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Predictions of breakfast, near-perfect revolutions, Louveciennes, stolen flowers, orange-speckled beds, true vision, Cardiazol injections, the cult of the unconscious, lavender gardens, & Anaïs Nin.


Houseboat Days (A Preface): Messina

September 15, 2015

I am blessed to wake up to the sun’s rays directly on my face, Mount Etna’s smoky peak, Branko tuning his acoustic guitar, no predictions of breakfast except by Maggie’s disappearance and what I have learned on other, similar mornings: you are staying with Canadians, and we will share pot after pot of coffee.

Huge swells of the first night kept me largely awake, rocking back and forth while I tried to find solid grounding; at sea, the constellations are what fill you. The swells have never been this big, the whole time we’ve been sailing. It’s a new moon, a lunar eclipse, Maggie said. Branko said there must be something at sea. Autumn’s grey solstice.


For how many is it enough not to move toward these bones? A nomadic spirit is hard to tie down.


I pissed in buckets, just to stay out of the boat’s interior, where I would be locked in again. (At sea, the constellations are what anchor you.) I took Gravol after Gravol every time I woke up my first night, returning to the only position—a near-fetal pose—that the curve of the stern allowed.

An ancient town overlooked my sleeplessness. I could see Taormina from where I rocked, could see its lights and monastery and dry slopes that made it resemble North Africa. The same ruins I would stare into the next afternoon, excavated in light, after coffee and cards and swimming, music. The same ruins that boasted of amphoras, statues—statuettes—anchors and earrings. If Maggie were a jewelry designer, she would base her craft on the earrings in Taormina, she said. The same ruins that showed me my first fig trees, olive trees, avocado and banana trees.

Compass Rose

Louveciennes

November 9, 2018

This street is narrow; cars slide often by, rustling the leaves of Louveciennes, and I feel safe on the curb across from your home. I wonder who painted the fence green; I remember I have arrived ninety years after you inhabited this home now set with engraving, marking it eternally yours. For five years you lived here, finding yourself outside the chaos of Paris that scared you, with its eroticism, its grut, but then, soon after, lent you its light.

The quiet solitude of 2 bis, rue de Montbuisson offered you space to write, space to play and to love—advantageous to the writer, who at twenty-six had not yet unearthed the vehicle to convey the large life you were living—the diaries, marked by the subjective “I,” esoteric, and not yet in reach to a 1930s crowd.


Rimbaud, known as the grandfather of modern-day bohemia—though parent to nothing, no one. Jean says, “Ah, no, the Rimbaud’s lived a very bourgeois life in Charleville, his letters from Africa, and Paris, always requesting more dough”—the rat poet, I said—he said, “Yes.”


I know the driveway here used to be made of loose gravel, for it was this sound that would alert you to your husband Hugh’s arrival when you had your guests. Now it is made of cobblestone, lavender gardens built around a static sensibility; movement has vanished. Hugh comes home no more, nor your father, whose first visit here gave meaning to the splits you had already deciphered in your being. I am nearing the points of “I”—and where are its boundaries? In some moving location around those dark lines? When have we overlapped? I am sitting outside of this home, considering taking a piece of mail from whoever lives here today, and laugh, knowing that that is one boundary, I found one. I wonder about the lives of those inside. How to live in a space where something sacred has happened?

For this is the sacred—I have performed the pilgrimage already, and now feel a merge with the fantastic, that which is intangible to those who walk by me as I sit on the curb. I am seeing all that I know through the words I read, and through my own body—and should I move my legs from rue de Montbuisson? This man wishes to park—seeing it through living colour, projecting onto the empty wire table and chairs in the front courtyard, and my walk up this hill as Henry Miller, excited to see his lover and creative confidante.

I hear a dog bark from within the stone walls and olive gates—its shadow eclipsing the slit of light between the door and wall, and giving me fair reason to walk away from this place—but what is around back? I do wish to know, for today is my twenty-sixth birthday, and I know it is time for me to write too.

Compass Rose

Anaïs Nin writes on the knife’s edge: finding multiplicitous places of potential—places of “and” rather than “either/or.” Nin’s double role as housewife in her days at Louveciennes, in between the World Wars, a time of suspension laid out through romantic liaisons—Mrs. Hugh Guiler, a banker’s wife; Hugh, the loving, static partner, her earth, for whom she kept things comfortable as she, mercurial, revolved, leaving notes; and Mrs. Miller, the writer’s muse, grocering, peeling potatoes, making coffee and editing, editing, editing.

In “The Emerging Woman,” a lecture Nin gave in 1973, she pored over these moments, and her inability, at the time, to articulate her ideas and feelings to the outer world. You see when I was twenty and I was unsure about what I was, I didn’t share.…I didn’t even talk with Miller very much. The ambiguity of the diary, an internal artifact, of privacy, something visceral: But I proceeded in the diary to build up this self—until I got to the point where I knew my identity, and therefore what I give to another cannot diminish me. Nothing is lost.[1]


The sun continues to recede; I begin to believe everyone has taken rest too, save for a lone lawnmower who takes this opportunity to rent the air for a single note.


Anaïs’ stream of images in the diaries are pulsars, emitting loyalty and rebellion; love and fear; flight and possession; protection and healing; the devourer and the devoured—A great artist is not meant to be consumed, but to devour,[2] says Kate about Kathy—What you give isn’t lost, says Anaïs. Leonara Carrington’s fire, faded—momentarily—after a second Cardiazol injection in the Santander Sanatorium. August 25, 1943: “So you feel better Mademoiselle?…I am no longer seeing a tigress, but a young lady,”[3] her submission under the black boot of Doctor Don Mariano Morales more closely resembling the bondage he hopes for.

Artaud’s condemnation of Nin as she engulfs others: rebellion is awakened in direct relation to the degree of captivity. March 12, 1934: Emergence of the tigress! Devouring her Father—her capital—her lover—her Double. I will make men suffer—to mirror her own abandonment by Joaquín Nin—to take the joy out of his silly little cunt chasing.[4] May 10, 1933: I feel the tigress now! Under the goodness, under the sacrifices, under the pity, a burning pride.[5] Artaud on Nin: “a face of stone.” Anaïs: At night I come out and drink in the river.[6]

Compass Rose

Clouds quiet the sun, I am tired—and furthermore I am afraid to knock on doors here—Louveciennes is closed until afternoon. I take my cue to seek a place for repose in the park, finding my way downhill through a stony alley. The sun continues to recede; I begin to believe everyone has taken rest too, save for a lone lawnmower who takes this opportunity to rent the air for a single note.

I spot a statue of a tiger stretching the head off a goose and walk toward it, finding an inlet of leaves against a predatory island of yellow-speckled bushes. There is a pink hue to the air around me—the salmon houses, my rosy jacket, matched to the burnt-orange leaves that are partly suspended in air and partly submerged in the grass below, where I aim to rest.

Compass Rose

The clock strikes three and indicates openings. The boulangerie begins its work again; I am moved by the smell of croissants, leavening bread, and leave my orange-speckled bed.

It is while eating my baguette viennoise that I am overcome by the need to shit. I walk urgently back to the train station, finding only an empty, square room with two vending machines and a gated service window. Across the street from the station are two unhelpful française, running a real estate firm, who, upon hearing my request for a public bathroom, ask me why am I in Louveciennes anyway, do I work here? I answer needily, so pressed, I’ve come to see the home of Anaïs Nin—whose home is five minutes from us—to which they gesture more confusion, “Anaïs?” and answer finally to my bodily need, “You could ask town hall.” I run and, to my happy surprise, am allowed in. I bleed a little when I am finally able to shit. Inside, outside—nowhere to even buy my way into a bathroom—though when I exit town hall, a man calls Bonjour! to me as he smokes on his break, and I see the café/brasserie sign above his head, and realize I can buy a coffee and rest my ass.

Compass Rose

Seeing and hearing children play, bike down the narrow streets—humans have not changed in vision, yet the vision of humans breaks my fantastical projections of Anaïs, walking through these damp streets, in creation, in destruction—intangible energies mixed with my need for the tangible space, a skeleton to fill with flesh and blood, the blood of my mother, whose artistic unconscious was unearthed here, in Louveciennes.

Compass Rose

Charleville

November 12, 2018

I seek out a sculpture and find myself in a cemetery—Rimbaud’s grave at the fork, the crunchy gravel underfoot warning him of my arrival—we are already in conversation—he lies next to his young sister, but is alone—his letters so bitter near the end, renouncing his work—how could he resist the alchemy he had already found? The hours, spent and taken, by distilled colours, d’encre de Chine, the blackest of all inks, to the most iridescent golds?

My fingers wrap around the steel-wire gate folded around the grave.


I seek out a sculpture and find myself in a cemetery—Rimbaud’s grave at the fork, the crunchy gravel underfoot warning him of my arrival—we are already in conversation—he lies next to his young sister, but is alone—his letters so bitter near the end, renouncing his work—how could he resist the alchemy he had already found?


Here you are. Born on my birthday, a century before… You didn’t even get to see Patti Smith. The hair on my arms prickles. I think he wants a tease. Come with me. I smile and wonder how many others visit him here. Charleville, an intermittent home in between travels to Ghent, to London, to Harar, then Marseilles, a near-perfect revolution. For how many is it enough not to move toward these bones? A nomadic spirit is hard to tie down.

I sit at his feet and continue reading his letters. I discover he was not born on my birthday, but died on it—this gravestone will remember only death—and I stand up and walk out of the cemetery, breaking my oath to Ivana and Sasha (October 7, 2018: My kleptomania has become a problem) to steal three yellow flowers from a florist close by, and, returning to Arthur, kiss them and place them carefully on his crown.

Compass Rose

W     hat is wonder?” Anaïs’ first walk in the realm of public writing—a book on D. H. Lawrence, and a threshold of beginnings. The sensation of wonder, that rare inquiry into the divine: “It is the natural religious sense,” she answers.[7]

“And so, Lawrence lived with wonder. Whatever was beautifully congealed, static, was dead.” Anaïs makes room for herself by burying Lawrence—the textual evidence of her rich, interior life bringing Henry Miller, among others, to her doorstep at rue de Montbuisson.

She realizes Lawrence’s work as a throbbing blood circuit—Lawrence, her mouthpiece: “Feelings of the body, from its most extreme impulses to its smallest gesture, are the warm root for true vision.”[8] Anaïs titles her work “An Unprofessional Study,” to preemptively explain her lack of intellectual edifice—the mind so keen to create division, to eat us alive.

The time of the assassins, according to Miller, is what follows the moral crisis of the nineteenth century; those who find salvation through its spiritual bankruptcy do so through “a resurrection in the flesh,”[9] Rimbaud’s “desire to possess the truth in body and soul.”[10]


Now it is made of cobblestone, lavender gardens built around a static sensibility; movement has vanished.


Charleville, 15 May 1871, Arthur Rimbaud to Paul Demeny: The poet makes himself a seer by a long, prodigious, and rational disordering of all the senses[11]—the experiment that was cheated, in its final phase of development, causing fractures that would not grow together again for Rimbaud’s short life. Miller: “What a pity we have no record of the strange language he indulged in on the hospital bed…[where] dreams and hallucinations vie with one another in an endless fugue—and no audience but the devout sister praying for his soul.”[12] The body as a portal of our knowledge, its schizophrenias offer multiple visions. Frye: “In the double vision of a spiritual and a physical world simultaneously present, every moment we have lived through we have also died out of into another order.”[13]

Miller later writes of Lawrence, too; Anaïs’ psychoanalyst and lover, Otto Rank, suspects thievery. Miller’s letter to Anaïs: If I have buried [Lawrence], I have at least buried him alive.[14] Anaïs, to the diary, in defense of Henry: Hell, all of us imitate each other. I was set off by Rimbaud, wasn’t I?[15]

In search of the double, loitering.

Frye: “Our life in the resurrection, then, is already here, and waiting to be recognized.”[16]

Compass Rose

Reading Les Assis in my single bed with vine leaves and couscous, by hand—a drip of oil spilling onto the faded pink comforter—a single light bulb over my bed. I arrived back at my fluorescent pink and red hotel around 7 p.m.—I did not know how to spend a night outdoors—the bar nor carousel kept my interest for very long—the bar, its crackers and nuts, coffee and beer and reminders of home, helped drop me into my haze, pink-faced, soul ajar, though without the drive to put it to use—the carousel playing its Piaf, colourful rose and gold lights in the middle of Place Ducale, a carousel I may have wanted to ride a few years ago with Stanislas that now makes me sing at its side.

That night, I had so many dreams, about everyone in my life, the secondary characters—Jesse, in the classroom, who would not talk to me, except who laughed with me at my dad, who was showing our teacher Pulp songs and forgetting the band—Miki was there, though his presence forgettable—I remember Marlowe’s dreams, how she, too, writes them down, foreseeing my last performance at the Sellers & Newel Speakeasy, pink fluorescents and wedding dress, a confused bride, she wrote—my mum made me sad in my dream and I can’t remember why—Ivana plateaued—perhaps I’ve already experienced too much sensory stimuli this morning to enjoy my dreams in any more detail—the hotel breakfast offers a refillable pot of coffee, a delicious croissant—with butter and apricot jam!—a baguette, orange juice out of a wine glass. The room has red curtains, white parquet floors, and my pants pull into my vagina and make me miss my skirt. Mostly businessmen here, but one younger, serious man in a turtleneck—carrying a collection of Rimbaud—sits directly across from me, often stares. I think I will go to the museum now.

Compass Rose

I am playing a game of cat and mouse with the man from my hotel—I exit the museum and he is entering Rimbaud’s home across the street—I enter floor one and I can hear his footsteps in the staircase behind—I finish reading a framed poem by Rimbaud, and we trade places.

The museum was entirely in French, and I recognized the writings only from reading their English counterparts over the years. I stared at the portraits of Rimbaud, who is so beautiful in them that I understand our complete fascination with him. He is our granddaddy—in line with his fathers, he, too, fucked off—he is angelic in all visions.


A muse to men—of course!—but one who sips on the stuff of life, in an infinite state of becoming wholly herself.


I meet my mouse—Jean, a journalist for L’Obs in Paris, here to write a piece on the poet’s family—I ask if he speaks English, and his first answer is no, though he quickly follows up, saying yes, but he is lazy—we meet in Rimbaud’s bedroom—I tell him why I am here, I’m in Charleville for one day only—he will stay until Friday, to look through archives, to learn more of the poet’s sisters, brother, also artists, loosely—I tell him, I enjoyed our game throughout the museum—and that I am following the dead, though I wish to turn over, learn more of the living—he writes down his number in his book, rips it out and hands it to me.

Jean is renting a car to travel to Roche—Patti Smith bought Rimbaud’s resurrected home, destroyed by German bombs—and he will go, speak to an aunt, and return to Paris by the weekend. I fantasize about going with him, though I know I could not stay longer in Charleville, for I would be there solely for garçons dangereux, dangerous for their role in flash movements. I comment on how big Rimbaud’s room is, and he says, “Yes,” and I comment that I thought his family had no money. Rimbaud, known as the grandfather of modern-day bohemia—though parent to nothing, no one. Jean says, “Ah, no, the Rimbauds lived a very bourgeois life in Charleville, his letters from Africa, and Paris, always requesting more dough”—The rat poet, I said—he said, “Yes.”

Compass Rose

A rat is all I have been, scurrying through the streets of brotherly love/ I am where you were & I feel as if I could find you waiting.” Patti seeks the blood ties that first delivered her from harrowing factory days in Philadelphia. “I embraced [Rimbaud] as compatriot, kin, and even secret love.”[17]

Rivers of genealogy in House of Incest: “I see two women in me freakishly bound together, like circus twins. I see them tearing away from each other. I can hear the tearing.[18] The House of Incest, the Louveciennes home, corresponds: eleven windows for ten rooms, one window placed there for symmetry only, “one window without light like a dead eye…a room without a window where the mind and blood coalesced in a union without orgasm and rootless like those of fishes.[19] The cult of the unconscious exists in indefinite physical space.

Isabelle Eberhardt, Si Mahmoud Assadi: a Russian given name and a chosen Arab one, oscillating in a spectrum of feminine and masculine, French and Arabic, nomadic, and yet stabilized by love’s gestures. Writing through a composite of disparate selves, Isabelle leaves for North Africa to chase the immutable peace found in horizons the colour of azure and pale gold.[20] Her surrounding natural environment takes on the fluidity of the body.


I am playing a game of cat and mouse with the man from my hotel—I exit the museum and he is entering Rimbaud’s home across the street—I enter floor one and I can hear his footsteps in the staircase behind—I finish reading a framed poem by Rimbaud, and we trade places.


Bône, Wednesday 29 January 1902: We paused at the turn of the road that leads to the cemetery.…The bridge looked like the mystical one of the Slavic legend… All golden, it trembled slightly against the waters’ shifting background. A strip of grey cloud came between moon and water, so that its shadow could be seen there; the shape of a low dune with two promontories dividing the sea in two halves, one very blue, vast and bright, the other a dull, misty grey melting into the horizon. On the grey, there was a fishing boat with a Latin sail. There was no reflection of it on the waters’ misty surface; it was not moving, but seemed like a phantom vessel that vanished.[21]

Isabelle’s relation to her adopted home in France dissipates as she creates her own freedom by way of Islam, the Sahara Desert and her male alter ego, held by the shifting waters. It is Si Mahmoud Assadi, in hooded cape, who is drowned in the desert by an astrologically predicted flash flood, Algerian Atlas Mountains, at age twenty-seven.

Compass Rose

Anaïs: “I remember my first birth in water.”[22] Anaïs moves from her home in Louveciennes to a houseboat on the Seine, alone, marking her return to origin. Here she takes her lovers—the tigress comes alive by the river—and her writing vibrates to a fever pitch. A system of mobility: waves foster a spirit dedicated to movement.

Love offers Anaïs merges; splits, fragments, invariably follow.

An abortion laid out in the epistolary tradition. August 29, 1934: My little one, not born yet, I feel your small feet kicking against my womb. Abandoned by her father at age eleven, Anaïs begins her diary as a letter to convince him to return. My little one, not born yet, it is very dark in the room you and I are sitting in, just as dark as it must be for you inside of me. A sexual reunion with her father at age thirty, the abandon in their love for one another. You are impatient to live; you kick with your small feet, my little one, not born yet; you ought to die.…You ought to die in warmth and darkness. You ought to die because you are fatherless. The first and final split: It would be better to die, my child, unborn; it would be better to die than to be abandoned, for you would spend your life haunting the world for this lost father, this fragment of your body and soul, this lost fragment of your very self. Anaïs deserts her father to complete the circle. This shadow you would worship and seek to touch, dreaming day and night of its warmth and of its greatness…larger than a hammock, as large as the sky, big enough to hold your soul. Anaïs will not fulfill the role of biological motherhood. It would be better if you died inside of me, quietly, in the warmth and in the darkness.[23]

Rivers of genealogy in House of Incest: “There is nothing but insanity around me, the insanity of things pulling, pulling within oneself, the roots tearing at each other to grow separately, the strain made to achieve unity.[24] John Ashbery:

To flash light
Into the house within, its many chambers,
Its memories and associations, upon its inscribed
And pictured walls, argues enough that life is various.[25]

The many rooms of the Louveciennes home, painted each a different colour, for different moods: red lacquer for vehemence, pale turquoise for reveries, peach colour for gentleness.[26] The houseboat a sanctuary that holds the sum of these parts in suspension.

Isabelle: My hand is being directed by you who love me.[27] Ashbery:

To praise this, blame that,
Leads one subtly away from the beginning, where
We must stay, in motion.[28]

Compass Rose

I peer out of Rimbaud’s bedroom window, where I watch Jean walk down the street, staying some moments longer than him, then silently walking the rest of the house, knowing I could not reach anything higher now. I walk to la Place Ducale and sit on the fountain to write—but my time here is almost up, and I must find a new notebook, this one is filled.

I see Jean the moment I enter the Librairie, holding two books on Rimbaud’s mother. I smile; I had regretted leaving him so early when I had another hour and a half before my train to Paris. I try to find a new notebook and he follows me after purchasing his guides. I tell him I hate buying notebooks at bookstores, that they are so expensive and I feel dumb. He laughs, agrees, shows me his and we find one similar together for two euros. We find coffee next, and he asks me many questions about myself—I learn that his English is actually good enough to make jokes with him—I laugh a lot—he tells me he was born near le Champs Elysées and lives now at Père Lachaise—near, not inside, he jests, “not for another twenty years”—I wonder his age—he tells me about his last book, on some French president’s mistress, his shadow—Classique, I say—he laughs—his current work, on Rimbaud’s mother, and the pen he chooses to write each new book with—“Stupide,” he says, to which I respond, Romantique—and when I have to leave, he leaves money on the table for our coffees, and we kiss each other’s cheeks.

Compass Rose

The Apartment on Avenue Père Lachaise

November 18, 2018

Sitting on Jean’s couch, the sunlight spilling in, I pull one stocking on over my left foot, stretching it over my calf and releasing so it tightens around my bright leg—a plumage of dust is released through UV rays—I hope Jean doesn’t see—I should have dressed in his bedroom, while he was out buying croissants. Michel Petrucciani, whose tomb Jean just discovered in Père Lachaise last week, plays on the CD player—the light so filling, rushing in from the east, Avenue Père Lachaise, where I have just stayed the night after a factory party. Jean, returning from Charleville hours before, where we had met in Rimbaud’s bedroom on Tuesday—his research on Madame Rimbaud—Madame’s relations to her son—Patti Smith calls him the rat poet laureate, but this room, it’s so big!—the champagne in the smoke-filled factory apartment, where Jean and I held cigarettes with our plastic cups but did not light them—the man who rolled his eyes at my inability to speak proper French, sneering “Traducteur” at Jean before asking him to watch the bathroom door, for he wanted to snort a line of blow by himself—“That is what is really telling,” Jean says—and, forgetting the man inside, Jean begins to sift through his week—“Nothing was like that first morning, watching you write in the hotel over coffee, surrounded by businessmen—and what floor you stayed on? I was right under you the entire night!”

Drinking instant coffee this Sunday morning—my first sight upon waking, a basketball hoop, then rocking horse, before scanning further to find baby photos taped to the wall, guignol tickets, Do you have a son? I finally ask. “Yes, I do! César! It did not come up organically”—and I now notice the thin folds under his butt cheeks, his worn eyes, his opinions on #metoo, which will be published this morning in L’ObsIf you are not emotionally involved with Rimbaud, why do you wish to write of him? I ask, and he says one needs to distance oneself from one’s subject—“Madame Rimbaud, so brutal”—and what made her so?—Arthur a favourite, the others less attention, domestic roles, farmhands—“Maybe my own relationship with my mother, a poor one, causes me to write this now—perhaps the book will be about my time in Charleville, where I met a girl”—

Compass Rose

The Trinacria—the beauty of Sicily’s shores likened to a woman—three pillars to match three points of the island (and a revolution when travelling on foot):

Doña-Juana—Mary—Anaïs

Doña-Juana, the tigress, molded in her father’s shape to envelop, consume, fill. To live out each love in conjunction with the others, to live symphonically,[29] to burst in ecstasies, melancholies, to travel by wings to each moment of consummation—the combined layers of every experience in our present moment—to take it all, and trace what is set in stone by ages of amphoras, tiles and statues. In this state, one has a bird’s-eye advantage; there is safety in distance.

Anaïs, November 26, 1932: I…a sperm-filled woman, am walking down the street loaded with the phrases Henry has given me.[30] Lou Andreas Salomé, too, creates her own freedom, is loved by and fills Nietzsche and Rilke, until the passion fades and their dialogues are enacted through letters only—Lou’s “Last Message” to Rilke, February 26, 1901: The fact that, despite the difference in our ages, ever since Wolfratshausen I have had to keep growing…growing further and further into the thing I told you about so happily when we said goodbye—yes, strange as it may sound: into my youth![31]—Lou Andreas Salomé, among the first women to sit in the psychoanalyst’s chair—and to end romantic relationships when she was through. A muse to men—of course!—but one who sips on the stuff of life, in an infinite state of becoming wholly herself.

Mary, motherhood inseminated by the divine. (November 9, 2018: Imagine if Anaïs birthed her daughter! Would I have any right to her maternity?) Emma Jung’s biography: Love and Sacrifice, a tale that is difficult to swallow for one who struggles with the concept of unconditional love. Emma, a renowned analytical psychologist in her own right, is also the pillar that makes family life—Carl Jung’s tether as he scopes the unconscious—a living reality.


Accepting responsibility for the imprint left by father and mother, Anaïs opens the patch of blue sky above, giving the artist room to breathe, create, erect the tower of Babel above her own head.


Anaïs, to her unborn:

You are also the child of an artist.…He needs all the care, all the warmth, all the faith for himself. There is no end to his needs. He needs worship. He needs to be the only one in the world we created together. He is my child, and he would hate you. And if he did not hate you, he would hate your sickness, your wailing, and the woman who bore a child. [32]

To freely give takes fortitude, and the mother role does not end with biological birth; it extends to those in need, those who have been shattered, fragmented, and beg for consolation. Mother as priestess, spiritual advisor and connective tissue—warmth out of womb.

The introduction to Anaïs’ first diary, made public. Winter, Louveciennes, 1931 to 1932:

I want to prove that there is infinite space, infinite meaning, infinite dimension.

But I am not always in what I call a state of grace. I have days of illuminations and fevers. I have days when the music in my head stops. Then I mend socks, prune trees, can fruits, polish furniture.[33]

A mother of life-writing, Anaïs’ unadulterated document is an offering to escape containments imposed by what is material. Introduction to Leonara’s surrealist novella following her descent into madness after Max Ernst’s incarceration by the Nazis: “Internal division, mystical affinities, shape-shifting can be fertile.”[34] June 22, 2018: The reason I can write this diary in the light is because of the years Anaïs Nin spent writing her diary in the dark. In the beginning, the divine moment is found through a third party.

Anaïs, the final pillar. Accepting responsibility for the imprint left by father and mother, Anaïs opens the patch of blue sky above, giving the artist room to breathe, create, erect the tower of Babel above her own head. Here, the divine moment is created by way of one’s Self; there is no intermediary. August 20, 2019: The reason I use others’ voices for my own is my disorientation, hearing each at the same volume and pitch as my deep inflection, throwing me, sideways, into a whirlpool of ecstasies, dramas, melancholies, betrayalsit no longer feels like fragments when each piece fits together to create one circular ridethese pieces belong side by side, one voice in dialogue with another. I look back and am ashamed to say I heard the chorus and thought I was every voice, my body so porous, and each soundwave was already familiar.

Butler: woman, “a constructing that cannot rightfully be said to originate or end.”[35] Frye: “At the centre of space is ‘here,’ but ‘here’ is never a point, it is always a circumference.”[36]

Compass Rose

The French language during lovemaking should be so romantic, and it is not—the purring—he really purred! “I will pick up César at 1”—I leave immediately when our coffees are emptied, asking Jean his birthday on our way down the stairs—he is an Aquarius, but evades answering the year. We awkwardly part after a kiss on the cheek.

My direction turns toward Père Lachaise Cimetière, where I wish to visit Edith—getting lost among the dead around noon, knowing that I, too, have to find rest!—yet it is my final day in Paris, should I visit Louveciennes one last time?—spirits fill me, though not enough spirit to make the journey a second time—the bartender from Chez Jeanette, who never spoke back to me when I ordered my tequila soda, just smiled, eyes flashing, raising his fingers into a seven—a real ghost, I see him in double vision, in line for the bathroom at the factory party—offering me the same smile—I wonder if I should leave my present company to go stand with him, for he is so beautiful—he floats into the bathroom—the bathroom with the Mondrian painting above the toilet seat! The men stare into lines as they stand above the toilet, and the women wait outside!—waiting patiently on my trodden feet, patiently as I search—Je recherchépour Edith Piaf!—for whom I have not brought flowers.

Compass Rose

Houseboat Days (Lysis): Toronto

August 16, 2018

The break between my reading: alive, free, childlike, my feet in the manicured pool, a perfect rectangle, its four corners embellished with trees trapped in steel obelisks, their premise so French, as Sasha says, unlike the wild English gardens of his dreams. But I am splashing my feet, turning a current round and round, a human motorboat in the centre of Toronto, staying afloat by allowing my feet to dry in the sun—such brilliant heat!—white heat that remained screened in too long, Florine Stettheimer’s soft pink light, so as not to burn those around her. I dance in the cut grass, relevé and down, stretch my body thin, skip to the trapped bush in her pyramid of iron and return to the water. Looking in at myself, laughing at Narcissus—I will not fall in!—though I wonder how deep this pool is, before I am distracted by an inchworm, tiny and white, closing in and out so quickly, merging itself into a ring and back again, and I stick my finger in to feel its pulse, lift it on my index finger—I wonder now if it is meant to be on land or in water—and watch the worm slow. Enough motionless moments pass and so I return it to its origin, the pool, where the reflection tells me a group of Japanese photographers has coalesced to witness the meager waves outside of this palo santo library, and I return to its book-lined interior.


Jenna McClelland is a Doris McCarthy Artist-in-Residence (2019), can be read in The Puritan, Broken Pencil, Audiofemme and more, and performs dreamy drones as Lehrerin, whose debut album, Double, is on cassette. Follow her on Twitter here. This story was a finalist in Nowhere’s 2020 Emerging Travel Writers’ Prize.

Lead image: Ahmad Odeh

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  36. Northrop Frye. The Double Vision: Language and Meaning in Religion. (40).
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