By noon it was hot enough in my studio apartment that the Madrid sun shooting down through the attic skylight bullied me into waking. I thought about lying there with my eyes closed for the rest of the afternoon, even if it was too hot to sleep, even if getting up required finding effort collected in places I had already misplaced. I was relieved to see I felt weary in a way I knew, that I’d had another dream about anxieties I couldn’t name with my eyes open, nor understand with my lids closed. I put my hand on my chest to see if my heart had already begun beating faster than it needed to, my body’s emotional armor for the fear that seemed to invade my life in perpetuity. The four-chambered thing pushed at me, all right, and as I moved my thumb down I felt the skin drop into a groove with a texture that felt like braille, cool to the touch although the head was sweating: a scar. I felt the length of it wrap around my torso, followed it with my fingers, the worn tracks leading me down the stomach and toward the hips. I moved my hand yet further down and instinctively adjusted myself, as my genitals had become twisted uncomfortably during my late-morning lie-in. I did this without thinking, then thought of the fact that I had never had to do such a thing before. Something was definitely amiss, and my heart now seemed up to the task it had always been waiting for: a real disaster. I looked at the limp, pink creature and its red, mottled veins, and realized, suddenly, terribly, that I had to pee.
I got up slowly. My legs felt longer and older and more brittle than I remembered them to
be. Instinctively I wrapped the bed sheet around my hips, wanting to shield myself from my impudent sex, and walked the four steps to the bathroom. I put my hands on what was hanging there below me. The simple act of emptying my bladder mitigated the strangeness of the situation, and only after giving the weighted object a gentle shake did the absurdity of what I had just done overcome me. I looked down at what was now my penis and knew that I had never urinated from it before. Curiosity and delight and terror overwhelmed me—Freud was both right and wrong about his theory of envy. You may want what you don’t have, but that is a human and not just female trait. Once you have it, I could see, still holding this strangeness before me, such a thing could quickly cease being a curiosity and become, like so many things in life, a burden. I dropped my hands and headed for the mirror, not sure how I was going to explain this situation to my sometime boyfriend.
My concerns became superfluous as I discovered I had a much bigger problem. I looked up
at my reflection and saw a photograph. I had always liked the jawline, fine and insistent, had found the nose which others called ‘bulbous’ and ‘cauliflower-like’ rather fine. Noble, even. The patchy skin seemed to contain its own geography, the eyes held a kind of wounded intelligence. The scars corseting my torso, which felt like the worried musings of having lived too many stories, could be better described as—yes—looking like the corset of a Dior dress. So it was this, then. The mirror reflected what I had been trying on, it was a frame to the work of art that I had finally become. This seemed an awful joke, and also bad timing. How could I pretend if I was no longer pretending? He would have had an answer, and it would have been funny. It was great. It was terrible. It was really, really … abstract.
The hollows of the eyes looking back at me weren’t vacant, they seemed to attempt to
draw me out; or was it in—I wasn’t sure. I took the hand attached to this body and put it on top of the head and felt the bony skull and the few strands populating it. It was useful, I supposed, and fortunate that I already had the wigs. A project I’d said I would abandon but had never touched, not really. They weren’t real, but they were silver and would have to do. I looked older but I didn’t feel older, was I older, the brain was still my brain, I think it was my brain, was it my brain, in the brain I tried to find a thought somewhere which might reveal itself as his, here was his body, offering itself to me, was it his mind that I now minded, was it. Never mind how I would even recognize the difference, how to get out of the head without losing it, point a finger, draw an arrow, pull it apart.
The mind which I had the instinct to still name as mine was trying to jump out of this skull
and into all kinds of terrified conclusions, but I didn’t want to do that just yet, I wanted to remain before the mirror and look. It was hard to say what year the body was from, but after ‘68, certainly. The scars were there and I couldn’t help but look at them. The flesh sagged. A collection of skin hung on the hands. The face held a vague puffiness.
I found my striped shirt and pulled it over the head. It fit more tightly than it had before.
The phone on the table next to my bed shouted at me angrily, insistently, but I did not answer it. I still wasn’t sure what the voice would sound like, whether it would be my voice, or his.
I wanted to lie down again. Perhaps if I went to sleep I would dream it was a bad dream
the way characters in bad books dream bad dreams and then wake up and find out it was nothing but a dream. Surreal. But the head hurt and it was hot and the body sweat and sagged. I could move but didn’t want to. I thought perhaps if I tried to create something it would make me feel better or give me some insight into my condition, but I didn’t want to make anything. Time was past or had flown or passed me by or hid under a mountain where it grew a beard, waiting. I didn’t have any hair on my chin, I couldn’t get used to the limbs, which felt awkward for the height of my attic apartment ceiling, it required me to bend over to get to the kitchen to make a cup of coffee. I made the coffee, and felt I needed to call somebody, to tell someone about my condition, but who, I could only think of him. I could write him and he could never answer. My dealer would be pleased, but I didn’t want to talk to her. I stared at the phone lying on the bedside table. It didn’t ring.
It was difficult to pinpoint the exact moment in which I had become obsessed. Obsession isn’t instantaneous: it accumulates. At the time I hadn’t known much about his work beyond what everyone knew. But I began my life as him one day when I found a t-shirt on sale at H&M for five euros; it was boat-necked and striped and reminded me of the shirts he’d worn around the time he was becoming a great artist, this was long before I had found myself in the predicament I was in now. Already I knew I had no chance of becoming a great artist. My work was too derivative, and I lacked delusional belief in my own genius, or was it talent, or was it dedication, or was it something else, whatever it was, the ability to persist long enough to make something of it. But he insisted himself upon me in small, incremental ways, ways I didn’t register until they came at me all at once.
I knew the rhetoric was as important as the product and that my paper doll paintings didn’t
amount to much, so I decided I would make myself into a work of art. I would become him. I also wanted to understand him. The crass impulse hid a more sincere one. There was a video of him getting dressed in drag from the early Eighties, done in preparation, I think, for some photos to be taken by his assistant, and in the video he looked so forlorn. Forlorn. Critics were always pointing cocksure fingers at him and making judgments one way or another, but they seemed to miss the point entirely. I wasn’t sure that I could get at it myself, but I wanted to try. I began reading everything about him I could get my hands on, watching him and trying to imitate his voice. My dealer was thrilled, knowing that the provocation, regardless of the depth of the content, would generate some attention, would guarantee, if she was lucky, a few sales, at least. So I bought a few wigs and the boots and the pants. I already had my big nose and my Americanness, and my skin, though not as pale or mottled as his, didn’t need much by way of modification. I got to work. Made videos where I dressed up like the artist and made art, mediocre paper bag paintings made of paper dolls and plaster. I enjoyed working with the gesso, there was something like comfort in laying down the chalky paste and smoothing it over the canvas and sanding it down. I didn’t know how to make myself into a machine, so I would make a machine take my pictures. Cutting out the dolls relaxed me, and wearing the suit made me feel relieved. Always the process was under surveillance by the insistent red eye of my video machine.
I checked the time on my phone: already it was past noon. I had signed up for a workshop at La Casa Encendida, the contemporary arts foundation down the street; it involved four afternoons with an artist from Lisbon studying video and dance-related performance art. I wondered if I should still go, I worried that if I went to the workshop someone would detect my condition and detain me, but then I would be found out eventually, wouldn’t I, and being found out would bring a kind of relief, and I was tired of ruminating, so I decided I would brave the heat. First the surgical corset then the striped shirt, then some black spandex pants that also worked, I noticed, for stretching to contain this new appendage. I put on my white running shoes, the only pair big enough to contain the feet, and a scarf and oversized shades, thinking that if I tried to look ridiculous, I might, on balance, blend in.
When I got to the rehearsal space reserved for the workshop it was already populated by a dozen or so young Europeans stretching and rolling about on the studio floor. I looked to have thirty years on many of them though the presiding artist was also middle-aged, a woman with short burgundy hair in a black pantsuit who peered at me silently through her Coke-bottle glasses as I walked in. A few people looked up to register my entrance, but no one seemed to recognize me. I went to the farthest corner of the room, and, afraid that any unanticipated movement might expose my scars, carefully adjusted my surgical corset and began to stretch. After a half an hour of stretching we gathered in a circle to discuss what was going to happen. The artist spoke about distance and emisor and receptor, and though most business was conducted in dry, international English, she occasionally reverted to her mother tongue. Her Portuguese sounded as if it were being swallowed as it was spoken, all those vowels hidden away and contained at the top of the nose, the back of the throat. When I spoke I wasn’t sure if it was with his voice or my own, I had been trying to sound like him for so long I no longer knew if I was still trying really or really couldn’t not try. I ran the hands nervously over the torso, fingering the scars and veiny stitches like worry beads.
We were told to make these things the artist called ‘choreogramas,’ a term the artist said
she invented, it was like a photograma but posing in a dance move, freezing, and then moving again. I wanted to tell her it was impossible to invent anything because everything already exists. Contemporary art is so easy to make fun of because it’s so serious. This woman was so serious. It was August 6, 2012; the day they dropped the atomic bomb in ‘45, she said. She called it an anniversary. It was the day before my anniversary, too, I wanted to tell her that I was supposed to be thirty years old in twenty-four hours, though I didn’t know anymore. I wanted to tell her he was there the day they dropped it, too, it was his first day at the Carnegie Institute and also his birthday, today he would be fifty-something or eighty-four, I didn’t know anymore. If I can’t stroke the scars when I get nervous I put my fingers over the mouth so that they can’t hear me breathing and it relaxes me. She talked about the bomb and the people who died and then a few months later there would be more disasters on the same island, it was hard to know who to blame, she said, a butterfly, a wave, a god, a man. We were supposed to take our clothes on and off in fragments and perform the choreograma, the artist had a camera turned on us that recorded everything and an assistant who walked about the room zooming in on our hungry, earnest faces, and I wanted to say, I didn’t know you were in a serious relationship, too. My beard—that’s what I called the video machine I kept in the corner of my studio apartment to record me sleeping—had fallen from the beam I’d taped it to the night before, this was after my friends had come and gone and we’d all had too much wine and just before I fell asleep, but I was too drunk or tired or both to get up and do anything about it; it was there, lying on the floor impotently, and here I was, in this body. But here was her camera watching all of us, and the atmosphere in the air wasn’t of sex, and it wasn’t the desexualized nudity of fat Germans on Mediterranean beaches, it was somewhere in between, and I had to think she liked watching all these bodies undress, most of them not quite thirty but here she and I were starting to sag, nothing but droop droop droop, we were both really up there, although I was still hopeful that I would wake up the next morning and turn thirty. We had to partner up, and my partner was from Lyon and named Alphonse and had dark eyes and long hair, which he would grab at and pull furiously when he wasn’t expounding in a way I couldn’t understand, or putting overturned houseplants onto his head. Everyone there loved him because he had charisma, although his energy and wild gestures were more than a bit phony. He wasn’t crazy, he just liked to imagine he was creative enough he could be.
The artist put some music on and I felt uncomfortable there in my clothes with Alphonse
watching me. I didn’t want to take my clothes off, and wasn’t sure what Alphonse would say when he saw the scars or the discolorations or what I now possessed, just hanging there, a small, terrified little being, and how would I take my shirt off without having problems with my wig. Other people had already begun to undress, and many of them were making faces and moving slowly, they all looked like they were in a very serious fashion magazine, and I was the only one not in on the joke.
I began, but I didn’t want to do that, if I tried I knew I would feel phony. Usually, to get to
the right thing the best way to do it is go straight through the wrong thing. So I started moving very quickly, thinking that the act of undressing is usually one of two things, either a performance, or something you have to do to get to something else, shower, sleep, change clothes, have sex, it was too much like work work work, here we weren’t changing our clothes for any reason, it was a performance. You couldn’t pretend it was to do something else and if you performed you were just doing what you were supposed to, which seemed like a reenactment of the expectation and not the occupation of it, so I thought what if I didn’t pretend to do something I was already doing, which would have been faking it, but just tried to do something else, and then I wouldn’t feel so self-conscious about being naked, I didn’t want anyone to look at me, though I did want to look at everyone else. I tried to take my clothes off to get to my other body, a body which didn’t have such a hold on my mind as his did, to get back to my own body, even though my own body was holding onto his like it mattered, now I just wanted to let it all go, to try and get around what I wasn’t sure I was. I stretched my arms wide and hunched my shoulders so that the striped shirt rode up a few inches and my flesh was exposed. Then I moved my arms from side to side to release it further, releasing the fabric the way I wanted to release the rest of myself, and it made me nervous but I felt I was getting somewhere, so I moved more insistently and found myself doing the same with my pants and also with my underwear, so that they were not clothes so much as circumstances shaped as sculptures I found confining. It seemed like a good thing to do to your clothes, to make them into twin sets of circumstances you divide by your body’s halves, and my underwear was around my knees and I was bent over, ass in the air, trying to remove the wrinkled shirt without messing up my wig, the artist’s camera always watching, and then the artist approached me. She surprised me, approaching me from behind, and on her face she wore a twin set of anger and disgust. I’m going to have to ask you to stop, she told me in English. You’re very nervous, why don’t you let your partner go, I don’t think you understand the objective of the exercise. I thought she could have chosen a moment other than the one she did to expose me. I thought that if she were a real artist she wouldn’t be trying to dictate the results, but she chastised me in that way avant-garde artists like to do, they are always the most papal in their desire for control. It seemed phony to me, but I couldn’t think of anything to say in my defense and didn’t have to, she was already walking away while my partner sat in the corner, watching impassively. I lowered the exposed, pale ass from the air and flopped the shirt back on and with the left hand yanked up the underwear. Alphonse said nothing of the scars or the exchange or the wig. I wanted to disappear, but it seemed I could only disappoint. He stood up and began to take off his clothes, moving slowly and pausing to look at me for effect, creating a moving portrait with his posture of certitude and beauty, and I sat there in the corner, ashamed, watching.
I left the workshop early and started back toward my studio but didn’t know what to do with myself, I wanted to meet Gabi or Marco for drinks, I thought that maybe if I texted they would understand, but I didn’t text them, for I knew in my current state that my friends would not recognize me. The mouth said things my mind did not abide, and try as I did to form small lines of connection through what I thought I knew to be another tongue, it always came out as a meal eaten sideways, the ums and ahs of his insistent mouth: I could think in Spanish, but no longer speak the words. It was really, really peculiar. I climbed the stairs to my apartment and opened the windows to let the outside heat of the evening mix with the inside calor. It was hard to say which was more stifling. I returned to my position on the low bed and tried to sleep, the sounds of the city dozing around me.
In late August there is hardly anyone in Madrid, and Madrid, depending on whom you ask,
feels either desolate or remarkably, peaceably quiet. Perhaps you can tell a person’s philosophy by plumbing her perspective on the matter. Those who see the city as abandoned are themselves a bit hopeless, and those who find the quietude a comfort carry an enviable kind of stillness within.
I couldn’t sleep, so I thought about the artwork scattered about the attic studio, canvases
with so many characters glued in papery flatness onto the finely ground chalk. I didn’t know where my work would come from now. I didn’t want to make my bullshit art, a so-called commentary on my anxiety of influence, I couldn’t, not anymore, not since that influence had become my anxiety. When I had been faking it I was serious but now that this was serious I couldn’t fake it.
Why did we do it? Why did we dedicate our lives to making things? Were we, as some
accused us, trying to get around our own mortality? Or did we simply want to create for ourselves meanings as beautiful as the world we wished to inhabit, to protect ourselves from other realities? It certainly felt necessary—an obligation—or compulsion: as a famous writer once said to a ‘nobody’ who was struggling with her poetry and asked him what to do, he said: try quitting. Behind the tacit arrogance of the statement lay the admission that if you make things it is because you cannot not make things. Maybe our efforts were designed to redress the balance by filling out the episodic with the momentary, these works of creation were a reflection or a repudiation of the divine, it depended on whom you asked, we stood in locations that moved beneath us all the while, everything always in motion, but such episodes we hoped would guard against the rest, there had been too much misery, the balance was off, the artists were so many malevolent or benevolent beings working to work the balance off. We weren’t going for posterity because it wasn’t for us to decide, we were simply trying to prolong the moment, to safeguard against loss, and it didn’t matter that it was a fool’s errand, what we wanted and needed was to document all the things that delighted and disturbed us. We gestured, we made sounds with our throats and raised our eyebrows, we threw up our hands and adjusted our wigs.
I was looking for what we all looked for: understanding. If I wanted to be understood it was
so that someone could recognize that what was within me was not necessarily the same as without. I understood that part of the problem was that I didn’t understand what had happened to myself. I pulled a bar receipt from my pocket and overturned it. On the back of it was written in his hand: People need to be made more aware of the need to work at learning how to live, because life is so quick and sometimes it goes away too quickly. Somehow, in spite of the hour and the heat, after several hours of fretful pacing around the tiny space of my apartment, I fell asleep.
The next morning it was still too hot to do anything and the world still felt too abstract. The grackles grackled overhead, and I thought I would get a pizza in the plaza or sit on the rooftop terrace of the Gaudeamus bar held up by the crumbling church. But I wasn’t hungry and I wasn’t thirsty and the surgical corset itched and made me sweaty and I didn’t have the head to go to the kind of store I’d need to visit to buy another, to do so would be to admit my fate. I rinsed the lime green band with water and lay down again on my bed and tried to will the little electric A/C unit into working its cool air into the corner of the room where I lay. Clouds swam overhead and I stared at them through the attic skylight. For a brief period the moon in its fullness had been framed by this very glass, it spotlit the fake veneer floor for a few days in the first months of my living here. Having never had a skylight before I didn’t think about the moonlight’s movement; being in the attic apartment made me aware that I rotated along with the rest of the world. It is hard to record the earth’s movement when the earth seems to submit so readily to our confident feet, hard to remember harder even to conceive.
My hands in their absence of color seemed to bleed into the sheets, and I felt as though
there was nothing I could do about any of it, but then I thought maybe I should paint or go look at some art, I had been worried about going to museums and getting recognized, but after the workshop I knew my awkwardness would keep the spotlight of recognition from switching on, and besides, people had their heads in their technologies, their handheld families, it was unlikely they would even notice me. Or maybe people were just foolish and assumed that since he was dead all this existed outside the realm of possibility, although was that any more foolish than going about your business on the flat ground and saluting the sun as though it fixed itself according to your disposition.
It was Saturday and entrance to the Reina Sofia museum was free and later the Prado
would be, too, it wasn’t far to walk and I could always stop on Argumosa for a drink. Yoli had her tables out and since it was August I could actually get a seat, what was nearly impossible in June was so easy come late summer, the city had emptied of the people who could afford to leave and had left me and the rest of the abandoned to enjoy this small if bittersweet victory, an easily vanquished café seat. Yoli was a short but robust Peruvian woman who had been running her lemon ice and drink stand in Lavapiés for over twenty years, she wintered in Lima when it was summer there, it seemed like a smart way to make a living and though her skin looked the age of my body or maybe a few years older her disposition was much younger, she could easily whip out an extra table or chair if the place was crowded and the cops weren’t around. Even if life felt too hard, even if getting out of bed felt like pushing against a weight which never diminished, I would continue to love this neighborhood, even the perro flauta teenagers with their dirty dogs and their grating shouts of pues y nada, and the local drunk we had dubbed Moneditas for her singsong pleas for euro coins, who was nervy enough in her Spanish sense of entitlement to hit up even the West Africans who banked at the Caja Madrid, and the Ecuadorian man, another cast member from the Plaza Lavapiés Boozers, who was dancing one morning to music playing from the boombox on his shoulder, 80s style, the song was Ladies Night, and it was raining, and was it the rain or was it the song that made the scene absurdly funny and not absurdly tragic, or was it both, and the Bangladeshi and Indian and Pakistani men who owned the middle part of calle Lavapiés, and called out to you to stop and eat as you climbed the hill of Washfeet, and the woman from Sri Lanka who owned the frutería around the corner, whose husband tended to their baby while she weighed the vegetables and counted out your change, and the Spanish woman who washed the wooden stairs of the old corrala building where you lived, whose cat always ran underneath your legs as you ascended the five flights to your attic apartment, but here is Yoli coming toward you now, inviting you to sit down, so sit and order a tinto de verano with lemon ice, the lazy man’s sangria, thinking this is all you need, in certain moments, to be happy.
The drink comes to me in a plastic stein, the limonada shavings floating over the cold red
wine served alongside a small bowl of patatas fritas, and I take a sip and munch on one of the potato chips. The crumbled flakes land in my lap more than in my mouth, but no matter. The Lavapiés Twins lumber by and it is when I see them that I know this day is perfect in spite of my condition and the condition of the world and the relentless heat. They are wearing their appliquéd jeans and walking as they always do, very slowly, arms linked, and are positioned strategically so that each puff-painted cartoon dog is showing itself off on the light blue denim of each sister’s outer thigh. I brought nothing with me to record the moment so I click them with the eyes. They are not really twins, these two little old ladies, their faces look nothing alike, although their outfits and gait are always perfectly matched, your friends say they’re lovers but most likely they’re widows, sisters maybe, who have each other and who dress alike because that was how their mother did it, and it never occurred to them to do it differently, even if they both look to be not a day younger than seventy. Each is wearing a blue plastic bracelet and pink blouse the same color as the cartoon dog’s tongue. Their arms are crooked like questions which they answer for each other, and their backs curve forward into their rocking gait. Everybody, everybody loves the Gemelas de Lavapiés, and I wonder if they are privy to the neighborhood’s curiosity and goodwill. Curiously, they sell postcards of the twins at the sex shop behind the theater just a block from Yoli’s bar. I wonder if they’ve ever been inside.
My drink empty and my legs itchy I get up and head toward the Reina Sofia, a museum
whose air conditioning I like better than its paintings, but at least I can spend a few hours there without sweating too much. Walking up the calle Doctor Fouquet past the Librería de Lavapiés, I catch my reflection in a small gallery window and see the wig hairs sticking up in the middle of the head giving my disheveled appearance the finger. The window has sticky vinyl letters across it which seem ready to peel off, the art galleries of real importance are in the Barrio de Salamanca near Franquista furriers and fashion boutiques, this one has the contemporary sheen of a Chelsea space but is ten times smaller and the silver letters on the window say PUMA QUAKENBUSH—WORLD TRADE, and I think this is news to me or I had forgotten but the Reina can wait, I guess, I go inside. The bespectacled assistant hiding in a glass-walled office in one corner ignores my entrance, as gallery assistants do. The walls of the space are painted straightjacket white, and from them hang so many photographs, a record of someone else’s time. In one of the pictures, an artist stands in front of a painting with the fingers against the lips, obviously mimicking the image on the canvas of a man wearing what was obviously a wig on the head, one young then gone, the other dead or close to dying. New York. There is no checklist, just a photocopied press release, which I ignore, and a projection against one wall. The info card says: WORLD TRADE, 11 SEPT 2011 (DVD, 24 HORAS, EDICIÓN 4 DE 11.
I sit on the bench and look at the video before me: images of the absence of buildings.
That is my interpretation, anyway, you could also say it was a very slow film about the sky. But it didn’t bother me when things were boring, especially when so much of life was made up of the dreary: waiting in lines, stamping forms, waiting in cells, trapped inside these bodies, these containers which would continue to betray us. It was nice to clear your head before an artwork that wasn’t too insistent about how you looked at things, I always thought Beckett would have made a good dictator of some small European principality like Andorra, with his fussiness and precise insistence on a certain kind of reception, as if that were something you could control, as if you would want to. Oh, but we wanted to, of course. The image was in color but the color was almost drained from it, as if color were an afterthought to the viewing. A voice whispered so low I almost couldn’t hear what it was saying. I took out my recorder and recorded it to get it back. This is some of what was said:
I remember once my dad was giving me a ride to the airport in New Orleans. I don’t remember where I was flying to, maybe it was Madrid, my parents lived only a mile or two from the airport and it was summer, which meant everything was full and green and hot and humid to the point of being sticky. There were these tiny green lizards that were always around and they would eat whatever bugs they could get. In the blue minivan my father drove me to the airport in we were only a block from the house when I looked out the passenger-side window to see a tiny lizard, a baby really, clinging there. The car was still going pretty slow so it seemed to stay on the glass without too much trouble, but it wasn’t a gecko, it was one of those brown lizards that change color from green to brown to green, just enough change to make you love them, with those throats that open out to lusty pinks when they breathe, this lizard must have found itself a little lost on its journey and I didn’t know what to do. Seeing that little lizard there, trapped, clinging to the van window, and knowing that once the car sped up, it likely wouldn’t make it, made me so sad for the creature’s fate. I thought maybe when we got to the airport I could save it and then it could be an airport lizard and help people check their bags or hand out peanuts to disgruntled customers who were sick of waiting, the ones who line up hours before their designated boarding time, this little guy would be friendly in spite of his predicament, though I think he would have missed the green of our backyard. He hung on for most of the journey and I wondered what he was thinking, I watched him the whole way. It was only as we drove under the I-10 overpass that something in him ceded, we weren’t going that fast, in fact my father was decelerating to a red-light intersection, but his webbed feet couldn’t stick to the glass any longer and he blew away. I knew then, I understood in that moment, that our experience of Death would come for us in that same way, without mercy, although there was mercy, perhaps, in Death’s insistence on the unexpected, in that her arrival and our departure times were forever a mystery.
The enemy is dead, long live the enemy. The image a projection of blue sky the color of blue sky with white clouds which do what white clouds do, they are drifting. They seem to drift more slowly than they should, as in a silent movie, the sky the absence is what you would say if you had written the press release. I think about bodies lying in beds, sleeping, buildings shining like the superstars they outlast, collapsing, bodies in oceans, bodies trapped in rooms, bodies dead, drifting. A body could never outlive our aspirations the way clouds do. The video had left me far too pensive and the concept seemed better than the content and what kind of cracked-out name was Quackenbush, anyway.
I decided I needed to work, so I went back home and took some gesso and laid it on a
small canvas and spread it around, and cut out paper dolls while the chalk dried. With my black marker in letters running up the canvas I wrote the necessary words: you disappoint me. I cut out the faces of the dolls and glued the backs of the bodies onto the canvas. I thought about signing the work but what would I put there, so I signed nothing. I didn’t know whether I liked the finished product, but at least it was done. Through the skylight so many birds could be heard crying out.