Hieroglyphs for the Child

Before it was born, the child’s life was imagined in great detail, written out in many early drafts, then hammered into a final contract.

A number of categorical details were settled on from the beginning, chiselled into the walls of the sandstone nursery, painted with different tones of wax and clay, imperatives the child was expected to bring about.

Walk across the desert back in time to the nursery wall. Do you remember how to read the language that precedes the alphabet?

If you think you can, refer to the wall and remember your imperatives.

Follow the lines strung between the pictographs. 

You will be a girl. You will be beautiful. You will be a poet. You will study other people’s thoughts. You will not defile your body in any way. You will find someone worthy of you. Your eyes will be as ours are, one good one bad, but your hearing will be absolute, pitch-perfect, and whenever you raise your arms it will be to conduct the orchestra tethered to your fingertips. You will be funny but not silly. You will not disappoint anyone. You will speak many languages. You will cause other people to praise you. You will be tall, no, ok, well at least you won’t be short, ok, so you fucked up on that, but at the very least you won’t be overweight. Your body will be as we tell it to be. Your mind will not lapse. You will not disappear. You will be drawn to other countries. You will not disappoint. You won’t have sex on our sofa. You won’t have sex in our house. You won’t have sex with anyone unworthy. You will always be able to give a reason for your behaviour. You won’t take drugs, you won’t smoke, you won’t drink, you won’t damage the flesh you were given. You won’t have a single useless skill. Your skin will be soft and clear. Your body will be limber. You will sharpen your mind using the symbology we pass down to you. You will not hurt yourself. You will not hurt yourself. You will not hurt your violin, you will see the wooden stick of the soul in its hollow body and honour it as if it were a living being. You will not shout at your mother. You will not shout at your father. You will respect your teachers as if they were your parents. You will not shout or swear outside of the jesting context. You will go to circus school to hone your body as a theatrical object. You will learn to speak clearly without mumbling. You will not make mistakes. You will not make mistakes, there is no time. You will never forget that your parents are always about to die. You will never forget a thing we tell you. People will know your name, and through your name your father’s name, and his father’s name. You will be as useful as a boy. You will write and your words will be made visible. You will be lovable. You will not chew your own flesh. You will not be ashamed of your body. You will be a girl. You will be a girl. You will not grow hair in abject places. You will not be ill. You will look beautiful at all times. You will not destroy yourself in any way.

Before it was born, the child, half-formed in the womb, clamped its toothless mouth around the fractal growth of hands and sucked, pressed its gums down into the fragile mass of skin and bone; the child chewed the hands until the work of growth started to regress, the child chewed itself back into an abstract clump of thought, back into cells, back into egg and spermatozoa, back into the union that brought it forth. 

You will not pursue that which doesn’t yield results. You will not hang on to useless things. You will not have self-annihilating thoughts. You will like yourself at all times. You will find worth in the things you were given in your childhood. You will contemplate death and meaninglessness only from the ivory safety of philosophical abstraction. You will be utterly self-assured. 

Above all, you will be happy. 

Jimmy Ernst, Observation VII, 1965
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Replicating Eurydice

After Pop Psychology appeared in his dream, Orpheus finds himself in a helpless state, like a rock on the floor of a lake pushed into patterns by the current, like standing next to someone who is skinning a rabbit. Orpheus calls a friend to calm himself, but when the friend is busy he goes out for a walk instead. 

The sky is a screech of blue acid, and Orpheus walks under it, squinting. His breathing is laboured from the dream, his chest cluttered with a nameless concern for the things he loves. 

With each step, Orpheus observes an instability in the ground beneath him, which feels flimsier than it normally does. Orpheus knows that this may be his doing; his frequent descents into the Underworld have caused a thinning of the membrane stretching between life and the realm of the dead. 

The thought of Eurydice appears in his mind, a sensation with so immediate an impact that the membrane tears under his feet. Orpheus slips through the rift and comes crashing into Hades, where he lands loudly in a silent stream.

He rises from the water and sees Hades on his throne, his face hidden behind a newspaper. It is nearly Spring, and Persephone is somewhere in their chambers, packing up her bags. This is a hard time for Hades, Orpheus knows, when Persephone disappears for six months, a temporary reversal of Orpheus’s own situation with Eurydice. 

“Women, eh?” he nearly says, then stops himself. He and Hades are on what seem like familiar terms, but who can say how far these things can be pushed with the God of the Dead. 

Instead, Orpheus puts up his hands and says, “I’m not here on purpose. I won’t try to bring her back with me, not now. The ground just seems a little unstable up there.” 

Hades waves his hand and points him in the direction of Eurydice. 

Susan Rothenberg, Head and Bones, 1980

From afar, Orpheus sees her, surrounded by spirits. At first, he assumes she is caught up with friends, or even lovers, which seems odd for insular Eurydice; as he comes closer, he realises the others are copies she has made of herself. The bodies are facsimiles of hers, replicated to near perfection, all moving of their own accord. They seem caught up in a set of tasks with the single-minded determination of worker bees. 

As he approaches them, Orpheus catches one of the copies’ eye, and as she stares back at him, a smile widens on her face. For the first time since she died, Orpheus sees Eurydice’s features beam at him outside the context of dreams, and in response every organ in his body gushes and shakes. His heart collides with itself.

The copy approaches. From up close, he can tell she isn’t Eurydice; she is more translucent, with a more silvery skin than the real one. The copy stands in front of Orpheus and reaches out her gossamer hand, which she rests on his cheek. The feel of her body is like walking into a bathroom after someone else’s shower. On her face is an expression evoking nothing but love. Seeing this is too much to bear, and Orpheus closes his eyes, exhausted by what is happening to him.

The real Eurydice has noticed her copy gone astray, and soon she is standing behind them. Her blank face shows no recognition of Orpheus, no care for his presence. She places her hand on the copy’s neck, whose scruff stretches like that of a kitten when Eurydice picks her up. The copy lays her head placidly to the side and deadens her gaze, dangling there like a small animal between its mother’s teeth as Eurydice carries her off.

Orpheus stands there in the aftermath, torn by what seemed possible before it was taken away.

He knows that Eurydice is not Eurydice, cannot be Eurydice, because Eurydice keeps herself elsewhere. Eurydice is the refraction of Eurydice, the phenomenon of Eurydice, but the true Eurydice would be here, with him, if she were anywhere. The true Eurydice could be thought into a future in which the myth is resolved, broken apart and made new, with two coalescing yearnings instead of just one.

Eurydice, with her blind eyes and body empty of yearning, empty of love for Orpheus, returns to the many selves she tends to. Orpheus stays put and watches her for a while. 

He wonders why he ever turned around, in that very dawn of things, turned to face the first instance of Eurydice, when it would have been so easy not to. Comparatively easy, of course, in the context of everything he knows now. Why did he turn around? It would have been simpler not to. He could have done what he always does and stared straight ahead, at the winking projection of himself in his future, reducing Eurydice to an unknown, a person like any other in the world. It would have been so easy not to make her Eurydice.

He wonders where he would be if he’d simply refused to see. But Orpheus knows that, as was the case with Oedipus, whose familiar fate plunged him into that same leaden dusk, that when the constellations predict what you will see, you are no longer given the option to avert your gaze. 

Orpheus couldn’t help but look at Eurydice, because the very act of turning around to face the object of desire, even as it is still unknown, no more than a stranger, is the function of poetry. 

Orpheus would not be Orpheus without Eurydice. Eurydice herself doesn’t give a damn and yet the fact of Orpheus remains. Eurydice may remain in Hades forever, may never, like a self in a cursed mirror, return his gaze, may stare endlessly backwards at an other, but the fact remains: Orpheus needed to see Eurydice in order to become Orpheus.

There is no stable symmetry here, their bond is not a sphere, not the unbroken surface of a lake. Divergent pressures drive them both, and their paths leave a trail of vortices in their wake.

Sweet Eurydice, in her detached contentment, is unruffled. Eurydice pines after something just as pointless. She has rooted herself within the deepest ground she knows, a realm in which people are reduced to their most distant forms. 

In life, Orpheus feels everything too acutely, and has no means by which to numb himself. It is Eurydice herself who carries out their myth, who keeps the tragedy unchanged.

Orpheus thinks about Pop Psychology, who always wants to save others from themselves, and whom Orpheus could never save because her decisions were often as bad as his. It makes him smile to think that she found a temporary happiness somewhere, but he knows it didn’t last. Occasionally, the future can be read in the same tense as the past.

Orpheus, the son of Gods, suspects he would like to see himself, too, as a God capable of saving others – saving those he loves. 

But Orpheus is not a God, and those he loves cannot be saved, least of all from the choices they’ve made for themselves; even if he could reach into their lives, Orpheus, who is mortal, with a mortal mind and fallible impulses, wouldn’t know which decisions are right. There is no teleology emerging from the sybil’s footprints that Orpheus consults, not when it comes to their lives, nor his own. The myth has always been an excuse. 

Orpheus talks Gardening with Pop Psychology

for A. S.

You are what you love, not what loves you.

Donald Kaufman, Adaptation, 2002

In a dream, Orpheus meets his friend Pop Psychology, whom he hasn’t seen in years. She has secured a table for them at her student bar, near a window overlooking the sandstone campus. The courtyard is filled with pigeons fighting over the many food scraps the students leave behind. Orpheus and Pop Psychology sit face to face, sipping their drinks; water for him, and a beer for her. She looks just as she did when he last saw her; the same gold and lavender features Orpheus bears, except for her hair, which she has dyed the colour of slate. Unlike Orpheus, whose hair is a mess of strings, and whose clothes never make the most of his build, her appearance is coherent and neat.

“How’s life?” she asks. “I see you still don’t drink.”

“And you still do.”

“Unlike you I don’t have control issues,” she says.

“I don’t have issues,” says Orpheus, slurping his water loudly, which he knows she hates.

Pop Psychology looks at Orpheus’s indigo-stained hands.

“What happened?” she asks.

“Nothing,” he says. “I’m grieving.”

“What for?” Her nails are long and dark, smooth as roller rinks.

“I’ve lost Eurydice.”

“Haven’t we all,” she says. “Where’d she go?”

“Self-imposed stint in Hades. Committed herself to the place a few weeks after the wedding, when a viper bit her ankle. Just walked in there as if it was a detox centre and said, ‘This is where I’ll be from now on. Everything else is too much for me.’”

“So she’s not lost, exactly, just gone.”

“That distinction doesn’t help my grief.”

“Do you visit her?”

Orpheus sighs. “As often as my heart can bear it. Sometimes I let a few visits slide, and during my absence she appears to me in dreams, so vividly that awakening to reality without her feels impossibly painful. But the more often I visit her, the less she seems to see me, as if her memory of me is fading away.”

“So why are you on a date with me?” asks Pop Psychology.

“This is a date?”

Pop Psychology shrugs and takes a sip of her beer. “Well, they say anything’s a date in a dream. I’ll tell you something we have in common. I’ll tell you in a few minutes and you’ll see that I’m right. Are you still writing? How’s the music?”

“Don’t ask. I come here to rest, you know.”

Suddenly, the expression on Pop Psychology’s face is very serious. “I know it hurts to want something so much, Orpheus.”

“I feel doomed, sometimes, you know.”

“I’m sorry, buddy. I don’t know Eurydice, but she sounds like a person who’s not done grieving.”

“Grieving?” says Orpheus. “She’s the one who left.”

“The grieving we all go through when we’re releasing our past. Her healing cycle may still be incomplete, and whenever she opens up, she sees that things inside her are raw and unfinished, and it freaks her out. You were like this too, remember?”

“Was I? Are you sure?”

“I remember it vividly,” she says. “You were convinced that the pain of past loves would replicate itself in new ones by default. At the same time, you kept hoping the past would somehow return to make amends and close the painful loop. Then one day you woke up and realised you’d closed it yourself. Remember how bright and vivid the present suddenly felt? Maybe Eurydice is just like you; she, too, has lost a part of herself in the past, and is trying to rebuild herself. She may just be slow at licking her wounds. The cold and isolation of Hades slows you down if you let it.”

Orpheus drains his water. “So what has she lost?”

“Who can say? Everyone leaves different parts in his past.”

“What did you left behind, Poppy?”

“I think we’re a lot alike, Orpheus, we have been for a long time. We both love very intensely, very deeply, with great focus. But for a while, I was different. I loved someone who hurt himself, again and again, stuffed himself with pills and left me to deal with the aftermath, again and again. Someone I came home to each day to find he had beaten himself to a pulp. While this man’s need for me was great, while he was ravenous for the soothing I could provide, he himself had very little to give. I emptied myself out to this person for years, drove him to the various hospitals in which he stayed. I understood that this was all I would ever be to this man, nothing more. I was not an equal but a carer, a parent. I loved him but received so little in return that one day I was utterly empty, and because I had nothing left to give, I disappeared.”

“I remember,” says Orpheus. “It wasn’t your fault.”

“I know that now. But I spent years wondering if I’d behaved selfishly by leaving, by choosing my sanity over him. I began to shut people out, allow close to me only those who were so dull, stable and uncaring they seemed safe, because those people would never need me like this man had needed me. My capacity for love had become a dangerous thing, and any sensitive person I felt drawn to reminded me of the emptiness I still felt.”

“Do you remember,” asks Orpheus, “all those nights we sat on that bench near the duckpond and talked about cannibalism?”

Pop Psychology smiles. “I do,” she says. “I miss those days.”

“Me too. Things seemed so much easier then.”

“Do you remember” asks Pop Psychology, “the man we met near that pond, who told us that after a relationship ends the self is like infertile earth for a while, that you have to work hard to figure out what will still grow after the scorching, and for a while not much will. And then, with time, because there is always seed floating in the air, things once again begin to take hold, a self emerges in patches, but it seems too good to be true, and you become jealous and guarded, draping yourself over this plot of earth in which small seedlings have again begun to tremble, and anyone approaching it you fend off with a snarl. ‘Not again, you think, it was too hard getting things to grow again, it took so long, my plants are not ready yet to withstand being trampled by an other’s feet.’ This is normal, of course, the man said. But sometimes we are so busy cowering over our young and tender garden that we don’t see that, among those approaching us, some carry fertiliser, eggshells and coffee grounds, that among them some have greener thumbs than we do. It’s a fragile place, the man said, and it’s hard to let anyone back in.”

“Vaguely,” says Orpheus. “We met a lot of strange people then.”

“I thought of that story years ago,” says Pop Psychology, “when I was hesitant to open myself up to someone new, a man who wanted to love me. I resented the hell out of that story then.”

“Why?”

“Not for any good reason. I just thought such allegories were holier-than-thou bullshit, useless while you’re in the thick of it. Who in their right mind would, in the midst of a crisis, act in unguarded ways, based on emotional growth? That’s when our instincts kick in, and our instincts often follow old and useless patterns. That’s what it was like for me, too, and I felt rebellious then, so deeply human.”

“What happened with the new man?”

“For over a year,” says Pop Psychology, “I made him suffer the wrath of my most smug and self-righteous humanity. He was wrong, I decided, for wanting me, for seeing the good in me even though I saw myself as only half a person, a wreck. I told myself that there were so many things I had to achieve before I could run the risk of losing myself to someone else again. I was determined to brush him off, the way I had anyone else who’d approached me. But the man stayed, quietly, calmly, with his bag of fertiliser in his hand, tending his own garden in silence next to mine, only offering gentle reassurance every once in a while.”

“Wasn’t he angry?” asks Orpheus.

“Maybe he was, but he never seemed angry with me. After a while, realising he was still there, I began to look over at his garden and saw that there, too, much had been devastated and scorched. But unlike me he didn’t drape himself jealously over the few sprouts he had growing, but simply sat next to them, made small adjustments to the looseness of the earth and the shadow he provided, and left the whole thing out to be seen just as it was.”

“What were you scared of?” ask Orpheus.

“Losing what I’d spent so long rebuilding, this self that didn’t yet amount to the person I wanted to be. Love seemed like a distraction, and I wanted only to focus on my achievements, my solitary stability; those were things that felt a lot easier to hold on to somehow. Love was slippery, and involved another person’s whims, and I wanted to be selfish after having spent so long unable to put myself first. I thought about what it had felt to witness another person break down in front of me so many times, and I knew I couldn’t do it again.”

“Oh Poppy.”

“I know.”

“What did the man say?” asks Orpheus.

“Surprisingly little. He listened, mostly. He listened to a lot of my fears, anger, and unrelated complaints. He listened to my silence, too, sometimes for weeks. He listened to the things I said to try and drive him away. He listened to my self-loathing and misanthropy. He smiled at me in return. Sometimes he’d lay a finger gently into my palm, the way you do with a baby when it has nothing to hold on to. Sometimes, if a plant in his garden had a flower to spare, he’d pick it and hold it out towards me. His flowers were so different in colour to mine, so strange in their shapes, but beautiful.” 

“Did you ever open up to him?”

“I did,” says Pop Psychology, “after a while.”

“Why?”

“Because I wanted him. Because I’d grown stronger by then, and was learning to trust that he wouldn’t fall apart like the other man had. I’d looked into him and seen a gentle stability cradling all his chaos.”

“Did he still want you?”

“He showed me every plant that had grown in my absence; he let me touch every single one of their leaves. I think he saw me clearly. I don’t understand how, or why, but he did. He just reached into what was difficult and broken about both of us, as if it were easy. Whatever he found, it never made him run. He sat with it and held it in his heart.”

“Were you happy?”

“Don’t underestimate how good it feels to be seen by someone, and see them clearly in return. Don’t underestimate how good it feels to be loved by someone whose spirit resonates with yours. Yes, Orpheus, I was happy. Until, well, you know.”

“I know,” says Orpheus. “I’m sorry.”

They sit quietly for a while, holding on to their empty glasses. Outside, the clouds are purple and green, and the ground is covered in the agitation of birds. Orpheus looks at Pop Psychology’s placid face, the darkening in her eyes, and the gentle smile, as if chiselled into the bone. 

He lays his hand on her forearm. It feels as solid and quiet as touching a tree. “I’m really glad I got to see you, Poppers,” he says. “I was sure you had died.”

She looks up at him, then out of the window at the bobbing layer of wings.

“Let’s not speak of it, Orpheus,” she says. “The dream is nearly over. This is a nice moment, too nice for sadness, which will return soon enough. I, too, am glad to see you.”

Some Things You Didn’t Say Because You Thought You Had More Time

A week or so before you disappeared into that unreachable realm, I asked you, the way I often did, to tell me how to live a better life.

Clean your windows once a month, you said, and I said, No, seriously.

I suppose, you said, you could read Wittgenstein and ask him, and I said, No thanks, that’s not a path I wish to follow.

Or you could read Heidegger, you said, and in my mind I tasted the water someone once brought me back from Heidegger’s mountain cabin spring.

Or you could read Plato, you said, and I said, Enough, it’s you I’m asking. Tell me what you think. For once in your life, teach me something in a straightforward way.

Find someone, you said, speaking from experience, who will teach you to be better. Find someone who will see the mess of your outline and say “I care about everything you are.”

That’s not an option, I said. I’m too afraid of pain.

Then, you said, find an animal who evokes tenderness, so you can learn to give without fear.

My landlord’s a shrew, I said, I’m not sure he’ll allow any other rodents on the premises.

Then, you said, all I can say is, remember to love carefully everything you hold, no matter how briefly; to be open and giving even to that which runs away; to see each colour for what it is, and for the way it impacts the one next to it. Remember that cutting your own hair is an act of kindness, in a way. Remember that the room you live in is just a shell, the way you are just a crab. Remember that whatever you are is not your fault, nor does it last forever. Remember that loving cannot help but feel like stepping on an urchin, and that no matter how carefully you remove the spines, the sensation stays inside your flesh until you find another urchin to step on the same way, to fill the same deep and narrow holes. Remember that the flesh you have is always changing, but that its need to be held, to be part of the world it’s made from, will never disappear.

Two Ovids

Among your papers I found evidence that you, too, worried about Ovid’s exile. Like me, you were incensed by the fact that the reason for his exile is never given, and what seemed to upset you most was the idea of the poet dying outside his homeland’s borders.

Ovid sent letters to Augustus, who would never read them.

“Tout était dit.” Everything had been said.

*

For a while, you wrote dialogues between two sides of a single person or idea, making them argue and disagree before they came to see each other’s thoughts more clearly, more lovingly. You left room for reconciliation, which is always easier to do in fiction than in life.

*

Unlike me, you didn’t make the reason for Ovid’s exile into the failure of a love story between the poet and the emperor of Rome. Unlike me, you didn’t equate the borders of the Roman Empire with the lines of Augustus’s body, didn’t read Ovid’s exile as the eviction from the presence of the person you found most comfort in, and outside whose limits lies nothing but anhedonia.

Your Ovid was limited to the impossible question of what it is he was guilty of seeing, and how lucky he was not to be left to die on a rock in the middle of the sea. Unlike me, you’ve always known how to recognise a dangerous man.

*

I look at the picture I have of you as a child, grey ghost of a boy sitting in an end-of-times gondola, looking over his shoulder and through the paper at a pair of eyes you couldn’t have imagined would be mine, and all I can think of is not how similar our features are – I’ve heard this too many times – but how big your ears look on your child-sized head, ears you’d later grow into, but there you are in a crumbling barge like someone dreamt up by Thomas Mann, sitting between your uncle and posterity, immobilised on paper some years before something inside you broke for good, in the midst of Venice, whose stench you told me made you ill, and your eyes are already as sad as I knew they could be, and your ears, like your sadness, are those of an older man.

*

I remember the only time you ever commented on my body, standing in the kitchen while you put the knives away.

You said, “You have your grandfather’s ears,” and I said, “No, they’re just like yours,” even though I know they aren’t, I said it just because I didn’t want you to link me to your father, whose way with knives around the human anatomy was perhaps his softest, most redeeming part.

Eurydice makes a decision

With the sutures still on his mouth, Orpheus makes a slow move back towards domesticity. He heads to the supermarket for household supplies, and as he hovers beside grapefruits in the cold and artificial air, he sees someone who might be Eurydice.

The figure lingers before the shelves, oblivious to Orpheus, whose feet are naked on the tiles. 

Perhaps she does see him, in the corners of her eyes, no longer lidless like those of a fish, her skin no longer bearing the shimmer of scales, but nothing about her posture concedes the difficulty of being in the presence of a person you once loved, then gave up on. 

Bracha L. Ettinger, Eurydice n. 5, 1994

It’s hard to tell real from fake in the droning supermarket light, but this person, whether or not she is Eurydice, seems very much alive, not a trace of Hades on her clothes, which are clean and unruffled. Her hair is warm and dry, her hands unmoving. She seems of normal density, human, with commonplace skin and forgivable instants of distraction, all in all very much like a person who never died, never suffered the ordeals of a myth. There seems to be no viper’s bite on her ankle. 

Orpheus watches as she crouches next to her basket, hesitating between recycled toilet rolls and some which are not, and in his crowded mind’s hearing he makes out the words that will be said to him several days after this by a well-meaning friend: 

Eurydice is not meant for you. She isn’t an inevitable part of your story, or linked to you in some mystical way. She is not a soulmate the world’s tides have flung into your hands. Like anyone else you ever loved, no matter how intensely, Eurydice is no more than an accident. 

Bracha L. Ettinger, Eurydice n. 45, 2006

Orpheus doesn’t approach the tender figure wrapped in her coat, only watches as she rises with the recycled rolls in her hand. He cannot say if Eurydice is more or less important to him knowing the crossing of their paths is, and has always been, accidental. 

He knows that what matters is not whether placing his hand on this person’s shoulder reveals her to be Eurydice, whom he loves, or a stranger, whom he knows nothing about and understands only in terms of their shared humanity, but the fact that Eurydice, where ever she is, doesn’t want to be alive and will not return to him, and that what this means isn’t that Orpheus is doomed to repeat the myth he has been repeating all this time, but that the world isn’t based on a foundation of symmetry, of reciprocity, no matter how much Orpheus, in his limited understanding of things, wishes that it were. 

The Aquarian

Your vision was fine. The clouded spots weren’t on your cornea but on your mind’s eye, which saw me clearly at first, then moved sideways towards interpretative paranoia. I wasn’t perfect, you decided, not yet. I needed to be improved on if I was to survive in the world you saw surrounding us. 

Many times, you saw the fire lick my bones, and thought that fire cannot help but consume, and like your namesake constellation you poured water over me to keep me from burning myself down to ash.

But my fire wasn’t a consumptive one, and although I bet that’s what they all say, I maintained that my fire was under control. My fire was as cleansing as a fish pedicure, I said, removing the surplus from my corium so as to refine sensation, clarify my feelings in the way I, prone to clutter, needed so badly. 

Again and again you doused me in refusal, in nightmare scenarios and do not’s. Every other word dripping with limits and impossibilities.  

My own cornea began to develop nebulae, its own galactic stable of them. These were my own hang-ups and blind spots into which I began to step even as I sought to avoid them. 

When you collapsed against the door of a parked car after the two excruciating hours during which the unseemly wolf-child hair was electrocuted from my body follicle by follicle, the day was sifted and overcast, but somehow I remember the sky above us being dark and full of stars. It was the first time I understood that you were going to die.

My nebulae run backwards, too, they burrow down into my memories. 

Sometimes, a red light appears in my mind from the gaping black of a silent stage, and I feel my entire body wet with animal fear, inconsolable, the way it felt after the hot and whirring needle burned its way into every one of my pores. When the red light appears, round like the circular illusion of stars, the space beneath my temples falls silent. 

Your constellation contains no brightness; all you have are reactive patches of gas and dust. Your body is etched into the night sky with several nebulae expanding around ageing stars. You, yourself, spent my whole life as an ageing star.

My life starts with the summer solstice. It makes me yearn for brightness and clarity. But my yearning is comical, to be ridiculed: my stars arrange into the shape of a crab, crushed under the foot of an overeager muscle-man tasked with a dozen labours. It goes without saying that this man’s constellation does not bear bright stars.

At the heart of me lives a beehive, Praesepe.

At the heart of me, the buzzing never stops, perhaps so as to make up for the fire you drenched with paternal worry until the flames eventually stopped growing back, like my wolfchild hair, burned from my pores until only a few remained in the charred soil with enough follicular strength to come back every spring.

At the heart of me, the beehive hides from this world in which smoke is only the suffocating element of fire.

It is in water we will suffocate, or perhaps in smoke, but not in the clarity of flames, and not in the earth which, like ageing bones, is so full of holes for light and air to shine through that even the most loving efforts will not manage to pack it tightly around the stem of a growing plant.