you becoming past
collaboration with jordan yearsley
you were always reading—the newspaper, an electricity textbook, the museum pamphlet. you used to say you wanted to learn a trade. how in siberia, they understand the land they come from. they spend all summer building traps, and in winter, they watch their prey suffer. but it’s the technique you admire—the swift movement
of an axe from the shoulder to the waist, the time it took a father to teach his son. but you were never overly sentimental. every night, you vowed to do a hundred push-ups. panting at the end, with your knees in your hands, saying how you think the body should be praised more. but at night, you slept violently. you thrashed and yelled about a spider on the ceiling. you saw it crawl across the light and spent the rest of the evening on the couch, shivering
with your legs crossed beneath a flimsy blanket. you wanted to be a visionary. you spent afternoons drawing diagrams of new inventions on paper taped to the living room wall. you’d wear long underwear and slippers, letting the cold air rush in from the outside. sometimes you’d stand at the window and watch the tops of buildings. you imagined them moving
though you knew they were too heavy to sway. once, in winter, you spent three days prostrate on the couch. on the fourth day, you mustered your body from the cushions, your legs stiff, your neck long. you took a notebook in your coat pocket and rode the train to the museum of natural history. you sat for hours drawing the outline of the great blue whale. the first rendering was all detail and texture—the way the skin was taut against bone. then you flipped the page and let your fingers go, shading shapes that tricked your eye. page after page, you deconstructed the whale. the last page
was just an oval. you said it was your masterpiece. you preferred tradition to adventure. instead of going to a new restaurant, you’d sit by the window at one you already loved. you’d order a turkey sandwich and a club soda. you’d tap your foot to the music, chewing slowly and stopping when you were full. you rarely read novels, but when you did, you devoured them. you read every word of 2666—all the murders and the police reports. you studied
the way the words were stitched together, commenting on the denseness and form. it was often tomes that you fell in love with—the books no one else could finish—brothers k, mason & dixon, ulysses. on the beach, you’d have a hardback a foot wide resting on your thighs and a t-shirt tied around your face. it wasn’t the water
you loved, but the sun. the way the sand burned your feet, the pattern your toes made as you walked along the shore. your mother missed you when you moved away. you’d call her on the weekends and tell her about how you baked a loaf of bread and it turned out perfectly. you always made rules
for yourself: only eat one meal a day. don’t watch television when it’s light out. don’t arrive new places past dark. understand your own intentions.
It’s true: I was terrified of death. I bought copies of all of Cocteau’s films. I sat wide-eyed during Orphée. I had nightmares about his camera tricks. Later, I found his words in my father’s papers: the true tomb of the dead is the heart of the living.
I didn’t make rules for myself. In fact, I hated principles. Once I paid for a soda and filled the cup with water. I took a cab even when the train arrived. I dreamed I was older than the past.
I never saw spiders in my dreams, only small children bouncing balls near the radiator. As a child, I used to scream at night, fearful my bed had turned to stone.
Let there be no lies: I’ve never read Brothers K. The word visionary rarely crossed my mind. I never invented anything. I didn’t read the newspaper. I always viewed the present from a distance.
I protested the dead accumulation of these traces. I hated reducing my character to characteristics. I mourned my body’s fragmentation.
You unstitched me, though, the way the words came together. You consigned me to the past,
my symbolic death.