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The Brooklyn Rail

MAY 2021

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MAY 2021 Issue
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Black Carnelian Grotto

Shola von Reinhold. Courtesy the author.
Shola von Reinhold. Courtesy the author.

There was a video circulating of Sylvester which has been taken down now. Sylvester singing on a stage in an intensely coruscating gown. The dazzle was so extreme I lost my breath: Flares and scintillations looking like a chemical, alchemical reaction, and, of course, intimating light on water and caves, grottos both artificial and natural. The scintillations created a kind of atmospheric condition which extended beyond the screen in a manner particular to the spectacle of coruscation. As with all such dazzle, I wanted to become immersed, literally be the scintillations, or at least the secondary visions of landscape they elicited. Living ornament.

I’ve been wondering what it means to want to be decorative in the wake of the commodification of so many people as ornament, but I think the setup of this wondering is a little fake, and not in a good way. That the desire and the context given in the way that they are here is off. That in actuality, the kind of “being ornament” I crave has less of a stake in commodification. The desire to be ornament can’t help but register a certain way on the page, as self-dehumanisation. But this craving to be ornament is to want to slip into another dimension: A sideways zone where fabulous alterities have been preserved, where futures can be dislodged by tracing patterns (optically or otherwise) over and over, and where the tedious glances off—splayed, rayed, faceted, dazzled.

Actually, it is clear what is happening. I want to visit Black Carnelian Grotto:

Oh god yes we needed sweetness and respite so we found it—we passed through that dark arcade and found ourselves in the glinting Grotto. We lit our lamps and torches, and took to our most suited cloisters … In the morning it was hot and there was a cavernous mouth looking out onto a river. We followed the balustrades along the balcony and sat and looked out down over the river … Then we noticed baths … smooth niches in the balcony ground as if simply scooped out by great shells like the stone was nothing. Somehow faint greenish liquid seeped up from the polished baths … though one could feel no pores in the stone … In the heat it was rapturous to lie there immersed and it became our favourite occupation to take baths all day as the sky changed and the river gleamed like the innards of a Grotto …

One day I remained so long in my bath that I was alone. I discovered that when the basins emptied with the turning river tides, grooves moved somewhere, a smooth schist slide opened, and I slid down to a chambered area of the Grotto we had not yet known, one with translucent crystal walls, threaded internally with the compressions of many aeons. When the slide roof shut, I saw light still entered from a hole and created a camera obscura effect so that the river, hot and gleaming, imparted its ripples into the crystal which sent the whole room shimmering … Lying in another pool there I became sure I dissolved ... separated … rippled. I became Waved.

When dead (obsolete) things make Black Carnelian Grotto glimmer and the things in turn glimmer, the glimmering is the walls and chambers of the Black Carnelian Grotto—or a memory of it. Or a foretaste. Or just the actual walls. Black Carnelian Grotto lights the torch on their phone and espies rippling along the walls like skins of water, in places running together to form braids ... They follow the course to reach a chamber even darker ... Touching the walls, the water has stopped here but they can hear splashing ... a fountain emerging from one of the walls. The walls’ glints and scintillations are intense like coloured sparks, and disorienting, and the ridges of a mineral ore ceiling break the torch light up so it trills.

As Black Carnelian Grotto’s eyes adjust, their torch picks out pilasters set in the wall … sees worn fresco faces and creatures and plants … sees further ore embedded into part of the wall, sees a fountain also in the middle of the chamber and a fountain in the worn paint. Sees a neat brown eye in a torrent of schists … sees figures swathed in pattern—figures fucking in a prism too—sees a Rebis over the brown veins scintillating in the Black Carnelian Grotto.

Contributor

Shola von Reinhold

Shola von Reinhold was born in Scotland in 1892. Following over a century's worth of disastrous auditions at the Bolshoi Ballet, they lowered their sights and went on to complete a Creative Writing MLitt at the University of Glasgow. In 2019 London-based independent Publisher Jacaranda's Books launched an initiative to publish 20 Black British Writers in one year which, in spite of the fanfare of various Big Five schemes and initiative was the first time this has been done by a British Publisher. Shola's debut novel LOTE, published in 2020, was one of these titles.

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The Brooklyn Rail

MAY 2021

All Issues