Imaginary Explosions

This is part of our special feature on Anxiety Culture.


Even an entirety must have an edge. Just as the
continents drifted before, leaving a line against
water: California. It will happen again. They’ve been
predicting it all of our lives and even before: all the
faults will split at once and drop California into the
ocean. Cliff crumbs. Crumb cliffs. But before half of
it is submerged underwater, California will burn.

Because we grow up in a drought seven years
long. Because what we think are rocks burst into
crystallized dust under the pressure between our
fingertips. Our bodies have a thirst to be immersed
in water. All the creeks are dry and anyway we are too
young to know they ever carried water. But there is a
private reservoir. Still full.

I learn from her the practice of disobedience: how
to switch off the motion detector light on the porch,
how to move in a way to be mistaken for an animal.
There is nothing but night in the mountains at night.
Hardly headlights or a bulb to captivate a moth. No
fences, only trees. But the property lines are known.
The children may run through the woods along paths
made by deer, but only one creature will be punished
for trespass.

Heat from their bodies cannot evaporate the wet
evidence of the reservoir on their skin. I can’t
imagine that a twelve year old with braces would give
a good blow job. But I can imagine that under threat
of a neighbor with a gun in the night in the mountains
at night, that she might find it doable.



In the house there are many non-thinking objects
that nevertheless respond to touch
such as the hot water bottle
whose surface scalds just enough
to mask an ache contoured by its ridged rubber skin.
Pliant, autonomic nervous system
it is a delight to feel it give to the push
of a finger, or two, or a fist
the closure on its mouth may be released
warm water emptied, to be filled
again like a body
with someone else’s rage.



To be such a thing, exploded

it always looks the same:
objects made monochrome by ash
and the architecture distinguishable only
in shapes made by voids.



The rage of a daughter can be easily disregarded.
After a few years, I stop loving her too. Who can
love such a thing full of rage?

She is gone before the afternoon. My sister never
returns. My mother and I oscillate in the empty
daylight. Everything that belongs to her is taken.
The stripped mattress is an edgeless, even space.
It expands into the shock of the room.



Somewhere between the crater and the rock
there is space for will
enough to shrink the volcanic heap
that is left into
a tiny black trapezoid

to carry in the cavity of the chest
compact shame so dumb and dark
it is unrecognizable to others

I should be proud
I turned catastrophe into ordinary,
effervescent anxiety
indistinguishable from
an unshakeable fear of mediocrity.


Or is it a pattern that can be repeated
nerve by nerve so easily repeated
imitated, mimicked
to the point of becoming
cartoon pain.


I didn’t use to feel so much, I just took it: the cat
destroying her own body to remove the collar from
her neck; the scorpion dead in the jar from lack
of oxygen; the dishes no one wanted to wash and
thus, were dropped to the floor (one variety of mess
shapeshifting into another); the fact that the body
evacuates bloodtissue each month with such force
it hurts. I took it, as if it made any sense (it makes
no sense). None at all. But the fact that involuntary
efforts of the musculature are still aligned to the
nervous system where feelings must also run – this
makes sense, if you think about it. Otherwise how
would you know to go looking

for the missing limb or the missing tractor to till
and comb the topsoil, to find its metal carapace
splintered and bent at the bottom of a fresh ruptured
ravine? That earthquake is 1989 and I am not
bleeding yet. I don’t know what fact of pain I will have
to accept. Not like it is a big deal (it isn’t a big deal)
not like the grief that gets so big it can’t escape in a
scream (hollowed out heat, gas of an acid, did you
know that a cloud of powdered milk is combustible?)
It combusts inside my organs. I notice it one day: I
have no internal order, no material composition. If
you stand behind me I know you’ll see right through
me, just what I’m seeing with my back to the highway:
boats laboring across the Atlantic, warm-colored
sunlight on cold enameled water. The too-muchness
of ocean against a shore that just has to take it.

No human musculature can evacuate this scale of
grief: it chooses its own way out. Pain is a verb with
no subject, and my body: the noun. It never leaves
the present tense.


Caitlin Berrigan has created special commissions for the Whitney Museum of American Art, Harvard Carpenter Center, and the deCordova Museum. Her work has shown at Storefront for Art & Architecture, Hammer Museum, Anthology Film Archives, LACMA, and Goldsmith’s London. She has received grants and fellowships from the Akademie Schloss Solitude, Humboldt Foundation, Skowhegan, Graham Foundation, PROGRAM for Art & Architecture Berlin, and the Wassaic Project. She holds a Master’s in visual art from MIT and a B.A. from Hampshire College. She teaches emerging media at NYU Tisch Photography & Imaging and is an affiliate of the NYU Tandon School of Engineering Technology, Culture and Society.

This excerpt from Imaginary Explosions is published by permission of Broken Dimanche Press. Copyright © 2018 by Caitlin Berrigan. 


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