TO KNOW ELAINE KHAN IS TO SPEND TIME IN HER BED
I take the train to Elaine Kahn’s apartment.
I mean Elaine and Kit’s apartment.
But, I erase Kit from much of this, sorry.
I get off at the 19th street stop in Oakland and am too shy to take the bus. I have a suitcase. A bus on a suitcase is always a mess. I have no cash. I don’t want to go up any stairs. Instead, I walk the 20 minutes to Elaine’s. I pass a Whole Foods, there is a protest outside the Whole Foods, I am thankful. Teens are swearing at each other, I am thankful. I get the keys from under the ceramic cat and enter. It is a studio apartment with no real center. It is covered in words and notes. I make myself a twig tea, I spray my face with rose oil; all Elaine’s. I walk around the room and try to figure out who she is. I have never met Elaine Kahn before. I don’t really know what she looks like. I have read her beautiful poems. I have followed her on Twitter. I am just the cat sitter. I will spend 10 days here in Oakland. I will write. I will get to know Elaine.
Touching someones things is erotic. I put on her bangles. Should I become a bangle person? I look through the cupboard; the coffees the teas. I fold my clothes on the floor, I should leave. I need to go to the coffee shop to write.
I’m a pussy I think when I hear the man complain of the pussyfied country.
I’m trying to piece everything together.
It is confusing seeing how people live who aren’t me.
She doesn’t need big spoons or simmer pots or
I’m realizing I don’t know much about Elaine at all. I know she lived in western Massachusetts, but why? I did a reading last night and many of her friends were there. I asked them what Elaine is like and they all say “Elaine is amazing.” They think I can know her from her objects. But, how?
I just found a video of her on YouTube. I watch her move for the first time. How old is she?
I’m smelling her clothes. I’m watching videos of her speak, but I still am not convinced I know who Elaine Kahn is. I see her books and they are books I like. I left her radio on all afternoon accidentally and there is only a slight buzzing sound. We have some of the same plants. I think her face is very beautiful, but I don’t want to say that because I don’t want this to be about beauty, so perhaps this is about adornment. While I write this, Elaine tweets, “what if i was a basset hound”. Perhaps that is what she is after all. Today, driving to the top of El Diablo, a basset hound was in front of our car, sticking her head out of the window for miles. It’s getting cold in Elaine’s studio but I refuse to shut the window. I am waiting for the cats to come home.
I’m trying to write about Elaine and I am writing about myself, a continual problem. I worry about starting my period on Elaine’s bed. It will get on her floral sheets. I just realized our comforters are the same color. I hope the cats come home soon I am worrying about them. Fat Cleo meowed a lot at me and i couldn’t figure out why. Elaine, I ate your Luna & Larry’s Dark Chocolate Coconut Bliss. I wanted it. I needed sweets so I ate it but now I’m thinking of popcorn and what does it mean to create work and date people.
Sometimes I hurt people a lot with my writing but I write it anyway. I don’t think this makes me a better person.
I am in dire need of a sweet snack and a savory snack and it is 9 pm in Oakland and I do not know where to go. On Twitter Elaine recommends I take a spoonful of her chunky almond butter and a spoonful of her liquid gold honey. I do this and I want to cry. It is an unimaginable snack. It is so perfectly attuned to my needs I feel fulfilled and the desires cease. This never happens with snacks. A snack always leaves me in need of something else. I think about this snack for awhile and remember how in recent seasons of Keeping Up With the Kardashians, Kim’s #1 snack is a 100 calorie packet of Justin’s almond butter, sometimes maple flavor.
I make turmeric tea. I have a bag of satsuma tangerines. I turn off my wifi. I sit to write about Elaine but I cannot. I have talked about her a lot today. I just went out to dinner with Amy. I was smiling the whole time probably because I slept until 1 PM in Elaine’s bed and I was at dinner with a drink and I had only been awake for five hours. I am finally back to Elaine’s house sitting on her bed in my robe listening to relaxing music and I am supposed to write now but I am not sure why. I learned Elaine’s sign tonight but I can’t remember. Pisces? Taurus? My brother learned his sign tonight too, taurus.
I first read Elaine’s book, Women in Public, at a nail salon called Q Spa on Divasadero Street in San Fransisco. Before I got to the salon I was in a storm. My umbrella flipped upside down broke and flew away. I was standing on the side of the street, rain was blowing in my face. I call an Uber and tell him to take me to a salon. I arrive at Q Spa and they filled the basin with water, adding some salts. My jean overalls are soaked but before I was cold now I am warm. Ann massages my feet with hot stones, they almost burn. I open Elaine’s book, wavy from rain, “There is nothing wrong/ with being sensitive” (1) and I begin to cry on the chair so much warmth so much cold. I am alone in a city I do not know with very little money. I want to be Elaine but she seems so much more powerful than me. In the salon there are only women. I unclench my jaw, I let Elaine in me. Everyone is a man and a woman and a body right now.
“Plastic body/ body body blah/ blah blah” (46). Elaine and me. Me and the women at the nail salon. It is hard not to fall in love with them in private, too dangerous in public.
A Celiene Dion song comes on the radio at the salon. It reaches the chorus and every woman mouths the words together. “Another one and another one” (48). Elaine is DJ Khaled. It is all of us in capitalism repeating everything over and over because our only commitment is to repeat until Elaine breaks it, “If I could break/ the hymen of his ear with/ I can’t stand you” (49). She places the virgins body on the man and rips it. I think this moment of violence is achieved through a piece of body becoming woman but even this violence is impossible. Even when they don’t hit on me at the bar I wonder “why why why”. This violent act is all potential, it never happens, “I won’t say a thing and I won’t notice” (49) whose inverse is you who always notice who always says the thing, the man.
“In my opinion/ no desire is benign” (88). Desire can be a violence. Desiring the woman in public is a violence. But, the way the woman finds power is not through explaining exactly what has happened. It is remaining obtuse and knowing. Elaine quotes Simone Weil which seems to reveal the strategy here: we women in public must give up all of self, we must disappear the “I” (64). No, this is not hiding. This is a refusal.
Elaine likes her room dark. She only uses lamps. She has many more lights but refuses.
I walk down the hill to the convenience store. I buy chips flavored of dill pickles and gummies flavored like watermelon. I wonder if I should archive Elaine’s books. I wonder if Elaine and Kit mixed their books together. I have never been that in love.
Since I have been living at Elaine’s house, 65 percent of what I throw away is compost too.
I want to be beautiful and exposed. Like Elaine, like Hannah Wilke. I want to wear a vagina on my face. I want to be Miss USA. I read that Miss Columbia thought it was her destiny to be named Miss Universe and have it taken away. I think Elaine’s book never ends, it goes on forever. Alexandra Wuest talks about this when she talks about Women in Public. Alexandra Wuest and I played in a fantasy Bachelorette league together, I can’t remember who won. All of us are continually circling around each other but no one really gets to know the other.
Fat Cleo the cat comes home and part of her tail is missing. I begin to cry but he doesn’t mind at all. The tail is the tail is whatever. Here I am. I am not Elaine. But I am surrounded by so much Elaine. She is in the books, in the air. She is clear she is like plastic. I look through her to myself. And that is the woman in public: forever walking up and down the sidewalk.
*Kahn, Elaine. Women in Public. San Francisco: City Lights, 2015. Print.
Laura A. Warman is the author of How Much Does It Cost? (Cars Are Real Press), DRONE LOVE (Gauss PDF), and WILL GO FAST (Hysterically Real). She is the founder of GLASS PRESS, a publisher of art and poetry on flash drives, and a member of dadpranks, a feminist art collective. Warman has had work in shows at MOCA Cleveland, Time-Based Art Festival, Flying Object, and Open Engagement. lauraawarman.com