The Journal Petra 02

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Christine Hume

Excerpts from Atalanta: an Autobiography


My grandfather insists on keeping the house frigid. An icy interior keeps us mentally
alert, he says. We will be patriots of the cold: fatigue-resistant, vigilant with a backwoods
edge. I lose track of where I am. I huddle at a wood-burning stove all weekend, with
school books and blankets, a bundle of loose layers, burning away memory. I read about
history and silkworms, who after molting several times, develop a redness on the throat,
which heralds the onset of metamorphosis. Cold is a current of thought where nothing
seems to circulate. I pour over homework, spread out on the floor. There’s nothing else in
the dining room but a table and chairs, a hutch, and an etching of a rabbit in the snow
with a stain of blood nearby. A shot blooms in the back of my toy mind. I imagine ducks
taking off in the bullet showers. One red dot dispersing. Red begins the process of losing
place: disorientation and lighting fires along the way. I answer questions about the robust
Georges-Jacque Danton in the days of France’s “Reign of Terror.” In the picture, he is so
gigantic he could be my grandfather. I am like a monkey clinging to its wire mother,
stuck to the stove’s heat and the book’s line of escape. I can’t get myself warm, except
where I’m burning hot. There is another dog barking in the backyard. How often. How
many times have I had to lock myself in the bathroom to keep him away from me? The
stove is cast iron, on legs, with a window to watch the fire. Its glow grows bare, its face
worn too long. Stay alert. What if this room were stripped of my face? Stoke the sleepy
fire. See the eyes dart. Seek out a face in the book, black and white eyes to put a question
to. Many plots move through me as I write about a guillotined French Revolutionary. I
am lying to myself even. I only once made it to the bathroom. There is no revolution
where his jowly red face grinds into mine. We need audacity, and yet more audacity, and
always audacity!
A cloth red bookmark ripped out of a book will do. I tie it around my
neck: a hummingbird’s throat. Ruby-throated, my heart beats faster. To be alert. To be a
decapitated body.


Her entire apartment was red—carpets, curtains, furniture, the kitchen cabinets were lined
with hot sauces. Entering it took some breath. Her glassy-eyed dog always greeted me
with abandon, leaping around me like flame. While dog-sitting for her, an
electromagnetic field of vermilions buffered me from a sunless winter in the city. I was
inside a fire that needed no stoking, a fire that smelled like flora, where eyes seemed to
be hiding. I dyed my hair flaming auburn making a stain on her porcelain sink for which
she later scolded me. My boyfriend could not stand to come over; he said he felt
swallowed. He said he is not a boner machine. I slipped into one of her red robes and read
my own sentences. Red erases “read,” and reverses the vertigo of habit. Rimbaud says “I”
is red, “smile of beautiful lips / in anger or in the raptures or penitence.” True, “I” is a
mixed bag of ambivalences, as attracted to linguistic confusion as “red” itself: a somber
red ocher from Sinope on the Black Sea begat the medieval color sinople, which could be
either red or green. On a shelf in her apartment, I discover a book she has written a book
called Mood Swings. Living two months in that red apartment, though I felt simpler, I
became saturated and ascendant. My body seemed stretched, gravity-resistant, like a
figure in a mannerist painting and making the most of it. Or like one of those tiny female
figures engulfed in Mattise’s magisterial Red Studio (1911). Matisse says “A certain red
has an affect on your blood pressure,” and more: a fleet of reds speeds your lungs, stings
your nose, it hollows bones. I walked her blind dog three times around the block three
times a day; I sat in the red rooms and rarely left. When I did, green followed me, burst
forth from a secret germination. Grassy snowbanks piled around verdant buildings, as I
walked through the mesmerizing green stream of faces. After my excursion, I unlocked
the little red door to my temporary Mars. Here was my boostershot, far exceeding the
basic daily requirement. I became a chronic user of red.

Christine Hume is the author of three books, most recently Shot (Counterpath, 2010), and three chapbooks, Lullaby: Speculations on the First Active Sense (Ugly Duckling Presse, 2008), Ventifacts (Omnidawn, 2012), and Hum (Dikembe, 2014). She teaches in the interdisciplinary creative writing program at Eastern Michigan University.