Orpheus calls his mother, the muse Calliope, to talk about love

Orpheus sets the phone on the floor and bends over the screen, letting his face hang there as if over a pond. The shadows of imaginary carp weave below the black surface. Call your mother, Orpheus. 

He tries to remember Calliope’s face, hasn’t seen it in so long, not even its traces in the mirror, his mother’s features so different from his. Calliope only writes to him these days. Orpheus barely ever hears his mother’s voice, she hides in the motionless print. She is a hieroglyph, the only one who could speak to his father and make herself understood. But the mortal king has vanished, and Calliope has gone silent. 

Call your mother, Orpheus, see what she has to say. 

Orpheus looks at himself in the dark screen. He lays his fingerprints on the phone and begins to dial. He waits. Only love opens access to hell.

“Hello my bag of fleas,” says Calliope. Magpies are nesting in her hair.

Apollo and his mother taught Orpheus to be lovable, his entire childhood one big finishing school. But no-one taught him how to love. How do I love, mother, when the plants in my house all thrive and die at the same time? When one of them laughs at me relentlessly for being human? When I am so trapped that I can no longer be either Orpheus or Eurydice, but am caught in the filaments of their bond so resolutely that if they were to break apart I would dissolve into formless shimmers. Is there love beyond the sensation of Eurydice, she who is the opioid euphoria of affective widening, the poppy seed of thought? Eurydice, the muscle memory of being loved, a twitch in the nervous system as I open myself up.

“Your father never liked it when I kept birds in my hair,” says Calliope. “These days I fall asleep with their talons buried in my scalp.”

“They suit you,” says Orpheus.

“Why are you calling, sweetheart?” 

Calliope taught him poetry, Apollo gave him the lyre and taught him how to play. His hair is his mother’s, as is his skin, the colour of morning light flecked with poppy seed. You are perfect, Orpheus, a flawless specimen. It shouldn’t be so hard to love you. Your bones were never broken, your vital organs always took the blow. You’re goofy, you’re ridiculous, you laugh so much, you scare so easily. For years, you never entered a house through the door, windows only. For years, you spoke using no words, only sounds approximating those of a cat. Your eyes built their home close to the sea. But it doesn’t matter how clean your bones are, how efficient your kidneys. You are chaos, you know you are. To love Orpheus the way Orpheus wants to be loved transcends human capacity, and nothing is more selfish than a god.

“Mother, why didn’t you ever teach me how to be a muse?” 

“Oh, sweetheart,” says the muse. “You’re not looking for some kind of lineage here, are you? Family resemblance, all this quaint nonsense about belonging?”

“Never mind,” he says.

“I never taught you to be anyone’s muse, Orpheus, because you’re not muse-material. You’re impatient, you’re a maker of things, you’re the one who goes out there looking for fuel.”

The magpies chatter and screech, wagging their tails on Calliope’s head.

“I’m tired of art, mother,” says Orpheus. “I’m tired of making things that will never bring me stillness. The more I say, the more I need to say. It never ends. I want things to be steady for a while. I want to be quiet in someone else’s arms.”

“And the more you yearn for this Eurydice, the more your yearning makes you yearn, correct? So you found a muse in this girl, this part of you that ran away.”

“No,” says Orpheus, “I haven’t. Musing is a mutual pursuit, an agreement based on which the muse gives herself to the artist, and the artist gives his heart and mind to the muse. It’s not a one-way grasping.”

Calliope asks, “Do you like orchids, Orpheus?”

“Not particularly.” 

“That’s a lie, baby, I know you do. Anyway, do you like the troubadours?” 

“If you’re calling me a troubadour, mother, I’m hanging up.” 

“You’re too smutty for that, sweetie. I just want you to think: would any of their songs have been written if the love they sang about was anything other than impossible or unrequited?” 

“Poetry is meant to bring about the love that’s missing, not just whine about its absence.” 

“Don’t confuse poetry with alchemy. I’m afraid our talents don’t have any bearing on the composition of the material world. You never ask me about your father, Orpheus, why is that?”

“What could I possibly learn from him?”

“Before he found me your father couldn’t live without the love of many men and women simultaneously. Always fascinated by the surface of things, the superficial virtues of people, the gifts they had and gave, but without ever letting any of them truly close. Those who came close accidentally were shut out again. He was ravenous, insatiably seeking the affection of others to mend the growing wound within. The sort of wound you’ve seen in Eurydice, the kind that won’t allow itself to shut because it provides an aperture through which to see inside oneself. These people loved your father, but none of them gave him what felt like enough, because he never gave himself to any of them.”

“And what am I supposed to do with that information, mother?”

“Find something better, something reciprocal, the kind of bond that is based not on constant struggle but on mutual desire. It shouldn’t be so hard to love you, Orpheus. You’re a good kid, you’ve got nice eyes, you’re funny when you’re not busy moping about some girl. The myths are liars. Eurydice isn’t the only one you could ever love, no matter what you’ve seen the poets write. Eurydice is an empty hole, and nothing you throw into it will return to you. I know that more than anything you want to bring home this part of you that left, that escaped the organism you wanted to be. Don’t listen to the myths told in your name before you’ve even lived through them. Don’t let the words of others tell you who you are.”

Orpheus sighs. “My heart is tired, mother,” he says.

“Your heart is always tired,” she says. “When you were born you stank of valerian root, asleep even then. We had to breathe into your mouth four times before your lungs would open. If you’re weary, find something else to feel. There is more than one sensation in the world, just as there is more than one note on your lyre. Remember when Apollo first gave you that instrument, too heavy for you then, it licked your face with crazed delight, you fell backwards under its leaping weight. You took it everywhere. But in your adult life, I don’t think you’ve tried for a moment to live with a waking heart.”

“At least you’re not holding back,” says Orpheus. 

“So how are things going with that split self of yours, the part you lost? I take it the whole thing still feel like incurable heartbreak?”

“It’s bad, mother. I’ve been listening to Jeff Buckley.”

“Tell me, sweetheart, I forget, how old are you now?”

“Depends on who you ask, mother. Last I heard I was roughly twenty-four, but the other day I could’ve sworn I was thirty-six.”

“Let me tell you something about love, Orpheus, the way we love, you and I. You are much more like me than you’d like to be. What really upsets you about this whole thing is the idea that someone might have finally earned your heart, or perhaps not even earned it, but own it. When Eurydice came along you said to yourself, this is the person who will be enough. And you gave your love to this Eurydice who was too young, too self-absorbed to need it. The part you’ve lost is gone, but you are still here. Don’t get lost in a linear idea of time, return to the spiral and remember that whatever you let go will return in different forms. Your problem is that you believed the lie your myth is telling you: that who you are is Orpheus+Eurydice, but here you are, Orpheus alone, halved and yet complete. The tail you lost is gone but your lungs still work. And yet you follow the idea of Eurydice into the depths of Hades because you can’t believe that the person to whom you gave yourself so carelessly was careless with you in return. That’s all it is, Orpheus, my smelly baby. It’s all it is, believe me. This is how we are. You have lost yourself, and yet you’re still here. Isn’t it nice when things are simple?”

Orpheus shakes his head. He wants her to stop speaking, stop making sense. He hates sense. Sense is not what poetry is made from, surely; poetry is pain and love and loss, and he is sick of himself. He wants to scratch his skin and scream on mountain tops, he wants to build a hut from animal droppings and hide in it for weeks, but he’s tired, even the expression of sadness exhausts him now. 

When he was a child, he made the rocks on the mountain weep. He played, and Echo shut her mouth for once. He charmed so many features of the world, and still he strays like a wounded animal, falling in love with absence and abstraction. Every time he walks down into Hades and makes Eurydice appear like a bubble rising from the swamp, opalescent with petrol stains, she seems like everything he’s ever wanted. 

And when she leaves, he stands alone on the slope of Hades, amidst the crumbling stalagmites. His life on earth is not that of someone living. He has lost access to the parts of him that know how to receive; his mouth is heaped shut with earth, and he excretes his love in thick black ribbons into the sea.

Calliope sighs.

“The magpies are hungry, my darling, I have to go feed them. So I’ll let you go. But there is something you need to do now, Orpheus. promise me you will. You can’t leave things suspended. You have to do the work of untying the things that have become tangled in your mind. Undo the bonds between things that aren’t meant to be linked, never asked to be linked. You’ve ended up with this muddle because all you do is seek connections between things, seek to weave a tapestry, but sometimes the wool catches things that don’t belong. You trap yourself in the pattern, you stop allowing yourself to remain open to the things that wish you well, those that are alive. You have to return now to the aching beauty of the world, with its melted ice cream skies, its dark shapes that move and never leave, and its birds that sound like glass. Love that which is here, Orpheus. There is nowhere else to be.”

Orpheus and Melusina share a moment

‘In love one perceives directly using one’s hormones and one’s stupidity

– Lisa Robertson, About 1836

Orpheus lies between Melusina’s legs, her feet pressing and drumming on the flesh of his arse. “You’re so tense,” she says, “What’s up with you?”

Orpheus chews on a corner of the purple blanket, then spits it out and looks at her face. “I’m thinking about what it must be like to have the head if a cow.”

“On your neck, or just to possess it? Heavy in either case would be my guess.”

“Do you think my father loved me?” asks Orpheus. “Do you think I’m irreparably fucked up?”

“You are the most distractible person I’ve ever had inside me, I swear.”

He sighs and leans his forehead on her chest.

“How should I know?” she says. “I haven’t read your myth.”

“I know, I forget.”

“You forget that people can’t read your mind.”

“Yes,” he says, “but not because I’m self-absorbed, just because sometimes I have a hard time telling the difference between myself and other people.”

Orpheus’s body has sucked Melusina’s body into it, his skin sticky as a frog’s, and she struggles to free herself.

“I need to get some water, Orpheus,” she says. “Sea-creature stuff, you understand.”

Orpheus lets himself fall back on the bed, arms spread out.

“Let the water run for a while,” he says. “It comes out green at first, then it goes clear.”

She walks to the bathroom and in the light he sees the scales on her legs have grown back. When she comes back with green water in a yellow mug, he sits up and holds her by the waist.

“Stop being so nice to me,” he says.

“Fuck you” says Melusina.

“No,” he says, “not like that.”

She takes a sip of water, leans over his shoulders, and lets the water trickle from her mouth down his spine. A dark stain grows on the mattress.

*

Orpheus stands at dusk under a sky full of dirty pigeon-coloured clouds, holding a beaker of sage tea to his solar plexus, and he watches the moisture from his face run up into the sky, sucked back into the clouds, where all water lives.

*

Orpheus strokes Melusina’s oddly yellow hair while she licks the skin below his navel.

“Sometimes,” he says, “I wish you could drop this thing with Siegfried, and I leave Eurydice to rot down there in her barren sulk, and we just stay like this forever, a rolling mass of bodies in the afternoon heat. What else is there to hope for besides this? Leave the struggle of the self behind and just open to something unrelated.”

“You know,” says Melusina, “if I were watching this whole thing unfold, I’d want you to end up with me too. But I know you’re not going to let this girl go, no matter how pointless idealising her is, for some reason you’ve got your mind’s claws in her.”

“There’s no-one like her in the world.”

“Yeah. Not even her.”

*

For days, Orpheus has been blowing yellow phlegm from his nose. Its consistency gets thicker every day, the colour deeper, and by the fourth day the blowing sound is deafening.

“Something deep inside me has become dislodged,” he thinks. “I must be healing an ancient wound, who knows.”

*

“What about Siegfried?” he asks Melusina.

“My myth makes things easy on me as long as I know how to be patient. I’m so many years into undoing the tragedy that occurs between me and Siegfried, I’m starting to understand everything. He needs me. Without me, he won’t become who he’s meant to be. It’s a matter of saving him from his own fecklessness. I didn’t make the rules, but I have a duty. I’m the part of him that brings about the person he needs to become. But Siegfried isn’t dead. Siegfried loves me, he just doesn’t know how to keep me yet. My magic is well spent there. I build the castle, and he inhabits it. But no matter how many times you go down to find Eurydice in Hades, even if you manage not to turn around, she won’t be the Eurydice you love. She won’t be the affectionate and electric person you knew. That version of her will never return. What you’d bring to the surface would be the dead-eyed zombie of Eurydice, who wouldn’t remember you or care about anything you are.”

“I know that,” he says. “But at this point this approximation is all I’ve got.”

“Stop chasing her.”

“I can’t. I’m a dog, Melusina. I chase the things I love, endlessly. I’ve never managed to be a cat, someone who just walks away from loss to go lick his asshole in a corner, pondering the bitterness of life. I’m a dog, a hopeful piece of shit creature, bouncing at the slightest whiff of promise, the merest thought that the thing I seek might be close again. Eurydice’s love is never far enough away not to seem close to my dog nose, my dog ears, because her love, even just the illusion of her love, is part of me. I know what it feels like to be wanted by Eurydice. Who she was when she loved, when she was alive, fuels every part of me. Did I mention I’m a poet? As such, I can’t accept her death because she is the part of me that makes what I do worthwhile.”

Melusina laughs and kisses his collarbone. 

“Was your father mortal?” she asks.

“In more ways than one.”

“How about your mother?”

“Muse. Better than me in every way.” Orpheus strokes Melusina’s scales. “Before she had me some say she made the sirens. Can be vengeful at times, but mostly she’s great. You’d like her, I’m sure.”

“I might,” she says. “I think you should talk to her about all this.”

Orpheus squeezes Melusina’s thigh. “I like that you’re here.”

“That’s a start,” she says. “Beats waiting for Siegfried inside a rock.”

*

There is a moment in the dream when Eurydice returns. The sky is yellow and purple, and in the bushes the cicadas make their hind legs scream. In the dream, Eurydice’s approach is silent, but her entire body smiles. She wraps herself around Orpheus’s back and they lie warm against each other in the midst of settling dust. It has been so long since he heard her heartbeat that he listens to it for hours before he can turn around. When he turns, he wants to bellow out his happiness, because Eurydice is still there, she hasn’t vanished, her hair shorter than before, her eyes the shape of intimacy. “Make me waffles,” she says, and, “Can I take a shower?” He nods and holds her against him, closer and closer until they are inside each other, their shapes overlapping into one and they both sigh with relief at what their bodies wanted to feel for so long. They merge into a sphere of stillness, their limbs like waving rays. Now and then, they push further into each other and every part of them shivers. On the trees, in long honeysuckle rows, the empty shells the cicadas left behind cling lifeless to the bark. The sunlight loses itself in a hollow exoskeleton. The wood they lie in becomes a house, its rooms filling with people, their distracting paths jittering like ants. Eurydice fades, her eyes go silent and she looks at Orpheus as if he were a hole. The distractions never cease, the whole room is loaded with noise, the air flees into the corners, and Orpheus lies there knowing this has all happened before, just like this but in different words, and he cannot give in to the revolt inside him, no matter how much he wants to he cannot change was has already occurred.

Two Sirens – Orpheus Changes Shape

Siren (detail from Ulysses) - Waterhouse

John William Waterhouse, Ulysses and the Sirens (detail)

The_Siren

John William Waterhouse, The Siren

The world is in constant strings. Perhaps one day, Orpheus, after the women’s unmet desires have torn your beautiful body to shreds, after your severed head has floated long enough in the sea with your lyre tied by the invisible filaments of loyalty to the lobe of your ear, the salty water will gather organic matter and refashion you a body; a body like the body of the one who loved you right, Melusina, a body of in-betweenness, nautical and feminine. The water will mould you into the thing you spent so long chasing.

Your hair will have grown long, released its approximate curl, your skin washed soft and silver by the water, your legs will end in fins and scales. Your voice will return once the water builds you a torso and a pair of lungs. You will spend your days twisting your tail underwater, swimming with more ease than the souls dragged down the Styx. You will sit with lilac water in your veins, perched on sun-warmed rocks to sing songs without words, searching the waters for Persephone. Your song is a seeker, it is limpid, pleading no longer.

Imagine your body, Orpheus, washed clean of agitation and dread. When you loved Melusina’s brief sun, it was because you knew Hades would come to an end, by which time you would become someone like her, you knew the shape her body had come from. It took Eurydice slipping away in a seemingly endless recurrence for the self to craft itself. Mending takes place within the boundaries of the tear. The Underworld is no place for poets, but the skies and waters are.

Your lyre, the patient dog, returns to your arms and gives you its strings. Everything is as it was, returned to the wordless calm of a time before Eurydice’s ankle fell prey to tragedy. Love is once again a possibility. The body is new, the rawness under the skull appeased. All this to look forward to, Orpheus, when your body escapes repetition’s toughened grip and takes on a silence of a different kind.

Orpheus gets distracted

During the past couple of months I’ve spent increasing amounts of time in what my therapist calls the ‘Sandpit of Archetypes’, where I play with archetypal figures as if they were my dolls. Since Nanowrimo, I’ve begun to weave bridges between my arche-puppets, to see if they bring something out of each other that wasn’t there before, although in all honesty, all I’m probably achieving at the moment is more of the same.

Grief has a way of knocking your mind full of holes, which has kept me from spinning my thoughts as far as I wish they went. But I don’t think the archetypes mind too much, they just want to be played with.

Anyway, here is my precious baby Orpheus, intercepted by my favourite castle-building sea-witch Melusina, who seems to be taking a break from Siegfried’s crap. 

*******************

Orpheus has lost count of the times he has gone down to the Underworld, carrying a mound of increasingly artificial hope on his back, so as to reconstruct the lacework between himself, the part that wants to love, and Eurydice, the part of him that cannot trust, cannot open herself to the world. Worn out from the recurring descent, Orpheus has automated his mourning; his emotions change so quickly, and with each step, that he has, for the first time in ages, lost interest in logging them. His feelings skid across the ice, they are so fast, so fleeting – they are no more to him now than the buzzing of flies.

Orpheus emerges from the Underworld, where he has yet again lost Eurydice to the depths, had to watch her slide back into the dark, and here he is the bright light of day with his lids pinched together because after each ascent the sun seems harder to bear, its heat less like nourishment and more like paper cutting into a pre-existing wound.

Each time he comes back up to life for air, Eurydice’s silent refusal rings in his ears, I cannot love, not now, not you, not the world. Orpheus can’t make himself whole again because his missing piece, Eurydice, listens only to the poison in her foot. We were hurt once, we will be hurt again. She isn’t wrong when she says this, but her approach creates nothing but inertia. 

*

And here he is now, up here in the waking world, where birds call to each other and the wind makes music in the trees, Orpheus hears a new voice, unplaceable, one he hasn’t heard before. The voice is saying:

“Take a seat, Orpheus, take a break. You’ve been doing this for, how long now? I’m not saying you have to stop, but it might be time for a change, no, a little distraction from this business of being Orpheus so relentlessly.”

Melusina’s eyes are like lichen glowing on a tree. They don’t burn Orpheus’s eyes the way the sun does, and so he sits on the ground and listens. Melusina has found her way into his story, somehow, and he doesn’t ask how. You don’t ask a witch how she does things, or why.

“We both belong to our damage, our myths,” she says, “and we know this, so maybe we can help each other out, just this once, change masks and bodies, let our roles become translucent for a while. What do you say?”

*

Confusion is a great place to be, the faith healer says.

They both know the path they’re on, the inevitability of it. They will try their entire lives to fix something that cannot be changed, to regain the love of a part of themselves that has forsaken them. Eurydice is the part of Orpheus that will always be submerged, will always withdraw from love, the part that won’t leave Hades no matter how much Orpheus struggles. Siegfried is the part of herself Melusina will never cease to please, do right by, the part that can never be satisfied. So why not give in to each other for a while, leave aside their myths, the paths they will later have to return to. Melusina has no bearing on Eurydice, no interest in Eurydice’s damage; Orpheus cannot explain or make up for Siegfried, and Melusina doesn’t want him to. 

*

Crossing over and putting your own myth on pause is a risk, the shrink advises. You know you can’t escape the repetition you are always working your way through. The thing you escape will find you again, no matter whose story you hide in.

But what sweet release it is to imagine a moment in which they can be something else, act as a roadblock in each other’s automatic progression. Cut through the fog of repetition and eternal recurrence, screw up this whole inconclusive trundle. Rip them for a moment from their fate and see if it leaves a mark, see if it changes the way of things. Rub them against each other, see if their sparks transform the scenery from forest to desert, see if they can clear what’s overhead to reveal a night sky full of stars.

Confusion is wonderful, the faith healer says, because all bets are off, and there are no maps telling you where to go. 

*

Melusina says: “I think it’s time we suspended what we’re carrying and found some solace in each other. I know you Orpheus: you get distracted when you’re not rewarded. You think of yourself as a patient man, patience is your virtue of choice, not your singing, which is beautiful, not your body, which is love. Patience is how you love, and yet your patience traps you in a deadlock with yourself: the part of you that seeks connection versus the part of you that wants, above all else, to protect herself in isolation. Such a long-lasting stalemate, don’t you think? And so familiar to me. Couldn’t we both use something else to wipe the slate, something to spark a fire in the palms, a stomping rage inside the lower parts, remember what the body feels like when it tangles up with another’s limbs. Let’s step into each other’s myths, Orpheus, see what things are like outside the deadlock. Let’s give this to ourselves now, Orpheus, to each other, during this lull in our patterns, this waiting time before we head back down into our respective Underworlds – yours in Hades, mine a castle on a hill – before we return to fighting for the parts of us that refuse to yield, back to the ache we nurse so ceaselessly. This is the time to remember what it feels like to mourn without sorrow. To bite a lip that isn’t your own, nor Eurydice’s in dreams.”

Orpheus nods and walks through the door she holds open for him, a passageway she clawed from the air with her hands, which are magic. He walks through to see another wood there, similar to those he knows, yet different, further north, its greenness lusher, and not a juniper in sight. There is no sea salt in the air, this is a landlocked kingdom.

This is the wood Melusina inhabits, and around her are valleys hollowed from the gentle slopes of black and leafy hills. It is in these woods that Melusina waits for man after man, each one of them Siegfried, all of them waiting to be Count, all of them impatient men wo repeat Melusina’s painful pattern, men who have no patience with who she can be, who she is becoming. Siegfried is distressed by transition, by what wavers and mutates. Each version of Siegfried who finds out how erratic Melusina’s physical form is, blending human and serpent and bird and fish, chases her away in fear, cannot find in himself the ability to love such a confusing being. And yet it is this person Melusina must return to each time, Siegfried after Siegfried, until she comes, with each successive involvement, closer to an answer. 

*

David Cronenberg, who is in many ways a fish, says: “Everybody’s a mad scientist, and life is their lab. We’re all trying to experiment to find a way to live, to solve problems, to fend off madness and chaos.” (Cronenberg on Cronenberg, p.7)

Melusina and Orpheus look for themselves in the pain of a no, look for themselves in every instance of reaching out to Eurydice or Siegfried respectively, and in this repeated no they look for the part of their psyche they are missing, have been missing for so long, and they look, most of all, to understand. Their path, they tell themselves, is scientific, but even this motivation cannot save them from becoming tired, becoming discouraged, becoming bored.

*

The aim of the experiment, if there is one, is fuelled by the masochism of the scientific mind: to return again and again, like a Hegelian self-consciousness, to that which says no to you, refuses to yield, which like a glass flower fools the eye and cuts the palate to shreds; that which looks edible but cannot be bitten without shattering, without a violent disappointment. In the name of science you return to it and make it happen to you over and over, to see, not if you can make it yield, make it say yes instead, but to see why its refusal tears these clumps out of you, to see where in your body this no hurts the most, and why it feels the same each time it occurs.

“The point,” says Martyn Steenbeck about science-fish David Cronenberg, “is to follow the experiment or hypothesis through to the end, unrestrained by social or political consideration.”

The reason this is permitted, is because Orpheus operates in a dream, Melusina in a tale. They are returning something to its wholeness, something that may never have been whole, but they know wholeness can never be attained without admitting that parts of oneself will always be hidden in others, where they may have been for much longer than we imagine. Eventually, both Melusina and Orpheus will have to abandon distraction and return to their quests, their experiments, repeating again and again the patterns that are theirs alone.

*

Orpheus says: I’ve spent so much time with my ear pressed to my own sternum, and yet I know almost nothing, except for all those things I’ve wrapped in words, concepts of my needs and thoughts, what I think I know myself to want. And all of a sudden there is Melusina, who knows nothing about me, knows only what she sees, and she says, ‘I don’t think you’re scared of being unloved, you’re scared that once you are loved in return you’ll realise you don’t know how to act, that every word you say seems heavy or wrong, you’re scared that once you are loved you begin to doubt yourself immensely, your abilities, your temperament, you start thinking you’re a monster, you think “I’m not worthy of this person’s love, they must be mistaken, they can’t possibly love me and know what they’re doing, they must think I’m someone else.”

Her arms fall around me and she says, “No-one can know you the way you want to be known, Orpheus. Nobody wants to. It would be like wanting to know water, wanting to know it as if it were a person, beyond knowledge of its chemical composition. Wanting to know what water dreams at night, if it has aspirations, what its relationship with its father was like.”

And her voice is such that I don’t care if she’s right or wrong, what matters is that she puts me somewhere in an imbalance of comfortable and ill at ease, and she smells like seaweed and her hair is split like lightning at the tips, I feel the calluses on her hands and think, so what if I don’t know where this is going, so what if Eurydice and I are trapped in an endless cycle of denial, so what if love is never more than a whiff of God that wants to quell His absence.

*

The setting of Melusina’s world changes when Orpheus enters it, though of course he doesn’t know this: shadows have a lilac shimmer like Orpheus’s eyes and hair, no longer the rich gold of Siegfried’s shade. Melusina notices the air is cold and light with Orpheus here, not the dense and temperate wafts that curdle around Siegfried’s fiery frame. Orpheus has brought tenderness into the atmosphere, a playfulness that Siegfried cannot find, Siegfried who says, “I don’t know who or what you are, you’re too many things at once. I’m just trying to run a county here.” And Orpheus, who’s seen it all, who’s been to Hades so many times now that he’s surprised when rivers aren’t full of flames, the air for once not veined with wailing souls.

They sit and drink the coffee Siegfried won’t allow himself to drink.

They touch each other’s bodies the way Eurydice will not let herself be touched.

*

Remember, says the therapist, the enormous, underlying grief, so large that even standing right on top of it you could not see the outline of its face, could only see the texture of earth instead of skin. It’s not Eurydice who will make you feel whole, it’s learning to be without her, to let her stay in Hades for as long as she needs. The grief you are both dealing with in your own ways is primal and eternal; you can’t shake it from your bones nor write about it, put it into words, but it is what has driven you from copy to copy of the same person, it has rubbed you into the most translucent version of yourself, into someone who, for fear of hurting, eats only sand and leaves, drinks only his own piss, whose hands touch only his own skin; but Orpheus, before you head out into the plain to have what’s left of your scraggy little body mutilated and torn, think again that each small pain, no matter how displaced, is a manageable way to mourn that unfathomable death. Get distracted, Orpheus, create some chaos for a while. Remember what it’s like to be rewarded. In time you will return to yourself, your Eurydice. You will return to caring for that which eats only itself. 

*

Split the ovum – Echo and Narcissus, broken symmetries

When conception begins and the egg’s perfect curve is invaded and made to split, cleft into double after double of itself, diligently producing copies of its soulmate, at which point does perfection cease and the chaos of asymmetry begin? We grow inside the perfect egg, and we become imperfect, even our bilateral symmetry is damaged by individuality, the mistake of living. The egg is the last time we are comparable to the idea of us. After that, we are born, born towards imperfection. Can there be symmetry in faces, in teeth? The potential of it, at least, is written into the idea of teeth, Platonic dentures floating up there in the ether.

*

On his receptive, emptied skin, Narcissus feels the radiant heat of primordial symmetry, and underneath the heat he feels a cooling, feels perfection vanish as it cracks, the burning sphere rolling itself out into the chaotic lumps of a spreading present. We are placed, says Martin Gardner, into “a cold universe of broken symmetries,” and with the heavy book on his lap the thought fills Narcissus with dread.

From a violent imperfection, that is to say from similarity but not sameness of desire, Narcissus was born perfect, a body smooth as an egg, a face as compelling as water to the fading mouth. His body is a star, long dead and compelling in a way that pulls the eyes up into the dark. His perfection precedes the god’s a beam of rage, shot through the soulmates’ spherical bliss. Narcissus carries within himself a fullness, a two-ness, while all others are left with a lack, on a hopeless quest for their invisible, missing half.

When separated from those who believe they are his half, Narcissus finds himself more complete than ever – outward desire has never been more than a lie. His body in the arms of another is an impossible solution; with those of an other his fluids can never mix. In the withdrawal that is his home, Narcissus is whole.

*

And now this thought, that even he was born from a necessary loss of symmetry, from that which breaks after the egg is fertilised. Narcissus’s heart, like Echo’s heart, lies to the left, and breaks at its lack of bilateral harmony. The heart, remember, the man’s heart just stopped. Narcissus knows the heart can be beaten into stopping, by fists whose drumming is fuelled by an unbearable unhappiness. More than that, the food the heart was given was too thin, insubstantial, and the heart bled out.

*

In the mirror of the pool, the symmetry appears so perfect, so perfect it breaks when touched. Touch is the sense that breaks the illusion of perfection, touch is the most worthy emissary of reality, winged at the ankles, flight sprouting from the talus, from underneath the lateral malleolus, useless, demonstrative feathers where the rotation takes place. Touch, the most connective and regulated of senses, and yet how many split creatures haven’t given in to its solace when the strangling embrace of the self entices. We have so long lived with ourselves, the parts of us that are unlovable, and with those parts we have made a domestic cohabitation based in disembodiment.

Echo would, but cannot, touch. The artwork hangs behind ropes, behind refusal. Narcissus only wants to touch, and be touched by, that which can never be held.

The heart was given no more than the mere idea of blood, no longer the blood of life, of love, and in consequence the heart bled out. Life ran from it in streams, all down the left side, the course of its dying crooked. There is so little to say about this, about hearts and the way they fall short, short of what? Their function. And yet so few functions are incontestable.

*

The symmetry of things lies in the fact that one overlaps with the other, and that the appearance doesn’t change after rotation, that the move to a different angle will not alter anything about the way we understand a thing. Narcissus cannot learn because he is born from water, drawn to water, drawn only to what is the same from all sides. Narcissus cannot change his past or learn from it, nor escape it, nor become anything but what he is, because Narcissus believes only in what is symmetrical.

“Water,” says Martin Gardner, “has spherical symmetry. Like a crystal ball it looks the same no matter how you turn it. But when water freezes, under certain conditions this perfect symmetry shatters to produce the lower but more beautiful hexagonal patterns of snowflakes.”

*

The world has been getting colder. Echo feels it in the mornings, and sometimes when she speaks another’s words she sees them appear in a plume of mist before her mouth. She wants to suck the escaping heat back in, and the words it contains. Narcissus came across himself as the seasons changed, and would the water have frozen over, hiding his reflection behind the dull milk of ice? A mountain knows no symmetry, not the absolute symmetry of water, and this is why on a mountain Echo can orient herself on the cracks and peaks, and Narcissus gets lost in the sameness of water, which is himself. From every angle, all Narcissus sees is Narcissus.

In the pool, he finds the symmetry he desires and and he cannot live up to its perfection, not even he after whom so many have fallen prey to the despair of unrequited love. Narcissus wants to undo perfection by reaching into it. Water and light cause the straight line to break, and it is his own arms he sees plunging into and disturbing the dear face. To relate to the world by touching it, pressing into it, rubbing one’s skin against the skin of it, entering its folds, feeling oneself stroked and surprised by it, all this is what takes the many bodies of Echo back into the parts of herself that are available to the light. In a person, there is no such thing as perfection.

*

How can recomposition occur, how can harmony be attained, when what has vanished precedes us all, the universal ovum split and opened itself up to a loss of symmetry? In a centaur, a figure composed of two reconnected parts that found themselves by accident, the problem is one of maladaptation. The lower body is a horse, all power and demand, the capacity for speed and muscular function, and yet the lungs feeding all this power are up there, in the human torso, adapted to the human brain, utterly unfit for the energy expense of a galloping horse. The horse’s legs are hampered and curbed by a human heart and lungs that cannot keep up with their demand for oxygen, for fresh blood. If the recomposed centaur self chooses to live out the drives connected to its lower parts, its heart and lungs will explode.

*

Echo the divining rod spreads open before Narcissus, trembling as she feels the water rushing under his skin. She has found him, the most beautiful spring, born from violent waters clashing, she trembles for him, but water never trembles in return, water only causes the tremor in the seeking wooden spine, only causes the thirst inside the aching throat. Echo cannot make herself invisible enough, cannot let go of her body enough, all she can be is voice, the invisible voice to the face in the water. Narcissus, too, bent over the pool to quench a thirst.

*

Between the stars, the harmony has been torn, and all things wear out and ripple and break. Bubbles and lumps appear in the cosmic flesh, like growths under the skin of the void. What is it that broke us, that tore us from perfection? What is it that made the bumps in our nose, the crooked ribs, the scar on our arm? What is it that pushed our heart to the left?

“You and I,” says Gardner, “are the broken symmetries of fertilized eggs.” Two hearts breaking with desire for that which they want to hold and melt into with their touch. And yet similarity is not the same as symmetry, it is not enough to those who want perfection. When Narcissus, who resisted being held, finally chooses to extend his touch, it is more than a choice, it is his entire body compelling him to, what he reaches into is not the warmth of another body but cold water cradled by the earth. His desire is to spread himself onto, into another body, but this body can never be held. Narcissus’s eyes see something his body is not capable of reaching, a self decomposing, withdrawing itself from the world.

*

Narcissus will not age, says Tiresias, his sight fogged up behind a second lid. Old age comes to a version of him who does not know himself. Only a fate could say that to see oneself is to know oneself, and what about the necessary asymmetry of being ground like meat through the holes in another’s body? The lover’s body grinds the own until little remains of it but parts whose relation must be reevaluated, their webbing rebound.

*

Echo returns the world to its chaotic swirls. Echo the Oread is rock, is heights, is isolation. Her feet crave the uneven terrain. In Echo there are gorges, chasms, ravines. She has seen men fall to their death after the strength of their hands let them go. Echo is the first to see the sun creep from its grave, to see the light lick its way like a tongue across the jagged rocks. Echo feels the coarse hairs of leaning trees creep from the cliffs. Echo the Asymmetric takes the other’s words and returns them halved, sliced apart by electricity. She modifies their sound and meaning innocently, she transforms. It is easier to love what one has loved before, to reproduce, symmetrically, what already exists; producing copies of the same takes less energy, no need to take deviation into account when rotating the clay under the palm, and the whole process is less of a chore.

If Narcissus had not encountered the pool in which his visage swam, if there had not been a drop of water in all his life, if, like Echo, Narcissus had lived on the dry and salty mountain peaks, his hair would have grown grey, his face torn to cracks by the light of the sun, and he would have encountered someone else there, a father figure unlike his own, the immortal water god. A mortal man to love without passion, and he would have moved along.

The unfortunate thing is the match between image and desire, nothing is harder to resist than the illusion of every desire met in a single source. The heart cannot resist.

*

saying again

if you do not teach me I shall not learn

saying again there is a last

even of last times

last times of begging

last times of loving

of knowing not knowing pretending

a last even of last times of saying

if you do not love me I shall not be loved

if I do not love you I shall not love

Samuel Beckett – Cascando

*

Between Echo and Narcissus, the choice isn’t real, and cannot be made. The webbed existence of the two heartbroken children, the chaotic swirls of Echo, the bilateral illusion of Narcissus. Two imperfect creatures, and neither can offer relief. They are not like rams, running into each other like pistons in a world without consequence, in which mutuality does not wear down.

The tragedy of this has already occurred within Narcissus, and the attempt is now to rectify it through a negative symmetry. Narcissus speaks these words to himself, the self he thinks he sees. Spherical Narcissus remains trapped in himself, the cave in which he and he and he all overlap.

*

Echo cannot say this: “Come to me, Narcissus, be my smear, my deviation.” She cannot say it because Narcissus will never say it first, not even an approximation of it.

In all animals, symmetry is broken in some way. Because we rely on each other, need each other, we cannot be anything but broken, in some way. We are alive and fettered to each other in the realm of the imperfect; we are no longer swimming in the globular fire.

To Dance

On the itchy chair I watch the orchestra as it lies prostrate on the stage like a giant animal scratching its ticks, and I remember that a conductor is not at all leading a vehicle but operates the way a sculptor does, smearing the sounds into shapes with his hands.

Being part of an orchestra always felt to me like being someone else’s paint, someone’s matter, a sensation I found twofold even then, perversely so, on the one side my desire to give life to my own mind in space, and on the other the delight of being only a small part of that living body, my instrument’s voice pushed around to make sense alongside the others, all of us melting into place under the hands of the person painting this deliberate, fleeting masterpiece with the colours we provide. 

Do I miss it now? No, I left it behind, like so many ways of being.

But my body remembers what it felt like, the rasp of resinous hair on strings, how the arm lifted and the breath changed when he raised his hand and closed his fist.

8AD MAN – Ovid in Exile

It was 8AD when you decided I was a bad man, when the love you said you felt no longer rose from your pores to meet my steam. It was 8AD then, when they ferried me on your behalf to the tail end of our Empire’s lobster-shaped cartography. It was 8AD when I fell from your graces and you ceased to respond with an affection matching mine. Misery will befall any man who loves Augustus, and who, by loving, exasperates him. Augustus must not be loved, and he who tries to love and be loved by Augustus is a man digging his own grave. This is the prediction I brought upon myself when I entered your body, allowed your body to enter mine, and let you too close to my heart, that overeager angel flanked by pocked and weakened wings, filling with fluid rather than air.

Parambassis ranga, the ray-finned glass fish from the fresh waters of South India, live delicately, cannot live well in captivity. Between walls, glass has a tendency to shatter when touched. Glass is happiest when it is born from lightning striking sand. Glass born from a human lung in the fiery captivity of a glass-blower’s studio is fragile, because humans have a propensity to make things ever more delicate until they can barely exist on their own. The fragility of the ailing human body is blown out of proportion by the isolation shrouding it when we cease to be able to see what’s raging inside us, or gain insight from each other into our pain.

We walk through the pale, sunlit corridors as people who have seen inside themselves. Our bodies made transparent to us, open to our gaze. This is the gift our illness has bestowed, and we carry it in our pockets, lung folded over dark lung.

The waters out here are murky, the sea is black, clinging to its own night. My body is too small to stir the sludge aside. How typical that the art of love, which I thoughtlessly carved into a slab, now stands between us, Augustus. When you became Caesar, I, your poet, became a threat, too volatile, too much like mercury, unfit to clarify even the cloudiest spleen. You began to fear my devouring spirit, Augustus, and you ceased to seek your solace in me, fleeing instead into the throne room to attend to leadership duties. But even this wasn’t far enough from my reach and you decided it was time I left Rome for good.

Banishment, you said. The men beating down my door were your ambassadors. Their arms seized me, and my body was banned to a cell for three nights before it was chained to a cart and ferried to the utmost edge of the Empire on the fourth dawn. Banishment for Ovid, who betrayed. The journey away from you lasted months, and with every passing day as I woke to find the wheels still turning I knew I would never see your face again, your face, it is true, shabbier with age and yet still the only face I assign to love. Time in exile ceases to flow cleanly, makes crosses instead of lines.

Despite what my letters say, it is not Rome I miss, is is the Rome that holds your body, Augustus, the Rome that is your flesh. Within the borders of Augustus, body and heart distended across mountains, seas and planes, there is no place for Ovid, the Empire now  devoted to another fire, the love of strength that seized you when you became Caesar. The only truth between us is that I can’t be far enough away. But you don’t know, Augustus, that the poet’s mind is the foundation of metaxy, and the distance between us, even your death, makes you glow more significantly inside me. Did you think, Augustus, that banishment would suffocate my passion? Have you ever been loved? If you had, you would know that exile cannot end affection’s blaze once it’s underway. Love stays in the poet, materialising over time in his corporeal patterns.

Look into the waters and see their small, translucent bodies tracing paths, all spine and on each side  an enormous eye, their flesh a kind of jelly. They swim past each other in the sweet watery slick, a window to their inside world, revealing how little of their inner space is taken up by organs, how much of them is spine, enormous eyes looking through the body’s glass. What can the large eyes see of their transparent peers? Like poets, do they speculate deep into the bodies and hearts of others until something is brought to the surface that should have remained hidden? They stare through the glassy skin at the incessant beating, the bones, the sparks. How constant our bones are when compared to what we feel. When you became Augustus, sometime after you became Caesar, though your heart continued to beat its wings, it no longer did so towards me.

Here I am, Ovid in exile, and like the wretched creatures I have fleshed out in words throughout my life, I am finally learning to languish and pine, to beat the hot ground with my bones, which carry in their marrow, indelible as code, my yearning for you. All those who are not you, Augustus, are unwanted, driving deeper into me the sickness that is your absence, a sickness that has wrung the strength from my lungs.

I dream of us, Augustus, together in exile in a fresh-air sanatorium, somewhere in the Swiss Alps perhaps, breathing the air that carries whiffs of soap and Edelweiss and billy goat shit and clean wet earth, breathing and hoping to cure the disease of loving too passionately. I dream of us there emptying our lungs of city life, of dust, of the humidity brought on by crying, by sweating, by lives unfitting for our needs. I dream of us there, in rooms next door to one another, in pyjamas of silver cotton thread, pince-nez, pomade in our hair, I dream that we walk past each other and feel the tentacles of longing shoot out from our skins, hooking into the beloved flesh. Our illness is one of sensitivity; it knocks the air right out of our tender lungs and leaves us reeling for a while. Like French saints, we burn, we suffer. I dream of us on chaises longues in the greenhouse, I reading my words to your ear until my voice gives out, I dream I hear you coughing next to me at night, who knows how long our bodies will last. We hope for the things the doctors tell us to hope, hope that our sheer will can make the illness go away.

It wasn’t you who tore down my chamber door that summer night, as you used to do in the past, when your eyes still burrowed into me, saying ‘Your words entice me, poet, the way you speak the Gods is truer than what shines from the temple walls. Hold my hand and follow me into the dark, teach me the difference between a spear and a reed.’ Those were your words to me when our bodies were younger, bodies we threw at each other without much thought against my plaster walls.

Think of the way technology makes our flesh translucent, radio waves exposing on screen what is happening within. In the tuberculosis ward, we carry the image of our own bodies exposed on screen, made into smears of light by electromagnetic waves; we have the doctors give us a print of our own internal image and we carry it over our hearts, show it to one another in the dark of our embraces. This is me, we say, me on the inside, all of me, love me for what you see. I have nothing to give but this flesh, these flattened ribs, the fumes of illness you see curling there, nothing but this bulky pear of a heart, the smudged cavities of my wringing lungs – this is all there is to me. Love me for this, if nothing else.

But you, the powerful one of us, flung my body as far from yours as you could, with the same insistence as you used to pull my head into your solar plexus. Before my banishment, when your love melted from your eyes, you said my crime towards you lay in something I saw, something I ought not have seen, the way water nymph Melusina melts into the rock when Count Siegfried spies on her in the bath – is it this sort of thing I have seen, Augustus, have I surprised you in full narcissistic thrall, in a metamorphosis of the flesh, have I spied in you something that belies your words as moral ruler over Rome’s unfathomable terrain? Have I seen in you what you yourself are unwilling to see, the ways in which you fail? The poet is a bad mirror, Augustus. Whatever I saw, it forced you to make me disappear.

And yet, for all the distance, my mind can’t but bear the beauty of your cheeks, the hair that falls like pale feathers on your face, your ears, their small, inward-curling perfection. I still feel the pointing of your tender hands, their skin fragile now and yet their beauty lies in the way they used to reach for me. Nothing will remove your features from my heart, Augustus. Think of the disease burning up our bodies when our lungs gave in, a fever of love we were too frail to feel, born victims of a consumptive passion, think of us are sent high up into the mountains to rest and breathe among the echoes, to heal there from the weakness in our chests, to suck in deep as much as we can of the fresh air said to be our saving grace. Think of the way the doctors have us stand behind a screen to see our bones shine in the dark like cartoon anatomy, every laboured breath visible through that impossible radio wall. Think of the ghostly way our ribs lie flattened on top of each other like wet shreds of paper on black water. Think of how we hold each other in the darkness of not-knowing, this summer retreat likely to take an abrupt end for some of us.

Imagine us, Augustus, as transparent people, habits and organs exposed to each other, in full sight of each other’s imminent stool, our flesh translucent like that of a fish. Imagine us able to comment on the health of each other’s lungs, the sparks in our nervous systems, the position of our hearts inside our chests. We could detect illness in each other just by looking in, the way apes eat the fleas from their sweetheart’s fur. Imagine living in such bodies, always open, always visible, imagine the anxiety of never being able to distract ourselves from our own pulse, our own heartbeats, our stomachs digesting. Imagine having nowhere to flee ourselves, how could we bear to be alone with no one to hold our bodies when the darks swirls of lovesickness unfold, imagine nothing hidden, no shield between us and ourselves. All there is, open to itself. Would it make us kinder men, do you think, more capable of intimacy?

Where else such a chance to see inside ourselves, inside each other? Creatures of excessive emotion, we bemoan the opacity we are tethered to, the clay in our epidermis, we fear the bewildered loneliness of our cloudy shell. I deal with the fear by flinging these words into the inhabitants of myths, I make them dance, I mould them, I ruin their lives; you take a spear and vanish into the duties of a man of mind. The political animal feeds on its worship of you, Augustus. Love was never something you could come to rest in, only ever one more conquest, a reward with which to widen your scope; soon boredom sets in. In the body of a poet, no matter how aged and frail, love remains cradled in devotion to itself, and the poet lives in a willingness to love and continue to trace every one of its folds.

In the tuberculosis ward, I am alone. The presence of you is carried only within my mind, a ghost, a desire, which will never again manifest in the flesh. “Me voici donc seul sur la terre,” says Rousseau, wandering spirit unbound yet trapped in an exile of his own. I am alone on earth when you die on a blistering August night, befitting your name. Your hands never again run down my spine, your flesh starves of mine. All these wars, these expansive settlements, all in your name, but for what, you ailing child? Your cough never left you; once, you kissed me and couldn’t tear yourself away before your cough shot deep into my throat.

I, the poet, belong to you, and your name is indelible on mine, carved into mine as if by some brutal machine in a colony of later years, carved again and again, with every new iteration of Augustus, even decades after your death, your name deepens the grooves it makes in my flesh. My verse were written in the age of you, and there is no wiping you from them. But since that initial crashing of our hearts, all these years ago, which led me to believe that like emotive planets we were leaving craters in one another’s surface, it seems thousands of years have passed, and I, though once a poet to whom the words and stars were kind, am now speaking from so far away that my images are muddled, my words smeared with a tacky gleam. No matter.

I wonder sometimes how many copies of me you went through before I was just another in a line of lovers to the great Augustus, all those attempts at changing yourself by rubbing your skin against another’s, all these Ovids with eyes like mine, concerns like mine, all these poets in line whom you chased down in admiration, saying, ‘Poet, I’ve never met a man like you.’ Inside the grooves dug by repetition, every time you spoke these words, said them again and again to poet after poet just like me, inside those hollows in your body reverberates my longing to hear them said again. The tubercular body is too sensitive to survive in a dispassionate empire. It coughs to eject the false air, the nauseating hope. On the doctor’s screen, black plumes of lovesickness appear, folding like hands around the weakened lung. The throbbing branches are no longer quartz, they no longer fan out with the pure joy of carrying blood toward the sky; instead, they liquefy. The body melts into phlegm as pale as candle wax.

When you die, Augustus, copy after copy of you emerges through time, these new rulers carry your name, and yet not one of them is you. It is not in the name that love is contained, not in the soul, love lives in the body, there inside the spotted lungs, inside the cracking bones, and when you died you never returned, no matter the abstraction you were flattened into, no matter the legends and coins, no matter the words you once said to me, you stayed gone.

How many copies before me? As many as there will be men who are Augustus after you have died? I am not the beginning of this string, Augustus, and I am not its end. I am somewhere in the middle, a meaningless pearl torn from an anonymous oyster on a seabed of no consequence. And yet in my body your name features indelibly, a permanent fleck on my lung. My mind unfurls in its retelling of the way your nose tip traced along my sternocleidomastoid, the way your hands held on to my wrists, your face impossible to erase from the jelly of my eyes. And yet such a translucent sickness, for all the value it adds to a poet, can never be the state of choice for a head of state, you said. A head of state is made of marble, you said, and does not carry his somatic secrets folded in a pocket across the breast.

Imagine compassion, made possible not by electromagnetic waves but by the barrier of the skin simply giving way to sight. Imagine the flesh clear as glass, imagine the incessant twitching and jumping under the surface, the blood curling its way into the organs. A living X-ray, and not just the one: every body the same. We wander the streets and see deep into each other, the flurries of activity there between our ribs, along our spines, the muscles milky under the surface. We see not the sex organs, we see the fluids and cells they carry. We see the bends in each other’s bones, the red flame in the suffering flesh, the darkness in the lungs of city dwellers, and we remember how to worry about each other. Up there in the mountainous resort, it’s so easy to believe the tale of lovers agonising side by side, hoping to be each other’s salvation. It is easier to live with the contradictions up here, of loving and not, of being angelic and animal, alone and beside you still.

The reason for my exile, it is said, is that one of us was too in love with himself, with what was too much like himself. We cannot say which of us it was. The result is the same: 8AD – a distance as wide as this Empire, which requires you to be always in its middle, will allow. 8AD ended me. All I wanted was to be your middle, Augustus, to be the centre into which you curl when the world tires you out. I will never see your face again before you die, before I die, nowhere but in sleep, every night since 8AD. Before this, Augustus, we were, for a brief moment, more open to each other than the murkiness of human skin allows, we were translucent, open to each other in words, in flesh, and I could see you there in front of me, I could see you completely.