The Last Speaker of an Extinct Language
In the realm of your second mind, your hesitation conveys how many times you have thought about the thing you hesitate to do. You chew it, like a piece of ever-growing chewing gum in your mouth. You introduce yourself with a knot in your throat. “Who am I when I scratch the surface underneath?” Your knot says. You are not. There are a set of identities: You are a mother, a writer, an artist, a queer one, a young one, an old one. You choose one from your well-rehearsed repertoire. You think you make a decision but in fact, you only make a choice among many options. You are not. You are negating. You’re looking for a writer’s residency with a childcare service because you’re a single mother and literature is a stepchild competing with your child.
You introduce yourself with sentences followed by verbs whose agencies are seemingly you: I write… Sometimes, you insert “I am” at 4 a.m. talking to a friend over a drink. You say, “I’m a writer”. In the spur of the moment, you imagine putting everything else (chores, timely meals, all the mundane details of life) on the back burner. You sigh, and then you say “Life is too serious for me to go on writing”. Your voice is full of inflection and humor, expressing the range of your personality. It has been called a ‘burnished’ voice and it makes for spellbinding poetry readings, which you sometimes give. The conversation is enlivened by tipsiness. But your words crumble, your bones stutter, like a boat riddled with snow, if you will, say, you are a bird, thick-blooded, canceled by its own capacity to fly. Because look, there is too much to see from above.
It all happens within seconds, within the thinnest flap of a moth’s sheer wings. They don’t hear it because you don’t make it obvious. The chewing gum becomes a squad of trees, eventually making a forest in your mouth. They are not aware of how crowded the forest is. It’s not their fault. You are not struggling. You are only vegetating.
Bright lights are taken as evidence of habitation in this city. Your bright smile at 4 a.m. is taken as evidence of having it all together. They call you confident, assertive, and bold, even when you carry the ‘I am’ like a nail in your spine.
Because this ‘I am’ is a promise to give yourself, an omen you bestow on yourself, but also a boomerang you cast in the sky of a rigorous and exhaustive organization of some identity domains that are hierarchical.
When you speak to others, you cast a spell, you choose one, you are someone and something, a tree because a forest is too loud. But when you speak to yourself, you mutter under your breath, talking to a well whose foundation is as infinite as the sky. There is too much to see from above.
All the gods you read about in three different religions make promises. They assert themselves, they expect things, and they make promises if their expectations are fulfilled. Gods don’t lie. You’ve hardly seen a woman who makes promises in your life. Your mother lied to your father about money, she always pretended like it was never enough. She did so, only to save some for your future. Later, when she was divorced, she lied to other men saying she was a married woman, she wore a gold-plated silver ring that she bought herself as a present from Rossmann. Only to protect herself. She constantly lied to protect, regulate, to maintain law and order and care. Growing up, you promised yourself not to lie ever.
Instead, you have traded lies with doubt. You’ve done a very, very good job with doubts. You hesitate, you falter, you pause. Only not to lie. These were the stepping stones towards the Truth with a capital T.
Your homemade workbooks are dense with notes—your instructions to yourself, quotations from other writers, and entries that have been colour-coded for the place where they might be used — to read through these notes is to reconfirm what one knew all along: how meticulously each page is written. Everything is checked and rechecked, written and revised and then revised again until the words shimmer, radiant, indestructible and until you are entirely muted.
“The progress of an artist,” says Eliot, “is a continual self-sacrifice, a continual extinction of personality.” You erase the watermark of self that runs through everything you do. Your doubt: it serves you. It helps you to blossom into a literary statement beyond the confines of your journal.
it fails to serve you.
Your tail is exposed under curtains.
You forgot its presence.
You are leaking.
You are sprouting,
open your mouth.
You don’t dare to write about others’ stories. That’s lying, that’s not you. Women should write about their stories. Because they are
tragic, quirky, and plural enough to spawn keen interest. Don’t ever dare to fumble countless words in your mind. Words that are already there, prehistoric words, the alphabet in your DNA, words that have distilled through your memories and have amalgamated with your molecules already. Instead: You open your notebook where you list beautiful words uttered by others. The neighbour’s chicken is a goose. You compose a narrative of yourself and your very own life with the words of others. Your life, your very own life. With the words of others. Look, now the neighbour’s chicken is a scarecrow. Very, very good job. Keep on vegetating. The crows will land on you & They will call it women’s literature & You: ‘Woman Writer’. Don’t worry; you don’t have to put blood or milk on your text to be called so. They will read between the lines. They will smell it for you and figure out your menstruation cycle while aligning you with the moon. A piece written may never feel completely arrived. It wants some yeast that can’t be found by revising. Don’t worry; they will add the yeast for you. Their shoulders are wide enough to hold the torch between your legs.
See, you are never lost. You have meridians, You are attuned, You are calibrated, You, with the capital Y. Your only task is to write about yourself with the words of others.
(You are abloom)
At home, you’d flip through a notebook on the kitchen table filled with calculations, and budgets for the simplest way to patch things together. And there will be a piece of the word somewhere on the page that would appear like the last speaker of an extinct language. Because it will be your own word and that word will transform into a fog pressed against the kitchen windows like an excluded ghost. From that moment on, you will always feel like a ghostwriter of your own.
“Because truly being here is so much; because everything here apparently needs us, this fleeting world, which in some strange way keeps calling to us. Us, the most fleeting of all.” – Rilke, Duino Elegies
Çağla Arıbal is a writer based in Berlin, Germany, originally from Turkey. She holds a BA and MA in literature and offers creative writing courses in art institutions and universities in Europe with the aim of creating a supportive writing network, especially for writers who are willingly or unwillingly displaced. Her short prose works and poems appeared in various literary magazines in New York City, Berlin, Istanbul and Switzerland. She writes in English, Turkish and German. She is currently writing her debut novel in English upcoming in 2023.