Footnotes for What is Happening Somewhere

JodiAnn Stevenson

  1. Drink the drown summer. Someone's babies dream of drinking drum. First it settles on you as nonsense, noise. As if words have been strung together aimlessly. And, maddeningly, regular syntax seems to be in use — it sounds like it should make sense. Shouldn't that mean something?
  2. And the sounds it makes are fine. Babies bring dreams to seams. Seams fit in a line. They are so fine that they are fun and even beautiful. Sometimes too beautiful to be confused. A long line of gold ribbon running from the butcher's truck, a knife.
  3. At first it is babies, a truck, a knife, a gold ribbon and dreams. And you understand that trucks and knives and dreams and ribbons and so on are full of worlds/ words. Everything around you is full of words — full of meaning indiscernible from nonsense unless paid close attention to — Listen. We/ Our/ Your world is built in words. Our experience swims with words. We could drown in them. And you do.
  4. The middle is the center where the gold ribbon runs along the street where the babies are playing in fountains, the cold blue sausage-morning, the cool drunken dripping village (And we know more about the center later). The words may come directly from the thing or the words may come from some other place. To decide where the words come from is madness. It is like deciding who God is/ what God is. Why we are here — where we are exactly. Madness — the words themselves are what we have.
  5. You are starting to understand or read the text how the text wants to be read or how you want to read the text in this moment. But meaning is being made, however it is being made. And the meaning is this: This sausage, in the hand? This drunken morning is blue? The young woman looks out over the street in the village from her window while she sits in an oaken chair and rocks, rocking, rocking. Trying to define the object is impractical; it hovers in our experience, inextricable from all other experience. What does not matter any more or any less is the look of the chair. What matters more is its necessity. That it is there is most important. But, soon you will see deciding what is most important also feels like a game.
  6. There is a chair and there is not a chair which rocks a young woman looking out at babies in the street on a cold morning who are not playing and are not babies and are not on a street like any other street or even like itself is a description of absence if it must be defined. We are what we are not. This is how words work. Is this, then, how the World works? We will see. You will learn, it is. It is.
  7. The sound keeps up. It is a churning. A motion. A noise. Streets meet streets meet babies and soon babies turn to starts churn into turning stars burning over streets over villages over young women in windows watching the walking the coming and going.
  8. You read and what you understand is this: We have so many words — they live in us, sleeping, dormant. Like millions of fully developed fetuses ready to be born.
  9. While you read each object, you wonder. What is the difference? Is there a difference? What the mind's eye can see, it can see as clearly as what the real eye can see. Which is the real eye? This is how you are thinking. This is what the reading does to you. Are the objects just one more randomness in this constellation of words? This woman, this street, these stars.
  10. But you love this: that the young woman is watching the babies and in her house is a soup cooking on a stove which is cold and somewhere humming an older woman with a bad mind, shaking and humming while the young woman is rocking and watching. Babies screeching and yelping, trying out their voices. And you want to get lost in these words because they are starting to make sense to you in the way that they seem to make no sense at all and they are about words and words loving other words. And you can't stop reading or realizing that every word is essential — is a necessity. But you stop yourself, because you wonder, am I alone with these words? There doesn't seem to be a writer here. Where is the human in these words? How do I feel the presence of the writer? The tone is cold, absent, charged but not with feeling — charged with logic or illogic. With idea but not soul. Because of the absence of "meaning"? No, because it feels like a game.
  11. You read on.
  12. You get to this: The young woman watching the babies, the children playing in the street, playing, wishes to be playing and the wish is a song, is a struggle, is a need to not be the daughter, the alone, the rocking, the silent dreaming woman — what want is dread, what want is dead is driven inside the mind, the bones of the babies, all babies even the woman. You think, the repetition feels personal somehow — feels like the writer is present, in communion with me. And you realize the repetition has been there from the start and you sigh, relieved, that the writer has been with you all along.
  13. And the sound is a machine. Sounds = Machines. It makes you uneasy, but there will be an explanation for that.
  14. Hello Ms. you think. Because suddenly she is there and she is listening to you because she begins to give you clues. The young woman is sad. The babies reckless. There are eyes that lurk in every doorway. The street is unsafe. The village is treacherous. But everything is innocent too — there are two sides to every coin. You think, this one means more because there are more words — could that be it? Does it just feel like meaning? Is that the same? And what this means to you is — words divided from one another mean less or seem to.
  15. And she goes even further, trick the treacherous town, the lecherous look from the doorways on babies and the helpless watching woman in a window, in a window, waiting for the soup and rocking, rocking, rocking (remember Sound = Machine) What you think you understand is that it is all necessary. The machine is necessary. If a description of a chair is not a chair, words are not our experience. You think you have discovered a great paradox. Words are all we know, all with which we can describe our experience — but they are not all we know because we also know the experience happens beyond words. Everything everything everything. It is unbearably maddening. And necessary.
  16. What does the young woman see? What does the young woman want? What has happened here? What do you want from this woman? You answer the question. You are glad to be asked a question. And glad to have to answer. So, you answer, there is a separation — a gaping hole — between things/ words and our experiences/ senses. Yes, it is. You say. If there could be... it is.
  17. Then you get a sense that there is an order being mentioned. As yet, you cannot tell if this order is good or bad. The sound is the machine, the machine is inextricable from the experience and it is part of the order.
  18. We go on. We think we get it. What makes our experience and what part of our experience do we make with words? There is the fact of things. You wonder: Between us and things? Yes, we make our experience with words but there is part of our experience that is just a fact. We are bones. We are things too. A young woman held by a chair. Babies playing in streets dangerous and innocent too.
  19. Here we get to the crux of the whole thing: All long and want to lose the innocence that when lost is longed for. Why long to lose innocence. Why long for the innocence that has been lost. When they take things from you, why can't you just forget. Yes, you are beginning to feel the succession again. And then you understand the order that is being mentioned. Order is a prison. Order imposes authority. Now she is fully here — this writer — not cold at all anymore, now confused, now sad. Why is order more meaningful than so-called nonsense. Who does it serve. What order have we established that is so holy, so good that it should not be questioned, condemned, or confused.
  20. No. All is meaningful, each thing matters. To deny one small thing meaning is to establish order for the sake of establishing power. It is to return to what we know of order now, reestablish power for the already powerful.
  21. Why was she lost and when. Why do the children continue to play on the dangerous street and laugh and laughing, why do they melt together inside the woman. All questions are asked without question marks. You answer. What do we teach each other? You answer a question with a question. How does order teach better than chaos? We make our own meaning in the end. As you are doing now. As we do all the time.
  22. Then, she begins to command: See this woman in the window watching the babies, watching the street where terrible things happen. See her. Wonder about the mother who makes soup in the cold kitchen. Question Authority? Question who has power over you. Whom you have power over. Think. Do not assume that this order is the best order.
  23. We are what we are not. Remember? We are what we are not. This is how the world works. This is how words work.
  24. So that you know, all power is perceived — taken — built from the order of words.
  25. And we are back to this center. Because the work that does not make any logical syntactical sense seems to have none. This is what we are reading. This center-less madness is an offering, a play, an exercise. Of what?
  26. You are trying to listen very carefully. In her body a fish leaps deeply in her body, in her belly, the leaping fish makes a question for the children in the street and warns them to avoid the eyes in the doorways, the lecherous wanting hands that will grab them in their despair and cause sorrow to visit them one day in a chair in a window where they will be watching other children, not yet ruined. Because now you are invested fully. You want to understand something — build some kind of meaning. This is what you hear: You understand: If this is a difficult text to read it is because you understand it.
  27. And you do, you really do, feel like you have understood something. It does. It does. Because doing something new, something difficult that is not the regular order is the only way to create change. The only way.
  28. Why? She asks. Why? Why? And you feel very close to her now. Because she seems vulnerable. The words/ the exercise/ the task seems vulnerable. You wonder if she is afraid that her experiments in language have amounted to nothing and you want to say, no. No. Yes, she has a point. You know paper itself, words themselves don't change anything — but they are the call to action, they are the turning points, the necessity for our doing things differently. Watching out/ over the babies who will be ruined so that their ruin is sipped instead of gulped, so that their ruin is soft and not a hard cold hand.
  29. Nothing is vacant. Disturbing the center is a virtue and you have just seen it. And she is frustrated and you know that the meaning you have just discerned has consequences. It is not just empty exercise. Because we cannot make change until we take the experiment to heart. And, more meaningful than the meaning and its consequences is that it is bigger than you, much bigger.
  30. And you are commanded again: You think of a friend whose way of saying goodbye is, "Be Good." You think she is saying something very similar. And being good doesn't mean creating one dogma instead of another — accepting one blind faith rather than the one you are told to accept. And being vigilant. And being sure about what it is you are doing and why. And always.
  31. And you think, she means we are not trying hard enough. We are not doing our part. And you want to.
  32. And you think, she means Words are used to keep the powerful, powerful — the powerless, powerless. That is how Words are usually used. And she used them differently on purpose. To change the order of things. And you regret ever having felt confused. And then she says,
  33. there is no center, but if there must be — allowing everything, allowing the whole world in the text makes it active. And you feel the active center because you are exhausted by the conversation. And changed by what you think you have learned.

JodiAnn Stevenson's work has appeared in numerous print and online journals including most recently PoemMemoirStory, Buckle&, and the Hiss Quarterly. Her first chapbook of prose poetry, The Procedure, was published by March Street Press in the Fall of 2006 and is still available from the publisher or at JodiAnn teaches poetry and composition at Delta college in Bay City, Michigan.