Updated: Nov 24, 2020
By Douglas A. Martin
The book is always in the context of or in proximity to another one, house too.
I make my stacks upon tables and the floor, plans, towers and fans of others, and walls of some not yet returned when the libraries staying closed until a process found to handle safely them again among to each their own circulating communities.
I collected myself in a back room I dedicated before the shift to writing, a colleague’s Cambridge Companion to Narrative Theory I was going to use as part of meeting to write stories before mid-semester recess stretched into not returning for the rest of the spring to the campus, commuting halted, there in the house acquired with someone who wanted to stay with me, afforded through other writings. Material has been accumulating, since I wrote that my next dedication would be to translating another writer’s early poems. That was how I got the studio space on the island in the harbor within the borough, where I wrote on the walls and learned to write again within a relationship, where I began something which ultimately might be related, connected to, what may be the very first composition I had ever made: that from a beat created from some introductory bars of bass to another song and copied from 12-inch vinyl onto a tape, snippets of a measure repeating again and again, my recorder positioned close as I could get it to the speakers to reduce outside noise in a living room I would not go back to, but also trying not to have distortion enter in.
Hoping to still fit into an established career narrative, the line, the tenure, or conversion of a line, the book I was going to speak about the last flight I took was Acker, published some years ago when it was finally finished after papers and a dissertation and converted then upstate New York a couple summers, mostly on the porch whose roof in one corner was still not yet being painted for the dove there on a beam guarding nest. I held onto the work for a long time.
The Schorr that had been something of a hinge for me, “Jens F.,” emblematic of how to begin to try to work beyond myself solely, seeing how others saw you: I carried an exhibition card over a decade, a decade and a half. See when I take it down from the bookshelf found leaned up against a dumpster behind the local movie theater where the man who left the house upstate, no children to inherit, had been their projectionist, I wrote some time on the back, “You get far enough along in a thing you feel as though you’re living there.” Finger exercise pages were left in a typewriter in the attic, skin mags in the basement, can of projector oil, some of the Western paperbacks he collected I kept and moved into the two added on back rooms not over the same foundation like the rest, my office, “B” volume of a set of illustrated encyclopedias, a sign. The couple who owned the Victorian down the street on the corner foreclosed eventually and had buried him somewhere before they fled.
The students beaming in to me will see the messy Giacometti that I find distinction, slipped down in its frame, charm online identified variously—Head, D’UN HOMME, “Self Portrait,” lithograph, drawing—auction sites, embedded in uploaded homework assignments, Reddit threads, this copy from some estate sale lot.
I gathered from the book of his model sitting for him his way of working and tried, when still visiting the University library daily became a compositional mode’s main component, to dash off sketches, practice in words drafting, towards completing a book that became one about myths of Narcissism.
Like my voice trying to do it too, what a singer’s did, taking it into my ears as a kid, the dashboard player sucking in the cassette with song, single, an extended remix, dub on a loop every one of those weekday mornings stepfather drove me and my sister to school in that truck before he was sick of it, proceeding on to the garage shop for mechanical, clerical, the two of us parted.
THREE SITES OF CURRENT COMPOSITION
So was there really a time when I did not know the word curriculum? A time when I thought I would write whatever I like if only I had a secure enough job. Planted poppies I captioned with names from the news. I was taking pictures this last, past summer of what was keeping me feeling connected for a couple of days, or out of this moment into a next, of the desktop or whatever was being held within the frame of the zoom. Last I was on the train, subway, and the car came out above ground, I watched as the individual moved to a beside the window seat to backlight better conversation being sent out, before I was then back upstate, red Formica countertops inside still from a 1950s renovation of the place—I have adopted and retreated to the term the “kit home,” in a bio; I have folded the sentence like one I need to stay inside—built from a catalogue.
It was an absence I have long composed around. Here is a rock from a walk with the friend who brought me to California, last time I was on a plane, to speak to her research class, who asked me about everything there was now there online, and I spoke of an attempt within my current writing to use the endlessness like one might an instrument one learned to play.
When the old desktop stalled, I would look out the window, up from the opened one, out above it to the beyond next door, the house not finished being painted yet. But the computer from the job I am up for reappointment in at the end of the year is of a caliber capable handling the meetings, around classes, hours that help me get pills I need, therapy for the one I am still trying to make a home with despite all of the worst examples, etc.
My mother asks what I mean when I keep talking about “overseas,” when I am still speaking to her, the last I do. My sister and her husband met in the military, to travel, and then the six children I never see, but I wear to march one on a shirt I made, his saxophone, before his guitar. A box of cardboard signs is there, if you did not already have your own. The police arrived in their cars, and my neighbor who is not the German family says bandanna as mask makes her think of Jesse James. She says to our public how we will all forget this. She is talking as I am sifting through the art, sayings, the lettering. My sister went into the military to leave there where she returned with family, to take up with my mother a system my protagonist pushes against, locked within.
I have moved some of the work to the kitchen table, hearing someone’s diamond rap upon their own surface echo back at me, once pointed out to me. Someone leans forward holding up the cord that wires together the two ear buds and third angled point of plastic molded into the stick of the microphone, pinched between fingers, there with their virtual background, there with their talk. What becomes a daughter’s entire physical universe, a home retreated back to after attempting to see more of the world. I am thinking of the word: Gesamtkunstwerk. My mother, defensive, incredulous, asks me to tell her what has changed in my life in these four years. Is it mine or has it been handed down to me? What is my obsession with Europe? Uneducated, I swabbed inside my cheek. The picture on the doormat of my last book’s totem faded away the more we wiped our feet.
Our neighbors, just them all there: mother of mother of mother of the girl then eventually joined by sibling struggling with speech who stands in the yard sometimes alone and screams.
I took the adopted name because I was tired of my last unknown in those childhood rooms and environs, laughs and line ends. I am using a book of poems so far translated into Swedish, French and Spanish, but not yet the language I orientate myself in, to construct a psychological terrain for a narrative unspooling.
DOUGLAS A. MARTIN moved to New York at 25 and lives there still. Wolf, an anti true crime novel, was published recently by Nightboat Books andBranwell: a novel of the Brontë brother, an early work, reissued by Soft Skull Press. Other titles include: an autobiographical novel,Once You Go Back; a book of stories,They Change The Subject; three novellas,Your Body Figured; and a book-length essay,Acker. His first autofiction,Outline of My Lover, adapted in part by the Forsythe Company for their live film ballet, “Kammer/Kammer,” and praised as an “International Book of the Year” upon its initial release is available now in a twenty year anniversary edition.
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