|The Winter of Ingmar Bergman|
Little eye twitch. A hollow sound inside the optic nerve, the cackle of a flock of crows. Winding one frame after another. Winding faster—a movement, here and there. Twenty-four illuminated frames per second and the darkness in between.
*She considers her options, makes lists: fix that terrible squeaking table leg, find a new place for the basil plant, sit down and consider the options. Cold comfort. She needed some air. Because yesterday she was a lady and today she is a day. Day for night. Things can get darker than you can imagine. It’s true, your hand can become invisible, as they say, she says to the windowpane. She sucks on a penny, writes: buy milk, buy stamps, return videos, get out of the house.
She’s starving but it’s too early for dinner and too late for lunch. She hates that. And too, how the light is falling slowly, slowly. Too early. But she walks anyway, to cross it off her list, to catch a glimpse of things as they are, cold and crackling. Determined to get where she’s going, she doesn’t see the traffic nearly passing through her, but she had stopped short. Just in time. Red light, green light, winter light, silence. She never noticed before how tall the mountains could be. They had grown, maybe. They weren’t the same as they were yesterday. She was a lady then. She was on the brink of life.
*The lights come up.
Close-up of an older, gray-bearded man. During a long silence he regards his invisible audience. He begins to speak in fits and starts. He is no speaker.
*I was wasting away, as they say, she said to the person next to her on the bus downtown. But the man did not speak English. He just nodded, looked confused, then looked away. It’s so nice that we can’t understand each other, she said. She gazed then in the direction of the driver. I was wasting away, she thought. She could barely see her reflection in the window. Not dark enough yet, maybe. She often hoped for a different reflection to appear, and was surprised, then, when she did not see herself pale, with long, heavy hair. Blonde. Swedish. She ate pretzels from a small bag inside her purse, nibbling the salt off first. She took out a book to read but couldn’t concentrate; she kept reading the same word over and over. She tried not to think about that, what that might mean. She felt as if she were on the verge of an argument between everyday occurrences.
*“One has to move carefully between ghosts and memories, this is the truth.”
*Tick, tick, tick, tick, tick. Time passed, light passed, days, walkers, whistlers, the onward throng. They all marched nimbly forward. They were brave. She among them, too, was brave, in her coat and hat in the cold nearly freezing. What it was that she wanted to do she wasn’t sure. She was waiting, but she was not bored. Light as a feather, she thought. She was in her kitchen, scouring the sink. Outside, the weather was there still. But she had a bone to pick. As in, she had no time to be presented with questions. For example, is devout the same as devotion? Is the door ajar?
*She was tired with her tiredness, silent stars shining, one word, not yet. To be alone, fully, complete and solo, to never have to say another word ever, to retreat in that way, alive in that way. So simple, she thought, it was simple, but not easy. Her stars were beneath her, further and further apart, those shining bits she was able to take, she folded them in her palms. Someday, perhaps a day near this one, one summertime, one early morning and near the sea, as she remembered in the flickering, it could be something like that.
*The lights come up.
A slow pan across a room with several wall clocks. The silence is broken by the chiming of the clocks.
*Today is the darkest day, the shortest of the year, as they say, she said to her neighbor out shoveling the walk.
They just get longer after this, though, right? he said.
Yes, but it’s difficult to really see the change day by day. The minutes don’t show themselves too clearly.
I suppose that’s true.
But if we lived in Sweden, this would be the most difficult time of all. Hardly any light for days and days. Very difficult, I would guess. To not know when it’s day or night.
Yes, I suppose so.
*She couldn’t say how it came to be such a trial. Winter: the ritual, the wild sonata. She could feel the chill in June, in August. How it goes, yes, it’s coming already. It is the time for vanishing. The heart slowing, the blood slowing. A long, long sleep. Soon, she will be alone on the street, her landscape will be set with props and extras. She’s lying on a bed. She’s walking along the sea. She’s gazing at a priest from the back of a church. She opens the train window and leans her face out into the pouring rain. On cue, she will gaze into the camera feeling weak and strong.
*Her room is cold. She’s eating an orange and has dropped the peel on the floor. It’s snowing again. There’s glimmering again. Frames of light and frames of darkness. She has crossed everything off of her list. She feels productive, accomplished, allowed to think about nothing for a long time. She is, as they say, at peace with herself, at one with the world, at odds. Now she’s practicing a gesture, now, frozen in space. Now is the hour of the wolf, she thinks.
Enough. And getting up, she flings the orange peel against the wall. What’s the difference between devout and devotion? Her blood is moving more quickly. Her face is flushed, hot, she’s a windstorm. Then quiet. Silent. Reeling. She lay on her bed watching a spider slide up the wall.
*She gets up early and walks into the town, arriving at a coffee shop completely chilled. She tries to imagine herself in Stockholm. Outside, there’s a throng of high school boys screaming as she walks in. Hey lady, hey you hey you. Lady-lady-lady. But she is a day, a priest, the sea. She is tall and blonde and staring straight ahead, addressing an invisible audience. She is no speaker.
*She fell asleep in her coat on the floor in the afternoon. But she did not want to sleep, she had no time for it, no. She could not explain why, exactly. Sleep is not for being alive. Alive. Everyone is more than I can handle, all of them, no, but I watch them and I become them, I could take each and press them to me, eye to eye, forehead to forehead. She is a serious monster picking at her fur, eyes wide open, a wail behind her lips. She’s a little storm cloud heavy with snow, a blizzard brewing. Hour after hour she’s transfixed, the shining screen throwing light back onto her face. The camera moves back slowly to view the entire scene. Maybe a little rest wouldn’t be so bad.
*Thinking of summertime, she thinks of mornings with warm breezes, of nights with warm breezes. She unclenches. If this continues I may lose myself in a hundred different ways. And I will start to resemble the frozen faces that frown past me, I’ll become squinty-eyed, like Catherine on the wheel, staring everyone down. And I may even forget these clear villages along the sea that I’ve become, where priests walk and save and lose themselves slowly. A season of switches, a last journey out.
*At night she swam in a pool at the university. She knew the security guard and he let her into the building after hours. She couldn’t bear to be in the pool with other people, the water brought everyone’s molecules too close together. She remembered learning to swim as a child, using the bright blue floating kick boards to inch along the periphery. She remembered, too, how her teacher would practice diving before class started, how he made himself into a crescent moon just before slipping silent into the water. It was like another language. She did not become a moon. She simply swam back and forth and emerged water-logged and puckered. Then she went home, trudging through the parking lot tundra to climb the stairs to her room and drink tea and grow weary beneath the waves of screen light.
*She was not bored. She was a feather floating swiftly up. She was waiting, clearly. She was truly content. But she felt faces beneath her face, new landscapes where her body was still. She spoke in a new way, she thought. She was refining herself, slowly scraping bone. She only ate white foods, drank clear liquids. She took baths in lily scented water floating with ice cubes. She sang a little tune to the tune of her making.
*The lights come up.
The scene opens with the sun setting. Four people on the horizon come out of the sea. They walk on the jetty and reach the land.
*Branches glisten and crack against themselves in a clear night where sound carries fast. She is standing precariously on one leg near the stove stirring soup. She has begun to think of herself as many sisters. Wind, yes, wind. And a rushing sound in her ears. Once someone told her that people really can live through anything. It doesn’t even take that much effort. She doesn’t remember now how that came up. She doesn’t have things to live through. Or beyond. Or in spite of. She is fine, certainly, nearly so. She has a lot to look forward to, she guesses.
*Some days are nothing but a dream sequence: a train derailed, a clock with no hands, a long long road. Faces, angles, misty light. No sound, usually, no color, usually. Sometimes her teeth break in her dreams and she really believes it’s true, the pain is so terrible, but it’s such a relief once she lets it happen. This has always puzzled her. As if I had a choice, she thinks.
*“Summer will surely come, darkness won’t last forever.”
*Things begin to blur. There are scenes she remembers that don’t belong together. They’ve ghosted into another thing entirely, have become grey, transparent, filmy. It is she who casts the light now that had once been thrown upon her. There is nothing to be done, she is already a sonata crying wolf. It seems the screen that her eyes dart into has turned suddenly pale. Such a change. Her eyes can no longer close as they once did. But whether everything turns dark or bright, whether she is one thing or another, it is still brighter than it was.
*She used to imagine herself as foliage, a climbing vine. She was a cobweb, a catbird, a call down the mountain. Stuck. She had delivered herself from this in a matter of weeks, after the first snowfall and before the first shining screen. It hadn’t been so long. She was certain. And this called for marking off the calendar. Or a song. She heard someone on the street singing loudly, “goo—od bye roooby tooosday, whoo could hang a name on yoooo—when yoo chay-nge with ev’rynewday…”
*The frames flicker gently in front of her, the ebb and flow a gentle danger. She rubs her hands together, blows in her fists. Winter cries winter. The sun is nearly up again. She doesn’t remember falling asleep, but she recalls several situations, graceful gestures. She paces up and down the hallway, she’s on the seashore. Her sisters call to her to come back come back. But she does not hear them, she continues outside into the thin blue air, steps into the stream that is her street. She thinks that she could speak Swedish if she had too. Perhaps the priest will see her this afternoon.
*Land of naked winter. This grey builds slowly around and around, but she shines a dim light out from the center, can see the glow on the ground before her. There is nothing so beautiful as a light in the darkness, as they say. And soon there will be hours of rain, hours of strawberries. The music will begin, the scene ended gracefully, a slow fade to black from a vista of green.
Sara Veglahn is the author of two chapbooks, Another Random Heart (Margin to Margin) and Falling Forward (Braincase Press). She is also the co-author of That We Come to a Consensus (Ugly Duckling Presse), a collaborative poem with Noah Eli Gordon. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Conjunctions, 26 Magazine, Fence, POM2, Sleepingfish, and in the anthology/catalog Poets on Painters, published by the Ulrich Museum of Art. She currently lives in Denver where she helps edit the Denver Quarterly.