David-Baptiste Chirot

El Colonel’s Composition Book

Part One: “Tobacco-tinged, like thought”

“Tobacco-tinged, like thought”
—Boris Pasternak, My Sister, Life

          Birth of a world
          —mountains, streams, trees, flowers, rocks, birds, lizards, insects . . .
           Emerge slowly from mist and take form among the movements of limpid air. Pale blue water-color wash of sky gathers body as an influx of pigment is infused, more capable of supporting the first expansions of warming particles scattered among the myriad pools of shaded, calm and cool air.

           El Colonel observes these changes attentively through his reflecting aviator sunglasses from his “post” in the high ceilinged white-washed room, its windows flung wide to “the resinous, resonating and reverberating greens in which wraiths of mists still coil lingeringly, sinuous ghosts of dawn fain to depart the world of the living . . . ”

           A hunk of flat corn bread, a bowl of coffee, a cigarette—on the window ledge within arm’s reach—are “forms displacing space, and in the action of displacement, sending forth vibrations of each their own colors into the limpidity of air . . . a dispersal of colors in space borne by particles moving through time . . . in this continually changing ‘picture’ . . . “

           El Colonel smiles. Moving in “his customary fashion, attentive to the honoring of the grace latent within each step, within each slight movement of the hands, the eyes, the slight shiftings of pant legs, within the subtly shifting reflections of the sunglasses, and so to create a poetry in action for the vigilant eyes of things, those constant observers of the action of being,” El Colonel crosses the cool, shaded room and seats himself at the ancient, rude desk, a huge slab of wood hardened and mottled by time.

           Running his fingers along the time smoothed and oiled surfaces of the wood, El Colonel reflects, “his reflections enjoying their anonymity granted by the sunglasses’ reflecting the gaze of observers so as to plunge them into the sight of themselves, rather than into any insights into himself . . . ” His reflections at this moment are on the “doubled but not mirroring meanings of ‘constant’ in this punning ‘regard.’ The eyes of things as constant observers of the actions of being—and this 'constant' being both a 'continual' and a ‘loyal’ observing. Things as ‘constant’ observers then are wedded with observing, a marriage of be-ing and be-holding.”

           El Colonel is writing a “commentary,” an “aside, which is to say, a further but expressed elsewhere thought” as he at times calls them for his own amusement. This writing both provokes and is “a sudden sharp staccato laugh shattering for a moment the room’s peaceful air, with the shadows of the fronds of tall ferns which are standing close by, as if to peer in through the windows at himself, as the writing writer realizes in writing that be-ing and be-holding have in them the danger of ‘being beholden,’ as an observer who in observing becomes beholden to what is observed, and so the expression, ‘he became what he beheld.’ ”

           “No,” El Colonel’s staccato bursts bounce scatter shot off the rough and brilliantly lit walls—“I would not want to become a fern which I beheld . . . For one does not, after all, have to become a vegetable to think of one’s roots.”

           El Colonel listens to the sharp staccato sounds of the laughter ricochet off the crumbling white washed stone walls. A sonic ping pong plays itself before his listening eyes. The thought occurs to him that the attentive ferns may observe this game of sounds in the reflecting sunglasses and so retransmit it to himself in their shiny surfaces, still slightly filmed with dew and bright with the first strong light of day. At the same time, the thought occurs that one may be ‘doubled up with laughter,’ in reflecting on these reflections to do with the non-mirroring non-doubling of becoming what one beheld. To be ‘riveted’ by a sight literally, attached mechanically to this that one beholds and becomes and so to vanish into the sight which had ‘riveted one's attention’ in ‘a moment of distraction.’ Distraction as the opening through which the riveting of attention may lay hold of one into vanishing as one becomes what one beholds.”

          El Colonel smiles and lights a cigarette, more to observe the driftings of blue smoke than to smoke the cigarette itself. As the first wisps of smoke rise and begin to feel their blue ways into the room’s breezes, his reflections, too, find their ways back into the movements of their own ‘streams of consciousness.’

          As the blue smoke ‘catches a draft,’ so El Colonel “catches again the drift and punning draft of the writing’s movements” and finds himself continuing . . . The ‘constant’ eyes of things, that wedded observing, as a form of vigilance ‘on the look-out’ for the ‘moment of distraction,’ the moment of weakness, in which to ‘strike’ and ‘seize the attention,’ and so snatch from being the beholder as he or she is beholden to their beholding of this that is beheld. (And here he could not resist a ‘doubling back’ to the reflections on ‘doubling up with laughter,’ and so observes himself going through the movements of being doubled up with laughter and at the same laughing soundlessly—arcing back flips from a diving board suspended high above a limpid pool—into which one plunges at such speed that the doubling up with laughter serves as a “jack knifing” of the body, in which, indeed, all breath is taken away, and so, indeed, one is left with nothing to do but laugh soundlessly) That thing which is observing them, by being observed by them, ‘when they least expect it’ and ‘are caught unawares,’ is ‘the last thing they see’ and at the same time ‘the last thing to see them.’ This ‘lastness’ is a ‘constant’ in reverse—that is—it does NOT ‘last,’ as a ‘constant’ observing does, but is ‘THE last that is seen of them.’ Yet is not this ‘last’ also a ‘constant’ in that once it is ‘lost from sight’ it is now ‘permanently disappeared?’ A non-constant ‘last sight of’ becomes a constant unseen, a disappearance into that which it beheld and which beheld it ‘at its very last’ which is now a ‘lasting’ disappearance from sight.

          Watching this disappearance through the reflecting glasses, El Colonel considers that “the image of this departure, being mirrored—turns around the direction of the disappearance, so that it appears instead to be ‘walking back into’ the concealed eyes which are observing it’s treading of the paths of oblivion in the opposite direction.”

          Amazed at his own ability to keep all these knotting, doubling, reflecting, somersaulting images and words tumbling pell mell on to the stages and screens of his own theatrical-cinematic visions, El Colonel can not help but allow himself “a brief and raucous laughter,” in the spirit with which he had so often as a child observed with great admiration the contortions and commentaries of the acrobatic crows perched on the meager bit of no longer functioning telephone wires that were used by his mother and their neighbors as laundry lines. The telephonic calls of humans had been mutated by natural disasters and the disasters of wars into this raucous cawing, so wildly mocking of the ambitions of humans dependent on machines for the transmission of what are, after all, at the very heart of things, telepathic and so are beyond the speeds and reaches of anything so unreliable as telephonic and telegraphic messages.

          “In the crows of his childhood he had beheld that image of what he himself would like to become. (Had he indeed, ‘become what he beheld—?’) An untamed prowler and observer among the habits and habitations of peoples, at once a part of and apart from their lives and dwellings, at one and the same time able to read their languages and signs and to write in ones of his own, outside of their methods of ‘setting things down.’”

          The laughter triggers a ‘doubling back’ to the reflections on ‘doubling up with laughter,’ and so he observes himself going through the movements of being doubled up with laughter and at the same laughing soundlessly, “thus reminding himself of his earlier reflections on his own ‘somersaultings' and acrobatics, so that he catches ‘on the fly’ as it were, athletic and swift movements at the periphery of vision. Having drawn his attention, these movements at the peripheries swiftly leap and soar into focus, as though in the act of making arcing back flips from a diving board suspended high above a limpid pool, and then plunging into it at such speed that the doubling up with laughter serves as a “jack knifing” of the body, in which, indeed, all breath is taken away, and so, indeed, one is left with nothing to do but laugh soundlessly as one enters the waters below.”

           El Colonel smiles. His various files, maps, notes, messages in code and concealed devices of various kinds are neatly arranged in an order “whose meaning is known to himself only.” Lighting a cigarette, sipping coffee, El Colonel reaches for his “Writings, hidden in plain sight as simply another notebook among others, yet inside of which are those things which no other Notebook has ever before been touched by, the works of an unknown writer in an unknown writing for unknown readers who are written by and in turn also read and write the unknown writings.”

          El Colonel smiles. As blue cigarette smoke drifts in cool morning air, quietly traveling the room towards the open windows, he gently slides the Notebook from the piles of files and slim ledgers, and places it with care and precision on a small thick brightly colored woven mat on the desk. On the outside, the Notebook of Writings looks like any other Composition book a child might have in the first grades of school, with a marble cover and the familiar space with lines for the student’s name and class number. A perfectly conventional looking Notebook, except that on it there is no name, no information whatsoever, despite some slight signs of wear, indicating its usage through time for some purpose by someone.

           El Colonel smiles. He flicks an ash into an eccentrically deformed piece of burnt exploded shrapnel, into a pitted hole of which has been stuck an enormous and ominous bird feather. “An omen or a quill?” as El Colonel enjoys thinking of “this enigmatic and disturbing presence, this mysterious yet useful and talismanic sign of a literal and symbolic ‘Lord of the Skies,’ and of Sky Writings. A Sky Writing which ‘animates’ writing as omen and as metonymical flight.”

          This metonymical flight El Colonel finds “echoed in the shrapnel fragment, itself the remains of a trajectory arcing the skies, a companion to the feather quill in its own forms of fiery sky writing before descending to Earth to continue writing as a ‘burned out fragment,’ a metonymical flight that indeed ‘fires’ the imagination and can be put to practical use also as the receptacle of ashes from a cigarette’s burning flames. Ashes themselves are the metonymical ‘burned out fragments’ of flight as the remains of the cigarettes’ own sky writings in the form of smoke rings, and calligraphic swirls and driftings. ”

          “Fire, flight, writing, feather, quill, shrapnel, smoke, ashes—“

          El Colonel smiles and smokes, caressingly touching the worn marble cover, gently running his fingers along its edges and down the smooth, sturdy spine. These caresses awaken a curled and murmuring being, stirring in the black forms of the marble as the first swayings of a dance. Then, with unconcealed eagerness, he opens to the first page and begins to study what is written, moving from page to page and here and there pausing to make what seems to be a mental note.

           El Colonel smiles. The beauty of the writing never ceases to take him by surprise. As many times as he has gone over what it is has accomplished to the present point, in order to refresh memory and the sense of rhythm, it always presents itself in a new guise, never becoming completely familiar, always bearing within it that same displacement of forms and action of colors and vibrations of sounds as things and beings do in space.

           Reading along, he jots here and there mentally a slight emendation, here a note, there an arrow—and yet on the whole confident that what is in the writing as it is to this point is holding its own in its skirmishes and encounters with the ever varying obstacles and adversaries of its movement.

           El Colonel smiles. To an observer, who would be reflected in his sunglasses’ lenses, so that the observer would observe his own reflections outwardly and in turn reflect on them inwardly—to an observer there would be a shocked astonishment that El Colonel, to the observer’s reflected and reflecting eyes, seemed to be unaware of an absence which was all too glaringly present to the mirrored one, who is doubling the glaring by glaring at himself glaring back in the reflected image of himself in the glasses.

           El Colonel smiles. For a moment he sees the shocked face of the observer as it is reflecting its own shock back to him, a shock made present by that absence which for El Colonel is so obviously to the observer a presence, yet which the reflected eyes cannot see. This invisibility hidden in plain sight is a compliment to the visibility hidden in plain sight of the ordinariness of the notebook’s appearance.

           For it is in fact quite simple. There is nothing at all written anywhere in the pages of the Notebook, that is, nothing that the self reflecting eyes of a seeking observer may even “catch a glimpse of.”

           “And indeed, it is the very presence of this absence which is so disturbing to the self reflecting observer, who had ‘caught himself looking at himself looking’ to see what was written inside these slowly and fondly opened pages. To observe oneself disappointed in the act of observation of what is not there and yet is in itself a presence that is present, is disturbing to the observer, who is literally ‘registering his own shock and disappointment’ in the reflections of himself into which he sees himself staring.”

           El Colonel slows a moment the pace of his thoughts, in order to observe the sudden shifting of directions in a swirl of smoke, brought on by the passage of a small and darting breeze . . .

           “And does this not also further disturb the observer, that this presence of an unexpected absence reminds him in turn that the eyes which look at him are the presence of an absence also—the absence of the eyes of El Colonel, who the observer suddenly feels with a distinct chill and discomfort are observing him while all the while remaining unobserved by himself. The observer, suddenly seeing the reversal of presences and absences now turned into a writing in a notebook which is not perceptibly there at all, suddenly is made aware of ‘reading’ of a non writing, which he realizes with a further shock, is an accompaniment to the observation by one who is unobservable of the other, who is all too observable, but can see only the reflections of himself observing himself observing his own reflected self. ”

          “This self- reflecting observer observing himself exists suddenly to himself, in a ‘flash of insight,’ only as a being trapped in an endless hall of mirrors, while it is the unobservable observer who is free to roam the crow-skies and to caw forth that raucous laughter at the futilities which it finds from its perch on a ‘utilities’ pole.”

          And, thoroughly stunned at himself this morning by this completely unexpected series of revisitations by the raucous laughter of crows from his childhood, here, in the presence of the crow that he has become—El Colonel cannot help himself—and bursts into another round of raucous laughter, observing his shadow on the wide expanse of the wall flapping his arms like wings, on the verge of a great and soaring flight, over the mountains, and into the skies of Time.

          A shadow on a wall, a flight into the skies of Time . . . .
          A raucous laughter . . .
          The flapping of wing shadows . . .

          Careful to not let a whisper or hint of ash stain the brilliantly formed calligraphies in their traversals of the pages, and at the same time observing the soaking into the paper fibers of the smoke, lending it that sense which he recalled from a line in a Pasternak poem. This line which always stayed with him, like a shadow, like a wraith, like a ghostly spider web clinging to his being, came from a book he had found during a patrol.

          The line, a fragment really, was: “tobacco-tinged, like thought.” Immediately, this phrase became for him a talisman of writing itself. As “a man of action,” thought and writing for him were inseparable. And, ever since the first awareness of his own thoughts and writings began, it meant that he always smoked as he thought and wrote.

          Tobacco-tinged, morning light bathed El Colonel’s sinuous smoky lines as one of the Heroic Patrol appeared in the half-open doorway

          “El Colonel, the Tourists’ Planning Committee is ready. The new documents are ready for discussion.”

          Casually sliding the Composition Book into a neat stack of newspapers, journals and files, El Colonel seems to glide more than rise into standing position. Pocketing cigarettes, pen and lighter, lightly brushing a minute crease in a pants pleat, palming a little notepad, El Colonel smiles.

          “Excellent. Let’s go learn more about what our Tourists were up to before they dropped in on us. For in the study and making of a New Poetry, every word is of the utmost importance.”

          “Yes, Mi Colonel. Every word.”

          Tobacco-tinged smoky lines rocked gently in the air in the wake of El Colonel’s leaving the room.

          And, as the sounds of two pairs of footsteps faded away, out of the once distinct lines a floating veil began to form, a presence of writing drifting in the light-bathed air of an empty room.

          Like the Composition Book’s, a writing visibly invisible and invisibly visible. A white smoke veil hanging in a white room bathed in light, and, tobacco-tinged, like thought.

David Baptiste Chirot "Essays, reviews, prose poetry, sound and visual poetry, performance scores, Mail Art have appeared in print and web 60+ different journals in over a dozen countries. Participated in 350+ Visual Poetry and Mail Art exhibitions, Calls. 3 books, 3 chapbooks and in many print and e-anthologies. My work is with the found, everywhere to be found, hidden in plain site/sight/cite. http://davidbaptistechirot.blogspot.com"

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