Syzygy, Beauty

By T Fleischmann


Sarabande Books
April 2012


On Cells

See through mesh. Of all the Cells Louise Bourgeois made, I stood before Cell (Glass Spheres and Hands) the longest, a date at the Guggenheim ending. It is a cage of square glass. Inside, large crystal balls sit on wooden chairs and hands rest on the table. The walls announce an outside and an inside, somewhere that I am and somewhere that I am not. Touch is the conclusion of sight, and so Bourgeois places the folded hands there, behind the glass. Your clavicle dips so slightly down, then up again. A cage also suggests danger, makes the natural curiosity of looking a risk. To see an object, to consider its surface and texture, is to ignore all else. "What does your boyfriend say about me?" I turn to face you and ask.


I try to figure out the equations on scrap boards, digging pen into wood. Rivulets of ink and dirt clogs. The more exact the alignment, the easier this will be later on. There is a very important part of your life into which I am not welcome. Chairs not meant for anyone to sit on, that we are barely allowed to see. All of it there to deprive me of green glass. And then there are the parts of my life in which you are not welcome, the spider web strands of thought and the rows of Michigan corn. Houses as places to be safe, and hundreds of little ones, again and again, even if we can't exit. I mark thin lines to cut. Two boards aligned with the same board will not always be aligned with each other, an angle for water to catch and rot away.


And what I would do, were the walls not there? I doubt touch would be enough. I think I would need to take. In her diary, Bourgeois says "I want to be transparent. If people could see through me, they could not stop loving me, forgive me." And so she made cells that you could not see through, forcing us to peek around a corner. It is very intentional, that I never apologize. I have no other choice but to go to Denver, where a boy on a couch will give me the eye. Had I not traveled south again, who would be stacking these split logs and yes, I knew the gala was this evening. The hands in Bourgeois' Cell are carved of marble, pink like flesh, which is perhaps anatomically obvious. It is exceedingly difficult, deciding when to be obvious and when obscure. But even if I were to mail you a stolen glass orb, I fear you would fail to notice the pale green tinge, its tendency to roll off the table.


Louise Bourgeois' parents repaired tapestries, and at a young age she learned to help them draw in missing segments. At the time, her father carried on an affair with her governess, and her mother used the girl to watch them. Later, Bourgeois called this child abuse. Is there pain inherent in loving two who do not love each other? I left the city today and went out into the world, ready to make everyone fall for me. I will move state-by-state, and when I return, you will be powerless to the echoing desire in my voice. For Bourgeois, the home is not a sanctuary, but an enclosure for a very certain danger, a place where you risk yourself. Existentially severed limbs. With a start, I realize I may return to find you now have two boyfriends.


Cell is absent a body, but there are the hands, and there is us on the outside, being bodies. Is it cruel to place touch at the center of a piece that forbids touch? Or are we made aware again of our eye's strength? Beauty is cruising, turning on the street and moving your chin down and up again. It's keeping everything so far away that we don't know how far away it is, and it's recognizing that something could be closer. I've had a thousand imaginary boyfriends and not a one of them has left me for you. When you leave me it will be for you. We can glimpse each other through Cell, glass blocks unable to fully occult.


Before I described the house it already existed, I just had to say "house" to get my purchase on it, to flaw it with my vision. Once I named you "lilac" you became something I could pick, a panicle with many small blooms. This is the house where you don't live with me. Down the creek is another house where you don't live with me. My god, they're everywhere, these houses where you don't live with me. Speaking of her Cells, Bourgeois asks of pain, "When does the emotional become the physical? When does the physical become the emotional?" Her glass orbs are fragile, meaning vulnerable. If you stayed here I would say we were in a "garden," would suggest that we move to the mountains for good. When you introduce me you say I am your "friend," but with a pause, a hesitation while vocabulary spreads about.


Bourgeois recovered old materials to make her Cells. Shattered panes from Brooklyn, gazed from for decades before we all peeked in. She "salvages" them, "reclaims" them. I want to leave the old wood to rot but try to find the best pieces instead. It was many decades before Bourgeois was recognized as brilliant. She was in a shop, or a falling-down warehouse. Toeing the planks and flipping them over. Keep kissing me, you'll see, new houses aren't haunted yet. I'm picking through all my old mistakes and offering you the best ones, their blue glow like a hangover headache. Hello ghost, I'm going to use you.


I've invited your boyfriend over for dinner. I have set the table like in Cell, just some hands for us to contemplate. Careful! I'll say. There's a glass orb on your chair. The domestic is a routine that conditions us to such intimate things, lets us live with our doubts and cruelties but not need to notice them. The lies I tell myself are the thick and dusty fabric of curtains. My conversation is going to be pixie dust in your boyfriend's eyes, so he sees that life with me is a plump peach he can pick any day. "And these hands," he'll say, gesturing to the hands. "Would it be alright if I touched them?" And I'll purse my lips to suppress a smile. And he will pause and then, getting it, laugh. By the end of the wine, his legs around my legs, we'll both realize where you came from.


Take your sunglasses off if you're going to leave. Look at me in the harsh light and remember every pore. It's true, I'm hideous, and what lovely qualities I must have had. What flaws of your own will. I'm going to the art museum today, the contemporary one where beauty is gauche. Someone is going to tell me a stool reminds her of Louise Bourgeoisie because we aren't allowed to sit on it and I am going to invite her to my bed. There is a spot I lick that makes you shudder, and when I lick it on her I know she will stay statue still. Your boyfriend is an atmosphere, there before me and remaining to sustain you now. How dare you sit on my body. I'm art. Look at me! I'm god damn art.


On Sleep

When the company left we would take turns, one of us washing the dishes and the other washing their face. Two rooms whispering with water, like we lived together. Tracey Emin's Everyone I Have Ever Slept With, 1963-1995 is a blue tent with 102 names appliqued to the inside fabric. On the floor it says "With myself, always myself, never forgetting." Sleep, which is what she means, listing her grandmother and her twin, her lovers and the two fetuses she aborted, all the intimacy sewn like patches. If we lived in a nylon home the rain would sound much louder and I might not hear you in the morning. Such a thin divide when there are so many people in the world, all enraged by your pretty fingers. You and I try to find ways to be alone, the guests gone and the wallpaper only names. Place any two things in a dome and still they will not be the same thing, just together.


It's not crazy to think the letters of the newspapers, rearranged, might be a message meant only for one of us. I memorized the way he danced before he told me he copied the twist from his last boyfriend. You dance that way, too. Make a column of syllables and say them all at once, see what collapses like Babel, who is scattered over the face of the earth. The people you love are in so many different places, phone calls and postage away. I am here, the place where I sleep, and your boyfriend is there, the place where you sleep. Everyone else can hear what we said, but we can only hear the tones and whines with which we spoke. Perfect timbre, sung wordless across a hallway, is an argument against conversation.


"Is this about how you don't want to be a boy?" you ask me. In Strangeland, Tracey Emin recalls an adolescence of fucking and drinking. It is in three sections, "Motherland," "Fatherland," and "Traceyland," defining ourselves by the names on our walls, then defining ourselves by ourselves. One review suggested that "certainly some of it should have been edited out by someone who loves her." There is no difference between saying who we want to be and saying who we are, and if I hate the body in the mirror all I need to do is smooth my skirt and move on. "What I mean," you try to clarify, "is that I don't think this is about me at all." Had I wanted to eat the apple, I would have plucked it from its high branch and chewed until I finally knew.


I once dated a bartender. A weekend routine, shots and hands and barely knowing each other. One morning, stoned and watching Man Vs. Wild, he said "I love you" and so I had to break up with him. What I mean is, I'm worried I am going to say the wrong thing to you during our programs. So sincere, with the "so" drawn out, stretched across the sentence. In the background, Robert Herrick and Ernest Dowson and Edna St. Vincent Millay all compliment my skirt. In the forethought, Tracey Emin understands. I told him that he didn't love me, that there were all these parts of me he hadn't met, but who I am to say? I put a window in my house, high above where the bed will go. The sun shines through every morning. It would wake us and there would be the day.


While we sleep, our memories settle, consolidate. We thread our fingers through each cobweb and transfer it to a shelf. We stop thinking about what happened so that we can keep that moment with us. Using Emin's tent would mean spending very little time looking at the names, and many hours in the dark and with your eyes closed. Everyone you loved is here with us, but I am relieved to not have to give them a fleeting thought. After not sleeping for two days, a person will still remember a face just as well as before, but won't be able to say how or where they met. Art in a white gallery, as though context could disappear. I sleep better when you aren't in my bed, when your name is on the wall.


I have a lot of friends. Did you know that? A lot of friends. And they all like to drink with me and they all think I'm funny and they say "nice dress." I think you might turn into a potted plant you are doing such a good job of not-listening, of letting my steam escape. It's a problem, needing you to love me for who I am when I am preoccupied tattooing "flaw," one letter onto each knuckle of my right hand. To enter Emin's tent, you need to kneel and crawl, like you are begging or asking to beg. To spend more than a minute with the work, you have to lie down. Critics call the experience "debasing," as though we otherwise spend our lives standing up. If I were a boy you would love me and also, I am angry because you think I am a boy. Emin has a tendency to speak of her art in a way that contradicts the critics who champion her, incoherent rambling speeches when she just wanted you to lie down in her dirty bed.


"Please," you say, "just stop bringing up my eyelashes." When Emin moves her tent public, it is still her tent. The people that she slept with, and we don't know what they might have said to each other, names so impersonal. A tent out in the woods, so you can move it if anyone comes near. She doesn't find purchase on her experiences by keeping them to herself, but by letting everyone comment, the critics often noting her large breast size instead. Walls and houses, beds and experiences I can or can't have. It's a unicorn in the sense that it's a horse of confusion with a horn of sincerity. It's going to stay in the corner of your sight, like maybe you saw a shooting star. All up to you, high up.