At first, I wanted to speak to my father.
It's probably the closest I've come to "leaving a space empty so that God could rush…" into my writing.
Not that I believe.
I found that I had "no use in a centre" because he doesn't have one.
Once I accepted that he was never going to make sense to me I started to feel at ease with writing in blankness and silence,
in the hope that some part of him would find a way into my work.
But maybe that's the thing about leaving spaces: there's no knowing who will accommodate them in our absence.
In those places between emptiness I found echoes of you.
Your presence became swollen, hung heavy from my words like a placenta.
I tried to find the balance between your weight and my own.
The "unhomely" way we reflect each other.
When I speak of an unhomely reflection I mean that moment of strangeness when the boundaries between you and me become more blurred and confused.
My own 'I' is brought out into the open, reflected from you, and the boundaries between us fall away.
It is interesting how, while writing this, I have in my own work created a space where the private and the public merge into one another.
A case of mistaken identity:
A photo of your parents and you as a child.
words can't carry the weight
i cut parentheses on thighs
to make a place for you
"Tidal wave don't sing...
Tidal wave crash"
I have many memories of gazing at my reflection as a young child.
In windows, mirrors, or any shiny surface.
With this comes the recollection of your voice.
"Stop looking at yourself in the mirror."
"Why do you keep looking at your reflection?"
Much later in my life I snorted some DMT and looked into a mirror.
My face was an infinite golden palace, an eternal opening of window after window.
My long, brown hair turning into thick tree trunks.
I held onto the bathroom sink for dear life.
My best friend, Molly, came back home after I came down.
I told her about my experience, sniffing agressively between each breath.
This reminded me of a passage from Lacan's essay on the mirror stage:
"the formation of the I is symbolised in dreams by a fortress, or a stadium – its inner arena and enclosure, sur- rounded by marshes and rubbish tops, dividing it into two opposed fields of contest where the subject flounders in quest of the lofty, remote inner castle whose form... symbolises the id in quite a startling way."
The mirror is so important in our development because it is our first way to establish a connection between the "Innenwelt" and the "Umwell".
Our way of understanding that our inner world is separate from the world around us.
It is our first realisation of ourselves being an 'other' to something.
The I comes into being through our association with an image outside ourselves which presents to us the duplicity of our existence; that we can both be inside and outside at the same time.
It is the moment of fragmentation.
The I which comes out of this rupture is how we compensate for not being completely inside all the time.
I find it interesting to entertain the idea that this endless window palace surrounded by nature which I saw was my I.
That this I was reflecting into the mirror while the mirror was reflecting it.
That my mind had created its own mise-en-abyme to represent my ego.
Not that a hallucination can be reflected of course.
Winnicot begins his essay 'Mirror-role of Mother and Family in Child Development' with this sentence:
"In individual emotional development the precursor of the mirror is the mother's face."
The importance of this is highlighted by the fact that at four months a baby can see faces "at nearly adult levels, even while other images are still being analyzed in lower levels of the visual system."
The face of the parent is, quite simply, the first image that an infant will see as itself.
This will be the case until the baby begins to distinguish the world into the "not-me" and the "me".
The mother's face comes before the mirror, meaning that, the mirror symbolically reflects the mother for the child in adulthood.
"When the average girl studies her face in the mirror she is reassuring herself that the mother-image is there."
The mirror then doesn't just reflect the mother but becomes a way for the child to connect to the mother.
This picture intrigues me because of the point of views show between the three subjects:
The picture is of my reflection meaning that you were looking at it when you took it.
The reflection wears a look of familiarity whilst looking towards the side.
Even though my reflection isn't looking at me, the mirror is still acting as a perception of me.
This is what the picture captures: the act of being perceived by a mirror.
But here I am looking at, and favouring, another mirror instead.
You: my mother.
"When I look I am seen, so I exist."
It is only when we see ourselves as distinct from the world around us that we understand we exist.
After the all-encompassing world without inside or out emerges the I.
"When you look I am seen, so I exist."
In this picture, you are perceiving my reflection.
This is not the same thing as being seen.
Being seen is the precursor to existence, not being perceived.
For a long time I could only reflect.
It is when you can't see that I am perceived, I reflect, and don't truly exist.
You always told me the story of when I was very young and we walked into that flower shop.
Apparently, the woman behind the counter saw us and called her friend over.
"Come look at this!"
She was taken aback by how alike we looked.
We still get this now.
I am mistaken for your sister more often than I am recognised as your daughter.
your little nesting doll
come look at this
glass blown heart
I got a pixie haircut before I went to university.
Somehow I had forgotten that this was the exact same hairstyle that you had at the time.
It is when I try to change myself beyond recognition that I end up looking and acting most like you.
Objects in the mirror are closer than they appear.
This is why I find it easier to speak to you over the phone.
I am not seen but neither am I being perceived.
I went in search of your still dead husband through photos and documents.
Whatever history I could get my hands on.
The physical act of touching brought these items into the present, made it possible for me to access something intangible.
Anne Carson's thoughts about history in 'Nox' are something I have carried with me while writing this.
"Autopsy is a term historians use of the 'eyewitnessing' of data or events by the historian himself, a mode of authorial power."
I am in control of how I present these images to you.
In creating this work, it is what I have decided not to show that has taught me more than what I have placed here.
I performed an autopsy more on your body than his when I performed his elegy.
When I read his autopsy report it told me nothing.
It's much easier to create a history of someone you know.
"We want other people to have a centre, a history, an account that makes sense"
Part of what has drawn me to our shared history (and your history without me) are the parts that haven't made sense to me.
I am aware that by writing this I am searching but I am not looking for a centre.
I am looking and witnessing for its own sake.
To experience this as a continuous process as opposed to expecting to reach something at the end.
how to baptise yourself:
take something sharp
something hard on the eyes
connect the dots
from cervix to chest
doesn't take much to
force an opening
submerge your head in me
take a breath
when i write i embalm you
drain rank fluids
veins stiff with methanol
mouth wired shut
To have a parent is to have someone on call to perform an autopsy at any given moment.
Sitting across from you, again.
Tears strung behind my eyes.
Tight electric wires.
It is when we argue that I feel myself shrinking into a child.
Further back than that.
I have to think about breathing.
sheathed in blood
blushing width of your skyline
artieries of countries
turning like a mobile
i am becoming harder more
compact as your words curl up in my throat
air hissing out of them
the way water does
when i can't keep anything down
keep going down
gorge myself until i crown at the mouth
I think about our shopping trips.
My soft hips jutting out awkwardly in the unforgiving light.
Suck it in.
No that's too fitted.
Go up a size.
Hiding is more flattering.
Are you crying?
Don't be silly.
"to the touch
i'm serrated periphery, features fine
as a coin's. turned sideways, i'm barely there & this is good."
Suck, Molly Pearson.
When you turn away from me into your profile where do you go?
Molly and I have been eating
This makes me anxious.
I feel the space around me shuffle as if I were in a crowded room.
I apologies for taking up more space than I feel like I should.
"You are not out of proportion.
You are slim."
"No I'm not."
Later that night I look in the mirror.
Measure out my hips and take a step back.
I have to do this several times before it sinks in.
When I told you I was writing an elegy for my father you did something incredible.
You came down to Norwich and brought with you old photos, saved documents, cards and letters you received both while he was ill and after he died.
While looking through old photos of you and him when you went on holiday I found this note you had written to him.
It was before my time.
Finding this felt like trespassing.
I wondered if you had known this note was in there, and if you hadn't, whether you would have wanted me to see it.
i get cold
flatten over the corners
of your light body stretch
marks congeal on my stomach
like menstrual blood
your lips always touching
you have tried to make a space for me
it is not big enough
hot fat spills over the edges
i am trying to make a space for you
to come into and fill
this is too much for a page
or for you
Claudia Rankine says that loneliness is "what we can't do for each other".
After he died I couldn't sleep and used to come to your bed.
This went on for a few days until you told me that I had to sleep on my own.
It must have been hard sleeping in the same bed with someone who wasn't him.
What I wanted you couldn't give to me.
I understand that now.
You wanted to be lonely.
Loneliness is also what I will not do for you now.
Call it spite.
i try on your clothes
they are too tight
you still let your dead husband pinch
your blood like a bed bug
refuse to change the sheets
a lemon smile
on my cut knuckle
This is a line that sticks out for me from the first poem I wrote about you almost 3 years ago now.
Back then I used to hide in my writing too.
Wrote things and didn't know what they meant.
Relied solely on intuition.
I still do this to a certain extent.
I think what my meant to articulate was that my cut knuckle was in the shape of a 'lemon smile'.
I also think it wasn't even a cut on my knuckle.
I was thinking about the space on my finger just above the knuckle.
Poetry is like this though.
An impossible act to follow.
You have always known I would write about you.
You admitted this to me during an argument.
It hurt us both when you said it and I have carried those words with me through the process of creating this work.
I can only address you here because I hope you won't ever read this.
Call it shame.
I wanted "to speak to someone instead of to the nothingness at the end of writing" but if you don't read this, aren't I doing just that?
That doesn't mean the possibility of it happening doesn't still exist somewhere.
I see you pushing me along the streets.
Pale from all my screaming.
You look so tired.
You must have tried everything to help me fall asleep.
I am your first child.
A harmless stranger sees this and approaches you, an older woman with experience.
She looks kindly upon you and says:
"Don't wish it all away."
You tell me this story with a smile on your face.
I wish I had been there to tell you that you had every right to be miserable.
Every right to be a person, not just a mother.
"By offering a word, the subject putting himself forward lays himself open and, in a sense, prays."
Berry, Emily, Stranger Baby (London: Faber and Faber, 2017)
Bhaba, Homi, 'The World and the Home', from Social Text no 31/32 (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1992)
Carson, Anne, Nox (New York: New Directions, 2009)
Lacan, Jacques, 'The Mirror Stage as Formative of the Function of the I as Revealed in Psychoanalytic Experience', from Ecrits, a Selection, trans. by Alan Sheridan (London: Routledge Classics, 2001)
McClure, Max, 'Infants process faces long before they recognise other objects, Stanford vision researchers find'
Nelson, Maggie, The Argonauts (Minnesota: Graywolf Press, 2015)
Rankine, Claudia, Don't Let Me Be Lonely (London: Penguin, 2017)
Winnicot, D. W., 'Mirror-role of the Mother and Family in Child Development', from Playing & Reality (London: Tavistock, 1971)