Jacquelyn Zong-Li Ross introspects on writing, belief, and motherhood during a night walk.
Part of Out of Focus, a series exploring ways to traverse the fog of unknowingness and indeterminacy.
I leave the apartment of my imagination against all mastery, but otherwise for no reason at all except to concoct the kinds of thoughts that pile easily rather than like a great mud. What is left unsaid but our suspended imaginations. I leave the apartment and right away: I’m stunned by your contradictory brightness. It’s so hard to understand. Born in a bog and still dreaming. What little I know of you and yet here we are—not godly, exactly, but weirdly haloed. We might have been considered imposters except that the security guard was looking the other way when we first entered and apparently the watching does not extend past the crossing of certain thresholds.
I leave the apartment of my imagination wearing my soul like a small children’s backpack, the chest strap securely fastened and pinching, and walk around in the dark at an hour when everyone I care about is asleep. This ritual, they tell me, is unhealthy and impossible to sustain, but no one but me knows just how vital it is, how close to my own disappearance. There’s an electric noise in the air here, over here around the foggy side of the glass, and every time I encounter it I feel available to the right and usable kind of language. Here alone marks the spot where the charismatic night bus comes.
I walk to set straight the mind that has been strewn about by mothering + exhaustion + the trickling of hours, days, people, calendars, things + the need to be available to everyone but also accountable to myself + the dream of being capable of overflowing love in the midst of it + the dream of new and newly possible kinds of writing + the problem of how to write into and about the less-than-known + wicked face of so much poetry-killing, capitalism + the end of the world in concept only + idealism so rough and true that it might as well be called walking in the dark.
There is no wrong here but the one left unmouthed, by me, by you, be it positively or negatively charged, positively or negatively capable, and when I touch the sky with the tops of my ears like a giant Easter bunny and let myself be defined by a god that is everywhere or nowhere at all . . . all I feel there is a whiskery skywriting. Who can blame me, in the end. Writing has always been my way in and out of society. I don’t know anyone who’d rather be sifting through rougher vapours.
So I proceed hazily but with a grand sense of aesthetics; no wish but to do each line good. Knowing that the merely clever in poetry is typically no good for society or the world, I proceed with a sense of my own garbage-y autobiography, a kind of raw accumulation of parts accidentally recorded but never really meant to be read. Just to do so, I think, would break the consent of the poem. Or . . . ? Your coat tails: elegant, despairing. Here we are, off-tape. Tell me everything you know.
Goodness and crispness and feeling destitute in the wake of it, this care work that deflowers all other respectable occupations. The project of growing younger and older, more ageless and more spineless, more stupid and more healthy, more gullible, more incomplete. Outside the apartment of my imagination, where we live with every intention to love and raise you a fearless human being, the project of past-obliteration smells like peach juice and sounds like car crashes; the project of future-manifestation: like the texture of halva and the temperature of shade. How ever am I to make sense of these surroundings, never mind relay to you the importance of cars and tall buildings—your meaning-making capacities are only just beginning to form and already, I’m not cut out for the work of explaining.
Think: The Singularity Probability of a Random Symmetric Matrix Is Exponentially Small.1 Who knows what other kinds of knowledge might be required. I hit each word squarely like a block of wood just to demonstrate my awareness of the social order, all the while making moves to transform myself tomorrow into a more fierce and inimitable body. Art as free as a seagull and as dependent on garbage collection. I seek it, drug-like, the more-than-solid. This crisis, quantifiable and not. This image, framed and floating. The probable collapse of us, while initially not as meaningful as we had hoped, nonetheless generates and later becomes more astounding. I wish I could destroy this line of reasoning but I am an imperfect generator.
The milking of the mother. The milking of the room. The milking of the air in it and its tiny body. The milking of the dresser drawers. The milking of the diaper bin. The milking of the open window, the closed window, the half- and three-quarters-open window. The milking of the widow spider and its twelve precarious offspring. The milking of the doorframe. The milking of the patterned rug. The milking of stupidity. The milking of art history, and other kinds of history, and war. The milking of no morals, absolutely no morals. The milking of the broken space heater. The milking of repair. The milking of the old computer. The milking of each other’s blisters, day into night into day. The milking of each late-night thought. All our grand ideas. All our real and plainest humours, our good and baddest muscles, our good and most unbearable frequencies.
The holding of the project of presence in my clammy palm. The holding that makes the project of absenteeism necessary at times, and not because there’s not work to do. The project of pause. The project of clean break. The necessity of it when it comes to the project of calling everything a project.
All of this, just another beating-heart method to relearn how to write after a long absence: the kind of absence that is irrecoverable. When they figure out how to reverse the direction of black holes I’ll still be here, of course I will, not necessarily in my body, which is watery and impatient, but the project of me, of you, and most of all the skeleton that every good project has. Does it hurt to talk about these kinds of personal things as “projects”? Even if I’m quite afraid of the bones of the things that I’ve made, the bones are the things that last the longest. I put this down and not-down because I think you know what I mean.
Tenderness so hard to come by but for the kind of time I am lacking. Tenderness minus all its weak mentions and applications. Still, what language do we have if not the kind that can afford to lie weakly; I wish everything for you: carelessness, luxury, overuse. The best and most useless clothing,2 if you wish it. The best and most uselessly big-stoned fruit.
I pull weeds all night long outside the apartment of my imagination where we are responsible for everything: the grass, the windows, the roof, the pipes. I am not capable, I am not capable, of love, of weeds, and if I write accidentally or at all it’s only because I believe in the power of reverse creation to return me to a place of belief. Apartments do not exist there, in that other place of belief. Apartments do not exist in or outside of that other imagination. I dream wildly of never coming or going from it. Never paying for the insides or the outsides of it. I dream wildly, even while being cognisant of the kinds of tropes that plague bad writing, and, most of all, the bad writing that flows from dreams.
Still, I experiment with generosity in language and form as if generosity in language and form had something to do with my recovery. It comes over me, just walking around my neighbourhood, looking at tulips and basic shells, crossing long stretches of pavement at speed, and feeling, all the while, a kind of short-medium-long about that which appears to come so easily to others but will never come easily to all. How do I know for sure that the tiny vibrations produced by my humming aren’t rattling islands into or out of being? As for just how this flower can be so pink . . . I fear forgetting the more specific name of it even though I never knew it to begin with. I am helpless to all of this, but for my selfish wish to be forgotten first: even by things which have no agency.
The protagonist treads lightly on the snow of the world so as not to feel too cursed by the prerequisite of their trampling something just to move and be moved. Thin and metallic, I shimmer here like a loosely fit key. Here we go now, come along, deeper into the forest, deeper and deeper into this sad, brave, cheery, gruesome, barely-a-forest where we’ve been walking. What kind of world is made and then immediately taught to fall apart? I could cry here but for my lack of understanding. What did/could/will transpire. No way out but deeper into the valley of the poem.
Without meaning to, I cast you faintly in the image of my wishing, my wishing that doesn’t know what it takes to grow a soul; this is not writing. I leave the apartment of my imagination and find nothing as I left it when I return. My brain cells, reorganised. Little bruises on my body from being grabbed by small hands. No violence except for the things I do to me, in the apartment of my imagination, the apartment that was never meant to be inhabited. What will I feed you, today, today, and tomorrow, when there is nothing in the fridge but a lemon and a bottle of sparkling water to refresh the dead?
This process has made me someone surprising: someone with strong arms and legs that melt in the presence of a child but harden when they are incensed to perform or protect. The work I do daily is not the work that I thought yesterday I would do, but my delirium and hunger for rhythm keep my small actions viable. Holding, turning, listening, turning, lifting, turning, receiving, are all better than the knowledge that a star’s light only reaches us many years after it has already died . . . this kind of knowing is not good for anyone.
Should writing for me no longer exist, the night walk, then, will be all that remains of my work: as serious, still, in its seduction and its intensity. I have no more access to it than I do sleeping hours, but the fact that it can be occasionally had and at the verticality I require of language sends the molecules of me waving, knowing full well that without this version of me I am useless, without it I am a small, shell-less crab, without it I have no bones and will be easily crushed by the first person who comes along. Without it I will surely be stamped into the tide, without this night walk that also makes secretly possible again, writing.
I leave the apartment of my imagination and step out into the container of the draft, feeling at once nervous and full of shit, body bent to the angle of expectant mother, expectant host. This writing that does not exist: arrive, so I can be sure that all this isn’t just for our subsistence. Coping with the existence of. Blown fortitude. Consider. These missives, besides. These portals, besides. Flying below you. Coping with the existence of. Consider, consider this, this manner of living. This behaviour of coping with and acting on the leftovers. Manic coping, midnight. Gracious coping, fortnight. Randomness and difficulty, randomness and comedy, randomness and feeling, not-feeling.
Jacquelyn Zong-Li Ross is a writer and editor based in Vancouver, the unceded territories of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm, Sḵwx̱wú7mesh, and səlilwətaɬ nations. Her fiction, poetry, essays, and art criticism have appeared in BOMB, C Magazine, The Ex-Puritan, Fence, Mousse, and alongside exhibitions and artist projects at The Bows, Centre Clark, Franz Kaka, Mercer Union, SFU Galleries, Susan Hobbes Gallery, and elsewhere. Her chapbooks include Mayonnaise and Drawings on Yellow Paper (with Katie Lyle). She publishes occasional books by artists and writers under the small press Blank Cheque, and is presently the Art Editor of The Capilano Review, a westcoast journal of experimental art and poetics. Her current manuscript expands on “Night Work.”
1. In reference to the title of a mathematics paper co-authored by Marcelo Campos, Matthew Jenssen, Marcus Michelen, and Julian Sahasrabudhe in 2021.
2. This phrase is borrowed from the title of Claudia La Rocco’s collection of essays, performance texts, and poems, The Best Most Useless Dress (Badlands Unlimited, 2014).
Banner Image: Opening night at 300 Drawings held at Big Sky Mind Artists' Projects (Quezon City, Philippines), 1999. Manila Artist-Run Spaces Archive, AAA Collections.
- Poetry & Fiction
- Fri, 13 Oct 2023