Vivienne Cutbush on An Unsteady Compass
When someone says to me “take care” I am not always certain I know what they mean. Is it – be gentle with world, don’t crack the eggs, drop the baby, spill the milk. Is it some kind of ingredient you pull from fridge and whisk in. Take care. Don’t over beat, soft peaks. If you do it just right, all will come good and cake will rise. Or do they mean, look after self. Take the time to fall apart. Take all the time in the world you need right now. Grief is a long event. Some kind of rock to push, or boulder. Let it whelm you. The weight of it all. Let it fall.
Take care. Take it. Take the heat, the pulse. Take the cake. Take a breath. Take this, for example –
I don’t remember sitting at your kitchen table with cups of sweet tea arguing about sticks and stones. A rock is a rock is a rock is a rock, I said. You can reach out and touch it. Granite or slate. Exactly my point, you said. What, I said. A rock is animate, you said. Hard and alive. Like seeds. Like bodies – all bone and heart. It is nothing more than a long event. A long event? I said. Like our happening upon each other, you said.
I don’t remember sitting on the green velvet couch together in the living room and you said why is it we never celebrate lasts? The last time I buttered your toast. The last time you pushed a rock up the wild switch back road that runs to the top of Ben Lomond. The last time I saw you. It’s all a cause, you said, for celebration.
Or – take that I don’t remember saying I eat sentimentality for breakfast. And – isn’t every event the last? Think, each time Sisyphus ascends with stone, only for it to roll back down again, he descends alone. For all eternity, it is the same act but different points in time. As Maria Tumarkin writes, “in the benign repetition of daily acts an invisible net is cast, holding people up, protecting them. Because the things being repeated … are never the same. That imperceptible difference, same damn thing, same blessed thing, is what rescues it”.
I don’t remember thinking ahuh! perhaps that’s why Camus thought Sisyphus was happy after all, because he knew “each atom of that stone, each mineral flake of that night-filled mountain, in itself forms a world”. It’s the things we do again and again that save us. Hold us up. A last(ing) moment. A cause for cheers. Chink chink.
I don’t remember reading Carlo Rovelli’s “The Order of Time” and the bit where he writes we must see the world as a network of events, not things. He writes how in fact a stone that is quite “thinglike”, is nothing more than a long event. Think an unsteady compass, myths absorbed into body, a boulder in the tray of a ute and tools made of Darwin glass. The world is composed of occurrences and happenings, so says Rovelli.
I don’t remember you were there my entire life until you weren’t.
I don’t remember some days when it all got a bit much and it heated up you would say, let’s go down and have a look at the ocean boys. And there was a huntsman living in the old Holden you didn’t want to kill and we’d all pile in and you’d drive us down to look at the sea.
It’s like I don’t remember some days. It’s like. Heart splits. And – I don’t remember being told how it affects body. Grief that is. My bowels turned to stone and I didn’t shit for four days.
But I do remember some things. Take the clunk clunk sound of rocks stacking. Nitwuni country. Fingers blue from cold. The smell of vinyl from the backseat of the Volvo. Iced vovos. Salty air. Heavy and sweet. Salmon rissoles and soft pink nightgowns. Dharawal country. Upside-down apple cake and malt milkshakes. I remember learning that the phrase “more than I can bear” is another way to say, “it’s more than I can take”. I remember you once told me the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. I remember you said, which of you boys will run down and throw a stone into that pool. We’d find a big smooth stone and toss it way out. We’d stand and watch ripples expand out, and out, to the pool wall. And then, the pool would settle and we would head home.
I remember you said, take my hand, and I knew exactly what you meant.
Viv Cutbush reads, writes, mends and makes in nipaluna/Hobart, where the sky – its gusts, glares and billows -– grip the heart.