Wednesday, June 8, 2022

Two from "War Diary," by Susan M. Schultz


What the Hoarders Left Behind

29 April 2022

Old joy stick, wreathed in webs. Two pink elephants, laughing in theirs. Premium oil, Value Power car battery. Old rubber ball, once red, now flecked, beside the yellow tool. Old string of white Christmas lights on the chain link fence. On the porch, a crumpled up American flag to go with a sticker on the moldy truck window. Stacks of flat cardboard, boxes of old spray cans, cleaners, squirt bottles. No one’s been here for weeks. This is not quite narrative, not quite not narrative. Diary of objects, the dirty carport its frame. Hard to decide which to take, which to leave. 

She puts a photograph of herself and her mother in her war diary. They are ordinary, but so is the war. I can’t write a proper one, as I don’t look at TikTok, or read the articles about rape as a military strategy. After you listen to a trauma story, you double up, breathe in, fold back into seated position. Later, you drive down Haunani, where an old woman trudges, looking lost, carrying her Target bag. You don’t stop to ask if she needs a ride. Your ticket got punched this morning.

She was her father’s “experiment,” left in a room alone to see how she reacted. My friend says there was no kindness in her house growing up. She found kindness in her 50s. Avoidance of story was my self-care.

So many of the abandoned objects have to do with cleaning, lubing, fixing, making stuff work. Yellow oil bottles sit like trophies on the carport frame. The only vehicle is pinned in place by junk, by mold, by disuse. I love the old trucks whose beds have ginger growing in them.

Mass graves left by the hoarders of war. Loss is accumulation. We have more than you, so we lose. You have more than we do, so you lose. The man down the street screamed obscenities when he played video games. His dead joy stick half smashed in the carport. Easier to name the joy stick than the flowers across the road, purple prods melting in the rain.


Heidegger as a Cure for Anxiety

2 May 2022

“Anxiety could be experienced as a kind of calm by holding yourself out, into that experience”: moments when you’re past worry, adrenaline-surfing, full of everything you can’t name except it moves quickly, curling like a leaf around itself on asphalt, mottled brown and darker brown, and I wondered why friends thought about colors in poetry, as it was the thoughts that seemed most to count, and count they did, by 25s or 100s, in math that was not yet critical race theory, or anything except raw numbers. The four on a telephone pole sits upside down, making the shape of an “I” with a handle, as if we could hold our first person up to our lips and drink. If we take “calm” to mean stillness, not a steady being in yourself, then calm it is. Renovate your words and they will mean what you need them to mean.

Dissolving vignettes, each a single take, holding itself out until stopping in mid-air, which is mid-time, which is the space of an absent narrative, or at least of one that cannot find its ending. What we think is true—a woman captured by a psychopath in a metal container—ends. When next we see her, she’s ironing. The psychopath wants her to show her “true face,” not the one she assumes. The torturer always looks for truth, because the means justify whatever ends. Body, story, the tweets of Russian torture victims you can’t see because they’re “disturbing." Scroll past to see the latest trades, the low batting averages, the poetry gossip. That tweet is a trap-door, but you leap over it the way your dog does a puddle when a car comes. The water breaks into shadow pieces; her tongue sticks out, offering a hint of color in the drab overcast light.

Those still trapped in Mariupol’s steel factory have moved past anxiety, because where they exist is true. Anxiety assumes, but when it’s proven, it dissolves into an after-calm, horrifying and yet certain. This is not how you imagine relieving your anxiety; mostly, you think of yourself lying comfortably on a beach, once again able to breathe in, out. But the steel mill is the labyrinth that promises to hide you long enough to become accustomed. To hunger, to terror, to fingers that push on walls, but cannot feel them. Hongly described his body as it starved, his arms eating themselves. New Yorkers, we read, are now terrified.

We haven’t lost our sense of proportion, though that is our ambition. It’s our stage, where the player in a slump gets sent to Mariupol and the soldier in the tank gets to attend his own bobble head day at the park. Four men in a tank dream of meadows full of flowers. The tank dreams of its origins apart from war. And the war dreams it’s trapped inside a music room without a key. I’ll turn the house inside out to look for it. In the meantime, lock it all out as she did the mean lover who shot faces on the subway. Piles of books lie on the curb, each bearing the title, ETHICS.


Note: quote by Simon Critchley, in “A Philosopher Laughs at Death...” by Mark Dery. The Chronicle of Higher Education, April 28, 2022. Thanks to Jon Morse, who sent me the link. Some details come from Code Unknown, a film by Michael Haneke.


Susan M. Schultz is author of several books of poetic prose, mostly recently I Want to Write an Honest Sentence from Talisman. Forthcoming from that press is Meditations. She founded Tinfish Press in 1995 and was editor until 2019. Susan is a lifelong fan of the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team for whom she cheers from her home in Hawai`i.

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