Allegory // Generation of Slaughter

The ritual of rolling whole hot bites of the pot pies of winter’s daily sup on the tongue, whistling out the steam and sucking in the wind, in the huddling culture of the far north, more northerly than imagination’s trespass and which without we would have no myths of those ancient glaciers which in memory threaten our intemperate present;

in such a place where the lands are a perpetually renewed blank page of unbroken snow, they roll on watering wet tongues hot spiced pastries salty with the flesh of the earth;

in it is metaphor and ritual, in it is self and world.

In the dark and in the snowy silences that blanket both day and night the time between meals is measured in tea, and thus intake grounds the body to the land and the air and the springs which freeze and creep icily through the bedrock, swelling and sifting the mineral finery of the depths into the water one draws for both tea and dough for the pastry which accompanies it, the same which waters the livestock from whom one draws out sweetbreads and gratifies the hearth’s fire by sacrificing the little scrub birthed by the lightbox heavens upon the parched soils of the rolling horizons.

Taking spit like the salty ocean of species and setting upon it that volcanic moment of the lived Earth, its herbs and spices and horned life-fires that gambol over tundra or sprout from root and gather against the bluster;

we find ourselves returned to earth and animal and vegetable and in drinking root-teas glinting with micaflake one varnishes over the course of decades teeth dressed as though in gold which grin out from graves when comes the time to divest each passed self of all that it has taken and return one’s own flesh to the pots which in simmering feed every successive generation;

in our history of civility and the undoing of the earth through it is the world, exterior, denied;

to lo and such a state as this which makes and sets us upon the unified variety of denial, for beyond the walls of this solitary house, a speck upon the blank plain, none shall venture;

to this container of slatted wood and no nail to speak of for our bounds are puzzled into one another, into this space likewise none shall venture and is there more than one of this place?

is its isolation its uniqueness? is its invention of itself its madness?

This is one’s box, three walls and no roof: the winds greet the hearth fire and no windows frame the view. This is one’s box, of no names nor history, erased as it is on the blanketing white winds.

Huddle near and take the pastry and savor its meats and know one’s own history: to such as this, to another generation of quiet slaughter, one bids you welcome.

//

Roll up your sleeves, you.

So says the one come from the white fields, that vast snowfall redeeming itself every hour, unspoilt by any venture of any individual from any given point: its origin is perpetual, its context vast and uncomplicated by its undifferentiated purity.

Roll up your sleeves, you, and you do so though you do not see any visiting figure in the bounds of your three puzzlelocked walls of balsa so light that every gust brings the structure to trembling: where did such wood come from in this place of perpetual and blank origination?

No such sun nor water would such wood sup upon here in this vast lightbox sky that marries the ground beneath it as though the halved horizons were not so much lovers but conjoined in a perverse twinnery that defied even planetary gravity, the snows shining back at the sky like the fuller moon from the sun yet here the night and day know no difference and instead there is only the ongoing waver between lighter and darker, neither ever fully itself and merely a weaker borrowing of something never strong enough to be its embodied opposition;

Roll up your sleeves and bear the wind, and know it, and roll back the lids of your eyes and let freeze and water in protest these gleaming orbs of your acuity, bear it all and make your perception naked to the raw and take in like kind the smoke from your smoldering hearth and the whipping winds that shall bear the punishment of remaining in this whiteness:

Venture forth, and roll up your sleeves and learn to sweat until wet in this frigid air and turn yourself into a statue in your inaction and your inaction shall be both threat and punishment and furthermore your suicide as this lightbox executes your bodily estate into mummified stupor.

Roll up your sleeves and know the stranger who comes with no body and instead creeps into your skin and slivers through your veins and let rise your hackles and as a waterbody freezes to preserve the silvered lives flashing in its depths, die and therefore come to know life.

Roll up your sleeves and know the wind and the snow and the smoldering hearthfire which is your perfume and your chrism in its glowing embers which dress in cauterized glory the marks which demarcate your usefulness in limb and procreation and thought and voice and inhalation and every sense which you can come to think of, all seven senses of reception and extension.

Roll up your sleeves or bettermore abandon your separation from the brutality which had made you and bleed into these winds and whiteness and walk out from these meager puzzlelocked walls which funnels the howling bluster into the heart which fights and flickers against its own fuel and know yourself unto the void and find in it the unbeknownst, find in it the song of your longing and find in it the memories of unmet ancestors and in its delusion lose the shackle of this self which you believe you are and come to know the vast expanse of your possibility and yet in knowing die to action and die to possibility and be born to ubiquitous presence instead.

Light and Noise

In the back of the taxi as it courses through streets that wind through the enveloping dark and its punctuations of light, he feels the nervous murmur of the tires humming on tarmac. He won’t sleep tonight, he thinks. If he holds his hand out in front of him, every heartbeat is apparent to him and his entire body pulses with his internal rhythm, his hand ticking in place like the second hand on a dying clock.

He checks his phone, looking at the screen only briefly because focusing on it too much gives him motion sickness as the cab leans through turns that should be gentler, save for the velocity that expresses itself in the moments that feel like antigravity hops over the construction ruts in the roadway. The words glow, his first, and then hers.

What are you up to now?

Eating chocolate. Just hurry.

At city hall now. There soon.

He wonders why the hurry.

It’s late enough to be early, no longer Sunday night. He reads over their brief message thread, the first one from her.

Whatcha doing neighbor?

The first time anyone has said anything to him in days even though he speaks for a living. He listens daily, for hours on end he repeats and annunciates. His voice aches. His voice itself a hollow vessel, and he himself a vessel for it, a dual emptiness, like a brass singing bowl that supplicates no deity no matter how sonorous its chime. Of what import is his daily incanting?

Not in a sense of emptiness or longing does he ache but in the internal rhythms he cannot calm. He wants to be pressed down, to be grounded. A conduit to touch him to the bedrock, to sap this frenetic buzz from his veins and direct it into the darkness, into the subterranean, the root of the springwater that feeds the mountains that lumber like slumped giants behind the vertical stacks of lights in messy cubist array, streaking by in the hazy glass and slipping into the dark nothing of the sky, and all the while the hum of the tires like high tension wires beneath him, suspending his emptiness between heaven and earth.

Hey there yourself, he writes after reading the first from her. She spoke first. She asked.  

Just at home and indeed, looks like you’re nearby.

He follows with this, its timestamp nearly half past one. He sits, restless, in flannel pajamas and a long-unwashed grey henley on a tousled bed, its sheets unwashed of the scent of the lover whose absence deepens the darkness of the late hour, whose scent he inhales into his emptiness.

Needed a snuggle partner for the night but it’s getting pretty late, she writes and he wonders at her need, her wanting. Is she a sex worker? he wonders.  

He draws her picture down, looks at her the way he looks at models in magazines, at unreal beings drawn as though from the air rather than built from flesh and blood and flaw and scope. Her face is sharp, its features striking, eyebrows sculpted and angled, her lips painted, an ephemeral seriousness weighing almost invisibly on her brow and hardness in her eyes. There is a starkness about all of her points of contrast, her colors, her lines.

I’m always up for company. Do you have an early morning?

No, but I do have kids.

He thinks on it for not long at all and types back.

I don’t mind, are they asleep already?

Of course. Get them ready for school and I have something in the afternoon. I’m on my period, though. No sex.

That’s ok. Do you want to have a late night conversation?

We can have a conversation at my place.

The taxi arrives at a place familiar to an early version of himself and he slips back into the space of a former life not dead long enough to be forgotten but long enough that he feels like an understudy shadowing a ghost. He leans forward and points the driver towards the place he intends to depart. He offers his card to the driver, who swipes it, nods, smiles, and drives off. The cold of the early morning settling around him, feeling it creep across his scalp and into his ears, between his fingers. He draws the mantle of the cotton fleece sweatshirt more closely about his and draws its zip upward and starts downhill through the alley.

Her hair is longer than it is in the pictures, her body thin and almost floating in the dark, her leggings black beneath a long body clutching shirt and though she’s short she seems lengthened, stooping as she does to set down a bag of garbage as she waves him over. She puts a finger to her lips to hush him and steps gingerly, tipping almost as she walks, delicate and awkward as a newborn lamb, to a door the handle to which she clutches tightly to keep it from vibrating as she struggles with the key in the lock.

You want to smoke, she says almost immediately after pulling her shoes off on the three steps which descend into the basement apartment.

Sure, he says, uncertain if she was asking him or telling him.

He begins to pull in his shoes again but she turns on a small exhaust plastic fan set into the white ceramic tiling beside the door and lights a cigarette. She gestures to the next room, where two slumbering children lie buried in blankets.

You want some ritalin? she asks. I’ve been doing it all day. Eighteen pills so far.

Ah no thanks, I never really got into pharmaceuticals, he says.

I took oxy earlier. I’m so itchy, she says, her hands straying over her legs and shoulders.

Oh? he says, nonplussed.

Stupid asshole flaked out on me or I wouldn’t have taken it, she says. We were supposed to take some together. Took two. I’m so tired. He finished band practice at eleven and then we talked for an hour and then he said he was too tired so he just went home.

Sorry to hear it, he says. He wonders if he sounds patronizing.

They finish their cigarettes and stamp them out in a stuffed ashtray beneath the fan, and she walks with aimless energy about the room, straightening boxes leaning out from cheap metal shelving, its open edging and thin lattice like a warehouse and suddenly the room feels clinical.

Are you tired? she asks.

Yeah, he says, rising to move towards what seems to be a guest room, its own warehouse shelving piled high with clothes. It’s hard to tell which are hers and which are not in the low light.

Do you think this will catch on fire if I cover the light? she asks, gesturing to the one lamp in the room. It’s so bright, right?

He walks over to the lamp and feels it, a cool compact fluorescent. It’ll be fine, he says.

She drapes a gauzy scarf over the lamp and the mood is almost welcoming in the dull, diffuse light. There is a small bed against the far wall with a single duvet.

Shit, she says, No pillows. Wait a second.

She leaves and he hears from the other room her talking to someone else, and a quiet cry

You can use the blankets, he hears her say above the wordless complaint that hangs in the air like an alley cat in shrill heat.

She comes back and throws two pillows on the bed, stirring her long black hair with a clawed hand as it keeps falling over her face as she surveys the room endlessly, straightening, fidgeting, scratching her chest and arms.

He lies down, clothed in his belted jeans, his undershirt and loose long sleeved shirt, his socks. Only his heathered gray hooded sweatshirt and a navy anorak sit beside the bed, sloughed off and in a puddle like an old skin.

I’m not comfortable in my pants so I’m going to take them off, she says, But it’s not an invitation, she says and wriggles out of them on her side as she struggles to remove herself from her black leggings.

I won’t do anything you don’t ask me to do, he says, lying on his back, his head finding the soft lumps of filler in the unsheathed pillow beneath him.

I’ll keep my clothes on if you like, he says, and she almost laughs.

Make yourself comfortable, she says, and so he peels off his layers and adds them to the anorak and the sweatshirt, like layers of scales over fat brought on by wind and winter.

Do you want a xanax? she asks.

Sure, he says, and she sorts through her purse, large and rectangular and almost large enough for her to slip into entirely and hide, and pulls puts a small pill in front of him, with a differently colored half beside it as she takes for herself each of the same.

What’s this? he asks.

It’s like a sleeping pill, she says, What’s it, oh, ambien.

He lies there on his back in only his briefs in the dim light.

You can hold me if you want to, he says.

Come snuggle me, she says, and so he rolls over and holds her.

She is so small and slight in every way under his touch, like a withered tuber, drawn in upon itself by its exposure, the way one who does not grow scales and fat in winds and winter might, left in a forgotten root cellar to mummify in the dark loneliness.

As he holds her she continues to play at her phone. A steady stream of messages or calls come through even though the clock shows its hands well past two now. And she, always attentive, never sits it down for too long, always in reach. She draws chapstick from her bra and applies it to her lips, rolling in discomfort.

I’m hungry, she says, Do you want a pizza?

No, he says, almost laughing. He wonders if he sounds condescending.

I’m going to make a sandwich, she says, Do you want a cigarette?

Sure, he says after a moment.

They repeat their meeting, on the three steps leading from the door to the main floor of the kitchen dividing the apartment, and so large are its boxes of packaged food that he feels like a Lilliputian in Gulliver’s pantry. She makes half a sandwich, peanut butter and jam on white bread and pours a glass of milk, and he looks on. He feels separate from himself, as though he is watching a film in the dark as the dim lights in either room play their shadows upon the walls.

Can I use your toilet? he asks, and she nods.

Door to the left, just don’t use the center grate, there’s shit right under it so it smells horrible. Confused, he goes to the door and it won’t open.

Is it locked? she asks, and he says, It seems to be.

She takes a bobby pin from the kitchen counter and jimmies it into the thin space between the rotating handle and its base until it clicks. Inside there’s a toilet, a sink, and two grates, circular, but covered, not the grilles he was fearfully expecting. He wonders if he’s meant to lift up one of the covers, if perhaps the toilet is broken.

He uses the toilet anyway, pissing into it, draining himself, and flushes and rinses his hands in the sink briefly before exiting, drying his hands on a towel that seems newer than anything else in the apartment.

Can I do anything for you? he asks her.

She arches her back and says, Would you rub my back for me?

She indicates small circles on the wall, facing away from him as they return to the bed and the tangled duvet and the lumpy pillows.

He does, and presses gently into the small of her back on either side of her spine. She grunts, and softens, her muscles like masses of knotted, fibrous reeds under his thumbs.

Oh, she moans, You came here to work.

Are you a masseuse? she asks and he cannot help but laugh.

No, but I enjoy making people feel good, he says. He continues until she deflates beneath his hands, and he gently wrings out of her the last whimpers she has to offer.

Kiss my neck, she says, turning her head towards him, her eyes tightly closed. He does, tracing his lips along her neck, below her ear, grazing her chin.

The familiar complaint from earlier rises from the other room, and he hears a voice.

Mama, it says, tiny, tinny, shrill with upset, and then he sees a short, stocky shadow standing at the foot of the bed.

What, she says, half asleep, his hands on her breasts under the blanket, his cock hard and full beneath only his briefs, half covered by the duvet.

I want chips, the shadow says, sleepily, like a drunk almost but the words are even more softly formed.

He remembers every cry from a child he has ever heard, rankling him with impotent frustration, the feeling on the surface of his skin like a rising solar flare but then like a flare it is gone, and his skin cools, and he is simply watching, as before, observing. Not present but for his hand on her soft belly, his fingers tracing the cleft of her vulva beneath so sheer a layer as to feel like nothing as she sits up and pulls her shirt down past her ass, stumbling out to the kitchen to retrieve a cylinder of chips or cookies to snack on in bed, giving a handful to the child who steps out from the shadow, short, pudgy, waddling, voice hollow and shrill.

A second shadow slips in and another child, also a boy, same shorn hair, taller, thinner, more articulate come sin and makes a claim on the chips.

It’s late, she says, Go to bed.

The two boys leave with chips in hand and again it is only the two of them on the bed.

He lies back and an exchange passes over him and he listens to the volleys of wails from the other room and she lies back next to him anyway, and he caresses her and she him, and the shadows crawl between them on the bed, trampling the duvet and like jetstreams in the sky he lies back and watches as anger and commands and pleading from each of three sides of an evolving triangle of need and want fly like volleys across the sky. He slips into sleep after a while, the voices growing more distant from him.

When he wakes it is still dark, but it is quiet, and her hands are roving across him, squeezing his shape through his briefs and she purrs.

Oh my, she says, Well isn’t this something.

You can do whatever you want with it, he says, and she pulls her shirt off, and he sees her dark nipples, plum colored in the early morning light, puckered and erect upon her breasts which sway beneath her, and she pulls his briefs down and she runs her tongue along him, and tries too hard to put him inside of her mouth and he feels like he is being bent in half and he winces and struggles against her, the softness of the bed in his clutching hands.

I want to see if I can get you into my throat, she says, and he demurs.

It’s ok, he says, You don’t have to.

She continues and she wets him with her mouth and she strokes his full length repeatedly, trying again to put his cock into her hungry self and she cannot though she does not cease the struggle to do so and he grasps the duvet with both hands and she must know it isn’t good, she must because she gives up and simply accelerates her strokes and suckles the head of his as shallow as she can until he comes.

She says, There’s wet wipes next to the bed.

What can I do for you? he asks. I want to make you feel good.

You really came here to work, she says, You rubbed my back. That was incredible. I don’t want anything else, and I’m on my period.

He cleans himself, and falls back asleep.

He wakes to an alarm, bright sun lighting the room.

He rises, dresses in the sloughed off skin of the undershirt and his long sleeves and the sweatshirt and anorak, and steps out, and she’s perched on the lowest of the three steps, her phone in her hand, busily tapping a message to someone.

I’m sorry I slept so late, he says, I meant to be up earlier.

Thanks for sharing the night with me, he says, and he says her name.

We should do this again, she says.

You have my number.


Moonfire

    Sheaves of paper flutter like downed butterflies in the ocean breeze as dusk settles on the shore. He flips through the pages one by one and neatly tears them one by one from the stitched binding and when cardstock covers and emptied, their edges soft and feathered with years of thumbing and storage, they too join the fluttering pages in the steel cylinder he’s planted firmly in the wet, glittering sand.

They make him recall the monarchs of a distant home, the fluttering sheaves of orange and black and regal golden whites, heavy upon the pines, wings drawn down as they slumber and bear the winter in the mild and temperate embrace of another coast far away from the one on which he stands, barefoot and feeling the fine sands shift under the pressure of his soles. The monarchs though do not face a flame, and after the last emptied and year-creased cover joins the rest, a slightly shaking hand taps open a hard balsa matchbox and plucks a stick from its rest and strikes it and lowers its sulphur-smoking flame, fluttering just as the pages do in the steady breeze and the flame kisses the pages, and he recalls love.

The nights have grown cool and the dark comes earlier with each passing day, but his arms are still bare. He is alone on the shore under a full harvest moon as he gives to the fire his journals, notes, and halfmade stories.

 

 

    It is fifteen years before the shore and the fire and they sit together under the warming sky of early spring in a broad, open park where the retreating snow is just beginning to bare the mummified grasses of the previous year. A shallow cardboard box holds two years of correspondence. Poems. Notes. Some typed, some handwritten, some collages of images torn from magazines. A torn collage of an opalescent glass vase dressed with words like a pulp noir ransom note: I am your vessel.

    They sit together and hold one another, taking turns to read from the top of the pile before laying the sheet on top of the tongues of flame that rise and dance in the rusted steel box, stained from rain and salted meat grilled under so many summers of relentless sun. Her hair is like wheat equal parts gold of summer and the faded earthy white of early winter, its mixed hues resembling the sunlight dancing in the dead scramble of brush, beautiful in its contrasts of blond and brown and grey.

    Together they recall the past: their love opens on the first day of winter. He is seventeen. She has just celebrated her forty-eighth year. They walk and sit and talk among increasingly barren plains scattered with leafless trees and windscoured soils.

    On that day they first came to kiss two winters prior she says, If this was the seventies I would take you to bed. And she reaches her arms around him and under his oversized leather jacket against the wind of a winter settling upon autumn, before there is any correspondence, before the lust and love and desire spills out onto pages. These seeds grow within them in the moments when their eyes hold fast on the other’s and when their words flow like a seamless banner cut free from its mast and sailing over the world

    Though the season of their love does not close that day they feel as though it is a harvest, and together they pluck from the vines of time moments like overripe stonefruit to be sliced and skewered and sacrificed over open flame until caramelized flesh drips like hot candy down their lips as they, laughing, devour one another. It is a week past her fiftieth birthday. In one week more he is away, at school, and she asks of him a token, the last artifact they share, a shirt he has worn, that smells of him, that she keeps tucked away, and to which she returns to drink of the past. Hers is the first love that, in any moment beginning when he first feels it until the time he forgets it and learns to doubt it, he feels as love, and he basks in it just as they huddle now together in the brittle warmth of that delicate afternoon as the flames consume the last of the communion that anyone might ever know them by.

 

Alone on the moonlit shore, the wind picks up and he pulls a sweater over his head, snagging a knitted seam on the brass clasp of the only meaningless bracelet he wears. He wraps a heavy cotton scarf around himself to fend off the mosquitoes, and continues tearing pages, reading them silently, sometimes murmuring them, sometimes laughing, but most often silent.

He remembers an earlier love.

 

He remembers the first time he says those words, the words that feel almost like nausea in his chest rising as he clutches with clammy hands in the dark of night in the basement which is his room a white cordless phone, pressed so tightly to his ear that it hurts and feels numb for an entire hour afterwards.

    I love you, he says, almost as a whisper. Hadn’t he? Maybe he had said, I think I love you. He has to repeat himself, so quietly does he say these words though the telephone’s receiver is practically in his mouth.

    He doesn’t know, even moments later, so fevered is his head. As though it harbors a waxing illness the threatens to turn him into ash from the inside out. But she speaks, after a moment, not as long as the moment between his admission and whatever had come before, her words lost to the pulsing in his head that dilates his pupils and creeps out as sweat from his pores and locks his hands around the hard, smooth plastic shell of the phone that her voice, tiny and tinny and distant comes out of.

    But you don’t even know me, she says. Hadn’t she? Or does she begin with that conjunction, with that but? The moment is still alive and yet he must reach into memory to confirm what he hears and he cannot and the fever has already taken her words. He can hear her smiling. Just as she does when she he walks past her at school, and waits with her after the bell and before his bus and before the roaring black pickup truck with beaten chrome fenders lurches to a halt and an quiet, older, shyly leering man with heavy stubble and a black mesh ballcap leans over and opens the door for her every day, and how in the few hours they see each other she gives nothing but cold indifference to the many whom he wishes he was.

She walks through the long hallways, passing them, long black hair in motion like a flag heralding midnight and as she passes them and sees him, sitting in his oversized black corduroy jacket that he wears daily, religiously, and his loose jeans and frazzled moptop of a haircut, her stony face warms and she smiles.

    He clutches her narrow waist, she shorter than he and though he himself was not tall he can see over her head, struggling to stay upright on the tall brown mare as it clops through snowy mud. They have known each other now for almost five years.

Do you want to come in, she asks after they return from the fields, and he pauses and thinks and hesitates no matter how much he longs to, but he nods and follows her into a cluttered and book-stuffed home that she shared with her mother and he could smell her hair still, conscious of his arousal as they pressed together atop the horse and she smiles with her eyes downcast, and laughs, softly, and he is lost in her hair that winds its way like whorls in a midnight pool down to her waist.

    She shows him her dress that she wears to the dance he invites her to where they dance as his lover looks on, his lover with hair like wheat in late summer’s yellow and early winter’s woody whites, his lover who smiles at the affection of a peer she is not, and cannot be, and she, his lover, is caught between the betrayal of her flushing chest and her recollections of him inside of her and tears that will not come and seem hinged to her smile. A happiness that makes her cry because in it is loss, and in the loss, a sense of giving.

    After the dance they drive back, along gravel roads far from lights of the town.

Do you want to come in, she asks, and just as before he demurs.

I should go home, I think, he says, and finds in his retreat something that should be comfort but instead unfolds as regret.

Call me when you get home and let me know you’re safe, she says.

She says, Thank you for tonight, and he drives off, and listens to the gravel clacking against the underside of the car on the empty, dark roads.

 

He is back briefly in the empty lands of those scrubthick plains and he sees her, his lover, she of the wheat hair, she is still soft and luscious beneath his fingers and for the first time his desire is split between attraction and reticence. He is seeing someone at school, so many states away. But he falls into the tangles of her late summer wheat. She is coloring her hair more now, and afterwards in the bath he begins to shake and tremble and feels as though he is submerged in a bucket of ice, and unwitting organ donor. I am a cheater now, he says, but she comforts him and loves him and strokes him.

After he leaves those endless plains and traverses the mountains, he thinks less and less often of that late summer wheat and the papers and poems disappearing into the fire, and there is no record, no words pull him back to that time. He opens a manila package one day in the mail and finds his shirt, carefully folded and emptied of its esters.

A handwritten note says only, I love you.

There is nothing else.

 

Years go by. In a high rise hotel, with she whom he thinks of as his first betrayal, when they first feel the other’s hot, bare skin. In two years he accepts a ring from her, as they pass a jeweler’s, as they walk and wander the streets of Copenhagen in spring, and in the thin silver band is set amber, a fiery, shining gold that the Baltic washes in upon the waves of every storm.

Would you marry me, she asks him. Not so quickly does she finish the sentence.

Yeah, he says, or thinks he does. He cannot remember.

Would you want to marry me, he asks, or believes he does, murmuring and drawing out the sentence long enough that he can see there is no thought beneath it to hold it up.

But she does not examine his words.

Her eyes glow at the returned question and they look through the jeweler’s and pick out two bands, simple, thin, silver, with that punctuation of ancient fire in the center. Two weeks after the ring he is making love to a different other, in for a week to visit on a cheap ticket and her equestrian legs wrap tightly around him and after she comes around his, the fire of her sex seeping into his naked skin, and after she comes and they lie beside each other she says, I love you, through eyes fluttering with the power and weakness of a long-held secret framed by tears.

You made me feel so beautiful, she says, and he remembers photographing her in the dark, in a basement, when he is in one moment fearful of desire that never arises so long as he remains behind the lens and she its object.

 

In another year he is with neither of them, not she with the amber ring which she takes back, and not she of the equestrian strength which she wraps around the waist of someone else.. In the circle of acquaintances or friends or those who share a case of beer or a bed he finds himself alone and so takes his eccentric orbit elsewhere but there is no more gravity anywhere else as there is in the vague circuits he knew before, when he wears amber briefly and pushes himself to argue his love in front of his doubtful father on that earlier spring harborside in Copenhagen before he returns to a home he does not know how to miss.

He sees his hair fading to an emptiness, circular, central, on the top of his head one day in the toilet on the train. His blood runs cold though he has silently expected this for years. But not so soon, his denial says. Not so soon.

 

He murmurs those words which this time do not tighten his chest or bring fear, falling asleep after dressing his face in the ecstasies of a new infatuation who slips into her own sleep only three days after they meet. He does not remember when she first says the same to him. Months tear in two directions, past and future, each equally split in regret and desire, and he is quartered by them, between one hand wearing that amber ring and clutching to him even as he is finally discovered for his betrayal in Copenhagen. He lets the amber into his life long enough to believe that he will not again dress his face in new ecstasies though no ring comes with her fierce and temporary attentions.

He returns to his new infatuation, and dresses his face with her ecstasies, and he asks her, Did you hear what I said the first night we slept together?

Yes, she finally says, smiling and perhaps reddening. She says nothing else.

 

    Two years later he is abroad in a land of neon and concrete and ten lane streets as full of taxis as the streams of his youth were of salamanders. He is with her, she of the ecstasies, she of the silent watching. In writing a letter one day in a cold winter classroom where daily he lives in the space of self-doubt, of his place, of his purpose, of anything that anchors him or becomes an orbit in which any regularity becomes intimate to him, he falls in love.

    But not with an other. There is no bridge that his heart crosses to that unknown space of an other. She is different, and in the icy blue of her eyes he sees himself. She feels like another himself and the vanity and allure of this disembodied narcissism is intoxicating and years of remembered conversations and dialogues run through his head as though they were present and simultaneous and he struggles to swallow and speak as he types. When she replies she confesses to tears and movements of her depths when coming to know of his love in his words. He is unmoored and he imagines that he celebrates a shared freedom and extravagant pureness of love in a way that outgrows his ideas of it and he is drunk on it.

He no longer even pretends to know whom it is he seeks in his affections, which take interest and take root and grow among the world he sees as new again.

In another two years he, and she of the ecstasies are in the flatlands that straddle South and Midwest and they are drinking bourbon and she of those eyes like mirrors of ice, of a never known twin is beside him and it is late and they are drunk and he leans to kiss her and she pushes away his face and he is confused and insistent and lost.

But you know what I wrote to you, he says. I thought you understood when you said -

It’s not ok, she says. This isn’t what I meant.

She pauses and is upset and says, And I haven’t heard from her! You’re the only one who speaks. I haven’t heard anything about this from her.

She knows, he says. I told her. She understands. She feels the same way.

Go to bed, she says.

 

They return to the land of neon lights and concrete and streams of taxis and she of the ecstasies knows nothing though he tells her later, his heart sunken like a rotting ship stranded in frozen mudflats.

I understand, she says, I love her too.

He types something later into the glowing void, a portal that the quiet and the black of night frames, and he casts his words to those now-distant mirrors, but she does not reply, and years go by. He is unknown and alone in company of she of the silent watching, with of short answers and no questions and he longs to be pried open like an oyster and devoured whole and quivering and wet on her tongue. She takes her pleasures alone now and he stays up late, and also alone.

 

He dreams of knots, of pine forests spiked along vast mountains he knows that divide his life between she of the wheaten hair and the many who come after. He dreams of tying knots, overhand, knots that should not slip yet which he cannot make catch on their own topography, their repeated defiance a maddening paradox that he cannot penetrate.

He dreams of a tautline hitch, teaching it to vague murmuring shapes on the mountainside who stand beyond his periphery, mirrory apparitions between where he kneels and the treeline, and the rope slips in his windchapped hands, and the rope catches his left wrist and comes fast around him and it tightens and the mountain crumbles into a midnight shoreline and the rope tenses as though a leviathan in the deep has caught itself upon the hidden hook of an anchor and the line’s tension drags him through the sand and towards the calm, lapping water and he struggles to raise his voice to scream but he only murmurs faster and angrier frustrations as his fingers of his one free hand claw at the stubborn Gordian web in which he is caught and then he falls and hits the sea face first with an gasping mouth leading his descent into the salty dark.

 

He wakes and the harvest moon is gone. He hears the dull roar of what may be an ocean coming in but its wavering static song knows no cycles of washing in and drawing out. He blinks but all around him and above is a vast blackness and he does not feel the sand shifting under him nor the crinkling surface of the old polyester sleeping bag and he cannot tell if his eyes or open and he feels adrift and spaceless. He tries to sit up and moves against no gravity and feels no horizon and the emptiness if perfect and full in its perfection of itself and a calm paralysis sets upon him and he feels himself relax and as though his hands are themselves an old memory his sense of having anything of a self fades and in the dark he is complete at last, complete and known and one with something that feels as though may be love and he forgets the concern of the truth of his nascent suspicion and if he still has a face to express anything at all with, then he is smiling.