Tallulah Griffith


Pareidolia

.
.
.
There exists, for each of us, a kind of shape we see repeated. A shard-like template, difficult to grasp, its contours easily recognised and quick to cut the skin, but with an outline that is not standard; akin in some ways to a triangle, but with extra edges. When asked to define the shape, I can do no better than to say it is one portion of a something that can be reduced to pieces, an object found in glass and rock, metal and memory, isolatable by neither proportions nor material.
.
Maggie Nelson describes a lover’s gift, ‘the single most beautiful object that I own. It is a palm-sized box made of Plexiglas, with several stacked layers of blue-greenish broken glass sealed inside.’ The glass, she says, are all her broken parts, joined like some kintsugi pot. I imagine peering through each one in turn, tracing frames of lenses and distortions that they house, and trying to make sense of where they came from. If hers were shaped anything like mine, I wonder if that would mean anything, to either her or me.
.
Part: Dog ear
.
When we got Jimmy, we thought he was just like grandpa. It’s not uncommon for pets and humans to overlap, affect the same expressions over time, but grandpa had been gone for years, and yet here he was, muddy from the football, and teaching children to play games. Short, and eager, with dark keen eyes and grey mottled whiskers. Loud bark, big toothy grin, always running. Would never let you win. Ears pricked up, pulled back in ever steeper triangles, angled upright like hands in thought, always prodding, sharply alert, drawn ever upwards, towards whatever’s happening up there, pointing to the bit they wanted the most.
.
Part: Namesake
.
I have a friend from childhood, the only person that I know who shares my name. We meet, and talk about all sorts of things. Another friend has just got married, photos of wedding bands, their new gold outlines; she’s chosen someone who could be her sibling, and we say how it doesn’t make evolutionary sense. Isn’t there some inbuilt incest reflex? A hetero-reproductive norm whereby straight couples are pre-programmed to diversify the gene pool?
.
I tell her that I’ve heard of something called limited inbreeding. There’s an extent to which, apparently, we seek out evidence of ourselves, because after all our parts have survived extinction so far, and odds are that a face like our own won’t stray too far from the herd.
.
‘Maybe beauty is a kind of familiarity,’ she says.
.
Part: Mountain
.
Another friend lives in the Sierra Nevadas; Golden Rock Circle, to be specific. When he came to England he’d say how much he missed the mountains, their familiar serrations rimming the horizon like teeth. I thought of coyotes and the many canines to be found in the jaws of California; he told me that mothers carry their young in their mouths.
.
I visit him in Mammoth Lakes, among the mountain tusks. I can’t find myself in them, but like them better when he says how every cross section of the peak is different, every few thousand feet a new ecology. The triangle, he explains to me, is neatly cut across with California black oak, then sugar pine and incense cedar, with aspens and junipers balanced precariously on top. I think of him, cutting shapes on his snowboard, reading the arboreal rows of the white surface from left to right, top to bottom like a book he keeps going back to, keeps revisiting to scribble in the margins. At the top of the slope, I can hear a mother tell her children that everything they’ll ever need is here in California.
.
Part: Genetic code
.
The friend who shares my name is fascinated with DNA tests. She and her sisters all resemble their parents in different combinations, variegating dark and light for eyes and skin. My friend has a Roman profile, a nose I’d always loved because it made me like my own, something I’d previously found only in a broken-nosed lover of Cocteau, dog-eared corner pointing me to the page like the scalene flags on the ski slope: ‘a straight nose would have made him colourless’. My friend was told while living in Florence she could be a local. ‘Maybe there’s a reason I wanted to learn Italian,’ she says.
.
The palest sister finds out her biggest part is Finnish, and she thinks it explains why, in spite of all the fairy tales, she still feels safest in the woods. I tell her everything I’ve learnt about the pine forest.
.
Part: Valleys
.
When researchers discovered the sequencing for DNA, one said it was ‘too pretty not to be true’.
.
I ask a mathematician if there is a pattern that he finds particularly beautiful. He says there is a fractal called the Sierpiński gasket, in which an equilateral triangle is infinitely subdivided into smaller, self-similar sets. I say how lovely fractals are, like rippling concentric circles built into the architecture of an object. How many variations are there on snowfall? He says this fractal makes him think of valleys cutting through the mountains.
.
Part: Dog eared page
.
Psychologists call it the mere exposure effect, our preference for the things we already know.
.
In a precious book, Caleb Azumah Nelson writes ‘I met this woman and I knew she was not a stranger. I knew that we had met before, and I knew that we would meet again.’ I wonder if it’s an idea I love because I’ve somehow crossed its path before.
.
Part: Broken teeth
.
My mum, with her mohican, married my dad mainly because he bore some small resemblance to Joe Strummer, a smile like stubbed out cigarettes, though he liked Roxy Music. This, or else a stubborn Englishness made me like the broken teeth the best, like dental records to identify the ones I know. The only time I’ve been in love, I think it was the teeth that did it. Some kind of shortcut to a place that I already knew. Gap teeth like stretch marks, showing all the growing pains right at the surface, the scraps that didn’t make it to adulthood, the pieces they hadn’t yet known would not grow back. They’d broken one in France, cut their teeth and had to explain in words that were not their own what shape their mouth should be. The tooth looked very different after.
.
The Californian tells me English teeth are awful. It felt prehistoric, to love these badly ordered jaws, designed to carry loved ones, to gently tug at skin. Maybe it’s only ever something primal.
.
The Vikings used to file their teeth. Carved according to clan and a place within it. Mammoth’s ivory, cut across with black branches. I haven’t yet done my DNA test.
.
Part: Sky shapes
.
In the East there is a rabbit in the moon; in the West a man. Sometimes, a man in profile; other times, the creases of a smile. Humanity, where there is none; something to hold on to.
.
Cloud gazing with my mountaineer, I wonder what shape we make, as seen from outer space, or from the summit above. Meeting and moving together, as though intended to.
.
Among the tips of pines, a single tusk.
.
Part: Pointed poems
.
My namesake asks me: if my poetry could make something happen, what would it do?
.
My poems, if that is what I write, are poor expressions of things I can’t explain, strange forms that I approximate with shapes of mouth, with many pointed tongues. Some words strike close to the perimeter, point, in combination, toward the right direction, haphazard vectors edging on the thing itself, sharp edges prodding.
.
Each tongue, of course, has a different mother. Some formations are more easily understood than others. If my poetry could enact something, you would hold my pieces for yourself, and see them in the light.
.
Part: Found objects
.
I have a flatmate who was asked to help clear out an old lady’s house after she died. He didn’t know her. He came back with the biggest ash tray that I’d ever seen, glass too heavy for me to lift. Chain smoker? Must’ve been, and this was the murder weapon, he joked. Stacked on top were a dozen agate slices, all in different colours, each rimmed with copper leaf. They made me think of when my mum would do my face paint like Jordan Mooney, geometric stains with big thick perimeters. My flatmate says he rescued them from landfill, to solder them together.
.
I wonder what they were intended for. If anyone knew their history, or if there was anyone they mattered to. He gives me one, and I think that I should bury it. I didn’t know you could solder copper leaf; I asked what colour it would turn, and whether it would have a gold seam.
>
Part: Roof
.
I asked my mum once why the rooftops are triangular, and she said they were pitched to help the rain flow. I thought they looked like pyramids, like burial chambers for whatever we had laid to rest, things stored in the attic. No longer living but held close, interspersed with treasures.
.
Part: Jagged letters
.
Grandpa taught me to read and write, with a book called ‘The Village with Three Corners’ where everything is presumably as safe as houses, and he said when I got older I must always write by hand, to feel out the letters and find my inner child again inside the slanted scrawl.
.
I ask my mum to read a small collection of vignettes, about two friends who look alike but realise bit by bit how little they have in common. She says my writing has strange spiky bits, like me. Parts that most people wouldn’t think stand out, and maybe for good reason. I wonder if my nose is inherited, or if I broke it when I was young.
.
Part: Dental records
.
When grandpa died his body was cremated, except the last two teeth. They were in a glass box with his other things, and we didn’t know how long they’d been there. Didn’t know that they’d come out, or when, or even whether they were his, although the size and colour suggested that they were.
.
It didn’t seem so strange to keep the teeth. After all, I kept all my milk teeth. I’d prodded at the pointy ends, all those secret spikes, lodged within my gums. They’re in the attic, and somewhere up there we’ve also got Great Uncle Tom’s gold crowns. I never told my parents I’d tried them on, to see if they would fit my molars, match up the peaks and dents of the gold rim to see which bits were genetic.
.
At grandpa’s funeral, an aunty told me that it’s hard when people die, but that we cope by finding pieces of those that we have lost in others. In their perspectives, or jokes they would have told, words they would have liked. We find them lodged in unexpected places. Re-membering with limbs of others. I guess maybe that’s called haunting, that magic pull of things akin to those in our glass boxes, things that cannot last.
.
Part: Familiar look
.
We were never sure if grandpa was biologically related. Results were inconclusive before I was born, and I think it’s why I haven’t done the DNA test. If not, I’m from the Andes, a paternal pattern I can’t make sense of. I always thought grandpa looked like family.
.
.
.

Tallulah Griffith is an aspiring writer of lyrical essay and criticism. She was shortlisted for the Bloom Writing Contest and the 7th International Award for Art Criticism, and has had work published in Wasafiri, Viper’s Tongue, Tate Etc, and Hero Magazine. She likes discordant music and very tiny flowers.


To discover more content exclusive to our print and digital editions, subscribe here to receive a copy of The London Magazine to your door every two months, while also enjoying full access to our extensive digital archive of essays, literary journalism, fiction and poetry.

Dearest reader! Our newsletter!

Sign up to our newsletter for the latest content, freebies, news and competition updates, right to your inbox. From the oldest literary periodical in the UK.

You can unsubscribe any time by clicking the link in the footer of any email you receive from us, or directly on info@thelondonmagazine.org. Find our privacy policies and terms of use at the bottom of our website.
SUBSCRIBE