(ex-Togo) in Genoa, Italy, in December 1948 for
resettlement in Australia © Wikimedia Commons.
[right] Svalbard Global Seed Vault © Wikimedia Commons.
“Andreas Hejnol shows us another kind of ghost: the spectral presence of evolutionary time inside the bodies of organisms. Every new species inherits parts of its body plan from earlier organisms. For those who want to admire the diversity of life, the trick is not to imagine this inheritance as teleological progress, the climbing of a ladder towards the sun. Instead, we might appreciate the ghostly presence of ancestors inside us, which makes it possible for us to do whatever we do.”
—editiorial excerpt from ‘Footprints of the Dead’ in Arts of Living on a Damaged Planet, p. G65.
A sonorous draft; a lexicon of windjamming* will stage an experiential exhibition reading room for the working draft of a forthcoming artist book on labour, genealogy and dissemination. With a material and narrative focus on sensorial reading—via touch and sound—the work is conceived of as a lexical body of inheritance between my paternal grandfather and my (non-biological) daughter.
Designed as a horseshoe narrative (in the words of artist Harry Dodge) set between the coordinates of the Suez Canal and the Indian Ocean (1948), and a drought-riven, combustible Australian landscape (2016-2020), the story is anchored in the sonic perceptions of a six-week journey at sea in which my grandfather taught himself the English language. A key narrative arc develops through the paralleled story of the SS Svalbard (former MS Togo), the ship that carried my grandfather—a former Polish student/teacher of languages and a Holocaust survivor—toward his eventual resettlement in Australia. The ship as protagonist becomes a conduit for speaking to various global concerns: climate migration, food security—via the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, as discussed in Claire Pentecosts’s essay Fields of Zombies ¬ —as well as the various associations of ‘cruising’: within LGBTQIA+ cultures, migration politics and the ways in which cruising has, during the current pandemic, become a pejorative form of viral dissemination. In opening up to non-conventional forms of kinship, and sound/touch perception as knowledge, the narrative becomes a queer strategy for displacing the visual, as akin to the biological gaze.
[* Windjammer, noun Informal: any large sailing ship; a member of its crew; Older Slang. a long-winded person; a great talker.]
Forthcoming at BLINDSIDE Gallery 2020/2021 ¬ .
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I[HNoMS Svalbard, December 1948]
The Canal, Kyenay: Birth and Conception Bardo
The Canal, Kyenay: Birth and Conception Bardo
We wait in line, single file. We are littoral molluscs hanging at the northern periphery of the Suez Canal. Edging, limning as uprooted vegetation. After a day and a night of moving away from our departure point in Genoa, Italy, we are afloat on the salty seas of the Mediterranean, grateful for her bouyancy. We are one entity containing tens and hundreds of bodies: an abundance, as all single units are known to contain. We sit, like placid ducks, waiting eagerly to enter the event of passage, seeing out the single most defining story of the century’s middle movements, all in single file.
I wonder if you’ve ever encountered such a vestibule of couch wisdom as this? The heaving movements of stasis, of patience.
For fun I thieve and then thin-out or fatten up sonic facts and figures, rackets of hubbub. I filter-feed on mass labours of information swiftly as if krill passing through baleen hair. I live and breath the audible lives of others with no need for a profit in sight.
Inside this localised global storehouse, we travel—migratory, en masse—through the intestines of an antechamber. Our narrow forthcoming pathway leads us to the main event of the world’s womb, blossoming into a post-war boom of babies, bombs and botanical drift.
Like the ligatures of Moby Dick’s reliance on lines and ropes, we string a plot, a web, across the seas. A string of lambent lanterns, bloated boats of deliverance. They fortify our twisted trajectory of capture and release.
From an anatomical perspective, a vestibule, I am told, is either of a series of chambers or channels opening into another: the central cavity of the labyrinth of the inner ear; the part of the mouth outside the teeth; or the space in the vulva into which both the urethra and vagina open.
There is an art to getting inside. The heaving movements of stasis, of patience.
This vestibule is a bottled up message, turned paper thin like the most sensitive of receptors. An orotund labyrinth driving into itself. This vestibule is a slackened drum skin protecting an inner ear into which human activity seeps as a vast courier. Their messages—muffled now through the musty veneer of oil-slid, slickened under-skin of petroleum atop the peopled wallpaper—are both intricate and confusing to me.
Mama, I am sick from this ocean. It is too rough on my stomach. My legs cannot stay still for even a moment.
You do not make omelette without first breaking egg, my darling.
The thing I learn from them as metaphor is a playful trill of anchorage that holds down their survival. In this cavity they yoke their resistances together, holding tight for a more bearable tomorrow.
Contained in theirs is my own story, one of an armchair anthropology. I put on their words in the same way I might imagine them to put on their masks. But exactly who or what is being seated, and who or what is being supported, is not so easy to tell. Together we are a heaving entrance hall for entire bodies of land and sea: the politic they govern, their overstories, their undertow. I am not trying to be lofty here, on the contrary, I am merely attempting to locate where the stress falls; where the gaps are. To try and quell this place of its ego; to try and communicate.
Many centuries ago—I would say just enough to count on my two hands, only I don’t have even the one—the crime of eavesdropping was provincially presided over. The eaves of houses these days are either torn off, non-existent in the first place, or mutable and ever-shifting, just like the structures of houses themselves. People everywhere are being torn from their homes, their spirits becoming the scaffolding of bricks and mortar, their ears the eaves bedraggled all over the walls of their haunt, mossy with the slow-growing lichen of their paranoia. Justifiably so. The stealthy hiding of a once Listening Tom under the eaves of a house is now everywhere an unmoored grip, a global given. An ever advancing avant-garde of intell, intelligentsia. I should know, I was trained as a subaqueous spy, a spook, a snooper.
These days I voluntarily absorb the tiniest of their sounds, the humans: I verb them, sound out the words in my own language but don’t, cannot, verbalise. I render, but to no one, no thing, although I am in close proximity to many things all of the time. Loudly I take in: consume imbibe ingest and swallow. Silently I emit: effuse leak ooze and belch. To the best of my ability, the only thing I can really do to any tangible effect is carry them safely, synchronising my movements with the forces around me to soften the blows of potentially harmful interactions that rile against my being here in the first place.
I am a haberdashery dealer for one-off visitors and loyal patrons; the return of stray seagulls and unencumbered waves slapping against my every move. We are the heir of this syncopatic, symptomatic slow dance as if for hundreds of years we have been expected to perform the erotic desire of humans to be moved from A to B. Instruments aiding those so-called discoveries; fraught decks used to stash the lootings of colonial treasures in stolen goods.
I’m not hot for you, you know?
You don’t know. You don’t see any of this, least of all you don’t hear it. Those spiralling cavities of your cochlea—snail shell or screw—attune to a helical I, rather than a chord; a plateau of long libidinal longing. My longing to be heard.
The energy of your earthly dramas lifts me, heaves me, courtesy of the elements. Increases in severity relative to the warming of the planet by carbon emission. The unrelenting, unbelieving of rising sea levels that my internal monologue records with each passing phase of denial. I have met the melting ice caps and they are warming to feverish pitch, fuming red from embarrassment. They blush, but not out of any kind of flattery for man, foolhardy that he is.
The couching of my wisdom falls on deaf ears, for years and years and decades and eventually, if I’m lucky, I will be put to the utmost use by a posse of largely hermaphroditic salt-water marine wood borers: shipworms, gribbles and piddocks will burrow in favourably to the spaces where my knowledge is kept, sealed, returning an acquired wisdom to earth’s earliest known living forms. A circular logic of capture and release that I am grateful for. The tight turns away from lathes, knots and rings and grains of my lumber, a conduit built out of years of restless sleeplessness in the form of once living ancient trees: spliced, polished flat, propelling smooth courtesy of a minutia of salted water rubbings. Ergonomic vessel eventually put to productive rest at the base of the sea floor.
One day I will be able to sleep for ever.
For now, I stay occupied. I busy myself with wholesome distractions, paving a path towards eventual sleep, body heavy with gravity, dodging those karmic visions of being pulled apart as scrap metal and timber and rubber left to perish in a junkyard on a murky shoreline in pursuit of a supposed nirvana; reconstitution. I consume the leachings, metabolise them in the direction of an ever-humming engine; tens and hundreds per day, kilowatts of aural artefacts above and beside and below deck—all kinds of oblique and active interactions between people and minerals and colonies of vermin both dry and wet and I take them in, externally, underwater, jettisoned from the horizon, sense impressions of currents—the creatures they carry. I retain and fertilise their visions, the bedecking of their insomnia against my skin; a wool-gathering of dream and fright within my abdomen.
On this particular evening it is a crisp scuttle of African wind that sends little pitchforks of noise across the surface of the canal. This wind carries little airborne particles from the dry yellow banks built up from the canal floor: a composite of silt and sand and in places, calcium, mixed with blood and sweat and urine that will eventually absorb back into the water that has replaced it, pushing down as reconstituted information. The politics of this ear—a deep listening, once of earth, now of water—is an ancient and enduring site of conflict; the piercing of an isthmus—Suez—favouring a soluble travel route to link the Mediterranean with the Red Sea. Soluble as in to be solved; not soluble as in softened, a desirous state worth succumbing to.
To my left I can hear an inner stretch of baritone—trombone, perhaps? It is full up to its belly with the echoes of a post-screaming sky that is always pregnant with the next installment. A century of wars all lined up as if queuing to enter this very passage of water: One; Two; Nuclear; Cold; Civil; Climate; Trade; Terror. Close to here in space but further afield in time: Yom Kippur. Really close to here in time and in space: The Nakba or Catastrophe, also known as the War of Independence, depending on which side of a borderless meridian your ear attunes to.
I think about the draining of a cistern as another way of hearing about life occupying the spaces built for its defences ¬ . My bunk beds, commissioned for soldiers to rest their hollowed promises of a life on, are now crutches for the nightly traumas of their survivors. They swing incessantly, down there in my middle, mass squeakings of a parlance; little pendulums of dreamscape. Elsewhere in the world, a conch shell is emptied out of its valued seafood for nourishment—its flesh: scungille to the Italians; lambi in the South Equatorial regions. I hear the conch pierce through the monotone of the lower notes now; an emptied out vessel converting wind to call.
Łodiridi łodiridi dyna
My tawdry decks are ablaze now with the sounds of his restless pacing. Hundreds of tiny shuffling moments.
He sings what I assume to be a Polish folk song. A bird song? I’ve heard this song before. It was around about the same place but another time, during a different trip and sung a different way. Still brimming with nostalgia but more jovial before. Bright, upbeat, with musical accompaniment. It was day time then and sung with suggestions of a circular kind of dancing around its pastime of verse. Much more varied too in its vocal arrangements: women, children and men each fulfilling their various harmonic roles. Gendered roles, assigned discriminately to patterns of pitch, as if such a formula were still plausible. But, tradition prevails, in most quarters. Now it is singular and much more sombre at night, the time when birds don’t sing out like they do in the day.
Viva-voce; a-ca-ppel-la; ohne Begleitung. An unmarried tongue.
There is a gruff warmth to his voice. I have come to know its kind as a signature of the Eastern European sensibility. Stern, even at times brute, but accommodating, endlessly so once a certain trust has formed. With each turn now towards ellipsis I hear the fall of little nicks of collected sea salt, weighted down further with the gathering of desert sand. The clumps fall away bit by bit from the edging of his shoes: those round houses for his angelic survival. Tracks, a frottage of living impression treading down around his story. He moves as if an egg-beater of motion in the upper and lower limits of his body, his vocal ranging on par with his bustling feet. Both are propelling him to stay afloat in these dry quarters; dry, that is, until the next inevitable overburden of canal water settles south from its airborne status.
I’m thinking over the ways that I might start to address you. To attempt to secure your attention. Attention as a form of prayer ¬ .
Dear Tongue, Dear Tendon—
Your story, I discover, rides the strait of a deep rivulet alongside my own. Fluids and their stories flood these channels so that we live inside the deluge of a waking dream. Your story comes to me as one of cowboys and pirates, of sorts. And I wonder: were these tropes also the figurines you played with as a child in inter-war Poland? Did they occupy your local imaginary, before this global sweep of migration brought their actors into such close proximity to your own life? Maybe back then, the play of cowboys and pirates didn’t factor into your own private mythology. Maybe it has taken for the land and the sea to marry on such a granular level, for this mass congregation—this grand robbery—to take place.
Your story is one of part myth and part fact. An alloy of elements mixed together to re-pair in order to pass on. This story is a balm, a salve. An emollient of tender lips softening around the purple and yellow of a tender bruise; the brute tendency that some have to snuff out—a sound, a body, an entire people.
You are the collective signal at the end of an aerophone that history plays with, wildly.
This is a story of you, tendon, holding onto the reins long enough to pass their worn out leather cuffs down a few more rungs.
In the Southern American colloquial, a family tradition in bull riding tells that a Mississippi amounts to the seconds a rider can hang onto the bull’s horns before they are evacuated from its grip. After eight long Mississippis, the rider is bucked off, becoming enveloped in the duty of dust that blankets their fall.
Where you never made it to that America, or any other after the war, each of the eight Mississippis in this story claims a lot of 365 days in which you, tongue, were suppressed, and in which you, tendon, were worked literally to the bone.
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[seventy years later on dry land]
dear tentacular love—
in AN OCTOPUS IN PLAN VIEW ¬ , angie keefer unpacks the etymology of the word octopus from its firs migration into the english language in the late 1700s, via new latin. keefer speaks to the various failed attempts to standardise grammar in the hope of saving the english language from its corroded state as as “ulcere tongue”. the moral of the story being that the english language is, and has always been, a motley mongrel aesthetic—something like our family-in-making. it traces its lineage back to various periods of migration; it is a daughter out of wedlock; it is culturally and otherwise queer. unlike english, our beautiful mongrel isn’t intent on colonising any supposed nation; it doesn’t bark where it isn’t wanted. our mongrel holds out eight sucker-bearing arms able to hold space for all the alchemy of wet and dry in the world, which is to say, magic and its failings. the endless frottage that forms by their acquaintance.
to assist in braiding the green saplings of your gamete strands, i use something old, something new, something borrowed. you are something blue, and then—the colour. first, flashes of red, revolutionary love. then yellow, the ordinary edgework of evening light that tells me we’re going to be friends—knew you from before you were born, a speck of dust lodged in an expanse of milky way, before i tucked your half dna into your mother’s lower glottis. (i discover now that the etymological root of ‘syringe’ with which you were created is ‘syrinx’: a set of pan pipes; the lower larynx or voice organ in songbirds). she warbled, then cried—love! first a contraction, then a dilation. the colour white came, viscous as the chalk of your pavement juvenalia turned liquid by the yolk of this translucent rain. it saved us by putting out these fires. white of your mama’s breast milk when it finally arrived after days of your hunger, opaque bleating at the fence. we were tired lambs hearing only our delirium and shushes, unaware. from out of the memory glands of colostrum, gold faded into a fuller spectrum. from out of your placenta, patches of my purple prose started to take root.
she places a rubber
nipple proxy across
the lip; a hair
line emerges in my ear
taste it; the crack
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i poach milk from the / bottle of your mother’s breasts; the lacuna / reflected in my / taking up, being / another’s / dry nurse.
dry of chest / but wet, biotic / astute of duct / at the base / where kith and kin / also live / chthonic / rubber nipple / is pliable / biology.
call me prosthesis / call me semi-submerged / self as nautilus; I’m anti- / natal paper thin / shelled, marined and / unmoored; / marinating against / nuclear (family) / power (house).
i’m learning to live as your / human / cyborg m_other / in relation.
rubber nipple is / pli/able / plaus/able / biology.
for now my parched / chest is a store- / house for childish / moths of plastic red / and black / wet / backs.
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we are the squid shooting bioluminescent liquid, instead of ink, to confuse its predators.
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