Silence
(a triptych)


Silences made of glass,

stained glass windows.

With the movement of the hours,

the positions of a winter sun,

three colors alternate.


I. Orange


She moves slowly. [ . . . ] She cannot disturb the atmosphere. The space where she might sit. When she might. She moves in its pauses. She yields space and in her speech, the same. Hardly speaks. Hardly at all. The slowness of her speech when she does. Her tears her speech.

Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, Dictée


orange

late 14c., in reference to the fruit of the orange tree (late 13c. as a surname), from Old French orange, orenge (12c., Modern French orange), from Medieval Latin pomum de orenge, from Italian arancia originally narancia (Venetian naranza), an alteration of Arabic naranj from Persian narang, from Sanskrit naranga-s “orange tree,” a word of uncertain origin.

Loss of initial n- probably is due to confusion with the definite article (as in une narange, una narancia), but also perhaps was by influence of French or “gold.”


I remember three cigarette brands from the time I lived in Japan: Hope, Peace and Echo. The brands date back from the end of the Second World War, after Hiroshima. When the Emperor announced you must accept what cannot be accepted, you must bear what is not bearable, I am not a god. The hardest thing to hear was I am not a god.


In the images I keep from Hiroshima mon amour, the memory of the bodies of the lovers fuses with the memory of desolate silent ruins in flames. The lovers smoke Peace.


I smoked Echo. The cigarettes had an unusual format, smaller than standard cigarettes. They came in soft packs with a design I loved: large horizontal bands of orange, tobacco brown and dark pink. The word echo written in small white print. No capital letter. They had a strong dark bitter taste. Like humus and ink. I smoked on my early morning bike rides in winter through Mitaka and Kichijoji, the cigarette smoke fused with the cold morning air. I ate tangerines in the subway on my way to work and kept the orange peels in my bag.


Lonely, I have killed and eaten all the people I loved. All the people I loved most. I ate them slowly. They did not protest. I wish they had. I started eating little pieces of them while they were still alive, hoping I could eventually control my hunger and let them live. I would carefully munch on a toe, or some ear cartilage while they were asleep or watching t.v. in the evening. Some of them would give me offerings of hair, nails, dead skin. That was never enough. I wanted to taste the joy of their warm raw livers, their palpitating hearts, their stressed tired lungs, their deficient gallbladders. I wanted to suck on their bones, savor their marrow. Lovingly.


Now they are all dead. There is nobody I feel any sort of deep connection with or kinship. I have eaten them all. In the evening in the spring time I sit quietly in my garden. I smoke one cigarette every evening. Then I capture one hummingbird, the way my cat taught me. I hold it gently on its back inside the palm of my hand. I use my longest fingernail to cut delicately the warm feathery pulsating belly and I eat the liver.


Iron-deficient, I look for new ways to replenish my blood poetically. Then I listen to the Holberg suite opus 40 by Grieg and I think of you, my last love. You were the quickest to die and the longest to haunt me afterwards. After you were dead, I wrote you a message (it was one night late and I think I might have been sleep-walking when I wrote it): “I would like to write a letter for you. I do not particularly need an address. Is a letter possible? If not can you send me suggestions of impossible letters? Forgive my insomniac logic. Can you send me an answer with potentially silences in it but also words too?”


I am hungry. I am always hungry. In the blackness of insomnia, I find hunger. In the blackness of memory, I find hunger. In the blackness of your eyes, I find hunger. In the blackness of your silence, I find hunger. I become hunger. I become silence.




II. Blue


It is you seeing her suspended, in a white mist, in white layers of memory. In layers of forgetting, increasing the density of mist, the opaque light fading it to absence, the object of memory.

Dictée


blue

“of the color of the clear sky,” c.1300, bleu, blew, “sky-colored,” also “livid, lead-colored,” from Old French blo, bleu “pale, pallid, wan, light-colored; blond; discolored; blue; blue-gray,” [ . . . ] from root *bhel- “to shine, flash, burn,” [ . . . ] The same PIE root yielded Latin flavus “yellow” [ . . . ] showing the slipperiness of definition in Indo-European color words.


In the sanatorium at night, corridors shrink, lengthen, undulate, lead away from the metallic beds and towards the sea. Everything is blue. The sea invisible but present. You can smell her breeze, her salt, warm sand. You can hear sirens, distant boats, seagulls fighting. It is strictly forbidden to see the sea. What happens if you disobey? You are not sure. Perhaps you will be quarantined in a room with no window.


Girls sleep in rows of metallic beds in dormitories shaped like large corridors. Beds squeak. Distant waves roll. Distant doors creak and close through the night. I walk among the beds at night. I leave muddy footprints on the white ceramic floor. Sometimes I see your face among them. Sometimes you are lost to me. You rarely sleep. You look at the ceiling. Either in sleep or in the midst of an insomnia, you develop the habit to protect your face with your forearm, as if from too much sun.


The sanatorium is made of corridors like tentacles that spread in different directions. The corridors lead to long dormitories, galleries, refectories, ensconced gardens that are forbidden. Corridors echo with light footsteps, but are always empty.


At night I come from the sea. I walk up the trail along the cliff. From afar, the sanatorium looks like an old abandoned bunker: black, dome-shaped. It is impossible to predict from its outside architecture that its innards are full of tentacles.

I am twelve. I cut my short black hair with garden scissors. I wear the obligatory uniform, a blue apron dress. I am barefoot. My feet are wet, full of sand and mud from the trail.


Sometimes the roof appears to me large, flat, with a terrace of broken tiles. Sometimes I see a black dome. I climb up the wisteria, crawl on my hands and knees on the warm concrete, look for a window.


I am scared to break a window, scared to jump.


I squat on the window sill. My feet hurt. I listen to the empty corridor. Window panes throb. Waves roll, crash, roll. My hair, my body, my uniform are dripping with sea water. Small puddles form on the ceramic tiles underneath the window.


I don’t remember swimming. I only remember the hike barefoot up the steep trail every night. I try to protect my feet from sharp rocks. I eat berries. I listen to frogs.


One night I decide to come from a different direction. I take a different trail from the sea. I know by now that all the trails lead to the sanatorium. There is nowhere else to go. This trail ends in front of a terrace, and above, balconies and bedrooms. I see a nurse at her desk, writing. She leaves her window open as she writes. The sea breeze comes in. I come in. I stand behind her and watch her write.


I see a long list of names and numbers, separated by a thin red line. The numbers take most of the page, the names are in the margins. First names truncated, only the initial capital letters remain. For you, a C. Or perhaps an M. too.


I refuse to eat. Eating the regulated meals is like eating sadness, three times a day. It makes you all swollen with sadness. Your body so far from you. In order to feel alive and stay yourself, it’s important not to eat. It’s better to lick large stones covered in sea brine, heavy with sunshine. Or I eat the nasturtiums from the forbidden gardens. You can also try the bark of pine trees, the clover that grows at the foot of the wisteria, berries from the trail.


Tomorrow night, I will leave a salty pebble and a nasturtium flower underneath your pillow.




III. Yellow


Phrases      silent

Paragraphs      silent

[ . . . ]

Void the words.

Void the silence.

                                                Dictée


yellow

Old English geolu, geolwe, “yellow,” from Proto-Germanic gelwaz (source also of Old Saxon, Old High German gelo, Middle Dutch ghele, Dutch geel, Middle High German gel, German gelb, Old Norse gulr, Swedish gul “yellow”), from PIE root ghel- “to shine” with derivatives denoting “green” and “yellow” (such as Greek khloros “greenish-yellow,” Latin helvus “yellowish, bay”).


Elle est amoureuse. Elle passe du paroxysme du désespoir au bonheur le plus violent si brusquement que ça fait peur. Elle est capable de se faire énormément souffrir. Elle est capable de se détruire lentement, de se consumer. Elle porte de nombreuses cicatrices de ces affreuses brûlures mentales un peu partout sur le torse et le cou. Elle a la peur qui colle à sa peau comme une sangsue, mais elle ne parvient pas à savoir dans quel marécage elle l’a attrapée. Il arrive cependant que le parasite, repu de sang, la laisse vivre tranquillement quelque temps. Elle porte toujours une dague sur elle. Mais elle a oublié pourquoi. C’est un peu comme une couverture jaune.


She is in love. She oscillates between despair and violent happiness so quickly she scares me. She can make herself suffer. She can destroy herself, burn herself, slow. She has scars of mental burns scattered on her torso and her neck. She has fear glued to her skin like a leech. She cannot remember in which swamps she caught it. Sometimes the parasite, satiated with blood, lets her live in peace. She always carries a dagger. She has forgotten why. Like a yellow blanket.


marécage: First half of the 13th century (Raimbert de Paris, Ogier le Danois, éd. M. Eusebi, 6620). Derived from the Norman maresc.


“Plût au ciel que le lecteur ( . . . ) trouve, sans se désorienter, son chemin abrupt et sauvage, à travers les marécages désolés de ces pages sombres et pleines de poison; car, ( . . . ) les émanations mortelles de ce livre imbiberont son âme comme l’eau le sucre. Il n’est pas bon que tout le monde lise les pages qui vont suivre; quelques-uns seuls savoureront ce fruit amer sans danger.”

Lautréamont, Chants de Maldoror, (quoted from Trésor de la langue Française Informatisé)


“I pray that the reader will find, without being disoriented, his path abrupt and wild through the desolate swamps of these pages, dark and full of poison; the mortal emanations of this book will imbibe his soul like water imbibes sugar. It is not good for everybody to read the pages that follow; only a few will savor that bitter fruit without danger.”


I remember when I was thirteen I read Maldoror. But I do not remember the effect it had on me. When I concentrate on the memory of the book, I see an old paperback from the sixties. It must have belonged to my father. The yellowed pages have a faint moldy scent I liked. The book smells of November rains and attics. The book is white and Les Chants de Maldoror is written in large red letters. Together with the memory of the object, there remains the image of a hand. A hand with long nails, like the hand of a musician. I see the nail of the left index finger cut the skin of the torso of a sleeping baby. The gesture, soft, recalls the act of writing.


“Si, d’un côté, il [le peintre] appuie fortement sur un ton chaud, le jaune par exemple, comme le fit Van Gogh, ce messager du soleil, le jaune puissant fera éclore mille virtuelles violettes, une forêt de lilas.”

Lhote, Peint. d'abord (from TLFI)


If the painter leans, presses with force on a warm tone, yellow for instance, like Van Gogh did, this messenger of the sun, the powerful yellow will make a thousand virtual violets blossom, a forest of lilacs.


My yellow blanket, I kept for years at an age when each year is a lifetime. I could not sleep without it. I never wanted to wash it. My great-grandmother Marie knitted it. The yarn, ugly: a pale lemony yellow, acrylic and wool, not soft. Marie crocheted the borders with a white yarn and folded one corner into a hood.


My yellow blanket precedes me, waits for me. A November afternoon, a clinic, a room with newborns. Small violet bracelets with serial numbers. A room with rows of white cribs, a mouth, a cry together within and around bodies. Air burns lungs. Cold, hunger, two feet, two hands. Giant white shadows with hands. Wrapped in acrylic yellow, the first smells of blood, milk, soap, antiseptic. Voices, cries, rain. The rain taps gently on window panes and inside soft skulls. Cries gather in lungs, swell in trachea, bloom inside the mouth. Silence.

A first night falls.  

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