The following text was written as a collaboration between Virginia Barratt and Quinn Eades, as an experimental work of ekphrastic ‘writing with’ or ‘writing to’ (Gale & Wyatt 2018), taking as its subject an operatic performance entitled ‘Vocal Womb’ by Eve Klein, a music technologist, popular music scholar and an operatic mezzo soprano and composer.
The operatic work, ‘Vocal Womb’, comprised two arias, based on poems written by Quinn Eades and Virginia Barratt, arranged in a ‘post-operatic’ mode, to use a term proposed by Jelena Novak to speak about theorising a body-voice relationship in contemporary, post-dramatic and media-augmented operatic works, ‘where interventions upon the body-voice relation open possibilities not only for expanding the borders of the opera world further, but also for what is considered body and voice in opera’ (Novak 2015).
The original poems engaged with notions of affectivity, the phenomenology of panic, birthing, the post-linguistic and its role in writing trauma and the body, and écriture matière (Eades 2015), which is writing matter/the material. The poem/arias were arranged within a composition of samples, electronic noise, Eve’s own body sounds amplified by stethoscopes, and live sound and video feeds. The original poems, already products of ‘the remainder’ (Lecercle 1990), were thus further de/composed with the result that the affective ‘noise’ of the texts was amplified.
The text ’Vocal Womb’ and the ekphrasis machine (we die) was the result of Barratt and Eades writing with and to the live arias in a constraint-based processual performance. In a dialogic relationship to the poem/arias, we were sensing the vitalities of the iterative always-becoming text, and coaxing out the new emergent poetics, feeding back in a spiralling exchange with our poems, and mining the remainder for the refrain.
Setting the scene
In early January 2018 Virginia Barratt and Quinn Eades sat side by side underground and in the chill of a concrete wine-smelling barrel room (wooden bellies girt by steel), and wrote the experience of hearing Eve Klein, assisted by performance artist AñA Wojak, performing Vocal Womb. She sang with a laryngoscope inserted, the eye of the scope projecting the exercises of the chords, folds, palates onto five screens as they birthed song, redly and wetly.
For two days, three times a day, they sat together and wrote together, rule-bound or flouting, a current passing through Eve, Quinn, Virginia, AñA, Eve, a feedback foldback, repeating, weeping, secreting.
Rule 1: 1.30pm Saturday 20th January
Separate writing on the same document.
Rule 2: 3.00pm Saturday 20th January
In between the paragraphs, Virginia and Quinn write line by line
Rule modification: At 3.25 pm Quinn couldn’t keep the words in his fingers anymore and started adding to existing writing while it was Virginia’s turn.
Rule 3: 5.00pm Saturday 20th January
In between paragraphs, Virginia and Quinn write line by line. When the end of line is reached, one writer stops and the other takes over.
Rule 4: 1.00pm Sunday 21st January
After ‘all entrances, all exits ...’, continue to write between paragraphs, but simultaneously, and without order, while attempting to remain open to all processes (including the other editing your words, cutting and pasting etc). The words we write in this session must pertain to the ekphrastic explication of the piece itself, with no use of the word ‘I’.
Rule 5: 3.00pm Sunday 21st January
After ‘Open, close, the vocal folds and the vocal chords …’, continue to write between paragraphs, and without order, while attempting to remain open to all processes. The words we write in this session must pertain to our own memories that come from the performance and the space, again with no use of the word ‘I’.
Rule 5: 5.00pm Sunday 21st January
From the bottom up, leaving ‘But we never write the end …’ intact, write towards the top, inserting line by line between the paragraphs. Write quickly. If you reach the top, begin to go back down again. Write your embodied experience of the performance, once more with no use of the word ‘I’.
Doing as being
When I came to see Eve Klein’s Vocal Womb yesterday the last thing I expected was to relive one of my births. The last thing I expected was to be dropped down Eve’s throat, to hang off her vocal chords, to slide over the back of her tongue. The last thing I expected was to hear my own words sung back at me.
The audience begins to trickle in. We take up our performative writer positions. This audience stands. They gather fast and close at the front, and some sit on the concrete, wine barrels steel wood the smell of wine, Virginia says, all around us.
Fig 1. Vocal Womb l-r: Eve Klein, AñA Wojak, Virginia Barratt, Quinn Eades (writers in-situ). Photo: Ravi Glasser-Vora
AñA leads Eve into the Barrel Room at MONA, doll pretty, 18th century corsetry, underdress and shoes. All in white. A flush of rouge on her cheeks. Perfect lips. She sits.
There is a mixing desk in the audience area and this audience is an interested one. They gather near headphones and mixer. A curious pull. Heart thunk in the space, small tink when cups go to floor, the rustle of bodies.
There is an image I haven’t noticed before, projected onto a wine barrel: two lines, one green one red, pulsing in time to the recorded heartbeat. Shiffle shuffle, make way for the undressed Diva!
AñA, camera holder and cleaner, a witch seer preparing the way, dons her lab coat. AñA is serious jawed and blunt haired. Is stillness and service. Composed. AñA puts on gloves, picks up a wipe. She wipes the laryngoscope and hands it to Eve.
Eve sighs as AñA places the stethoscopes (wiggling a hand under a corset like going inside the body) and there are small shivers of laughter from the audience. She strokes her pannier. This could almost be a circus show; circus like freak, not like hyper produced Cirque du Soleil. Or an 18th century medical lab full of instruments and experimentation. Look what’s inside, what we’ve found, what was not here and is now seen.
Long thing, black snake light tipped goes up up into her nose. The insertion appears effortless. You see Eve’s throat waiting, moving like an animal, the stretchy mucus, the roof of her mouth, the muscular movements of the tongue. She uses a monitor on the floor in front of her to guide the scope down the back of her nose and into her throat. The music starts.
Is it going the wrong way? Is it going up up into the orbit of the eye rather than down towards the epiglottis, the laryngeal folds?
Violins, violas and cellos. Piano. The sound of a clock. Stethoscopes under her corset pull heartbeat, intestinal squish, lung push from her body. She begins to sing: In the end the birth you had was this: contractions ... contractions ... contractions ... at 5pm.
Having dinner. Zach again. These particular words Zach across from me, followed by contractions make me feel emptyfullsomethingineffable.
I watch words appear, I wait for sentences to finish. Desperate to write, I gather the well of words so they can be written: alveolar violas and violins. In the end the birth you had was like this. Each time I hear the words there is a clench in my belly. The domesticity of birth.
Breathing in the volcano
And I am back. I am back in the house where Benji was birthed. Zach still small enough to be in a high chair. He is nine now and says words like actually, and impossibly, and can say and spell pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis so fast it takes my breath away. A condition also known as silicosis, a lung disease contracted from inhaling fine volcanic particles. Hot fibres that take hold in the lungs. Breathing in the volcano. Breathing in.
Her breath. Her labouring breath between sung words. The midwife arriving. I close my eyes, taking time to find how I feel, the high notes are like a stiletto, piercing, sharp, shiny, frightening, a fright takes me as Eve opens her mouth and fills the air with extremity.
She takes me to the bath where Zach plays with cups and bubbles, and I remember all the time I spent with him in water. His slippery skin. Reading stories, The Little Yellow Digger and Time for Bed. How many times did I read Time for Bed? Hundreds? Thousands? Thinking it would send him easily off to sleep, this brightening beautiful fast-growing toddler who was speaking in full sentences at one and writing his name at two, whose imagination was so fierce that scarecrows came to eat him alive in the night, thumping heavy and hay filled on his bedroom door, trying to get in.
Goodnight, sweetheart, sweet dreams my darling. How many times have I said this to my children? Thousands? Millions? Every night they’re with me. Goodnight sweetheart, sweet dreams my darling. I heard her sing this for the first time yesterday and wept, a hand resting on my now flat chest. Heartbeat. Heart. Beat. Breathing. Rocking. Timing. Call the midwife. Contractions …
The waiting between us
I am slow. To write. To feel. And the piece is almost done, birthed. There is always waiting between us. I gather more writing. Fingers full of words in the breaks. Waiting to come.
How do I write about birth now that my body is unbreasted and unwombed? I walk through a world where no one will recognise me as my children’s birth mother unless I tell them that is who I am. They still call me Mama. They still call me Mama. Their Boy Mama. Her breath. The way she sings. The pulse and pull of her upper palate and vocal chords. So much wet. So much pink. Throat as cunt. As pushing wet tunnel. As open close open close open. Birthing words. Birthing song with the throat.
The cushioned side of the birth pool. Finding my dugong body back in blood temperature water. Roll, roll, roll, the midwife said. No rest between contractions. No space for rib cage still, for quiet breath. Candlelight pooling and shining off water and rolled skin.
Beginning to know
Transfixed by the image of Eve’s throat, I start to rock, I am beginning to know the sung words, which are not the written words, but a whole different order of wording and languaging. Eve’s body still, as she leaves the body behind. The text she sings written as I walked the cool floors of the Cathedral with Laurent, who has pains of the heart and psyche, as I do. Step step step.
Fig 2. Vocal Womb l-r: AñA Wojak, Eve Klein. Photo: Jesse Hunniford
Yesterday a photographer from a local newspaper came to do a photoshoot. Eve had just inserted and extracted the scope twice for the show. Just stick it in, can you? he says. It’s not a question. They reach a compromise (Eve calm and smiling, white face powder glowing) and she inserts the tip of the scope into her nose so it looks like it’s down the back of her throat. He takes, but she is the one who has decided to allow him to do so.
We are beginning to know the sung words, which are not the written words, although when Eve sings Interior: Day, I hear interior dengue (like mosquito stung fever, hot in the night) and it is only because Virginia and I write meshed that I learn the words (we are beginning to know the sung words … ).
What lives in the throat (endings and beginnings)
How does this ear take in her song? How does it absorb her throat?
Fig 3. Vocal Womb l-r: AñA Wojak, Eve Klein. Photo: Hype TV
Eve speaks with the scope inserted, AñA holding it in place, and says my name, says my body book. The inside of her nose is a revelation. Cavernous, pink, full of wet desire. AñA cleans the scope so the camera points directly at Eve’s face. We see her light filled eye, her darkened face on the screen behind her. Eve inserts it again. Nodules, just birthed platypus or kangaroo, a pink squirming bean clipper crawling to find milk. Rosy jellyfish, meat moving, pulsing, pulling together coming apart.
There’s nothing to be done. The song takes the words out of my fingers.
We are already at the panic cathedral. It’s all moving too quickly. I find a way to write while Virginia writes. I break the rule. I am relieved. Time is out of order, and this seems right. Because time is always out of order. Because time is always
stacked all on top of and into each other. Can you stack in? How are we enmeshed?
The shape of her mouth when she sings the word mouth. She sing-says 12700 herz. It makes me laugh a bit. And then there it is, the sound of my tinnitus in the soundtrack. Hissbuzzing. The sound I live with. It frightens me. The birds are frightened. The words are frightened. They leave her mouth.
The body repeats. There’s nothing to be done. There’s nothing to be done. There’s nothing ...
Waiting, this body is waiting to walk back up and out of the Barrel Room, the closing womb.
Dying with a mouthful
The next song is Virginia’s. The panic cathedral. The way her throat undulates on the words cathedral and uncanny angels. I remember AñA saying how sore her arms are at the end of each show. AñA is attention, is always finding vocal chords because the scope with its camera and light are knocked out of place with every undulating high note. The sound of footsteps. Bells. Panic laced breath. There is enough rope here. (There is enough room here. We are learning the words) When Eve opens her mouth it is a light filled cavern. The light from the scope turns her into cyborg doll in black buckled shoes.
I die with a mouthful … I leave my body behind, I leave my body.
But we are not behind, we are in, in, in. The sound of seagulls and harpsichord. The perfectly pulled corners of her mouth. I die, I die, without a whisper. The way a tongue looks up close: nodules, bumps, bubbled saliva columns that grow and shrink. Her windpipe. A spiralling tunnel down. We are not behind, we are in, in. Light backed stethoscopes small points of light under corset, on breasts. A kettle whistles? Plosives. They skitter across the floor. We are not behind, we are in.
The cervix breathing. The cervix sucking. The throat contracting. The throat making wetness.
Fig 4. Vocal Womb l-r: Eve Klein. Photo: Hype TV
In the cold room in the down the stairs room with the barrels made of wood, girt by steel, held in on themselves so the wine doesn’t leak like syllables from a Diva’s throat pooling on a concrete floor around the feet of the rapt people mostly sitting this time, eyes patiently forward, arms wrapped around knees.
The song ends.
More ending ending beginning beginning
Writing heartbreak by mistake
The impossible body. Lies on the floor, shivers. Produces not a sound, not a whisper.
Quietquiet. No shuffle. Taptapping keys and I am wondering what will come from the throat of Eve this time. If I will catch new notes, new cadences, new flights, new frights, new heights. I am waiting to feel the glory of her voice and we are now two writers enmeshed. The strings come in, familiar and epiglottally strange.
Heartbreak, I wrote that by mistake. Heartbeat.
Do we write heartbreak by mistake? How can I put those babies back inside this body?
Babies who want to climb back in. The absent cervix still making its open, open, open call.
All bodies in the Barrel Room pulling in song, pulsing organ that is the throat, footsteps, a lick.
Saturday and Sunday enmeshed in beginnings that end before ends before beginnings.
Fig 5. Vocal Womb. Photo: Hype TV
A black veil
Breath. Breathe. I leave my body behind. The sound of waves and a tolling brass bell.
Night. Darkwarmcandlelight night. Those high notes thrill me. Adrenal spikes overtake and I
notice the way the light shines on the black threading tube of the scope, makes it look like
it is ringed with metal, this body invader, this worm, this eye. Other scopes are suckered onto her, and now I remember all the scopes I’ve let inside me. All the ways others have seen my ...
Classical. A whisper. Uncomfortable. Excremental excessive abject sound. This was never
hearing with the skin, with the knees, the fingertips, the breastbone, my new facial hair.
The cries become unwieldy, fall off their major lifts and fly through the air slightly askew before stopping, to be ready for the next song. So much generosity in the way she lets us
Into her mouth house, into the body of her voice, into the generous palace of her throat, into the pinkest, wettest place, into the vestibule, past the lips, past the belly of noise.
Ravens, a black veil, a minor key, unbodied footsteps, the horror of I die. The procedures take place.
Tunnels that breathe
My mother making sure no undies in bed, because the vagina needs to breathe, to be aired.
If the vagina needs to breathe, does the throat need to come? Are both tunnels aireaters?
What comes now, into the cavity? Accompanied by a strange sucking, keening, a tinkling piano, I remember those volcanic fibres. I see her red eyes that reflect the meat of her throat
which trembles, secretes and tightens around the notes. Rushing rushing, cooing, tolling of brass bells, the thrum of all those pigeon throats puffed on the street, in the brightened noise.
Two writers one body
Heartbreak because both Quinn and Eve have given birth, to stories and to children, and there is a palpable watery bond between them, and it quivers in the larynx.
Slowfast intensities are swallowed as the breath goes backwards, a backstory of cinematic sighs. I lose the thread, I hunt for intenstinal pulsation behind voice. Where is the heart?
It jumps out of the chest (not that you can see that, corseted, threaded tight and laced).
I die … I die … I leave my body behind. Gulls that could be crows, Mary Poppins bells sound.
The panicbody is sung, and lives inside this performative unlanguaging, skittering, entering.
How to make it meaningful? This never-enoughness? We just keep moving forward, trying to turn two writers into one, who will echo in the Barrel Room what is sung and sprung. The way
Balls of the feet against concrete to push the knees up, to make the lap a table, to write.
The small camera sees cilia in the nostril, glowing red through the nostril membrane.
Air through the channel of the nose. No adenoids in this body to filter dustpollenparticlelove.
We grapple with plosives coming to us on a tremolo, a lung rattle, a smear of saliva on metal. This is a performance that is as much about light as it is about sound.
All the notes rise up out of undifferentiated space, out of the body without. Is there any?
All entrances, all exits.
What leaves when the cervix is gone? What arrives with a midline chest scar?
What holes will we enter? Back to the beginning again, AñA and Eve again make their way through the crowd, buckled shoes stepping daintily over stretched legs, bodies in unordered
I leave my body behind. So often. On all days, at some point. Loud noise, heat tracked.
Seeing the abject. The audience arrives and they are already seeing the abject. They are held in by cloth and screen. A pulsing throatcunt on layers of cloth, five of them, one behind the other, a repetition of pulse, thump, open, close, pull. Us. In.
If the cuntthroat has never known the operatic quiver, does it miss it? Ache for the thrum?
Fig 6. Vocal Womb l-r: AñA Wojak, Eve Klein. Photo: Hype TV
My panic through. Divine ratios divide divide divide, producing the same, whole and multiple. Does the throatcunt need song? Feed on song? Does it miss the operatic quiver?
We are sitting on stage right, side by side, the we-body, the we-writing-body, making this text in this caverncold place, elbows almost touching. Text touching, entering, leaving, making in-roads, crawling down the throatcunt, spiraling into the lungs, hunting the pulse.
The flick of latex on wrists. The rattle of metal. Kidney. Dish. Clean. Be noticed by the camera eye that throws light, that magnifies the hairs in Eve’s nostril. This light tipped eye that sees the inside does not insert itself. Eve has her finger on the button. She is the one who decides how and where it will go. In. In. And now she is mezzoeyethroatcuntsongtext the glittering pull of what comes next.
Does my throat quiver? Does my throatcunt spit text? Does my tongue want writing?
Latex and muslin, such strange companions, but perfect. The eye of the laryngoscope takes in Eve’s face closeup, projects the gauze that AñA wipes its lens with. She has a screen in front of her and guides the eye into place, to look at the open close of the making of song (song? opera? song or singing at its limit?) which is not speech, which exists outside of language, which is dragged out of the deep well of an uncommon, extraordinary voicing. Is this voice made or found? How did it come. How did it cum. Cunt the throat. Throat the cunt.
Throat the cunt that tunnels the softly boned baby head, all those jellyish bones, shoulders compressed, small of back a relief, for a moment no limbs in the throat.
Does the body carry every bleed, every moment the skin is opened before it makes a scar?
The first set of contractions. The way she fills the room. We are in Eve. We are in cunt throat cunt. We are in soft palate, back of mouth, behind teeth, under glitter laced buckle toed black shoes.
Does the body carry every sound? Does the body carry every sigh? Does the body hold?
Does the body carry every cough, every feverfull night, every fuck, every cramp: all of it?
The effort of the birth belied (bellied) by the stillness of Eve’s body expressing this extraordinary sound. Throat cunt contracts and throws labour sounds into the room. The song of the cervix. Low, gasping, full of breath. Cushioned side, stools around the outside, four women sit with me.
Anxious notes seems to slip off any kind of known scale and turn.
This body carries that circle. Those women. The one who had my old name, who held me.
It is a listening I do with the body. My body expands and contracts as looking at her corseted torso, seeing the muscles that she used to birth and now births singing. The push which is depthpaindepthpainshakedripbloodbloodbloodbloodmilklichorwet.
This song. Contractions … contractions … contractions … at 5pm. Having dinner. Zach in his high chair, sat across from me. The tremulo makes her soft palate shudder and pulse because singing is coming is contraction is wet cunted pulse and push and suck.
So poignant. This is where the heartbreak is. In the quotidian and the extraordinary. The scope comes out. Eve doesn’t take her eye off the eye. She knows she will take it in past reeding hairs, up the red nostril cave, and back down to the spiralling windpipe. When it is silent, or when she speaks, it is hard to imagine the voice that lives there, entwined in body, woven through eyes.
The midline scar. Chest surgery. Top surgery. Milk nipples resized and grafted. No sensation.
The million million holes we call a body
Breath, piano, ghosting, bell tolling, triangle ting, cawing, cooing, soothing and spooky. In her panic cathedral. Her latex covered fingers clasped. Uncanny angels sing. Eve is our uncanny angel in cotton and muslin underwear. Her doll makeup divine. The blue streak of AñA’s blunt hair echoing the light show on stage left, which is not a light show, but a visual throb for the voice. Red, blue, green.
The high notes (is that even a note? It’s more like an experience). There is no way to write the sound that is panic-breath-in-panic-breath-in. Footsteps. Interior: Day. There is enough room here. There is enough room here for the audience who catch the soaring voice.
Breathing. Rocking. The dugong roll, water remembered by skin. My cervix grieved.
Sound emerges from the panic cathedral. The pigeons roost on the buttressed architectures. She is a cathedral, her throat ornate, echoing those other lips. Sound bounces around the vaulted roof of her throat, spiralling up and out, falling on the ears of the rapt. Sound emerges from all the holes. From the million million holes we call a body.
Fig 7. Vocal Womb l-r: AñA Wojak, Eve Klein. Photo: Jesse Hunniford
Dischord: leaving the body behind
Goodnight sweetheart, sweet dreams my darling are the words carried in this. Heart. Beat.
When she sings sweetheart it’s drawn out and dripping. When she sings little it’s tongue tipping and ...
Straining to hear the words, but trying to avoid listening to the words. Can we understand, can we hear, by unlistening, or tuning our ear to a different kind of listening. This sound emerges from the space of the remainder. How is it moving? She stops. I forgot to say that we can see down Eve’s throat via a laryngoscope, and at some point you can see, in the red wetness on the screen, a string of mucus between the top and the bottom of the larynx, stretching and wobbling as she speaks. She is marvellously contained, insertion of the laryngoscope doesn’t trouble her. As Quinn said yesterday, if you can give birth you can pretty much do anything.
The opening and closing of the throat as the opening and closing of the cervix. Beatlove.
Of all things. The tongue touches the teeth in staccato unclosed breathy plosives.
Incoherence. I leave my body behind. I leave my body behind. The voice leaves the body behind, thrusts into the Barrel Room, reverberates, drops, is in-time, can’t be gone back on. No stutter no utter no mutter. And listening and dreaming. And today I die. I die. When the voice dies, when the song stops, the silence is too much.
The hysterectomy took my cervix. Left a vault and a blunt end. That opening cut out of me.
Singing the impossible
The way she sings sick, the word sick. Sick with it. Disgust. A spoken sung horror movie. She sings the impossible.
How does silence sing? How do we find each other in the mucussy mess of the throat?
Capillaries. Capillaries that lace trace the back of the throat, the back of the newborn platypus nestling there, all creamy red tissue. How long can you keep this lead on your tongue? Newborn mammal at the back of the throatcunt, blind, suckling on milk text, pulsing in the red wet core of birth, of song. This is a newborn song. The kettle whistles. I bleed. Newborn platypus holds its own blood, pulls the text to the back of its own throat, brings it down into a belly the size of a wet grain of rice. How many stories can the grain hold? Is the wet grain of rice that is the newborn platypus’s belly the keeper of the grain of Eve’s voice?
Hearbeat. Diagnosed with pre-eclampsia, the requirement of hospital, blood pressure, foetal heartbeat monitor. An ice machine in the aqua hallway at The Women’s Hospital. A styrofoam cup filled to the brim with tiny balls of frozen water. This will wake the baby up, they said. Craving ice. Crunching hail between the back teeth. Mouthcold. Babywake. Give us your heartbeat skitter skutter from the belly, from the stretched and stretching womb. Babywake. Babywake. Babywake. A heart to nestle in, to thud in the cup of my palm. To say here, here, here.
A jewel-filled cavern
Down the ribbed wormhole that is a trachea. Glisten glisten, it’s a cavern of jewels. The sound of bright gems, this is how bright gems voice.
Quivering. Canula coming for me. More canulas than can be counted over the years. Stuck through, finding vein, piercing in. Just a small sting, they say, every time. Unless the hollow needle hits a nerve. Then the thump shudder of pain through arm, into shoulder, along chest. But they don’t give you a warning for that.
So many insertions.
How do we find a place to remember all that the body holds. How do we carry our selves?
House is packed. Second to last performance. AñA kneels. Such servitude. Each time fascinated by the way AñA’s latexed hand burrows under Eve’s bodice (undressed undressed, there is something perfect about the impropriety of a woman singing in her underwear and yet performing Diva). Eve the Anatomical Venus. Scope inserted, transmitters attached, a Diva eviscerated for her audience.
A pause in the middle
The middle of me waiting for contraction … contraction … contraction. All that this word holds.
Contra ... ctions contra ... ctions. A pause in the middle. Diaphragm held, breath in stasis, then the scaling of notes flying up up up, an increasing of intensity, of moving towards a dénouement.
Towards Eve, a keening worm, a cable that has become accustomed to her body and finds
Its own way to the palate, to its soft place, so we can all see in, so we can all see down.
Eve’s hands go to the scope. Is she ok? Keeps on singing through whatever is uncomfortable.
Fig 8. Vocal Womb, Eve Klein. Photo: Jesse Hunniford
The way she sings the little yellow digger, in a sweet storytelling voice. The song is a bedtime story, but not without its horror. Not without its eviscerating, flaying intensity. Her voice breaks. She must be tired, performing this labour over and over again.
These buried knuckles. This flattened chest. Those midline scars. These resized nipples.
Intakes of breath. At birthing classes we learn about breath. The midwife shows us footage of women birthing in pools, on floors, leaning over the backs of couches. Rocking from the hips, circling clockwise and anti-clockwise, tracing time with the body in-contraction, a word that says everything and nothing about a body screaming around the blunted core of bone, brain, heart, liquid-filled lungs.
Lungs pull in the aching air. The body waits to be filled with sound, to be taken in, drowned.
It’s uncanny to hear the text sung in this way. When he was born I saw the inside of his nose. Watched the first breaths of air move in and out of them. No mucus. Sweetmeat, pink caverns learning the world, my breasts, my neck, the smell of placenta birthing while he sucked. His rosemouth fishgasping for a nipple. The bloodmeat smell in the room. Placenta a liverplate, veined, alive, dropped into a thick toxic waste bag by latex gloved hands.
How many gloves have been on these hands? How many times have the wrists flicked?
There’s the writing. There’s the reading silently, hearing first person voice in the head, There’s me reading aloud, which helps me to understand what i wrote. Then there’s this. It is a different animal, remembered feet walking on the cold stones of the Notre Dame in Laon.
Strange arrangements. Strange relationships. Cyborg Diva. Latexmuslin. The eye yearns.
The world was too much
I didn’t notice until later his purpleshell nails. The strange shape of his head. My fluid filled face. After the birth, in the first shower, pissing litres. Pissing the whole of the pregnancy out. Bleeding for eleven weeks. Bleeding like skinshedding (inshedding) while he drank and drank and drank. Vampiric angel. A panic cathedral of newborn cry, feeble urgency, a baby who already knew the world was too much: light, noise, movement, taste, touch, body-in-space, not held now in the thick sheath of uterus, in the internal thump, intestinal squish, lungspush of the pregnant body.
Dischord: the impassioned heart
Heartbeat. The drumskin thump of my own heart singing back to fourchambered sound.
Waiting, the procedure. Lines emerge from bodice, so many things next to one another in
the architecture of the throat. The glottis contracting to cut off air to sound. As happens when language is lost in a panic. This seems the most effective way to communicate the leaving of the body.
Butterflies but actually an electrical impulse. The hand goes in again. This pleases and disturbs.
Walking around the Cathedral, which is like a throat. Ribs, arcs, naves, flying buttresses. Singing is at the limit of speech, and opera lives at the limit of song. Whatever this is, is dark and bright, speaks to the phenomenon of leaving the body. Laurent talks about genesis and apocalypse, depicted in rose and scroll, flagstones underfoot. The music is not like this. Saint Teresa is benevolent. But doesn’t spare the impassioned heart. The dischord triggers adrenal spikes. All the air gone, sucked out of the lungs. A vacuum with pressure on the outside.
When she arrives bodies descend.
And if writing be speaking
Sunlight hurt him. He would squint and mew when it shone at the pool of his eye. Jaundiced, he needed sun baths. Scrawny chicken baby laid out on a quilt where the sun would find him, would bathe him in Vitamin D, would unyellow his skin. Lying next to him on the floor, still in maternity jeans, thick pad filling with blood between my legs (opened, the smell of placenta and fallowing womb turning both of us back into body-joined).
The light shining on her tongue as she sings incoherence. Attuned now to the image of the shuddering throat.
And if writing be speaking. If writing be speaking then writing is also the throatcunt voice. Then writing is also the pink wet cavern slicked with saliva cradling a newborn platypus eating these words. Ingesting text to sing, to speak, to write again. Always to write, to write again.
Heartbeat, triggering a fluttering in the top part of the stomach, stuttering, shuddering.
Hearing myself say ‘I die’ through the vault of Eve’s throat. The tattoo I got on the underside of my wrist ‘die’, scribed by Lucas with his upcycled tattoo gun in France. Just for this moment. I think he found the motor for the gun in a toy by the side of the road. Lots of people look at the words and wonder why I wouldn’t write ‘live, love, freedom!’ instead. It’s morbid? To die is to live is to die.
Leaving the body behind. When was the first time? The first time the body was left behind? Which moment with which person in which darkening corner?
I die and I die and I die. Wanting to die for the first time at twelve years old. A fight with my mother at Crescent Head in a dusty beach house where we were staying with friends. Dave ironing a tropical shirt. What had been done? What annoyance delivered? What demand? Taking myself out of the dusthouse. Realising for the first time that leaving the mother was possible, that a walk alone, without permission (the thud of the screen door filled with holes behind me), was possible. Cliff walk. Rock cliff. Wave crash at the base. No fences. Sitting at the edge of the edge. Finding a puddle of stones and kicking them, one by one, over the edge. I die. Kick, fall. Kick, fall. Kick, fall. Kicking with clear plastic sandles embedded with silver glitter. Tiny stones between toes. I die. Wondering about the fall, the drop, the shatterbreakboned thunk of landing. Plastic glitter sandles lifted from feet by the wind, finding their way to salt water, floating from a shattered twelve year old girl body. Waiting for an adult to find me. No one coming. I die.
There’s nothing to be done.
Back wet from sweat that can’t evaporate. It’s too cold down here in the cavern, the womb.
Feeling claustrophobic, bodies all breathing hot. Sit down. Cold skin after the heat of the day. Audience mutter entering my pores. Sweat cooling.
There’s nothing to be done. How many times at the sliver moment of a decision, of stay or go?
But we never write the end ...
Fig 9. Vocal Womb l-r: AñA Wojak, Eve Klein. Photo: Hype TV
Vocal Womb Project Team:
Concept/Music/Performance: Eve Klein
Co-creator and Technical Creative: Ravi Glasser-Vora
Performer: AñA Wojak
Technical Development: Ravi Glasser-Vora and Eve Klein
all the beginnings: a queer autobiography of the body, Quinn Eades (2015)
mMouth hHouse pPanic cCathedral, Virginia Barratt (2017)
Eades, Q 2015 ‘Écriture Matière’, Text: ‘Beyond Australia Queer’, Special Issue 31, at
http://www.textjournal.com.au/speciss/issue31/content.htm (accessed 1 May 2018)
Gale, K and J Wyatt 2018 ‘Writing to It: Creative Engagements with Writing Practice in and with the Not Yet Known in Today’s Academy’, International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education 31.2: 119–29
Lecercle, J-J 1990 The Violence of Language, London and New York: Routledge
Novak, Jelena 2015 Postopera: Re-Inventing the Voice-Body, Burlington, VT: Ashgate