The big question became whether it would rain or not. At one point in the late morning when we were waiting for the soundman this middle-aged guy stood with us on the stone stairs and said it will. 40% said Kristin hopefully. Definitely says this guy and he laughed. Working class I not so much sneered when he left as checked in on a reality that says if it can it will. Meaning disaster.
The working class after all goes to war. Get killed. I mean the man’s chuckle meant it is just rain. The rain plan for the collection silence was relatively still. You don’t know what stillness is till you start it. The Buddhists were still. It looked very good – they began before the hour began. Buddhists are ready for sitting. That’s what they do. I remember being on a book tour once and speeding manically to make the evening sit at a very rigid zendo in New Mexico. I remember writing poems on my knee about racing towards stillness and I am only a partial Buddhist. But that’s what they do. F.A.R.T.S (Friends of the fine arts) a life drawing group from Brooklyn occupied a landing facing a large window and the dykes struck poses, teased each other re stillness: fingers held to lips for silence. They drew an ardent crowd who watched what was essentially performance drawing. The only caveat was that they kept their clothing on and in silence what read naked was the slow abandon of their private process in public. The beauty of these artists and what they shared was that they were friends. And one of them was mourning. Kate Huh’s dad had just died. This seemed like a good place to be she somberly said. It’s exactly how art gets honored. How you enter it – when and why.
The groups settled in on either end of the main floor an the upper balcony after I said a few words about silence – it’s dated, so 20th c. so maybe we, the 21st are saying goodbye to it, but once centuries are in conversation all time comes off the shelf. As it turned out only one of the kids, Arturo Campos, came. I asked people to join him and intone but just as we were beginning in came Yancielle and Leslie so the finale had thickened and the need for adult voices was gone. I just wandered like a clock. I bought a cap and the idea had been to give John a signal every ten minutes by taking it off. The point of this signal was to cause the groups of poets to move from station to station and the indoor plan was to stay still but then John would have nothing to do so we did our own call and response every ten minutes so I also had a little job. Monica de la Torre’s group was in the library. They were silently restringing a guitar that had no strings (Jeremy) and as I entered the library I saw a crowd of people raising tiny pieces of paper as if they were bidding. I nodded in approval with no idea of what was going on. The idea of directorhood, or conceptual artisthood I think is to be some kind of ghost. If the machine is working you simply float. Charles’s group and Stephanie’s group in the upper balcony seemed a little isolated. Nathaniel had some kind of light embedded in his chest and at a distance winking means a lot. C.A. Conrad seemed to be methodically reading, deeply involved. His concentration was all. Charles flanked the entrance with another kind of calm. I admired his authority. He wasn’t having to put out. He was. I thought maybe these guys would like to come down. The dancers were wriggling, tearing. Tim (Liu)’s group downstairs had lots of torn white paper on the floor. Rachel’s group all in black connected by ropes were in agon I thought. I get excited at the idea of the female form producing an abstraction. Women might be nothing, but we are so quickly allegorical as well. We’re a rich nothing that goes all ways at once. Rachel’s group was tugging at that thought. Once people began to drift, occupying slightly different spaces, one by one or by group (that wasn’t the plan!) (Oh yes it was!) The downstairs began to be empty. The building began to be empty. Everyone had gone outside, the rain had stopped and the piece was as it was planned with ten minutes to go. Myself and the Dia team (Kristin, Karen, Barbara) were drying John’s outdoor stage with paper towels. He was the final icon. At about eighteen past the kids entered the plaza and walked down the central staircases. Like young gladiators. Two girls and a boy. I forgot to mention the crowds. There were cameras following individual performers. People talked later about how great it was to be a silent audience. Not so much shhh as not bothered with patter as a group, silent mutual appreciation often. Early on the talkers stepped outside if they wanted to speak. When the silent performers began to step out the silence infected the talking space so it was all silent now. The kids performed their Hall of Silence, well silently. But kid whispering, it was sweet, with very expressive gestures. They were so much better than they were at school. Better than in rehearsal, so much better than in the end of the school year talent show in which they had been remarkably scared and still. Here they flew. John hit his note – growling, low, stopped, start. Bleating, stopping. I had to jump my ass off to signal this performance to say the time had come. For me my glasses popping out of my pocket meant I had signaled well. I was done. The kids now performed their poem aloud. The plaza was silent again. Their kid voices traveled. It was about 830 by now. The gloaming had not begun. We saw them crystal clear in the calm of the wet stone plaza. It was a quiet assertion of a sense of beauty, young beauty, in formation. So I thought it was simply ecstatic and it brought tears to many eyes. Not mine, though I was awed which I think I am a lot. The party was like so much bubbles. Returning to our natural urban chatter I think there was communal joy, success. Frankly there’s nothing better than one shot. It hit, it resounds. The night, the silence, was done. Summer is open at last.
Eileen Myles was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and was educated in Catholic schools, graduated from the University of Massachusetts-Boston, and moved to New York City in 1974 to be a poet. They gave their first reading at CBGB's and then gravitated to St. Mark's church where they studied with Ted...