Project Description

Part of her forthcoming collection THE HOPE OF FLOATING HAS CARRIED US THIS FAR (Coffee House Press, 2015), Quintan Ana Wikswo’s MY NEBULA, MY ANTILLES is a suite of photographs, texts, video installations, and solo performance. An epistimologicial, epistolary love affair between women, between Latvia and the Antilles, between the northern hemisphere and the southern, humans and Anguilladae eels, the past and the future. A study in time-travel within the constrictions of Communism, the isolation of an island paradise, and the lonely liberties of airmail. Short story first published in Gulf Coast.

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Artist Statement

Latvia is only a distraction, the way home is a hole at the center. Her distance from me in time and space remains a question due to uncertainties in every method used to ascertain her existence.  Clearly, however, her presence is expanding outwards.  Within days of her creation, she could only reach to the end of her pencil.  Then to the government postal office, and no further.  Whereas now, her words find me on the other side of the earth.

I endured the many long flights that brought me home and my skin again softened and smoothed out, but it was as though my travels to the equator had altered the passage of time. As though some spine had risen up inside me along which time nestled, like a dune.


by Quintan Ana Wikswo

first published in Gulf Coast

[   x   ]

Let’s say she lies all day upon the beach in the Antilles, and I embroider her until she becomes my buttonhole: a silken stitch with needle and thread of seaweed. And then I slip through her skin of sand and cashmere, as though a pearl fastened tight against the rise of her flesh.

[   x   ]

This letter from the Antilles tells me of progress regarding her strategic plan: to wrap a series of single square concrete blocks in colorful stripes of spun sugar. To artificially inflate the price of artisanal fishhooks, and profit through controlling the market on radial netting, handspun by a sisterhood of leprotic Haitian nuns.

Her tactics remain vague. This discussion incongruous, superfluous.

What of our more sartorial conversation.

Why now this intrusion.

I wrote back to the Antilles and told her to cease clarifying her schemes for artistry and commerce:

Why now this inclusion?

What of our sartorial distractions?




Tell me nothing of what you did today, of what foods you ate, or of your fragile frustrations.


Let us go diving in a different sea. Let us stay down so long we come up with barnacles, with gills.


[   x   ]
I once overheard one meatpacker whispering to another on an eastbound train:

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 colors that live within a beet.  As the days passed, I learned that paper listens.  And later, as I became more courageous and my life took on a more uncertain meaning, I began to talk.  Secrets of the kind spies are trained not to divulge from within the calibrated agonies of torture. Exquisite. You might think a young child would not have secrets of those means. That capacity to heal and to destroy. But I urge you – reconsider. There are intimacies some are inclined to pursue against the wishes of a silent child.  

It became clear that my house was unsafe for the keeping of this diary. We lived in a remote area many miles beyond the nearest town – when I could escape the range of civilization, my companions were foxes and falcons, tigers and weevils. They read only the language of the senses.  They lacked thumbs. Safe, I placed my diaries within a series of large glass jars, and buried them. Each week, another jar. 

We were far from the cultivated fields…

Although the train car was quiet and my ears unusually sensitive, I averted my attention for some time.

Not from delicacy, but because I believe in the ethics of eavesdropping.

One false choice and the luminosity of another person goes dim.


[   x   ]

The letter – the next consecutive letter – highly anticipated – remains delayed.  Weeks pass.  New magazines arrive from my agent in Riga.  I read them.

Latvia is only a distraction, the way home is a hole at the center.

I dislike the wind in Riga, and the sound it makes against the buttresses whose angularity and rigidity are merely concealed by the distracting romance of cleverly carved vines and furbelows.  Ah, Riga, all your sands have long since turned to stone.


[   x   ]

It was winter when I fled to the Antilles.  This was many years ago.  Three months I planned to say – no more, no less.  Solace.

I remember I was exhausted.

I rented a room in a house that proved unsettling. There were reasons they rented to foreigners. Even the local children knew why birds would not land on the tower balustrades. Why the floorboards had been painted, and why the cracks so very carefully filled in.  Why the aloe grew thickly along lines of nonexistence pathways, and why the lizards refused to cross into those furrows. Because of this, and through the desire to change the habitual patterns in my fundamental inclinations, I spent my days and nights on the beach, or under some wide-legged leaf.

The language barriers proved significant, and insurmountable. The islanders had never heard of my country – my every attempt to gain legitimacy failed. My willingness to show them my passport only underscored their suspicion.

Despite their conviction, I had nothing to reveal: many meetings began with speaking and ended in the extended silence of stalemate.

So becalmed, there was little to do but learn to evade these predicaments altogether.   I ceased all social activity.  I ceased moving about the island.

With thin and inconsequential new data, my brain began to relieve itself of a lifetime of congestion.

In isolation, memory after memory unfurled themselves for mere instants – their dendritic fronds arrayed like firecrackers against my darkened sky.

And I, a slack-mouthed bystander, gaping wide-eyed from down below.


[   x   ]

In dread that these memories would rapidly re-constipate themselves within my mind, I decanted them onto paper, just as the meatpacker had suggested.  But unlike the meatpacker’s urge for burial, I wished to push them from myself – set them into movement, to hurl them outwards.

I began posting several of these as letters to myself.

Each day at the post, a familiar charade: the scrambling quest for communion, the ego’s thirst for false impressions.   A performance pantomimed for the clerk.

These must be on their way at once

They are already terribly delayed

Someone is waiting for me back home

I had never sufficient coins in my pocket for full postage.  This invoked ridicule, or pity, or censure. Someone always helped me out, as though making some oblique religious argument regarding my insolvency. Refugee, drifter, panhandler.

As the weeks passed, the claw I stretched across the government trestle was not mine: as I wrote through the winter, the skin on my hand gradually dried and cracked – a result of the climate, and the length of time spent writing near the microscopic spray from the surf.  Even the fingernails were iodined, archaic.

I probably posted about four or five a day.


[   x   ]

I endured the many long flights that brought me home and my skin again softened and smoothed out, but it was as though my travels to the equator had altered the passage of time.  As though some spine had risen up inside me along which time nestled, like a dune.

[   x   ]

When the letters first began to arrive, I had been home for nearly six months.

I found I had no memory of writing them.

I barely recognized this woman, their writer. Despite all claims of dry, hers is a damp heart, and pounding.


[   x   ]

As time passed, I remembered her less and less, yet knew her more and more.

Is she who I was, or who I have yet to become?

What harbor harbors her?

The equatorial sky above her is so unlike my sky of roof:  concrete, I-beam, tar, shingle, chimney, aerial, contrail.


[   x   ]

The letter arrives. The delay – I have misspelled my own name.

How easy it is to lose myself through administrative error, or through the foibles of sloppy typography.

The lunar curl of half-claw, shaping an ill-lettered alphabet.

[   x   ]

I move through my world half-phantomed.   As if I perhaps avoid myself, in all locations.

Today’s communication relies upon the preposterous. She writes:

I am reading a book about the native crustaceans of the Antilles. I do not recognize the characters as letters and thus when I read, I fall asleep. In this way, I have learned nothing of the crustaceans of the Antilles.  Yet when I am asleep, I dream: I am a crab nebula. In this way, I have learned everything of the crustaceans of the sky.

Her distance from me in time and space remains a question due to uncertainties in every method used to ascertain her existence.  Clearly, however, her presence is expanding outwards.  Within days of her creation, she could only reach to the end of her pencil.  Then to the government postal office, and no further.  Whereas now, her words find me on the other side of the earth.


[   x   ]

She writes that in the Antilles, there are two methods for reading fortunes:

First, one must set a basket of crabs upon one’s bare stomach and deduce the future in the bleeding scratches. 

She spends afternoons in this pursuit:

Their remarkable chelae equip them for mastery of a uniquely delicate lexicography. In fact, the sea floor is a dictionary of unprecedented accuracy and eloquence. It has made me eager to learn how to swim. I ask the fisherfolk to teach me but they refuse. They say anyone who gazes for too long at the sea floor is beset by madness.  I asked to meet one of these aquatic lunatics, and the fisherfolk obliged. But again, I encountered another language that is not my own. The lunatic gave me a basket of crabs, and indicated that I should set them upon my bare stomach. The remainder of her instructions I deduced largely from context and innuendo.

She feels no pain as scrying tablet for the crabs.

The crabs see an end to machines that inhabit the sky: airplanes, spacecraft, satellites, and that perplexing muddle of invisible vibrations that comprises our telephony.

She says the crabs offer an optimistic presagement of some great reversal of sea and sky.

…a starfish with sweet-fleshed, swinging scabrous arms who cuts through it all – they call it Sea Sky Spider, or She Who Tears It All Down.

She says their new god, they say, will keep swinging until there is nothing left. 

They see an end to the aerial boxes of commerce.  Afterwards the sky will be white, a transparent vista of clean crème nothingness, and the crabs will come from their nebula to scratch out a new vista.

She writes that this particular lineage of crabs date back to the Jurassic – they know certain things to be true.

They have long memories, which are interrupted only by cookery.

And they do feel pain.


[   x   ]

There exists a clever implement for the construction of egg salad. Within a plastic and aluminum apparatus lies the quivering egg, unshelled. It glistens, and then its moist promise of birth evaporates and its opacity takes on a dullness, and the metal wires cut through the cataract of it until the core dawns golden, a sort of morning glory, edible. This is what these letters do to me.


[   x   ]

It’s surprising how many of the letters become lost along the way.  I suspect that letters are now so uncommon that anyone encountering them cannot resist the compulsion to touch. It begins with turning the paper packet over, feeling the paradoxical oily crispness of its skin. The translucency.

The temptation that enough handling can provoke a sentient response in the envelope – as though the proper caress will cause the glue to soften and to yield, the flap to curl up slightly at the edges, and then with a gasp the sheet of writing paper within begins to simply swell out of the opening. All of it happening with a fluid muscularity.


[   x   ]

A letter arrives – a full year has passed since the last, and I had assumed the letter lost. And yet here it is. Initially I am delighted, but soon I sense a coldness at my periphery. It creeps up closer and closer towards my heart, closing its trapdoors in my vein along its way. There is no hope for thawing this one out. The thought has created a spiny matrix, rather like a window screen, and the sweetness that I knew before bats its wings against the lid in vain.

There is no entry here.

I write:

Where have you been. I waited for you.

For months my patience was my testament of valor. This my monument to trust. And now, a year – I have seen the sun glisten off the bodies in the water, and how hard the ships must work to overcome that beauty, much less the surf at water’s edge. Perhaps the letter never left the island.

What else could be cause for this delay?

A shipment of lemons waiting on the tarmac in Miami, flies on their stems, soon to become citron presse in Dijon, and at the bottom of the crate is wedged my letter. An indigenous rind fungus has eroded much of the paper. The pulps mingle, and rot.

My letter sits in a stamp shop in Tangiers, being fondled by the inventory auditor.  There is saliva there that is not my own. I am betrayed.


[   x   ]

My landlady has begun sidestepping any introductions to new tenants. She used to like to make matches amongst us – arrange for petty romances and gallant rescues in one direction or another.

I hear her whisper:

For quite some time now, Apartment 42 has been having an affair with a woman in the Antilles. I’m not sure what’s wrong. They never visit.  The phone is silent. Sometimes months go by between letters, and it’s nothing but gloom and despair in there. No need to worry. It’s surely harmless.

I suspect there is an age difference that stands in the way.

People can be so small-minded.


[   x   ]


The letter arrives.

Inside, she says:

Yesterday, I ironed all the tiny pleats in the indigo blouse, the favorite one. Due to the humidity, its encounter with the iron was erotic.

I write back:

Yes? But did you repair the button?

Although I already know her answer, and before I have mailed my response, her reply arrives.

Inside, she says:

I refuse to repair the button. I am adamantly opposed to all indications of time’s passage. Instead, I sleep with it between my teeth.

She writes as though ours is her second language.


[   x   ]

I worry that she is skating across the surface of what really matters: survival, accomplishment, security.  She is adapting her brain to fit this attractive new reality, rather than adjusting reality to fit her understandings and beliefs.

I worry that her lifestyle of sun and shade renders her little more than an incarnate sundial, telling the hours of the rest of our life.  Silent, immortal witness.

She sends me unrequested advice, willing me to take it to heart. To make changes. To alter course.

I worry that while she continues her life in the Antilles, seeking guidance from her crustaceans, the two of us are on divergent paths that intersected only briefly that winter. I worry that our trajectories are tangential. That if we ever meet again, she would be disappointed in who I have become.  Or perhaps at who I have stayed being.

She writes of the most recent epigrams of the sibilant crabs:

Above all else, cease from worrying.

 Stop this trick of the mind.  

This the greatest disease that prevents humans from evolving as a  species.

 It is worry that conjures weapons.  


[   x   ]

What if I were to become quite ill. The details of this sickness would be dull but rather unpleasant to experience and observe.


I have little here that I would miss – a solidly admirable life, fulfilling, but surely not essential.  It’s just the thought of her letters arriving at a destination that is no longer accurate. There would be no forwarding address. I cannot imagine how I could get word to her.





[   x   ]


Once, I was riding in a taxicab. One of those weary bleached afternoons that pretends to be a dawn. For a moment you indulge the light’s charade – fine, yes, you are morning, I believe you. But the curtain closes on the game and night surprises you with its applause. That is the perfect moment for a taxicab.


I ducked my head. I climbed inside.  Oh, the beauty of that dark and greasy womb.


The foreign driver was listening to a contraband radio broadcast on a dashboard shortwave.  It had audio subtitles that created a riptide of meaning – the reporter’s fluid syllables slipping past the harsh rocks and reefs of our native consonants with disarming sanguinity.  Because of her, one might be tempted to jump into conversation with a vulnerability and earnestness one would never reveal at home. It’s dangerous. One ends up pinned down somewhere, gasping, unable to breathe water instead of air. At best, one ends up carried far away from where one entered, exhausted and very far from shore.


Nonetheless, I listened in to the reported scandal of the day, which pertained to the  government postal service. Its procedural manuals had not been updated since the third dictatorship. The key postal facilities were replete with arcanery that called itself equipment: cancellation machines whose pulleys were fabricated from human hair; slits and holes and slices in conveyor belts whose apparatus itself was suspended across a crevasse at whose bottom holiday spelunkers claimed to have found parcels containing scientific specimen trays of species long since extinct.


These problems had been going on for quite some time.


A rather magnificent New Year’s Eve celebration was halted by state police when the confetti was discovered to consist of shredded holiday cards, chosen from the outgoing mail bins on the purely festive basis of colored envelopes.


Several large fascist era highrise apartment blocks were flooded when the river lept its banks – a surplus of neglected mail so overwhelmed the postal service that it dumped more than a thousand bags into the water, creating a dam of undelivered correspondence dating back several decades. Communist times.


Children crying. Lovers irrevocably suicided along the nation’s perilous embankments.


If only the letter had arrived, everything could have been different. Would have.





[   x   ]


I lie in bed at night and think of her.


I brush my teeth in the morning and I think of her.


I know she found some sort of sextant and compass necessary for optimal navigation.


Everything that is missing in my life here in the North.





[   x   ]


In the last letter, she provides me with the following:


There is a second method for foretelling the future. It is as dangerous as it is accurate.


Precisely at midday, while the sun can cast no shadow, carefully mark down your coordinates through drawing two perpendicular and intersecting lines.



Then – equally carefully – split oneself in two. 



One is to wait in place.



The other is to go on ahead. 



Through this method, it is imperative to maintain close and regular correspondence. 





[   x   ]


She is a buttonhole, and I am the button. There is nothing else.







Published in Gulf Coast