A living spring

We’re going to take your elbows – they’re to go on without you.


I’d thought what it held was water, that the spring was like a fountain in a town square or hidden in the dent of a rock, or cast out of the earth by restless pressure.

It turns out that the spring has nothing to do with water. It has nothing to do with a town square with a dry flaky pavement, or the snuff of a cave, or even the inside
of a dark place being squeezed from its tube.

The spring is warmer outside than inside. It is out-living. It dances around matter
and what I thought a moment ago and what I think now can be possessed – can be struggled out of.


I watch my elbows with difficulty; chart the undergrowth of everyday tasks, familiar gestures that have become so assured. Time makes the body assured.
There are other factors I’m sure.

In the body is a muscle-listener, tenderness, a tongue tinned, quiet with lowly oxygen.
In this observance bells are cast. Pores ring. Temperature is right. Favourable conditions melt to music.

Life, without bells or hands to warm them, is lost in thought, or hope – anywhere close.
I will fold my skin. I will shake it out, and dance and dance. I will let go
and only tell the story at my feet.


And the goose bumps of my skin will withdraw from significance. I won’t be hidden, I wont be awake. I will only listen, outwardly. I’ll tell you eventually that it wasn’t my elbows you wanted, but something I never knew I possessed.


A living spring

M-L feels biased when her friends arrive with such blank faces. She hears footsteps on the tiles outside her door and already she can tell that these footsteps are expecting something from her.

The sound they make is rapid, even though it is summer and there is no real reason to be rushing toward the doorbell. The footsteps want to be seated, inside, where M-L will entertain them with her fine nose, and her partner B will prepare cooking smells that will go home with them in their dresses, ties and cardigans.

M-L has a concealed forehead. Her streaked hair is bracken that forms a blind spot where other people might just frown. You can see the faint undergrowth of her scalp through the sticks of hair. She has a mouth that says modest things that are pitched by her voice so that they glint a little like new coins. Her nose is delicate, with freckles that look like abandoned loose change. As her most endearing feature she secures and maintains her friendships with her nose and its active curves.

On a Tuesday, which is today, near the start of summer, M-L opens her door five times to let her friends in. She emailed 8 invitations, and she is a little pleased that she only has to open the door five times, rather than 8 times. B has a spinach parcel in the oven already. She calls it a parcel because she likes the thought of putting a gift in the oven and getting an even crispier, extra golden gift back.

Really its proper name is Spanakopita, which translates as Spinach Pie, and it is a recipe that B picked up off an ex-partner who was also a chef. M-L told me once in confidence that if not in the company of others, B and her find it overly easy to fight about Spanikopita and its origins. Thought M-L finds Spanakopita delicious she will only eat it when she is secure and confident in the company of her friends. Spinach Pie is a special treat for both B and M-L for very different reasons.

At about 8pm the friends take their seats at the long table in a room separate from the kitchen. At the table B has already placed her chin into the intimate bracken of M-L’s hair in a way that takes for granted the familiar smell she finds there; she no longer makes a lingering request. It is the place where B goes to centre herself in the company of M-L’s friends. M-L’s voice squeaks a little more than usual, as if she is experiencing a rush of goose bumps and is trying to hide them. Her friends pay particular attention to her nose, and I can see that it is a rock that they are all trying to stand on.

M-L toys with her blind spot. She has developed habits that her friends have come to rely on and being a rock is one of them. Her nose is a small island on which the people she loves congregate. They can throw stones off into the outer zones of her features and see them ripple, amused and almost hoping that the pebbles will some how bounce back and smack them lightly on their foreheads, an intimate ellipse like baptism.

This never happens, and they are all relieved and made awkward by disappointment.

I am attracted to M-L’s right elbow, and in the past this has been a problem in our friendship. I do not take much interest in her nose, and do not get much satisfaction from watching B hide a little in the thicket of M-L’s hair above the assembly of her friends. I rarely join the congregation in the middle of her face and in spite of myself start to ask B about where she found the delicious recipe for Spanakopita.

I do this even though I can see the party on M-L’s nose squirm and pick up wine glasses and take sips at great speed without comfortable breath in between and grip the glasses with both hands like bulky stones that can’t be thrown.

I resort to buttering the bread on my plate. I ask M-L how the life drawing class is going, all the while buttering the bread that flattens under the knife and is sucked down and breaks open and shows the flat-bone plate.

M-L uses sentences that have been practiced on others at different times earlier in the day, and she adds warmth to the details that bring her drawing class to life by making the words travel the full length of her tongue; the story pumps with quiet stamina.

I excuse myself from the table and go to the bathroom. B follows me and asks me if I’m all right, and I say that I have perhaps enjoyed too much rich food. The greasy marks on my wine glass are there when I get back.

The friends have left the safety of the island and are in different places of the flat, talking or stroking an object or helping tidy up the kitchen now that the plates have been cleared and dessert needs to come out. B begins to talk about the origins of her name, and the origins are admirable and have a deep root to them, and slink under the growth of time to a point made intelligible by darkness.

M-L leans over my shoulder, beside me but a little behind with her elbow almost touching my back. She wants to know what my name means. I tell her ‘a living spring’ and she says she never thought that a spring that is coiled and metallic and that hovers between the earth and the sky could be living. I do not say nor had I, but nudge the bend of her arm onto the launch of my back.

Under energy saving light bulbs, B gifts us Sorbet.


We’re going to take your hands, they’re to go on without you – I watch my hands intently for the rest of the day.

I watch them perform everyday tasks, the familiar gestures that have become so assured.

Time makes the body assured. There are other factors I’m sure. In the body is a good listener.

Bells are cast. Pores ring. The temperature is right. Favourable conditions lead to music.

I consider a life without bells or hands to warm them. Palms
up – I weigh the soft sides on my cheeks.

Lost in thought, or hope, this is where I would choose to loose anything that belonged to me – anywhere close.

Who can best fold my skin? Who can shake it out, and dance and dance? I would undo silence but not the holiday.

I will let go and only tell the story at my feet. I’ll feel the goose- bumps of my skin withdraw from significance.

I will not be hidden, I will not be awake. I will have my ears glued to you, because you know me. Listen outwardly.

I will tell you eventually it wasn’t my hands, but something I never knew I possessed.



Hannah Wilke (1940-1993)
Gestures (1974)

‘Gestures is a series of performance-based works in which Wilke faces the camera in extreme close-up and performs repetitive or durational physical actions. At times she kneads and pulls her skin as if it were sculptural material. Often her gestures – rubbing her hands over her face, smiling so hard that she appears to be grimacing, sticking out her tongue – take on a loaded significance when seen in the context of gender performance.’

The life in strangeness – Drip of sleep

My friends Paula and Marnie are editing a new publication called Public Good, and some of the things we’ve talked about including public-ness in art/writing/thought and that shadowy hyperactive and under-active word ‘good’ have led me to think more about recent experiments or ‘explosive sneezes’ in my writing.

I’d been flicking through this book that had been published in English in 1991, written by Julia Kristeva – the title was ‘Strangers to ourselves’.

I found this passage:

“The distinction set forth in the Declaration (of Independence) between “humanity” (whether it is ‘natural’ or symbolic’ is a moot point) and “citizenry” maintains the requirement of a human, tran-historical dignity, whose content never the less needs to be made more complex, beyond the 18th Cent optimistic naivety…

So dignity, what it could be or be capable of, is composed of differences prioritised in the realms of ‘humanity’ and ‘citizenry’. What a great place to start to think about strangers or strangeness and its many forms…especially at the moment when I’m responding to news in many guises in my writing – a list that includes; inflation, a Christmas tree on an army base, petrol, superstition, Zimbabwe, sport, narcissism and holidays.

But before I talk more about Kristeva, here is something from Eliot Weinberger’s essay, Karmic Traces that’s going to help me flesh these twists of intention and dalliance out:

“Vasana, which literally means ‘scent’, is karmic residue, the stuff-as ineffable as smell-that remains from a past life. Each life produces vasanas, which remain dormant until one is reincarnated in the same species. That is, the vasanas from your life as a cat will only be triggered when, a thousand incarnations later, you are a cat again.”

When writing to Paula about these traces I started to relate them to pursuits of the public and the good. Without much methodical thought I drew these conclusions:

– there is a common pursuit of ‘good’ and a huge population of traces of it
– ‘good’ resides in the variety of traces that we experience in various forms of sociability such as politics, ethics, arts and the sciences etc

We have ‘good’ principals that can be accessed (enlivened is a better word) through traces specific to certain fields or professions.

We first aim for ‘good’ without having preconceived ideas about how it might be realized, and in which field or profession the trace will reveal itself, and from where it will give us a decent whiff of the ‘good’ stuff.

The real potential lies in the fact that a pursuit of the ‘good’ could make us appear in any number of fields, from politics to physics – how we re-familiarize ourselves with traces of ‘good’ sharpens the context of the field in which the pursuit has led us.

Does this mean that by sharpening the trace we sharpen the good and the social?

This seems an interesting expansion of how we would usually consider politics or the public in relation to the ‘good’ – public doesn’t lead to ‘good’ rather (or also) the pursuit of ‘good’ traces leads us to an unpredictable area of the public domain in which we can get to work to sharpen these ‘traces’ and explode them or sneeze at them or care for them depending on the dignity at stake.

The capacity of good and its public manifestations explode sometimes, expand in pleasant and unpleasant ways, but open new doors in which we decide the balance that is liveable….

Kristeva talks about these moments of the liveable and unliveable in terms of understanding strangeness and its many explosions:

‘Individual particularistic tendencies, the desire to set oneself up as a private value, the attack against the other, identification with or rejection of the group are inherent in human dignity, if one acknowledges that such a dignity includes strangeness. That being the case, as social as that strangeness might be, it can be modulated – with the possibility of achieving a polytopic and supple society, neither locked in to the nation or its religion, nor anarchically exposed/apposed to all of its explosions.’

I’ve posted a poem that I think relates very little to all but an exploration of strangeness – I think strangeness is enlivening when situated with a conception of ‘public’ and ‘good’ – which are at the heart of a lot of writing that I’m interested in reading. The poem is called ‘Drip of sleep’.

Drip of sleep

You see

we nap in preparation as others have done before us, a
legacy of prone company.

You see

there are drips we face that wear us down, disheveling our
prior lunches.

You see

there are others in motion, already lying down – drips that
course through old snacks.

You see

the lost hay of human slumber spikes us, and we pass out
sharp under a falling-needle.

Her will and testament

Is my shadow a citizen or a


Not a question your father would have asked.

Not the high-strung impostor natural as rubber.

Not the scar of the man.

Not to look too shrewd in his wake.

Not ground, terribly versatile.

Not the other portal of weightlessness.

Not without a deadline always taking care.

Not one full-blooded vote.

Not the festive tree glinting on the army base.

Not the strangers in his monologues.

Not the location outskirts cut with grass.

Not the people they say were training to handle lights.

Not the warbling aridity.

Not hopeless for love yet to happen.

Not the living they do between volumes of tufts.

Not the nutrition they smell and burn.

Not dew.

Not provenance.

Not the passing through that shod him.

Not inherited gait.

Not unlike mischief.

Not its inner talent-quest.

Not our marriage.

Not one kiss.

Not mine or his.

No, bury me next to Cynthia, her shadow had dignity.

Wedding cake

You do

make out life’s smorgasbord
of hot and cold dishes
on the horizon –
salivate, it’d be rude not to.

You do

see a uniform table
that splays bright orange felt
east to west, a water jug
that weeps brambles.

You do

introduce yourself to the
wedding party, you express
hereditary borrowed at
the last minute.

You do

attract by sheer
gravitation; your spontaneous
semisweet stockings
prove personable.

You do

forget the names of people
you grew up with, you loyally
remember the memorable

You do

wrap up a slice of cake
for the road, you cradle its
moist echo-action
of the journey home.

Wedding cake

You like weddings?

Yes, I think I understand. You’re saying that you enjoy them from a distance, just like we’re experiencing that one up there on the hill from down here. It’s like looking out of an airplane window – black spots of happiness scurrying this way and that. What a long time it has been.

Ever been married yourself? I was married, twice. Oh, no, not at all, I was married twice but to the same person. It would have looked like quite a standard sort of arrangement from the outside, as most do. Being on the inside was not quite the same. I have to admit that I do miss it. I imagine you know what I’m talking about, being a keen observer yourself.

I’m glad you stopped to chat. I bet you’re quite familiar with the inside, how the inside leads a life of its own. Sometimes it feels as though there are insides within insides. It isn’t me who contains the inside but it’s the inside that snaps me in! There were those good times.

I didn’t mean to keep you from your business – it is beautiful here on the beach; I forget sometimes that people have other things to do. Unlike me, not everyone is free to loiter out the day. What do you do, if you don’t mind me asking? I get the feeling I should already know. Of course, I’ve seen your campaign posters. Are you also involved with dogs? You’re in charge of four mutts as far as I can see.

They’re boisterous aren’t they! You must go through a stack of dog food. Big eaters can place quite a stress on the budget I’ve found – it was one of the contributing factors of my last divorce. Well I suppose you could see it like that, often it is an imbalance of desire that is at the root of the problem.

It’s been such a long time since I’ve eaten a proper wedding cake; I think I’ve forgotten what it tastes like.

Look, do you have a minute? I really think it’s important that I go up there. It’s really quite imperative to tell you the truth. I know what I have to do now. I’d only need you for half an hour, just to help me up the hill really. You could tie the dogs up on my porch – my house is just over there, up from that boat shed. What do you say? The party looks large enough; they’ll just think we’re late additions. People are too polite in those situations to ask questions. There’s really some urgency in me to get up there. It’s the only thing on hand that I can take part in anonymously – I must go to that wedding.

I know you understand – I remember a rally you did, now that I think about it, with that environmental focus. I could see by the way you whisked up the crowd that you weren’t one of those types who just pay lip service to community involvement – you really seemed to stand behind your words! I’m not afraid to tell you where my vote will lie in the next bi-election.

Yes, I promise, the dogs will be absolutely fine.