16 October 2010

Lisa Olstein

[from Lisa Olstein's Lost Alphabet, Copper Canyon, 2009]

[white spring]

I am working on a specimen so pale it is like staring at snow from the bow of a ship in fog. I lose track of things -- articulation of wing, fineness of hair -- as if the moth itself disappears but remains as an emptiness before me. Or, from its bleakness, the subtlest distinctions suddenly increase: the slightest shade lighter in white begins to breathe with a starkness that's arresting, and the very idea of color terrifies. It has snowed and the evening is blue. The herders look like buoys, like waders the water has gotten too deep around. They'll have to swim in to shore. Their horses are patient. They love to be led from their stalls. They love to sharpen their teeth on the gate. They will stand, knees locked, for hours.

. . .

[newcomers to the field of endeavor]

There's something dead in the road. No one will touch it. The specimen I'm studying won't sit still. I can no longer do it: swab the ether, drop it into the flapping jar. Ilya watches me from across the room. If I lay the jar on its side with the lid removed eventually the moth will slow its beating. A rinse of sugar-water at the rim draws it to the edge, keeps it there drinking, for a moment, as if from a great glass flower. I usually have time to record family and size, primary markings. This one moves quickly, lights for barely a second at a time. Soon it will fly off and come to rest on some other surface in the room, usually the rough ceiling, which is becoming winged with them.

. . .


Moths ride the room as if a meadow. As if rainfall, hover, nectar, soar. I close my eyes. I feel them, the smell of them, the smell of me. Surely this insight is a defect. I will not cherish the pain or need it. As if to covet any part would render increase when it is clear that wishing is nothing. But there are patterns; parts of my brain gain voice, grow louder. Small doors of perception open, close.

. . .

[from this vantage point your view will be clear]

Any shift in philosophy introduces the need for new habits of body. I am learning how gently to lift them, to turn them swiftly and rest them again, on their wings, wings to table, which I sand smooth each morning. To do it with no fluttering, with as little as possible. It is a strange gymnastics, their bodies, mine: what to grasp, when to release, the nature of a turn, the will of the whole channeled into the fingertips. It takes all my strength. It is necessary to practice, to imagine myself the moth, my arms its wings, my legs gone.

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