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
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
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
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