Excerpt from Catalogue d’oiseaux – Aaron Tucker

We spend our days in Berlin following all the streets we care to
we eat Italian, winding the pasta around our forks, drinking Chardonnay
we eat the pastries from the bakery near the hotel, drink coffee with milch
we pick out shirts & hats for each other, dress & admire each other
we wake up late one morning & read in bed, me paging through
the small book on machine translation from the nearby König bookstore
later we watched a trio of kestrels hunt, falcon stalking, strike
the blaze of their beige wingfeathers in a sharp diving spike
return airborne with a squirming mass in beak, triumphant
& as they fly off, you point out the larger females to me
tell me later that you learned from Wikipedia that they track their prey
using ultraviolet vision, following urine trails, supraevolutionary
& that they can hover on even the slightest wind, as if levitating
we imagine that vision & that floating walking through lush greens
alongside a quiet pack of buildings under moss & near-rain
joke about that constant German drizzle that paints vegetation
between sidewalk cracks, patinas, lingers in puddles stepping from curbs
& this walk is quiet, a reprieve, that allows us to be silent, hands grasped
sounds from streets barely audible, vocals singing traffic, conversations
a man putting out his trash, a woman walking a small dog, a building settling
& light rain against a window, all symphonic when blended instep
with our pace eventually emerging to a louder intersection
the next slightly louder, louder until we are waiting for the lights to cross

& across is the Hamburger Bahnhof
symmetrical with two flanking towers white & regal horizon
former terminus, culmination of rail networks
we move up its promenade, enter, open the whole of its cavernous centre
long echo & bellowing trains still ringing, still vibrant
the gallery quiet, & when I linger slightly I see you in that empty space
you, tiny against white, under large metal arches, joining dozens of feet above
this building with remnants of utility, now converted aesthetics, pristine & giant
& I catch up to you, thinking how we must look, two figures nearly swallowed
by the expanse of this building, & moving towards an exit along the side
receding, gone we cross through a simulated subway station, pale green tiles
replicated graffiti & then into an impossibly long hallway
globe lights hanging regularly an optical illusion
the stretch of it, as if created by mirrors, projects
along the lefthand are exits, each doorway opening to white cubes
large installations we search for Jeff Wall’s work, an artist you study
one of the first essays of yours I read
described an open suitcase, spilling, in the rain lightbox backdrop
& how photos moved, both staged event & impossible recreation

we found Stan Douglas’s pieces taken from Suspiria, a collaging film
algorithmic “recombined narration” juxtaposing Grimm’s & CCTV
combinations of images & clips will take months to re-emerge
the stills show the cameras he used, lens on lens metaphoto, pair at distance
set in shadow while light arcs over the surrounding brick, peering back
step through a curtain into pitch & we watch for ten minutes
see the neon green spectres move, underscored by synths, obvious bytes
their bodies like heat maps, retain human shape but lit unnatural gradations
you write on Douglas too, & I listen to you buzz happily
then laugh which you cover with a quick hand, your eyes still light
still devouring we move to larger installations, one after another
one room entirely blank & dark Martin Creed’s Work No. 270
& we look stand in its exact centre
close our eyes, wait, pause, wait, the absence of objects, of frames
of cases, of pedestals, of screens, wait, breath together, breathe, then continue
the deliberate filth of Paul McCarthy, uncanny Christmas mannequins
their red and green stripes smeared with chocolate
their plastic mouths covered you, hovering, you, blazing in plac
pillar of light bones & heat, take a selfie, “This one if my favourite” you say
the profane almostshit coating & almostbodies
arranged like an Old Navy commercial abject & joyful

The last work, at the end of that elongated hallway, Bruce Nauman
architecture Room with My Soul Left Out, Room That Does Not Care, rests, colder
enter the sparse metal, shipping container, we can see our breath
in overt manmade the interior lighting is surveillance
the grates underfoot glimpse further subterrain enclosed pathways & claustrophobia
arrests, a terror in its obvious construction stripped of markings of human touch
personality, the flatness of bureaucracy smooth walled systems
built for quarantine from voice, brushes of skin, embrace & we talk
through this unease as we retrace, remembering Philadelphia
we booked time at their archives, wandering through their Duchamp papers
delighting in his casual handwriting, thin, his pen barely touching
we sat together, legs touching, breaking in to show each other gallery bills
a black & white photo of Man Ray’s chess set, geometrically pristine
& after seeing his masterworks, The Bachelor Laid Bare
hung in the middle so that we could look through from either side, the cracking web, light
& finally Étant Donnés, the private view through the large wooden door
you went first, lingered, you gasped & giggled, you tried to leave & returned
& when it was my turn I marvelled too, the splay of the woman, pinprick lights
with the backdrop moving slightly, as if rotating, an unreal peepshow
his last piece, shuttered in his studio until his death, camouflaged for two decades
& you are telling me about the Jeff Wall essay on the piece that I must read
when we see the Nauman exhibit, open early by luck, we snuck through as if guilty
central: a video of him walking, seven versions of himself partitioned & stacked
he moved in “counterpose,” contrapposto, you explain, a classical sculptural position
Greek, his hips jumbled exaggerations, fragmented, his arms held above his head
his torsos, as if separate, opposite direction, he paces forward, then back,
loop Contrapposto Studies, I through VII, in reaction to Walk with Contrapposto
he was in his early 70s in the video we watch, his body harsher, hitching
but the earlier work, which is on a small TV, made when he was in his late twenties
a catwalk slink, the fluid swing of youth, of swagger, of boldness
that video done without the recomposing, is Nauman strutting & posing
two works in contrast, bring us to the gaps between our younger bodies & these

the lives spent before we met, you a studio artist, a parliamentary page
before that battling the deep snow of the Yukon, dancing, drawing, reading
you, a child bursting, you, a young woman raving, fluorescent, ecstatic
me further south, Okanagan, orchards & highways along lakes
& the intense quiet & loneliness of living where no one else was
we have both moments where long lines of our bodies slither with confidence
the rubber of those bodies, pulled smooth, undented, only slightly marked
you by being a woman in the world, by being opening & loving
& having that returned with what the world often does, with biting, with violence
I contort now when you tell me about that past, protectively shell around you
we have both been married, have loved, have travelled, & have been
that past a set of stacked, counterposed memories
& people we bring to the other against that simple facade of flawless youth
that body an edited projection

& I think of sitting in front of our fireplace in Toronto, snow cascading
talking through our pasts, tall glasses of oaky chardonnay, shiftingly flamelit
you, relaxed & gleaming, your fingers, delicate glassware, feathershine
in the background was Gould’s 1955 Goldberg Variations, astounding articulation
a twenty-two year old, virtuoso, combining tapping & pressing, speed
this soundtrack, not rushed but at his limits, testing & demanding
echoes our energy, the ways those younger bodies worked in confidence
we talk about this & us, & you remind me that he rerecorded
the opening aria nearly two dozen times, portioned & stacked
& we only lived the once, as we could & age fifty
1981, he made his last recording, Goldberg Variations loop
that recording is over twelve minutes longer, the piece stretched
by aging, by the body’s slowing, jutting & slower contrapposto
“It’s more peaceful” you observe, sipping & keeping your iceblue eyes on me
& I wonder what is in those dozen minutes, a nongap, nonabscence
& the changes that a person undertakes over three decades, a dozen tonal shifts
or a decade of living in Toronto or St. Catharines, or two years together
the demarcations, watermarks or sedimentary lines on our riverbanks
& I can already see how you have remade me, softened, pulled
out the darker clothes of my past, brought them into firelight
& when I slip into their sleeves or legs now, they are so ill fitting
baggy & motheaten, sliding off my body, both of us redressing
the other you in the openbacked siren red dress
dancing in Victoria after dinner you, in your robe, almostopen
you in navy blazer speaking to a room
my shirt collar crisp & tailored, the pant cuffs the perfect length
your hands on my chest, smoothing & fussing, your hand in mine
we listened to those extra twelve minutes & sipped & held & were, are
the piece finishes, & you put another log on, the room patiently warming
I think of that night, of Philadelphia, of Berlin, at my desk, early spring
& as I wrote to Olivier Messiaen’s “Catalogue d’oiseaux,” solo piano works
through the plucking & chirping birdvocals, yet atonal & massive the piece moves
thirteen shifts, through Chocard des Alpes, Merle bleu Chouette hulotte
Alouette lulu, a marathon, over two hours, nonmelody Birdsong counterpoint
heavy chords, then light plinking, notes juxtaposed Merle de roche
Courlis cendré, this catalogue is incomplete but whole

Aaron Tucker’s upcoming manuscript, Catalogue d’oiseaux, was first published in chapbook form by Anstruther Press in 2019 and will be published in full by Bookhug Press in 2021. In addition, Aaron Tucker is the author of the novel Y: Oppenheimer, Horseman of Los Alamos (Coach House Books) as well as two books of poetry, Irresponsible Mediums: The Chess Games of Marcel Duchamp (Bookthug Press) and punchlines (Mansfield Press), and two scholarly cinema studies monographs, Virtual Weaponry: The Militarized Internet in Hollywood War Films and Interfacing with the Internet in Popular Cinema (both published by Palgrave Macmillan). He began his doctorate as an Elia Scholar and VISTA doctoral Scholar in the Cinema and Media Studies Department at York University in the Fall of 2018 where he is studying the cinema of facial recognition software. Currently, he is a guest on the Dish with One Spoon Territory, where he is a lecturer in the English department at Ryerson University (Toronto), teaching creative and academic writing. His website is: http://aarontucker.ca/

Banner Image: “North London, Hornsey, Canal View #4″ by Robert Frede Kenter

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