The first of three daily freewrite sessions began at seven in the morning. A concert of birds sang, warning males to recognize their mates with honor. A beautiful threat, calling out their own names again and again. Henry. Henry. Henry.
Henry scribbled about the mahogany armoire anchoring his longest bedroom wall, detailing its height, its grace, its decadence, only realizing as he feverishly wrote these words, smearing them in his notebook, the ballpoint pen incontinent, that these incipient thoughts were actually about her and not his painfully inert furniture. He continued on, sedulously describing its weightiness, the impossibility of relocating its mass. It had defiantly moored itself, a pressurized weight without ease. Henry looked up from the page, considered the squirming bodies of flies trapped on the windowsill of his home, white paint chipped in spots, revealing a clotted red flesh beneath. Henry considered the flies his memories of her, desirous of protection, hoping to be saved. He wished them swift stillness, to dry up and disappear, becoming unrecognizable.
In the few minutes remaining of the session, Henry listed the limbic region’s primary functions. Years ago, he’d been convinced his was broken, Irreparable. But then, he often was prone to tragic hypotheses.
How will you stay in love next time? What will you do differently? You’ll listen to Motown with greater curiosity, brought to surprising sobs by the tragedies of Tammi and Marvin. Your cyclamen will not be neglected. You will swear less. You will learn how to perfect spaghetti Bolognese. You will not assume anything.
Tony slowed by the bus stop, one block south of Steven’s apartment. On the bench to his left, a woman was slumped, nattering to her collection of plastic bags, a man prostrate at her Reeboks, blowing into a whistle like a lapsed, mad gym teacher. Tony imagined them as lovers, snoring together on her downy piles of plastic bags at night, protecting each other, precious metal whistle clasped in the curled palm of his hand. Tony considered the phrase “fave rave”, remembered toasting his own last Thanksgiving. At the table’s helm, the entire dinner party expressing glee legato, Steven’s face tilted upwards, impenetrably still.
As Tony took the right turn, he guessed it was the thousandth instance he’d done so. Once in the alley, he turned off his headlights and looked up. There, at the top of the stairwell, illuminated by austere kitchen lighting, Steven stood over the stove, watching water boil, his head indiscernible in the steam cloud. Within seconds, Steven would reach for the tea in the drawer beneath the sink. Tony held his breath. His heart seized. In longing to witness his body make this ordinary and remarkable movement, Tony’s body leaned forward in stiff anticipation.
I folded the paper into thirds and slid it into the envelope. Airmail’s delay was disappointing. For each day of transit, I crossed off the calendar with a black magic marker, miraculously deleting the days that I promised not to think of you. To not think of you was just to think of you in resistance. What trickery. This game felt worse than loathing you for leaving. There was ample room for analysis in my desperate drawings of clawing and scraping. de Kooning would have been embarrassed by the images I created, wrathful and sensate. But I only made them for you. I kissed them like little babes and sent them overseas, to you, their terrible parent who does not want them. My words underneath were not a caption. Wie wagst du mir das antun? Ich weiß jetzt, dass Ihre Liebe nicht stark genug gewesen zu ertragen haben. Ihr habt mir einen Gefallen tun. Du hast mich von der weiteren Herzschmerz gespeichert.
This morning, like all others, is cold. You’d laugh at the necessary layers of clothing I wear. It often takes me ten minutes to get dressed. If you were here, we could race. I would let you win.
She is all there.
She was melted carefully down for you
and cast up from your childhood,
cast up from your one hundred favorite aggies.
She has always been there, my darling.
She is, in fact, exquisite.
Fireworks in the dull middle of February
and as real as a cast-iron pot.
Let’s face it, I have been momentary.
A luxury. A bright red sloop in the harbor.
My hair rising like smoke from the car window.
Littleneck clams out of season.
She is more than that. She is your have to have,
has grown you your practical your tropical growth.
This is not an experiment. She is all harmony.
She sees to oars and oarlocks for the dinghy,
has placed wild flowers at the window at breakfast,
sat by the potter’s wheel at midday,
set forth three children under the moon,
three cherubs drawn by Michelangelo,
done this with her legs spread out
in the terrible months in the chapel.
If you glance up, the children are there
like delicate balloons resting on the ceiling.
She has also carried each one down the hall
after supper, their heads privately bent,
two legs protesting, person to person
her face flushed with a song and their little sleep.
I give you back your heart.
I give you permission—
for the fuse inside her, throbbing
angrily in the dirt, for the bitch in her
and the burying of her wound—
for the burying of her small red wound alive—
for the pale flickering flare under her ribs,
for the drunken sailor who waits in her left pulse,
for the mother’s knee, for the stockings,
for the garter belt, for the call—
the curious call
when you will burrow in arms and breasts
and tug at the orange ribbon in her hair
and answer the call, the curious call.
She is so naked and singular.
She is the sum of yourself and your dream.
Climb her like a monument, step after step.
She is solid.
As for me, I am a watercolor.
I wash off.
- Anne Sexton, For My Lover, Returning To His Wife
From the kitchen, she’d heard water running. In minutes, she’d found Luis naked, seated on the edge of the tub, flaccid penis and balls pressed up against its unsympathetic coldness, shrinking from it even while huddling up against it as some sort of porcelain ballast. In her fleece robe, barefoot, Bonnie had asked him what he was doing. She didn’t ask him to leave. Luis explained in untroubled tones: “I give massages in the nude.” The strain of clothing rubbing against his own body, impairing the movements he wished to impart from his own to another’s, was brutal against his skin. Luis lived as a nudist, exclusively existing naked within his own home. Bonnie thought, ‘Like Britney Spears and Steven Tyler.’ The wiry hairs on his shoulders stood on end like epaulets. She stared at them, considering their profound strength in standing upright, the shower tile behind him becoming more and more blurred with her blinkless gaze. The closeness of his pale, naked form intimately behaving like a lover reminded Bonnie of something or someone, but definitely not of Richard, who had nosed around in their darkened bedroom for years like a needy puppy.
“Our relationship was like the moment a squirrel falters as it crosses a busy street, turning back to see where its been, looking ahead to figure out where to go. That moment of hesitation is, like our marriage, fatal and ruinous. I should not have stopped moving. I should have continued running and never looked back.”
— John Banville, THE SEA
Each memory becomes increasingly imperfect. At times, she is fanatically selfish, displaying bold impudence and specious definitions of parity; in other memories, an aggrandized poetaster of the most tiresome sort, the kind that kills the joyful banter volleyed at dinner parties; in still others, she is a gorgeous, glowing, charming woman that hopeful, young academics adore. He envies the safety of their youth and capriciousness. That wonderful ability to feel virtually no regrets has been lost, replaced by a hairline creeping backwards and chronic pain in the heels of his feet, an affliction attached, mystically speaking, to misunderstanding the lives of others.
I’d met a man at some point in the later years of what could still be considered my youth, someone who wrote deliciously sinful love letters that made me nervous, wondering precisely what he’d accomplished to be so descriptive in his desires. I found myself doing what most women would do, insecure and otherwise, and imagined his previous lovers: the weight of their breasts, the cadence of a laugh, the curvature of an ankle, the smell of skin, sweet or heavy with perfumes and oils. Each woman would have known, with expediency and immediacy, how to please him and their skills would have led him joyously to this place of knowledge, relinquishing control to bring it elsewhere, somewhere unusual and throbbing. “Carnal knowledge”, I uttered aloud, to hear its starkness in the quiet of my three-room apartment. To consider my ineptitude by comparison sometimes invited thoughts of madness. There were times I buried myself in the bedroom closet, pulling down all of the plastic hangers and flaccid fabric onto my bowed head. Muffled in makeshift asylum, I would compose version after version of the letter I would never send. “My love, my heart, my raison d’etre.”