In the morning as I walk to work down the streets of San Francisco and the endless movement of fog and wind brings the crisp salt air in from off the bay water, setting it to swirling about the buildings and sidewalk, I’m oftentimes reminded of how much this really is a beach town. Etel Adnan’s Sea and Fog is an extended series of lyric meditations contemplating human desire, loss, war, art, and much more through the lens of writing towards this landscape, though Adnan’s own daily observations take place from her home in Sausalito across the bay. In these definitely ordered, yet infinitely variable, short prose-blocks, consciousness is fully immersed in the act of writing as motifs and concerns overlap and reoccur. There’s guiding awareness that “here,” wherever we may find ourselves, remains a definitive spot in observable time: “There’s a moment to the moment. We’re in the world.”
Adnan’s soundings of the natural event phenomena named in her book’s title urge both herself and the reader to not allow anything in our experiencing of them to slip by and/or be taken for granted:
The sea is to be seen. See the sea. Wait. Do not hurry. Do not run to her. Wait, she says. Or I say. See the sea. Look at her using your eyes. Open them, those eyes that will close one day when you won’t be standing. You will be flat, like her, but she will be alive. Therefore look at her while you can. Let your eyes tire and burn. Let them suffer. Keep them open like one does at midday. Don’t worry. Other eyes within will take over and go on seeing her. They will not search for forms or seek divine presence. They will rather continue to see water which stirs and shouts, becomes ice in the North, vapor in the tropics.
The churning mass of water which encircles our planet is one entity, an event to be taken as a whole in and of itself. Whether you’re standing beside the Pacific or the Mediterranean, you’d best notice the specifics of the thing in front of you. Recognize how large an encounter you’re in the midst of witnessing. Don’t reach for any meaning or recognition beyond the surge and splash about you: listen in.
Habits of writing and reading come and go much like the fog; they may be measured out, extended or contracted, played with and chased down for our own means yet are never fully mastered or utterly finished with. Adnan goes in search of what informs the forms she’s utilizing:
We write in silence. Something feints on each page. How to apprehend any person? How to make sure that seeing anything is not seeing oneself? How to forego one’s self without losing that miserable self? What would perpetual revelation be?
Questions without answers are embraced. Easily sat with and dwelled upon, then returned to again, to be enfolded about with thought and feeling. Adnan isn’t offering up easily consumed assessments of life’s purpose for guidance, spiritual or otherwise. Her probing investigative riffs refuse be budged away from dogged pursuit of where the subject leads: “All kinds of diseases inhabit our solitude. Some people witness their soul’s death before dying. That’s an apocalyptic event, a private eclipse.” Adnan is one with her writing: “Only in the fog do I feel complete.”
The book has been arranged in two sets: “Sea” followed by “Fog” (which in turn closes the book with a shorter lyric-series “Conversations with My Soul,” a second set within the second set). Here in these “conversations” Adnan’s writing turns taut and intimate, addressing the hours the rest of the book has been consumed by:
in the nights of
And the reader, like the poet herself, moves into a space where such “waiting” is done (a space which is visually mirrored by the book’s cover art: a propulsive abstract painting by Adnan full of moody dark and light thick blues, blacks, and grey strokes of paint—the sky?—along the top), losing track of time, caught up in the eternal dimensions which are specific to the lyric moment:
The sea is not
deep enough to
contain the hour
that just went
Returning from the moments of our reading to our body’s physical place, we rise and move beyond Adnan’s book and enter (again) the world about us: with our experience at the ready for us to greet it.