TEXT prose

 

Luna Mrozik Gawler

 

 

 

 

Strata

 

Lean into it – the cool lip of the rock – and listen. These are the sounds it makes:

The taste of breath in the morning; the comfort a cog feels in clunking into its mate; the colour of a duck feather after a deep dive; the way silk moves on the back of a bedroom door left swinging; the smell of eucalypt bark, crushed.

Procedure 01
Patient 0001
Base line measurements recorded. Psychological evaluation confirms suitability of candidate for the program.

Any beginning will do, but it’s not easy to start when it seems so obviously redundant and predictable. There’s something in that: the challenge of articulation. I don’t suppose it’s a two-way issue, but for the sake of clarity perhaps you could consume this as a set of suggestions, and know that these things I say are so much more than letters, or sounds. I’ll do my best to articulate the borders of my meaning and in turn perhaps you could see them just peripherally, as the soft cloudy seeds they are, caught in the wind and tracing the coastline of my meaning. And however blustery that might get, hopefully you’ll catch my drift. Can we try that? So, I’ll begin:

 

Dear –

We’ve met of course, it’s a requirement of the program, but it was brief. I know the way the air sits in the dark of your mornings, heavy against the damp soil and coiled in the red gum roots. I know how it holds the sort of purity that tastes cold, and how it feels to have it charge the lungs, rupturing sleep from the warm bastion of the throat. Were you oblivious to me? I wonder if you were with your many eyes and faces. Was that wind a conscious contribution? I want to introduce myself, beyond the restrictions of this language. I’ll get better, this is the first step and I want to make sure to do as they ask as we go along. Although, whether this part is for you or me is difficult to know. We’ll find out eventually, but of course, by then it won’t matter will it, the you or the me?

Pistachio, Emerald, Fern Green, Brunswick Green, Malachite, Persian Green, Midnight Green, Dark Green, Sage, Asparagus, Kelly Green, Juniper, Hunter Green, Moss Olive, Office Green, Reseda, Phthalo, Laurel Green, Dartmouth, Crocodile, Seaweed, Avocado, Pine Bottle Green.

Procedure 02
Patient 0001
Primary tasks successfully commenced:

  • botanical categorisation
  • landscape spectrum identification

Patient displays no indications of transmutation.

I am spending more time outside. I breathe the cold air deeply, tasting leaf and rain on the back of my throat. It is easier to consider a location alive in the wet; the smell heightened, the birds singing. It seems ardent, as though it has all drawn closer to itself: the trees knotting roots more tightly to the clay, holding birds and branches close in the lowing afternoon light. Maybe it’s that rain seems to drive the human away, such a swift reclamation to wildness. A little water and suddenly a space is washed clean again. We’re supposed to remain separate until later, but I think I’ll come visit you. Would you like that? Perhaps you won’t notice I’m there.

Night is a reminder of chaos, a stucco box with electricity is enough to hold out the darkness, but not the knowledge of its creeping. Something fell against the roof, cracked my dream open and shot my body up in the dark in a panic. I waited for the safety of sun before leaving the safety of sheets. Do you dream of weather, the way I run old conversations over in my head? Do you feel the bend of a branch, long since snapped, and think, ‘Why didn’t I come up with that at the time?’
 

I go in regularly, sit in the dazzle flash of the steel lab, play machine with tubes suctioned, plugged, injected and slid. They watching me as I watch you. Note your movements, what I think is a rhythm that I don’t have the sensitivity to detect. A bird swoops, and a cricket lulls, the wind picks up and gasps. It’s quiet, never silent. I go through the exercise: Amber, Russet, Terracotta, Raw Umber, Rosy Brown, Apricot, Marigold, Bronze, Honey, Ginger, Carrot, Fire, Tuscan Sun, Hickory, Titian, Coral, Tangerine, Mustard, Lemon, Gold, Saffron, Flax, Canary, Butter, Bumblebee, Daffodil.

It’s a practice in familiarity, muscle memory, like saying a sibling’s name again and again. Eventually this might feel familial, naming you like this, which is the only way I know how.  When they came with the lens, you would have watched back with your many eyes. But a skink, or a possum, couldn’t know that portable eye swallows you with the intention of spitting you onto a sterile clinic wall. Your colors are an offense here. Too enthusiastic. Hard to decipher. My palms flex in the cold light, you would be better as braille. I wonder if there are boot prints on you from this invasion, if low branches were snapped for the ease of equipment and bodies. It will be winter soon, I wonder if you have wattle trees. 

 

Procedure 03
Patient 0001
Assimilation processes commenced:

  • elemental submersion
  • tactile response
  • vocal mimetics

Preliminary markers for transmutationary activity have been observed.

When I arrive, it is dark, but I can find my way by running finger tips over the first fallen trees, where there is a pathway apparent. Between the sliding clouds, the moon does its part enough to stain the blacks to silver. I can make a way from this. Practicing shadows, I find a familiar rock and demonstrate balance by pushing the tender curve of my belly into its certain wall. Yoko Ono has a piece of music called Hide, where the lights are turned out in a concert hall and the performers slowly hide behind objects. I slide slowly behind the boulder, let myself become shadows, so that the running of my heart quietens to a harmony with the hoot and breeze of darkness. Even If I’m still not sure what I’m hearing in the push, sing, drizzle, sigh of you – it’s easier to listen like this. If you look at it in the stream in the right light, it is the feeling of lips brushing the neck, the cool of dawn breeze caught in a small white sail, the sound of lorikeet song as it dives past the open window, the eruption of cherry tomato between the teeth on the first day of summer.

Craspedia – Ovum. Telopea – Medulla Oblongata. Acacia – Pulmonarius. Banksia Coccinea – Myocardium. I am more than the sum of my parts. I feel it on occasion, standing in the trance white bright of the supermarket checkout, beep, and finding I’ve dropped out between my skin cells and off towards some other distant place, beep, to the tilt sway of a tram where I’m chatting to a manic man, beep, to the soft fall of a velvet armchair in front of the fire at a holiday rental last autumn, beep, to the front curb where I need to drag the bins out when I get home. Beep. These pieces, places, extensions snagged beyond the boundaries of body, hooked into the world. I am some amalgamation of these moments; some imprint of me echoes in those places. I am them as much as I am liver and pancreas. It’s the sort of knowledge that politely lurks in corners, so it’s confronting to find it standing out in the open like it is here – with the headphones on in the lab, listening to spill of water over rocks, hearing echoes of some long gone and wind-rushed thunder. I am this too. My insides lean like a curl of fern dripped on under rainy canopies. The weight of a drop drives me down, then sends me high as it slips off my neck to splat the soil. I feel it in a place of me that is beyond my blood and bone. That’s what tips me off, we’re meeting in the middle somewhere, beyond the process. Your stream pours in my ears and twists between my collarbones, swallows the outskirts of my memory. You are more than the sum of your parts. And then the timer goes off, and you rush out of the headphones, over the table and slip between the lino cracks of the lab floor. You changed the shape of my tongue on your way out.

In the afternoon light, you are a complexity of shapes unfamiliar – angular and sharp, ready to pierce the arch of a sole, addled and many-faced, soiled and stony. There are capsules of noise here, contained, suspended until they suddenly rupture, peeling the air with their edges. A shudder of yellow-tipped cockatoos fall away from the earth, I know their call well now, and whistle high, then higher: high then higher, until one peels from the flock and swoops low to me, rears and comes to stop on a paperbark branch. We eye one another, but I’m embarrassed, uncertain of what more to say. That first call is all the language I know.

Their hope is we’ll get to know each other well enough to transcend possibility – or is it more like belief? Are we more alike than different? That is their expectation, why I was approached. A cellular revolution is kicking through my organs, rewriting paradigms. My pieces are becoming palimpsest, codes rewritten, meanings remade, timelines atrophied. I’m host to a signifier of consumption. You would understand that, metastasis, an unending perversion and destruction. We have that in common.    

Perhaps it is enough that I am flesh, and you are soil. Enough that the veins of your leaves move water while mine push blood. Then it’s just a question of fluid – and this vessel is so much liquid. I am my own swamp, shore and stream – you only have to watch the boggy cycles of menstruation to know how much lava and rain I can become. Old science counted on that, water in the body. Too much water in the body of a woman makes it hard for her to maintain sanity. Makes the womb wander. Causes madness. At the moment, I’m feeling like too much rain has got in through my cracks, like my organs are wandering, like nothing is fixed. I’m used to flooding, to my flesh folding in excess water and sloshing for a few days a month, but this is different. Hysterical. It’s too strong a word for what I’m trying to say. I want to say Naiad. Not banshee. I want to say reed, rock pool, slippery, gush, rush, eddy, deep-slow and thin-quick. I want to say ease, wash, cool-bright, flick-cold. I think you know what I’m saying.    

It seems strange that one thing can have so much meaning. The same shade that contracts into miniature fingers of mouth, crowding the mouth of a fallen log, somehow pushed back the horizon at the top of long horizon-washed hills.  Green becomes a contradiction with too much company. The skeleton of trees grasp one another and pockets of sky, the branches are stripping their bark, making tiger stripes of white trunk and browning skin; it makes for a deceptive canopy, half bone, half cloud. And around it: growth, in every size and stage and style. All the same. All completely different. I don’t have the names for all of this green. I am trying to look at your faces, without only seeing how unlike my own they are.  The shape of your trunks, your moss and rot and mud-waters work so quickly to carve the shape of the human. Your other. There must be space for you outside of this, the limitations of my categorization. [1] Chocolate, Cocoa, Desert Sand, dizzy, Bistr, Cinnamon, whisper, Sable, numb, Sienna, Carob, wet, Forest Brown, Wheat, Chestnut, Fawn, nausea, Umber, sweat, Tawny, Ochre, Nut, Dust, Coffee, Ecru, Beige, Sepia, shudder, Walnut, Cedar, Camel, Liver, breathless.

Procedure 05
Patient 0001
Patient displays heightened responses to natural stimuli. Minor disruptions to categorisation and identification tasks. Unexpected linguistic anomalies observed. Psychological evaluation revealed preliminary notions of kinship. Some moss behind knee noted.

Summer is a fly droning, sticky and endless, some long days feel like the endless head-butting of a pane, a meaningless use of time, counting the minutes until the sun succumbs to star and the cannibal heat abates. Am I like this to you? An endless buzz of dumb activity, too fast to be meaningful? A tree lives only a beat in the life of a mountain, and my blood runs thinner than sap, is gone so much sooner. I hike the peaks and valleys of you, but maybe I am in too much of a rush to move on to the next spot, moving too quickly to really observe. Some primal groups didn’t have words for wilderness, but you wouldn’t know yourself by that label anyway. [2] They use it in the white rooms, and while they record and question, note and measure. Between scans I am finding new names for you that they won’t hear. Dense, heavy, dark, hollow, patient, cool, anchored, reaching, crevice, tightening, knotted, spacious, still. I’m trying to think like a mountain. [3]

I drop in and out of the throat of a cave I’ve found. Or rather, just a cave. [4] An entrance into your stillness. The silence eddies here. Even the wind stays quiet so as to best allow for the easing of time. This slowing colonises the body, passes the damp air between the pores and cells as though it has nothing to do with lungs. The speed of a human heart seems incongruous in the suspension of this space. I push my chest to the chill stone of your walls – cavity to cavity – and quiet. Is there a heart beating somewhere, just more slowly than I have life to listen? I wait, just in case. It might be this is just an artery stretching long and wide into the deep of you, off to some centre far off over the mountains. But there I go again, making it about myself, and that’s hardly the point, is it? After all, I do as I’m told. Show up on time, follow instructions – sit down, strap in. But you are your own telling, a narrative unfolding uninstructed. A decompression of a cellular expression, unfurling in microcosmic blossoming. Eruptions. Curves. It’s getting easier to play cartographer with those lines of meaning, to let you speak through your folds and thrusts, winds and waves. You articulate yourself differently. [5] The stone face on the chest is a grandfather clock unwinding, the heel snapping off a pair of stilettos, the acrid smell of moth caught in a lamp shade, the momentum road train passing through the heavy dark of the desert, the certainty of string, as it draws in the middle and meets itself in knots.

Procedure 08
Patient 0001
Secondary markers for cellular transmutation observed. Patient displaying linguistic deterioration. Patient expressing some reluctance to engage in procedures. Psychological evaluation revealed increased non-human preferences and behavioural disruptions.

Granite grows intuitively, dependent on simultaneous occurrence and strengthened by its proximity to receptive difference, to a formation that recognizes need. [6] My belly is receptive to your shapes, drawing and puckering to make space for sharp edges, unspooling into divots and hollows. It has taken some time to find a patch where we mirror one another in peak and valley. More than a question of strength, my memories drive against one another in sheer layers, fortifying. Temple against the crush wet of dead leaf I am listening for your movements below the muck and stone and clay – are you stronger with or without me? I am lengthening, pieces of me are forming plateaus and ridges, driving against one another, entwining with the broad flesh of the earth. [7] It is an eruption, a cellular vociferation and there are moments when I could swear I feel the way a metaphor must.

Words are insufficient. They fail at demonstrating innocence, at removing me from the horror we’re facing. [8] The fate we are sharing. I had thought this process would allow me to speak with you, to have them hear you through me. Instead I feel less like articulating our excuses, or passing on your needs. I can admit I blamed you for the silence initially. As though you were unable to speak, as though I had to reach through space and teach you a language to articulate yourself. You’re absent in this process; the more I hear you the more obvious it is how alone I am in the rooms at the clinic. Humans testing humans and hoping to induce the presence of another. There isn’t any room for your buzzing biosphere in the clinic, just the gurgle of my own. You’ve been excluded, as though you haven’t anything to say. [9] It doesn’t seem logical to have you locked out and me locked in. There’s too much of the problem in this attempt at solution – human measuring human, human speaking human, human changing human. It’s enough. When a spider pushes out from under my fingernail, I keep it to myself.

Hope is a human season. As you shift, fade, fall, rot, seed, burst, grow and bloom again and again, we fear and hope. There is so much to fear now. I see it in the eyes of the white coats administering the tests. A desperation. A despair. I’m frightened of dependency. As though the likelihood of being felled is greater for the forest than the lone pine. It isn’t a surprise to consider this a life or death situation and it’s hard to believe there is a way through other than alone. Hard to consider the passing of time as something other than a competition. An eye shot sideways on an end game. On a winner. And it’s the two legs, for sure. Top of the chain, king of the beast, one ear cocked to be closer to God basking in the back of the firmament. The illusion of independence has been a challenge, to pull the steak from the cow and keep the flesh in the mouth but not the mind. It gets easier over time. I’m feeling less plastic wrapped these days – it’s affecting my perspective. The empty aisles of dominance are getting crowded with hooves and nettles, standing on the toes of my certainty. The human form is so obvious when removed from the order of right angles and neon bulbs, defined by so much absence. No flight, no deep-dive, no tree-top leap. But then, so quick with a blade. There’s the red herring – separation might be a convenience, but it’s also a fiction. [10] A myth, and a good one – easy to agree to draw a chalk outline around the wild places and declare them absent. Easy to evoke solitude. An echo chamber only takes a few hundred years to construct if you do it right, and how lonely we are, to sound into the dark and hear only our voices thrown back upon themselves. [11] I want to reinstate a season of hope here, but the blades of the spear grass tussling in my arm pits are leaning away from this process, pushing me towards the place I know you are waiting. I’ve stuffed my ears with feathers so I can hear you properly now. I’m listening.

I dreamt of you last night. The ceiling folding into a grey smudge of sky, your riotous silence cascading down the walls, every quiet rub of beetle leg, every wing beat, every drop of dew sighing from the wet palm of one leaf to the next. It seemed obvious suddenly, stepping in the shifting mist and chill between the trees, to speak to you in the way you spoke to me – the rough edge message of twigs in the arch of my foot, the leaves slipping into notches between fingers. I lay down, let my soft places fall into the bristling damp of undergrowth, moved my limbs against the rocks, moved my torso over divots and mounds, until we met, neatly. As though the spot I lay were the antithesis of my flesh, had been holding a ghost, an invitation in absence, and I had finally brought the pieces to fill it. The soil pushed its gentle grain into my lips, parted them, so that the heat of breath forged down to mix with the roots and rot below. And it seemed so obvious, lying there, that you could hear me, and I you. But not as a voice. More like an echo, the half-caught tail of a dream swimming in the cells of a morning. I heard you, but in no-way I’ve heard before, instead you just sounded somewhere, deep in the canyon of me. And I finally understood.

Procedure 13
Patient 0001
Psychological evaluation revealed cognitive dissonance, with patient demonstrating disordered representations of identity. Vocal testing confirmed an excess of thunder. Patient no longer able to complete categorisation and identification tasks. Analysis of physiological data indicates significant cellular restructuring.

I don’t go to the lab now. They come to my home and lay cables through the hallway, up to the bedroom door, under the kitchen bench. When they leave, they leave you with me, braying from speakers perched on one another in the corners. But you were already here, and I’ve stopped coming to you so often, now we are learning to meet in the middle. I am more surprised to hear myself cough than I am to hear a magpie singing from the broom cupboard. The sounds I make are starting to sound ... abrupt.

Trace the edge with your own – the dark swallow of trunk, gaping – these are the textures it makes: the rush a gum-nut feels when falling in the dark; the sound of bees heading home at twilight; the swift peace between inhale and an exhale; the way tea stains a bright cloth; the hollow sound of dirt hitting the lid of a wooden coffin.

It doesn’t hurt to keep some things between us. I’m getting used to finding snails stuck behind my ear, or the rough of pebbles forming under my tongue. On the right angle my forearm resembles an unclimbable ridge. It is peaceful, this undoing. Our becoming. I am reluctant to share it. This can be our story, together. [12] It has to be. But you knew that. Perhaps it will be the sort of story people need, just big enough to gather up the complexities, but keep the edges open. [13] It was never a question of a singular conclusion, was it? You’re more diverse than that. When they suggest blood tests, I stall. I’m starting to suspect they might find more eel than white cell. It seems we are deciding the next step together, you and I. Us. This won’t be for them.

Despair is easy. It’s composing with hope requires work. [14] I know you understand what comes next. This dismay is not ours to hold in our expanse, there are so many certainties in cycles, and in diversity. There isn’t anything to be afraid of. In the distance of periphery, I sense the wheels on the tar. But moving through the air is the slide of a leaf over the top of the waterfall, it’s the first breath on just-dried butterfly wing, it’s the space between stars in the milky way. The first sight of you is tadpoles sprouting legs, is galahs swooping, is gum-tree dropping a branch in the heat. This will be more familiar to you but then, you’ve had practice, and I’ll just have the one chance. The wattle tree is a sigh blooming, flushing into the clearing here, the sharp crag of crunch-bark catches my thigh, carves its fingers into my flesh. I lean into it and listen. Here will do. It’s simple now.

Breath.

Flesh.

Topple.

wind.

Procedure 21
Patient 0001
Patient absent from residence at time of attendance. Examination revealed native flora established throughout the interior (Craspedia, Telopea, Acacia, Banksia Coccinea). Evidence of extreme weather phenomena observed in bedroom and hallway. Wildlife removal recommended before further data collection. Search for patient unsuccessful at time of report.

 

 

NOTES

[1] Filipovic, Z. (2011) Introduction to Emmanuel Levinas: ‘After you, sir!’, Moderna Sprak Vol 105. pg 62 return to text

[2] Manes, C. (2008) Nature and Silence. Environmental Ethic. pg 18 return to text

[3] John, S. (1988) Beyond Anthropocentrism, Ecophilosophy vol. 5, Sierra College, California. pg 4 return to text

[4] Bardan, K. (2007) Meeting the Universe Halfway, Duke University Press. pg 185 return to text

[5] Opperman, S, Iovino, S. (2014) Stories Come to Matter, Material Ecocritiscm, Indiana University Press. pg 57 return to text

[6] Bardan, K. (2007) Meeting the Universe Halfway, Duke University Press. pg 159 return to text

[7] Oppermann, S. (2015). Rethinking Ecocriticism in an Ecological Postmodern Framework: Mangled Matter, Meaning, and Agency, Frame Journal of Literary studies. pg 58 return to text

[8] Oppermann, S. (2015) Rethinking Ecocriticism in an Ecological Postmodern Framework: Mangled Matter, Meaning, and Agency, Frame Journal of Literary studies. pg 61 return to text

[9] Rigby, K. (2009) Writing in the Anthropocene: Idle Chatter or Ecoprophetic Witness? Australian Humanities Review, vol 47. pg 175 return to text

[10] Manes, C. (2008) Nature and Silence. Environmental Ethics. pg 15 return to text

[11] Morton, T. (2009) The Mesh, Uncanny Ecology, Literature and the Environment, University of California. return to text

[12] Oppermann, S. (2013) Material Ecocriticism and the Creativity of Storied Matter. Frame Journal of Literary studies. pg 59 return to text

[13] Oppermann, S. (2013) Material Ecocriticism and the Creativity of Storied Matter. Frame Journal of Literary studies. pg 65 return to text

[14] Haraway, D. J. (2015) Anthropocene, Capitalocene, Plantationocene, Chthulucene: Making Kin, Environmental Humanities, Vol. 6. pg 160 return to text

 

 

 

Luna Mrozik Gawler is a researcher, writer and multidisciplinary artist based in Melbourne. In all areas, her work explores the circumstances and consequence of human relationships with the biosphere. Her written work has appeared or is forthcoming in Going Down Swinging, Bombay Gin, the Tishman Review and Roar Journal. She is currently engaged in a Masters of Creative Writing at the University of Melbourne.

 

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TEXT
Vol 22 No 2 October 2018
http://www.textjournal.com.au
General Editor: Nigel Krauth. Editors: Julienne van Loon & Ross Watkins
Creative works editor: Anthony Lawrence
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