Forthcoming in Vestiges_00: Ex-Stasis

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When you drive, the landscapes slide sharply through the sides of your face. They fill your cheeks, your temples, they build behind the eyes and ears. Soon they’re ripped by the wind or a gawker’s stare from the back of your head, and you’re again in the landscape. There are no moments when you drive; only the tunnel of time like an intestine stretched out. Walking is so much better: you stop and take it in, lie down in it; then, by pure will, reverse the energy, and the landscape is in you; your eyes project it, the world is your emotion.

*

Beauty’s a long journey home. A journey, but it never has to travel itself. It’s the receding line, but only your eye does the work there: something prevents you from becoming what you see, but it’s only a temporary delay. Toward home, toward home!

*

There’s a traveling in the face, as we observe it; partly because we must pull back, shoot our glances away momentarily, allowing the two faces enough room for thought and speech. The face is its own body; so we take away a scene, but leave the rest in mystery.

*

The fields draw toward the face, and we find ourselves in a simple walk through the day. Be a painter while you walk. For your medium, Cennini recommended egg yolk1 from town hens for youth, from country birds for age. The tempera then would share the painter’s flesh-dream with the observer, a congealing film that still plays in the daylight of villas and chapels; lizards sunbathing outside on the stones, moths and small children as extras in the windows, paintings of an instant instantly lost, for lack of an egg.

*

As we get older, we’re threatened with defeat by our own expressions. Some, like Kaspar Hauser, pose the opposite problem: faces too close to the stars, because the faces of the stars are all that their eyes can see. Their personalities are all that fit into consciousness, and so they seem like next to nothing to the rest of us, lifting our faces only momentarily up from the stones. A man born in profile, moving through the horizonless world: one is not fortunate until his unconditioned striving has determined its own limits.Fortune is the pull of the face, inexorably drawn, but with uneven affection: in the shadows, much seems to be happening, whereas the eyes are merely hovering.

*

No man’s soul is housed in his skin, says the doctor in Abe’s Face of Another. Where, then—if we are to think of one? Environment maps us; spirit materializes from coordinates that are always changing, though bounded by the space of the life—and under its sky, which is sky while we’re alive, and afterwards only a stew with no up or down. Flesh is not always the most sensitive point in the field. We walk the field to make ourselves. If we find we’re in some waste, some sea or desert, the making can seem an unmaking. “My face is running away.”3

*

Stress, says Wolf’s Law, is a direct stimulus to growth: cardioidal strain,4 the pull of gravity, shaping the face toward maturity. It’s the world entering into you; the universe becomes plastic in the face. Culture is the effect of that plasticity. It makes the space of continual grounding for what otherwise disappears. Picard said of Caesar that his life was like his face: he went no further into the outer world than the world had already gone into him.5 Should we give to the Caesars such commensurability? “It is in the working out of the failure of the present to satisfy the canons of reason that the future is made.”Pacifics of sand; Ahab’s brow, a shadow of the whale, Giza of the waves. Better to say: “I am the edge of an important shadow.”7

*

Our feet become herding creatures, never moving very far in a day, but gods of the grass; our eyelashes settling flies, our hands, lilies; a slight breeze cuts through, polishing the ear bones. Centuries pass.

*

Everything passes through to somewhere else, though slowly: fossilizing of past expressions: governments, pollutions, dreams. Face fragments away from its original expression, but the center holds—somewhere where others find us, several places, never “here.” Environment is the range of face, zoo of personality.

*

Stooping to pick something up, a resemblance, a cameo: whatever is just large enough to see as we walk to school or work, just valuable enough to worry with retrieving.

*

“The human face is marked by man’s origins, occupation and the surrounding landscape, but such marks ‘cannot take possession of the face as can the mark which is made by a decision for God.’”8 Ahab’s mark is also of God—the symbol of heavenly power; but hardly unobtrusive, and ambiguous in its message: “strike through the mask!” But Ahab has soldered himself back into the single, simple lightning stroke of caricature; his words are shards of the wounded mask.

*

At sea, a balance of forces: foreign and native, passionate and rational; it takes something of the desert, the wilderness, the ocean; it takes going to the desert, being born again there, or at least changed—sunburnt, wind-whipped, down to the bone; finding that the body no longer fits the air as it did before, that its needs are no longer met in the same way as before: its needs no longer meet the edge of hunger or thirst in quite the same way. Oh, thirst and hunger made their cuts; but the body is cut mainly by doubt. Who was the real Quartermaster, Plato or Aristotle? All projections are little more than inventory, counting the contents of the world one dot at a time.

*

The removal of nature’s effects: not a darker nature, not the harshness of nature that we wear clothes and build cities against, that we air-condition, so the brain can float around the room like a moth—no, it’s something in the landscape, but somewhere in the wake we leave behind us as we travel swiftly through. We make it by forcing it out and into our blind spots. Think, again, of the painter from life, who must either trust to his hand (as a well-trained apprentice or better still, a rival) or turn to his hand on the canvas and go, for a second or so, on mere faith that the model is there, has not changed, isn’t sticking her tongue out or sneering. That moment of blindness snaps everything’s origin.

*

But if we go back to the landscape, the nature we’re in front of or that’s photographed behind us, we see that a silent friend takes position somewhere. We have a double, but only when we’re at play in the field; only when our boundaries are tested by context, night, day, carpet, gravel, humidity, or the body warmth of a thousand concert-goers. Here we are, in the landscape, the tableau—but no, it’s the wilderness, and it’s passing through us as surely as we pass through it: gardens, drywall, macadam, pre-fab spiral staircases, irrigation, added sweeteners, any of it can be gone the next time we drive by. All of it is, from far enough away, mere chance-image, like that mountain face on Mars that, from as close as several hundred kilometers, seems to sleep and think as we do.

*

Environment, however, is a place of paradox. It seems to be the framable space around us (and farmable, buildable, national-parkable, depending on one’s wealth, vices, needs, politics, or vision – in that order, descending). The road is our primary synapse of environment. Or, the synapse is our main highway of interiority. This word-game, this flip-flop or Mobius-phrase reveals a further challenge: off the highway, there are paths, and potential relationships with people, and thus with their animals. Then there are the denizens, the wild creatures (some of them feral humans: anyone whose physiognomy is so full of noise they’re off-road to our empathy altogether); and parasites of various sorts, and the undiscovered (more of those than us, in the wilds of the world).

*

Our masks expand us, leafing and vining into the neighborhood. Our neighbors wear the same mask. Then there’s the side-block, and the people behind. Their dogs bark in our sleep, their pools reflect our sadnesses. We’re freighted with everyone’s garbage, side-blinded by pine fences, cut through the cheek by backyard voices. In the city, there are courtyards, fire escapes, dark alleys where, as in Hollywood myth, the victim or thief, a Hermes between tribe and self, runs to the chain-link or brick wall, turns, and confronts the Cerberus of his own choices.

*

But within the face one finds a road to openness, forehead serene, unclouded. People are formed, like fruit and blossom, by the light and air. Our pleasures and our pains are not subjective states, but radiations.But these radiations are from some pre-existing “within” that connects with forces and entities far beyond it, and totally unconnected to it, except by virtue of their sharing in existence.

*

After Achilles learns of his friend’s death, the poet sings the names of all the waves. In the wake of Achilles’ great, air-splitting grief at the death of Patroclus, the nymphs come to the surface of the song, and weep, as the chariot horses earlier had wept. All animated nature appears to respond to a resounding grief. Every degree of direction is a choice ignored. Reality pierces like a needle. And who is the tyrant here—the warrior or the poet?—he who abstracts inner from outer, who rules with the mind: the first filmmaker, screening his productions into his hands.

*

Kozintsev says of his compatriot Tarkovsky that his “landscapes are not photographed but achieved through suffering.” The depiction of reality is a matter of alignments. The blind man’s stick becomes a limb;10 the amputated leg is still a leg, until its ghost walks far enough away. Self, self, self, without companion; without, at least, the animae of landscape: the sleeping giants, chance images of shadow and grass…consciousness an I teetering at the edge of they.

*

Walking too far into the forest, we encountered within the thickness of branches and leaves what seemed our deepest fears. But coming nearer—though we had frozen in our terror and dread—the presence revealed itself as the Smiling Woodman, who had been before a dark shadow in the forest. He bore his kindness by himself.11 We did not create his kindness as we had projected his menace into the limits of our own vision, there in the forbidden range. The deep, dense woods are only for cutting fuel, whereas wandering is its own wilderness. Who will bring the children back?

*

The circulars of seeing, jagged spirals that make a topographic air of descent into the future. “And the man grows distinguished from mankind;”12 “humankind,” always the thing ahead and the thing behind: an individual, merely the third point of a triangulation.


1 In Alexander Sturgis
2 Kassner, “On Goethe’s Greatness and his Fortune”
3 Theodore Roethke
4 See, for example, Bruce
5 The Human Face
6 MacIntyre
7 Roethke
8 Stanley Goodman quoting Max Picard
9 Alphonso Lingis
10 Drew Leder
11 Adapted from Sylvia Honkavaara
12 William Sotheby, “A Letter on Physiognomy”

 

Robert Lunday is the author of Mad Flights (Ashland Poetry Press). Excerpts from Gnome have appeared in [PANK], NANO Fiction, Knock and The Yoke. Other work has appeared in Agni Online, Drunken Boat, Poet Lore, The Chicago Review and elsewhere. 

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