I had wanted to talk to you about plants in winter. I had the wish to walk in the botanical gardens, the ones near where I live, where there is a kind of cactus forest I think you would love. I hope we can walk there sometime. As you might guess, those plants (cacti and also succulents) range from the size of a small mouse to the size of a small shack. I know you know something about shacks. But I also have in my mind the image of us sitting lazily in a greenhouse, talking like we like to do, while it snows outside, and then taking a long walk in that snow, through the city. I’m so predictable because I’ve never stopped liking things like this. I imagine we would stop for yogurt along the way; weird music would be playing in the shop. There must be a greenhouse like this, near where you live.
I am trying to remember plants you have had in the different apartments and houses in which I’ve visited you, but I can’t remember even one. Still, I feel that they have been there, among your things. Oh, now I remember, two plants growing in your backyard in the summer, plants from Greece. Now I have one memory of you and plants. But still I can’t remember if you’re good with plants, if they grow well under your care. They must. It’s hard to imagine you being bad with plants. Of course it is possible.
Thinking of small dogs, small cats. Mostly cats.
The spots on leaves are like the stars in the dark sky. In another leaf can be seen the sunlight. Keep going further still, into the leaf, straight into the paper. Everything resembles something else.
I’ll try not to go on about this for too long; about resemblances, I mean. What good will come of it? Lately I’ve been trying to censor myself. If not censor, I’ve been trying to be more intentional? I get into trouble when I talk. I want to talk less, but I don’t know how well that’s going. I will try not to go on about this for too long. Yet sometimes in meetings or parties I say very little. I must seem very shy. I mean, I am shy. In other moments, I can’t stop saying things, awkward things, I want the other person to stop talking so I can go on, so I can say something about myself I will almost immediately regret.
I will stop with this now. I will imagine the sunlight and the stars. I will try to dwell in resemblances. There’s a way that a cup of yogurt with raisins in it, for instance, is like a person who is very flawed. An archetype of dairy.
There must be music near where you live. You must sometimes hear it in a shop, or coming out of a leaf. You must find yourself picking up leaves, then, at least some of the time. You must find yourself looking at a row of milk cartons in a shop you have gone into, trying to decide which to take home. A cabinet of curiosity. On the way home, you must think about your life, and about leaves, and music.
The comfort of the crowd.
You must imagine cabinets, spirits, great beauties, open vistas, machines.
In Giant Egg, I ate a melon. A fairly ordinary town, its name its only strangeness; still, something in me was aware of the dishes and bowls, there where I was eating. The melon looked so nice, faintly orange, faintly pink, there on its plate. I didn’t want to touch it. Next to it was a grouping of apples, as if waiting for their portrait.
That day I saw shapes. Fairly ordinary ones, that I saw them the only strangeness.
Later I went to a dinner party. The conversation was so good, so deep and honest and warm. It isn’t always like that, of course. I did talk, but I also listened, the conversation was absorbing, nothing was wrong.
I felt I might become the apples. I had been looking at them too closely. And yet I had been thinking of something else. Nearly a year ago I had read a good book. A protagonist finds her true nature. Afterwards, I had dried slices of apple in my oven and strung them on a green tree. It was a very good day, on into the evening. You can imagine how warm the oven made the house.
Here is a home remedy.
Drink hot tea.
Wake up at four in the morning.
Look at portraits.
What a beautiful shape an oval is, especially when it is intricate. It is better than a square, a rectangle, even a plain circle. It is the only shape that invokes another time. Of course this could be all wrong. Doesn’t a triangle, at least, invoke one sort of future? There are no triangular fruit. Is the oval spiritual, or at least connected in some way to some spirit? This is, of course, vague, but the connection is not meant to be precise. It is only something you sense, subtly. It comes upon you, quietly. The oval is satisfying in that way. You can’t say how.
If an oval is also a cameo and you are wearing it, you are wearing that other time. You are wearing a quiet connection to something. You wear it above your heart. If you find an oval in nature, it is perfect. If you yourself make an oval, you have made something perfect that transcends the present. Of course we are supposed to be able to stay present no matter what, not dwell in the past or the future. In a monastery, you might be asked not to listen to music, not even on headphones while walking in the mountains, but that is an experience very difficult to give up, especially if it’s a walk at dusk, after dinner, one you take every evening, and the music makes you feel very connected to the mountains, and yourself, makes you feel this strange excitement. Most of the time we should be present, yes, but if we can also sometimes be present with some past, especially one in which we’ve never lived, isn’t that good too?
Medicine isn’t what we think it is. What I mean is that we don’t always know what is good, or for that matter, what’s bad. We understand so little of what’s true. Each one of us with our own blind spots, we should have portraits made. Sigmund Freud and All He is Unable to See, for instance. Sei Shōnagon and the Unknown. It is the only kind of portrait we should sit for, and then a wallet-sized copy should be given away to each person we meet, so we are clear to them from the outset. And yet, might the other person’s blind spots get in the way of clarity too?
We don’t sit in profile anymore. It might tell us something. We might be healed from it in some inexplicable way. We don’t study profiles; we are so casual; etc. These are the things I thought, as I lay sick in my bed seven days in a row. I didn’t want to take antibiotics, how cold, and inhuman they were, in their little silver housing. I thought of myself in profile, and then I thought of you in profile.
I saw you as in a portrait, but with nothing else there.
Amina Memory Cain is the author most recently of the short story collection CREATURE, out with Dorothy, a publishing project, and a novel that’s forthcoming from FSG. Her stories and essays have appeared in Bomb, The Paris Review Daily, n+1, Full Stop, The Believer Logger, and other places. She lives in Los Angeles.
Alex Branch grew up on an island in the Puget Sound. She is a multidisciplinary artist working in sculpture, video, and sound. Her recent body of work consists of architectural musical sculptures created from salvaged materials that function as gathering spaces for the communities in which they are built. The spaces she creates often serve as conduits for artists, writers and musicians to experiment with new work and foster collaboration. This past summer, through a residency supported by the Warhol Foundation and Fulcrum Fund, she built an instrumental boat in the desert of New Mexico from a salvaged Hamilton Piano and sailed it on the Rio Grande. She currently lives in Brooklyn, New York.