Absent Light, Resilience
1. Dark Times Thirst for Light
When I look back at some of the language I use to describe my interest in light—what endures, fragility, breath, spirit—I think a more comprehensive term would be resilience. I know that light is often associated with epiphany and transcendence. Those connote being released or freed from something. But there’s also a way that I think light continues to carry the message of loss, of a calamity, even. As part of light’s unswerving message, this pain or endurance is an important aspect of the way I imagine resilience.
Perhaps my interest in resilience is a necessary response to the climate we live in now. I refuse to offer a litany of devastation. Suffice to say that my day job asks me to think regularly about systemic oppressions, how power operates in society. It can unfortunately be incredibly neurotic-making... I can name things in ways I wasn’t able to before, but I also now believe that sometimes hyper-vigilance is a kind of martyrdom in myself. I am eager for thinking about ways to move on. To me, such a desire is not a desire for ignorance. It’s a desire to continue—in the face of all the hard things. I hope to find ways to do so beautifully.
2. Fault Lines
I think resilience is especially apparent to me when I look at some of Joshua Ware’s work and how it speaks with light. A close personal friend, I first met Joshua when he was still writing poetry, and was a witness to his transition into visual art. He began experimenting with small-scale collage about 4 years ago, and continues to utilize found materials in his large-scale sculptural paintings on wood panel. I love his art work. They have humor, a Dada-ish sensibility that is well balanced by his precision and outstanding use of color. (His Rosewood Fadeout is featured at the top of the page.)
Joshua’s Fault Lines from his “skins” series reflects and eats light. I can’t help but feel very close to this piece. It expresses resilience to me in its blackness and movement.
The sheen of the glossy finish creates brilliant white zones in the textured black terrain. Made of re-purposed paper grocery bags that have been treated with immense volumes of paint and varnish, it’s a hybrid work on panel, both a painting and a sculpture.
This image doesn’t fully capture the scale of the piece, which is 48” x 36.” In this image, the sculptural aspects are almost delicately arboreal across a yellow meridian. In person, it is much more embodied and thick, gesturing more firmly at a human spine, a ropey nervous system. I feel simultaneously far above a landscape, looking down on a pitch covered mountain chain, while also deep in the earth’s interior. A private subterrain.
The dark geography eats light. But it also rises, it gathers—beautifully. I look at this piece, and I see that whatever happens to me individually, the forces of the world will move on. And I draw some peace from that.
Haven’t we all suffered something terrible in the course of our lives? Variously? I was telling a friend recently that one truth of life is that the longer you live it, pain will inevitably touch you intimately. I wasn’t prepared for it. I think I am now. There’s something exquisite about that.
I often feel that I’m in danger of becoming a dedicated writer of trauma texts. I think that’s why I stopped writing for a long time. Maybe this meditation on absent lights is a way to resolve all this. Maybe I’m deepening a refrain that has been playing inside my body for years. When I write the phrase, my friend died and my life completely changed, it’s perhaps impossible for any reader to grasp what that means to me. That said, I sense, personally, that this is all drawing to a definite close. Pain wrote its message into me with its black light, and by magnifying it, I’m letting it go.
I’m feeling embarrassingly self indulgent with all this. Let me try and move on and say only that if you have suffered and survived, I think Joshua Ware’s Fault Lines will speak into you.
3. After Joshua Ware’s Fault Lines
the tangerine interruption
demonstrates a final convergence
in the black ocean’s waves—
Taut then slack,
the body moves—
slides into a new conundrum—
touch and pull
then tense then turn away again
the body’s spine.
From the torqued pelvis to the tilt of a leaning head,
in all array
motion bunches with intention—
draws in, pulls down,
says Ride hard to
that final monument,
with wet hands.
To begin again
if the representation permits it,
as if to say
were we faultless
was the earth
was the sky an absolute witness
was the body you inhabited
no sleek ray or its child
no orphan misery of blank shoulders
no peonies with their petaled cries
A wealth in relation,
such human significance—
did you confirm the heat
as an announcement—
did it well up
from unspoken caverns
yearning for all to witness—
From afar, with insight,
the inevitability of
that bright division cuts perfectly—
no one ever warns us
about the sun’s
4. An Absent Light
I want to end on an incredible phenomenon I got to witness. I saw the solar eclipse with musician and filmmaker David B. Weaver, who captured this astonishing time elapse of the totality.
The minute the sun transformed into a glittering diamond pearl ring, I gasped. The world turned mauve. All the dogs barked at once and then quieted. There was applause, I cried.
And what were we all standing under? The absent light of the sun. It was the gentlest light I’ve ever known.
Aren’t we standing, at all times, under various absent lights? Of lost friends. Of ancestors. Of traumas we moved past, were pushed into, that enveloped us and ate us up and miraculously concluded. Of the greatest gifts and surprises that receded, leaving us merely human again.
This is my meager way of saying goodbye to this little series. Of thanking you for your generous attention. Watch the video! It’s so beautiful. I love the way the eclipse nearly slips from the frame’s view. Isn’t that the truth of everything? What is nearly slipping from your view? Try and catch it. If you miss it, its absence will also remain with you. My wish is that it does so beautifully.
Korean American poet Sueyeun Juliette Lee grew up in Virginia. She earned a BA from the University of Virginia and an MFA from the University of Massachusetts–Amherst and studied for a PhD at Temple University. Lee is the author of That Gorgeous Feeling (2008), Underground National (2010), Solar Maximum (2015),...