"After Everyone"

Madelaine Caritas Longman

Madelaine Caritas Longman is the author of The Danger Model (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2019), which was longlisted for the Fred Cogswell Award for Excellence in Poetry and received the Quebec Writers Federation’s Concordia University First Book Prize. Her writing has been shortlisted for the PRISM International Creative Nonfiction Prize (2020) and the Tom Howard Poetry Prize (2016), and her poetry has been published in Room, PRISM International, Grain, Lemon Hound, and elsewhere. She lives in Tiohtià:ke (Montreal).

“‘After Everyone’ is an ekphrastic piece responding to Tracey Emin’s artwork Everyone I Have Ever Slept With (1963-1995), a tent stitched with the names of everyone the artist had slept beside. Although the piece has sometimes been misunderstood as referring to everyone the artist had been sexually intimate with, she is explicit that the piece refers instead to everyone with whom she has shared ‘the intimacy of sleep’ in the same space, including her twin brother, grandmother, close friends, and two aborted fetuses. The piece was destroyed in a warehouse fire in 2004; Emin has expressed that she has no intention to recreate it.”
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“The wind and the rain erased me
as they might a fire, or a poem
written on a wall.”
—Alejandra Pizarnik, “Daybreak”
(translated by Yvette Siegert)

“With myself always myself never forgetting”
—Tracey Emin, written on the floor of the installation Everyone I Have Ever Slept With (1963-1995)

   Everyone I have ever slept with was made of polyester or nylon; a thin blue
   ordinary fabric, slightly wrinkled and sometimes lit from within. Everyone
   I have ever slept with wore their names on the inside, so sometimes letters
   would shine, or rather not-shine, their shadows out backwards through the
   changing light. Sometimes, in photographs, everyone I have ever slept with
   shows up green or varying indigos, the camera adjusting to a gallery’s clutter
   or emptiness. Sometimes, inside, everyone I have ever slept with glowed deep
   blue and gold; other times, everyone I have ever slept with was dark within,
   almost illegible, their names written on a riverbottom or etched in the throat.
   A tent which left most visitors standing outside, peering into the four corners
   of the night.

   Everyone I have ever slept with rippled and twitched. Pressed close enough
   to a face, any material breathes back. Sleep is a place, a distance thinner than
   sex – two dreams unfurling, four lungs letting go the same breath. Intimacy
   can be proximity. Twin-intimate, we double and helix, echoing our opposite
   and shared incompleteness. My brother and I lost or became ourselves in the
   split branch of a lifeline, held each other to our names. I listened in the dark
   to my grandmother’s long curl of radio static. I mean slept with as in slept
   with. The fact of lying down, each night, with myself. When I enter the fetal
   dark of my body, float through space that remains, always, undreamt. New
   moon visible only as starlessness. I mean how it feels to mourn a future you
   would still choose against.

   To walk inside everyone I have ever slept with was to gradually destroy them.
   The stitching was an art like losing. Like carving out gravestones. It hurt me.
   Sleep isn’t meant to last. Dreams are a skin, a thin film between bodies, that
   regenerates but does not repeat. If I’d wanted an art that could outlive me, I’d
   have made it out of different materials. Material does not mean confessional,
   but it means mine. I made this life out of a life. Chose to let those I love enter
   and touch the small room we made, wreck it with breath and hands. Call it art
   when we left the same morning torn, when we walked out together or alone,
   then alone.

   Everyone I have ever slept with burned away. I won’t rename, won’t restitch
   the tent; everyone I have ever slept with wasn’t a tent. We were the leaving;
   we were the room and its emptiness aflame. We were the matter the burning
   consumed, the open air left in its wake. We were the burning, too. We were
   and are the gallery, the installation, the warehouse. The selves we can’t, then
   must, lay down. Of course I’ll call it tragedy; of course I know it’s only mine.
   Or ours, briefly. Polyester or nylon, ash of names. Material world where time
   is a substance, and it’s too dark to see the rain.

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