• From the Domesday Book

    Jos Charles

    Winter 2023

    A cat showed up in our backyard a few months ago—the most shocking of yellow eyes with pupils that expand and contract rapidly, intimately. B– convinces me that, perhaps, it is her from the future come to warn or protect us. When doing laundry or turning on the sprinklers she rubs my leg, and this is the closest I’ve not only felt but been to another in months.

    Read Meister Eckhart to the cat. We’ve been calling her—the pronouns have been shifting and no one seems to mind—Grimley. But B– is souring on the name. I call her Grims, which seems more appropriate. Grims prefers theology to poetry, I learn.

    A new name for the cat: Faye. We began with Faith, the new faith she signifies, but then, Fe, Fay, Faye. This seems in keeping with her love of mysticism but also the omenistic protection her patrols across the yard indicate. This cat is weighted with signification. Like a sentence. Like a passage between unequal but aspirationally equivalent parties.

    During therapy today it’s suggested that adopting the cat might be good for my health. A link between autism and animals, et cetera. The resistance in me against Emotional Support Animals garnered from working retail and encountering rich ladies and their dogs. The guilt at seeing myself from an angle in proximity to these. How guilt is an ironizing, distantiation, of truth. Paradise of the a(p)positional. A girl and her cat.

    Email response from the landlord declaring explicitly no pets allowed indoors. Depression for weeks.

    Been letting Faye in regardless, she finds her way in regardless. At night she curls up at my breast and I rub her head, she paws my hand, leaps up at any scuffling out the window to the edge of the bed in the most agile and proud and defensive of gestures. She speaks clearly in gesture. A very strong sense of clear communication between her and me, much more than most human animals, and certainly more than any of them in so short a time. How words don’t signify at all but manipulate a virtual and abstract space of supposedly pure signification, and yet, despite the failure, in the failure, naturalize another kind of purity. Like cinema. Like the West Coast. Whitman and early white supremacist housing regulations in Los Angeles both claim the idea of California as edge, frontier, and, therefore, the pronouncement of the era of the colonization of the mind. The horizontal giving way to the vertical. Manifest. Faye makes circles at my feet. Then vomits.

    Each purr at my breast feels like such an accomplishment in a way that immediately shoots guilt throughout my body. Think “the-libido-to-guilt-pipeline” and immediately regret the use of “pipeline” as metaphor in thought. Metalepsis of sexuality (white). Potential shame dictating action which, in turn, produces the will appearing to precede it. The avoidance of one’s own shame as accomplishment. Faye turns up at the rattle of keys beyond the open window. The purr is not an act but gift, originary. I feel myself acutely to be a child among the underbrush. She asks, who are you, who dare not claim to hunt what you eat? To assume warmth?

    Went mad over the year with the sounds transferring between the apartment downstairs here and the one above (likely a lingering fear from the previous neighbor who tried to get us evicted). This fear overlapped quite apparently with my paranoia and psychotic episode. The paranoia over noise as betrayal, ineradicable, likely linked to my denial over autism, my general relationship to noise and overwhelm. Either way, at some point, a conclusion, inevitable: we live together, we must.

    Between looking through the box of photos my mother left upon moving to Colorado and my inability to attend to the conversation with B– —an inability that would too easily be described as overstimulation, more accurately, a willful incapacity to bear responsibility to my own attachment to overstimulation, an addiction, nearly—I remove myself from the apartment without a word (this is unusual) to Point Fermin (the nearest location, outside the Vincent Thomas Bridge, which just this last year or so received an extended fence barrier) in order to peer over the edge with a vague intent to let myself fall off. I get lost on the way twice despite the drive being a simple one, pass through traffic, listen to old, sad songs off a playlist titled “Sad Songs.” I put on a mask and glasses and withdraw to the abandoned building where wild squirrels have taken up residence. They preen and greet each other with pecks on the mouth before heading off, eager children, to the bushes to hunt or mate. One climbs upon my back while two necktied gentlemen, one holding a holy book, try to speak to me. I’m weeping and wave them away. There is a gentle wind and the sun creates a warm sheen through the low but dense clouds. The cliffs are marked with signs with suicide hotline information I’ve never managed to read all the way through. The point is, of course, not to be beyond help, but to firmly inhabit an agency past such interventionism. Standing at the cliff’s edge. A pregnant squirrel approaches my hand, sniffs, rejects it. I hop the wall and an old man takes note. I smile, climb back over, walk away to be greeted by the two men in ties again. The fiery and bewildering dystopian self-exiling force of this, this melting down, ends. I drive home. B– treats me very well, as she always does, and makes tea, ice water, gets me an ice pack. I nearly vomit at taking a shot of apple cider vinegar and follow it with ibuprofen and propranolol from the tiny sack of medicine I keep behind my computer screen. I pass out and in of sleep. 

    Looking through Mom’s photos again, I am struck by the affluence, privilege, they reveal. In my memory, I am eternal and helpless—unaware, trans, intelligent, neurodivergent, whatever, and surrounded by people who deny these things exist in me, yes, but who deny these things as generally existing in the world at all. The materiality of the photograph is undeniable though: a child, quite happy, at birthdays and Christmas, with new toys, the kind of toys my family could not afford for my brothers when they were my age, and glee. A tenderness for my older brother’s teasing seen suddenly less as bullying than as an attempt, however misguided in application, of equilibrium. I must remember to call J– soon.

    A desire to write everything into this—as if the human subject as a transparent mirror of the world, and the world, and what appears as conscious to said subject as available to “literature”—had value. No, not everything. Hacking through the underbrush. Not to clear a path but one way to flee from a too-trodden one. Whoever trails behind, ahead.

    If I could characterize these years in a word: hypervigilance.

    Noticing among the more difficult things for me to do: certain topic shifts in conversation, especially around analogizing, as B– does, when connecting, say, something from my childhood or hers to a television show or piece of music. The apparent change in subject matter feels, within my body, sensationally, like sitting down to a meal only to, mid-bite, be dropped into a pool of ice water. It’s only when we return to the original thread—I am dripping wet—that I’m able to orient myself, finish the bite. Concentration becomes nearly impossible—the sound of a microphone against an amplifier, et cetera. And the feeling of guilt—I have failed at paying the attention she deserves (mother, misogyny)—outweighs the obvious and correct impulse to candor she also, more so, deserves. I’ll have her read this soon.

    Given my compulsion to edit, layer by layer—like in the photos from the other day, my now obvious seeming hyper-fixations as a child—card houses, sandcastles—I would like this space to remain largely unedited, a new compulsion, equally strong, to let the cards fall where they may, let the water flood past the outer wall, welcome the world—which one?—in.

    Googling myself an embarrassing amount (any amount seems embarrassing). I want to know how people are reacting to A Year as I don’t know many people, I haven’t shared it with many. The book launch, mid-endemic here, “post”-pandemic, terrified me—anxiety of disease and set-up and so on, sure, but mostly anxiety of “meaning”—what was the book for—though I know a book is never for anything other than reading. A deep hatred of “the reading” in the air. I felt it with feeld—that the book must do something—represent, identify, be interpellated into commentary “upon” those “real things” which exclude, oppose, poetry. As if the United States wasn’t the most pervasive and imperial of poetics. As if “no camping allowed” weren’t a poetics. So, the book doesn’t change “things” but maybe slides into an epistemological equivalence of things. A poem will never “allow” “camping.” But it might clarify the target. I would like a poem that names the enemy it imagines (Dante). The reviews on Goodreads being unfavorable.

    Preferring the disappearance of thinking to thought, “takes.”

    Jos Charles is author of a Year & other poems and feeld (Milkweed Editions)—a Pulitzer Prize finalist and winner of the National Poetry Series—and Safe Space (Ahsahta Press). She resides in Long Beach, California, with her best friend and cat.

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