Mutabilities by Brenda Hammack
after paintings by Remedios Varo
Brenda Hammacks work has appeared in The Sows Ear Poetry Review, Tar Wolf Review, Heliotrope, The Hurricane Review, The North Carolina Literary Review, The Laurel Review, and various other journals. She teaches Victorian literature, childrens literature, and an interdisciplinary course on images of women at Fayetteville State University.
Remedios Varo, an expatriate painter of Spanish origin, living in France and, then, Mexico, absorbed the mystical traditions of many cultures, transmuting them into celestial spindrift (i.e. noctilucent objects that orbited the heads of jugglers, artists, and otherwordly scholars in oil on masonite). Varo was greatly influenced by the French surrealists, including André Breton, as well as by occult philosophers (Gurdjieff, Blavatsky, Ouspensky). Her mutabilities are science filtered through alembic, natural law as translated by tarot. Varo was born in Anglés in 1910; she died in Mexico City in 1963.
Shes been waiting so long that the still life is less still than she is. All she wanted was to fit in like a stain that blends into fabric and, now, she has become chair, her face upholstery, a fleur-de-lis pattern, or pock marks. With posture mimetic, adopting that cryptic resemblance of prey that pretends to be habitat, shes not afraid anymore of the parallax that keeps shifting away, then back so she cant tell whos looking when, whats moving, or if her whole worlds aslant. Some people kick to prove they exist; others attack to prove the world does. But, she lacks even this much enthusiasm. When relativity led to perforation so that the outside filtered in, when the inanimate became animate, the chair and the table legs teasing one another like baroque monkeys, she remained passive. Even as the cupboard opened up to tip cirri, like spent daydreams, to wisp about the room, she ignored them as severely as she would in- decorum. One seldom finds solace in action, she said. A body at rest tends to remain at rest. And, since she was not light, she stayed constant, and, now, even as the cat looks up from a hole in the floorboards with no little chagrin, she cant be bothered to risk reaction and, so, her pointy toes arch into cabriole stilettos as fingers flute into armrests.
With mountains hunching over and around him like eroded skyscrapers, or fibroids, each a gristly mass that could mean cancer, he could not see what he was not expecting. I mean, the wings on his back were positively nacreous like onion thats been sautéed too long and that tail was more than coccyx. Raccoon-striped, it dangled like a misplaced phallus. He should have been surveying rocks (quartz, basalt, granite) and not some perky flower. When radiation sanded the landscape down to its essential layers, he whistled Variation, and took notes. He hoped to publish, someday, an article on the half-life of some as yet undiscovered organism that bore through space rock before being launched by cataclysm to arc across the zodiacal firmament to plunge through oceanic waters, now evaporated, to rest like some abscessed bicuspid awaiting excision by an expert with vision, not unlike himself. It was fate really, though he did not believe in nonrandom design. That flower couldnt be avoided anymore than what happened yesterday. It was like the past already. I mean, he did believe in evolution, and not necessarily for the better; but, as objectivity refutes subjectivity to some degree, he failed to see that strange and sylphid mysteries were unfolding behind his very back. Since he did not see the scientist as immanent in natural history, he would not have perceived his own furry stockings as specimens for mechanical scrutiny. Nor would he have seen in a wing flick the slightest inkling of mutant divinity.
She had hardly expected a crucible to come wobbling through the doorway like some bad fairy (uninvited, of course), though she should be used to such comings what with the dragonflies, large as pigeons, swooping through tears in the space-time continuum and hands reaching out of drapery to clasp her wrist as if to reassure her that the house had not lost its hold despite its mutability. Even the cat was given to shedding parts of himself in autumn. Though elusive as leaves that swirled past ones knees, indoors and out, cat could always be recognized. She could even call him (Puck! Persnickety! Peeves!) till he answered with a whir, ack, or sneeze. But she, for the life of her, could not conceive of a name, title, or epithet by which to address this guest, who came sidling through her doorway with his lid off like some potbellied gentleman caller. Though she read all the horoscopes daily and, therefore, expected a stranger, she had not expected such a strange one. Indeed, his head grew, inverted, like a sin, boil, or lichen under the lid of his cauldron. And who could have expected to be wooed by an animate object on training wheels no less, carrying a pot full of primrose and iris? Even she could not intuit such a crux though she knew full well that angels, gods, and fairies often made tests of such tricks. She worried, then, if crucibles began wheeling their way through her parlor, would hip flasks and chamber pots come next?
The floor as her mantle, she sits for hours as women once did by spinning wheels as if industry alone could endear them to their maker. Now, she can almost hear the tintinnabulation of air that raveled from their fingers, that rankled through their lungs. So much effort expended to produce so little art. It was useful, though, and simple, unlike her psychic goals that depend on much more effort combined with much less hope as well as a whole system of pulleys, gears, alembics to distill such meager drops of rain into soda bottles where color settles like sediment to be shaken into light.
In an exercise of free will, she fledges each bird from feather (contour, rachis, barb) to species (warbler, nightjar, lark). Although they might be dragons or dragonflies, archaeopteryx, noctuid moths in outline, each brushstroke brings the needed light that softens chitin into down and pinfeathers, turns scales to iridescence before each shape astounds by lifting off from drafting board like emotion found, then lost, and found again.
Acknowledgments: Discovery of a Mutant Geologist was published in Heliotrope in 2005, and Unexpected Visit appeared briefly in 2004 in an on-line journal, Glass Tesseract, that is no longer with us.