Transmissions, Vol. 3: Shapes of Perception | Varyer

Transmissions, Vol. 3: Shapes of Perception


Mei-mei Berssenbrugge is a contemporary poet who was born in Bejing (her parents are Chinese and Dutch-American) and grew up close to Boston. She has spent time between New York City and the mesas of New Mexico where she has cultivated a relationship with the land, which has been a place personified in her observations through her poems. Mei-mei's expansive writing style translates her lived experiences as a person occupying multiple identities, as she has voiced. "I try to expand a field by dissolving polarities or dissolving the borders between one thing and another. Sometimes I think it’s because I’m from one culture—I was born in Beijing—and grew up in another," she has explained to writer Michèle Gerber Klein for Bomb magazine. For those of us who labor in traversing numerous worlds daily (often simultaneously), she offers an opening for her readers to find respite in.

As one of our points of existence overlaps as diasporic Asian Americans, I have found that her work has given me permission to embody fullness and extend into the spectrum of multi-dimensional existence and possibility beyond being legible only through the recognition of pain. She writes with such consideration in how she weaves together seemingly disparate thoughts; juxtaposing them with vivid atmospheric language and imbuing them into worlds is a talent uniquely her own. And yet she is generous in her offering and invites us into her reservoir of pleasure and resonance.

Her poem Hello, the Roses defies traditional poetic structure and offers the reader expansive planes in every unbroken line. It is a seminal poem within a greater collection that has resonated in my consciousness in such a way that when I often revisit, it provides both comfort and wonder in regard to our relational positionality within the context of the natural world and beyond the limitations of perceived time. Clocking in at just over seven minutes in the different versions of recordings I’ve listened to read by Mei-mei herself, she expertly guides us through these glimmering, winding passages. She builds this attunement toward a multi-sensorial world in the early lines:

This felt sense at seeing the rose extends, because light in the DNA of my cell receives light frequencies of the flower as a hologram.

The entire rose, petals in moving air, emotion of perfume records as a sphere, so when I recall the emotion, I touch dimensionality.

From a small bud emerges a tight wound bundle of babyskin coral petals, held in a half globe, as if by cupped hands.

Berssenbrugge notedly places her evocative and dynamic lens on sourced scientific texts, then has the ability to transmute them into melodically dynamic lines that hairpin and crescendo in their ability to access the multiverse.

I set my intention through this sense of moving into coherence with the bio-photons of a plant and generate feeling in response.

She effectively embraces the duality of zooming in and out while keeping each of their focal points in mind when building a scene. Mei-mei writes,

There's an affinity between awareness and blossom.

Her at-times psychedelic/transcendent voice shouldn’t feel so accessible, but the ability to transform and distill deep connectivity through several realms.

As the receiver (or reader), I am unsure of her intention as a writer and wonder if the different perspectives that she gives—one vantage point speaking from a person’s point of view and one from possibly the rose’s? The ambiguous language gives me the opportunity to place myself within the consciousness of the rose and look outwards.

The rose communicates instantly with the woman by sight, collapsing its boundaries, and the woman widens her boundaries.

Her "rate of perception" slows down, because of its complexity. There's a feeling of touching and being touched, the shadings of color she can sense from touch.

We are of nature, and nature also reflects ourselves back to us: this makes me feel infinitely less adrift. Awareness and noticing is an act of caring.

Hello, the Roses worldbuilds with the fractals of our varied existence anchoring the sensory sprawl of Brussenbrugge’s command of language. She integrates our own self-imposed limitations of the perceptible, the mundane, and the broken and empowers us to engage with modalities that could bring us into the possibility of the extraordinary.

I can intentionally engage with the coherence of light beams, instant as though lightless, or the colored light of a dimension not yet arrived, as our hearts are not outside affinity with respect to wavelength, shaping meaning, using the capacity for feeling to sense its potency in a rose and to cultivate inter-being with summer perfume.

A collage of various red roses within blue circles.


Being of Korean descent, the wave of tracked increase in violence against Asian bodies in this country has had various effects on me. Finding shaky footing in the still not-easily-definable catchall of Asian American identity often leaves me feeling dispossessed and fragmented, which compounds the isolation of despair and invisibility that defines our unique positionality within the racial landscape of America. If your body only has value through trauma and hyper-visibility due to violence, what can you glean from your perceived place in it? Once the hurried news cycle inevitably moves on, how does one orient oneself towards refuge beyond survival? After the brutal murder of 35-year-old Christina Yuna Lee in New York last winter, I felt my threshold for violence collapse into a shattered murkiness that left an indelible grief imprinted on our collective consciousness.

I waded through the dissociation, the op-eds, the endless calls to action finally emerging with no neat feelings of resolution. So, I decided to be literal in an attempt to assuage the obsidian cloud that had cast its light over everything. I began taking daily, intentional, sensory-focused walks—if only to try and recapture some sort of footing, some semblance of agency in “the family of things” as Mary Oliver so aptly puts it. Writers such as Jenny Odell have explored the benefits of taking our fragmented and overwhelmed brains and focusing on the specificities of place (e.g. weather patterns, wildlife, ecological history) as a way to anchor our overactive brains. By asserting my place amidst the natural world, I know that this possibility of a perspective shift marked by movement will be enough to buoy me through until I can recharge my nervous system. I believe we can access interconnectedness through these kinds of exercises that disrupt notions of isolation through separation from our environment and help root us as cohabitants in an increasingly disparate world.

Spanning cultures, histories, and artistic movements, the rose has endured through all. Spanning cultures, histories, and artistic movements, the rose has endured through all.

The rich diversity of plant life in LA offers unbridled, bountiful madness. Being raised in the Midwest and then living in New York, my ideas of what is possible due to seasonality were all turned upside down upon witnessing the flora that appears to bloom infinitely (and modern varietals of different classifications are designed to do so continuously). Roses in particular were jewels that indicated the ushering in of verdant blooms in summer, while some waited until fall to come to their fullest expression.

From an ocular standpoint, it’s easy to relegate the rose as both an overwrought, iconic symbol and all too commonplace in our visual landscape. Spanning cultures, histories, and artistic movements, the rose has endured through all. However, I would dispute the notion: how often have you stopped to examine their individual qualities? The scope of color they can inhabit—from an octane orange-red to a deep, velvety cherry with ombre petals unfurling outwards in an impossibly sublime pattern that can have a surprising resonance on one's sentience.

And then there is the multi-dimensional scent of these roses. Before I attended classes at the IAO in LA, my limited exposure offered little imagination to the complexities their aroma could occupy. Scent memories I associated were from an alabaster ceramic dish that housed potpourri my mom kept in the guest bathroom that contained overly powdery notes, blanketed by a cloud of cloying sweetness of a dusty mauve blouse. With the world of roses opened at that class, I was confronted by my own miscalculation of the rose and its clairvoyant reach.

These Earthly delights have been cultivated in every corner of the world, spanning from China, Iran, Morocco, and Ecuador. There are roses tinged with geranium, ones with juicy fruit notes (lemon, pear, lychee), brightness from citrusy lemon or zesty lime, warm tones of honeys or beeswax, and depth of woody essences such as spicy black pepper or cloves. Each encounter with a bloom offers a portal into another universe, unique in its relation to you.

Admittedly, there is a certain amount of inhibition that you’re going to need to get past as a grown adult bringing your nose into an errant flower on the edge of a neighbor's yard. An act not without its own clichéd cultural mark on our consciousness (am I showing my age)? However, it is worth this act of slowness and thwarting the eyes of judgment, as I am always astounded at their ability to bring me into my body and the power of their scent, which aids in translating the imperceptible.

Living in a body that is prone to anxiety on any given day, you learn how to navigate the world by subtracting or avoiding situations that could intensify this state. I argue for pushing against this urge (in some cases) and resetting your nervous system through the intentional occupation of your body through connection of place. We can strive to reorient ourselves through aid that the dimensionality of scent offers by activating both memory and its ability to bring awareness into our bodies in a present moment.

As I ascend to the top of a hill toward the end of my walk, another golden hour wanes and twilight approaches. My eyes gaze up at a well-cultivated garden on the corner where Pearl and Cedar streets intersect. And although it’s a familiar scene in that it’s a path that I often traverse, I know it contains portals through which I can reclaim part of my peace in a ritual that spans a continuum beyond our inception.

A collage of white roses with red-tipped petals.