Into the Wilderness: The Hope of Floating has Carried Us this Far by by Quintan Ana Wikswo
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“I have followed a woman into the wilderness.” Seriously. I have. These aren’t my words, but they apply here. When I read Quintan Ana Wikswo’s collection of stories, The Hope of Floating has Carried Us This Far, I felt as if I was following her through a type of wilderness of words. Far deeper than the sparse text on the page, down past the gorgeous yet eerie photographs Wikswo took and wove in with her text, there lives a story of something wanting to rise up. It’s continual and won’t ever plateau. Growing, yet not aging: it’s a steady stretching of each character who wants to believe in the concept of connecting. In the opening story, Wikswo writes about the need for and complexity of human connection: “I gather her letters together in a string and keep them in a place where no one will look. These secret specimens of lost words, of cartography and discovery and longing.”
Even though the reader follows Wikswo’s characters through every yearning, the stories are not necessarily plot-driven. They’re about sound and rhythm, imagery and pace. The reader takes in more than a story, but language, too. In that aforementioned opening story, “The Cartographer’s Khorovod,” the reader is immediately swept into Wikswo’s description-driven flow. “Immediately” as in the very first sentence: “When she writes to me as she did before, at first there is the incomprehensible sound of crickets, and then there is my familiar smell, a scent released from my pores as dark and full of longing as they were before.” Following the sound of her sentence and the imagery contained within, the reader is sent off into a collection where text and image intersect in order to create a sense of identity-searching in each character. As the language and photographs engage more with each other throughout the book, the characters, too, engage with a type of landscape — both literal and metaphorical — weaving human with wilderness.
In “Aurora and the Storm,” for instance, Wikswo writes about identity through the imagery of a landscape. “[When] I look out into the wilderness, I am looking through something, through a translucent pane that separates me from the beyond. There has been a change in pressure, and a collapse. A skin diver’s lung, or a chambered nautilus too far into the deep. There has been a shattering, and now all is softness.” Here, the narrator sees beyond what she has seen before, which, in turn, brings her to a different understanding of her relation to that space — the depth of her identity as it shifts from shattered to softness.
The wilderness is a place to lose ourselves. It’s that space where we can get lost and twisted, dizzy and confused, but it is by finding our way through that wilderness that we begin to find ourselves. But let’s stop right now with that cliché — let’s put an end to the obvious metaphors of journey and transformation — because while wilderness is a predominating theme in Wikswo’s work, clichés and easy metaphors do not exist anywhere in the book’s pages. Yes, there is an underlying topic of transformation, and yes, the landscape and setting of the stories span out and transform with the characters, but these stories don’t use setting to give the character a vague stage on which to act. Instead, place and person begin to merge.
It’s another way of saying life occurs in The Hope of Floating has Carried us This Far. Not just life as in breathing and all of our biology, but life as in the science of connection, too. The art of continuously trying to become new, to renew is discussed and discovered through Wikswo’s words. The vehicle for all of this merging and transformation doesn’t occur through plot or narrative arc, but, again, through language.
From “Holdfast Crowbiter”:
“Our world a punctured lung that contracts and expands without ease. What is close comes near, then billows away far from reach. So much is evacuated, then all is spasm, and gashes, and wet tissue. Where there is pain, there is a gasp. Our rib cage cleaved accordion, the organ no longer used for lovemaking. The air we expel is stale with fear.”
Here, Wikswo gives the reader a type of poetics of where self and place intersect then interact. I’m not quite sure what the plot of this story is, but that doesn’t matter as it is the language and sound of the story that drove me through it. Gliding along the undulating river of her rhythm and imagery, my mind flowed with Wikswo’s words and I could feel the transformations taking place in the text not because of any events, but because of this lingual movement.
Ultimately, in this collection, every story is a poem with life thriving throughout each image. That, combined with Wikswo’s own photographs of different types of nature, creates a multi-sensory reading experience. You don’t just read the stories; you engage with them through consideration and interpretation. For instance, when you take this text: “Prayers for bones that bend instead of break are prayers for our bodies to be soaked in vinegar, pickled, unable to expire. Pray for good winds. Pray for calm seas. For our immortality. What we have here is a multi-sensory reading experience and it sucks you in. A large contributor to the pace and flow in this example is the use of repetition — “pray.” This technique is powerful, as it feels as if through the repeated phrases and descriptions, a momentum is gathering, a meaning shifting and maturing into larger and connected concepts. Pray for good winds. Pray for calm seas. For our immortality. As often as possible, pray for something that does not exist. The story builds.
Aside from these connections brought forth through wilderness, the different characters begin to create and communicate themselves through each other. In “The Kholodnaya Voyna Club,” for instance, two people merge through the lyrical. Wikswo writes, “The pilot shared the same dreams with her at night, unconscious. Autobiographically accurate, yet identical. They had even dreamed them at the same hour, and woke together, crying. She drove the pilot so crazy, sometimes it seemed possible they were the same person. Perhaps a single schizophrenic.”
It is through these stories and photographs in which not only are identities created and discovered, but the experience of connection becomes vibrant. Tangible, even. One aspect that Wikswo concentrates on in “My Nebulae, My Antilles,” is that of how we learn to speak through writing. “When I was a small child, I was very silent. I was known for my silence. It was not known that I kept a diary. In its earliest life, it was a simple count of the day’s activities. Tally up the scabs on my kneecaps. The sixteen collectors that live within a beet. As the days passed, I learned that paper listens.”
The reader, too, is listening. She’s reading closely, attentively as she follows Wikswo through these meditations of where wilderness lives not only outside of us, but within us, as well. The reader weaves around and discover the ways in which through language, wilderness is a type of getting lost in beauty — getting lost in herself. Through this, the senses created by this reading experience are forever heightening. It is through Wikswo’s poetic language and movement that we can recognize, live, and exist in our own ecology of complexity.
by Quintan Ana Wikswo