Instruments flop about in my hands -- haste, or complexity, or formless creatures of the sea.
My muse, my guide, cannot speak. From her silence I draw forth purpose, like the cool water scooped from the heart of a fire. Perhaps a vow of Japanese simplicity, or merely a renewal of the turning back to face what I would change. I walk out against breakers, holding in either hand the flayed body of a fish.
Is this a spiritual passage? I glance about in search of books or people. The sky so blank, the bones washed of all horror. If these were sharks, their structure would be cartilage. Teliost, or not teliost. When we distinguish one thing from another, we begin to see the architecture of our mental surfaces -- as when a baby smiles at an equilateral triangle arranged to mimic two eyes, one mouth. But the waves compel a physical response, toes digging into sand, fingers curling. The skeleton of self moves forward, flexing its joints and leaning into the current --- like a halloween cartoon of animated bones.
This Art which is so precious mayIt's an image for the plasticity of the human brain, how the brain can undergo substantive change: you start with a dysfunctional fixed state, then dissolve it, then "make what is dissolved fly," and then fix it back down into something entirely new.
Be comprehended in these two verses.
Si fixum solvas faciasque volare solutum,
Et volucrem igas faciet te vivere tutum.
If you dissolve the fixed
And make what is dissolved fly
And fix the volatile
It will make you live happily.
Mr. Bird-Wing told me a story about being teased in public by his fellow students, so I asked him if he'd experienced a feeling of humiliation. "You just asked me that in order to humiliate me here and now, didn't you?" He made it sound like something sexy: strong woman doctor humiliates pretty young man. He said he knew it would be for his own good. He said he just knew that's what I was thinking, when I asked the question, that I asked it in order to "evoke certain feelings in him."
As he talked in painful, halting tones, I thought about a wing from my childhood: it was a piece broken off one of those gold-painted plaster statues. The golden wing of a plaster bird. I found it by a storm drain in my suburb. I kept it for years, as a magical token. This guy needs to care about himself the way I cared about that wing. Then I remembered another wing image: the night before I'd read a short story about a woman who reads the tea leaves of a Nazi war criminal. She sees a crowd of people in the leaves, with a shadow cast over all of them--a dark cloak, the wing-like cloak of Death.
So I pointed out to my patient that he was not seeing me as a neutral figure, but rather as a hostile tormentor.
I didn't say seductress -- I figure that for this guy, the aggressive stuff is probably more acceptable than the sexual. Or at least that he's not ready to hear about both in the same breath. Let him chew over the words I gave him (humiliation, neutral), and I'll be chewing on the ones that he gave me (pterygium, evoke).
I have two images of myself in hockey. In the one I prefer, I'm a wing -- light on my feet, dancing the ball down the sideline. In the one that's more accurate, I'm a fullback, angered by any intrusions into my territory, clashing valiantly with the halfback from the opposite side. And then I broke my nose. The real truth of my nose injury is that I let my mind drift a bit, and didn't anticipate the pass to the inner who cut down toward my side of the goal. The real truth is that she committed what in basketball would have been an offensive foul, forging forward when I had established position in front of her. But it would have been a close call -- whether I really had established position in time.
I was ambivalent about my aggressiveness, I think. My mother picked at me about it, and I sought to muffle it in food. My father reminded me of how morally reprehensible it was. And I've swallowed their teachings for lo, these many years.
I'm thinking back to when I tried out for the Princeton hockey team -- wearing my Mickey Mouse T-shirt, making the first cut. Puzzled and dumb, not knowing the language of the combinations -- it seemed that everyone else on the field had gone to East Coast prep schools. I worked hard, though, and I dimly remember that the coach was kind to me, wanting to see what I could be made into. Washing that T-shirt each night because I knew it was important to be identifiable. Three days of a kind of panicked glory -- being picked ("We'll take Mickey Mouse!") for the teams that would scrimmage after the try-out. Coming back to the dorm room utterly trashed.
Is this one of those times when your life loops back on itself? If this the time of the Princeton try-outs -- when I dropped out, terrified (more of making it than not making it), after the third day? Or is this the time when I'm making the transition from wing to fullback, from J.V. to varsity?
Was my nose injury a welcome excuse, or an embittering defeat? And what about my parents' role in that injury? They were so hostile, so unsympathetic.
Then I came downstairs, and saw a man in blue jeans and a blue denim hat, washing his white sports car in his driveway. The white car was spotless before he began to wash it, so spotless that I couldn't figure out what he planned to do to it (some violence?) when he first pulled the tangle of black hoses out from the back yard.
If I am lucky, I think, I will see this man wash his car again. It will become one of the rhythms of living in this house.
Copyright Fiona Webster 1996