COURAGE AS A FRAGMENT and THE FRAGMENT AS COURAGE
(Faith in the fracture – the bravery of ignoring a/the whole)
A Performance* of Cowardice (those elusive fragments of bravery) in poetry and of running hard.
*Poetry is already a performance of the labor of words and so to add the body to it we have, what the academics call, a double whammy. Not to belabor the point, but humankind (if there is such a thing [there isn’t any longer]) is situated continually within the entombment loop of performance (I make no judgment of this). Peggy Phelan, that scholarly and creative voice on all things performance, writes that “we have entered a realm of all-performance-all-the-time”. (SURELY we already know this). Phelan also differentiates between a performance encountered via embodiment and a performance watched via video (a screenic embodiment)—simply put, they are different experiences. It is the nuanced move from participant to spectator (specters?) [ghosts of the absent-presence of our own selves in these technological abodes]. And yet, between performance, the screen, and language is the space I attempt to sidle into in order to meet you—to meet amidst the distance between. This distance—I live inside of it in the way I cannot crawl up inside your rib cage and love you there and so I love you here and so I watch from a distance and text every once in awhile saying “hey.” Here. There. Distance. Phelan notes that performative writing achieves a bit what philosophy struggles to do and I believe that neither poetry or philosophy can be trusted, both bound as they are to complicity—same as you, same as me, same as this, same as that.
Annie Dillard writes: “you cannot test courage cautiously, so I ran hard…” And so I ran hard.
So I ran hard. I ran hard.
Here is the backdrop of this performance (the scene) :
I am not doing well. “Just take a little break,” a few people have told me and they are wise to. But, I don’t. I won’t. Pop the clutch and drive that lurching machine into its inevitable demise. This piece is a performative writing of the fragment, a fragment past that space of exhaustion—fragments which speak to no unifying whole (which, if I am pressed, would be how I define courage: to live into the fragment with no belief in the whole). The philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy argues that the fragment is a wholeness of itself, is not merely a broken piece corresponding to a logical and centered whole. I am not doing well—a bit at the end of the barrel, rope, bucket. And so I wonder what lies beyond this? What is past this edge, this fragment of emptiness? We do not know. No one has ever come back and told us. Pop the clutch. Crash the car. Let the wheels fall off. And when they do, crawl until the knees bleed.
The process of this (screenic and distanced) performative writing piece:
Running. Sprinting to be exact, for as Dillard writes, these things (like courage and cowardice) one cannot do cautiously—so I run, hard. I am hunting for that hard edge. That hard sprint, the strike which reverberates from the foot to the crown of the head, hard enough to clatter the teeth. “So I ran hard,” she writes. Just no other way to test it.
At 4:37 a.m. Monday morning I run one mile to get warmed up and to get myself past that comfortable engine hum of the lungs and into the space of hardness. Then I sprint. I ran / run hard. 400 meters at a time. Back and forth across the parking lot. Then I write. Writing into the hard space—on the hard edge. One cannot think here, just listening to the blood which pumps into the ears with the breath jagged and deep and hot. Thought, when in pain, is always fragmented. I run hard and then write the fragments of what could-be-called poetry—a philosophical sprint past the belief in the whole. What is past this space? No one knows. I enter the fragments and fractures of thought—invited in by the way in which only pain and exhaustion can.
(Each text was written after a 400m sprint and have not been edited or changed. They are signifier to no signified. They are no part or parcel to any whole.)
I get to the parking lot. It’s early, 5:04 a.m. Sunrise—give or take. It is the time of the morning joggers and of those leaving overnight shelters. Morning kicks everyone out in some way (not in an equal way) but still: out, out, out. I nod at a man carrying a duffel out of the shelter and into the morning air. I carry a camera and jogging shoes. Work, like mornings, is not equal for all of us. Marx knew this and we feel this, but still: out, out, out.
The running FRAGMENTS: (poems written under duress)
“mercy” I whisper to no one and nothing in particular.
what I learn now is that there is no bottom — no rocky nethermost upon which to rest.
the body—that delicate machine—rises, adjusts, recalibrates.
I recover enough to find again
that hard edge the shin hits in the middle of the night—over and over and over again.
(of course there is no rock bottom—I kept trying to find it in order to find an excuse for someone else to make me get clean and sober—you know, like a court order or something might have helped. but sometimes, after a while, even hell can get boring. and so you politely ask for your check. hand in your room key. move somewhere else which ends up being just as hot, but with better management).
when you called to tell me you still loved me I didn’t even bother calling back.
(or maybe it was the other way around?) what I lack for skill in the game of poker,
I make up for in sheer calculating coldness (or lack of memory)
he does not believe in ghosts. I do.
but of course, I do not.
yet I advocate for our ardent belief in them. like a washed up evangelist who
doesn’t even believe in his own shtick anymore, but continues because like whatever, he already owns the suit
and so sells his beliefs
as if he didn’t need the money,
as if he didn’t believe in hell.
he orders a martini. at a pizza bar.
someone I know lives one block away. it’s tuesday. afternoon. the bar is dark and the red lights blur the edges of his face. it’s bright outside and we know it and we ignore it. if he chased that martini with a match it would have lit the entirety of us up like roman candles destined for better places—to become celestial fragments only to fall slowly toward earth, becoming innocuous embers looking only for a place to rest.
it’s a dirty martini and not a good one. it was the wrong choice. but so was hoping I could return to myself and find anything other than desolation and ruin and so there we both were—wearing bad decisions like badges, like condensation, like misfolded maps with no centers,
completely abandoning any idea of a destination.
he drinks a dirty martini and I bite down on the inside of my cheek hard enough to draw some blood and so in solidarity we both taste salt on the backs of our tongues—where truth, if it is anywhere, lies.
nothing burns the way money does nothing singes like hair
nothing scars like flesh
i’m not good at poker, softball, piano, chess, the waltz.
but I’ve made enough bad bets, pitches, plays, errors, and moves to understand the cost of a bluff.
hungry and tired
I look for a heart other than my own to consume.
I push against you like the heart when pushed past its limit knocks and thuds up against the bars of its cage of bone.
I rattle inside your teeth and find a tune there
—a tune I can hum along to
while I work
while I work