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Installation view, Elmgreen & Dragset: The Nervous System, November 10 – December 18, 2021, Pace Gallery, New York © Elmgreen & Dragset


When Shared

By Sarah Lieberman

A memory is heavier when shared. Don’t try
to take a corner of the mattress up the stairs if
it’s being brought down.

I preserve the shape of cheers inside a glass case. I use it as a compass,
a wax stamp, a palette. Can I unbecome the losing? We only deserve
what we end up with. The rest: no resemblance.

I don’t understand. How could you

be so ugly that everyone can see me? Grotesque, face-down, supine. Everyone
was wondering, “what will happen next?” A dribble, a dismount, I won’t even
lift my head. I have a sad, swollen mouth and a cold fire to come home to.

When will I see you again? Would you offer me another time? I wonder: if time,
too, could be different now: a pinprick held still, the continents stretching and
spreading like several colors of clay all rolled together. I wonder if time creates
tension, like a slingshot, and eventually jumps forward to meet the rest of the world,
sometimes thrusting too far in the future, so that the memory of how time resumes
is blurred.

This rotten reward. In the clearest river water,
fish bury themselves beneath the sand.

Maybe time spreads like paint. Maybe it moves thinner, speckled— a scrape.
We are too concerned with waste and end up with not near enough. I won’t
remember every day that left me terrible, and yet, there are very few promises
of forgetting. The only thing left to win: more torment— time and space.

Maybe time spent in childhood, tasting rocks like salt on burnt and burning
courts, is preserved in jars, changed out every ten years, when one another
is aged, expired, eaten. How many times can I come back to you?

I could stay out here for a long time. I could lie on the hot, dusty ground for
hours. I could wait until you forget about me completely. You would come
back, you would search for me, but, soon enough, you would remember, too,
how difficult I am to look at.

I leave a gun by the window, pointed right toward a constellation
that means nothing to me. So bright, I must turn my head away to sleep.
So bright, long, and far, behind glass, and like nothing I’ve seen before,
nothing so large, so able to hurt me. Like nothing I would point a
telescope at, like nothing I would fight to remember.

I take my time. This ghost dips his hands in the basin, and flicks them dry,
clips his nails. I broke my left wrist, like every other half lucky child, and
I slipped notes under the gaping sleeve between cast and wrist, which
molded and mildewed. The year before, I put gauze in the bloody holes
of your mouth, which hurt you after you were finished hurting me. I stuffed
you full of cotton, and it made my own throat go dry. I’d go and undo it.

I don’t just feel you beating me, but I feel hundreds of hands on my body.

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Elmgreen & Dragset

The Nervous Fictions

Writers Respond to Elmgreen & Dragset
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  • Essays — When Shared, by Sarah Lieberman, Dec 16, 2021