An Account of Pattern, Materialization
I notice, I notice things. I like when I notice them. Partially the things, but mostly that I’ve been drawn outside myself for a second. It makes me feel less selfish, I congratulate myself when it happens.
I notice when I walk past a sign for a store across from my house, I hear a little clicking, like the televised plinko games on those shows where you can win money. I look around, expecting to find a plastic bag flapping from somewhere. It’s coming from the sign: it’s one of the old ones, where the letters are on cubed units, that spin, align to reveal different messages. 12-pack $4 off! Such mundane statements are suddenly charming, when I know the letters worked so hard to get there.
They are shaving off the street in front of my house. The blade of a long dozer making hideous noises. I hear it down the rift of subtle valley that I have to walk from my house to campus. It echoes that whole way. It sounds like a dragon, and I think I would think this even if I had not just been watching Game of Thrones.
Annoying, you must say, but I’ll tell you what’s annoying: every single other day when this street is in use and cars zip along it like it is some fucking highway. It’s a neighborhood street. There are dogs, houses. Even children in their inexhaustible energy. Yet the traffic is constant. This is the one drawback to what is otherwise a lovely little house, pink, a front porch, wood floors and a tub. The noise— I sleep with earplugs every night. But now that the road is being worked on, the whole thing is blocked off, and there is a blissful peace everyday after five pm. I leave the door open, the cat wanders in and out, I think, Ahh, this is a nice sound. When I walk back from school and teaching I see the line of cars on the highway parallel to my blocked road, the line stretches into the distance both ways, what must be a mile. All these cars that usually take the shortcut down the road I live on, forced to drive on the actual interstate. I am obscenely pleased. Good, I think. Think what it must be like for me, I think. Forced to hear that racket everyday, so that it seeps into my thoughts. I hope there’s a delay repairing the road, I hope it takes ages.
I noticed the other day the house on the street above me, farther up the slope of mount, was reflecting the end-of-day sky, a pink and peach hue. Filling up the entire windows. Sometimes when I see color like that, I think, I wonder if I would feel better about this scene if I was living in California.
I come from a small town, moved to a small town. Quite a circular path, one must think. I question myself on it sometimes. I used to travel around Europe. And now I live here. Sometimes, I think, I don’t have the gumption.
I guess I think of California as success because I stayed once with a friend there who I went to have sex with, and he was house-sitting for some acting friends. Each in a tv show, one in New York and the other I can’t remember, she a gorgeous woman with pictures of herself topless all over the place. She’s a big advocate for Free the Nipple. It’s a good cause, I think, humanizing women’s bodies, but I think How nice it is that that’s your biggest problem. I made dinner for us when I was staying there, and when I was cleaning up I emptied food down the garbage disposal without running the water. You’ve got to run the water, my friend said. It’s easier on the system. Oh, I said. But I knew. I just wanted to run the garbage disposal without the water because they had that house and I didn’t
The sky is purple today. I’m so selfish. I’d like to get out of my head sometimes. Sometimes I wonder if this involves medication. It’s not even that I feel things, really, more that I remember things I used to feel. These things seem like the truest to me.
Perhaps it’s that I do not take risks. I remember going to a therapy session one time and we came away with the idea that if I let myself do all the things I wanted, question things, upend things, my whole life could be aruin. Tossed in the air, left to blow away. I’ve done this so many times before, I don’t know if I could do it again. It takes effort, work to build things, a semblance of living. In Hindu traditions, the Homekeeper is a sacred stage of life.
I am always the young maid, the hunter, the stag. I can only home-keep for so long before the impulse to run, returns.
Many times this year, I’ve thought: This is what I’ll do with my summer. Sail on a boat with a humanities program. Who will watch the cat? Go back to Greece, to Italy, where I was happy (is it true I was only happy once). Do a wilderness immersion; who will watch my love? How will I have a love? How will I raise my children?
I do not answer these questions. Instead I sleep, and sleep, sleep. I’m reading Kazim Ali, two young boys executed for touching each other. I only want to feel things.
In the morning, I concentrate very hard on slicing a loaf of bread evenly with a serrated knife as the cool light falls through the window where I work. I bend down, even with the loaf, try to imagine sawing with the knife like a logger. When I pull the slice away, it thins then fades to crumbs at the bottom and back. I feel this says something about me, as a person, though I am not sure what.
I was wrong. The things moving on the sign are not cubed units, but little balls. Different ones are dark and different ones are light to make the letters. Or maybe it is different halves to the same whole. I stand, watching it for a while. It doesn’t make sense how it works.
I wrote once, in another essay, of this anger I have, that in the country where I grew up there was no use for a warrior queen.
If I was stronger in body, I think sometimes this might have been the direction my life took: Hunter, soldier, spy. Part of disaster relief, rescue squad team. Use my desire for domination over, what, to help someone, who. Other than myself. Ambivalence, in that case, would be useful.
It’s laughable now but I used to run five minute miles. I used to swim, swim, submerge into twenty-foot blue depths to hoist up a dummy, row, resuscitate. Now my arms tire, ache, folding clothes.
It’s not laziness, it’s a pain thing, a fatigue thing. A lack of ability of cells, the body.
I do not want to be sorry for myself.
I only want to reconcile the things I feel moving within me, to the outer world.
I guess writing is a way of attempting this without really doing anything else.
These are things that I think about: Neap tides, the highs and lows. The earth’s orbit and how it affects which stars you can see. Herbs and the uses of. I guess I write about an Oracle because her life is connected to all these things, centers around them. My life has been cut off from some rituals, or, more accurately put, was never founded on them.
I used to go out to the woods to live, and then my body failed me, and I think, In nature, I would already be dead. That world has confounded me.
The simple truth of it is I do not have the strength nor the stamina to live the way I would like, gathering, growing, making things on my own. My body is not capable. The best way I have of not getting overwhelmed in disappointment is to avoid it entirely. I stopped doing the things I used to do. I do not push myself. I imagine these things, yes. The writing of it as a fiction. But I think of early dawns, of chopping wood, warming the grate: it’s that I do not know my new place.
I am a jealous person, sometimes dislike cloaking my impulses in a fiction.
Just below the surface of all this, rage.
A crow looks at me intently through the window, as if affronted at my moving around in the house. I sense it’s thoughts, have thought it myself sometimes, to authority, to my betters: One day there will not be a window between us.
What other life would I be living? Can’t there surely be, hidden within, some pure urge?
When I think of happiness, I think of modifying this anger, of covering it up. Drinking, the sea, wading, giving voice to my nature. I do not want to build things, I want to destroy them.
I do not want to put makeup on everyday for an hour to be more pleasing to them, to move about in disguise.
I would rather move and have no one care about it.
At points, all my other lies: fantasies, stories, fictions, essays, bore me.
Does language strip down, or does it veil?
There was a storm, and men came for branches. Then there was wind, a city notice on the door, more men, and now a crow at my door everyday cursing me.
More and more of the trees went. Thunder cracked so loud that power went out over town. A line down, something struck. The pine and evergreen were soundblock from some of the noise from the road. I held every bough that was torn from its break, against the men.
So what if splinters gashed, I thought. So what, a branch half-hanging. This is the way of the world. Let nature mind its decay. Instead, in helmets and vests, they pulled and pulled from the healthy limbs. They were greedy in what they took, this was my thought, and the crow agreed.
It hunkers its black body of fleet, sends down its calls. At everything: the branches on the ground, the cars as they go by, pivoting on its claws to face their whole length, me when I come onto the porch. My cat. Most disturbingly, the large square window in my bedroom where I sit and watch.
It perches three feet away from the pane and looks at me, its pointed beak opening for fury.
As if to say, There will not always be a window between us.
I did not kill its babies. Crow, I said, go find another place to build. Crow, I said, They’re not coming back. A crow does not have much concern for what you say.
You need to speak to it on the nature of death, my boyfriend suggested to me one day. But that’s what I had been doing.
It wakes me from my dreams at four in the morning, the time the sun reaches us here in the north. I shake my fist at it, my nemesis. Crow, I say, there will not always be a window between us. This is what I am afraid of: that my cat, when she goes out onto the porch, and I hear the crow’s caws get louder as it moves to the branches directly before the gables, that one day I will hear her shriek and walk out to find her missing an eye.
I can’t keep her in all the time. She’s a wild thing, too.
I fear one day, the door that I keep propped open gently against the bolt, will blow open six inches from cool air, that the bird will make a predatory lunge and come in, be trapped, circle around the room screaming, bloodying walls, windows. Knocking over lamps. This happens in my father’s shop sometimes, with little birds, he’ll raise the vertical doors to help them get out. Sometimes he picks them up, bodies broken, and takes them outside. What he does with them then I don’t know.
Trapped flights of fancy with so much feeling, what do we do with ourselves and the anger we find we’re in? How do we change it, circle the walls, leave?
How long to get to be like that couple in LA, the actor/ actress, how long to have a porch, a yard sloping down, a well-stocked fridge. I think to take better jobs, to push myself for the long hours for money, money!, what would that be like. I keep taking part-time gigs, I teach and then I walk around all day. Honestly I couldn’t tell you what I do with my days some days.
My body, I think to myself, sometimes when I feel less than, low. It is my body and my infirmary keeping me here. And how am I to feel happy in a nexus of job and capital system that will always find my ability to create (value), less than?
Hunter, maiden, stag. They are all in some chase. Maybe the crow laughs at them all. For what do you become when you become caught?
Answers, oh answers. The plastic balls click away in their frame, lining up to make letters. Like ugly synchronized swimmers. But I keep waiting. What will life, this randomness, say? Click (a muttering, a realization), click click.
About the Author
Caitlin Palmer has some writing up at DIAGRAM, Ghost Proposal, Gravel, and others. She received her MFA at the University of Idaho where she served as the fiction editor for Fugue and the program’s Hemingway Fellow. She teaches at a community college and is working on a novel.