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Emily Dujardin


Well it finally happened—I bought a plant. I’m not sure when exactly, maybe last

week, perhaps last month. All I know is for a while it was an idea, and then it was a thing. I knew it was a matter of time, I suppose, somewhere deep in my brain. But there are so many things in there that never happen and never will. So you can never be sure. But this one, this one was real.

V says it’s because of the weather, but V doesn’t know what she’s talking about. V

thinks I’m depressed, because of the weather. Or, that the weather is an operative factor, an accomplice, a sidekick, an obsequious Polonius to my general Claudian state of being. Or, to mix dramatic metaphor, V-as-Trinculo, hearing songs of storms in the wind of her mind. But V is wrong, possibly about the consequence and certainly about the cause. I do not feel that I am depressed, although I’ve been told that’s one of the signs. Then of course that’s the thing about signs, they can mean many different things at once.

I haven’t been able to yet determine what this sign might signify, however. I’ll admit

that much. Pothos, it’s called. Like pathos, or parcae, or portend. They tell me it will require little work, that it will accommodate and assimilate to its new environs, that it will grow, steadily and surely, upon whatever portion of the world it may happen to find. So far this has proven true, as its firm little vines have already begun to wind their way towards my books. It is thus a survivor, this Pothos, and I suppose it’s tempting to see some causal relationship there, some aspirational connection, Em=Plant=Alive. I admit it looks suspicious. V, as she tends to do, has a point. But this Pothos is green and Em is dark. We are not the same, this living being and I, she with her propagation and I with my thoughts. My new plant is not here on account of the weather. It is neither certainty nor consequence, not cicatrice or cause. It is instead, I think, cosmopaghy.


Hamlet, as a rule, likes to talk. He loves language, and even more than that he loves

words. (These things are not the same). More than sword or poison, it is that good King’s English that Hamlet takes as his weapon of choice. We know he must have been like this for all the days of his unseen jeunesse, all those years before the tragic calamity, two weeks or ten years in the past. Running around with Horatio, exasperating the court. But then he meets with Death. “Thou com’st in such a questionable shape / That I will speak to thee. I’ll call thee Hamlet” he says to the Ghost, in the cold sharp air of midnight. He signifies his father but I think he’s talking about himself. Death is Hamlet, freed from the sepulcher, wordless in the dark, indicating something beyond language itself. And faced with this Hamlet is speechless, the great philosopher has nothing to say. As Wittgenstein tells us, there is a limit to the things we can talk about, and truth is beyond the pale. Hamlet has met with Death, has encountered that which is known but cannot be said, has been betrayed by language. And so he begins to talk. His world then becomes one not of language but of words, the play in which he exists an elegiac lament running from beginning to end, a peroration given from death to death, a bold attempt at meaning, the undaunted act of creation in a land devoid of sense.

I am writing about Hamlet for class, about philosophy and meaning. About

Hamlet too, although mostly due to circumstance. This writing requires, mostly, that I read. In the unmade shadow of my plant I have devoured the books, those with his words and those with words of him. Until recently, these shadows were only ideas, possibilities that I had not yet brought into existence. Now they will begin to form. All through the winter I have been reading, waiting for thoughts to appear. I can hear him speaking to me, through the centuries like they were thin walls in a rented house. The black prince, with that madness that both is and is not his own. I would not have been his Ophelia, lovestruck and drowned. Not Horatio, either, with his noble heart and good sense. I am neither faithful nor flowering. It is different, for Hamlet and I, and far stranger. I know the words he says to me, I can feel them under my skin. They come, I think, from the other place, and that perhaps is where I once found them. L’autre place, as it appears in my thoughts, alongside the woman I inexorably try to remember. Et je vais elle chercher là-bas.


Last week I had a date. V said it would be good for me to go on the dates. Of course

V is in California, where the air never shrewdly bites her, and everything can remain spoken and undone. But still I went. We met in the afternoon, which is an imposing time of day. I spent very little time on my outfit, which I am sure was black. Outside it was grey. It is always grey. I wore a too-thin jacket to look, as V says, “cute.” I was cold. We each ordered a muffin to go with the coffee, which felt like some sort of joke. Although his unlike mine had blueberries in it, which would look at me just before they died, eviscerated by half a tooth and left for the moment in stasis, bleeding their dark blue blood into flour and sugar and salt. He talked a lot, with blueberry neatly staining his teeth. He sat back in his chair, appraising, and had to lean forward, with great and hidden annoyance, every few minutes, when the waitress, her hair tied up in a scarf, would walk by. He told me a very long story about a trip he had taken with his family to Albuquerque, driving for many hours through places left to time. There had been soft hills that slowly gave way to strange promontories, rocks like half-remembered dreams trying to be reformed in the cold dim morning. The freeway ran on straight for miles and miles, and when it curved you could see it coming for hours, a slow easy tilt, the careful hand of the conductor winding around a rising crescendo. And then crash crash comes the note and the turn and the shock. The sky opened up all around them, and try as they might, he and his sister could never count all the clouds, drifting towards each other with ponderous solemnity, threatening nothing like rain. They drove for several days, he said, his family all packed in together with their luggage and dogs. For a long time it felt like they would never get there, because how could they possibly be making progress in a world where everything looked the same? It was at once completely unfamiliar and possessed of a certainty which imposed upon them its inevitable permanence. At night in the hotel room he and his sister stayed up late making up stories about the wild creatures who lived in the rocks of the desert. In the mornings they’d see rough men from all across the country, men who made their living driving the massive trucks they passed by each day, men who seemed unable to communicate except in the strange way they’d learned amongst themselves. The windows of the car grew dirty from the pressing of their skin. When they finally made it to Albuquerque it was less like arrival than acquiescence, an understanding of something far greater than themselves, an awareness that whatever he may do in his life, whatever he might grow up to be, there was really very little he could do in a world on such a scale as the one he had seen, only a very small mark he might ever hope to make. He would not find a way to begin to express this feeling for many years, and even now what he said was only a crude approximation. But he knew it all the same, from the moment he stepped out of the car into the bright hot New Mexico sun.

All this time he’d been speaking I was wondering if he was going to finish his

muffin. There was only one blueberry left, exposed against the edge of the wrapper. When I ate it I didn’t see it bleed. Soon after he finished his story we left. The waitress cleared our mugs before we made the door. Her hair was becoming slowly undone. By now the sun was down and the grey had moved to black. He said he would text me later but never did. I can’t remember what he said when I’d asked his name.


In the room of the building where they keep the philosophers I have a desk in a

corner. The window is inexplicably tinted, the world beyond distorted away from reality. I look out and I think. The shelf above my desk is bent with books, bathed in the darkened light. There is little in language that can account for the world. All the same these books have things they want to tell me, things they demand I know. Consciousness as an act of creation. Being and becoming as one, to be or not to be, that poet’s late addition. Okay. I understand these ideas, I think, and I like them, I know, but I’m left unsure what to do with them. V says I should get out more, which implies people, which implies a definition of self only achieved via triangulation of others. I don’t think that’s what V meant. To be imminent is to be different, and I’m fairly sure I’m that. In my corner there is left to me no way of positing an existence that could mean anything to anyone other than Em. The other students sit near each other, they swap desks like communists, proudly despairing of possessions. They talk about dialectics and inevitability. At some point it seems everyone became friends. They make it look very easy, the camaraderie, the adulthood. This is a difficult program, all of us have already advanced degrees. Yet they show no trace of what I feel, a performance, a rejection of the world in the name of knowledge. I can hear their voices around the sharp corners and over the cloth walls, their laughter, the way they show they know each other. Sometimes R will stop at my desk, which is near the door, for a moment. She is so adept, with people. She has a smile that opens the clean porcelain of her skin like a blade. There’s the smallest trace of hesitancy, in those moments, when she allows herself to cut. It takes a discerning eye to notice the obligation she feels. But she’s nice about it. I’m not sure she could be otherwise. I think it’s inborn, this pleasant nature. It draws everyone to her. They offer mock laments about not seeing her more often, malapropian elegies about how long it’s been. She often looks away, at first, taking off her coat as an excuse. I think it must be exhausting, to be universally loved.

In the afternoons, deep in winter, the sun is very brief in my window. I have

headphones that I wear, against the sounds of conversation, while I’m trying to work. Sometimes they’ll interrupt me, a little Pavlovian sound before some notable alert. I always wonder who it’ll be, in the second before the message plays. It’s nearly always V.

Lately I’ve been listening to The Planets. They are very titanic. I think about

Uranus, frozen in ice, impotent in the background. I think about Neptune, with his blue anger, avenging the blindness of his famished son. And I think about Saturn, fearless, bloody, chewing. When I leave the towering building with its Soviet windows, deep in the chambers of winter, it is dark. V says I should not walk the mile back downtown, to meet with the beasts of the underground that will carry me north. She worries over my exposed, female form. But fear not, V, the cold of the sun, the eyes of the men. It is silly, to worry over mortals. Above me in the blackness I see the planets, the stars, the cosmos. As I walk along through the wind I feel closer to creation, to faire, to make or to do, which in my mother’s French is the same thing. Or to be, which in my books is very complicated. Em, être. But to make, or to be, requires the violent replacement of what was, and what is. There can be no revolution without the status quo. Like Saturn, devouring his child on Goya’s blackened wall. All that is left to existence is a self-defining annihilation. Em, cosmophagic.


In class I hear myself speak. To others, at others, of others. It is not Em, doing all

this talking. It is a creation, a fabrication, Emily-In-Class. Toujours vers la vraisemblance. But never, I know, à. It is a being of my own making, a Daedalian trap, a labyrinth for a social Minotaur, a monster that consumes Em directly as she walks in the door. Until the hour is up and she, like the stone, is reborn. Em and Emily cannot coexist, the one devours the other in creating itself, and thereby finds a definition in the negation.

And so all day long I sit by the window and wait for my existence to change.

To be conscious is to create, and, as Sontag says of Sartre, to in turn consume:

cosmophagy. All that heavy phenomenology, trimmed down to a swift bright page. In response to Saturn’s anthropophagical devourment of his creation, we consume time as it in turn devours us. In this, we learn from Hamlet. The aesthetic becomes the ontological, and back again. It is not easy, Hamlet seems to say, to be a person. Rather, that is, than being one.

I am writing about this play, with its black prince and attenuated circumstance, like

countless have done before me. I am not a scholar suited for such a purpose. I am not even really supposed to be writing about a play at all, for this class. But Emily has her advantages, and, apparently, one of them is charm. She has won for me from my yielding professor, a topic with which I can breathe. I am trying something new, with Hamlet, and with my selves who read him.

Perhaps I’m being too dramatic.

This is what V says, when she’s not telling me to be cute and depressed. Or, to

acknowledge my cuteness and depressedness. To embrace the one and accept the other. Neither of which sound like anything Em would do. But that, I suppose, is the point.

Hamlet, in his most intimate moments with language, pushes past the borderline of

his fabricated world, extending it into the real. In his great soliloquies he can directly address the audience, to stand on the unbound Shakespearean stage and speak in language as clean as bone. In doing so, cependant, he moves, as paradox, further from the truth of the mind. He is the creation, turned back towards the creator: the consciousness of Hamlet shaping and reshaping the composition of Hamlet, creation-by-consumption, until the new thing, that which is made and has been devoured, comes by neartruth words into our unspoken real. Cosmopaghy as inexorable cosmopoiesis.

In the classroom I speak as a person free of doubt. V says this is confidence, but V

doesn't know what she’s talking about. It is Emily, not I but Emily, who does all this talking. To be Em, rather than being Emily. Speaking in language and playing with words. The self is a divided thing, prone to protean alteration. “Is it not like the King?” Marcellus asks, faced with the terrible likeness of the Ghost. “As thou art to thyself,” says Horatio, that loyal scholar. I like this moment. Horatio is very friendly. On the battlements, in all that cold, he has come to witness, to see that which cannot be said. He is nonetheless agreeable in his astonishment. He boldly faces the apparition, begins his clerical interrogation, posing questions to ascertain if it is evil or benign. He thinks they’ll have to go find Hamlet, for “on my life / This spirit, dumb to us, will speak to him.” Only in language do we have passage towards truth, even if we can never reach the thing itself. Vraisemblance, the French call reality in their literature. Vrai/semblance, a semblance of truth. I speak, in class, and what I say I feel. It is not me, but it is not not me, either. I’m not quite sure how to say it. And by that, I don’t mean to be cute.

The other night I found myself in the dark, watching my plant. I imagined the

things it might do, the creation it will become. I played The Planets. I poured a glass of wine, and left it on the bookshelf. It sat there, deep red, staring at me, oxygenating. It consumed the air I tried to breathe, that my plant tried to clean, and opened its ancient flavors of the world. I waited. My plant did not move. I waited all through Mercury, and Venus, and Mars. I waited through Jupiter, with his regal sounds and extended melody. I watched the wine, which ripped softly to the musicI watched the imperceptible actions my plant took, the things programmed into its genetic code, the surety with which it lived. When we got to Saturn I drank. I could feel the wine stain my teeth and imagined it was blood. For generations my family has owned a vineyard, in the warm California sun. Wine is the family business, that which we create. It, in turn, creates us, gives us shape and definition, a story and a purpose. And thus did I consume. I drank through the end of the album, with lights coming slowly on in the windows of apartments across the street, where people lived with others, defined in mutual orbit. When the music stopped I got up. I poured the very last of the wine into the pot of my plant. In the morning, when I went to check, the leaves were a deeper green. This Pothos, I suspect, likes to drink.


I think I understand why Hamlet waits. Why, that is, he takes his time. Sometimes,

in the evenings when I should be asleep, I’ll have a thought and want to tell my father. That, of course, is impossible. He is beyond this world, beyond all worlds, I think, and has made no promises of ghosts. I would like to see him in apparition. I don’t imagine he would keep silent, nor offer any commands; he is no King Hamlet, and has been done except by Fate no wrong. It is the evenings when I miss him the most. I would like to see him again, even just the once. Death, for the living, is anguish. This, I think, is why Hamlet lingers. The ghost may reappear, one more time, and provide a moment of rest. It would be very hard to give such a chance away.

Hamlet, of course, is in purgatory. Not that of Christ, but of man. Like all of us, he

is defined by not being that which he is not—death. All our lives we are defined by this presence of absence. “That skull had a tongue in it and could sing once,” he says to Horatio, next to the Grave-digger. Truth is death; it is all and everything there is. Saturn is Time, devouring all and creating everything. There is only one immortal, time eternal, and it is all that we can truly know.

I have begun to write in French, the way my mother wants. I do not write to her of

my father, because we have our memories. She is in California, and sends me letters, mailed by V. She talks often of the past, and little of the future. I have realized, lately, that there are different Ems in each language, each at once and neither Emily. I try to write my criticism and find there are ideas in French not found in English. It is like a friendship; the meaning does not arise in any one moment, but through the attempts at knowing one another. I am beginning to suspect the self is similar, that it is through many attempts, that it is in fact the attempt itself, by which I might again find Em.

Still, if it was a ghost I found in my living room, I wouldn’t mind having V around.

She’s a very good conversationalist.

I do not think I am depressed. Although more and more, it seems, I have to work to

find in Emily the Em that I remember. That skull had a tongue in it and could sing once. I speak things in a voice, to people, with a body and a form and all their attendant demands. They do not seem to want me, the people I know in this city, or at least not anything found below the skin. I do not know why this is. I suppose it has something to do with Em, and not with Emily. But I do not mind, so much. I have memories of my father, in the evenings, and letters from my mother, still written in black bleeding ink. I have a plant, now, growing of its own volition, taking from life its apportioned share. I have thereby created. I have V, with her texts and her notions, her insisted visits and updates from home. And I have Hamlet, devouring his endless play, speaking to me in something beyond language, beyond even words themselves, something I could try and put down here but will not. Something, perhaps, better left unsaid.


Near my house is the lake. The waves come falling in from the north, descending

those hundreds of miles, flashing white and angry, until they crash against the wall built by man for the ease of his existence and recoil, meeting their brethren in quick eruptions of foam. Sometimes they splash my legs, in their thin dark denim, when I stand near the edge. But it never goes any further than that. There are no Phoenicians, and I do not need rescue.

All year long, except on the very coldest and most absurd days, there are people

running along the water. The women all have their hair in ponytails, very tight and neat, and they swing from side to side, rhythmically, along the great curve of the seawall. It is, of course, no sea. But there is no such word as lakewall. That’s the thing about signs, they’re not always around when you need them.

I watch the women running, as if they had some place to go.

The lake from where I stand looks like the ocean, the one I remember, the one

beyond the wall of glass in the room of gold, where the plants bloomed boisterously and there was very little space between skin. Between her skin and my skin, between my skin and the quick light fabric of blue. Of her I remember everything, despite what it consumes. I wish, I think, that I did not.

In the Renaissance the painters discovered linear perspective, vanishing the end of

the world into recognizance. They found a way to express what was long known, that it is the end of things, not the beginning, that creates meaning. I look out across the water, the way I used to do. By the time I reach the horizon, it has bled into the sky, grey and somber and inevitable. It was the same in California, along the ocean, when the clear bright blue vanished into the depths of the water. I am not sure how this is possible. I suppose that, far enough away from man, things simply exist, without the worry of description.

At the end of the lakewall is a lighthouse. A small one, unused, abandoned, but yet

extant still. I walk all the way to the end, beyond its painted structure, to the tip of the fabricated world, as it extends into the real. The water is very clear. It feels far from land, before I turn around, but it is a short walk from the frozen beach. If I were to fall in, to plunge like Ophelia, I would not drown. I probably would stand.

There are no flowers anywhere along the icewhite sand, only stoic grasses and

indifferent trees.

Sometimes I’ll send V a picture of the city, which from the lighthouse is spread out

down along the shore. In the mornings the clouds consume it, only slowly giving way. Do not fear the heat o’the sun. But I throw no parties, and I carry no flowers. I was given some, once, on a date, a second date with a man I would eventually come to know quite well, although not as well as anyone, it seemed, might’ve liked. He brought me yellow flowers in thin grey tissue, four flowers and their attendant stalks. They looked like a wedding. All through the dinner they lay on the table, squeezed to the edge by glasses of water and wine, threatening conversation. Afterwards we went to a small dark bar with music designed to keep out of the way. There was exposed brick that asked you to look at it. His hand kept moving, I remember, towards the things of mine he wanted. I could see the future there in the dark, like Tiresias in hell, and paid it no mind. But when we left, in the warm air of the ocean, we nonetheless went separate ways. He hid well his surprise. I refused his transportation, acquiesced only to his kiss. He looked at me, from his car, the way the Greeks I think did Troy, waiting for the fall. I took the train home and texted V. She was very excited. Eventually we began talking of other things, things found in philosophy and memory and time, while I rode above ground in a city surrounded by hills. It was only later, once I’d taken off the tight dress and the dark makeup, once I’d made strong coffee set for the morning, once I’d listened to the sounds of my ceiling fan shaking in its frame, that I realized I’d left the flowers on the train. I lay there, alone in my bed of pillows and books, watching the streetlight as it was cut up by the blades, imagining those four yellow flowers, spread out across the empty seat, circling the city all through the night, slowly dying of thirst.

D. W. White writes consciousness-forward fiction and criticism. Currently pursuing his Ph.D. in the Program for Writers at the University of Illinois-Chicago, he serves as Founding Editor of L’Esprit Literary Review, Prose Editor for West Trade Review, and Executive Editor and Director of Prose for Iron Oak Editions. His writing appears in 3:AM, The Florida Review, Another Chicago Magazine, Necessary Fiction, and Chicago Review of Books, among others. His dissertation project is a novel that reimagines Hamlet through a Modernist approach to narration, centered on the life and mind of his ongoing character Emily. Before returning to Chicago, he lived in Long Beach, California, for nine years.

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