LOUISE BOURGEOIS: INSOMNIA DRAWINGS
SHE COURTED SLEEP BY DRAWING SHEEP, THEN ONE WAS DRAWN TO HER
friend sheep, if i stretched wide enough
i could give birth to a child like you:
a round-eyed barrier against normality,
a rare breed indeed, not a marie antoinette pet.
legendary plus que prehistoric.
a sheep like you at my knees
and pre-ruined trade routes at my feet,
and we would be in Sumeria.
dans la nuit it was lost, a closet heterosexual;
my children’s successful sleep rendering me antimaternal
as if my body had not gaped, was a gap, was immaterial.
so i placed my hands between my legs, found fleece,
began to pull, till wonderstruck i ushered you
into my studio, away from the world, from the waking world.
peaceable and only slightly sinister
since languageless and eager in your bleating
about the silence brushing up against us from all sides,
my darling newborn ancient beast,
unboxed and not for sacrifice.
i count on you. take us away.
cross another and another stile.
nibble your way through the hedge of mist
springing from the Hudson,
through the thorns of light thrown up
by the Atlantic; voyage safely, amicable sheep,
into France; no questions asked.
i would flatten with you into tapestry,
my hair and yours washed by handfuls in the river,
vu que, in profound night and these circonstances,
it is déjà as if insomnia hangs us, already
hooked to a wall.
INSOMNIA DRAWING BY LOUISE BOURGEOIS, FEATURING A BEAST WITH DOUBLE EYELIDS AND FLYING OBJECTS THAT ARE NEITHER EARLY WARPLANES NOR A LOST, CODED ALPHABET OF WASPS
In this esquisse, the snake, if Freudian, is phallic, simple and part of a complex in the quasi-scientific sense, rather than being the rustling thing that sheds its skins and lives by seasons and for reasons not for our making out.
Insert a logical connector here; c’est ce qui
manque dans ce texte.
This snake, however, seems to be related to the snake from the it-is-not-a-children’s-book written and illustrated by Saint-Ex, ace pilot and seducer, Antoine de St-Exupéry.
A logical connector is not necessary here; his territory was the desert, and I speak
in tongues of insomnia, metal wafers that burn.
In the book of St.-Exupéry, the first serpent was a boa; more exactly, boa fermé, a phrase which means neither a farmed boa nor a boa sauvage, but rather a closed boa that had swallowed an elephant and in its suède distension was misapprehended by adult viewers who did not discern a boa in replete speedhump profile, but a somewhat lop-sided, well-worn hat.
Here the logical connectors are supplied
by the audience as if in a collective
dream: a dream of waking, and of waking
again, and waking with an effort, trying to force the
buds of day-name and doorknob, but
after all these wakings, waking only
Accordingly, the snake Louise Bourgeois has placed to slide as snakes do: as if reversing gravity, their remarkable unity of woven muscle being the art that conceals art: this snake perches, as if sheepish, on the slope of a mound not so difficult to ascend – this snake is overlooked not by a little planet with its boy and rosebush, such as orbits through the pictures in St.-Ex’s book – this snake finds itself observed by a web-centric spider which has a jubilant air, as do most spiders, as if let in on the secrets of time – this snake, if taken to be at best akin to the boa escaped from the arid pages of St.-Ex, appears to be climbing partway over itself, over a boa fermé from which both boa and swallowed elephant have been rubbed out, reduced to outline which, being line, has perhaps direction, but no thickness.
In conclusion, this snake is hors de soi,
expelled by its own process.
Poor, menacing, insomniac snake, self-exiled from the warm rolling hill of its digestion; a snake no longer contentedly, interiorly afloat.
“I GIVE EVERYTHING AWAY”: A PARCEL CONTAINING THREE (3) SLEEPS (CUSTOMS & RESALE VALUE NIL): UN CADEAU POUR MADAME
Dear Louise Bourgeois,
In helpless admiration, I place at the threshold of your lidless doodles a parcel of unlikely sleeps, sleeps which I have ascended like slopes and others that overcame me like waves; for as the action of sleep on the body is obvious, so should the words be, stunning like a mallet falling off the wall onto the head of a folktale fool, all-assuming like a politician pressing the doorbell to a block of flats where the time-decayed wiring has morphed into tufts within the ears of the bricks; sleep, being the gentlest aggressor, assembles these words and gangs up on you; sleep gangs up, for sleep presents as several, a sundering and dissolution of already-unstuck selves, and one sleep passes into another sleep; and in bringing you the confession of unlikely sleeps, I wish for you, too late, wakefulness as a choice; for insomnia is the violent partner of sleep, it is an abuse of time that resembles chosen vigil as a condemnation resembles a destiny, as a compulsion resembles artistic decision, as despair resembles espoir, as an alternative resembles a joyful need; as tuning up resembles music, as settling resembles true love.
The First Unlikely Sleep
Did not want to wake up in the hospital. No. Reorder words. In the hospital. Did not want towake up. Wanted not to wake up.
In the other life had been the eight-year-old lying across two chairs; the bursting appendix; vomiting in the hallway under the peaky-roofed building’s nursing-home witch’s hat; the political nurses in a free and democratic election year summing up the parents by race, by class; the unfinding of surgeons; the disavailability of anæsthetists. Almost the last known to the child, before the chasm to be made in its flesh. Months later, too well known, the expressive brimming, dollops of colour from the chasm, the side that would not squeeze shut.
General anæsthetic provoques numbness. General anæsthetic precludes dreams. Nonetheless dreams displaced anæsthesia. Nonetheless busyness displaced numbness. Busyness is proper to sleep and to dreaming. As rivers are the salient characteristic of a watercourse’s redirection, both depth and surface, so the nearness of consciousness is a grand source of sleep and of dreaming. In a building with many levels, many people moved, whose murmured speech kept the child enthralled, awake within the dream within the melting anæsthetic, feeling no inclination towards a second waking.
I wish for you, too late, I wish sleep as a happy occupation.
The Second Unlikely Sleep
Madame, just as your clock, in having twelve hours, truly has twenty-four, and just as the unclosing eye, egged on by objects that would have preferred their secret nocturnal life to remain unobserved, undisturbed, just as that wakeful eye turns opaque like a steel ball bearing and refuses to take a view, drawing instead from that which is most inward – the telephone-wire spine, the peaks that the mind (after the fact of the sketch by the hand) might rationalize as life-and-soul-of-the-city pulses but that are even more inward, registering the nervous agony of enfleshed mathematics informing us of our kinship with patterns of music, copulation, rooftiles and rain – just so I wish to lay, alongside and between this metring-by-gallery of your insomnia, a little simplicity: the sleep I stole from a song in a hall where my ex stood enraptured by a swimsuited guitarist who plunged about in a state of girlish roaring; hear how fast, sound and simple this sleep when I climbed into immunity to external stimuli and, careless of what was being amplified all around me, careless even more of my ex’s emotions, like a centipede curled inside a fur slipper, like your dead husband hogging the duvet, found a flat surface and slept.
I wish, too late, I wish to give you that rest.
The Third Unlikely Sleep
You took to using sheets of music paper, if at first because they were there, soon for their other and purposeful powers of signification.
My mother has great trouble practising staccato on the piano with her arthritic fingers. She tries out the meant-to-be-rapid-fire movement note by note. From these detached, successive efforts, a shape of music emerges. It is as if the idea of bread can be established from a loaf with the crumb pecked away by a bird, the crust remaining like a frame.
How long had it been raining, drizzling, that day; easier to calculate than how long since another human being had touched this one with care. It laid itself straight out, unanæsthetized, on the table, for the silvery-cool instruments to dig and chisel into its patient side. The rain, the drizzle, was less than that winter in New York which accumulated liquid and broke in you like the rolling of a river magnified by nostalgia, a river turning over European r’s. It was less than that; yet under the doctor’s metal touch I slept, lulled by the quality of her surgical attention and by the sound de la pluie outdoors.
I wish the ease of sleep had salved you; but the artist being both patient and doctor, you excised, bit by bit, the rosy heart of little things that have genesis in insomnia – the feeling of rotation, the idea of houses – creations, but not always of a kind to be named.
tonguetwisters the gestes d’un arbre are made of sourcils
the robust arbuste take as read
the standard buisson take as read
business of roses take as read
a standard rose chandelier
a standard lamp roses from the air
La serre est trop petite pour les caisses
muffled effect of shears on sheep
oreilles de lapin
“Nobody can take my style, it is not possible,
at least not for long. do not fret.”
sleep comes in ropes & fruits, pears sleep is initially a stylized form
en somme, as we recollect it,
flowers are heliotropic
we cannot grasp the sun – we can grasp a sea urchin
the grand earth-spanning arc of sunrise is fictive, only our calculation makes a globe
three dancing princess even astronauts can’t
wore out their slippers completely think about
dancing through the night the sun
sooner a prostitute, a driveway, a hedgehog
not-just-doodles because eye of the hurricane
burqa’d fingerpuppets sea anemone
a labyrinth of breezes
la dame moves the damier of sleep
check mate shah mat
another & another square
earrings, pillow, oreiller
a feeling of home rises
from this path, it’s an approach; sleep has an architecture with a way in,
does insomnia, too,
where is the way out?
the eye set well back in a bird’s head
exploser exposer plumage & high heels
featherdusted & tumbleweeded but not to sleep
levitating sleep is a matter of levitation
insomnia fixed on a stick
as if on the beach je joue aux boules
coulante – terrifie
one house is a shaded version of another house
all chemins lead to france
converge, concentric, intersect
le phénix renaît de ses cendres
houses shoot up like lipsticks
the many peaks are plain & tight
“she stepped on a mind”
on music paper quelle est le rythme d’une nuit blanche
un sans-papier dans le royaume de l’art
smiley breastbone, sleepless nipples on which closed-mouth criticisms converge
but how very pretty things are, french girls’ hair, a bouquet of
balloons; why don’t they float her out
everywhere i carry a sheep across my shoulders, wide peasant stride
“DO “may cocoon one self, another
not I [banality of a fight, duvet]
disturb” come in”
labyrinth eye centre of its propre labyrinth
dirty labyrinths with unruled lines
eye becomes an architecture / entravé in its architecture
“Sainte mouton”? she holds on to the
“Sureté mouton”? holy
“Secrète mouton”? holy dread which is
Je crois, dur comme fer, au format journal, diary
“the garden notebook, côte-garden of all my houses”
skittles of sleep stick insect
Ça ne fait ni queue ni tête but I still love it
long-stemmed flowers longer & longer-stemmed flowers
if i can join this mountain & the other mountain, there will be france
chevelures précieuses if i raise my arms what rains down
for a canopy / circus if i lower my lids i start to flower
when sleepless i imagine people i know in emblematic postures
hair scattered on the shoulders charming carried out to sea on turtles’ backs
[have all your dreams in a row]
the cold at the core sleepless, i radiate cold solar, once again
must live radial
[give everything away]
“I Give Everything Away”
Copyright Vahni Capildeo 2014
Vahni Capildeo is a Trinidadian writer of poetry and prose. Her most recent book, Utter (Peepal Tree 2013), was inspired by her time working at the Oxford English Dictionary. Her current project is titled Shameless Acts of Ekphrasis.