Violet Spurlock

Inspired by the form of Lyn Hejinian's A Border Comedy and Bernadette Mayer's writing experiment “write minimally: one line or sentence per day,” I set out to write one line per day in fifteen notebooks during the calendar year of 2023. What follows is the contents of one of those notebooks: 365 lines in which each line break represents an interval of roughly 24 hours.

Notebook 15

A baby is bigger in theory than in a bassinet
So thinking, unstoppable, is more daunting
Than care’s promise of exhaustion, provided one is good at being tired
In the era of anticipation, I practice divination by comparison
But the strollers in my neighborhood are so quick and fleeting
Happiness is a mess
If to tidy is a joy
Babies know half this story
We teach them to forget what can’t be known
They remind us that we don’t know how to learn
This baby makes me want a world, or I make it
Want what I have to give so it’s believable
What I have to give is a collection of sayings
Speech approximates this center we cross no great distance to love
The larval stage seems the real challenge
A closeness anonymous
As the tiny distances we inflate by examining
Make up the unspoken half of our lives
A half is just any bit of missing excess annoyingly popping up everywhere
Once it becomes whole it’s gone
But the critique of explanation cannot precede the identification of edible material
I come from my belly
A patch of skin and a speaking organ
Bemused at the empty abundance
Passing for escapism
In the living rooms that made us prodigies and orators
Everything that could be must be especially so
That we take pains to notice it such that the child will
Easily seem more alive than our slogging
No surprises but in others
Singing and bumping their heads on the high notes
I feel capable of forcing incapacity
On a living to-do list only in the privacy of illness
What we share in our concern is precisely our distance
From one another and a garden unimaginable
Therefore rich as arms in position to receive
Harvests with the same tranquility as hungry babes
But how we hold the world is not how we conceive it
If a person is anything like a notion, origins
Make foolish claims to possession
Outgrown only in cases of such genuine abundance that one can’t even count what passes through
        one’s hands or eyes or mouth (but this is all such cases)
A baby knows milk is endless and a baby knows the importance of being tired
The question of where money comes from is merely a trick played on human happiness
What we imagine is a better distraction
Than these fantasies that wail like late winter winds
I am only feeling a little cold on my way to the house
Feeling a little older in making my marks more orderly and slight
A bout of crying is usually only part of a day
Then a giggle is sent out about nothing at all
A baby is local in misrecognizing a place time and time again — local in time
Then we come to think of lives as journeys, ourselves these travelers who supposedly outgrow
Dependence though the car clearly makes the sandwich happen
Therefore the stomachache as well, though that comes later as problem and as lesson
I do nothing in response, my inaction shows I have learned
How to wait in a state of emergency
Until I am taken by a craft
Along a river or into a flurry of handiwork
Movement that calls me and serves as excuse
To play a role or take a trip or both
I might bathe in that momentary foam
Not know if it is held by porcelain or rubber
Because I am being convinced by this bit of luxury that both substances
Are equally incapable of impregnating me with their own respective properties
Yet I am what I touch or see as much as what I eat
So I think one functionless room would allow me temporary but total breaks from being
But when my precious office frees up I get anxious
A duration is a time spent waiting and change
Sneaks up and out the door as napping overtakes
Thinking in the race for units
They shrink and grow at random
So I feel less silly trying to make a week look like a life
In which most of what might happen won’t
Look anything like a possibility
One has to learn different methods for shrugging off statistics and anecdotes
Most forms of inner strength are rarely found in human speech
My “body” leads me back to bed
I dream of a poem that convenes people who don’t exist
Their voices reach around the world to say death is nothing
Birth a secret kept
From those whose love is latent
In the excuses known as schedules
I squeezed in my sweat
Its rarity told me the world was cold and demanded
The gathering and storing of effort
To keep the brain mushy and the house empty
Bliss is just the unimpeded flow of particles
Now I must address the immediate temptation to extrapolate
We are nothing like the particles which comprise us
Most of what we know about is the gap
Our discussion is drunken and disappointing
But the babble of an infant can only be promising
I picture myself as a mother searching for Hitachi torture
On the internet and in real life too
I stare mostly at things made to be bought and sold
I feel as American as a car crash
Reborn in backseats bursting with horny vying
My first birth also occurred with great velocity in a fluorescent nexus of sex, power, and death
It took some reach to recast later fumbling as a redo
Since I couldn’t prove anything had been done in the first place
Lacking anything like evidence in my trove of experience
I couldn’t even tell whether this leap of faith was larger than the last one
Since all decisions are calculated in retrospect
It’s difficult to remember how a motive compelled
The creation of all this junk that has acquired the sheen of inevitability
It’s easy not to care when a dance is so damn cute
And age has made you a spectator
And clouded your eyes besides
Fog is admired in its advance
Blanked out
The coastline only as pretty as a thing can be
While abstraction wilts
I ought to tend to living things and I am one
But it’s the dead pet that arouses the visiting poet’s attention
Through her we are also visited by the local season
Swaddled in pollen my outfit sings of childhood
I pretended I remembered being so young I didn’t know
What girls and boys were for
Mothers’ explanations have always been tautological
Since the authority of the caregiver trumps epistemic quibbles
A child’s right to disagree is precisely baseless, but valid insofar as it recognizes the mother as
        someone with whom it might be very fruitful to disagree
So a child gets to cease being a child by ceasing to disagree
Two cancer memoirs suggest that when people start dying they see the link between individuation
And following the long road to the grave from the womb
I want to believe each passage is punctuated, that it at least resembles
That inner deadlock hindered
In its disintegration by the genetic demand
Lightly setting limits for triangulation
Collective memory is more responsible to the history of joy than self-narrative
The parents I adopted broke up and still love each other
I put my sweat in linen and my trust in women
God enters the equation like fear does the bloodstream
I didn’t want to see these terms swimming in a speechless body
But I could teach and learn physical techniques
To honor the words that emerge from my torso
Bellies give many kinds of birth
To living things like babies and bacterial colonies that tell us how we feel
Fathers were invented by the bitter need a snub produces
We are all so insufficiently bonded
By these obvious gobs of stories
Chatting is an excuse to devour the face
It is even more delicious as it blends into the dusky lamplight
This crepuscular repression feels like a slightly itchy but ultimately cozy blanket
Afternoon spillage remains constant squinting
I will demand that she describe her feelings
She will take her sweet time
By practicing consultation in the face of a slate of no good options
There are no answers there are merely different tones of voice
Animals hear everything we feel aloud inadvertently, and babies learn language to let go of that
        weight and skim along meaning’s surface
During that rapid accession all sorts of wisdom escape
When I tried to say what babies know
I was just fantasizing to make myself more comfortable
To get along better with the babies
Everyone said I would have to embrace boredom
While displaying great interest
In the magic twigs that serve as pleas for love
Better than the other bids for an attention waning
As its forms of exercise become increasingly repetitive
Repetition occurs more often in environments where information appears to be regulated
As I said before, whether it felt good was an accident
A better basis lived in a long life of work, buttressed
Mostly by blots of time which grew
So years made days impossible and unnecessary
I must be being dragged through time
I like to think I know where I would sit still if I could
As if I live in a location and not an excuse
One that hopefully can be shared
Without also transferring the problem it attempts to solve
A mutual unbinding
As pleasure salutes to repetition
Habit weeps voluptuously in anticipation
The disruption is so poetic and temporary
But even the briefest interruption will last forever in the part of the mind that can’t move on
Stuckness can encompass forgetfulness
I can continue to move forward without a final decision until
I make all my choices without looking and even send my eyes away
To a darker world for a time to better appreciate light’s return
Everything that happens after the first time an ending has been imagined
Feels pointless and miraculous like a flower glanced at during an argument
A human life which shrugs off justification
Guarantees its creator some lifelong questions
Answers too are living things, which is to say they are
Malleable and forgetful of their origins
Brood unless grouped
Then we take turns
Democracy for babies
I saw how much room there was
To share and still be overfull
So generosity was a strategy that could not be adopted piecemeal
Yet the infinite regress of better ways
Takes a roundabout route to obvious conclusions
Fringe beliefs give the self its scary edges
Stress is the nail that hangs the stitched message
The young ones wait for the words to become possibly
Open to reversals that make stranger bedfellows than those divided by the petty distance between
Insults always extend beyond their intention
Children quickly learn to soak up this excess contempt and convert it
Into a more neutral wariness
Once burdened with reproducing love, they earn back their birthright of violently slacking off
But hobbies soften the void left in the wake of obligations, and breathing is only
A life left lying in wait
The nervous neighbor advises us to mark Thursday
Everything will change and we will only be able to offer him an instantaneous text message and
        also the nebulous rest of our lives spent in friendship
Reading the same books but refusing to ever say to one another what is in them
I knew a man who lived like a book and I ended up having to offer a reading of him, to offer an
        account of his actions
It was unpleasant for a person to be a problem to be solved
The baby hit me like a fact and I doubted if I said a real thing all day
Indulgence breeds greedy love
Which aunts judge and moms enjoy until
Big partings make love acknowledge
Its place among the many other impossibilities
Unobtrusively working to make life bearable
If my hands are available, I feel I must offer them
Though the devil may well be doing the asking
My idleness belongs to him as much as my labor
All of a sudden I am completely ready, I don’t care
Life is a rowdy process that will have its way with me
We can zoom out and still see all the details if
Shapes are more important than textures and substitutes are holy
By practicing humility I ended up having a baby that taught me further humility, but I couldn’t have
        another baby
I had a dream I was so good I got licked on my face
It seemed a wet touch was always the sign
A boundary had melted and ego could follow
Then a dry text reminded me I didn’t understand
My own feeble gesture at camaraderie
Died in its infancy but still contained the seeds
That would blossom into robust bushes with the whole village’s cultivation
Anything less will result in fragile squabblers
Struggling to keep each other afloat with twice-told tales
Until a camaraderie emerges that is only possible with the arrival of a visitor
A baby is a kind of visitor at first, until
Its familiarity with the domestic environment doubles the inevitability
That doubt will spoil wonder
Until the clouds clear and the sky revives
That feeling that I want it all despite
Having rushed past this same feeling in my pursuit
Of the conviction required to write more than ten sentences
Now she says it’s sweet that I want more time
When I shrink from that encouragement
I learn not about my desire but about my confusion as to how
My days feign so successfully that they have room for comparisons
It’s true that when I don’t tell anybody else about something that I want, everybody else seems to
        have it
Lucky people are simply those who do unpleasant things alongside others and so realize
Pleasure can’t match
The vibration between
Stably bonded free radicals
Juggling themselves to no audience
How much can be held if it is sometimes held in midair
How a Tuesday reveals me to be busy and happy
As long as all my interactions are mediated
By the unevenly shared sense of participating in a form of work
Predicated on a feigned ignorance of colleagues’ private atrocities
So my sense of peace is perhaps too incurious
About the tougher stomachs of peers who
Make space for study by saying goodbye to the baby
A justified feeling of guilt would require the ability to determine the consequences of all possible
        courses of action
If our feelings were not rigidly principled and utterly unconcerned
I force myself to care about important things by paying such close attention to petty things
It seems I will only ever be happy if my chores
Add up to more than a clean house and can be dropped at any time
Inner order is the only outcome
Guaranteed by the skeptical microfascist
And the promise holds only insofar as
Man is not bad but a fad, and women’s love of trends will sweep away
The discomfort felt in the search for a purpose
The adjustments made to meet the other urgency
I have elsewhere described as “real”
Because my fantasy life is insulated from what happens
By my paid rent and my poor choices
Not much gets said so the urge to blurt grows
And the open window keeps daring me to roam
Towards where my thinking could catch up with my eyesight
That’s a place I’d rest a long while
A book could be written instantaneously
In my hand which sinks perfectly into the whole earth
The difference thinning
As my pulse synchronizes
With the static noise of the large stone
Until room tone becomes a cacophony
It’s my job to forget what I’m doing
Since the burden of keeping it in mind
Would surely make me worse at whatever it is
We are now calling our new and improved plan
Because my dream involved a physical sensation
Of carrying a child, I couldn’t shake
All the feelings following me as I walked by the school
Where the parents look a lot like me except
Half my day disappears and I hardly notice
I think I want to experience each moment twice
But I don’t know whether that would add or subtract
From the portion of the general condition of wonder that I can call mine
It’s scary to think a life can only be shared
By a single method, whether it be spending time together or
Rituals which mix blood and bind spirits
And it’s deeply unsatisfying to say we’re all entangled all the time
It leaves me no polite or even feasible method to decline
The moral obligations and social invitations which fuzzily blend together
Exhausted, a mother hires a village to raise herself
Enough attention paid will recreate the baby state
But only for external observers whose distance allows the imagination
To move more quickly than the gut
The eyes are also in touch with the toes
Excitement can travel further than is supposed
In the theories of mothers whose pleasures
Encompass and approve of a child’s future experiments
If the imagination is to avoid shrinking as time accumulates in the body
It is necessary to proceed with minimal assumptions
While never doubting for a moment
The bedrock of love our feet can sense beneath even the thickest rug
Supporting as indifferently as dirt this sober orgy which
I have been conducting alone at my desk since I was six
Now the hell I roam is not a hole
It resembles a series of rooms in which I occasionally doze off to allow sexualization to get its
The end of high school is so erotic
Since we are told we will never return to this moment again yet we all know
Nobody ever really gets past the sense that the real work is about to begin
Today I can imagine nothing else
Nothing other than a third thing wending its way between
The twin possibilities that encroach on my speech
Licking lips in concert with
A silence that introduces itself
As a gift a parent gives upon the condition that
The child agrees to pretend that she chose
A career dreamed up from deep within her
Then we can all feel that the wider world doesn’t really know a thing about us
And curiosity can seem a pleasant end
Questions that engage us all day and leave us alone at night
Bless an empty home with time
But in the jostle of a full house
Fake rain joins the real rain
In putting all sizes of babies to bed
The sky is always ready in the morning
The only time I know is sometimes
I rent also this room where I jostle
My genitals waiting for something new to come out
Then I can prove that I wasn’t just repeating
Myself when I succumbed
To the gentle pressure suggesting my happiness
I feel very ready when I feel very empty
Wanting to birth a child is like accepting that it’s Tuesday
Whatever is true won’t mind being thought
While the false must be nurtured by a great deal of active trust
This is why this distinction is completely irrelevant whenever need intervenes
Perhaps you’re wondering why I am so fond of invoking “need” as an abstract noun
I think at first I was just counterbalancing against the ever-present talk of “desire”
Although it strikes me now as a bad faith maneuver to set up a distinction that invents a sharp line
        in order to prioritize
The term that deflects struggle
Onto what is supposedly more objective or larger but really just more distant
The pull is imaginary, and my imagination has failed in merely fearing a grown chore list
A better idea is always being suggested
My hesitation ideally redeems restraint
While ultimately capitulating with a smile that registers a shift
In the game where it doesn’t matter what you asked for
You’re going to get an answer
I don’t have a better idea than life
Even if I trick it briefly
My affirmation will only ever be catching up
To the epic scene I grew up watching
And mostly wondering if I was cut out for all that happiness
I couldn’t seem to laugh when the others laughed, and it didn’t seem to be a matter of timing
But no world can remain small, and as I grew I synchronized with the common harmony
It instantly transformed from a song into a state
What’s held in common is held in place by a tight bond that is nevertheless effortless, and thus
        totally unlike the loose privacy of the family which is constantly forced and forcing
We think we live in that wiggle room
Between the study and the nursery where
I learned alongside something curiouser than I

Violet Spurlock is the author of In Lieu of Solutions (Futurepoem, 2023), which was the recipient of the Other Futures Award, as well as Alloyed Bliss (Eyelet, 2021) and VS VS VS (GaussPDF, 2021). She lives in the Bay Area, where she is a PhD student in English at the University of California, Berkeley.