Nathaniel Mackey

Angel [excerpt]

[fromFrom A Broken Bottle Traces of Perfume Still Emanate, Volume Five

 

___________________ 6.X1.83

Dear Angel of Dust,

Once again it will have come to nothing.  Again we will have sat exchanging thoughts on what was to be.  Again we will have heard music, albeit not music so much as music’s trace, music’s rumor, pianistic breakdown as an archetypal he and she gazed out drapeless windows.  What stayed with us will have been a wincing, distraught right hand backed by a grumbling left on an abject keyboard, a right undone or done in as much as backed by a disconsolate left.  We will have stood and stretched as gray, wintry, late afternoon light filled each window, a wounded look on what lay outside and on our faces as we looked out upon it.  An archetypal he and she alone but for the music, aloof to each other even but each the music’s intended, we will have so seen ourselves but no sooner done so than drawn back.  Something found in a wrinkle, something found in a fold, it will have been this that set our course and put us on it, collapse and come to nothing though it would.

So I thought, at least, earlier today at Djamilaa’s.  What will evanescent splendor have come to I wondered as she stood at a window and at one point leaned against the window frame, her left arm raised, her left hand touching the curtain rod.  She stood that way only a moment but the way she stood highlighted her long beauty, lank beauty, her long arms and legs a miracle of limbs.  For an instant something jumped out at me and at the same time jumped inside me, a mood or a mix of elation compounded with dread.  I saw what so much rays out from and relies upon, however much it shook me with apprehension: lank intangible grace, nonchalant allure, love’s modest body.  It was the news of the moment but yesterday’s news as well, something aspect and prepossession seemed intent on saying.  What that something was, as Penguin would say, more than met the eye, but it did nonetheless meet the eye.  My heart leapt and my stomach dropped.

“Leave it alone,” Djamilaa said, demure as to what was at issue but sensing my mood.

“I wish I could,” I said.

The right hand on the keyboard prompted me perhaps, apprehension of any kind its mandate, apprehension of any kind’s fraught base.  Thought’s ricochet played a role as well.  Momentary angst was its immediate heir, an ungainliness of thought in whose wincing retreat one felt elation well up and right away subside.  Fear of being caught out, knowing no way not to be caught out, factored in as well.

“Things are that way sometimes,” Djamilaa said, laconic, blasé, unperturbed.

“I know,” I said.  “Things are always that way.”

It had to do with angles.  The piano’s legs buckled for an instant and rebounded, then they buckled and rebounded again.  The right side of the keyboard crumpled.  The hand that played it crumpled as well.  Had they been glass they’d have shattered, besetting one’s ears, by turns bodily and cerebral, with sharp, intersecting planes rolling Duchamps’ descending nude and Picasso’s weeper into one.  But they were not glass, however much the keyboard’s keening ping made it seem so.

Dressed in a light cotton shift whose hem touched her ankles, Djamilaa stood caught between bouts and volleys of agitation and arrest, her lank beauty all the more lank finding itself so caught but unavailable all the same, it struck me, not to be lastingly caught.  A lack of lasting hold or lasting capture pertained to the music plaguing our heads, mine maybe more than hers but hers as well, a music it seemed we each heard with a distinct incorporeal ear or perhaps together with a shared incorporeal ear.

Djamilaa again offered generic solace, oblique as to what was at issue still, so compellingly we both felt it.  “Not always,” she said.  “But their effect when they are is to make it seem that way.”

“Yes, I guess so,” I said.

The music itself seemed an oblique telepathic dispatch, however much it appeared woven into textile and skin tone, the music of Djamilaa’s bare arms and bare neck emerging from her cotton shift.  It obtained in her skin’s lack of lasting hold and in the wrinkles and folds of her shift.  Had she said, “Fret not thyself,” I’d have said, “Amen,” but we were beyond that now, the music insinuating itself, issueless issue, the nothing it let it be known it will have come to, the nothing that had never been.  It wanted to keep convergence at bay.

It plied an odd, contrarian wish but it was moving and emotive all the same, anti-intimate while inviting intimacy, anti-contact while acknowledging touch.  It plied an aloof tactility, love’s lank tangency, verging on emotional breakdown but brusque, pullaway catch or caress.

It was an actual music we heard and let have its way with us, Paul Bley’s “Touching” on the Mr. Joy album.  No way could we say title told all.

 

As ever,

N.

 

___________________ 14.X1.83

 

Dear Angel of Dust,

Yes, that one has “Nothing Ever Was, Anyway” on it, as do several others.  It does appear, as you say, we let “Nothing Ever Was, Anyway” infiltrate “Touching,” title not telling all notwithstanding, title not telling all all the more.  But there’s an asceticism to Bley’s playing that comes across no matter what the title.  Djamilaa’s been thinking about that, wondering about that, drawn to it a lot of late.  It’s not that less is more, she likes to say, nor that nothing is all, nor that nothing, as Ra says, is.  All those ways of putting it only let sensation in thru the backdoor, she likes to say.  No, it’s not about that.  It’s not as recuperative as that, not as categorical.  It’s an angled attrition, banked extenuation, she likes to say.

It’s as if, when she speaks this way, she’d come to me in a dream and vice versa, each of us the other’s wished-for rescue, each the other’s wariness as well.  It’s not unlike what sometimes happens when we play.  One becomes the extenuation of oneself and the emanation of something else, someone else, ghost and guest arrivant rolled into one.  What is it or who is it steps in at such moments?  It could be anything, anyone, one senses, but the hollow one’s evacuation puts in one’s place appears to afford strangeness a friendly disguise.  One’s fellow band members pass thru that hollow, step into it, relieving the brunt of an attenuation one might otherwise be unable to bear.  It’s something like what Roy Haynes must have meant by saying that playing with Trane was “like a beautiful nightmare.”

Come to as in a dream, yes, a dream dreamt on a rickety bed, springs creaking, home like as not an illusion of home.  To speak was to bank one’s breath within angular precincts, wall intersecting wall’s proprioceptive recess one’s being there had become.  Stereotactic as well, one touched upon aspect, facet, crater, protuberance, grade finessing grade, tangency’s wont.

As ever,

N.

 

Editors’ Notes

From A Broken Bottle Traces of Perfume Still Emanate is an ongoing series of letters written by composer/multi-instrumentalist N., founding member of a band known as the Molimo m’Atet. Volumes one through four are Bedouin Hornbook, Djbot Baghostus's Run, Atet A.D. and Bass Cathedral. Volume five is not yet titled.

Nathaniel Mackey

Nathaniel Mackey Poet and novelist Nathaniel Mackey was born in 1947 in Miami, Florida. He received a B.A. degree from Princeton University and a Ph.D. from Stanford University. His books of poetry include Splay Anthem (New Directions, 2006), which won the 2006 National Book Award in Poetry; Whatsaid Serif (1998); Song of the Andoumboulou: 18-20 (1994); School of Udhra (1993); Outlantish (1992); Eroding Witness (1985), which was selected for the National Poetry Series; Septet for the End of Time (1983); and Four for Trane (1978). He is also the author of an ongoing prose work, From A Broken Bottle Traces of Perfume Still Emanate, of which three volumes have been published: Atet A. D. (2001), Djbot Baghostus's Run (1993), and Bedouin Hornbook (1986).