The moon sits on its empty throne pouring silver into the river like a forge disgorging purpose. The water accepts and spins its winnings into rippling silk that flows from bank to bank. Upon the shores the huddled masses lap their zees, feeding the night’s currency into tomorrow’s activities. Out of sight the curlews cry in mournful account. The night, they say, is fleet and fierce and makes the cost of living great. From the comforts of their black morass the stars record these tender exchanges, charged with value of an incredible order their bid for life never depreciates.
Stuart lifts the metre lid and reveals a writhing pile of pupae. I watch them swarm and undulate while he takes the measure. ‘They don’t bite,’ or sting? ‘Natives are nice,’ he tells me. I wonder what it’s like to be a hive mind, would you even know you were dissatisfied unless the overbrain told you so? ‘The workers are all women,’ he says, finishing up, ‘and all the men are slaves.’ Stuart slides the lid in place amidst a cloud of buzzing curiosity. ‘I feel sorry for the queen though, all that control without the ability to abdicate.’
Sometimes I put on old ensembles and dance in front of her. Do I look miserable, I ask. ‘No,’ she says, ‘just a bit ridiculous.’ She’s right, of course, and means so well, these items no longer fit me, probably never did, and certainly don’t look as fetching as I ever believed. We go together now and I pick new things to pull over my skin. I hold them up in front of me and ask, do you like the way this makes me look? ‘Honey,’ she says, ‘I think you look best when you don’t cover yourself up.’
I can’t remember what it feels like to want to love you. The yearning vice that clamps a heart. The penetrating gaze that dissects a mind. The casual touch that quakes a body. The balm that soothes a soul. The libidinous tide of lust. I can remember what it feels like to want to hate you. The smell of burning flesh and ash. The sandpaper rasp of an out screamed oesophagus. The unshakable tremors and knotted muscles. The deep and unabiding rage and confusion. The nightmares and exhaustion. The barren sensation of evaporated tears. The salted wounds. The fears.
I often forget that people aren’t made up of my experiences and I wear myself out digging expository foundations for them. It’s not that I’m esoteric or eclectic, but the body of my life stands slightly aside the accepted practice of living. Even simple jokes land like a bricked window if they’re lucky enough to hit at all. What’s the difference between me and cancer, I might say, well, there’s a chance you’ll actually get cancer. Of course nobody laughs, not even me, and I wonder if they’re right, maybe sadness isn’t that funny, but how would I know?
I get more paint on my hands than the canvas and look upon myself with reckless appreciation. ‘I can’t make art,’ I tell the walls, but the inside voice tells me otherwise. What if, it says, what if you were the art? Imagine the entirety of space, the unlikelihood of earth, billions of compositions in fleshy permutation, vying and dying, striving and thriving, conniving against infinitesimal odds to exist in improbable events. Existence, then, must be art. I put down my paints and look at myself again through this new lens. Beauty lies in the I of the beholder.
‘You always write me laughing,’ she says, smiling. ‘I don’t think I laugh that much, do I?’ Maybe that’s how I like to think of you, I say, maybe that’s how I always think of you, full of the joy that you give me. Arris lays her hand over mine and kisses me swiftly on the cheek. ‘I’m sad sometimes too,’ she says, ‘or angry, preoccupied, tired.’ Her face shifts through emotions like sunlight moves through leaves and breaks a frown with a laugh. ‘You’re going to write this down aren’t you?’ I tell her, this life writes itself.
We take each other’s stories and retell them as our own. ‘Did you know,’ she will say, and I’ll smile while listening to her iterate. For giggles I unwrap her anecdotes and place myself inside, she takes them back as gifts and brags to everyone. I make copious notes which she files smiling. ‘I’m compiling our lives,’ she tells me. I place this info on index, later she will read it back as hard reflex in passionate rote. Making no amendments, I’ll say I love what she wrote. She will tell me, ‘Honey, I couldn’t have done it alone.’
Nearly dead with the effort of saying nothing, I tell her, you are one gram of exotic spice in a time of cartography when a dozen lives would have ended at sea fetching favour for a queen. You are the cutting need for chisels, the impulse to etch, and the pull to put pigment to canvas. You are the stars under glass in magnified incandescence. You are sonnets, scores, and combustion engines, literature, plays, the mother of invention. You are the explorer in every heart and the dream dwelling in every mind. You are all that and evermore besides.
I have too many feelings, they overflow and pour onto the ground muddying the feet of those closest to me. I collect the runoff in little jars and ferment them in the dark. People invited into my life will often rifle through my closet, searching for warmth or skeletons, and stumble upon these bitter preserves. Why do you keep such things, they say, and I tell them I was raised not to waste. It’s no wonder that you’re sick, they say, leaving me to marinate. One day I will have collected all I can and never feel empty again.
I treat my fingers as nascent nomads trekking between oases. Their journey of enlightenment is never ending. They move constantly, treading sensuous landmarks and soaking in the succour of skin. Swami of sensation still reticent to teach, they learn all they can reach, locusts swarming a beach, rampant yet methodical, their knowledge poised beneath thin dermal frocking, never frolicking but at peace with the pace they keep. Their journey has been steep, moving from sleep to the summit of a third eye’s awakening, quaking with philosophy. I treat my fingers better than myself, offering them only to the worthy.
When I’m empty she feeds me little morsels of care and reminds me I was starving. I still sigh too much but she’s as patient with me as she’s ever been, always asking what’s wrong with actual concern. Once, I told her I was scared that love might have an expiration date, that I might wake up one day unknowingly disqualified from standing next to her. She took my hand, shook her head, and looked at me seriously. ‘Love doesn’t work that way,’ she said, ‘it’s got a longer shelf life than any ration and only spoils from mishandling.’
I’ve been hurling myself at the concept my whole life, an unimpeachable pragma, a word very much like love. The laughter of ludus, hatsukoi coy but uncoiled, more amar. That achai longing and its painful encantar. Cuddled like katl wrapped in the flames of anurakti, ishq fuelling shaghaf in the searc for one’s priya. The ur well of grá feeding the flesh pits of pure kama, riotously gratifying rati and unapologetically unpainted anpu. So plaintively pinnariyok but unabashedly ungayok, it is to liefde forever, more mehr than man, wondering if wǔ èr líng says more than I love you.
I wake up laughing and singing. ‘You’re so weird,’ she says, and laughs alongside me. I had a dream I was you, I tell her, or us, or some glorious amalgam. ‘Maybe it was our child?’ Maybe, I say, but it was more like, more really, like I’m becoming something better. ‘You are becoming,’ she says, and kisses me briskly on the nose. We laugh loudly in tandem, the little mirths multiplied by coupling. ‘Come on,’ she says, dragging me from reverie, ‘there’s so much day outside, let’s not waste it on love.’ In love, though, nothing is lost.