A Poem About a Day, Musings on Perception

Untitled by Kate Edwards, From series 1
Untitled, From series 1 by Kate Edwards

There’s a notebook on the table—
rectangular, three inches by four. Red
with gold pressed lettering.
Notes, observations, facts:

The cafe, the chairs.
The way it feels to sit in the chairs.
The counter, granite and wood.

Neat rows of unused mugs
and rows of unopened bottles of wine. Back and forth strokes of a broom
held by a man sweeping, back and forth
and back and forth.

The taste of coffee.
The coffee in a porcelain cup,
coffee with cream.

Here’s a story. A girl visits two cafes
and a bar and then the morning after
is the three combined.

Actually, this story should start with the end.

It’s morning. There’s the sun on a brick wall.
The weather, perfect.
This morning, this day. In my opinion
it is perfect.
I’m the girl.
And perfect is in contrast to winter.
This past winter, our last.
The snow banks were feet wide, maybe six
in places.
The temperature was below freezing
and it stayed that way, forever. I mean forever.
Romances, cold winters, beautiful, perfect days—
forevers. Entire lives, lived.

I’ve read that defining the subjective truths of experience—the way I perceive the world, for example—is key to answering the question, what is consciousness? What makes me, what makes this life mine.

What I’d like to know is this, how do I share the experience of me with you?
And, also, why is it so important to translate, accurately, this sky?

 

1) Qualia

Does my experience of a thing have distinct characteristics, does it tap an essence universally understood? The taste of red wine, that is a typical example of qualia. What is the taste of red wine? Can it be named, can it be communicated, can it be shared? Is it mine?

The light of morning.
Sunlight through a small glass of water,
the light through the cafe window.

And lives add up. Or they wear away
like skins.
Like the thing growing inside the chrysalis
it sees light
through what came before. It cracks
and for a moment
we are new.

The way the light touches the cheek of the woman,
hair falling across the bridge of her nose.
Gold.

The shift of the long green pods and the leaves on the tree on the sidewalk under
the clear blue,
the sky.

 

2) Ideasthesia

Like synesthesia, when senses merge—the sight of a written letter returns a color, the letter A for example is often red for the synesthete—ideasthesia describes an association triggered by the idea or concept assigned to a thing, perception. It’s not what I see or feel but what I know about the waves that returns for me the association (smell, touch, feel) of my favorite jeans rolled twice. On my legs, the burn of sand and saltwater. The house by the sea, which is not in sight.

This taste of coffee
is the house in the redwoods,
the stream, the dew, the ferns.

The smell of the coffee
is my mother.

The taste of red wine
is all the strong women I’ve known.

 

3) Praxis

In art, in theater, spiritual ritual, praxis is seeing or observing and becoming; it is “observation as practice.” The actor inhabits a character, becomes him. It is the bridge to an understanding of experience.

A line of arms, elbows pressed to the bar.
The taste of liquor. The click of lighters in the garden.
The way the clock hands moved past the hour
and the tables emptied
and I was the watching.

You touched the small of my back

and the scene collapsed.
I was
the many, the everythings,
the brushings by of fabric and the click of shoes and the darting glances,
hand to cheek
hand to hand.

I was
disappeared
gone
quiet.

 

4) Objective Correlative

The objective correlative is a lineup of elements that gives to an audience a specific emotion. It is the idea that there is a formula of objects and ideas and images that, strung together, can evoke in a viewer (reader) the desired (by the author, creator) emotion.

The way the leaves and bean pods shift
in the breeze
is like seaweed moved by the ocean.

Catalpa trees, which have a similar green pod, reminded my grandma of her childhood in Chicago. I imagine her life there, knowing her the way she knew herself as young.

When I was about twelve we stayed in the house by the sea. One day I walked alone what felt like a very long way in order to watch from a bluff waves wash over a patch of seaweed, a type with stalks ending in tufted crowns like palm trees. With each wave the sea trees were bent, prostrate for a moment down and then back up again, reaching. Down, up and down what I saw was that when bent the little trees were not reduced but joined with the motion of water it ran through and around the slippery strands.

I watched and became
the moving.
My body touched by the water I was
overtaken
with becoming.

You ran your fingers through my hair.

The red of the brick wall
outside your window
is washed in this morning’s first light.

The green pods sway on the branch of the tree.
The blue of the sky above
is a swim in a cerulean sea,
an ablution.

This feature originally appeared in the Body issue. Find more inspiring stories from the Body issue here or read My Hairy Legs and Me: A Puberty Story.

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