Sunday, November 22, 2020

Equilibrium Transmission

for Natalie Diaz

Please think of a word; this is the beginning. Write it on your skin with a pen. 

Create space by an open window to sit comfortably with a table and chair. Bring a pitcher of water and a clear drinking glass, and mark the middle of the glass with a pen or tape. To enter this ritual, we will braid our senses for a moment.

Place your face near the glass on the table. Look while listening for the water to reach the mark when poured. Closely listen while watching the water hit it. Do this three times, then do it a fourth time with your eyes closed. 

Now sit back, keeping your eyes closed, listening; every sound you can hear, hold your attention against it. What are these layers you hear? During COVID lockdown, I am in Seattle, Washington, near Elliott Bay. The sounds are a continuous rumbling of train cars, highway traffic, water, birds, sirens in and out, but a steady drone building when taking it all at once. 

Listen until the sounds remind you of a song. Sit with your left ear pointed out the window, right ear pointed at the speaker inside your living space, playing the song. Set the volume so that it is the same as how and what you hear outside. Let the outside world come into concert with the room where your body lives. Lay a piece of juicy apple next to the speakers so that its water molecules absorb the song for you to eat. Enjoy eating music. When listening to the outside world, the song I could hear was "Rhubarb," by Aphex Twin. The song is also known as "#3," and this is it:

Notebook and pen within reach, locate yourself in the center of the meeting rhythms. Feel yourself become where these two songs mingle; your body's cells are the place where this happens; now, please relax here. Is this not beautiful? How is your breathing? Are you feeling your lungs? Remember the word you wrote on your skin. Remember it now. In your imagination, see yourself slowly writing it, slow the memory down. What does this word mean to you? Pick up your notebook and pen and write. Write for as long as you want. Sit and listen some more. Listen as long as you want before writing again. Do this ritual as many times as you wish. Maybe some days, the outside sounds will resemble different songs.

Monday, November 9, 2020

Ignition Chronicles in Three Parts

Part One: Sunrise Pilgrim

Through a long thread of outdoor webcams situated across the planet, I am preparing to write poems through a continuous sunrise for 24-hours. The plan is to begin by waiting for the Sun to appear outside my door and then continue watching it unfold around the world online until it returns to my door again. I am not interested in extreme sports; this is not about endurance; it is about writing poetry by meditating on our planet's daily intake of our star's energy. It takes nearly 9-minutes for the light leaving the Sun to travel to Earth, bringing with it not only warmth and illumination but essential nutrients for the health of our bones, blood, and immune systems. Ignition of cells in humans, other creatures, and plants is my focus for writing poetry inside Part One's ritual structure.

            The next day after my writing session through continuous sunrise, I will work with a hypnotherapist to search my memory for the first time I saw the Sun as a child. I will then use the video documentation of being placed into the trance to continue my writing. The recall of my earliest contact with our star will expand the experience of watching our planet's sunrise for a full day. 

Part Two: Up Against the Night

Fear of the dark motivated prehistoric human beings to discover and invent ways of holding onto light throughout the night. Today many of us take electricity and light bulbs for granted. Still, for centuries humans found many means to harness different materials to make light: wood, animal fat, beeswax, and paraffin, to name a few. One crucial focus of Part Two of the ritual is a meditation on the various ways I have used or witnessed human-made light so far in my lifetime: reading lamps, ceiling lights, floodlights, emergency exit lights, streetlights, headlights, flashlights, strobe lights, lighthouses, oil lamps, wood stoves, campfires, torches, candles, twinkling Christmas lights, etc.  

            There is an abundance of stories contrasting night and day, but I am more interested in the moments between them; life just before flipping the switch when it is suddenly too dark to read, and how the manufacture of that light has evolved. We have pushed against our ancestors' anxieties and learned not just to be comfortable with nighttime but to revel in it. Who among us is ever the same in the day and night? There is history in muscles opening the door after dark.

            Each evening for a week, as the Sun is setting, I will go for a walk without a flashlight, stopping three times to narrate into a digital recorder what I see, with details on objects that stand out to me, like the texture of a tree limb, or the words on a label of a piece of litter. Later, I will sit in the dark to write while listening to the recording of my walk. When I write, I am not interested in what I narrate in the recording, but why my focus rested on the objects it did. 

            Then by candlelight, I will write about fear of the dark. What were the reasons for our ancestors to be afraid of the night? How have those fears transferred through the centuries? Are they felt in the body to this day? Are horror movies a conduit we employ for restimulating those fears? With each writing session, I want my questions to spur more questions to expand the poems I write.

Part Three: Vocabularies of Light

Marine Biologist Dr. Sylvia Earle says, "Bioluminescence is the most common form of communication on planet Earth." Dr. Earle and other early pioneers in deep-sea exploration have reported that up to 90% of fauna living in these underwater terrains have the capability of producing bioluminescence. These creatures emit light to attract prey, detract from predators, and signal for potential mates. 

            Part Three's focus is on interspecies communication, using my body as a translation tool. Glow in the dark body paint and gels are not bioluminescent since they are not produced by or emanating from my anatomy, but they are my experimental substitute. For a month, I will listen to recordings of different creatures such as wolves, crows, and eagles to mark the spot where their language settles in my flesh. For example, when listening to wolves howl, I will focus on where the sound locates itself in my body, then apply the glowing paint to that spot. While I continue to listen to the wolves, I will observe my newly illuminated body parts in a mirror before writing the poem.

            Dr. Arik Kershenbaum, a zoologist from the University of Cambridge, identifies twenty-one different dialects of wolf calls. Dr. Kershenbaum says, "Understanding the communication of existing social species is essential to uncovering the evolutionary trajectories that led to more complex communication in the past, eventually leading to our own linguistic ability." Keeping with the example of wolves, I will alert friends and share on social media platforms a link to the particular wolf howl I am working with that evening. I will also share the link to a public outdoor webcam where I will appear at a designated time. While we listen to the howling wolves together, I will translate this through my glowing body part for the camera. The interpretation of the howls I present for viewers through my luminous skin is unknown, but I look forward to the performance and writing poetry through the experience.