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Alina Stefanescu


I am thinking about words. Every day, a new word. Today it was abyss


I said it aloud as my children watched. I clung to that word like a rope which is actually the light at the end of a tunnel. I followed the word straight into its cerulean blue affair, not a voile or a toile but a thick bisque, a bliss-soup, a liquid astonishment. It swallows any spoon you dip into it. And whatever sinks doesn't disappear; it just shifts into a different form of existence. 


*


Everything I read is somehow abysmal, or related to the abyss. From a kid's magazine, I discover the ear has a 7-month advance on the eye in fetal development. The ocean-song inside a womb is the first lullaby, we crave it forever, we seek it at beaches. The first music is a memory of displacement, an abyss.


*


I'm still abyssing when my teen son introduces me to a new cat meme. And then the concept of a counterfactual imagination, or what might have been, as a fulcrum for emotion and feeling. Counterfactual emotions are elicited when we imagine other possibilities--it wasn't a plane crash but an alien assasination--and this ability to imagine a different outcome--a positive HIV test, a broken window, a mind burglar--is the soil of felt things, the threshold of revelation, the poem's inkling. Which part of this could be otherwise? Which part of a global pandemic could be a conspiracy? My son explains. I am riveted.


*


I make mud pies with my daughters. I attend their going-away party for an imaginary friend who is moving to another imaginary land soon. I am stunned by them. Everything is either an abyss or a poem or a poem about the abyssing. 


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On the back porch, I discover a broom. It is like a threshold, a language into something else. The most ordinary household objects are charged with significance. A neighbor chats with another neighbor about cats. 


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I remember a writing conference where Matthew Olzmann remarked on the presence of "I imagine" in so many poems--"and maybe every poet ever." We try to imagine. We pleat the abyss. We wander into it.


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I wonder why that neighbor has a certain way of leaning against his rake that makes it seem like a wall. I imagine the family portraits he's avoiding by habit, how even the shape of a lean tells us what a body remembers about the world. 


I realize the lean is a form of knowledge. It is good to observe this. Is is good to settle into what Saul Bellow calls "the terra incognita of every gaze." The neighbor's cat yowls like a flowerbud, it's tiny mouth, another abyss.


*


A poet inhabits risk without habituation. It is always new and scary, the sparkle-gem of a fleeting glimpse. Because my usual writing routines have been undone by quarantine, I am thinking about words. Every day a new word. Today it was an abyss. I am staring hard at this word and asking everything of it. Like the pilot in an article I read who said, "I see what you're trying to do there, abyss." And I can't unsee it. I can't fly without seeing what you're trying to do with my head.



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All images other than author photos and artist artwork ©Matthew Batt 2020