‘Actual Air and Fictitious Water—Some Continuities of Keepsakes, Dead Fish and the Poetry of David Berman’
Cutwater Literary Anthology 2009.
Edited by Sam Twyford-Moore and Daniel Collins
What one does with the goods of an ex-lover, loaned in expectation of the return that never eventuates is a question requiring vexatious energy. The slow attrition of electronic letters down email’s ladder, the discovery of a single, shucked sock pinned between the fitted sheet and the mattress, an abandoned raincoat now slick with milk-mould; these objects retain a greedy voltage. Vexatious energy might be helpful, but so too would a dealer in construction-grade explosives. One is tempted to thumb the weave, to slip the trinket into the pillowcase and sleep its impression into your morning cheek like a stigmata. Nothing says I still love you like the imprint of an absent lover’s wristwatch on the forehead. Time of day: the noontime of my heart. Still. The only healthy riposte would be to release the objects into the wild with some befitting exit-scene flourish, but deciding on the most poetic method of abandonment is difficult in an age when left luggage instigates bomb-scares and bonfires contribute haze.
You might, like Sloane Crosley, find appeal in dropping the Hansel & Gretel crumbs of a dehydrated romance along the train-line, to be discovered (with all the punctuality of an omen) by evening commuters. Egads! What portent is this? A stuffed pony? It all ends with stuffed ponies?! Or maybe you gather your mementos and turn them into installation art. Build them into a wall cavity. Scan and fax them to the Heritage Foundation.
But when it is books, books left in a promise-high pile (nights of reading erotica aloud, mornings with coffee and swapped Classics), what to do when it’s books? Books simper like orphans on the bottom shelf, their pages damp with the inky tears of the jilted. Their master may be resting his new novel on the nipples of a Swedish girl who fits her jeans, but the books couldn’t possibly have predicted that caddishness. Like you, they take people at their word. Indeed it is worse for them because unlike you, words are all they have. Books are gullible. Book burning feels like such a public act also – complicit in a dark history of book-pyres rather than as an expression of private brio. Modern binding glue emits foul toxins on combustion, likely to cause you to pass out face-down in the fire. Novels are useless totems for the misdeeds of passion.