The Poetry Project

Sophia Hussain

I love Etel’s writing about Mount Tamalpais because it is not nature writing. It is an initiation into something, a type of great love, collected in impressions. There are as many Mount Tams in her writing as there are faces of a loved one you have seen throughout your life, a number that is impossible to count because the measure is more like a quality of attention. Her vision is so full and pure that it almost feels possible to peel the United States off like a skin. Like Etel, there have been phases of my life where I saw Mount Tam every day. Passing it from the 101 marked my morning and afternoon commutes from school; in a basic way, it reminded me where I was and to look out and up. Despite my uncomplicated admiration of the way the mountain unfolded around me, growing up as a brownish child in Marin I almost never attributed this interest to nature because that concept seemed so alienated and kept away, and that word seemed to foreclose whatever was being described as a rarefied, white recreational pastime. In Etel’s writing, the field of vision is an ongoing negotiation. With Etel, the mountain is not grand because we are not there. Her writing takes us with her as she drives around in circles to catch its particular glow or an uncanny orange green, a soft and bright forcefield, you almost want to let it singe your eye. Instead of opposites we find obsession and reaching and a type of mimicked, seamless morphology; the sea and Mount Tam plunge into each other, tied in syncretic motion like a solar system, full of weight and mystery. These elemental shifts never lose sight of the human, and even the political prisoners, on this land. The way George Jackson’s voice on the radio slips in. In Etel’s writing, she asks: “Did they forget that in the summer of 1970 the white man went to the moon and the Red Man went to Alcatraz?” In Etel’s writing, the bay in Sausalito becomes the Mediterranean Sea of her childhood, and to look at the sea is to become what one is. I encountered her writing for the first time at the beach. In her hands, English becomes Arabic. Writing in Arabic becomes drawing. The softness of her ink drawings of the mountain in folding paper books transform alongside the vision of Asian immigrant painters in California, who like her, could capture the land like no one else.

Etel Adnan Remembrances