The problem with a generation declaring literature to be basically over is that it deprives the following generations of the thought that their lives and thoughts might be worth novelising. It results in the experience I’ve had with Ben Lerner, Luke Kennard, Sally Rooney, suddenly recognising myself in the books, thinking – ah, so this is how novels shore us up. But then on the back cover of The Topeka School I read Sally Rooney’s comment – “To the extent that we can speak of a future at present, I think that the future of the novel is here”. And I feel strange. Does each modern novel writer think they are entourage to the last writers? Do they always feel the door shutting after them?
The extravagance of poetry is this contention that it deserves the amount of space it takes up. If done unconsciously, it can underwhelm, but with great confidence it shines. Like a single acorn sat in the centre of an small warehouse.
I imagine a solid gold maze hung from invisible wires in a large room, undulating under the diffuse light. Although for some it is not a luxury, poetry is luxurious speech.
Intermission Montage Soundtrack – Sal sailing around the coast trying to catch a glimpse of her, partying with his friends, thinking about being with another girl who he knows, then turning away at her memory. Her lying on her bed losing her mind. The sun, the sun everywhere.
The clarity of my memories from that point onwards is really surprising. I took on a greater consciousness of others, of myself, I paid attention. Before that I was always quite spontaneous, in a selfish way – it was a luxury that came naturally to me, but those few days were problematic enough that I had to start thinking, had to watch myself live. I went through all this incredible pain of thinking my life, and still didn’t end up any more relaxed about my situation. This feeling, I thought, this feeling about Anne is stupid and simple, like this need to separate her from my dad is intense. But, in the end, why judge myself? I didn’t have to do anything, I was just me, I was just free to experience whatever happened. For the first time in my life, this ‘me’, my self, seemed split in two, and the existence of this two-facedness was a massive surprise. I found excuses, whispered them to myself, feeling sincere, only to have this other ‘me’ exploding my own arguments, crying to me that I was fooling myself, even though they looked true at first glance. But wasn’t it really this other ‘me’ who tricked me? Wasn’t this obvious response really the worst mistake? Sat in my room I debated for hours whether this fear, this anger that Anne made me feel was justified, or whether I was just a selfish little girl, spoiled, just lucky to have had a false independence.
Get up too late and miss the news on the morning radio. I’m not going to go looking for news right now, so that’s that!
I get up late and have coffee and breakfast in the living room since my family are already up and working in the dining room.
I do my skipping in the morning, but I overdo it, doing about three hundred skips all at once, and end up seeing stars in he shower. Tens of little pinpricks of light that zip smoothly along random paths in the edges of my vision. I have them from time to time, like when I hit my head. I can’t find a description of this phenomenon among the pages I read on phosphenes, which are visual hallucinations of light, and can be caused by various things. I rarely have asthma attacks, and they’re always mild, but this one is quite bad and I have to lie down for a while. I end up feeling odd for the rest of the day, probably due to the steroids in the inhaler making me trip out. I watch nuclear weapons test videos on youtube to calm down, which, I think later, is just the sort of thing a character in a Luke Kennard or Ben Lerner novel would do. Something about their regulated framing, with the VHS timings in the corner and multiple views, and then the absolute difference and unthinkable power of the explosion, how it draws the earth into the air as if gravity itself suddenly gave up or reversed. I find out for the first time about the outer atmosphere tests that were conducted, resulting in incredible footage of spherical blasts in the rarified air at the edge of space. Apparently they were seeing whether they could create a radioactive layer of the atmosphere to cause nuclear missiles to malfunction. If they’d succeeded, or it had behaved in a way different to their expectations, we might have never been able to use satellites, or launch rockets without even more layers of heavy protection. People can be very stupid.
The following morning was painful. I woke up sprawled across my bed, in the darkness, mouth dry, limbs lost in sweaty sheets. A ray of sun seeped in between the slats of the blind, and dust particles floated up through it in tiny constellations. I couldn’t decide which was worse – staying in bed or trying to move. I wondered whether Elsa had come by yet, how Anne and my father would approach this morning. I tried to use them as motivation to get up, but it didn’t work. Eventually I managed, finding myself stood on the cool tiles of the room, dizzy and emotional. The mirror showed a sad reflection, and I leant my head on it. My pupils were massive, my mouth swollen. My own face looked like a complete stranger. I was suddenly struck with the thought that, since I was so weak and cowardly, it must have been down to my body, the horrible, random definition of my lips. The thought surprised me with its clearness among the wreck of my headache and myself in general. I morbidly entertained myself by hating my face. The bruise, and the shadowed eyes in the darkness reminded me of a Venetian carnevale mask, wrinkled and creased from debauchery. I began to repeat the word ‘debauched’, heavily, looking myself in the eyes, and I straightaway began to smile. All it was was a few evil drinks, a smack in the face and some tears. I cleaned my teeth and went downstairs.
I scramble to use this mind state
to set down a new life for me.
One as structured as the soil was
before we tore it to soft mulch.
Just think – each soil had its long past
thousands of years of traces, worms
squeezed between the roots, and they too
are squeezed between older root forms
or traces of root forms. And small
mouths, smaller than the memory
of your favourite day, in digest
had summarised layers in it.
We freed the soil from all this past
and made it serve us. But smoothly.
And our lives smoothed out to match it.
Then the great plough turned us over
Left us in a state – heads up here,
lungs down here, and further down, toes,
really a big jumble. I run
and circuits and false starts within
become films of nuclear tests
in space, these unforeseen objects,
just breathtakingly ill thought through…
May the fallout skins protect me.
They tell me it’s the weekend.
My mum does more gardening – weeding today. The one teasel she let grow last year has resulted in baby teasels all over the garden, between the paving stones, in plant pots, on the roof. Well, not on the roof, but I wouldn’t be surprised. She talks about how well adapted they are. The juveniles have wide leaves which cling to the ground in a large area around their roots, smothering everything, but thankfully their roots don’t go too deep, so they’re easy to remove. I imagine a situation where planetary gardeners have a similar reaction to humans. “Oh god, look at the humans. They’re absolutely everywhere.“
Already not sure what day it is. At Tesco’s I see them getting ready to implement queue restrictions and limits to how many people can be in the store at any one time.
I see a video of Chinese doctors addressing a press conference in Italy. Their message is – I don’t know what you think this is but it’s definitely not a lockdown, you need to do more. And Italy is already doing a lot more than us. I fully expect to see the army marching around Leeds by the end of this. No sign of them so far. Went to the park to walk with a friend. We walk opposite sides of the path, which is 4 metres wide, but still strictly against the guidelines which will soon become law. I try and convince her to walk around the park in opposite directions, greeting each other with secret messages, like it was a police state.