Dear Nemesis, Nicole Eisenman 1993–2013 2014
What is Nemesis, really? Better to ask the question—Who? Who is Nemesis? She is a she: an under-mentioned goddess integral to the story of Narcissus. My version is this: Narcissus, a boy whose beauty was beyond belief was walking through the dell one day and Echo saw him (Echo was a mountain nymph). She fell for beauty (as we do) and followed beauty through the trees. Feeling something hovering, Narcissus called out Who’s there? Who’s there? was all Echo, being echo, could reply. She could not speak her self and so Narcissus scorned her. It is here that Nemesis steps into his path for it is she is who leads Narcissus to the pool, the pool where he meets his fate. Awed by what he sees, unable to leave the water’s edge, he perishes, chained to an image of beauty beyond belief. It is the under-mentioned goddess Nemesis that leads him here because he scorned the mountain nymph. This is her retribution.
As for Echo, there was a time when she had been the master of the tale, the talker surpassed by none. Hera, wife of Zeus, would come down to the mountain just to hear her sing and would delight for hours in Echo’s words. What Hera did not know then is that while she lay rapt in Echo’s language, her mate, her Zeus, was out cavorting with the other nymphs. (We all love beauty so.) And words, they do deceive. When Hera discovered this she cursed her Echo, the nymph whose language had laid her bare, that she would be able to only ever repeat the last thing that anyone said to her, nevermore a storyteller of her own. And so she became Echo, the echo, who would come to follow beauty through the glen.
i have been writing this letter to you for a long time.
a long time.
what do i want to say to you?
to say to you.
(something about the spring,
something about sitting in the dell of ferns with dylan,
something about the rhythms of it,
something about the hummingbirds that are suckling at the summer lilacs
now everywhere in the glen...)
something about the now, the night, that has me up late and plunking at the keys of this machine, trying hard to lay a letter down...
to lay it down.
there is a writer from the southern lands who has sadness laid about her like a laurel and she has this line: the we of me. she says, they are the we of me, but she is wrong. and it is like a haunting, haunting the we of me, like we are somehow—or you
changelings, we two.
shifting back and forth, each of us, from an i into a thing,
something separate from my i and in the world—
an echo, a stain.
a nemesis, a scar.
and we are tethered still. my
you are without me and i live without him
both of us live wanting and without—the goneness, a tether
(the bond that only emptiness can be), dear nemesis.
there was a time we met in the kitchen of the angel
and in the kitchen then,
you were waiting for me.
all hair a dashing black and leather jacket too.
you had your leather jacket sleeves shoved up to your elbows
hair a dashing black
and you were reading.
reading when i came in,
late and flustered, sorry.
when we sat at our table near the window,
beside a young couple so deep in love
we were older then
and you pushed a present toward me across the table...
my favourite things
my favourite things
a red book with blank pages in
and a pen that felt like a plume
scratching black ink like your jacket like your hair
scratching flutters of spurting ink across the page
as we wrote together
lunch was good that day.
the presents you bought hooked my heart like a claw
and still are hollow we.
now in the night of aftermath
the moon is high and nearly full
the air the faintest gooseflesh chill
and there is a wetness in it
a wetness in it
that signals spring.
and here i sit beyond the pool
the pool (you know the one)
and jasmine traces in now
in waves upon the breeze.
you are far away and nearby still, as you are and tend to be.
as you are
you tend to be.
the other night i could not sleep.
so much was still so much was quiet
heartmind racing as i lay
and sifted through movie clips and updates
and i came across a young girl singing.
she was thirteen, the goddess’ age
her hair a stringy brown.
there was nothing remarkable to look at
she was there, was nothing remarkable to see.
the judges pursed their lips or tented eyebrows, short with her for taking time:
a gawky girl in cut off jeans and sandals strange and strappy.
and then she began to sing.
and what wonder, O!
so rare a human streams the sound a truth run coursing through her.
her voice but not alone
and the audience went wild and the judges rocked their chairs and shocked around
and the stadium was on its feet calling her stamping cheering and
waiver did she not because it was the song
and she was steady in it
her voice but not her own
and so she kept on singing,
and spirit courses through her,
coursing through her.
and when it all was said and done the purse-lipped judge with hair askew said to her now that it was over, that was not you, not you, that was the singing he said breathless. and the little girl the goddess’ age placed her hand upon her heart and bowed her head, because she knew that it was so.
and she said, thank
for the pen and for the plume and for the ink and for the book and for the red and for the laughter,
and for lunch.
there is a painter from the city who moved west into the desert, old bones calling. and she would write her letters then, back to the other shore, and she would a distance then and too a closeness in the writing and signed them all from faraway nearby.
and so it is i, we, sign:
and so you are nearby.
i say to you like she and from the faraway nearby—
we two are changelings: from an i into a we into a thing, we two.
echo, and we