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Ways of Reading I

1. Modotti, Adrienne Rich. I am struck by the line If this is where I must look for you, then this is where I’ll find you. I read it several times, scrawl it on a note and stick it to the wall. In the seminar that week I mention the poem but no one else has read it, so the burden falls upon me to describe it, explain (unpack, as the tutor creatively says) why it is emotionally striking, and why in particular it was so significant to me. Certainly I do not mention that we are, in fact,

A. It is the week of epitaphs and as the dead rise I am trying to put you to rest. To call you a ghost is ungenerous, it is not your fault I am haunted. I have been told I can trace your face through mine and so I have sought and found you, every now and again, in the fold of my eyelids, the curl of my lip and the bump of my nose. December is the cruellest month, I whisper to my room, gazing at the mirror, fingertip on nose curve. I have told no one that we are

rapidly approaching the fifth anniversary of your death, or that this week is hell for

 

anyone who has experienced grief. Instead I posit (tutor’s word, not mine) that reading it-self is an act of resurrection. Should we abide by the notion that the text is the vi-brant and living space between reader and writer, then of course to read an epitaph, to engage in memorial, is to summon the ghost subject and renew its life. Quick note in the corner of my sheet: Write about her. We progress through assigned reading, onto Walter Benjamin: The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. We take it at face value initially, discuss our thoughts on art, then eventually begin to apply it to our epitaphs. The word aura gains a spectral quality; rather than artworks we discuss people — the poet’s inability to capture spirits; it is impossible to write truth, it is all fiction and we mustn’t indulge in it. I scratch out the earlier note and wonder if the only way to write an epitaph is to embrace individual perspective, always address the second person, give an invocation of a ghost but not an attempt to delineate their form. I return to Adrienne Rich and, as I am prone to, leave the room hastily. Two days later, the exam. I have bought a new pen specially. The final question dances up to me, asks me about Romeo and Juliet and whether Juliet can only express her jouissance by discussing Romeo’s death. This is a gift. The answer is obvious because of course Juliet and I both know that a presence is measured by its absence and that a life’s value is measured by how much you would mourn it were it taken from you. She loves him so much that death is at their fingertips; to be happy is to grieve, to be happy is to know it cannot last. Of course her joy is morbid, any pleasure she feels must be echoed by the pain she will feel when she has lost it. It was the nightingale and not the lark, she says, thinking

me. Looking at myself I worry you would hate me now. I briefly try to imagine what you would say to me, given the chance, but the imagined you is just spouting criticisms I have prewritten for myself. This grey ghost of you tells me I am unloveable, too angry, too smug. It is an uncomfortable exercise — not because the idea of you saying these things is painful, but because you are dead and it is backwards to imagine you as alive. Perhaps it is easier to keep you as a ghost, the woman last seen by my thirteen year old’s eyes. You cannot grow with me, and you mustn’t. I have had to grow alone. To resurrect you is to unwrite myself; to imagine a version of you that never encountered death is to imagine a version of me that never lost you: it is fiction and I mustn’t indulge in it. Standing in my bedroom, fingertip on nose, the ghost dissipates and I am left with hollow space. Room too small. That familiar itch now. I put on my coat and, as I am prone to, I run away. Two hours later, the city has been traversed and I stand outside M&S to use their free wifi and text this boy. He hasn’t answered any of my messages and it has been two weeks of silence, two weeks of an empty room. I have sent message upon message, hoping this seems like I am unashamed, but that is a lie. Scrolling through is to go from blue to blue to blue with no respite in his grey retorts. In these moments you are truly dead, it is too painful for me to imagine you seeing me like this: scorned and desperate. Blue: I don’t understand. is it too much to ask that you at least tell me you want me to give up? caring is exhausting. There had been a moment: we were lying on my kitchen floor with August’s sun streaming in above us, we were breathless after having laughed hysterically for what felt like hours, and I thought to myself

this is the happiest I will ever be with this person, nothing can follow but mourning

 

so of course he descends from her balcony directly into his tomb. This is a joy to write. After the exam I mentally tally the arguments I am pleased with, and remember that I somehow shoehorned in Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own, though I don’t know why.

so of course I wrote the end for us there and then, it would seem. I walk home, return to the empty room and sit within it, hollowed out myself — seek out how other’s have mourned and find a poem named Modotti by Adrienne Rich.


ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTOR

Aea is an actor, writer and recent graduate from the University of Glasgow (Theatre Studies and English Literature) where she was a part of the undergraduate creative writing programme. She was shortlisted for the Glasgow Women’s Library Bold Types prize and her shorter pieces have been published in several journals (most recently From Glasgow to Saturn) as well as being adapted for stage.

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