[ prepositions no. 1 december 2 twenty nineteen ]
In the traditions of many,
chairs are left empty for a patron, set for a particular saint that our religions call for in our most specific of moments, or for all our families’ departed—believed to be obliged to arise to our occasions. As a child I suspected there’d been too few of them willing to show up for all the requests being made of them. I thought maybe most of them we prayed for and prayed to had never wanted to show up in the first place. I kept believing in the ones who tried, and succeeded, at moving on to things better than us. Leaving the space in our empty chairs, empty. When I painted my first chair it’d been in a multiplex columnar accounting ledger from Wilson & Jones I’d found at a flea market thirty years ago. It was even older still by the time I found it empty and smelling of another generation and I’d kept it within arm’s reach ever since for some unknown future use. On a dark windy morning I picked up two old brittle brushes that’d also sat untouched on my desk for years. I uncorked some Higgins Black Magic and a Liquitex Burnt Umber ink bottles, both still wet enough. In that ledger, on that first morning of December, I painted the chair you see above. We’d been going through another difficult time. Our lives in a way blown up only months before the whole world would—as it can—and will continue to in very new hard ways. As I listened and watched, and found new ways to work and be, and to try to live, I painted chairs. I used ink instead of paint because it’s what I had on hand, and because I needed to breathe well enough in a small space. As a global pandemic took hold of time, I went on to paint two hundred and fifty-eight ink paintings of chairs from that morning in December up until the middle of February 2021. Then I began writing to them. I’d choose a painting and write to each chair in the painting, like an entry in a record. I gave myself the permission to write at the cadence of how my mind has worked now for more than forty years. They reminded me of burnt plastic accountings of colliding truths that become fictions we rely on. So that’s what I wrote of: stacked broken memory.
[ prepositions no. 161 august 11 twenty twenty ]
· ledger paper manufactured 1918
for when what’d you been
they’d found tabs open on your browser of five hundred good names for a donkey of estes model rocket engines in original packaging of dog stamps of the world of what had been paid wrestling matches between golden haired men their waists the whole size of your body had you been curled up and wrapped around a normal sized man-waist as a boy you’d thought that would have been the size of the waists of golden haired strutting men on every saturday morning you watched before it came to pass you could watch anytime you wanted to several dozens of tabs they found open were about how popular they’d been the algorithms delivered two thousand and twenty pages of entries from the record and you’d made a whole folder of tabs of a zealot named simon not peter and your tabs wiki’d for language qanai in urdu meant discontent and if you replaced the q for a k at the beginning it became contentment in most languages but in japan it’d meant your wife or you could have said okusan both had also meant inside you’d read and they’d hadn’t known when they’d be able to find her and you’d kept the pronunciation engines open on your desktop even when it was a simple can i in every language left you could find online messianics can i meant jealous for a god of a john of a richard avedon of how an agasi learned to beat a becker serve by watching the tongue of boris he’d moved it to the middle of his lip when he served deuce court tabs on your browser diagramed the side of his mouth for when boris’d serve out wide always thieves and liars in the beginning they come and all through the middle they came and at the worst even more of them had been at the end when they’d found tabs on quercus oblongifolia the blue oak you’d loved as a child in deserts of what’d been called mexico in the record you’d fallen for the word oblongifolia you could attach it to a genus to mean a shape the blue oak had begun to thrive far north by then and you named your blue oak you planted the day a beverly cleary died beverly you’d seen beverly listed as a good name for a donkey along with roxy and moke and hebrides must have all been favorites of yours the record shows you’d written them down on a drank stained cardboard coaster with a cock-red smiling cartoon rooster printed out of register with crass language in garish typography your unsure hand writing was a small fit to the left beside the punchline right next to an address of a drinking establishment you listed beverly roxy moke and hebrides then you crossed out beverly with a mirado black warrior h b 2 leaded pencil and gouged into the cardboard with blue ink from a ball point the name berganza after one of cervantes mahudes muttering dogs a small list and there’d need to be a male named cornchip if you’d gotten your way they’d found tabs of user groups dedicated to people who cared for miniatures helped the donkeys of jerusalem find new homes and the gleaners of death attempted the names you’d written as your passwords when what they’d gone looking for in your left behind devices were expected pasts of pasts hyperlinked to slack morals or just money they’d hoped to find ducats simoleons bucks dinero green pelf all words for worth then as they stole through dark homes taking tabs of what’d been left open death by breath by then a cheap hack search for devices tuned to shinplasters jack moolah shekels spondulix more words they used for worth then these liars and thieves with little skill for more would move past the means to your vices to smear any name they could but all they found on you were your tabs of haft peykar persian romanticism salacious as you’d gotten by then when gleaners traded against what’d been left of others’ left open no one was going to make it past the ransoms then to what became the after of all of you but the record is full of entries poached right up until the end and recorded into vocoders they called machines dialed in to mangle a voice to bargain for what was left of someone and you and your wife both loved animal faces since the picture books from of childhoods chimpanzee faces had been your favorite faces both dogs and donkeys hers you knew you could never give a chimp a good home but you had a dog named petey whose body they’d found curled next to yours and you’d felt movies had never done robot voices of extortionists justice you thought they’d sound more viable if they were more complex deciphered bird calls more variable that way and you preferred computer voice modulation to be called voder instead of vocoder sounds like a villain you’d said for when the cheap hack death gleaners found whatever they hoped for they’d record starting with saying the expected cliches we’ll keep who she was away from others robot-voiced not enough imagination you’d thought and all they’d found on your desktop were trailer parks of north america and great indoor shopping malls of the seventies your browser tabs open to brothers who killed for fame that’d begun with greed before celebrity was added atop it all by then for when the gleaners found your remains what they called officials had stopped looking for remains altogether by then your most recent tabs and texts left open to efforts to contact your wife no phones or computers a pure experience continents away she’d gone away for she told you you weren’t paying enough attention to life and you’d told her you thought you were paying too much and while she’d not liked your favorite movies always a world on an edge of extinction too fast she’d said too loud she complained of your love of what’d been known as a mike banning trilogy you’d said a masterpiece you’d argued it was about the end of control not the end of the world and you followed her for the first part of her trip every step you could from lyfts to airports on trains and boats and busses by her low-jack apple find your i phone app you made shots of your screen images of her progress built into a puzzle not a game until you couldn’t any longer because pure was leaving your devices in a safe-box at check-in and you knew she had truly enjoyed watching wrestling you tubes with you and she’d liked rowdy roddy the best over the bloated blonde men she’d said his kilt she’d said only circa eighty-four eighty-five piper though whenever you’d tell her of his sordid roles story arcs and acts and not when he said vile things your wife said and you said to her that’s all wrestling is and your wife said then that would be sad and then she’d hit you just as the record showed how a piper had blind-sided a super fly snuka with a chair stomped his good leg hard on the mat for effect a chair across the back of your head would not ever been as loud as that and she’d use the largest pillow the ornate one with only one tassle left dangling your wife laughed until she couldn’t breathe and you told her never watch the documentaries on these men you said they’ve been edited for melodrama when you tickled her under her arm pits she laughed her breathless laugh and you recorded her once when she hadn’t known your phone was under the pillow you attacked her in bed just how she liked to be tickled the wav file left open on your desktop next to the screen shot collage you’d constructed of her travel to purity you’d looped her laugh into a file thirty seven minutes and seven seconds long in length including a fade in and out some rises to her shouting stop stop between gulping for air and you cut your own voice out in the places where you’d given her an inch to let her get a breath and she’d always been able to get you back in those moments she’d bite your stomach your arm your chest your back and you hated to be tickled from bully trauma you told her and of your asthma attacks as a child when you’d given her an inch she could take you down in seconds you didn’t mind biting as much as not being able to breathe with her and before she left you two had decided together to leave only eight trees behind the old volunteer german apple only good for butter or cider left from when orchards had been pulled down around you a bay laurel and a leptospermum a kind of myrtle they’d been calling tea trees your wife called him quiggly like from down under she’d said and you’d added an olive a meyer lemon a luma a cyprus all hadn’t been given names before she left and the quercus oblongifolia you both had named beverly there are no photos of her in the record planted too late hadn’t made it through the end we wish we could see the color of her leaves it’d become hotter each year by then more smoke and while beverly had been made for the heat she didn’t make it the olive is still there though quiggly too and your wife had wanted to name a boy donkey roddy instead of cornchip but it still hadn’t been decided as far as you’d been concerned roddy was too aggressive for an equus asinus you’d learned from a doctor svendsen’s book entitled the complete book of the donkey that miniatures were their own breed not aggressive at all they liked to hug people they trusted is what sold you both and you said avoid the theatre judge the men by their matches only and after wrestling you tubes you and your wife had searched the record for videos of donkeys hugging people their necks wrapped around them your favorite was one where the donkey crawled right into a man’s lap as he was sitting in a chair when your wife came home pure names could be decided then you’d decided together and you believed she’d have a heart for cornchip even when the last thing she whispered in your ear at the security gate i still like roddy best and she’d liked when you told her all about his formulated histories of how you’d said he only did his interview show piper’s pit to give him a breath after the great dog collar match the record shows you’d said give him time to heal from the hurting valentine put on him you told her that’s real pain in his face and you’d diagrammed that match knew every made-up move and exactly when anger took over from the acting you’d told her the story of that roddy taking a shot at hollywood and you’d declared him the best wrestler-cum-movie star of all time when the record shows that could not have been true when so much then had not been true because despite one roderick george toombs an a k a rowdy roddy piper who’d been born in a saskatoon the record shows having been a john carpenter’s hero named a john nada in the movie they live when it turns out no one would there’d also been the rock your wife argued and you had digressed for hours about quantity losing its battle with quality but you admitted an ability to arch an eye brow was impressive and you added but one note don’t you think like you always would because you hadn’t been paying attention to her arguments you messaged kanai which could mean inside the house and also meant my wife to no one in charge officials in a prefecture you wanted to know when and how she could come home after all had been closed by then you wanted to know where she could be as you waited for responses you re-watched best-of matches of golden haired bloated men that’d been certainties you wanted to believe weren’t until what came next gleaners given up on your tabs you’d never been able to close.
Philip James Shaw creates communications on behalf of organizations advancing equity and access in healthcare and education. He lives in Port Townsend, Washington. prepositions for elijah ~ is twenty pieces of writing in concert with twenty paintings—devoted to saints of absence.