Sunday, April 10, 2011

Leave Only a Blue Scroll of Notes: Lynda Hull

For years I’ve been in love with Lynda Hull. I’m trying to remember how I came across her; it might have been my friend Jeremy and something to do with Chet Baker: "You have to read 'Lost Fugue for Chet,'” he would have said, getting that funny smirk on his face—like he’s secretly laughing with pleasure about some bit of art that cracked him open. “Okay,” I would have said, "let me write that down." And I would have taken out one of my teeny tiny notebooks kept for writing things down and remembering, which was always also filled with list upon list upon list of what I needed to do.

What is it about Hull? I kept the world “Utsoroi” as my secret name, a clandestine part of me embodied in this magic word. And then this, “The Japanese call this utsuroi, / a way of finding beauty at the point / it is altered, so it is not the beauty / of the rose, but its evanescence / which tenders the greater joy,” I remembered in variation for years: writing and re-writing it down in journals, on slips of paper to stick to a wall at a desk in a room in some apartment somewhere.

There is a sadness and longing, a piercing joy, in Hull that I relate to. But also, I suspect (but have never wanted to figure out) that we share a certain disease, which I also presume killed her as this disease tends to do. I know the emptiness and grueling hell of such a life, though I did not know her and could never know what life was like for her (of course, of course), I sense it in her work, and that is what I felt connected to when I first read her.

Now, years later, I feel connected more to the beauty in her work than the sorrow…perhaps, perhaps...the beauty of the sorrow, which of course is utsuroi.

Here, from “Magical Thinking,” the color of her musical sorrows:

It is a common human longing to want utterly
     to vanish from one life and arrive transformed
          in another. When the man came home, he’d

touch her shoulders, her neck, but each touch
     discovered only the borders of her solitude.
          As a child in that neighborhood she’d believed

people were hollow and filled with quiet music, that   
     if she were hurt deeply enough she would break
          and leave only a blue scroll of notes.

This could be us, the feeling of solitude, the secondary (but primary) inner life in collusion with childhood, carrying with it still the true magic of “a blue scroll of notes.”

I know it’s sort of sacrilege to be chopping up great poems and blathering on in this lackadaisical fashion focused on only what I want to see, feel, know. Okay, I’m not that self-absorbed, but kind of. All beauty has a way of either cutting through us or reflecting parts of us. Truth and Desire. This could be any of us, and then.

At first when he hit her, her face burned.
     Far off the stadium lights crossed the cool
          Green diamond and burnished cobwebs swaying

on the ceiling. Then she became invisible,
     so when the doctor leaned over and asked
          her name all she could think of were her dresses

thrown from the window like peonies exploding
     to bloom in the clear dark air. No music –
          merely a rose haze through her lids, something

ticking in her head like a metronome
     in a parlor, dusty and arid with steam heat.

And then you see it isn’t any of us, but this one person. Yet you understand this could be any of us. That I think is a stroke of genius-magic.

          How many lives she’d passed through to find

herself, an aging woman in black, before the locked
     and empty shop. So much sleight of hand, the years
          simply dissolving. Again she hears the crowd,

a billow of applause rippling across the brilliant
     diamond, across the mysterious passage
          of time and the failure of sorrow to pass away.

I have left the first stanza of this poem out; you can find “Magical Thinking” in Lynda Hull’s beautiful book published in 1991, Star Ledger, along with the poems “Utsuroi” and “Lost Fugue for Chet.” Star Ledger is also published onlinein PDF by the University of Iowa.

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