I once met a woman who had been volunteering at a listening post located in our local downtown bus station. She told me that whenever someone walked into the listening post, her goal was, as much as possible, to remain quiet, and, without any conscious agenda, to genuinely hear what her interlocutors, who were usually complete strangers, might have to say; and then, and only then, to respond to them.
After its initiation, a verbal interaction contains the potential, theoretically, for an infinite variety of retorts, interpretations, or results. Often, communication may occur on some level. More satisfying, however, are those rendezvous, after which one exclaims: “Now, that was, unequivocally, an encounter.” On such an occasion, significant signals have passed from one individual to another, nurturing the exchange, until, just as nitrogen is passed from mycelium to mycelium beneath the roots of the forest, the conversation becomes a vehicle for transmission and attunement.
When I read the writing of Petra Whiteley, I feel as if I am eavesdropping on an ongoing conversation between her and the universe. The impression is that her filaments have been intent upon the reception of revelations for such a long time, that when, at last, she breaks her silence, the combinations of words that spill from her pen onto the page are unexpectedly exhilarating and unpredictable, and therefore revivifying. Below is a recent specimen of her work:
He is a man of a different kind; his species is homo avis. A man-bird, captured within paper walls.
You will never see him shiver, perched as he is, mid-note, song-calling. Save our songs, that gentle thud echoing from his shiny skin to thinly stretched edges of his endless fall.
Why does that song of his sound so calm?
Just like misty morning river…when all he does is burn, and burn brighter still. He burns there as the sun jumps over the horizon: that old creaky smoothed out pommel horse keeps on braying from its depth, but is never heard.
The song’s born out of the landscape of his mind.
There’s an old tree on a top of a solitary, hungry hill, underneath the branches there’s a black cross, sharp grass whispers. Paths slither in all directions, yet come as one up to a whitewashed house opposite the hill, where no one lives, but families of rodents and tightly woven societies of insects cohabit in precisely measured peace.
There is a table on which rests a decayed loaf of bread, surrounded by torn pages with letters washed away, disappearing in waves of time, leaking from a clock that wills itself on like Methuselah.
There’s something hanging from a nail that he can barely see, but hears the perfect rhythm of its contact with the wind. Suggestion of a heart beat in the eaves. It is. It is not.
The house that breathes; breathes the stories that happen in the piano rain.
The stories that are broken, stories that are made of steel, of bones, of lies, of milk, of shouts and screams, of love, of reaching, of hurt, of balls, of triggers, of silence and silenced, of bricks and weather, of shakes of hands, of fragile china, of animals lurking under the layers of skins, of nursery rhymes and their bruises, of extinction, homo deus in ruins of his many fingered wars.
This is his map to Eden; he rebuilds it from the dawn of light and watches it die in the mouth of the night. However many beginnings and ends there are, the map is always the same.
And so is he, wrapped in his soft prison, as a gift of flowers, red and yellows. Waiting like Lazarus, licking on salt.