Parallel Gallery
and Journal


Lisa Robertson

My guide and I carefully selected our item which I then purchased using my father's money. I still remember clearly our journey back from that indiscrete neighbourhood: the lattice of little streets brindled with soft rain; the cheerful and nonchalant passing of messengers who we imagined were accompanying or parsing our gentle excitement; the way the late shadows made bowers for our tenderness, there among the sooty shops peddling used cups and hairpieces, and the hawkers and their fractured syntax, and the smell of spoiled fruit lingering in the moist air like an outmoded style of punctuation. Each matched, quickening step we took was a fresh conceit for the fibrous intimacy this new item promised to ambassador; or rather it was old content, even, though I may seem indelicate, used, since the tiny, poorly lit shop where we had chosen it, a shop whose shabbiness was strangely distinguished by the murmur of cultish erudition and disdain among its cloaked habituŽs, offered many slightly differing items, some enigmatic as to the techniques of their application, others of an obtuseness that titillated our inexperience though seeming to promise only minimal subtleties, but all related in their concupiscence and great antiquity. Each was a genred enigma of ancient dignity. We had chosen only after having appealed to the somewhat intimidating expertise of the shopkeeper who had, with hushed authority, advised us to consider methodically both the unique and the banal qualities of each item until a latent texture compelled itself towards our skin. Now, on the strewn pavements, our urgency increased in proportion to the luxurious withdrawal of light from the greased sky. We ignored the crowds that we resembled. This was a journey of hurried, determined steps, of distant irregularities, of involuting grammars, of tumescence and slurried rain. I tightened my clasp on the scarlet packet that seemed so generously to absorb the pulse of my anticipation. I believed that soon my cherished guide and I would become dependents of experience. We hardly limped at all.

The weather smeared a ripe grey evenly over the lengths of our bodies. My guide and I talked about cold things to punctuate our adjacency. Sometimes our sentences began to cancel our flesh, their stately clefts of emotion erasing our bounded proprieties. And yet the hard structures of our palates were palpitating something tender and immaculate. I wanted to think I was commensurate with our marbling breath; during the onset of this journey I couldn't imagine memory or sleep, only the unpractised intimacy of fingers and jewels. And I must refer also to our phonemes which in the soft air seemed to gloss earth with its sullen particles. Our woollen sleeves mingled their shining, raised sheaths; my heart was suspended in the icy sky, sifting and rationing gesture. Early evening had pulled after it an imprecise dusk. All of this gave us more time. Our desultory conversation had veiled the inadvertent transgression of our route into the Secular District. The courts of my fathers sanctuaries trickled their viscous light into the scoured streets. Hewn columns flanked our trepidation. A tersely bent figure passed with tight-hipped gait, purposefully diminishing into the hostile iteration of a colonnade. We exposed ourselves to grimly imagined dangers in navigating this district: in fact this was necessary since such foreboding protected our bodies with hot surges of attentiveness. We scanned the shadowed gateways and clinging porches; we realized we would be known by our steps if they were heardby savants. Our ambered fragrance also distinguished us from the obliterate bodies that frequented this district, and the woollen coats brushing our ankles were of a flexible cut little appreciated by tenured priests and acolytes. I slipped our purchase into my deep inner pocket. The subtle pressure of its weight against my torso transferred to me a sensation of quietude, as if that latinate sweetness drew to itself the spontaneous rhetoric of happiness - I felt, like Creusa, both inviolate and assuaged.

Beyond the porticoed towers the broad street rose to address a sort of quincunx or grove. Generations of acolytes had remapped the city's inchoate routes to lead to their district's venerated mound. My guide and I, like many other travellers, were pleased to briefly enjoy the hospice of that thick set wood. For we were not alone among the pedestaled trees that named the myths of liberty. We knew our sylvan companions among pommier d'Antoinnette, Fiennesque elm, Nosier de Certeau, by the same means we had feared would precipitate our own recognition. Garments of rare subtlety and variety spoke the generous courage of their wearers - soft seams modelled mobile torsos, drape of ineluctable cloths both foregrounded and refined gesture and gait, fanning collars shielded the tenuous vulnerability of throats. But as we penetrated the semi-lit margin of foliage to join this covert gathering, we saw, half concealed in cedar and prodigious mist, a gold cab with brazen threshold. Through dark glass the leaning driver covertly signalled. The door swung open on mute hinges. We entered the insuperable femininity of neglect. We receded into upholstered anonymity.

I would prefer to narrate an indiscernible movement towards a pronoun caked in doubt, but the gentle rocking of the car, the mock innocence of gesture, the closed-in heat, hid certainties. I did not know that these surfaces locked. In that life, in that narrative, a shared object shaped our moral cusp. I thought of my guide, who was like a text that converts itself through the most inexplicable activities - erased reflexes, ineptitude, insensitive deposits - as if the dispersed will could simply become something. Under the faintly saffron skin, beneath the curved black hairs that seemed engraved in their exactitude, under that loose skin with slight texture visible as a screen, a history of oblivious proportions hid itself in the brackish pleasure of its own autonomy. It was washed up into this fissure in the body like a swollen board would be. This history was giving my guide life from a slightly altered or washed perspective which seemed to me invaluable or at least precious. We were listing on stained upholstery in the back seat of the cab. Our loose comfort metred the pocked road, the sudden turns and pauses. Blurred neighbourhoods slid past the glass: indulged white sculpture, burnt odour coming forward, glass grid, fringes of dust, errant monument, lit inscription and condensed ornament, darkened market, republican lustre of oil on canal water, threshold, embassy, paper, mast. I thought about my guides stolid happiness, a happiness that circulated as a substance or a vapour might, sometimes to linger at the churlish skin, at other times to rush through the limbs as a mobility of means, and sometimes to pool around the gilded organs, remotivating the ancient tenure of introspection. My guide's was a practised thought which administrated unknowable generosities of detail with felicity. Yet this complexity was sparingly deployed. Observing my guide had taught me that happiness is the consolidation of complicities.

Undoubtedly I am misunderstood. Although I am not unaware of the fraught uses of this belling word 'complicity', the company of my guide had pleated, among its maligned syllables, intimations of the byzantine bonds fastening want to its soft cage. That 'we' in its moot atmosphere, clinking against knowledge and queens, was circumfluent to the propriety of doubt. If we were abstract, if we cupped ambiguity and translucence, we also gave to one another the spurious syntax of thought. Books swell and shirts flower: events please their geometry only by deferring bounds. But these words are vagaries that cannot indicate the wanton suppleness with which we attached ourselves to the tensing flesh. We were held to our wandering by permissive texts that also reconciled our itinerant lusts: our simplest membranes applied themselves to the world only under its querulous agreement. I know that when I say 'the world' I resort to a tired method of scraping at submerged pronominal obedience. Each pronoun was a willing link in a chain of a nonchalant extravagance that locked us to both luxury and thought. Hopefulness bent into its own opacity. Even the terse display of grief concealed reflexive superfluities. (I speak here of the civic grief that has passed from sorrow to anger, as such grief does during the extremes of ethical abandonment.) As love requires a politics, so worldliness cathects. Flower and beak both mimic and demand our spate.

Then, in the humming silence of the cab, movement of that inexorable body closer to mine. My guide said:

"There are distances so detailed you feel forced to construct belief. But it's the same finite drama of utterance. Something is not being represented."

"Twenty five miles away, antiquity soaks through the categories of derision, enforces the tenuous semblance of the body. Beneath the ochre syllables other syllables; beneath judgement, effaced codes of fear. The body is posed in its setting: but the big romantic rivers are analogies not rivers and their bridges are log bridges dripping creosote into silt. The bridge and the river are not landscape - nor is the forest, with its archival plenitude and entanglement. Those august fragments institute complicity's tenure and catalogue. They tilt the screens of judgement by cheating their dependents; they flaunt styles of defence engorged with guilt. They spend the florid texts of fated alliances. They import, then shame foreign structures of loveliness to buttress their greed. In the atrophied grammar of the sacred they compose the incommunicable biographies of need. Our clerical earth thus exudes itself. And the carved ruckus of milky bark is a diary of placation repeating ad infinitum "we want to love, we want to love".

"Or the heart's chic diphthong breaks. Black ink trickles through your arms and it has written landscapes. Across the broad valley one duped term of a simile declares itself autonomous. The trees have posed undreamed of questions. Do bright thrones yield civil shade? One day you will laugh at even this substitute, this obedience, this green hope."

Kids in their nylon halos of beauty were passing. We saw the streetlamps annotate their grace. Loose certainties of gait forestalled astonishment. Our car, still for a moment, occupied the centre of all their luminosity. I was witnessing my own desire, as if erased, and it was something like history: a frivolously maintained dependency on the cancelled chimeras of place, the obscene luxury of an analysis that rejects what it next configures as reversed. Nevertheless I wanted

Lisa Robertson is a Canadian writer whose recent work charts the complicitous pleasures and frictions of genre. One book, XEclogue (Tsunami Editions, Vancouver), a pastoral study, and in progress, an epic, Debbie. Co-edits the poetry journal Raddle Moon.