Catherine Street & JL Williams
♦ The translucent body ♦
Everyone gets everything he wants.
An ox is brought down, skin and muscle torn at the neck
Silky thin membranes exposed and rising fluid we see in cross-section
Beneath the epidermis we lie in a shuddering malarial embrace
One of us is the apparent body and one of us is disguised
One is both hair and muscle
We are a man within a man
Skinning, pulling back
Living inside a method
A hotel mirror is smeary with cortisol and testosterone, and Willard’s blood
I need you to know that I am the translucent body.
We’ve had this argument before — heaven doesn’t exist,
the smell of eggs frying in butter — it’s all a scam.
But I insist. Really. I insist.
Take this breast for instance. Take this penis.
You recognise them, don’t you?
You remember the feeling of the hand on your leg, the tongue
on your neck.
You looked in the mirror. You saw it. You touched.
All I did was swell.
When I look in the mirror, what do you think I see?
Flowers as red as the broken antennae of snails.
Tiny hearts breaking in the bellies of whales.
I don’t think it matters that you’re skin.
I mean, it doesn’t make being any harder.
It doesn’t mean you aren’t what I am.
Let’s take the night the honey was stolen from the hive.
How purple the sky was, bruised by helicopters.
The trunks of the trees were full of bullet holes.
The final whore had been washed in the river.
You walked in smoke as if you were clothed in silks.
goddess, god. Prophet.
You carried the black flag between your teeth.
No one cried. No one came near.
I’m not even sure they noticed.
But I was there, remember?
Like your lymphatic system.
Like your emotional body.
Unafraid of the pricks,
chiding you on.
And you were the one got the sweetness.
You can’t blame me for everything.
Bountiful, placid, sacred.
Just because I can mend.
Think of me like the lizard’s tail.
Think of me like the foetus whose cells grow and grow.
When you get hurt I
get hurt too. But I heal.
This benefits you.
You can love again.
You can love again.
No one else knows I’m here.
And when you dream, I dream.
In fact, it’s me then who is alive.
When I am rent, you’re ill.
My severed limbs mean
you can’t function.
But you’re good at hiding it.
If you do the work,
I’m a starfish.
I’m also like this — music heard
from across the dark valley.
And like this, that memory
that only comes when dusk
The smell of cinnamon and clove fills the kitchen,
then it’s gone.
Where were you tonight?
I thought I could hear you weeping.
The forest was burning, the birds.
Where were you?
The cleaning of hormones suggests a kind of tidying up, and a hygiene about fluids. Cleaning the mirror – perhaps this is a hygiene of representation? Continence, control, cerebral attention directed towards physical smears of matter out of place.
A stray breast or a mislaid penis.
It suggests a kind of discipline about our reflection. A precision about how we two are to describe ourselves. Nested as we are one inside another.
Perhaps the method of cleaning is a kind of discipline.
the practice of training people to obey rules or a code of behaviour, using punishment to correct disobedience.
a branch of knowledge, typically one studied in higher education.
Our discipline is our system of values
For example I’m already perturbed by this flitting about between tones of voice. I can do anything, perhaps that’s too easy. Comfort is the killer. I’m the petrified, morbid flesh encasing our diaphanous inner life. Coping without your lizard limb is coping at all, you’re prepared to do without. Every day I’m getting weaker and you’re getting stronger.
Arc arc arc arc arc
Stream stream stream stream stream
Arc arc arc arc arc
Stream stream stream stream stream
Car car car car car
Metal metal metal metal metal
Asphalt asphalt asphalt asphalt asphalt
Fault fault fault fault fault
Scream scream scream scream scream
Flesh flesh flesh flesh flesh
Diamond diamond diamond diamond diamond
Screech screech screech screech screech
Fling fling fling fling fling
Greed greed greed greed greed
Pleaded pleaded pleaded pleaded pleaded
O old bag of skin when the bones are out the belly in
The puddle is the pus and blood
Digesting is just chewing cud
Here huck huckle shuck the skin
See very far out over the ocean is a streaming
Forest where flesh is for eating
The crystal pyramid is in opposition to the pool of organs
Swimming in the pool the hearts of the sacrificed
Dream time of another’s body
3am and awake again
Flexing an unfamiliar vessel
A percussive strobe beats through the
Ceiling fan in regular arc
I was in a hot room, insomnia inside and solid outside
Swollen epithelium painfully lines a cavity
Some kind of parasite flutters
Strung with mucus
My skin is an organ, a surface covering the strategy of the rest of your body
A description is not a strategy. Organs are strategies, and actions. A theory is a surface that floats over and under an action. Through your actions, theories become internalised and rendered in flesh, until you don’t know that they’re there. Until they’re part of your anatomy. Until you’re craving the opportunity to merge with something else. To merge with the outside.
You want to ask
What is the meaning of this?
Surely there must be something hiding under here? Am I doing this to myself? Is this what I wanted all along? Did I hide it from myself?
You’re more socially outgoing and more likely to take risks
Eating rare beef makes you more likely to crash your car
The worm under your skin makes you desperate to go down to the water to wash
Something inside your brain makes you drag your little bug body up the blade of grass to suicide.
When I was young we would pick the bushels of corn up from the side of the road,
foot long lengths of corn in green sheaths, silky fronds
of gold pouring out one end.
It was my job to shuck the corn,
peeling back stiff green leaves,
pulling each silky strand off yellow milk buds.
Bugs, little white worms sometimes
in amid the kernels.
You’re like this, the skin I’ll shed
when some far off summer comes.
Death will take your flesh
for only flesh is sacrificed to death.
Finally I’ll be the twin in mourning,
watching your body burn.
Do you think we’ve said something about collaboration yet?
We used the relationship of one body concealed within another as a metaphor for collaboration and an intimate way to explore the possibilities and limits of shared artistic identity. We were thinking about the physical body but also the idea of an emotional body that accompanies and is contingent on the physical body, and requires regrowth in order to overcome hurt and damage. We present our declaration as a collaborative spoken-word performance, in which reading from the text itself is important — declaring the primacy of the text in the collaborative-investigative process, and reminding the audience that the performance is not a play or acting out of fictional roles.
At points the reading is layered – our voices overlapping one another as we read different parts of the text simultaneously. At intervals excerpts from the text are projected on screen. Again this would explore notions of layering and overlap — what happens in collaboration, in conscious and sub-conscious experience, in social interaction.
The conversation explores the way in which collaboration across different disciplines and individual practices has the potential to bring to light expectations associated with those practices that may not otherwise be transparent to the practitioner. Working with you has, for me, exposed conventions of visual art, whether real or perceived. We engage in collaborative making and performance because this method enlightens each of our individual creative practices , while allowing us to bring into being work that we would otherwise not have been able to produce as individuals – literally because working by myself I can’t be two people standing here now. I think that collaboration also opens up the possibility of asymmetry. Our motivations may not be transparent to us as individuals, or to each other, and we can work together without achieving a synthesis of our intention.
On a sunny day in August I entered an abandoned building.
Light flooded in from high windows, and room after room offered up paint-coated sheets of plastic, a man recording a song on a laptop, Peter Doig t-shirts with pink bodies stained on them, half-collapsed ceilings, empty hammocks, peeling paint, patchwork nudes, dreamscape projections, all glowing in the dust-glimmering sun.
It made me want to write.
It has always felt that the essence of being has been a process of seeing and then of making, of experiencing and creating. Writing has been my primary means but art has always been just as important to me both as practise and as stimulus. As I have developed as a writer, collaboration has become a primary interest.
I want to explore direct responses to art and not only observing but becoming part of other artists’ practise.
Through the liminal act of looking we may enter very naturally into creation and collaboration. I want to explore an enmeshment of myself into the act of art-making, how the poetry produced can evolve from a response to art — to becoming involved in and essential to the art-making process and the art itself.
When I work alone my resources are limited. When I work collaboratively, my resources are expanded.
All making is a type of collaboration — between the heart and mind of the creator, between the senses, between the maker and the audience. But our experience on this earth is never singular. It is always an intertwining of other views, languages, bodies. I want my art, my writing, to reflect this. I want to enter the abandoned building and become part of it.
I read a review of an artist’s show recently. The reviewer described how the artist had chosen to put the only works that really meant something to him into a leaflet that few people even noticed, instead of displaying them in the space. By doing this he expressed ‘his mistrust towards any form of established art’.
I am your future.
The rain falls so heavy it reminds what gravity is.
I am your centre.
The emphasis is on do.
I didn’t pull the trigger, though at the end of the film, you did.
It’s a familiar ending.
Mo-Fo, mo-Fo, mo-Fo.
I wasn’t the damned killer.
I am the prince with no kingdom.
My face is covered.
My eyes reflect the dying rays of the sun.
See how heavy the rain is.
I pull it in to wash away the dirt.
Beyond what we can see is another tomb.
The praying priest whose head is not chopped off,
Whose hands are not burned.
The Christ whose arrows are pulled from his chest.
The ringing of bells in the flames.
The white horse dressed as a dragon.
The tower on the hill.
I am all this. What I do is decide against death.
An object that absorbs all radiation
A place where all rays are bent and enter in parallel
Your own ventral surface reflected back to you
A fall from grace
The anechoic chamber
Rectangles, cones and lopsided pyramidal forms line the inside
A space from which all particles have been removed
Where no transmission is possible
No connecting organs of space are detectable
Matter is piled up outside waiting to rush in
All neural activity is alien
No admission for either the marginal or the main
When I was there I just wanted to be here, and now I am here I just want to be there
Every day you’re getting stronger and I’m getting weaker
Last time I was writing about a vacuum because I didn’t want to write in earnest, but I meant to say
All the things that I don’t have the license to mention
Just say it
Complexity and confusion and smallness and tentativeness
But without irony
without respect for a form
What is clarity in communication and when is it possible?
The woman who has lost track of time
sleeps in the afternoon, refuses
to change her clothes, eats
in the dark.
Her fork is in her knife hand.
Her knife is in her fork hand.
Her body is still in this world
but her transluscent body has
gone to the other world
in which time is a bell.
When you wake in the night
I can feel your anxiety,
When you look at the sun
I can feel the heat behind my eyes.
When you sing I’ve got
the notes in my stomach, in my
heart of hearts.
When you touch I can feel
what stings, what cuts, what pleasures.
When you touch I can feel
what trembles, what comes, what heals.
When you touch I know
I am the paper you write on,
the keys you press,
the gap you fill.
♦ ♦ ♦
Catherine Street is a visual artist whose installations often incorporate her own body surrounded by audio, video, drawn and written elements. www.catherinestreet.net
JL Williams is a poet and works as the programme manager at the Scottish Poetry Library. Her books include Condition of Fire (Shearsman, 2011) and Locust and Marlin (Shearsman, 2014) which was nominated for the Saltire Society 2014 Poetry Book of the Year Award. www.jlwilliamspoetry.co.uk
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