my grandfather leading up to his death. He already sported that odour of humanity as if it had finally latched onto him, a parasite in limp, aged flesh. Weeks before his suicide, and for the first time in my conscious life, he had cried to me, saying his only wish before death was to see me married to a woman.
Death is also that, or, said differently, death is not just dying. Death is also inherited. One inherits death like a painful seed, and when the dying begins, there’s a sprout, and the sprout is a flower that only blooms after being cut, scented like Artaud’s plague, or any plague for that matter, and then it compels you to pass it on. It is too painful to keep. A viperous catch: there’s no passing. There’s only dying when you reek of poetry.
“You can hold yourself back from the sufferings of the world: this is something you are free to do and is in accord with your nature, but perhaps precisely this holding back is the only suffering that you might be able to avoid.”, said Kafka, in his Blue Octavo Notebooks, and it is as if we were reading Hölderlin’s Panthea as she witnessed what wasn’t quite a suicide (what wasn’t quite a suicide):
Not only in the blossom, not only in the purple grape Does holy force inhere; nourishment Of life derives from sorrow too, my sister! Life drinks the way my hero does, Imbibing gladly from the cup of death!
I, too, have a sister. But mine is as far from Delia as I am from Kafka. The day of the wake was a linguistic emprise. Historically, the parish my family comes from is a fissured place, since it is far too small and underpopulated to have as many churches as it does, but the entire region fell under the favour of a particular queen who was remarkably fond of building neoclassical churches. The centre of our municipality has an astounding seven churches for a measly nine-thousand people, and the village in which my grandfather died has three. One of which, the most opulent one, is the only one where sacraments take place, and the other two are used for special occasions. My grandfather, a victim of self-killing, had no right to enter the kingdom of god, nor had he ever asked for entry, and thus, at request of his family, the priest, who does not favour life-takers much, relegated us to the most worn down chapel of the bunch. The keys were picked up at dawn and delivered promptly the day after (I made sure of that). Neither he nor anyone was sent by the church. It’s frugal, still, this sudden honesty of the spirit, because who hasn’t lost? When something is deeply ubiquitous, it manages to feel strikingly cold, almost repulsive. Death has always been that to me. My sister and I jumbled through at least a dozen different iterations of suicide in portuguese, without, of course, ever saying the word itself. Flocks of people would wave in an out of the purportedly haunted chapel (as haunted as any chapel to S. Sebastian). We registered: their favoured expressions were “aquilo que ele fez” (that which he has done) and “desta/dessa forma” (in this/that way). They would subtly collect together, like galls in a flume, and these figures, many of whom had only seen me as a child, now commented on my alienness and weirdness. Some said I was much too thin, or much too weird, or much too slender and odd, as if I was a black hand flitting around, severed from its body and hosting some sort of diabolical apathy towards said separation. What is suicide, really? I had also only seen them as a child, and now I saw their flesh wrap around them with seething unkindness. Time seemed solid there, like a foucauldian heterotopia, and its solidity was a sea congealed, and they, who had all the while been hardened inside this claustrophobic architecture, had the entire solid sea collapse suddenly upon them, and I, still young enough to decline holding myself back from the sufferings of the world, felt that sea collapse inside me. No, but what is suicide, really?
At the end of the day, we struggled with the silicon fake candles as we could not find the button to turn them off. We chuckled. Laughter here is tinted with alien ink. One can feel the sting of compunction with every laugh, and it is always followed by a slight sigh: pain escaping. I took my mother home. We talked the whole way through about menial things; where to put the ashes, the diligences, which wood would burn better, quicker, with less noise. Noise is also death. I left my mother home at 2 A.M. and had an hour long return to my own. I wept the whole hour long, audibly, entirely perturbed; from me erupted an age-long drone. Sadness is a graceful, fragile thing. You are sad when you see a homeless person wobble down the road, and it sticks to you for hours, that sadness. But this isn’t sadness. What is a suicide? I did not care that he died, most of us didn’t. But we cared that he died. I dropped my mother off and one day she too will die, and I want to start weeping now. My hands are gaping maws, this world pushes me out. Nourishment of life derives from sorrow too, my sister, but I must learn of sorrow yet, I must learn of sorrow too.
(...) Forever. "This is what my learning Teaches," the Aquarian said, "To absorb life through the pores For the life around you is dead." The sun came out in the capital Just before it set. The lovely death's head shone in the sky As though these two had never met. John Ashbery
The summer air vacuums up. It has been hotter than it is now. It never felt hotter than now. I can imagine everything flitter. I hold my chest, half-eaten now, expecting something to fall out. Nothing does. The pigeons alight all at once, and all at once they settle. There is no longer an outside, and everyone goes through this process, this moulting. Loss is an exercise. To become is ambitious, to accept is hypocritical, and to change is religious, which is nothing but the mixture of them both. No, I did not become, I have not accepted nor changed. If I now raise my hand to the sunlight, it gathers up in my cupped bones like liquid fire.
(My grandfather was a terrible man. I knew him as much as I knew he was terrible. I know he never liked me, even though he made it clear he didn’t dislike me either. He once held up his hunting rifle pointed at me and threatened me with an ax when he realised he hadn’t reloaded. He drank a lot. He was miserable, and I knew him as much as I knew he was miserable. The father of my grandmother also hung himself, but from what I’ve heard, he was much sweeter. What is this, then?)
My nights are feeble habitats. They jumble around me like flaxen thumbs. My body is a neckless around the night. I remember the romantics, their intermittent dreams, the Schlegels, the Chamissos, the Goethes. Death is also fragmentary. It comes to me the pleasant smell of blindness. I want to be seen, listened to. I fear being seen, listened to. The Waves is up in the theatre near my house. Bernhard makes me cry, then Rhoda. Death is also Rhoda. Afterwards I sit, I talk, the world, the war, the rights, the immigration, the culture, pitter-patter, so lucky we are, so unlucky we are, and I drift back into a kingdom of moments that never touch other moments. Life becomes this plain land in repose. I dread not having sorrowed, but what can I do? What is there to feel sorry for? The imperative of doom has that delight. The sky is now two mirrors circulating blood. The trains in Antwerp churn to-and-fro opening discoloured gashes as they go, like nails upon sheepskin. I make plans to travel, I make plans to live in Berlin next year. I am tremendous. I ache all the time. I spasm with indifference, this world pushes me out. It pushes us all.