Between time and the topology of flesh

A review of '7 Days and Nights in the Desert'

7 Days and Nights in the Desert [Tracing the Origin]

7 Days and Nights in the Desert [Tracing the Origin]

Sabrina Dalla Valle

Kelsey Street Press 2013, 66 pages, $13, ISBN 978-0-932716-80-4

Sabrina Dalla Valle’s 7 Days and Nights in the Desert [Tracing the Origin] is a spell. It wraps itself around your body, clinging to your cells in the terrible pauses between readings. As though it, in fact, is reading you. I found myself entranced. I found myself noticing. I found myself encountering synchronicities at an accelerated rate. I could not have expected this.

Sabrina Dalla Valle is the winner of Kelsey Street Press’s Firsts! contest with 7 Days and Nights in the Desert. In this poetic meditation, Dalla Valle traverses the microscopic and the cosmic, tracing the evolution of language as easily as the ecology of the desert. This work is intimately concerned with relation, making visible the hidden connections between ancient Babylonian mythology and mirror photons, mirror photons and dark matter, dark matter and heartache, heartache and snail behavior, snail behavior and etymology, etymology and waiting in line at the bank, waiting in line and alchemy, alchemy and the divine, the divine and the everyday. Everything is alive. Everything is brimming. In Dalla Valle’s words, “It is not the order, / nor in the things for which we long. / It is in the still sense of how things / are related.”[1]

Though written in the form of a diurnal, 7 Days and Nights in the Desert doesn’t follow a linear timeline; the past does not remain in the past, the future bleeds into the present. Dalla Valle’s language vacillates between time measured and time felt, between marks made by the body and how the body has been marked. While reading, I found myself longing to experience this process, to extract the synchronous moment that occurs in the dialectic between object and imprint. I decided to document the body-experience of reading against the grain of measured time.

Over the course of a week I sat in many cafes. I held the book open in my hands. I took notes; I was taken. Enmeshed in the text, I wrote down every sensation, every thought and tangent. I marked each with a time-stamp. I gathered the notes from these seven days and rearranged them a.m. to p.m., as if the span of a week could be experienced in a single day. As if the span of a life, all its everyday wonders and losses, could be condensed into 7 Days and Nights in the Desert.

If there is such a thing as narrative in these notes, as in this book, it could never be anything but emergent, found at the moments of contact between a series of fragments.

Documentation of a body’s experience while reading 7 Days and Nights in the Desert

10:06 a.m.  What / in italicization / is indicative / of voice?

10:10 a.m.  each entranced by private silence. [2] I stutter over this phrase, reading and rereading it. I do not read the word as I imagine it is meant to be pronounced; I read the entranced as door, as entrance (n.)-d: as entered, made hinged, able to be opened, shut.

10:18 a.m.  In palmistry, planets are symbols linked to the seven mounts of the hand. How the seven days of the week were named after these same planets. What then is this relation between time and the topology of flesh. This organ, my skin, deteriorates. [3]

10: 24 a.m.  And again, how the weather station provides two temperatures: the measured and the felt. [4] In the movement between marking and being marked, something shifts.

11:12 a.m.  The order no longer horizontal. It is happening before it its happening.

11:15 a.m.  How to access the vastness between moments? The fringe of sleep. Nodding off into woof, becoming weave.

11:18 a.m.  our thinking precedes the event [5]

11:25 a.m.  Tracing the skin. Rivers layered beneath it, etymologically speaking, there is no skin. Scientifically speaking, there may be no origin. The door has a narrow aperture. There are plants trembling in the corner.

I cannot concentrate. I get up, full bellied. I walk through the center of the city seeking a mailbox: another word for connection.

I get up and walk out of the restaurant. Across the street: a mailbox. Blue and open-mouthed and waiting. As though brought into existence by desire. Standing before the blue box, I speak the phrase, There is no bookmark. The only way of marking order now, is memory. People are laughing in the bar behind me. There is no stamp on this postcard.

12:42 p.m.  Fragments always return to each other. [6]

12:59 p.m.  The sense of a spell cast. Alchemical. Synchronous.

1:00 p.m.  Imprinted on the body.

1:02 p.m.  Time, passing in twinned channels: the perceived, how it orbits the measured, always moving away, always returning.

3:11 p.m.  While attempting to decipher meaning from the intersecting lines of my right hand in relation to a palmistry chart in relation to these chapters in relation to the light that shifts indicating wind. Someone approaches. He places a paper crane in the palm of my right hand. I place a one-dollar bill in the palm of his left. His face is crossed by territories of white chalk; he is deeply creased. He carries a desert within him. The deep makes its way to the surface of the skin.

3:13 p.m.  From this garden, I send a text to arrange an encounter. Two bodies having parted, returning in the late afternoon.

3:14 p.m.  MESSAGE NOT SENT. I try again. MESSAGE NOT SENT

3:18 p.m.  This pattern continues. Connection falters. Words sculpt a surface for us to live upon when the world becomes too strange. [7]

3:24 p.m.  Patterns that repeat … at the boundary of awareness [8]

3:26 p.m.  I keep expecting to look up from this book in a town I am not from and do not frequent and to see there someone I have known.

3:28 p.m.  A small burn on my middle finger begins to whiten and balloon with fluid. Small crimson petals have fallen into the gutter of the book. I look up. They will have fallen from the tree above, marking the page. The crease between page forty-two and forty-three. To return.

3:38 p.m.  My phone doesn’t work in this part of this town. How will we find each other? The chapter I am reading follows the path of the planet Mercury.

3:45 p.m.  Caught in Dalla Valle’s language, I am made blindingly aware of the intricacies of sound and small movements surrounding this body. Beside me a woman’s throat opens in song. I fold up the book and the palmistry chart and place the folded paper crane into an envelope with the chart.

4:18 p.m.  Sit in a tea room in the absence of the internet. Sit in the desert in the absence of your knowing.

4:32 p.m.  Sit on a chair beneath the wooden feet of a carved goddess. You do not know her name. You did not notice her when you first arrived. The subtle hows of choosing place. Diamond pattern against the grain of the table, or crosshatched; how earlier you passed her by, and then returning, later, drawn. These details that pull you.

4:41 p.m.  A moment: the fabric of the universe drawn together into a moment. This moment. Every choice. The smallest nothings. Aside: The skin around the wound drawn together. Two points that could never have touched, touching.

4:44 p.m.  Straight line leaves through the cleft of the skull. The no longer soft seam.

4:48 p.m.  An unknown goddess or maybe Elvis. Both hold the space above our heads.

4:53 p.m.  I hold the milk tea in my mouth for seven seconds before swallowing.

4:54 p.m.  There is a chill. It is not winter. A man in a blue polo shirt leans in toward his companion. “She can’t sing anymore,” he says. I touch my fingers to my lips. Dry.

5:11 p.m.  Earlier, in the store, I buy a fern. Beside it on the counter, a blue book with the image of a white hand. The title, Palmistry, noticed only later. I call you and ask if you will buy it and meet me after work.

5:18 p.m.  You could be anyone. [9] Tracing a history. Here, there are two: there is you, there is we. As yet no I.

5:52 p.m.  Crosshatched.

5:31 p.m.   The broken or chained lines of the hand. This: a way of moving through.

5:37 p.m.  Again, this shiver has nothing to do with the weather. the precise order of words transforms things. Such are spells … [10]

5:58 p.m.  A postcard between page twenty and twenty-one becomes a bookmark. A mark made as anticipation of leaving. The first line of the postcard reads: how I imagine you in this moment is crossing a vast dry space; it is still early,

and it ends with There is nowhere to retreat, so you learn to retreat behind the safety of your eyes. A practice of recovery. The Artist erases herself.

I am reminded of a line in Susan Howe’s That This: Can a trace become the things it traces, secure as ever, real as ever — a chosen set of echo fragments? [11]

6:02 p.m.  Or I am reminded of something I will have read in the future, and from this perspective, can glimpse only in cross-section. The echo of the future in the present. Retracing the past, its absence.

6:06 p.m.  Or night as shadow cast by day. [12] Or time as shadow cast by eternity.


1. Sabrina Dalla Valle, 7 Days and Nights in the Desert [Tracing the Origin] (Berkeley: Kelsey Street Press, 2013), 4.

2. Ibid., 51.

3. Ibid., 52.

4. Ibid., 52.

5. Ibid., 24.

6. Ibid., 57.

7. Ibid., 37.

8. Ibid., 41.

9. Ibid., 6.

10. Ibid., 16.

11. Susan Howe, “The Disappearance Approach,” in That This (New York: New Directions, 2010), 29.

12. Dalla Valle, 7 Days and Nights, 49.