Susan Briante and Farid Matuk Respond to Marcella Durand’s “Traffic & Weather”


It could only be improvements. Capital improvement programs. Phrases we never use and which pop out from nowhere. Capital gains improvement programs. But we still don’t get them quite right. Like we don’t inhabit them fully. Capital improvement systems. Gains. Capital. Systems. Improvements.
I like that cut-up at the end there.  It’s become important to me right. now.   next to the Fisher Price Aquarium Cradle Swing that catches in its lowest setting but not with enough force to swing.  I can hear the stutter in the plastic gears.  My daughter is verging on 8 weeks old and won’t suffer the hand-me-down’s failure.   There’s a purple pink sling like a sash across my chest that’s empty because she wouldn’t go for that either.  I fancy her attention is already partial and parsed across instances, in cells like each of Marcella’s Gains. Capital.  The trick though is that the cells and their isolation make it all seem instant, and we can’t keep up.  Capital, of course, is super fast, it’s already exchanged before it takes form and makes me nostalgic too for nouns I don’t know about:  “pitch, grease, oil, open flames, exploration, construction.”

The poem promises “The damage is visible and expanding. Your feet are part of it. They carry for miles what you have been through.”
I used to walk under scaffolding tucked into a high cement awning of a convention center in Santiago de Chile a couple of years after I finished college.  it was 1999 and Pinochet was under house arrest in London.  Good.  Suits.  My friend said Pinocho made the building a stronghold in the first days of the coup and men used to walk the scaffold above my head with machine guns pointing down.  I don’t know if that’s true, but I’ve carried it a few miles.  Susan is on the other side of this wall to my left, trying to get back some of the sleep we forfeited last night as we walked and shushed the baby.  We walked in circles making a few tours.  She was the “hypothetical baby” for a long time in our talks.  Now she’s “actual”?  I hope Susan wakes up in time to write something about the poem for all kinds of reasons, but mostly because Susan studied ruins and has read a lot of Robert Smithson.  Marcella’s poem is my favorite kind of poem.  It makes the city actual the way the Chinese rivers are actual in Tu Fu’s journal and the men walking above my head for the sake of Capital were actual after my friend told me about them.  A ghost, a city, a jackhammer, a crater made of traffic and weather.   I’m suspicious of any poem’s claim toward the document.  Capital, traffic, and weather keep moving, but my favorite kind of poems catch the friction from those circuits.  Being a father stokes my maudlin side sometimes.  I cry, sorry we called the actual baby into all this, broke the drop from its river, sorry and then glad she’ll string. it. together.

I do not believe I am a part of it. Rather, I believe I run counter to it. As then there is now a countercurrent. There is always a paradox. There is never an exception to every rule. Your opposite exists simultaneously with you. The culture wafts like an air current.
In a less iconic city, no architecture offers form to my thoughts. Great plains. Great swaths of mixed-used development. The music from the fm radio next to the bed becomes grid, scaffold, building, permit. Unfamiliar songs make me nostalgic. Alone in this bed for the first time in weeks. I am nostalgic for loneliness. I am another kind of lonely. There is no new construction on E. Grand Avenue. A transformer is caught in a tree in our alley. All winter it was a metaphor for my pregnancy. All winter it sparked in snow-covered branches. Electrified by your aura…Never purely paint and never purely sculpture. Marcella’s poem reminds us of public works, witnesses private development. The pockmarked highway is a hand-me-down for my daughter who screams from the next room.
How should Farid and I orient her?

Let me tell you a story about giving directions.
Once I sent letters to a friend in Costa Rica whose address read “500 meters from the Videocentro, Guapiles, CR.” No street, no number, pure associative orientation. But landmarks persist after a city revises them. In Managua I received directions based on sites that no longer existed: walk 250 meters from the dairy that burned down during the war, turn right at the black dog’s corner years after the dog had died. In lieu of grid, a story. Cf. Barthes on Japan for another example, Marcella’s city too traverses map and narrative, desks covered with dust, light from the window (or in the windows Schuyleresque) chain-link fences, bridges spilling into the historic downtown, lock-box, tube, dutch wall…depicted. Or rendered. Or translated. The poem is always a document, frequently a cannibal (cf. Andrade’s Anthropofogite Manifesto) feeding off of this post-postmodern landscape: ruins and ruins in reverse (the half built). I love the view from the living room window this time of year: the trees in half leaf so you can see gold green foliage and the black cursive of branches underneath.

What is remembered now, and later. To live inside as it is constructed. To look and then write: a moment of looking, inches away from viewing, and then a moment of writing—as if writing were recalling, but also looking.
Our daughter only sees 8 to 15 inches in front of her. Moving the rattle in front of her face. Bringing our noses to touch, we teach her to see. I worry what stories might be left our daughter, gears that shift and stutter, and where she’ll look to understand them. Books like Marcella’s provide a compass: here there was a skyscraper, there a streetlight, here we made love or a wall. Our daughter will inherit second-hand economies, capital moving across boundaries fast as storm clouds. Little girl, don’t miss that train. From my bedroom on the first cool night of fall, its whistle sounds louder.

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