TEXT prose

 

Susan Presto

 

The poethical wager

 

 

At first she thought that if she stood very still for long enough, the plants would resume communication. It began to become apparent however, when no breeze was present, that they never stopped. Through close observation and measurement, grew an understanding of the ways in which this happened. (15)

The only measurement unable to be logged efficiently was that of time.
If she looked at the clock as she left the house, and then again when she returned, the hours never added up. Something happened to time that could not be explained by logic or sense.

As her garden began to flourish through her care, she began to neglect appointments and deadlines in a way that was foreign to her life before.
Life outside the garden would inevitably require attention, but as the garden’s only carer, it’s sulky response to her absence made her feel very guilty.
In attempts to make up for lost time, she worked harder and missed the first signs. (10)

The beguilement would grow and wane as the patterns of growth and bloom were tamed, but the sense of responsibility never left her.
Regularly a new species would be introduced. (4)
This plant would receive her very divided attention, but special care, until she grew to understand its nuances and how to make it give everything it had in response to her careful manipulation.
One day her phone buzzed in her pocket, she’d been missing a lot of appointments lately. Instead of finding a phone, she found a beetle buzzing a ring tone in her hand. Things were still so fresh and innocent then, so she passed her suspicion off as hormones and stopped charging her phone.

Soon every space was filled and the line from one plant to another blurred until it became one thing. She felt a charge of power every time her fingers touched the moist dirt to push a seed into its depths, so she kept going. The sense of hope and expectation was heady.
When the first tiny shoots reached up into the sunshine, she took it personally.
She barely slept waiting to see if they would live or die. (9)

And the garden inevitably responded to every little touch and consideration.
She grew in patience as she experienced the slow burning return of the love she gave.
Every week her compost would produce enough fertiliser to nourish the roots and the leaves. Anything that would enhance growth and vigour would be applied in carefully measured amounts and everything vigorously grew. Insects and bugs arrived in happy numbers, followed dangerously close behind by the birds.
There seemed no maximum capacity.
Capacity grew. (4)

At first she thought it may have been her imagination, however, she could have sworn the plants leaned towards her as she passed by. (7)
Each plant grew strong and tall, even for their own characteristics, and she felt their leaves brush against her, reach for her, as she passed.
She smiled at the thought that they were vying for her attention.
She could have sworn the crab apple grabbed her sleeve as she went by with a watering can of fish emulsion. Her sleeve had snagged in a branch and before unsnagging, she automatically turned and applied the emulsion to the plant. She found herself freed from the branch, and wandered off. It had become an undefinable space with light and shadow and places of dappled brightness that moved, and confused the senses. It wasn’t until later, when she went to look for the rip that should have been there, that she began to ponder the relationship she’d been cultivating. She learnt to step widely when passing the crab apple, and stopped wearing clothes.

Barefoot, she could enjoy the rubbery grasp of parsley and the heavy soporific aroma of oregano as it threw itself under her feet and stained her toes.
Autumn came and the jacaranda leaves rained upon everything in soft random peltings.
They threw themselves downward, hundreds at a time, on her bent back and arms as she worked. Other times, one random leaf would land, with the lightest of touches, catching her breath. Sometimes she found herself, eyes closed and motionless, mesmerised by the tickly fall of the tiny leaves on her skin, the wavering light and shade making patterns through her eyelids. All thoughts disappeared, and when she finally opened her eyes she had to untangle the sweet peas that had wound tendrils round her toes and ankles.
Walking back inside, she felt too big for the ceiling and walls and although she was starving, the food she had in her house didn’t look or smell like it.
Friends and family complained, but in disappointment more than anger.
They weren’t worried, but seeds of doubt had been sown inside her.

The breeze rustling the lilies outside her window woke her up.
They crowded at her widow and tapped on the glass with their heavily veined thick green leaves. Gigantic white single-petaled flowers stood above and separate. At their centre the heaviness of a long thick stamen bobbed around on an unlikely stem. She understood it was their turn for some attention.

Digging at the base of the plant was not easy. The dense growth made for some tough old patches and she threw her back into it. Yanking on a difficult patch which gave way suddenly, found her flat on her back. (9) It was a surprisingly soft landing and she was pleased to see none of the majestic flower-heads had been caught under her.

She got up slowly, enjoying the tug of the leaves on her skin as she dusted herself off. The nodding heads of the lilies tapped at her shoulders and back.
She closed her eyes and tried to break down the scents the breeze carried to her.
Rosemary was strong, she’d obviously landed on it, and her body was stained with it. Every time she moved it refreshed the intensity. There was the more subtle smell of the ginger plant she must have crushed as she fell. (7)  She knew if she moved her foot it would rise again, so she didn’t move. The plants around her caressed her skin softly, rustlings and creaking, filled the air gently. She wondered if she could have died and never known about this world, and how much less a life it would have been.

The breeze could have picked up.
She couldn’t be sure, she didn’t open her eyes, but felt the tap tap tap of the lilies more insistently. She had never denied her garden anything, so of course she stepped back slowly into their embrace. The tapping grew stronger and it seemed as if she was Mother Nature (9) as she bent just slightly to allow the insistent persistence what it clearly wanted. She gave herself over to the sensation, telling herself she was still in charge, and she succumbed to the earth and the sky and the sun, which seemed to have been grooming her for exactly this moment. (10)

She woke when it was dark and watched the plants separate for her as she made her way inside and onto her bed where she slept until the sound of the Jacaranda knocking on the roof woke her up. The bed was covered in rich golden pollen. (10, 9)
There were tiny leaves entangled in her hair and embedded in her skin.
She tried to brush them off but they didn’t move. (4, 7, 1, 2, 3)
She plucked a single leaf from her hand, and stopped at the sight of blood and the sensation of pain.

The wind picked up or the branches scratched against the roof and the walls.
She looked around at the ceiling and the floors and saw that they had held her in.
She walked back out into the plants and felt their gentle encouragement pushing her along the garden path and out through the gate, and the tiny hairs covering her body captured their essence and took her with them.

 

Bibliography

1. Brown, P. M. (2004). Poethics: Levinas, Shakespeare, Joyce. Brown, New York: New York University Press.

2. Cecire, N. (2015). Experimentalism by Contact. Diacritics, 43(1), 6-35. doi:10.1353/dia.2015.0003

3. Dagnino, A. (2015). Transcultural writers and novels in the age of global mobility. West Lafayette IN: Purdue University Press.

4. Deleuze, G., & Guattari, F. (2009). A thousand plateaus: Rhizomes. Berkeley, CA: Venus Pencils.

5. Grotjohn, R. (2015, 04). Mongrel Poethics: Harryette Mullen’s Sleeping with the Dictionary. Feminist Studies in English Literature, 23(1), 73-102. doi:10.15796/fsel.2015.23.1.003

6. Hatlen, B. (2001). Joan Retallack: A Philosopher among the Poets, a Poet among the Philosophers. Contemporary Literature, 42(2), 347. doi:10.2307/1209126

7. Krauth, N. (2016). Creative writing and the radical: Teaching and learning the fiction of the future. Bristol: Multilingual Matters.

8. Lasky, K. (2013). Poetics and Creative Writing Research. In Research Methods in Creative Writing (Eds J. Kroll & G. Harper), 14-33. Bristol: Multilingual Matters. doi:10.1007/978-1-137-27254-6_2

9. Orwell, G., Orwell, S., & Mackay, J. A. (1968). George Orwell: Collected essays. London: Secker & Warburg.  

10. Retallack, J. (2014). Poethical Wager. Berkeley: University of California Press.

11. Silva, D. F. (2014, 06). Toward a Black Feminist Poethics. The Black Scholar, 44(2), 81-97. doi:10.1080/00064246.2014.11413690  

12. Tabone, M.A. (2016). Narrative Wreckage: Terror, Illness, and Healing in the Post-9/11 Poethics of Claudia Rankine. In Terror in Global Narrative (Eds G. Fragopoulos & L. Naydan), 95-117. London: Palgrave Macmillan. doi:10.1007/978-3-319-40654-1_6  

13. Toye, M.E. (2010, 04). Towards a poethics of love. Feminist Theory, 11(1), 39-55. doi:10.1177/1464700109355212  

14. Toye, M.E. (2011, 05). Donna Haraway’s Cyborg Touching (Up/On) Luce Irigaray’s Ethics and the Interval Between: Poethics as Embodied Writing. Hypatia, 27(1), 182-200. doi:10.1111/j.1527-2001.2011.01198.x

15. Weisberg, R.H. (1992). Poethics and other strategies of law and literature. New York: Columbia University Press.

16. Williams, D. (2006). Poethics: Twentieth-century Apologia in T.S. Eliot, Joseph Brodsky, Seamus Heaney and Geoffrey Hill. Oxford: Oxford University Press

17. Wolfreys, J. (2010). Notes Towards a Poethics of Spectrality. In Reading Historical Fiction (Ed K. Mitchell et al), 153-171. London: Palgrave Macmillan. doi:10.1057/9781137291547_10

 

 

Susan Presto is a PhD student at Griffith University and owner of Presto Creatives, a warehouse space on the Gold Coast where creative minds meet and showcase their work. Her story ‘Death of the author’ appeared in TEXT Vol 22, No 1.

 

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TEXT
Vol 23 No 1 April 2019
http://www.textjournal.com.au
General Editor: Nigel Krauth. Editors: Julienne van Loon & Ross Watkins
Creative works editor: Anthony Lawrence
text@textjournal.com.au