On the Practice of Surrender (Excerpt)
A forty-word sentence begun in late Winter 2018 on a bus driving along coastal southern Connecticut ends sixteen months later in a car eighty-something miles northeast of its origins. It reads: I feel quaint in America when I presume dead the subject of a missing person sign and return a freight truck driver’s glance as I and all these others go less forward than forth through the interstate highway’s phenomenal landscape.
A shape drawn to abandon becomes a line. A line forgoes an account of loss in exchange for an impression of control.
After the second disappearance right before his 33rd birthday I called his mom. She was frightened by the biblical synchronicity of his forthcoming age with the most recent event. His history has charted a linear path that she fears will erase his body in spite of, or due to, his mind. I’m scared, I’m so scared she repeats. I’m scared I’m losing him. His mother refers to him by a diminutive name from childhood, a name I never thought to call him—Bobby.
The analyst tells me she hopes to help her patients rediscover their capacity for surprise. I conflate my capacity for surprise with my trust in misrecognition. With time I have come to rely on the latter to experience the former.
A palinode is a poem or speech act by which the writer or orator retracts something written or said in an earlier work. In the original Greek—palin ‘again’ + ōidē ‘song’—palinode means “to sing again,” often, though not exclusively, in praise of the now-retracted statement. From the Greek there is the Latin-derived recantation. In linguistics a word-for-word or root-for-root translation of a word or phrase from one language into another is called a calque, French for “tracing,” or “carbon copy,” a noun derived from the verb calquer, “to trace, copy, or reproduce.” One uses papier calque to reproduce a map, for example. A calque can be exact or partial.
While on the phone I realize that the forty-word sentence began in the Spring of 2017, sometime between March and April. I do not respond to Robert’s mom’s suspicions because she needs them. We are surprised by our misrecognition of who I call Robert, who she calls Bobby, and we resist misrecognizing our surprise.
Once at a dinner party a guest suggested I feign a sentimentality to, from the guest’s perspective, appease the differences that enabled my private adoration of my lover, who was also a guest at the dinner party. I neither responded to nor heeded the advice on my perspective, a necessary fiction for me, the guest, and my lover.
If the poem subsists as a belief in its own verisimilitude, to whom do its forms belong? If I replace “belonging to whom” with “containment in whom” do I obviate the chance for “singing again” the praise of that which I’ve abandoned, of that which has abandoned me? Before his first disappearance I asked him why he thinks doing something ‘to abandon’ implies a transference of the subject’s will to the performed action to a point of self-erasure. Rather, don’t you think self-abandon recovers limits?
I look up synonyms for palinode: disavowal, withdrawal, reversal, abnegation, denial, unsaying, repudiation, annulment, abrogation. Does the writer or speaker recuperate something from this withdrawal, reversal, or unsaying of, if not the sentence’s subject, then the self?
To forgo an account of loss in exchange for an impression of control is to accept the divination of maps and constellations. There are innumerable beginnings. I read in a different analyst’s book, “Never underestimate the reign of misrecognition.” I am suddenly surprised.
A sentence can begin mid-sentence just as it can conclude without any intervening language. I often begin sentences by intentionally writing the opposite of what I want to say to accept the impossibility of withdrawal from an unsaying.
The musician says, “listening is cinematic, like a landscape unfolding,” describes her field recordings as “a collection of perceptions.” Later that same day I exit the train and before me is an advertisement that reads, We’ve never known a world that isn’t real.
A morpheme-by-morpheme translation from one language into another is generally referred to as a loan-translation. A phrase in one language is broken down into its constituent elements and translated into the other language’s operable equivalent. The difference between a loan-translation and a direct translation is one of exact individual parts versus a partial whole. In addition to loan-translation, one linguistic system in particular identifies four other calque classifications: phraseological, syntactic, semantic, and morphological.
A few months after Robert’s first disappearance I receive a box in the mail. There is again no return address, but I recognize his handwriting from previous letters and packages. The box contains quart-sized Ziploc bags. Each bag holds a different piece of clothing. I put the cobalt-gray boxer briefs, black zip up sweatshirt, and faded black short sleeve t-shirt in a green canvas bag he sent earlier in the season.
I write “the new empathy” in my notebook after various disconnected occurrences and observations. After years of rewriting, I realize I’m searching for recurring ambivalence, that habitable stasis of minor regressions. I sing the praise of the non-lover. I never stopped singing, so I am not recanting. This is not a palinode. I am constantly rehabilitating the first sentence even though it reveals nothing new.
In my bedroom were the relics of a non-lover. I ask the analyst if the difference between revelation and discovery is one of verbal disclosure versus material artifacts, a planted message versus an accident, inevitability versus chance, or, I wonder years later, one of a future versus a past. Why do you assume an antagonistic relationship between two modes of seeing? the analyst responds.
The architecture of a pause becomes the anticipation of arrival. I must corroborate my love for the non-lover to translate him into a lover. If I recant, I will lose the map I’ve, we’ve, made. Self-permission begets participation. Arrival becomes abandon. Does he do the same for me? For himself?
In a traditional tarot deck, the two of swords is a minor arcana card depicting a blindfolded woman sitting with her arms across her chest with a sword in each hand. Beyond her is a body of water with land in the distance. Depth between the woman and the far-away land is maintained by small rocks breaking the surface of the water. Land and water meet in the foreground behind the woman and a small yellow crescent occupies the upper right quadrant of the pictorial landscape. The two of swords signifies parity and impasse; truce and equivocation. Whether the blindfolded woman is a threat to herself or someone else is the card’s primary interrogatory power. A possible secondary order of meaning then enters by accepting that the swords are symbols for decision and indecision, of what comes next. The swords are merely the polarizing consequences that distinguish the conviction of a straight line: they bind the querent to dis/belief.
I communicate with the past by holding and releasing. What accrues with touch is an arrangement in and of time by my inconstant embrace.
The modern usage of ink comes from incaustum, “having been burned.” It was believed during the medieval ages that ink burned into parchment. The written word appeared as if extracted out of or summoned from within the act of burning into the animal hide. I imagine a scribe’s misrecognition was a source of immense pleasure.
I did not write for a year following Robert/Bobby’s third and final disappearance. Instead, I made lists of titles for writing I was too afraid to begin. For example, On the Rehabilitation of Love was one title that served as a placeholder for writing. Nostalgia need not fixate on what has happened. It may take as its objects events or occurrences that have yet to, or will never, arrive, thereby becoming an inconsolable mourning, as realized as it is unwritten. I mistook the blindfold for containment. There was no belonging. I am writing the opposite of what I mean.
Containment in whom? Morpheme-by-morpheme. In the green canvas bag are underwear, shorts, a short sleeve shirt, a sweatshirt, sunglasses, a small porcelain owl, a vase, various pins, a baseball hat, letters, and photographs of plants. The short sleeve shirt has the constellations of the northern hemisphere printed on it. The sunglasses once belonged to Robert’s uncle who committed suicide when Robert was Bobby. It’s just me, Bobby’s sister and dad, and my mom. We’re a small family, always have been, his mom told me on the phone.
Whether the yellow crescent depicted in the two of swords is a sun or moon is unclear. The sky is blue and clear of clouds and it appears to be day, but I’m aware the use of landscape in tarot is necessarily ambiguous and intentionally replete with volatile signification.
Part of an unfinished letter—
Your shirt and underwear are arranged on my bed. During the daytime your clothes accompany my solitary hours; at night, they are skins I wear. I’ve planted the seeds you sent. The long, humid days of summer are the perfect environment for them, especially on the third floor of the apartment. They’re growing voraciously in my ersatz tropical climate. I didn’t remove the mailing label. I keep them all in one of the Ziploc bags you put your clothes in so that your handwriting may absorb your smell. Intentions burned into m…
Individual parts traced over a partial whole. Divination’s double negative. A carbon copy. An archipelago. Therein a language beyond promise of memory, the sole witness to impossible damages.
On an index card there are handwritten instructions for transplanting purple devil’s trumpets, an aggressively invasive weed in temperate climates: place the seeds 1/4th inch below soil, water until drainage holes leak, keep in sunny south-facing window, or partially shaded east/west-facing window. Throughout growing season keep soil moist, but not soaking.
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