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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
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
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
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
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
'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
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
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.
-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.
-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
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
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
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
Like light from a star I send this years in advance of your
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
-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
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
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?”
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
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
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
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
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
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,
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.
Buckminster Fuller’s Universe: His Life and Work,
by Lloyd Steven Sieden, Perseus Publishing, Cambridge, Massachusetts,
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
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
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,
5: In Search of Lost Time, Volume 6, Time Regained by Marcel
Proust, Random House, New York, Connecticut, 1992, page
1-2: “Thicket” by Janice Galloway, in The House
in the Woods, page17.
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