a la recherche du temps perdu

Metronomic

Begin with time a clockhand’s seconds devaluing the pace of a sun they are supposed to somehow simulate     You were circadian rising with the dawn to hammer out your day even before the coffee had brewed the keys like pellets I could hear in the next room drowning my dreams     There was a rule that if you were working I could not intrude I could not make my presence known my breath too loud my movements as I untangled myself from the bedsheets too harsh so that they would disrupt your rhythm

I would sit with my right hand cupped in my left the thumb tips touching in a circle like the sloped sun over this chrome city or the patter of annular drops hissing against the sides of the overflowing coffeepot you long forgot was on the burner the circumference of your body its bones as it towered over me faking linearity the night before in its thrusts its jabs     I would meditate until you disrupted me without realizing you were enacting the very violence about which you had warned me and so I said nothing as I let your breathing intrude my lungs as I let your frenzy contaminate whatever peace I had been able to locate you throwing shirts and ties and trousers over the bed so that some lash themselves against my bare legs one tweed tie looping me right around the neck

Do you know what time it is? you ask panicked because working before work hours has now made you late for work itself     I offer no answer but look instead out of the window to the high-rise beside yours I see a woman in the frame moving her arm up and down as if she were ironing I see her put the back of her hand to her mouth to stifle a yawn and go back to her sawing movements the same I employed the night before after you finished removed yourself from my body like shrapnel and immediately began to snore     I recognize in this unknown woman’s rhythms the lonely motions of masturbating while one’s lover is right beside one     But what time is that to answer your question or how best to qualify experiences that exist beyond the scope of temporality for god forbid I run in to grab a cup of coffee while your keys are being pounded like my body was by yours the similar rhythm of it even disgusts me so early in the morning that your body or that your fingers house the same narcissism just dependent on different settings whether it be dawn or dusk

I remove a navy spotted tie from my forearm and hold it up a voiceless verdict and you smile in a sort of hazy agreement holding it up against the shirt you have already chosen knowing that I have picked a perfect match     For this I receive the quickest of kisses as one might kiss one’s pet goat or pat a young child on the head for waiting patiently at a street corner and with this you persist: But really, do you know what time it is?     There are clocks littered like forgotten relics across each wall all varying by several minutes your watch face down against your wrist’s pulse point your mobile face down on the dresser     What is this urgent need then to know the exact time or to ask the time of me as if I were a sundial or a barometer or because of a failed attempt to sit before you intruded with a body I want only at the moments when I want it that I have somehow retrieved a deeper answer about this very hour or this precise minute solely from sitting cross-legged on your cum-stained sheets

It is time, I say, for there is no other way I can state this and imbue it with the meaning I desire the syntax flimsy for I have not yet had coffee but I gauge from the anxiety of the scene that it is time yes it is time     And so I place my feet on the floor and the weight of the bed holding me while I questioned something or asked for something becomes a phantom memory now as I hook the navy spotted tie around your neck and pull pulling for all I have given you in taking myself away from you pulling for all you have thrust upon me in making yourself always noticed center-stage the insistent mannequin I must dress each morning before I can begin my own     The second hand on the wall clock behind your neck seems to have stopped but I trace the orbit with my eye placing my concave hands on your shoulders to signal that it is time

In some sense I have given you the time for which you have asked for I at least hear the front door slam before heading into the kitchen to mop up the coffee that has boiled over on the linoleum floor     My time begins now just at the point where the second hand has halted its cycle to the slamming of a door the removal of a body for which time as well as I must make allowance     While my own coffee boils I sit again hands in a circular mudra and I think of bodies and the woman’s motions being mine as I finish myself off with you spent and nearly dead beside me     A deluge of bells from the corner church means that it is 8 o’clock or that the church’s clock believes it to be 8 o’clock and so knowing that for certain or not for certain I sit with it for a while the only intrusion an imaginary arm in a suspended window the click of seconds passing even as they do not a subtle waft of your cologne staining my nostrils each time I inhale a new moment

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Serengeti

Your body is something we do not speak about even though I have lapped from it deranged its hairs a threat a covenant of rain     I have held you inside-out inverted Pieta cradling the crooked head in the back of my throat so that even the doctor ejaculated how the illness left its traces the same creeping hues a sunrise deploys before conquering a desert entirely     I showed you the paperwork as if it somehow justified us spending a night with rocks between us blockades or barriers to obscure the middle ground where we overlap iteratively contaminating until again you fuck me flimsily

Your body is something we do not speak about even though it is an itch banging him the tent-flap barely concealing the act     I have felled you upside down in the valley’s lisp where rocks are as ill as leaves and the sun steals all color from your skin descending downward     in the waiting room uncertain who the patient is the forms blanks reminding us what your body is capable of if I touch it here if I tongue it there     a nurse says something about sand strains stripes serotypes      I recall you coming bit-lipped me gazing upward at photos framing your spoils from the Serengeti

Your body is something we do not speak about even though I have caught you in the act your face shrouded Tuareg-style all its serrated edges bandaged     I have long given up accusing you but the emaciated trees never cease their chattering diagnosing balled prophesying letting bones shatter so bloodily     when we are out of this I will invent a nickname for you that shall with each utterance turn your balls blue     I wait in rooms now that are makeshift labyrinths overhearing the sounds of sex covered by winds many deserts employ to shroud such secrecies

Your body is something we do not speak about even though it has sullied mine my desire for you the white skin lining a parched gullet     where once there were trees there are now rooks where once there was desert there are now mementos into which I will never figure framed or otherwise     if I kiss you will you destroy me again a creak as the flap flies upward two men emerging with the sun sticky between them trousers sleek with semen     if he ever prayed as I preyed on you I wouldn’t wonder what germs he knew scattered stamens snapping intransigent autumns branding us castrati

Winter Light; or, Luther, Part 1

i.
The chapel is silent shaken only in winter by frozen branches snapping slickly outside the windows the interior lit only by a lone flame so that we can see each other and they cannot see us     whether the limbs or the loiterers we cannot say but there is god in every corner of this place and our disappointment with not having found Luther here in time to help with the nails and the shouting in the square makes us not only hermits but failed heretics     Here I stand, I can do no other     I once tried to tell you what the winter light does to me I pointed to the blue hue it cast on everything around 4 in the afternoon lighting things up from the inside like the underside of a moon     you saw no such blue but instead a radiant glow covering every object that surrounded us in the chapel room into which we have bundled ourselves for the season to hibernate to wait out the raids     How does one explain that particular shade of blue to another who cannot see it even at the tip of a pointed forefinger for it is there where the pews are screwed into the wooden floorboards and it is there where the too-high windows give way to the grey sky just there (look) in the corners as if the blue will soon usurp the sombre cast making it all the more deadening when it lays its claim     And so I keep silent while I suffer the winter light as we live out some chamber play inside a place that once was holy to others and is no more but that is still holy to us who are much less     We crouch in shadows where I read passages from Blake (we who are but for a time and who pass away in winter) or Woolf (melancholy were the sounds on a winter’s night) to prove I am correct in wanting to bed you behind the sacristan and you read me Keats’s odes to the seasons or else Shelley’s Stanzas Written in Dejection either to offset the melancholy or else to drive me down deeper into Baudelaire’s limping days

ii.
In the film there is a scene in a stairwell where the chiaroscuro is the sole point as if when we face one another it is only at the intersection of light and shadow of hope and despair that a composite image emerges that is worth salvaging     I save scraps of paper and think if we ever get out of here alive before the winter has snowed us under that I would like to feign Luther and nail a revised version of the Theses to all doors that can take a nailing or that are sans crucifix     I wonder if you will help me with this or if you are my gaoler I your task a kind of seasonal lull between the archivist job and the university term recommencing as if I might be something dangerous the town has entrusted you to keep secluded cloistered cut off from all light save the blue that always always does me in     Perhaps you not seeing the blue gives your true role away for if you were on my side and wished to paper the town with a newer version of the Theses you would tell me you saw the blue even where you did not for saying you do not where I do already borders on a diagnosis of sorts especially with Christ looking down at us—whether we are clothed or not—all the while head bent to the left as if he too nails and all cannot face the blue of winter     The moments before he died, Christ was seized by doubt. Surely that must have been his greatest hardship? God’s silence     It is no wonder Luther did his work just before the season hit for we always knew he was a smart man and now that the chapels have emptied like asylums after the discrediting of the medical profession the only creatures left are those still with things to add words to say phrases to change emend

iii.
One night I ask you to take my hand so that I can sense the pulse as if in this silent world where only the branches snap I might learn which side you are on from how quickly or slowly it beats     You lay there languid with your palm in the air closing your eyes against the winter light which finally makes me think that you too see what I do and in my hands is still the box of nails with which I hope one day to complete what Luther began     we have lived here and read aloud here and licked each other’s bodies here for what else do two people do in this season alone in a chapel all disciples off to the sea or the city     I take the heel of your hand in mine cupping it lovingly because it is not yours that I see make us both turn to the left pressing the backs of our conjoined palms into the yielding wood of the nearest pew one long nail enough held point out between my teeth if only for the hammer of god (Is not my word like as a fire and like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces?) to make us bleed blue preferably but only enough to be shattered yet still somehow believed

Crates

all asunder with you him under me
the woozy walls no longer walls but shadowed
life-sized Joseph Cornell macrocosmic boxes
into which his mother—for you fails and you fail
at the minutiae such as shrouding objects
in bubble wrap or else making the man
to whom you spoke semen-spent promises
feel as if he has been boxed in that one there
by mum’s Long Island kid gloves—buried a life

for aren’t all moves burials of sorts
even if this one happens just after a birth
after we have unearthed a possible us—the bus
I take now to get to your new river-flanked flat
nearly runs an elderly woman over at a crossing
the bus driver wailing “Fuck fuck fuck” lung-
deep we swerve witnessing nothing into the terminal—
though I know by now to trust no man who swears
to a breathless body beside him responsible for his orgasm

and so I let you go wondering where
your fucking mother packed my things or even
your Serengeti photos which would at least
cause me to recall the man for whom I fell
each box a diorama containing shards of a life
into which I barely figured—my life with him
is only at the end of this narrative outside boxes
in some new city whose dull rush we said we would learn
before your mother insisted on packing things for you

I buried a life too in order to be here with him you
the box with the rapist the box with the Russian bear
the box with the eviction lawyer I let drink my blood
because I loved him enough to hope it killed him—buried
gone but retrievable if you were to ask me about them
not duct-taped in unknown configurations only
mommy knows where the dildos are the cock rings
the first thing I found again to greet the new city with you
was a slim band of gold I’d hoped you’d slip back on

for despite moves and burials the memories
are unrelenting—Cornell could take any box and
rearrange items space temporality meaning itself (let him)—
but blood doesn’t wash off cleanly and the you I wanted
would have been bloodied open raw ripely vulnerable
so that I could pack your boxes so that I could know
your ghosts and begin to tell you mine—in a way
the walls could hold us for a time only before
the boxes capsized before and as you begin to forget

me

Ten Ways to Remember a Year

i.
The mountain rocked like a clotheshorse you obscured my view     your breath reeked of the fact that you would stray     I did     we stood under its mass arguing over what’s on at the National Gallery how crude the sticky parts of sex are

ii.
Chrysanthemums lined the wainscoting that year     which country did I lose you in a lone drawn blind I snaked up hurling your convict’s prize ring from my finger out the window     you salvaged it in the morning along with a discarded but still smokable cigarette I took both

iii.
They painted the walls black and installed tracklighting bringing out the veins in the skins those severed limbs that populate any given Caravaggio murder scene      after I got drunk and sat beneath the queen’s Carrara petticoats     you weren’t bound for the cross but I let you have your way anyway

iv.
On the umpteenth trek across the pond I read poems shouting I was wrong dull telegraphing in wee hours for you were as fucked as I was     we read Akhmatova a different war entirely but by then we were on different shores my shoes long forgotten at the cobbler’s

v.
I positioned him in the center of the Rothkos at the Tate Modern reds so sedate they suggested a suicide attempt     “I understand it” he said slurring epiphany then skulked off to finger an array of baroqe codpieces     I stared at those squares for hours but it didn’t come

vi.
A Pimlico summer I was dreaming of mountains without you     you entered the hotel room grabbing my hipbones they were gambles I won or I lost depending on what name you called me the morning after     your heat was spent by my body or a dream

vii.
In rooms in seasons the claustrophobia accentuated the rifts     we played out our regular tricks donning Duras sans the deed     by then we were too familiar too bored too us     the chrysanthemums didn’t offer solace instead we packed them in cedar boxes like effigies

viii.
I pawn the retrieved ring     knuckle still whitemarked by it somewhere in Camden Town     outside a fringe theatre a man pins me to a wall calls me dashing then draws blood     when he leaves pigeons pluck at the ring this stranger rescued I slip it stupidly into my cigarette box

ix.
Winter wreaked damage to the clocktower in the roundabout     we no longer deal in time our ghost town knew our rhythms were antsy even criminal     I made dents hands measuring seconds (the scenes we enacted) in snowpiles     I remember that I’d yet again poisoned the drinking water

x.
Our last autumn we packed boxes lamenting how the city had ejected us some Eden     on the countertop beside the microwave and my expired passport a post-it note stuck to a print of Guernica read “I tried”     you could have been any man leaving everyone apart from me

Virginia Woolf’s “Reminiscences”: Figuring Death

Virginia Woolf claims to have written “Reminiscences” for her nephew Julian Bell, even if, as Jeanne Schulkind notes, he “can only be held responsible in a very remote sense for inspiring this memoir,” because Woolf began work on the piece during the summer of 1907, and Julian wasn’t born until February 1908. This was a pivotal time for Woolf: she was branching out from writing book reviews to writing fiction—e.g., by this time she had begun Melymbrosia, which would later be published in a watered-down version as The Voyage Out, her first novel—and, as stylistic experiments, she would, in Schulkind’s words, “assign” herself writing exercises, the content of which ranged from “descriptions of places visited [to] the lives of close friends or relations.”

Since “on various occasions she declared her intention of rewriting them at set intervals,” it is perhaps best to read a piece like “Reminiscences,” which opens the posthumously-published collections Moments of Being, as a biographical portrait housed within an autobiographical framework and also as a letter to the next generation. In the former mode, Woolf’s “reminiscences” here begin long before her birth; the piece opens with the admission: “Your mother was born in 1879, and as some six years at least must have passed before I knew that she was my sister [Vanessa], I can say nothing of that time.” And yet Woolf dips far beyond “that time” to consider her mother Julia’s first marriage to Herbert Duckworth—a marriage that yielded three children: George, Stella, and Gerald—and the early years of her second marriage to Leslie Stephen, the memories of which can hardly be vividly recalled by Woolf given that she was the penultimately born child of the four children the Stephens’ marriage produced.

The direct address with which “Reminiscences” opens (“your mother”) signals that Julian Bell is the reader for whom Woolf intended this piece, but given the dates above, her experimentation with new forms as she made the shift from nonfiction to fiction, and how Woolf offers the “you”—who is both Julian and yet also not Julian—a portrait of her sister Vanessa’s youth before she, Virginia, had even been born, “Reminiscences” is a piece that is more complex than a simple letter to the next generation. Because Woolf is present as the narrator, and because in recollected scenes from her childhood—which she remembers as mostly composed of “two large spaces”: “the drawing room and nursery” and “Kensington gardens”—are interspersed with “memories” of her mother Julia’s earlier life (which Woolf pieces together based on behaviors, words, and even silences from her own reminiscences of her mother’s magnanimous personality), it seems fair to read this piece is a hybrid. As Schulkind remarks: “in addressing the memoir to the next generation and in broadening her subject to include the Stephen family[,]… no meaningful distinction can be made … between biography (of Vanessa) and autobiography.”

And this integration of personal history into her fiction is something with which all Woolf’s readers are accustomed, especially in terms of the spectral figure of Leslie Stephen who haunts much of Woolf’s work—as does her brother Thoby, whose death is fictionalized in Jacob’s Room, as well as in the elusive character Percival in her masterpiece The Waves (very much Woolf’s attempt at working through, in the Freudian sense, this trauma). Julia’s death has been remarked upon by countless critics as the inspiration for Mrs. Ramsay in To the Lighthouse, and the writing of that novel caused Woolf to feel she had finally been able to lay her mother’s memory to rest in an analytic way: “I suppose that I did for myself what psychoanalysts do for their patients. I expressed some very long felt and deeply felt emotion. And in expressing it I explained it and then laid it to rest.”

The fact that Julia Stephens figures so prominently in the opening sections of “Reminiscences,” as an eternally living memory and as a ghost that will never fully relinquish its grasp on Woolf and her sister’s children, stresses just how traumatic her mother’s death was for the young Virginia (to Julian: “your grandmother’s death was disastrous”)—yet another autobiographical working-through that makes itself manifest in her fiction. Woolf recollects: “She kept herself marvellously alive to all the changes that went on round her, as though she heard perpetually the ticking of a vast clock and could never forget that some day it would cease for all of us.” Big Ben strikes each passing hour in Mrs. Dalloway, the uninvited reminder of time running away from and outside of us, tempus fugit, but—in that novel’s counterpoint narrative method, joining together Clarissa Dalloway and Septimus Smith—the fact that we all must die, each strike a reverberative memento mori.

And, of course, Thoby’s full Christian name was Julian Thoby, a fact that lends a deeper level to Woolf’s opening address to Julian Bell. It is, in many ways, a text addressed both to the living and to the dead. One of the most moving passages in the first section of “Reminiscences” recalls what Woolf terms her mother’s “last fantastic farewell”:

The dead, so people say, are forgotten, or they should rather say, that life has for the most part little significance to any of us. But now and again on more occasions than I can number, in bed at night, or in the street, or as I come into the room, there she is; beautiful, emphatic, with her familiar phrase and her laugh; closer than any of the living are, lighting our random lives as with a burning torch, infinitely noble and delightful to her children.

At the same time, Woolf acknowledges that writing is a futile act to paint an accurate picture of the dead; this accounts for her iterative, often obsessive lifelong project of working-through such a primary trauma in her fictional and nonfictional work, most especially in those pieces blurring the lines between genre or medium (these “flying narrative[s]”)—writing about death risks obscuring the subject it so wishes to immortalize: “Written words of a person who is dead or still alive tend most unfortunately to drape themselves in smooth folds annulling all evidence of life.” As soon as the words have been spent, so, too, has any surviving shred of the life they wish to revivify:

But when we exclaim at the extravagant waste of such a life we are inclined no doubt to lose that view of the surrounding parts, the husband and child and home which if you see them as a whole surrounding her, completing her, robs the single life of its arrow-like speed, and its tragic departure… [T]hey speak of her as a thing that happened, recalling, as though all round her grew significant, how she stood and turned and how the bird sang loudly, or a great cloud passed across the sky. Where has she gone? What she said has never ceased.

And mining this field of grief means that the dead can continue to speak through the living: in reliving “the greatest disaster that could happen,” fueled by a writer’s compulsion to repeat trauma in order to work through it, the risk of succumbing to the sorrow (“I came to conceive of this tree as the symbol of sorrow, for it was silent, enduring and without fruit”) is an ever-present danger. However, to live without remembering one’s dead is to risk forgetting not only where one comes from, but who one is, how one’s story repeats or resists those of the prior generations:

[W]hen you examine feelings with the intense microscope that sorry lends, it is amazing how they stretch, like the finest goldbearer’s skin, over immense tracts of substance. And we, poor children that we were, conceived it to be our duty evermore to go searching for these atoms, wherever they might lie sprinkled about the surface, the great mountains and oceans, of the world. It is pitiable to remember the hours we spent in such minute speculations.

What is “pitiable” in “searching for these atoms” of sorrow is not that sorrow should be ignored; it is not that children or adults should flee from sorrow, fearing it will somehow mar their experiences of happiness, joy, contentment. Rather, what Woolf suggests here is that one mustn’t waste time spending hours examining sorrow underneath “intense microscope[s]”: whether viewed from afar or whether broken down into atoms, sorrow remains a rupture in the fabric of our daily existence. And it is only through writing, an act of therapeutic reckoning with such grief, such age-old rents in our psychological makeups, that we can fuse fact and fiction, history and correspondence, lamentation and outpourings of wonderment: as life is lived across boundary lines, so death must be processed by by following the journey wherever it takes one—so long as it does not take one deeper into the unproductive realm of silence. If what Leslie Stephen said while living “has never ceased,” then it is Woolf’s task to interpret these words, fragments, vestiges, and then transmute them into the written word so that death is not the end of their stories or their stories’ future transmissions.

two recent reviews

Two reviews of mine were published recently, but I’ve been remiss with updating this blog—hence the belated announcement:

1. “‘My dream of a fictional archive’: Nathalie Léger’s Suite for Barbara Loden,” Music & Literature, March 2015.

New-Wanda-1-cropped_web-728x1024Léger’s book began as a short film notice commissioned for an encyclopedia, a brief notice that was to give an objective, factual summary of cult American filmmaker Barbara Loden, known almost solely for being Hollywood giant Elia Kazan’s wife despite the fact that she directed and starred in one film during her short life: a 1970 film entitled Wanda, an anti-Bonnie-and-Clyde film in the cinéma verité mode. Léger’s project soon grows, morphing into a consideration (one that she terms several time as an “excavation”) of female artistry, how one can write the history of a woman when others’ histories eclipsing a more marginal figure like Loden. How much of trying to unearth a woman about whom no one knows very much—and about whom there are either no materials extant, or else only fragments to be pieced together—an act of writing not only her narrative, but also the narrative of the female artist embarking on such a project? Léger’s prix-winning book is a must-read for all writers, but especially women writers, in how she centralizes the act of discovering one’s subject alongside pieces of oneself in the journey that writing invariably is.

belomor2. “Ruins, Mourning, and Cigarettes: Nicolas Rothwell’s Belomor,” Open Letters Monthly, April 2015.

Belomor, in particularly, is one of the finest, more erudite, and shatteringly profound books I have read in at least the past several years. (Unfortunately, I read it just prior to 2014’s end-of-year holiday season, so it did not make my end-of-year picks—which I posted on my Tumblr, along with those selected by fellow critics, writers, and publishers who were kind enough to get involved in my own brand of a “year in reading” series when I asked them to take part.) Fans of W. G. Sebald and Gerald Murnane will be magnetically drawn to Rothwell’s wholly unique work, a project that synthesizes aesthetics, histories, temporalities, and narratives in such a profoundly melancholy way, and yet with such humanity and respect for our shared—albeit different—experiences of loss, suffering, and cultural shifts that I dare anyone to read Belomor and not be breathless, floored, and beyond impressed with Rothwell’s very singular skill.

Kay Boyle, Duchamp, and Brâncuși

Mother transformed the legendary [literary and artistic] names into familiar people whose dedication to their work set them apart. I do not know how, among countless other divinations, she realized it was important to take me to the Armory Show in New York in 1913 to see Marcel Duchamp’s “Nude Descending a Staircase” and Brâncuși’s “Mlle. Pogany” and his “Bird in Space.” (But what Mother did not and could not have divined then was that exactly thirty years later Duchamp would be godfather to my son. Nor could she know that in Paris in the twenties, when Brâncuși went off to other cities where his sculptures were being shown, he would leave his snow-white Samoyed with me to care for.)

— Kay Boyle, from “The Family” in Words That Must Somehow Be Said: Selected Essays, 1927-84

Applewood

There should have been a meridian with bleeding cloudlines ransacking the view while the cowslips sunk under a spell as your feet fairly felled them          Neither of us can recall the urgency we felt on top of a skyscraper to take six buses into the middle of the countryside (in March, no less); neither of us can remember what we had hoped to find in green-arbored labyrinths—the azure blur of a sky spotted swellingly with eerie moorland gusts—apart from solitude yet here we are still joined like marionettes at the hip with no fortunes in our hands and no lethal means of severance          Binocular vision you hawk your gaze askant and swear you can see Snowdon in the east so I turn west toward where Snowdon actually is and say nothing encountering only fog and lowlying smoke which I thought we had left the city to avoid          On an outcropping of rock I imagine the primed back of Friedrich’s wanderer and his planted dangerously dangling toe and feed you pieces of applewood cheese straight from a knife’s serrated edge almost wanting to draw blood but smiling pathetically instead          You do not even touch my skin, I can no longer remember the last time you spoke my name aloud while looking me head-on in the eyes, I look upward and around to view nothing but to sense rather the perilous power of nature and a sublime kind of erection and I no longer wonder if what I sought was the same as what it was you did          (the same horizonline refusing a pattern resisting a building’s pointed linearity the same banal mood that stems from the threat of rain the same stench of our lackadaisical bodies—yours rank like a dying lamb’s, mine bold as a guillotine’s—the same sound of potent silence between us which not even touch being absent can assuage)          I take a mossy patch of stone beneath my skull for a pillow and shut my eyes against the balking barrenness of fields the yawningly monotonous hillocks pretending for a moment a moment quicker than the flick of that steed’s tail that you and I are back in the city—the smell of you helps the memory along its fiction—with the same gulf between us only less room than the moors which serve now to exaggerate rather than to obfuscate

KGB

I dreamed you once a mountain, sloppy thighs where you rub the stories out, stories spun by antecedents you never knew apart from portraits hanging in a Georgian foyer, tales of exchanging a Rembrandt for a wife, a complete set of Baedeker for a one-night stand, a heelless shoe found lying by the side of the

But I’m not telling you anything profound; this is nothing next to your mythologies passed down from lung to lung and fashioned haphazardly into laborers’ songs like that summer your grandfather wheezed a chord, grabbed your wrist to force your stubborn skin against his drugged heart murmuring a word like “traitor” or “comrade” and then telling you about his hiding place in the back of his bureau where there were stamps, knives, and he said a word that only you could free

I could free you of nothing. One night in September you pushed me sharp against the banister so the bones cracked, leaving abruptly with your passport, a pack of condoms, and a screen of deceptions you pulled off wool eyes and all your mother even rang while you were sweltering elsewhere; she kept repeating sibylline: “I hope he knows what he’s doing”

I ransacked the flat, pulling out drawers, throwing hangared clothing on the bed, rifling through filing cabinets, the trunk of your car; I thought I could only locate what your grandfather had left you in your absence, knowing you would never travel abroad with such treasure; I thought I could fix the cracked banister and salvage what had come between us if I knew what you held sacred—instead I spread my legs on top of our clothes-strewn bed and fucked a stranger somberly, getting at some semblance truth for a mere moment before he exploded

You arrived back in quite a state, your thighs and cheeks lobster-colored and you didn’t even say hello before launching into explanations: how you understand now why the Rembrandt meant more than being solitary; why the aesthetic and cultural components of all cities can never be caged truthfully in prose because it is a visual phenomenon that surpasses the capacity of words; why the great authors of your grandfather’s country threw their heroines beneath trains or men or rocks or hard places

You unraveled the entire narrative from beginning to end as if it could possibly be mapped chronologically; but I had heard these prophecies before when you were drunk on a fire escape in a city we both hated but hated to leave behind. Why choose me as a confessor when you confessed to spending the whole week with him? Instead I loll my head outside the window toward a skyline I always resented, body of stagnant water, chain smoking and leaving my fingerprints all over the cupboards, the countertops, the paintings, the bookshelves, the cat

Fucking was irrelevant but expected—you pushed my head into the pillow to silence any questions, I was whomever you wanted my body to be, and when your mobile buzzed off the nightstand I feigned an orgasm because we both knew it was him; we both knew he knew you better than I ever could; I hold my breath for sixty seconds while you take the call out on the veranda in your boxers

I dreamed you once but hemispheres got in the way, the proverbial “what if” or the ten-year itch, and ironically your mother didn’t ring once as if she knew it was over; you return, semen dripping on the plaid pattern of your shorts, the phone limp in your hand as we both are now you have said you are leaving

How would it have turned out had I dreamt you an archipelago instead of a mountain? Would we remain here by this lake I loathe to finish our days hating but loving each other, breaking glass and fucking ourselves bloody, ad infinitum, ad nauseam, severed in the end like snails perhaps but you might have told me what word he left you: I might now know at least what happened to you

Your grandfather’s KGB history always seemed to me like a red herring; I remember you baiting me with it as if trying to seduce me when I was yet a stranger to you and your foreignness was something to which I was drawn like a cliff’s edge. How was the weather in São Paulo? Did you use condoms at least? When they came for him in the end, he was already dead, a corpse blocking the refrigerator door, but the contents of the bureau crossed the ocean in your carry-on

You say: “We read together there; his hair is growing grey; he has a pouch now where once his belly was flat; but we picked up the thread from ten years ago”—there is a pause, because the pause is in fact me, I am the decade-long lull in your story: instead of feeling betrayed, on fire, murderous, should I feel guilt for coming in between you and

And yet he was the oracle to whom you told everything (even the Rembrandt), every morsel of how you stepped over his body and did as he wished, emptying the bureau before the agents arrived to bury the truth. You have shared your life, your body, your bank account, your soul with me, but this information is too vital, too close to the bone; instead you confess to your ex-lover in a hotel room during carnival season while I am in our flat feeding our cat wondering how much more time we have left

I will never know what you found in either the back of the bureau or in a cheap hotel by the ocean; I can only measure things in terms of loss—the nation, yourself, handed down spoiled but beatific like those fictional railway jumpers or the yellow patina that is the brush of time on the ghostly Georgian faces of your ancestors

In that season when you returned to me only to leave, there is no snow (I am so weary of hiding) so I intimate to you by turning my back that I understand even though I see nothing but shadows; in your absence then as well as since I have read my way backward so that I now lack a language with which to prove to you how empathetic I am to it all: the paternal guilt; the time we spent aloof, rancid; the loves we both lost