Mudlark Poster No. 64 (2006)

Mutabilities by Brenda Hammack

after paintings by Remedios Varo

I. Mimesis | II. Discovery of a Mutant Geologist | III. Unexpected Visit
IV. The Useless Science or the Alchemist | V. Creation of the Birds

Brenda Hammack’s work has appeared in The Sow’s Ear Poetry Review, Tar Wolf Review, Heliotrope, The Hurricane Review, The North Carolina Literary Review, The Laurel Review, and various other journals. She teaches Victorian literature, children’s literature, and an interdisciplinary course on images of women at Fayetteville State University.

Remedios Varo, an expatriate painter of Spanish origin, living in France and, then, Mexico, absorbed the mystical traditions of many cultures, transmuting them into celestial spindrift (i.e. noctilucent objects that orbited the heads of jugglers, artists, and otherwordly scholars in oil on masonite). Varo was greatly influenced by the French surrealists, including André Breton, as well as by occult philosophers (Gurdjieff, Blavatsky, Ouspensky). Her mutabilities are science filtered through alembic, natural law as translated by tarot. Varo was born in Anglés in 1910; she died in Mexico City in 1963.

I. Mimesis

She’s been waiting so long that the still life 
is less still than she is.  All she wanted was 
to fit in like a stain that blends into fabric
and, now, she has become chair, her face 
upholstery, a fleur-de-lis pattern, or pock 
marks. With posture mimetic, adopting that 
cryptic resemblance of prey that pretends 
to be habitat, she’s not afraid anymore of 
the parallax that keeps shifting away, then 
back so she can’t tell who’s looking when, 
what’s moving, or if her whole world’s aslant. 
Some people kick to prove they exist; others 
attack to prove the world does. But, she lacks
even this much enthusiasm. When relativity
led to perforation so that the outside filtered 
in, when the inanimate became animate, the 
chair and the table legs teasing one another
like baroque monkeys, she remained passive.
Even as the cupboard opened up to tip cirri,
like spent daydreams, to wisp about the room, 
she ignored them as severely as she would in-
decorum. “One seldom finds solace in action,” 
she said. “A body at rest tends to remain at rest.” 
And, since she was not light, she stayed constant,  
and, now, even as the cat looks up from a hole 
in the floorboards with no little chagrin, she can’t 
be bothered to risk reaction and, so, her pointy toes 
arch into cabriole stilettos as fingers flute into armrests.

II. Discovery of a Mutant Geologist

With mountains hunching over and around him like eroded skyscrapers, 
or fibroids, each a gristly mass that could mean cancer,
he could not see what he was not expecting.
I mean, the wings on his back were positively nacreous 
like onion that’s been sautéed too long 
and that tail was more than coccyx.  
Raccoon-striped, it dangled 
like a misplaced phallus.  
He should have been surveying rocks 
(quartz, basalt, granite) 
and not some perky flower.

When radiation sanded the landscape down
to its essential layers, he whistled “Variation,”
and took notes. He hoped to publish, 
someday, an article on the half-life of some as yet
undiscovered organism that bore through space rock
before being launched by cataclysm 
to arc across the zodiacal firmament
to plunge through oceanic waters, now evaporated,
to rest like some abscessed bicuspid
awaiting excision by an expert
with vision, not unlike himself.

It was fate really, though he did not believe 
in nonrandom design.  That flower couldn’t be avoided 
anymore than what happened yesterday.  It was like the past 
already.  I mean, he did believe in evolution, and not necessarily 
for the better; but, as objectivity refutes subjectivity to some degree, 
he failed to see that strange and sylphid mysteries were unfolding 
behind his very back.  Since he did not see the scientist 
as immanent in natural history, he would not have perceived
 his own furry stockings as specimens for mechanical scrutiny. 
Nor would he have seen in a wing flick 
the slightest inkling of mutant divinity.

III. Unexpected Visit

She had hardly expected a crucible to come wobbling through the doorway like some bad fairy (uninvited, of course), though she should be used to such comings what with the dragonflies, large as pigeons, swooping through tears in the space-time continuum and hands reaching out of drapery to clasp her wrist as if to reassure her that the house had not lost its hold despite its mutability. Even the cat was given to shedding parts of himself in autumn. Though elusive as leaves that swirled past one’s knees, indoors and out, cat could always be recognized. She could even call him (Puck! Persnickety! Peeves!) till he answered with a whir, ack, or sneeze. But she, for the life of her, could not conceive of a name, title, or epithet by which to address this guest, who came sidling through her doorway with his lid off like some potbellied gentleman caller. Though she read all the horoscopes daily and, therefore, expected a stranger, she had not expected such a strange one. Indeed, his head grew, inverted, like a sin, boil, or lichen under the lid of his cauldron. And who could have expected to be wooed by an animate object on training wheels no less, carrying a pot full of primrose and iris? Even she could not intuit such a crux though she knew full well that angels, gods, and fairies often made tests of such tricks. She worried, then, if crucibles began wheeling their way through her parlor, would hip flasks and chamber pots come next?

The floor 
as her mantle, 
she sits for hours 
as women once did 
by spinning wheels 
as if industry alone 
could endear them to their maker.  

Now, she can almost hear 
the tintinnabulation of air 
that raveled from their fingers, 
that rankled through their lungs.  

So much effort 
to produce 
so little art.

It was useful, though, and simple, 
unlike her psychic goals 
that depend on much more effort 
combined with much less hope 

as well as a whole system 
of pulleys, gears, alembics 
            to distill such meager drops 
of rain into soda bottles 
where color settles 
like sediment 
to be shaken into light.

Creation of the Birds

In an exercise
 of free will,
 she fledges
 each bird from feather
 (contour, rachis, barb)
 to species
 (warbler, nightjar, lark).

Although they might be dragons
 or dragonflies, archaeopteryx,
 noctuid moths in outline,
 each brushstroke brings
 the needed light
 that softens chitin
into down and pinfeathers,
turns scales to iridescence
before each shape astounds
by lifting off 
from drafting board
 like emotion found,
then lost,
 									and found again.

Acknowledgments: “Discovery of a Mutant Geologist” was published in Heliotrope in 2005, and “Unexpected Visit” appeared briefly in 2004 in an on-line journal, Glass Tesseract, that is no longer with us.

Copyright © Mudlark 2006
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