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writing : Lecture in a Stair Shape Diminishing : Introduction :

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Lecture in a Stair Shape Diminishing

366 sentences for Vienna
by Goat Island


I set out to remember, and this is what appeared.
The car’s back window framed a picture: part night road receding, part my face reflecting.
But that part is the end, so I will begin again.
The wind flung the door open.
I caught a raindrop in my hand.
I caught half a raindrop in my hand.
I caught a snowflake in my hand; it hung in a precarious balance then melted into a raindrop.
This is a philosopher’s definition of history.
All things have a past, yet can all things be divided? (half a raindrop? half a thought?)
But that part is the middle, when this part is the start, so again I will begin again, as we begin over and over again.
This is a talk by Goat Island.
In it we ask you to grasp the whole from fragments, so I will furnish you with a summary of the content, or at least the contents, in the following sentence, #13.
This is a talk about It’s an Earthquake in My Heart, a performance moving forward while looking back; and this is a talk about memory, by six writers in search of a history; and this talk is shaped like staircases, each step a sentence, voice by voice in sections diminishing, until the end, silence.
Form is not a fixture, but an activity, and the structure bears an accidental relation to the substance.
The work continues beyond the work, so when we end we will end, not because we said “everything”, but because our sentences ran out.
The resemblance here to the performance “about” which we are talking goes as follows: the voice carries the speech as the body carries the dance; each with its own life.
So if we make an argument, we will also exceed it.
For example, what is beauty, and can it be divided?
The answer is yes, and one little piece of beauty is my new car.
Let all who can afford a new car buy a new car.
Then all the little pieces of beauty may unite to form a massive traffic jam.
Listen to the music of the blaring car horns; look at the drivers, growing angry and yelling, as people so often do in the presence of overwhelming beauty.
What then is a car accident?
It must be a dance.
Remember, we are now in America.
What then do we mean when we say earthquake?
There was a town, and in half a minute, there was half a town: that is an event that is an earthquake.
But in It’s an Earthquake in My Heart, the earthquake is not an event, it is a name for an event.
For example, who would live in a house on Earthquake Street?
Then what do we mean when we say in, as in: in my heart; maybe an interior earthquake, one we have absorbed, when nothing means what it meant the day before, car accident, civil war, memory loss, as if memory is something one can lose like keys.
Now we have reached sentence 31, a reverse reflection of sentence 13, telling how midway on life’s journey I awoke to find myself on a dark road, and, having strayed from the highway, became lost.
Memory structures that perception: example 1: Americans today recognize fewer than 10 trees, but over 1,000 corporate logos.
Memory blurs subject and object: example 2: the face reflected in the glass of the car window that night.
Memory reads the map, recognizes the receding landmark, and names it: example 3: what happens between #33 and #34? we missed our turn, it’s Earthquake Street.
Of memory then, we may say: therein lies the gift and invitation, as demonstrated by the following example.



This is the world we wanted,
The moon and the stars and the wind in the sky,
Listen to the raindrops,
A gift for you to sleep.

In a rainstorm we remember.

A dense dry coagulated clot. A torso and back corsetted and encrusted by wood and bark. A growth between skin, tissue and vein. Here within a clearing in the woods we would play battle and ships on a fallen rotten oak. This is a spring nighttime. With each drop of rain or tear the man stiffens, a twisting of knotted wood tightening around individual spinal column and rib. Outside of his body, an inability of stationary suspended motion. Inside his protective shell, a high speed racetrack of lost memory. Unable to speak, the man's heart pulsates and accelerates with each intake of breath. The rain keeps falling outside. Within him giants’ feet stomp and bang, circulating over his head and heart, pounding. Everything becomes uncontrollably large. He cannot hear his head for his heart. 'His head is twisted to oneside, and drawnback, the spine bent so that his chest was parallel with his legs which were bent at the knees. The right arm clung to the trees, not sliding along them, but brought forward step by step, making repeated slapping sounds on the wood.'

In Goat Island's It's an Earthquake in My Heart, we have created a forest clearing in the shape and symbol of an American car manufacturing corporation, the Chevrolet. We now begin to see a forest surrounding and interrupting this island playing area through an historical poet nurse delivering a list of trees to a wounded soldier. A place where bodily and technological machine systems collide. A clearing of memory where two openings at either end of the performance space create pathways of vanishing points, of on and off stage entrances and exits, valves to pump, pulsate and clot our trajectories over and over. A clearing of truths, stories and exorcisms. The German romantic writer Joseph Von Eichendorff in his poem 'Farewell' writes, 'O beautiful green forest, you pensive refuge of my joys and sorrows. Outside there ever deluded, the busy world rushes; raise your arches around me once more. When the day begins to break, the earth steams and gleams, the birds sing so merrily that your heart sings in answer. Let dismal earthly sorrows vanish and blow away, you shall rise again in youthful splendor. Soon I shall have to leave you and go a stranger in strange places, watching the pageant of life on gay and busy streets, and in the middle of that life... your authority will exalt me in my solitude, and so my heart will not grow old.'

'Where they lie on the ground after the battle bought in. Where their priceless blood reddens the grass, the ground, or to the rows of the hospital tent. To the long rows of cots up and down each side I return, to each and all one after another I draw near. An attendant follows holding a tray, he carries a refuse pail, soon to be filled with clotted rags and blood, emptied and filled again.'

One hundred and thirty six years later, Goat Island re-looks at these words from the American 19th century poet Walt Whitman. The above words are taken from the poem, 'The Wound Dresser', written by Whitman during the time he spent in the civil war, visiting military hospitals and nursing the wounded and dying.



In 1874, Swiss German immigrants from Russia built sod houses on the prairies of South Dakota and endured the tall grass, the solitude and the snow. By the 1880s they had built dozens of one room school houses. These school houses were single story, square wood frame constructions measuring perhaps 40 feet by 40 feet with a tiny campanile on top and a bell inside the campanile. They were scattered throughout the county about every five or six miles apart. The idea was to create a place for education in farm communities placing them within walking or horse riding distance from the children’s homes. Children from ages 6 to 13 met together in the same room for classes. There was one teacher. The younger children learned from the older children. There was an environment inside that one room that encouraged children to support each other in their work. There was a philosophy inherent in the structure that maintained a continuity between home, school and community. The social order and a child's place of respect and acceptance within the community was as important as academic excellence. Each school was unique in its size and philosophy and social order.

This school and community would be placed the middle of nowhere except for the fact that Native Americans have walked and lived on these plains for centuries before the Europeans arrived. There is a stone circle and a rock assemblage on the ground in the shape of an eagle made by the Native Americans in a grove a few miles from the school. The playground at our school was virgin prairie, meaning it had never been plowed. Our parents would tell us about finding arrowheads and stone tools here. This is hallowed ground where we learned to play, to laugh, to resolve conflicts peacefully and to create our own subculture untouched by the popular one. My grandmother, my father and I all went to the same school each in our own time and my grandfather was on the school board.

The whirlwind of change fenced off the prairie into square mile sections many years before I was born but just a few years after the immigrants arrived. We came to this place and put our names and structures on the land and we said it was ours, but we are wrong. It belongs to the earth, the cold and heat and wet and dry and quiet and wind of the earth. Where once buffalo would run for days on end, roads now run with ditches on either side marking the end of a square and the beginning of another. Roads now run past Native American reservations and on to the other side of the world. The vast expanse of the prairie diminished and the globe became smaller. The one room schools functioned until 1970 when they were closed and farm children went in to the local town to school, making the many little schools into one large school.
I hear _________________________________.
Exactly one section mile separated our farm from my one room school. My district was #66 and was named North Star. We were twelve children in one room. The next nearest school two miles to the west was district #15. My friend, Mark, from church went to that school.



Part 1. Two miles to the west. It’s raining, raining, raining in my heart.

Ring, ring.
-Growing old isn’t fun, believe me Lotti.
-Yes, granny. I know.
-Lotti, I hardly dare say it. I’m standing in the phone box again and I’m locked out.
-Alright, Granny.
-I really couldn’t help it this time. It was the wind. I’m standing here in my slippers. We don’t need the locksmith this time. You have my spare key. Can you come right away?
-Alright, granny. I’ll be right there.

I watch a German documentary on TV. The filmmaker has taken fragments of thirty-two scenes from German instructional and training films and compiled them into one film.

How to sell insurance
How to wash patients in nursing
How to test beds for longevity with rolling metal bars
How to test washing machines by repeated shakings
How to test toilet seats by lifting them up and down over long periods of time
How to do a striptease
How to be sensitive to a senior citizen who has lost her keys
How to resuscitate a victim
How to live
How to rehearse to live
How to live the rehearsed taught by the professionally living

I decide to edit together my version of the “How to’s” taken from the German version of the “How to’s”. It is two minutes. I give separate videos of these minutes to each member of the group to watch in order for them to perform and reenact the instructional enactments of the people and the machines in the film. In one part of this edit, an elderly actress in a community theater is being directed to perform the act of a woman who has discovered she has lost her keys. She moves to the wall, over to the door, catches her breath, and retraces her steps. This becomes the “The Lost Keys” dance in our performance It’s an Earthquake in My Heart.

In rehearsal, I watch Karen and Mark in our performance space try to recall the actress performing the act of memory loss. They are searching for the steps of the actress who has now learned the steps of an imaginary woman who has lost her keys. Soon, Karen and Mark will learn these steps too. They will have achieved the how to of losing one’s keys. It will become second nature to them. They will not think before performing the steps. The act of loss will have been enacted, made into the unseen law of their bodies.

I ask myself,
Are we all looking for something as though we’ve lost it?
Have I lived my memories? Or did they come from some high-rise office on Lake Street?
If we watch long enough, we might even see an expert carpenter feed an entire sandwich to his own hand. But am I watching?
And if I could remember, could keep forever, just one story, what would it be?



Report from Now: A Letter Home in Four Parts

A letter to myself in the year 2063 when I will be 100 years old if I am still alive.
Dearest, I’m hoping to form the memory that comes from forgetting.
Like light from a star I send this years in advance of your receiving it.

And yet: the lived moment itself remains essentially invisible.
And yet: only the future has a developer strong enough to bring forth the image in all its complexity.

A few words to take you back: telephone, automobile.

It is still true today that 14 years ago I moved from Los Angeles to Chicago because I didn’t have a car. This year, 2001, it is still possible to live in Chicago without a car although I now have one which was given to me and CJ Mitchell upon the occasion of our marriage by our landlord who was leaving for California and needed a better one.

My childhood family lived through a series of old cars received as hand-me-downs from people who didn’t want them anymore. The axle broke on the old Ford at high speed on the expressway, the wheel came off, metal sparked the road. The gas tank on the Edsel dropped to the pavement and the fire department used their hoses on the street to stop the fire that might have started. There was a built-in cigarette lighter in the back seat of the old white Lincoln Continental. I, my brother, five years old, took the lighter and looked at the burning coil, and I, my brother, felt an irresistible urge to push it on to the palm of my hand.

We sang in the back seat it was our singing studio.
We only sang in the car, a small choir loft close to the ground.

In 1980, smoke poured out of the two-tone green 58 Mercury when I turned on the radio. It was given to us by an old friend who’d said: don’t ever fill up the gas tank. You never know when that thing is going to quit. Now he added: don’t turn on the radio.

The car was the liminal cell. The car provided a kind of containment, a kind of togetherness.
The car kept us from moving away from each other.

In the eye of the accident, I couldn’t move my feet or hands.
I sat still and begged to hit the wall.
I hit the wall, smashing the car to the windshield.

I had the mechanic check the brakes three times before I realized that the faulty brakes were in my dreams. Finally I saw the image of myself disappearing under the dashboard as I pressed harder and harder on the pedal and that every incident of brake failure was equally surreal in detail and then I knew it wasn’t a job for a mechanic.



R Buckminster Fuller was born on July 12, 1895, in Milton, Massachusetts, and died on July 1, 1983, in Los Angeles, after suffering massive heart failure. During his life, Bucky (as he was known) was described as an architect, teacher, poet, cartographer, philosopher, scientist, writer, lecturer, inventor, engineer, artist – and received the longest listing in the history of “Who’s Who in America”. Buckminster Fuller is known by many for his designs of Geodesic Domes, while others know of his development of innovative low-cost, energy efficient cars and houses. Bucky’s actions and words were often focused on efficiently and effectively using the physical and metaphysical resources available to us. He devoted much of his life’s work to ways of improving the state of humanity.

Bucky’s first daughter, Alexandra, was born on December 12, 1918, and died before her fourth birthday in the fall of 1922. Alexandra suffered from poor health throughout her short life, and was frequently bedridden from conditions which included influenza, spinal meningitis and polio. Bucky and his wife Anne often watched over Alexandra, sometimes conversing on subjects too complicated for a young child. On one such occasion, Bucky was startled to hear Alexandra suddenly utter words that had just entered his thoughts. On subsequent occasions, Alexandra sometimes provided answers to questions only beginning to formulate in Bucky’s mind. Bucky and Anne came to believe that as compensation for her physical limitations, Alexandra was learning and expressing herself metaphysically more than physically. Following years of observation and research, Bucky concluded that ultra-high frequency waves allowed humans to communicate telepathically, but that this human potential was unlearned through socialization at a young age. Bucky believed that wave energy could be transmitted and received through people’s eyes. Alexandra was responding to his thoughts as she might to his words.

During a period when Alexandra’s health seemed to be improving, Bucky decided to travel with some friends to attend a football game. As Anne and Alexandra accompanied him to the train, Bucky walked with a cane due to a football knee injury. During the walk, Bucky told his daughter of the excitement of attending a football game. He described to Alexandra how some football fans would wave school pennants attached to small canes. Alexandra asked her father, “Daddy, will you bring me a cane?” Bucky looked at Alexandra and promised that he would.

When Bucky phoned home the following day, he was shocked to learn that Alexandra had suffered a serious relapse and was in a coma. After rushing home, Bucky could only sit by her bedside and wait. Alexandra lay still, her eyes closed, and time passed. Everyone looked around in vain. Eventually they too closed their eyes.




Hours later Alexandra’s eyes opened, she smiled at Bucky and asked, “Daddy, did you bring me my cane?” In the excitement and celebration of the football game, Bucky had forgotten his promise to bring home a cane. He looked away, feeling grief and guilt for which he never forgave himself. Alexandra’s eyes closed, and she died a few hours later. Buckminster Fuller stared at his hand, but it did not move.

And so I planned to write a book which would describe a series of rooms.

The book would begin as follows: You were born in 1963 on an island off the north west coast of Scotland. As a child you were told that the name of your home town was a Viking word meaning sheltered harbor. Within this harbor is a small peninsula known as Goat Island, where fishing boats are repaired.

The stories unfolding within and between the rooms described in this book would be chaotic and without resolution. In one room, a man picks up a telephone and begins to dial. In another, a four year old girl lies unconscious on her bed. Some rooms are empty, but will soon be filled with the sound of rain.

The book would end as follows: In 1967, at the age of 72, Buckminster Fuller was enjoying a visit to the island of Bali, and both he and his hosts felt that he had a deep connection to the island. During a vigorous and difficult walk up mountainsides pounded by rainstorms, Bucky’s friends cut down a bamboo strip and fashioned a staff to assist Bucky when walking. The next morning, Bucky’s friend said, “All of us, we Balinese, are saying that you are not a stranger. You were here long, long ago, and you have just come back to us. So I have put aside a room in my house and put your cane in it. Nobody will ever go into that room again, because your cane is there.” It was a traditional honor to permanently maintain a room in this manner, and the symbolic cane kept there was reassuring to Bucky. He said, “this is a very mysterious thing. All those years and all those things that have happened since little Alexandra died. Now, somehow, I feel intuitively that this is a kind of message, that she has her cane at last.”



Message for a time capsule to be opened by me in the year 2063 when I will be 100.
I may never open this capsule, you (should I say you?) may be gone by the time this reaches you.

Dear, two words to fill you with nostalgia: telephone, automobile. In the year 2063 you look back on them with a fondness born of distance and loss and a longing for what is old and comfortable. From where I sit I can’t imagine how you have replaced the telephone and the automobile I only know you have.

(pause) I hear ___________________________.

January 17th 1994, 4:30 am pacific standard time an earthquake happened in a blind thrust fault known as the Pico fault, 20 miles west northwest of Los Angeles, one mile south-south west of Northridge and 18.4 km deep. Damage was widespread, sections of major freeways collapsed, parking structures and office buildings collapsed, and numerous apartment buildings suffered irreparable damage. My mother called me in Chicago moments after the quaking subsided. As I lay sleeping she left a message on my answering machine: When you wake up you are going to hear about us on the news. I’m calling you now because soon the phones will be out. There’s been a terrible earthquake but we are ok. I’ll talk to you when the phone lines clear, it might be a number of days, ok? Everyone’s on the street, it’s four in the morning and we are safer in the street than in our homes, we are afraid to go inside.

Fourteen years earlier: After a car accident I lay in the emergency room waiting for the hospital staff to call my mother. I was 17. Finally I got up and went into the hall to phone my mother myself. I can see it clearly now, like a photograph. But in the darkness of the lived moment I was blind. She was meditating and the phone was off the hook. For hours I got the busy signal as she had forgotten to replace the receiver when her meditation was finished.



Part 2. Busy signal. 53 years earlier. Merry Christmas, Merry Christmas, Merry Christmas in my heart.

If Carl Thorne-Thompson had lived, he would be fifty-three today. Carl Thorne-Thompson was a senior in high school when I was a freshman. He was my brother’s best friend. He was the quarterback on the varsity football team and the president of the student council. He held a gavel in his hand which he struck on his desk to bring the student council meetings to order. On September 30, 1968, four years after he graduated from high school, Carl Thorne-Thompson got out of bed in Lake Forest, Illinois and into a car that drove him to the train which took him to O’Hare where he caught a plane to North Carolina and in a company of men flew to Thailand for a short stopover before flying to a piece of overgrown land in Viet Nam where a bullet broke open his stomach. Merry Christmas.

For his funeral, Carl’s parents hung a black sash over the front door. My brother came home from college and went to Carl’s house. When leaving, he decided to enlist in the army. My father raised his voice and said, “No,” and my brother received a deferment from compulsory military service. Today my brother has too much protein growing on parts of his brain. This effects his recall. But he remembers Carl Thorne-Thompson. He repeats over and over the stories of Carl: missed football passes, nightswimming, Sloe gin on the pier, toilet paper hung on trees after the prom. He asks me if I remember his tin soldiers. I do. My grandmother brought him the set from England. My brother took them and littered the ping pong table with elaborate formations. Lines of red uniformed men marched back and forth. Sometimes they faced one another with pointed bayonets. Sometimes they fell to the ground. “I was the one who should have gone”, he says. “I rehearsed all those years with my soldiers. I was the one to go.”



On July 21st, 1967, a tornado swept over our community. Grandpa called to warn us that it was heading toward our house. We went into the basement and waited and my mother prayed.

The tornado passed our farm without damage and we came out. I looked East across our pasture and saw the tornado still there just a few hundred yards off. It was a white tornado, an extension of the white clouds in the sky. My recollection of the funnel’s journey for the next half hour as it floated across fields was one of a gentle, careful, and endearing native spirit that belonged here purposefully. It was somehow not attached to the howling intensity we had heard from our basement minutes earlier. The pure white swirl would occasionally touch down and dirt would be sucked up and then it would look tainted and menacing. It missed our schoolhouse and went toward my friend Mark’s farm.

When we think back to that day we are in awe of the vision fixed and rooted in our memories that can never change. A minute feels like an hour, a mile away looks like 100 feet away. Mark remembers how the surrounding clouds were swept and sucked into the funnel from above and seemed to be subservient to the funnel; all obeying its pull. How is it that this marvelous point in the sky could be the chosen one for the vortex? How phenomenal that it chose this path in the vast prairie of the Midwest. How was it that some were touched by it and others untouched? I was convinced it was caused by the proverbial flutter of a butterfly's wings in our mother land of Switzerland or Russia as it veered off to the north missing Mark’s farm and on towards Lloyd Schrag’s.



In It's an Earthquake in My Heart, Karen delivers a sturdy kaleidoscopic commentary of an infected somewhere America. A speech that concludes part two, 53 years earlier MERRY CHRISTMAS and introduces us to part 3, Tuesday evening EARTHQUAKE. 'The gun was always with the water pistols. And in the best United States way there is a pistol hanging low and the sky in the best United States way, and the pistol is I know a dark steel blue pistol.'

618,000 lives were lost during the American civil war in the mid 19th century. 200,000 deaths were the direct result of being wounded or killed in battle. Physicians were poorly trained to cope with the gun as weapon of destruction and death. The bullets used in the civil war were more deadly to soldiers in wars before and after 1865. The bullets were cone shaped with grooved sides. The bullets were designed to spin along the sides of the barrel of the gun to go faster and further.

The impact of the bullets caused serious injury. When an impact hit a person it tore through the skin and broke the bone and would sever connective tissues, muscle, vein and arteries. Due to the weak propellant of the rifle fire, the bullet would remain in the body. Below is a testimony given by a nurse during the war, ' ... the wounds...were of a very painful nature. The balls often striking against trees, becoming flattened, glanced and then entering the flesh, tore their way with ragged edge, sometimes leaving in the wounds bits of bark and moss.'



Given our intention, to discuss It’s an Earthquake in My Heart, we now feel there must be a more direct path to that end than this lecture.
Yet were we to start again, resolved to speak directly, we would write a lecture identical to this one.
I grew up in a town where it was always Christmas, decorated trees in shop windows, mechanized elves swinging hammers “building” toys, unless a gear malfunction reduced that armswing to a twitch.
Realism is literary; realness is philosophical; reality is real.
Stop, look, confront the unimaginable, listen: I hear the blackbird at this lecture’s end.
Observe a first event; observe a second event; make a connection between the first and second events; observe the connection as a third event.
Two inconsequential things combine to become a consequence.
Finally this piece feels like nothing else, said Lin Hixson on February 6, 2001, and maybe she meant a precarious balance, a night road into wrong territory.
Remember we are in America, where art never fits, where we copy to disappear, to not die of forgetting.
My imitation aligns its object, and I see the world as another saw it.
Forgive my contemplation of humble reality, but this memory is not in me, it is me, which takes me out of time, and so removes my fear.
I have ceased now to feel mediocre, contingent, mortal.
I will not forget the way the world felt that night.




I set out to remember, and this is what appeared.
The car’s three windows framed three pictures; right window: part fields moving left to right, and part my face reflecting; roof window: part moon and clouds, and part my face reflecting; back window: part night road receding, and part my face reflecting.
We feel loyalty only to what we have experienced, experience only what we remember, remember only what we have touched.
To go back then, if I could, what would I do?
To go back again, to stand in the path of the bullet, so these young people might hear not just the words but the voice, and hear it as I heard it.
The clouds that night arranged themselves into familiar shapes.
The fields, like gardens, escaped their forms.
Yes; I caught a raindrop in my hand; yes; my philosophy is awestruck; yes; the real is not rational, but improbable and miraculous.
Thirty years ago today I awoke to find myself in a dark automobile, and looking out the windows I saw the fields move, the moon and clouds, the road recede, all through the glass.
I saw my face reflect off the glass.
The glass in those windows is our performance.
The movement the viewer makes between windows is yours.



I hear sounds that echo around me, the ticking mounted clock in the kitchen. At nighttime I imagine the ticking like rainfall lulling me into sleep.

In our two year process, six people join together three times a week with information they have collected from what they have heard or been told, from what they have seen or read, or from what they can remember or what our memories have created for us. An instinct of trust where we imitate, appropriate, and negotiate with each other. Through this process of transplanting, of connectivity, we create a place of discussion of ideas, of hidden truths of relocating our memories. During the civil war, wounded victims often had body parts amputated in order to survive rather than seeing the onset of deadly infections. During this time wooden leg splints were being introduced to help heal the wounded area. The infected bone or tissue was removed, and a crude wooden splint in the shape of the operated leg was attached. The splint would often stay connected to the leg for up to one year. Thus allowing connective skin, tissue, vein and bone to grow and rejoin. The soldier a year later walks unaided again.



When it got to Lloyd Schrag's farm two and a half miles east of ours, it tore the roof off of the house and destroyed the barn. We could see even from that distance, large pieces of timber being hurled out. My uncle and Grandpa came by, we got into the car and drove to Lloyd Schrag’s farm.

Mrs. Lloyd and their daughter Lois were down in the basement canning peaches and they heard the wind but paid no particular attention. They discovered that it had been a tornado when they later came up for more sugar and noticed things in the yard were arranged differently. It had rained a bit after the tornado but now the sun had come out and there were more neighbors coming into the yard. Mark was there and he and I got into Lois’s bedroom on the second floor. She was going to be married in a few weeks. There in her bedroom was her wedding dress, undamaged and perfect. We looked up through what should have been the ceiling at the blue sky.



Part 3. Look up. It’s an earthquake, earthquake, earthquake in my heart.

-I’m standing in the phone box again and I’m locked out.
-Alright, Granny.
-I really couldn’t help it this time. It was the ash.

Instructions for rehearsing memory loss
A) Watch the stars going out
B) Let your eyes wander in stillness
C) Practice reaching for a lost cup
D) Hold a yellow canary in your mouth
E) Catch your hair in the light. Swallow ether like milk. Fill in the blanks. Erase them. I cannot find my ring. I hear your hand rustling the leaves. Why were you holding back the velvet curtain? Why does the sun not come down to us? You can fly quite easily to Madagascar. I would like to see a movie about a woman who cannot remember her name but who can name the trees in a forest.

Gum, both sweet and sour
Black walnut



Dearest, I don’t remember what I was going to tell you, I committed my memory to a computer screen that froze and crashed, I turned the radio on but there was no sound.

I fell asleep in a taxi cab far from home.
Each time I phoned I got a busy signal.

We no longer possess what once made it possible to speak of the similarity that exists between a star constellation and a human being.

At your wedding, your second wedding, we didn’t throw rice as had been the custom, we threw confetti as had been the custom before rice. These days they say it is better to litter, the rice is bad for the birds.

I remember this place from a dream of being awake.

For a moment I forgot you will never read this.



I went to a Post Office in Chicago to mail a package to a friend in Glasgow, Scotland. The postal worker took the package, weighed it and then consulted a book of tables for about 20 seconds before asking me, “where is Scotland near?”

Everywhere is the answer I wish I’d given.

After we finished the transaction, I asked her if there was a rest room in the building.

“Yes, take the escalator down to the second floor,” she said, and was about to continue with further directions before I interrupted her.

“Aren’t we on the second floor?” I asked.

She paused, oriented herself, and with a smile pointed her finger and said, “oh yes, sorry – just walk over there and take a right.”




The package contained the book I’d written: a deceitful, unreliable series of narratives.

I had also enclosed a note to my friend, which read: I hear that you’re now a father; how are your days filled?

I look up, and see you in a café, sitting by yourself, a mug of warm coffee in front of you, coat buttoned up, your right elbow resting on the tabletop next to your keys.

Will you be able to find a quiet room to read my book?

I hear that you want to move to a new city.

I hear less and less.



I am here, as I always have been, I am making memories for you.

And yet: what I am writing in this moment . . . I have written and I will write for all eternity, on a table, with a pen, in these clothes, in circumstances wholly similar.

Most trees grow with a spiral in them, possibly due to the wind.

And yet: don’t ever get old.
And yet: the true paradises are paradises we have lost.



Tonight I begin to forget. My memory detaches from its locale, from the neighborhood it knows so well – the cracked sidewalks in July, the Christmas tree left up too long, the children’s voices on an American fall afternoon. Perhaps if I’m lucky it will be replaced by a slow, moving cloud throwing rice. Or by a sycamore walking in the rain.



Then we learned that the roof on Mark’s school had been taken by the tornado and that the bell rang as the disaster struck. His schoolhouse got a new roof but it was much shallower than the old one and they didn’t rebuild the campanile. We thought this awkwardness was the beginning of the end.



They ran through trees, thicket, clots of grass, under branches and low hanging vines, through complete blackness. Whatever it is they feel, it is not fear, their chests not sore, their minds are calm.



Unafraid, a blackbird, thirty years ago today, looked at me, incomplete, at this lecture’s end, then flew off toward the trees.



Source notes by numbered section and sentence

4: The Parasite by Michel Serres, Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore and London, 1982, page 40: “At the door to the room, they heard a great wind.”
10: Gertrude Stein quoted in Two Stein Talks by Lyn Hejinian, The Language of Inquiry, University of California Press, Berkeley, CA, 2000, page 113: “Let us begin over and over again.”
12: The Book of Franza by Ingeborg Bachman, Northwestern University Press, Evanston, IL, 1999, page 3: “Hence the contents, which are not the content, look like this…”
14, 15: The Language of Inquiry by Lyn Hejinian, page 47: “The listener draws the correct implication that the substance continues beyond the work – we have simply stopped because we have run out of sentences, not because we have reached a conclusion, not because we have said “everything.” … Form is not a fixture, but an activity.”
17: The Language of Inquiry by Lyn Hejinian, page 43: “In the ‘open text’ … all the lements of the work are maximally excited; here it is because ideas and things exceed (without deserting) argument that they have taken into the dimension of the work.”
32: Adbusters, Journal of the Mental Environment, June/July, 2000: “People today recognize fewer than 10 plants but over 1,000 corporate logos.”
31: The Inferno by Dante, Canto 1: “Midway upon the journey of our life I found that I was in a dusky wood; For the right path, whence I had strayed, was lost.”

1: Bloomsbury Book of Lullabies by Belinda Hollyer and Robin Bell Corfield, page 29, “Lullaby” by Jean Jazi, The Book People LTD, St. Helen’s, UK, 1998.
16-17: Regeneration by Pat Barker, The Regeneration Trilogy, Penguin Books, London, UK, 1998, page 68.
23-27: “The German Forest” by Colin Bailey in The House in the Woods Centre for Contemporary Arts, Glasgow, UK, 1998, page 35.
28-31: Leaves of Grass, “The Wound Dresser”, by Walt Whitman, B&N Classics, New York, New York, 1995, page 259

4: The Principle of Hope by Ernst Bloch, MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, 1986, page 290.
5: Walter Benjamin quoted in Words of Light by Eduardo Cadava, Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ, 1997, page 87.

6, 7.
Buckminster Fuller’s Universe: His Life and Work, by Lloyd Steven Sieden, Perseus Publishing, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1989.

3: The King of Marvin Gardens, film directed by Bob Rafelson,1972.
4: “I Came and Here I Am”, by Gertrude Stein [BOOK TITLE, CITY COUNTRY DATE PAGE]
14-15: Display case information from research trip to International Surgical Museum, Chicago IL, January, 2001.

7. The Language of Inquiry by Lyn Hejinian, page 168: “Two inconsequential things can combine together to become a consequence.”
11, 12: In Search of Lost Time, Volume 1, Swann’s Way by Marcel Proust, Random House, New York, Connecticut, 1992, page 60: “… was not in me, it was me. I had ceased now to feel mediocre, contingent, mortal.”

7: Paris by Barbara-Ann Campbell, Ellipses, London, 1997, page 240, quoting Alexandre Chemetoff: “Like the city, gardens always escape from form.”
8: The Parasite by Michel Serres, page 46: “Yes, the divine is there; I touch it; these things are improbable miracles; I never stopped loving the world and seeing that it is beautiful. Yes, my philosophy is adjectival; it is awestruck. The real is not rational; it is improbable and miraculous.”

Ava by Carole Maso, Dalkey Archive Press, Illinois State University, Normal, IL, 1993.
Specimen Days by Walt Whitman,Dover, Mineola, NY, 1995, pages 90-91 (Trees I am familiar with here.)

2: "Doctrine of the Similar," by Walter Benjamin Selected Writings, Vol. 2, trans. Rodney Livingstone, ed. Michael W. Jennings, Howard Eiland, and Gary Smith, The Belnap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA and London, England, 1999, page 696.
3: Louis Auguste Blanqui quoted in Words of Light by Eduardo Cadava, Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ, 1997, page 33.
5: In Search of Lost Time, Volume 6, Time Regained by Marcel Proust, Random House, New York, Connecticut, 1992, page 261.

1-2: “Thicket” by Janice Galloway, in The House in the Woods, page17.

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