A Grief Lexicon

Abbreviation

I wrote a line in my journal on May 22, 2014, not yet a month after Pam had been re-diagnosed, followed by a question mark, because I am uncomfortable with answers: “Life is the further abbreviation of abbreviations.”

Mid-15c.,
“act of shortening; a shortened thing,”
from Middle French
abréviation

But if life extends beyond living, perhaps this further abbreviation has a semblance of form, as well, a word that can define it, make sense, for I’m only uncomfortable with answers because I need them.

A contraction is made by elision
of certain letters or syllables
from the body of a word
but still indicates its full form
(as fwd. for forward; rec’d. for received).

What hides in contraction is the body, the full life lived, what follows is the stuff this lexicon is made of: memory, grief, desire.

We make sharp edges of memory

Amidst the fade and blur, we make sharp edges of memory and inscribe them, writing in and out of the lines, an archive making of survival and of further bring forth, what we bring with us just as present as the past was and never is.

The Blur

Impatient as always, and after a night of nightmares, I shoot my first images in the dark. We say that dreams aren’t real but last night, among other things, I had a gun to my head.

Much like my memory of the dream, what I feel now from it is a blur. The blur is what’s always in between. The blur is an ever-presence of the unknown and unknowable—but the blur is felt.

And so we grasp with words and images.

We grasp at the blur.

Or, rather, we grasp back.

And I want to try and name this dizzying dialectic, too—

the swirl?

Even Unremarked

Meanwhile, four marked and unmarked cars full of white cops pull up to make a further spectacle of a young black male already in handcuffs. I watch (does that help at all?) as one of the cops says, “This is just a misdemeanor, right? I’m not going to pull a rock out or something?”

So much for innocence presumed.

My life is to wear all black as the cops wave, his is not “just” as justice ill-defined. I go buy my things from the store.

I go home.

I go.

Even unremarked you can’t tell me this doesn’t leave marks.

You can’t tell me there is a single temporality.

Abolish the police,

abolish prison.

Maybe Grief Settles

Maybe grief settles, but mostly I feel made anew—the anxious awe of a newborn yet without the innocence that makes things soft.

It’s been almost 15 months and somehow the now—not the then—is what’s hardest. The resounding not here is what hurts most.

In the empty moments, in moments of panic and crumble, I try to breathe and remember. And sometimes I do—I breathe and remember—but sometimes I burn and struggle in the impossibility of being in love with a life that fades.

Inasmuch as

For Teju Cole

I want to tell you about a dream. It was of a tree. A drawing of tree. A dream of a drawing of a tree. Once, I wrote to you, You can show me this park and I can name the birds in its trees. And you wrote in reply, You can even name the trees, and we talked about looking without seeing—the struggle to name.

A different day, I returned to my desk at work to find a small green book, A Manual for Identification of Trees by Their Leaves. I turned its pages—paper like a memory of trees—and remembered, which is to say, tried to remember. What is the memory of a thing in a dream? It is a memory of a thing. What is a thing? And can memory name?

The tree was black. It had contour but no texture. It was tall and thin and black. The trunk was black. The branches and their few leaves were black. And then it fell, slowly, yet never revealed its roots. What do you call the memory of a shadow of a thing in a dream?

I want to tell you about another dream. I bought a book. I bought a book of photography. I don’t remember the photographer’s name, though she had a name. Inasmuch as the photography in our dreams does and does not exist, I had never before heard of this photographer. If someone was to ask me, What do you remember of her name? I would answer, Wisława Szymborska.

The book and its photographs took shape in a format that does not exist, inasmuch as the format of our dreams does and does not exist. The book was tall, yet its pages were slight of width. Each verso was white. Each recto was a photograph, full bleed. What is a blank page next to a photograph but the struggle to name, to give space?

I purchased the book because it reminded me of you, your images, and the feel of your looking. Reminder leads to remembering—the images were of the backs of men and women, always seated. I remember a focus on position and posture (how their bodies were), print and pattern (how our bodies wear), and place as much as people (how our bodies want).

And I wanted to say to you, This book, these images, remind me of you and your images, but sometimes such a declaration, despite its connection, detaches the artist from place and person. We are related to and influenced by what’s come before. We are lineage and wake. Yet, in the same breath, shouldn’t we also give space to breathing?

We spent a few moments that morning searching the various archives of images available to us. At first, you had misread me, not realized this encounter with this book and these images first took place in my dreams. And yet if you had simply acknowledged the dream as dream, what would we have never found? When we search for ghosts, do you we not find bodies?

And so we begin, out of recollection and connection, the creation of a new collection. I ask you and others, Have you seen this photograph? as I hold up a hand holding nothing. And perhaps they reply in drawings and dreams, poems and paintings, breath and body—or something else, something new.

As I continue to search and research, find and am given, I become obsessed not with the unattainable but with all the things we might and can obtain. I remember you once writing a word I’d never seen or heard before. Inshallah. I read it several times, repeated it aloud—how it flowed and flowered even without understanding, a name without naming, a break from struggle. I looked it up and felt as I had before I’d known. Inshallah.

How Beauty Bounces

After Brendan Fernandes

How beauty bounces, takes these bodies, like sun-glimmered waves, and throws us. Take these bodies. Without heads and unseen here because always seen: the hangers. Out of glass so as to see and see through. Clear as a kind of beyond and after, a kind of fore-getting. Glass so as to suspend within white walls unbreakable and therefore a desire—a desperate need—to break. Break the hangers. Break the hangers that broke the bodies. Foreground a kind of fore-getting, a kind of beyond and after as return. Return heads to bodies and let bodies forever float upon sun-glimmered waves—undrownable and able, in and of our beauty.