She is in a setting of snow and log fires in an atmosphere to die for. She is on a life-writing course. She thinks: ‘Some people speak of frogs. I want to express frogness.’ Tadpoles were ‘in’ when she studying to be a teacher. Nearly everyone on the teaching practice bus, on the way to practice teaching kids, had tadpoles with them. She didn’t. She wondered if those with tadpoles were more able to express a sense of frogness than she? One day a teaching inspector came on the bus and said tadpoles were ‘out’. She remembered Kermit the Frog’s nephew, Robin, and his song ‘Halfway Down the Stairs‘ and she hummed it to herself. The tadpoles got to be set free, thanks to the inspector.
She remembers making a peek-a-boo chart once to help her express a sense of birdness to ten-year-olds about what the dawn chorus in Spring held. She tortured herself getting the speckled colours of the underparts of the thrush just right. She never did teach that lesson on birdness. Later, a girl full of confidence snatched her peek-a-boo chart idea and used it herself—to teach what?—maybe birdness. Or how to steal someone else’s sense of birdness and teach it as one’s own.
Her life-writing course is the perfect place to sit with her sense of frogness and her sense of birdness. From the deep incline of window beneath the slope of roof in her life-writing course loft bedroom, she gazes out at the snow falling and stretches her two arms out to mime ‘Come Fly With Me’—her sense of birdness raising itself above her now outdated sense of frogness.
The next day she is sitting outside her life-writing tutor’s office waiting to have her one-to-one. She is not totally clear about what the one-to-one will consist of; will it be up to her to steer her life-writing episodes, or will the life-writing tutor steer her life writing where he thinks it should be steered? Something else she wonders how about is how to life write while at the same time reconciling saying goodbye to things and people she may need to say goodbye to. She thinks about goodbyes, and how it is not really her thing to say goodbye, especially when she tries to initiate the act of saying goodbye, and especially if the act of saying goodbye is saying goodbye to him, her lover. She is a useless sayer-goodbye-er. She squirms. She has the unnerving need to put her hand out, begging-style, as if to say, ‘Leave me something that is unsay-goodbyeable,’—like the look she saw her lover give, from the corner of his eye as he bent his head sideways knowing she was absorbed in a mobile-phone conversation with someone else who she might say goodbye to, too, alongside him, her lover, who is about to say goodbye to her and she to him. Saying goodbye means there must be something she is about to say hello to— or else what is she leaving herself with?
It’s like the way she cannot bear banana skins being thrown into the kitchen bin. Her husband throws banana skins in there. She goes as far as sticking her hand in and pulling them out. She walks slowly to the edge of the valley, which is just at the bottom of their garden, and she throws the banana skins high up in the air and watches how they fall and land somewhere out of sight, into the undergrowth below. Then she feels terribly happy.
Another thing that makes her terribly happy is breathing easily, breathing so easily that she feels at home in her own skin. Imagine her delighting at feeling at home in her own skin when she imagined she was long, long at home in her own skin and that her own skin was old hat to her but it turns out that her old skin is suddenly new skin. She thinks of her lover’s skin’s softness and his ‘Yes?’ tattoo that twirls its way down his forearm to where its tip end curls into a perfect question mark at his wrist.
On the life-writing course she has learned to talk in gigantic instance terms. The life-writing tutor has guided her towards naming her gigantic instances. This is gigantic instance III. She calls it ‘Love Re-Emerging (or An Ex-Lover Morphs into a Lover)’. She does not tire of remembering the window where the morning sun shone through delicate lace curtains and cast the light of its embroidery stitching on her bare legs. And how her lover saw her legs awash with the light of lace and said: ‘The play of light and shadow on your legs is beautiful…’ and then he lay back and asked her what she talks about in her sleep.
Gigantic instance XIII is called ‘That Day on the Island’. It relates to her memory of both her and her lover walking on a North Atlantic island towards a lighthouse. En route they kneel down to have comradery with an ant. The ant is carrying three to four times its weight. The ant is skittish, like her, like him. The ant is going round in circles like her, like them. The ant keeps dropping this long stick and then keeps picking it up. They laugh at how incredible the ant is, imagining she is a ‘she’ because of the heroicness of her. They speak of how sad it is to see an ant solo there, not part of a gathering of ants, running around in madness, all together. She asks him to capture the ant for her with her camera. Grinning, he angles himself close to the ant, as if on a mission. The ant slows down. For an instant, the ant is there holding her great weight up to herself, and he is there with his great weight down on his hunkers, and she is there with her great weight in some unpindownable part of her, watching him bend, watching the ant holding on tight to her load, as he corners the ant with the shadow of the camera to take the photo.
They are in this playful act of wanting to hold on to this ant moment—the ant and her absorption, they and their absorption—for an instant, it frees them from the struggle of trying to be heard. She heard Seamus Heaney talk once of the words herd and heard and how sometimes people become the herd to try to be heard. He and she, that day, backed out from the herd and moved within their own heads. That day they heard, and the hearing rescued them: from themselves, from their loads, from the not-enough-ness.
The ‘That Day on the Island’ gigantic instance contains many instants. She and her lover walk on. They see a fisherman who is resting an elbow on a stone ledge. Earlier that day she had seen her lover’s photo exhibition of the island. She had seen this fisherman stand like a Gulliver in her lover’s photograph and he, her lover, she imagines, had to stoop down to knee level to give the fisherman the angle of a giant. The breadth of the fisherman stretches the whole width of the photograph, the gaze of him recently back from the winter sea.
In a second photograph, the fisherman is not there; there is only a long line, like a split, in the sand. The split cuts perfectly down the middle and there are two sets of footprints on either side. Her lover asks her to look at the split in the sand from a distance and tell him exactly what it says to her. She says: ‘The ground is opening up, the earth is splitting in two, you are on one side and I am on the other. It is one of those perfect splits, each of us on our own side. I imagine the split farther down the line, out of the reach of the photograph, I will dart over to your side, then you will dart over to my side, both of us darting from side to side to hold the other and say: No matter if the earth splits, I’ll cross over the world’s broken line and always find you. He says: ‘No, no, no.’ He says she should move closer, he says the line in the sand is not a split, it is simply the trace of the trail of a boat’s hull being pulled across the sand. On each side of the line, the footprints belong to two different fishermen walking forward as they pull the boat behind them. There is no crossing over, no overlapping, no leaving one’s own side, just a perfect separation, each to their own side, unlike what she saw from a distance.
It is now ten years after the photographs have been taken. The fisherman is wearing a blue shirt. His eyes are blue. All the blueness about him matches the blue of the sea. The fisherman’s mouth stays close to shut. He speaks through half-separated lips. Years at sea seem to have made him unable to open his mouth wide to holler into the mad expanse of sea. A sea of North Atlantic air, a sea of sea-horses in disarray, a sea of waves pounding, pounding, pounding at the boat’s sides, pounding at the fisherman’s heart. The giant in the fisherman is long gone. She asks if she can take a photograph of both of them together, the fisherman and the photographer together after ten years, the way he, her lover, the photographer, and she, are together after twenty years.
‘That Day on the Island’ takes place ten years after the photographs have been taken. There is something soulful about the fisherman leaning on one elbow on the stone ledge and his chin resting on his hand as he looks out to sea from a height above the town. Then he turns to look at her. There is something in his look that holds her tightly there, rooted to his eyes. There is a connection— her, a complete stranger, holding eyes with the fisherman, the way complete strangers, one at a time, held eyes with Marina Armovitc. Armovitc held eyes with 85,000 people during the three months of ‘The Artist Is Present’ at the New York Museum of Modern Art. People broke down in tears from holding eyes with her. Marina Armovitc, herself, broke down in tears when she held eyes with an ex-lover that she hadn’t seen in twenty-three years, who presented himself, in front of her, when she had her eyes momentarily shut. The girl knows that she too could break down in tears from holding eyes with this fisherman. To doubly break down in tears, she could hold eyes with him, her lover. The vulnerability, the sadness would split her open and she would have to spend incessant hours lying on her back thinking of how to put herself back together again.
She lets herself get totally caught up in the ‘That Day on the Island’ gigantic instance. In the life-writing course one-to-ones they have covered immersion in a gigantic instance but, as of yet, they have not covered how to emerge gracefully from a gigantic instance.
She and her lover leave the fisherman and go to have an apple drink in a café-bar. A video for a song called ‘I Can’t Love You Again’ comes up on the TV screen. She is there, alongside her lover, succumbing to the images that are closing in on her. The video girl has a face like she would have—if she were alone and could let emotion have its way with her; that is, a face that is all mascara-teary, a face with a total puss on it, a face askew in sadness. She cringes and thinks: Does love have to be so sentiment-sodden, so shit-in-the-fan? Just as she is swaying ever so subtly to the song, she wishes the video-girl portraying the one who is unloveable again—or who cannot love again, she doesn’t know which—would not stay so still in the video with her wretchedness and her heart out there, for all to see, beeping, beeping, beeping, instead of just a heart beating, beating, beating, a heart placidly beating. Then the video-girl moves, she waltzes a dance in a derelict house where the wallpaper is peeling down in strips. The video-girl waltzes with a bunch of red roses. In the corner there is a black piano, the video-girl sits on the piano stool to write, her face all aglow, her mascara tears invisible now. She likes how the girl then twirls off in a swirly dress and lays herself up alongside the windowsill, placing the roses down. Then the video girl chews the top of her pencil and a smile comes over her face, as if the video-girl has found the answer to ‘I can’t love you again’ which possibly is: ‘I’m going to take my putty-in-your-hands heart and set it free to do just that, to love you again. ’
They make their way to the boat to return to the mainland. This is where she and he are parting. The streets are empty and verging on darkness. He is in his raspberry-coloured-Cadillac-like car about to drive home. She is in her rental car about to drive to somewhere she does not know. He is on the roundabout. She is approaching the roundabout, trailing him from a short distance. She sees him go round the roundabout the wrong way round. She waits until he gets off the roundabout in order for her to go round the roundabout the right way round. For an instant, she doubts the right way and thinks his wrong way could be the right way. She is behind him keeping at a safe distance. He sees her from his rear-view mirror and flashes his car lights. She is not, after all, a see-through-ghost-like-her who sees him as only a ghost-like-her can see him: obstacle-free and forever. She is a visible lover in a rental car having taken the roundabout the right way round as she drives away from him and he drives away from her. She flashes her car lights back at him. The moon is rising. The sea is coming and going. They are approaching another roundabout. He goes straight on. She goes left over a bridge to somewhere she does not know. She stalls to watch him continue, their car lights still flashing. She watches his car lights flashing go out of view. Their car lights flashing take the words from their mouths and make a flashing spectacle of it all.
Their car lights flashing is a final adieu, she thinks to herself, and she purposely leaves her car lights flashing the whole way to where she is going.
In the middle of the night, alone in her life-writing loft bedroom, having finally emerged from the gigantic instance that is ‘That Day on the Island’, she opens the loft window and the moon is right there. A seagull squawks its protruding self across the base of the moon. A plane’s strobe lights slip by flashing in incognito.
She looks down and one breast is out over her T-shirt—the breast that she touched moments earlier, its nipple now hard and wide. This is called: a protruding breast protruding to the moon at the window pane accompanying the possibly-protruding breast of the seagull who is moaning into the mouthing darkness.
She feels on edge. The crack of her ass on the cool bed linen takes her to a place where she feels on fire. A hint of ‘That Day on the Island’ gigantic instance intervenes and she remembers again how she once drove 300 kilometres to be in a place where she would see him.
A cockerel has crowed five times and she hears it hold its breath in anticipation of a sixth—this is a cockerel who is crowing its wholly contented self into the moon-shit, life-writing-course night. Is he letting her know of some denial, some rejection, by means of all this crowing?
Amidst the near-dawn sounds, another sound makes its way into her head—a soothing sound from a faraway maternal voice that says: ‘There, there,’ and it tells her, they are all done now, her lover and she.
More snow falls irreversibly down on her life-writing loft bedroom as the sky spirals itself into a purple-blue bruise of a dawn and what happens is she becomes drained of saying to herself: ‘I’m over you and that is all.’ More hail and gales are forecast. She has tied down and secured everything she can put her hands around, outside of herself. The weather alert has changed from yellow to red. The world is gathering into itself, and she too. The more she gathers into herself, the more she finds herself struggling not to gather into him. She does not need a dawn of snow gales and him on her mind. To distract herself, she reads a Frank O’Hara poem online: ‘For Grace, After the Party’. She loves it. The line: ‘How do you like your eggs and where is the best place to lay this tray with the early dawn coffee?’ has her just there, at the opening of her heart. She asks Frank O’Hara in the comments box if he is still alive, the way she wants him to be. If so, she tells him she is wondering if he is available in person to ask for more poems like this and that that is all.