December 23, 2016KR BlogBlogCurrent EventsEnthusiamsLiteratureReadingRemembrancesWriting

In Errata We Excavate Our Interiors

 

Carolina Ebeid (Photo credit: Kirsten Ellis)

 

As you read this, a spacecraft pulsing out earthly recordings reaches interstellar space—beyond the Sun’s influence. It carries earthquake & surf. Tree frogs. Heart & Morse Code.

—”Errata,” Carolina Ebeid

 

Recently, it dawned on me there is no separation of myself as a human from myself as a poet. I don’t believe this was always the case. It sounds strange, but I can’t remember when this came to be—meaning, that when I now recall the past, I return to those former times in the words and images of my current poet self. These are like first encounters as they are familiar. There is an intense pull toward seeing and hearing things which I might have missed before, which also sounds strange, for if I didn’t see or hear them in the first place, then how could I recall them?

But here I am, often wandering through rather than taking stock of the past, knowing the general way but drifting off in other directions, not outside of it but feeling slightly alien within it, and most certainly reconsidering what particular testaments and foundations, rituals and paragons, once served as the building blocks of my former selves. There are many. Torah. Yom Kippur. The five boroughs. The Rio Grande. Padre Island. The Kotel. The Green Line. The Old City in Jerusalem, where how many times did I run to Amoun Sleem’s house just outside Lion’s Gate and she wrapped me in blankets and a litany of words about lost love and despair, words that were not canonical prayers but errata to keep hope alive?

My sister, Amoun called me. And Rasha. My Arabic name, which I once shared with my Jewish family. It means gazelle, I said to them, as Amoun had explained to me over tea and all the meals we shared with her family in her home, huddled around a small portable heater in the wintertime, her niece’s head, heavy with sleep, falling onto my shoulder, the television blaring a love drama from Lebanon as Amoun and her sister discussed the recent stabbing of a Dom boy by a man suffering from mental illness, that they knew he was truly sick, how did this affect him as a guilty man, how the boy might not make it through the night. There were not, it seemed to Amoun, enough resources in the community to save either the boy or the man.

In response, my Jewish relatives said: Do not visit her home again. Then there was only silence. A silence of doubt and disappointment.

I remember walking away from my family that day, angry and unable to speak. Not quite silenced, but more like my insides were unraveling—a sudden landslide, a great unsettling of what’s already deeply-rooted within.

In my memory now, I try to explain myself. Not defensively, but so that they might understand how I came to have another name. How they might understand how having another name gives a person the possibility of growing her or his innermost—that to which is answered, which might transmogrify her or his entire belief system.

In my memory now, I tell them that like Rasha, the Hebrew name Ayelet also means “gazelle.” That it comes from the Hebrew ayelet hashachar, which translates as “gazelle of dawn” and is also the name for the morning star. I’ve never been sure what the morning star is, although I’ve heard it refers to Venus—which is also known as the evening star. Then there’s Sirius, which also has been referred to as the morning star, and appears before dawn in the hottest and longest days of summer.

I am whispering these words to a family gathered in a dusty room, confused, frozen in memory. No one moves. I know now as I did then what they are thinking.

I know their silence means as a mixed Jew, I’ve always already been compromised. Not only my faith but my personhood. Their silence tries to cast an irreversible spell of disorientation over me. This is not done out of cruelty, but to—at least, in their eyes—help me. To save me from my own knotty, inherited geography. To remind me why allegiances are so important when my blood is already suspect.

That I might forget where I stand by remembering what I am: mixed, impure, flawed for eternity.

That spending time with those contrary to their versions of home and homeland might leave me standing without a people at all, without a land. Alone. Untouched. Unheard.

Unloved.

* * *

It is in memory now, as I stand before them in the haze of their silence, that I answer from a truth larger than can be contained by any war, any border, any denomination.

And that is I believe all life begins from error. As error. In error.

These prepositions, occurring all at once, create a world jumbled, at odds with itself, rarely at rest. Unable to be neatly contained by human map and human agenda. A very human nightmare. A poet’s waking dreamscape. A scientist’s beloved and unending puzzle.

And the best poets are scientists, if poetry is unleashed in all its generous, gutsy, and often chaotic glory.

Carolina Ebeid is such a poet, and one with whom I feel a kinship as poet and human, as a reinforcement of those two selves together. I briefly wrote about her poem “All Those Gorgeous Feelings” in my essay “The Eros of Bees“; it remains one of my favorite poems to date. She too comes from a mixed heritage, born to a Cuban mother and a Palestinian father, and we have shared concerns of the interiors, whether physical, spiritual or rooted in poetics. In her debut collection You Ask me To Talk About the Interior, out from Noemi Press, Carolina is an excavator of complex interiors, a re-animator who fades not over those seemingly flawed for eternity. Her work would shatter my paternal family’s faith in which they stand. It would sweep away the weight of their silence like fallen leaves.

Filled with the ideas of leave-taking, her prose poem “Errata” opens with: “Where I wrote leaving I meant loving. Flyers fall from low planes should read flowers fill the wide plains.”

This is not a retelling. This is a transformation that in lesser hands might come off as apology, as regretful re(en)visioning. In changing just a couple of vowels, “leaving” becomes “loving,” and the mood-action is not only changed, but also challenges the prior intention. The speaker makes the act of leaving a returning, an embrace. This alchemy carries over in the next line, and becomes more complicated in wording and meaning. Whereas previously “flyers fall” (intentionally? accidentally? wrongfully?) “from low planes”, the reader now encounters “flowers” which “fill the wide plains.” As if tragedy becomes fruitfulness. As if death becomes life.

Here we enter a kind of memory that makes use of poetry as errata: not to take what has been written/said back, but using time as a means to write to those things, as much as to the addressee. In the poet’s opening lines, we have to accept meaning and language in all their mutually-bonded complicity, in all their contradictions, separating each strand of truth from each strand of feeling. She reanimates the moment of “standing like a deer in headlines” by calling upon both “my dramaturge” and “my demiurge”—again, a slight change of letters reveals both researcher/developer (theater) and artisan (physical universe), each with a complicated role within their respective spheres. Only the poet here calls upon both to “disregard,” for she has taken over those roles too. Abiogenesis becomes erotic—that is, she evolves the words off the page not into a clearer reflection of her experiences but by translating time-space of old language, she creates a new one: “Where I wrote goodbye,” the poet writes, “should read a sundial in a nightgarden uselessly gleaming.”

Amid such leave-taking, to understand the world she’s created, we must both leave it and leave something of it, in “earthly recordings” which are carried “pulsing out” by “a spacecraft,” so that some distant other might hear us. But what will they make of “earthquake & surf”? Of “Hello” in some “fifty-five languages?” Each is a genuine human gesture: wanting to be understood, hoping for a connection when here on earth, we are so fragmented and almost always at odds, barely able to keep the peace long enough for simple conversation.

And yet there exists in this world an interconnectedness that goes beyond the every day use of language, beyond the rhetoric and mission statements, beyond constitutions and regulations. Using reconfigured experience of the previous lines, the poet reveals her own investment in such interconnectedness: at the exact moment “a westward train…crosses the state-line,” there are deer that “look up from their safe selvage-line of forest,” those deer of such previous disregard, now made most real in our borderlines and yet also glister, are made ethereal, by the poet who sings: “O those gleaming copper sundial eyes.”

To be woven into such errata.

To have seen here on earth such interstellar eyes.

To speak of them to a memory, to a memory of family which no longer will speak to me, but still frightens with lapsed allegiances. My lonely faith. My wayward Jewishness. My other name. A gazelle of dawn leaping off/in unheard prayer late in the night: this is how I left my family.

I have left them.

I have loved them.

I wish not to be save from knotty, inherited geography, my own or otherwise.

Shall I tell them I have seen the morning star “in a nightgarden uselessly gleaming”? That there is a new dawn approaching us, in all its resplendent error? Will it shine away/blind borders and lines that were never real?

Shall I tell them that early this winter morning I went outside to study the still night sky in dense cloud-cover and felt a strange warmth on my face?

Shall I say because of you, Carolina, I have gazed into the eyes of the morning star, and it looked back into mine, with its “gleaming copper sundial eyes”?

 

This is the first installment in a two-part series on the work of Carolina Ebeid.