In 1971, the poet Bernadette Mayer spent the entire month of July attempting to capture the movement of her attention and the formation of her memories. Over the course of those thirty-one days, she wrote two hundred pages and shot more than a thousand 35mm slides. The resulting project, Memory, is oceanic. Each of Mayer’s daily journal entries rolls and eddies as she allows herself to thoroughly investigate the elasticity of language and the contours of her mind. Arrayed in grids, the photographs—of grass, cats, friends, flags, skies, boats, herself, the moon—fix into place the minutiae of her days. Later this month, Siglio Press will publish a new edition of Memory that collects the full sequence of images and text for the first time in book form. Mayer’s diary entry and photographs for July 7 appear below.
Do you have access to a T? Do you have access to a xerox machine? This is a major fate hate weigh your fat. So lost so you’re lost how lost can you be when everywhere you turn it’s morning & a flag’s going up over a map: 2 bean sprouts resting on a snow pea pod & then, it snows, it snows for the first time it snows buckets it snows mainly. It snows rain snow gets rid of a lot of germs, says x of the piemonte ravioli co. we pack our pasta in boxes it’s homemade & speak about the weather: homemade stolen electric typewriters it isnt one yet stolen cassette tape recorder he had schemes. Between recorder & he is: the difference between me & the maharajah. We dont we wont atone for that we leave it as it is so, lost you’re lost how lost can you be when everywhere you go it’s morning & the sun’s coming up over a map: & the map a map to alford massachusetts to a certain place in alford massachusetts within the town lines it goes like this forward: start up the car past golf course along winding road across route 183 past j&k’s house (blue & yellow) up to T in road (chesterwood sign) follow the sign make left the road turns to dirt follow the arrows who? Till the road it’s dirt veers off in two directions always bear right on the dirt road. Veering right watch for oncoming cars on this narrow dirt road you’ll go by a white fence just pass by it when you get to real road, asphalt, that’s route 41, take a left go over a small bridge quickly (it’s green) you go a tenth of a mile & make the first right up & around the black surface of winding cobb hill road, if you’re careful you see the sign. Winding & uphill until you read a complex of buildings that looks like a textbook farm, if you make the right right in a second you’ll be passing a big red barn on the left, watch for the cows & people on the road & incidentally here’s where the road — if you walk on it you’ll see — looks like it was hit, the surface of the road, by a series of small meteors burning holes making holes making burns in the surface of the black hard asphalt brown burns. Go right on till you see a small sign that’s faded over it says alford five miles & something else, this is your first left on the road — if you’re on a motorcycle at night you’ll notice here that the temperature of the air is considerably warmer than before, we are in some kind of valley air pocket but after driving a few miles uphill it seems inexplicable except to the people who live here, here we also pass a dream-like farm nestling in the valley’s expensive soil, after making this left the road suddenly turns to gravel — I think this was probably temporary so dont count on it but the gravel begins as you cross the west stockbridge-alford town line sign. Just after you’ve passed the alford brook club or just before alford brook itself is almost invisible like a light on the shore of the country we’re making for, we’re almost there, go about 1.3 miles on this road & then stop at the house.
Before you make it you’ll pass by blueberry hill & the house of a certain dr. pepper a white house with a red car the doctor has a beard, also some house with a title like swann’s way or windy haven, everyone here is dead serious dont go as far as the turn in the road where you pass a white fence on the right & a winding uphill road to a black & white house & dont go as far as the next valley where the view is for miles & definitely dont go as far as the strange house with a gazebo a wooden horse & carriage & an empty reservoir on the left, two bachelors live in this house. If you’ve made the right house it’s the one right on the road on the left opposite a yellow one & it’s brown with blue doors with a chimney of stone in the front, it’s a funny looking house, stop there, across the street is a russian prince who loves cats & a princess who is vincent price’s sister who curls her hair, stop across from them, they have a station wagon & two 35mm movie cameras, her name is cam so lost you’re lost how lost can you be when everywhere you turn it’s morning and a flag’s going up over a map: pack car get gas get j’s car & tv equipment go to beverly’s get key, she had none we had to break a window to get in, buy an alarm clock pick up the bed go to the barn see about electricity, go to j’s remember eileen & call tom, we made a map which is sun which is shade & how many are accidents we almost hit a car there one day. And so, we pass jacques & kathleen’s house on our way home again 3 white chairs in front reflect light & kathleen left for the city last night dont forget to call the massachusetts electric company, we did. Splinter splinter of the headboard of the bed splinter of an unshaved dangerous support board for the body of the bed, the bed set up in the middle of the room, splinter’s clear, we took the splinter out a foregone conclusion pasted it up with hydrogen peroxide bought bandaids & fell through, ed took a picture you are an actor but dont want to act so instead you talk about marriage by a sweet pond near a sound studio sound & sweet the whole story of the orange pen stolen from the basement. Someone smokes quotes if he someone’s son were a few years older he could dip in the cool hollywood pool they provide at an inn, describe gold describe golf get married sink in the deep with no regrets no one looking after him just drown, he could get married he could think, no one would taunt him about it & if marriage had an open end he could think it could become misty in the light could drink light itself, add up the mileage conveniently open find out what’s inside he could work live without light, he could candle & flashlight it, he could ride in a convertible without seeing he could create a shortcut write about prayer he could set up lights take them down take pictures he could photograph lights he could be forced to, he could let the light in he could begin a day without a proper bed he could freeze sentences in air, he could eat out, he could drift in & out of a blue room he never woke up in he could imagine a yellow one small, he could notice windows, how you see them, two eyes, ed read the new york times he will never eat a big mac again.
It’s as simple as that I am looking for 2 u-haul mirrors not fish. And again: legs crossed, who is hungry as I am who is sweet j laughs at cars point risk point. The cars last word, in them, who hears it fall direct a line to women fall by the side of the roadway, men? Gouge out eyes? No, but fall by the side on one-way roadways of those not like to like. It’s too loud a thud, swan swan silvertones comes down & down just a little bit a little bit too hard hard pat pat a person subtle system, laugh & swell life clear smooth & double perf of film, opaque a system system design your life not mine. It’s clear: read genet to describe kathleen run hide give her something run away stay away hide you’re in here I’m out again, hide resist fall get up run away ed smiled in the u-haul store we buy a flashlight. Ed the detective ed the cook & messy erasure, ed or mr. & mrs. ed & mr. & mrs. north, what of this take? 72 times in the year & still the same tone, never come true dreams that ring in your ear that way all around the ear 360 degrees & elaine sets designs rejects set designs one right after the other then, concentrate, set design, freedom a moment a memory away, then one step more, get rid of a memory & laughs “come clean”: “you’re in the wrong doorway!” You’re in the wrong home you’re sitting in the wrong sun writing in the wrong car smelling the wrong burning hair all is wrong over is wrong someone said & someone said “functional & ornamental” & the pictures are like all pictures are lie like sleepers like a railroad crossing sign is a skull & laughs comes clean at the edges & sign the sea is bluer signed a book & sign in time, put dick paul in city hall, why two men & are they both sitting down? Do you give up? The ghost as well? Oceans right & left, since we’re always aware of it, what should we do a-men, men are able so just act sweet & go on: you wake up you walk out a man is raising a flag merican flag in house next door & nixon’s the man do you like trees? Is susan strassberg a famous merican actress, woke up, walked out, owner waters the lawn n’ mows grey house of merican flag & mellow one with basketball hoop, there’s a merican mosquito under my shirt does it hurt? No we moved.
Between the thumb & forefinger of my right hand, between those a splinter zooms in quick & the taste waste of a room — I’m a schoolboy in watercolors, look around, its mountains in merica zoom, what the fuck’s the moon we’re in an insulated room we take our time runnin round we zoom no moon, we make, monster, the greatest milk of all time, like this: one blue head with a black wig on sitting in a window surrounded by skirts, & mercy like they say another merican flag by god a whole display of em, pink, o mesh & gauze cause you to faint for mercy wow up on a mt. top maybe if you’re lucky you prick think back: you saw flowers underneath woman’s head eyes closed reflected in the window you saw flags in, same one, shit man it was a beauty shop if I ever saw one, somebody grabs a 7:30 flight to toronto man & s is doing juliet on the square, what a gas explosion that was red engines galore & ten gallon hats to boot the end. Not by a long shot. Cabs. It was the circle beauty salon with a capital C & wait till you personally see the capitol’s mind’s eye blower encased in space emergency glass — that’s silver & gold case you didnt know, you fucker. The mother’s house was bigger than the house of the fatter father. That’s how it goes, both mother & father resemble police cars & in the dark: a picture of a stone a picture of a mother superimposed on a father, a picture, a prize-winning picture, of bird on tree. We never saw that one, we never looked at it, we didnt come from there, we grew up in the city, we grew up in the shadow of the housatonic riverboat gambling casino we grew up in a cadillac we saw a dog limping we saw a bear in the woods in merrimac forest we saw a bear limping by the side always by the side, they were constant companions, of a giant dog a strange giant dog back behind the swimming pool we saw this sight, it was glorious in the sense that it fit the exact size it fit exactly it was just the right size to be framed by a single standard size, the official size, basketball hoop of this century nba regulations. And so, we bought a berkshire eagle & a couple of side view mirrors, there was nothing playing at the drive-ins, something black, we got home after dark, no juice. No sparks. No gas. No flames. No water at least we had ground. The moon was full the brightest clouds you ever saw moved across in front of it the brightest night clouds move fast, it’s scenery. You think you plan you save this up, your calm drink, black jack daniel’s sour mash whiskey from tennessee where ground is green it’s orange, no colors in the dark fireflies we lit the house with candles on the stone slab center stone is safe turn on the fire brigades, light up pricks & ready for the team, we put out fires after they begin, they burn for a while you call clouds passing all the while passing quickly in front of the moon, when are they coming when will they be ready.
Get dressed in the middle of the night, on call, it’s the volunteer fire dept of new york city we’d like to see you in action we’ll call when we’re ready meanwhile we’re watching these certain clouds go by by the moon & I’ll hold a candle to your face if you’ll hold one to mine, the fireflies in no mood exposure to the moon will . . . & ed with a candle on ed face the moon behind we’re ready for action, the motion’s in the sky candle ed makes a path through the room dont trip to the moon or I’ll call in the brigade again & they’ll sing hearty songs drink all the whiskey we have in the house & sing no juice how? In the sky ed walked through the room with a candle in his hand how did the fire start sir, in the bed in the sink in the dead of night, it must’ve been the bed in the middle of the room caught fire in the, no, it was the matches left out in the moon. Light matches & perhaps you can see fireflies ed with a candle on his face, the big moon behind not long enough I’m lit candles in my hair my hair in braids but not tied like randa wears it the braids coming loose at the bottom so much action in the sky ed walked through the room with a candle in his hand I watched through the big window he passed behind the headboard of the bed, drank & smoked, left matches & a candle outside, the candle got a feather stuck to it no mosquitoes we bought sugar & evaporated milk, had coffee in real cups with water from the pipes left there, boil it, new tv, notes candles nectarines & many matches ed got a new kind of match today a permanent match eternal one. Come out now men in your rubber suits for the permanent match is a dangerous one dangerous to the touch & a flashlight at the auto store, I demanded it, a clear light not from fire soon blow up explode in a flash of . . . drink more, we make a match fire light a cigarette & store or set fire to the end of one & draw in the smoke into our hearts & lungs, the firemen are back to help put out a row of candles sleeping, fifty or a hundred of them shaped like the body of a man or a crown, we light them all drink a cup of hot coffee & sleep in flames. Leaping around the notes we make about moon, sleep, middle of room, wake up clear & alter. It’s annabel lee or something: sharp knives cut fingers & hands, splinters get in they burn we swim at least we like to swim
Bernadette Mayer is the author of more than thirty books, including the acclaimed Midwinter Day (1982), The Desires of Mothers to Please Others in Letters (1994), and Works and Days (2016), which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. Associated with the New York School as well as the Language poets, Mayer has also been an influential teacher and editor. In the art world, she is best known for her collaboration with Vito Acconci as editors of the influential mimeographed magazine 0 TO 9.
All images and text from Memory, by Bernadette Mayer, Siglio, 2020. Images courtesy of the Bernadette Mayer Papers, Special Collections & Archives, University of California, San Diego.
Last / Next Article