From notes from the understory

Cropped version of "Night Moths" by William Baxter Closson. Courtesy of Smithsonian American Art Museum. Public domain.


notes from the understory (layer 20, direction one)

All of it begins. I’m soaked to the skin by a sudden downpour.
My gray silk blouse won’t come free from the skin of my chest,
my arms. I abandon the meanings of silk and skin to
a moth-wing thinness, fluttering skyward.

Sun returns to warm the blue question of what sky might
become, which remains answerless as it fills with what
seem to be clouds, but they’re only potential.

All of it begins. I ask if there are still sleeves wetly affixed
to what I thought were my arms? Will I act within only
one meaning of “arms”?

Judith Butler offers me Merleau-Ponty’s reply—
the meaning of flesh is texture, which returns to,
and conforms to, itself.

It begins. I wear flesh wet. I wear it moth-wing thin.

Judith Butler recounts how Merleau-Ponty’s sentences
surround her, adding flesh to her grammatical nature.

My grammatical nature is a moth still in larvae form,
not yet ready to change in ways I needn’t predict.


notes from the understory (layer 20, direction two)

Can a word have a “nape”? Out my window this morning,
I see a mother-cat walking the top of my wooden fence.

She has the nape of a kitten in her mouth.

In her thrift of movement nothing of her purpose
is exposed, which makes the inwardness of her
intention more densely exist.

This is how it begins: I watch the cat’s body move
so deftly into itself that I believe it disappears.

I have the nape of the word “misapprehension”
in my mouth. I carry it without harming even
one of its syllables.

From Merleau-Ponty I learn that a relation can only
be relayed by a middle voice that will arise figuratively
between the acting and acted-upon.

It begins. I see morning’s mist from my window.
I walk outside to feel its cool density surround me

as it has surrounded all beings since there first were
misty mornings on earth.

I let the mist carry me by the nape of my neck.
I am light to carry.


notes from the understory (layer 20, direction three)

Unable to sleep last night, I opened Judith Butler. “Feeling,
precipitated by the touch of another, initiates one’s sense of ‘I’.”

I remember her recounting how she let herself be touched
by a phrase she’d read in Merleau-Ponty.

From my open window, I hear something make a rhythmic
rustling sound that I first think might be words, if words could
move through my yard’s tall weeds.

I listen for what this might mean, as I let the sound touch me.

A meaning may be bleached down to only the bones
of its nature, a nature that one might give flesh to.

I want to be touched by whatever moves through the foxtails
and fescue I’ve let grow thick and wild.

I go outside.

“The elusive condition of one’s own emergence continues
to inform each and every touch, as this is its ineffability,”
says Judith Butler.

My emphasis might be placed on “ineffability,” if I were to
grow as thin as these cirrus clouds in the sky.

I look up again. They’ve vanished.

Rusty Morrison is a poet, publisher, editor, and critic. She is co-founder and co-publisher of Omnidawn and the author of six books, including the upcoming Risk. She has received fellowships from UC Berkeley’s Arts and Research Center and Civitella Ranieri Artist Residency Foundation.

Buy the BookBookshop
Explore Related Content