The last time I saw Etel Adnan was at a pizzeria in Paris. She and her partner Simone Fattal took me and my partner Lisa (Dot Devota) out for lunch. The pizzeria was around the corner from their apartment. No, that wouldn’t have been the last time, because we left the pizzeria and went somewhere else, maybe back to their apartment? Was the last time I saw Etel on the sidewalk outside her and Simone’s apartment? Did we go inside? We ordered pizza. Etel ordered a salad. We sat at a table by the window. Etel sat against the wall, facing the door. I don’t remember what we talked about. I watched Etel eat her salad. The wall behind her was purple or green. Spring. Etel was wearing a large coat. Afterwards, on the sidewalk, I asked Etel if her best friend was a mountain. I chided myself for the question, but she said Yes. Mount Tamalpais. That was years ago. Etel is dead, has been dead for __ days, but I’m not ready to write about her in the past tense.

I’m not ready to read her books either. I’ve tried. When a writer dies, a writer who means a lot to me (usually a poet), I turn immediately—I turn reflexively—to their writing. It’s as much an attempt to locate and hang onto them where they are—which, I want to feel, is where they will always be—as it is a manifestation of mourning, although what’s the difference? When Etel died, I didn’t do that.

When I say I’ve tried, I mean I started with the book I co-edited with my friend Thom Donovan, To look at the sea is to become what one is, which Nightboat Books published in 2014. I took the two volumes off the shelf thinking I would open them and read something, anything—because you can, with To look at the sea, as you can with all of Etel’s books, open it anywhere, and be immediately transported—but I didn’t. I haven’t. Maybe because—and I’m guessing, because I have no mind, it’s been blown a few heads over—looking at or even thinking about To look at the sea reminds me of making it, which is the memory of seeking out and reading all of Etel’s work and emailing back and forth with Thom and with Nightboat and with Etel, hundreds of pages of emails, about it, but it is even more so—and especially—the memory of becoming friends with Etel, which makes me sad, in both a simple and not entirely straightforward way.

Is sadness ever straightforward? Is sadness the word we use to assuage a less maneuverable feeling? Because I have felt, since To look at the sea, that I am always—that I am still—becoming friends with Etel, that there is so much more for us, that there is so much left for us in becoming friends. Isn’t friendship the process of constantly becoming friends?

I feel like some part of me has gone out, some part of my life, a part that is becoming difficult to retrieve. Looking back, or trying to remember—it’s like being thrown against the back wall of my mind, sliding down the wall to the floor, and falling asleep, yet wanting desperately to stay awake, while the fragments of my life dematerialize beneath me.

I started writing a paragraph here about the origins of To look at the sea, but I stopped. It felt like I was writing something for posterity. For the archive, future study.

Is it inevitable? I remember a night or two before the pizzeria, Etel and Simone invited Lisa and me to their apartment for dinner. Chicken in red wine, I think, but I remember more clearly the bowl of oranges that appeared and seemed to replace everything that was on the table. At the end of the night, Etel, sitting behind the bowl of oranges, talked about her distrust of—maybe her disdain for—the archive, and the tendency or the desire to archive everything, to save everything. It was almost as if she said anything, and that she preferred for it all to disappear in death.

Lisa keeps asking, Where is Etel?

dear Brandon, as usual, I think “where is Brandon,” Etel wrote, on March 11, 2016.

dear, dear Brandon, so many clouds crossed the skies since we heard from each other, where are you? she wrote, on June 10, 2014.

Even though I haven’t been able to open Etel’s books, I have been reading our emails, which begin on July 27, 2009.

I started writing a paragraph here about the first letter I wrote, by hand, to Etel, in July 2009, and about Etel’s response, by email, later that month (July 27), but I stopped. I started writing, in that paragraph, about my and Lisa’s visit to Lebanon that summer, about Lisa meeting Etel and Simone after I had returned to the US, about Lisa and Etel going to a documentary film festival together and seeing Khiam by Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige, but I stopped.

I started writing a paragraph here about how Etel is an element, i.e. a primary constituent of matter, but I stopped.

A few years, maybe five, after the pizzeria in Paris, Lisa and I drove to Etel and Simone’s house in Sausalito. We were staying with my sister in Oakland. The house is a few roads up from the highway. The grass in the yard was shaggy, Easter hay. There was an apple tree, maybe two. All the apples were in the grass. We peered through the windows of the house. Empty. No furniture, nothing. We walked up to the front door and, despite the house being empty, rang the bell. I don’t know if there was a bell, actually, but we put our finger on the house and gently pushed the house. Then we turned around and there, opposite the house, was Mount Tamalpais.

I emailed Etel about our visit, the apples and the mountain, but I can’t find the email, nor her email back. Maybe I didn’t email her about it, maybe she didn’t email back. She started an email to me once by writing, dear Brandon, not writing to you simply means that I think of you all the time (April 17, 2015). I developed the habit, over many years, of telling Etel things that I was seeing without actually telling her, without actually writing. Even then I was already starting to talk to myself. That is the actuality, these days, of my relationships with my closest friends, whom I love and rarely see, and whom I have, more terribly, no absolute guarantee of ever seeing again: that our relationships consist in large part and most presently of me talking to myself.

Brandon Shimoda is a yonsei poet/writer. His recent books include THE GRAVE ON THE WALL (City Lights), which received the PEN Open Book Award, and THE DESERT (The Song Cave). In 2014 he co-edited, with Thom Donovan, TO LOOK AT THE SEA IS TO BECOME WHAT ONE IS: AN ETEL ADNAN READER (Nightboat Books). He has two books forthcoming: HYDRA MEDUSA, poetry and prose, from Nightboat, and a book on the afterlife of Japanese American incarceration, from City Lights. His front door faces a mountain.