Notes on Texture Notes by Sawako Nakayasu

Caryl Pagel

Letter Machine Editions: Tucson, AZ, 2010. 136 pages. $14.00.


Suppose the prose struck a pose—its figure held still until you tiled the mind’s interior with the objects of a mined field: a “field of flowers, field of gold, field of dreams, field of vision, field of applicants, field of corn, field of bicycles, field of bicycles.” The tiles create walls and floor—a protected space—lined with a pattern of horizons, increasing by lines the scope and scale of the image closing in on your mind. Suppose the image rose and became the sky—and eventually, grew to burden the body.


Sawako Nakayasu’s Texture Notes is a study of feelings: the kinds that press upon your body’s surface, and also those that pool and wave from the wilds of the heart—compelling an explosive internal sensation. Nakayasu collects small clues through particular, insistent touches (of the eye, the ear, and the hand). She gathers the textures of each of the senses, of each part of the body, each part of the body held against a surface, each body in weather, in mood, in motion, each body pressed alongside another’s body, the body in space, the body buried by feeling.


Textures of: “a field of fried umbrellas;” “one word at each moment everywhere;” “the sound of the wrong band warming up;” “a park on some Tokyo Sunday;” “Needing Yellow;” “(not of) motherfucking diarrhea, but the girls, women, all ages and sizes, who have it, diarrhea like a motherfucker;” “the air changing as a train pulls away from its station;” “reason;” “the reason I didn’t get on that train;” “a frame by frame rendering of the thought process leading to the decision to not get on the train;” “a conductor;” “danger;” “multiple disaster;” “vomit;” “the brink of vomit.”


Texture Notes is a daybook, a pillow book, a journal, and a map. Originally a series of blog posts. It is an assembly of suggestions, instructions, and advice; a list of observations, sensations, and dreams. The book catalogues the technique of nightmares and horror. It describes the physical presence of hilarity and idea—but most of all, it feels like the test of a text’s ability to collect the textures of inquiry. “Do you like kissing cows.” “Whose eyes?” “What is everyone’s reaction time . . . ” “What do you miss about America?”

Texture Notes makes matter of interest (“A trail of anything—insects, hamburgers, bicycles, popsicles, miniature lightening bolts, road maps—anything, all of it . . . ”), instigation (“See, notice, witness that pile of puke over there in that corner and pick up a spoonful of it and shovel it in. . . .”), information (“my left ear square on the surface of the ground in a location 30 degrees clockwise relative to the nearest tall building, 40 degrees from another medium-sized building . . . ”) image (“the room of eyeballs”), inventory (“things still ‘up in the air’—employment, housing, children, future, dinner tonight . . . ”), and investigation (“I trace her and to what extent she gives . . . ”). Texture Notes makes danger of layers. One is reminded of Sebald’s tireless trek across Suffolk, his compulsion to gather. Nakayasu’s journey is less linear—but similarly particular, careful, architectural, and anthropological. Her experiments and observations (based in memory, association, curiosity, and sight) consist of missed trains at the station, trying to lick the eyes of strangers, and the sleeping body trapped in meat, further caught in nightmare. The folds of flesh, the pressing against, the coffin of the heartbeat. As the poems proceed, the accumulation of details gains momentum; they increase in pressure and pain. “I gather, and gather, and gather,” writes Nakayasu, “but once the spilling sets in again I fold . . . ”


Where are the boundaries of touch? The physical edges? When do the machinations of the inside of our mind motor out, and when does the outside commotion engine in? Each cell divides, we empathize, and everything, over time, is chaotically combining. The surfaces rub off on each other. Nakayasu’s poems (as a calendar) are made of layers: clarity, pressure, presence, prescience, understanding, feelings, and ideas. The role of the daybook, in part, is to record and make sense of one’s senses. Nakayasu writes that there is “no reverting and no instant replay, but I remember what the air felt like at every major juncture.” The daybook is a feeling of things as they are in the moment, “whether they are there or not.” Also, it is a collection of those things that stand out, or the “commonality of the things which are not true no matter how hard you look.”


There are many ways in which the body might submerge itself: under water or sand, covered by land, clothed, seen, embraced, caged, blanketed, or buried. Suppose a poll or a survey: At what point can your whole body feel the same thing at once? Does it suffer sensuality, danger, or caress? What about your eye against a shoulder? “My eye always stops giving at a certain point, as much shoulder as I can take at any given moment.” Daily details are always overwhelming. As if the self is swallowed by all it sees. Observation invokes anxiety, the nervousness of the outside folding in.


Suppose the poem is intended to direct. The poet a commander. Do the tasks press or damage? Let us test:

A). “Wait until every train, fully loaded, pulls into the thickest station all at the same time, allowing each one to settle so that the maximum number of train cars are overlapping. Using an oversized European army knife and a level for each pair of people, four pairs per car, slice off each of the vertical walls at the point where they meet the floor. Keep the passengers of the train intact . . . ”

B). “Pack a box in case the fire reaches you.”

C). “Start from the outside of a peephole, and how much time it takes.”

D). “Close your eyes and reach into this bucket, filled with eyeballs you can squish between your fingers.”

Did you do it?


Nakayasu’s field is a stretch of land in which to store or build things. In which to set the stage or contemplate emptiness. The field is an experiment. There is “a cast of many.” The field might contain a glass jar of ants or “an emergency message.” When you lay down in the field at night you are felt by the earth, by the wind, by the smooth sky. You are held. When you lay down in the field at night, and close your eyes, you are suspended in a dark mark between pauses of breathing. In this case, suppose the prose might suffice as “How to rid bodies of darkness. In order to step out. Into the bright and shiny danger called day.”

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