Philip James Shaw ~ prepositions for elijah









[ 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.