In Their Own Words

Stefania Heim's “A Third Party Who Says Me”

A Third Party Who Says Me

after Gilles Deleuze

City is a way of forgetting
the darkness that surrounds us

so fly me east toward the gathering
of names.

It's a dance of mechanics,
just a couple of lights:

not only, but it's me and lonely.

In all ugly rooms
all the people are sad.

City is undoing the always
that performs us:

Here I am!
In this space between the lights,

making the space greater
pushing the lines apart.

This is for someone who has forgotten
her flight.

Silly to think we had to know
each other's mind

I mean
how dare you.

There isn't meaning in what we say.
Improvise a little,

just a couple of lines.
We move each other

From A Table That Goes On For Miles (Switchback Books, 2014). Reprinted with the permission of the author. 

On "A Third Party Who Says Me"

I don't think that I will ever get over the feeling of looking out the window of a flying airplane. It isn't so much that it's shocking—which of course it is, if you think about it. It's that it's so interesting. Part ant colony, part lit-up window of a stranger's house, the earth, arrayed and displayed 30,000 feet below, scintillates. It rivets. My experience of crossing over our planet's populated landmasses is a meditation on how people cluster and spread. It is a treatise on what we mean to each other. Focus, and you can tell which lights are moving, which are still. Where the artificially snaky curves of subdivisions morph into the purposeful distinctions of cultivated land; where cultivation abuts what is left that is distinctly wild. Flying into New York I can sometimes point to actual structures where I, or people I love, live, have lived — Relationships represented by lights! People strewn but tethered! Since I first sat on an airplane—with its smoking section, metal cutlery, and my grandparents in suits with hard suitcases—this has been my study. "A Third Party Who Says Me" is an airplane poem.

"We are contemplations, we are imaginations, we are generalities, claims, and satisfactions." Lulled by the plane's motion, I contemplate the ways in which individual selves are both generalized and imagined. Because these airplane moments are those in which I consistently most feel myself – abstracted, connected, so constituted—I responded viscerally when I read Gilles Deleuze's Difference & Repetition. Deleuze says that it is only in the act of contemplating everything around us that we develop an image of ourselves. (That "space between the lights," I call the self in this poem, imagining the letter "I" as some kind of crowbar.) This is his line from which I pulled my title: "We speak of our 'self' only in virtue of these thousand little witnesses which contemplate within us: it is always a third party who says 'me.'" I thought: How shocking, and yet how true! So much of how we make selves is through language games: we look and look and look, and then we say "me." We say it with urgency.

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