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.

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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.

Orpheus/Eurydice, or: the self disseminated into others

Sometimes when envisaging itself the mind splits itself into many parts so as to see its different aspects more clearly, aspects embodied most often by characters that can play out their traits with the aim of seeing how they relate to one another. Sometimes two lovers are the easiest puppets for the conflicting parts of a mind, as is the case here, when Orpheus and Eurydice must realise how incompatible their responses to a common past damage have become, leading to an asymmetrical dance between one who flees and one who chases, always fruitlessly. 

***

You are Eurydice, and what has bitten your ankle is your past. I wonder now if you allowed it to, beckoned the snake’s sharp mouth towards you, even after all these years you are unwilling to be separate from it, to let it stay where it belongs; this past, Eurydice, you speak to it endlessly, you steep in it, it puckers your skin. The bliss I seek seems to you impossible, and you are unwilling to contribute, preferring to dwell alone in the Underworld with these last traces of her, the poison that ferried you there, coursing through your translucent earthly flesh. You want to remain a tank of her imprints in the dark, to watch them glow and swim inside your river map, you want to be alone in silence without me, made to hear no words but those she left you.

And here I am, this other part of you, the desiring fool who, despite every person in our past, never lost hope in love, imprudent Orpheus descending again and again into the Underworld to find you, sing you into a freedom you have no care for. Here I am, Eurydice, the part you lost, trying in despair to win you back to me, but the split has occurred too long ago, and we are now two separate beings, one yearning for unity, the other seeking in an untouchable solitude the memory of others, easier to be with than her living twin. I, the hopeful part of you, once meant so much to you, you let me define us, you held me, I was your all. Were we once a single soul, Eurydice? Our perfect likeness tells me that we were, and yet you carry a damage I cannot feel, and a refusal to choose me over the company of others, whom you find so much more compelling. All this yearning to step out of yourself, Eurydice, and into unfamiliar depths and ruins.

Here I am, descending to where you are so as to convince your smirking wardens that all of this is a mistake, that you aren’t meant yet for this place, that your heart’s true wish is to be alive on the surface with my love for company.

“She will be yours in time,” I tell them. “Human lives are short, she will be back before you know it. Let me have her back just for a while.”

They bare their teeth with knowing eyes, the discomfort of sadness is felt in their skin. How can I be so deluded to believe that I know you, they think, believe that you are capable of wanting me, that what you truly want in life is to love me in return, that your stay down here is involuntary. Each time I stand before them, your sinister keepers don’t have the heart to tell me that they are not what’s keeping you down here, that you checked into this underground madhouse of your own volition, and no matter how many times they give in to the logic of my song and send you up there after me, none of it will last.

“You may be her twin, but you are superfluous to her.”

They don’t have the heart to say it. Every time I think I’ve found you again, Eurydice, every time I think you’re back, the same thing occurs: the viper who infused you with indifference returns, adding more and more of its poison to your system until your heart can no longer stand the uphill climb and tells me finally that I have to let you go, give up. Life down here is what you want, and you can no longer humour me. The poison will never leave your system.

When I had you, held you, placed my heart between your teeth, already you were dancing with the water nymphs, my name split apart from yours in the mind we shared, already you were bound by a trance I have seen before, in him who bends over the dark waters and sees himself dissolve into pink and yellow shakes and shivers, the water washing him clean of yet another layer of himself. He bends further and further forward, toward what he realises he can become if he unties himself from the love of any other person, and like you he is bitten, in his own way, his skin is lacerated and fed a poison he cannot undo. Like you, he becomes fragility, he becomes oscillatory, his care less constant than a spark.

On our last night of embrace your body pulled away from mine like a splitting cell and you got up to drag your bare feet through the dew. Your viper found you among the reeds, she returned, she said, “Come back to me, return to me, he is no more than anyone else you ever tried and failed to love. How can Orpheus’s song compare to everything I meant to you?”

Your eyes glazed over with an interminable expiration, and no matter how far my arms reached to hold you, you pushed me away. “We are two separate bodies now,” you said, “and I can no longer see what lies outside myself.”

But down in the Underworld, singing to your sunless keepers all those same songs that once made you fall in love with me, I am oblivious to the ruling couple’s hints, lit up by the hope in my own melodies. With this yearning pouring from my mouth incessantly, I walk up the incline separating our two worlds, I do so again and again, a boundless vigour driving me to salvage the connection I still sense between us.

I walk, dragging you behind me, the rope of my words tethered to the boulder of Sisyphus, I walk with the sweat of unrest coating my body with its gleam to the point where even your nostrils numbed by death catch a whiff of me. You ascend behind me without a word of reassurance. All I have to go by to feed my trust in your presence are the words you said to me long ago, when there was love behind your eyes, when I thought you felt the things I feel still.

All I have are the promises your wardens made, that stone couple who equate love with a violent convenience, presence and absence alternating according to contract. They know that you will be back down there with them all too soon. Those two never mean what they say, and all they really give me is permission to fail at gaining your love, over and over.

“If this is what you want…” they say, after hearing my desperate song for the hundredth time, thinking to themselves, “You know she doesn’t want you. It’s the poison in her ankle she’s in love with, the part of her that cannot expand. She loves that liquid person from the past swimming in her veins.”

But it is only her I want, just this one, Eurydice.

If my own future holds the venom of an ankle-biting viper, let this viper be Eurydice.

What if, on one of my many tiring ascents up the slope with you walking quietly behind me, what if there never was snake, what if the snake is just a way for you to shield my feelings? You may simply be unwilling to love me, to care, because we are too like each other except in what we want. You cannot respond to the love I sing for because this love is my concern, not yours. You may have given up trying to heal from the damage we both suffered, decided that of all the people in this world I am not different enough from what leaves you cold: the morning mirror, that dark socket on the wall. You cannot love me because when you try we both go numb, I with hope, you with the inability to give.

“I have given too much, too often,” you tell me, “and it’s drained me dry. I have tried to love myself and failed each time, the part of me that hopes is not the part that is fulfilled.”

I walk up the steep path, carried by thoughts of myself as a patient man, thinking I know how to be patient for you, Eurydice, how to wait for you to heal, Eurydice, my joy, my twin.

The stone below me is wet with the tears of the living. No sound of your ghost feet behind me, and all I want each time is to turn around to see your face, which is tantamount to saying that I want to see you love me, even though in this impossible world I know you can’t.

Still, the temptation is too strong each time, and I turn with my mouth open to bleed my love over your hands, to see the dearest face I know. And I do see it, but it’s a face asleep, a face in communion with an other, an absent person, someone you feel closer to in Hades than up there in life with me. When I turn around, each time anew, breaking the wardens’ one condition, it is not disappointment I see in your face but relief, a kind of gratitude.

“Thank you, Orpheus, for failing to bring me back with you, for not being enough to save me from my past. Your failure is my permission to stay down here and keep this shrine to my beloved poison alive in my flesh. Thank you for keeping me safe from life, for setting me free. Hers is the only company I truly desire, so thank you for trying and failing so many times. I know you love me, Orpheus, I really wish you didn’t, I’m sorry that you fell for that charming idea of wholeness, of spherical, double-bodied soulmatery as Aristophanes once joked. We fell together into that same shape, yes, but Orpheus, you know it cannot be. I am not made to be bound to the back of another person, no matter how alike we are. You are so pretty, and your body made love to mine so well, all of our time together a fond memory for me, but nothing could fill the wound she left in me. She was a different person, for god’s sake, how can that not be better than loving what is too much like you? It is her I love and yearn for in my loneliness down here, not you. I cannot leave the Underworld, Orpheus, all there is up there is the prospect of staring into your face day after day. That alone cannot bring me happiness. I hope you understand.  In fact, I know you understand, because each time we are about to march back into the oblivious, waking world you turn around to look at me.”

Sometimes time folds when I climb these slopes and your words return to me, not these words but ones you spoke before, words that echo what I always wanted to hear, words that cradle and soothe, and for a moment a deep peace runs through me as though the branches of my arteries were lighting up my path through Hades for a while. Everything you gave me, Eurydice, makes it impossible for me to leave you down here, to give up the desire to wake to a clear unbroken mirror, see your face alive as I turn. And with this, the mistake occurs, always the same mistake in this pleating instant, the collapse of time: I turn to read your face again; before we reach the light of day, which seems impossibly far, I turn to ask you to love me.

You sigh and speak the words I dreaded. There is nothing to be done. You cannot want me no matter how much you wish it were different.

And with this you disappear again into the dark, relieved to be rid of me until the next time I descend with my lyre strapped to my back, return to the depths with my song and try again, because these attempts to lure you back to me are all I have left of a mutual bond that is now no more than our face in the dark and rippling water, the hollow parts in our mind into which I stumble, the languishing humidity of those many nights when you become still.

Camel

Camel speaks truly only by means of quiet humidity. The wet babble of her armpits is the cause and expression of her heart’s distress. In the dark folds, two mouths speak in wordless streams.

Camel’s eyes are glassy, two spheres rolling along a wet road, they pick up the blue sheen of fallen rain, turning its flat shadow into spherical gloss.

A snowball is known to make snow curve around its centre; a dung ball pushed by a beetle picks up in rounded layers the excrement that makes its bulk.

Camel is leaking. Her emotion has turned her into a sieve, her skin is the cloth cradling a sweating cheese. At all times, Camel is covered by a vulnerable sheen, which catches from afar the eyes of the approaching, exposing to them her nature. There is no chance of deception.

Camel, beheaded, spends a day without coffee and feels her eyelids throbbing, her eyeballs rolled like dough between the two hot palms of her temples.

A man she knows, perhaps remembers from a stronger bond, sits down two rows ahead of her, closer than Camel to the cinema screen, and Camel shuts her rolling eyes to avoid being recognised by the back of his head, which she remembers cradling in her lap, his face looking up at hers with features hinting at the words, I can’t wait to spend my life with you, Camel, I can’t wait to see your eyes open next to mine each dawn. Later, the man’s features changed, became unreadable, and Camel felt as though she had gone blind.

Camel sees the clouds bunch like struggling tissue underneath the belly of the plane on which she sits in order to escape. A river circles her torso, curling down her flanks like a tongue trying to lick the hurting parts of her.

Camel’s eyes are tethered shut by the elastic filaments of sleep, but she sees through the gaps when she concentrates on the metallic shudder she sits within, the jolts fed into her body by the chair, and barely the length of your forearm between her and the hungry, bright blue void out there.

The Green in Black

I look for the green tinge in the black paint. When it isn’t there, I know my eyes have adjusted, finally. I feel my hind legs straighten almost all the way, which is supposed to be a sign of something. Then there is the fur that comes out in clumps whenever I touch the skin underneath. Could the energy of it rupture something as sibling as these quick moments woven into one another?

*

The bonds between cells which the plant material releases are wet paint, never had a chance to harden, crushed beneath a stride.

*

There is no healing. Not for anyone in this world. The work of healing is distraction, an occupation like any other, towards an empty eventual fall, a failing, there is no healing, not from anything. There is the moment of being passed through by life, and there is chemistry, and there is the no-longer.

*

I reach into your solar plexus all the way up to my elbow, and I hear the gushing, when my arm comes out it is coated with mud, and the touch of the world dries the mud so quickly it pinches my skin like tiny slaps before it crackles and flakes off, dusting my feet.

*

So little in the grain of the table is free from association with the things I own as a girl, these thighs, the striation in the skin goes both ways, up-down-left-right, and then some associative, diagonal nonsense.

*

My teapot is somewhat green, my cup is black. There are other colours and tints in all of this, like silver and white, but those don’t blend in with previously written words.

*

I think of the fact that I’ve never liked drinking from straws, or sucking at those water bottles that come with nubs. I’ve not been fed by breasts that way, I’ve been fed by rubber, and I’ve had enough, I think, of all this sucking.

I’m hungry, not for the difficult pull that constricts the throat and makes eyes bulge, but for the wide gulp of liquid tumbling in, the flow inward, unconstricted, a fall the size of an apple, into the mouth open as a well.

*

I don’t close my eyes during daylight hours. There is too much that could be missed, and I still haven’t earned my passport to life, after all I have spent years not really partaking, feeling so separate that I was convinced I would never die. Now every beam is something to be soaked up, something to be put aside for later use. As you can tell, I still postpone, but at least I consider the world something to be partaken in, in whatever way I can.

*

Money can be thrown at objects and it places them into your hand, it’s like magic. Food can be put into the mouth, then ferried into the stomach, and from there into the blood. It’s amazing. I can drink and speak and hear and see. I don’t know what to do with any of what I take on, but I’ll take it, who am I to say no?

*

I leave the day with armfuls of objects and words and pictures and thoughts, and I arrange them around my body every night in bed just in case I don’t wake up, and this is my way of saving my family and friends the effort to decide what to put in my grave.

*

We are Egyptian still, never got over that side of ourselves, and we still surround our dead with things, and I surround myself to pretend I live, just like the dead wear sheets and makeup, because it is spooky to look at them with their bones so slack in their faces, looking loose like the earth that calls them home to it.

Birdearth and Boudmo

Birds pull worms from the wet earth, loosening the seams that hold the world together. The world is fabric made from disparate pieces sewn into a unified joy, but the birds pulling at worms unstitch the composition, cause the continents to drift apart in island shards, and the body too splits in half along a winding seam, the soft drapes of its flesh now open in raw edges, budding with teeth. Two matching rows of teeth, zipped down and apart by the irresistible force of aching beaks. The teeth chatter to reveal their presence, unheard because no ear has time when the mouth is open. The teeth try to clamp back down on their mirror peers but cannot reach, and in their yearning they shudder like cymbals, like sequins on a spinning dress.

****

In other news, I never seem to get sick of this: https://youtu.be/OwCSkQpnWvk

Glue

I figured I would make a habit of dumping a bunch of old stuff on here, mostly tiny old things I can’t be bothered to edit into something more meaningful, so with that in mind:

***

She lays the needles on the table, digs two fingers into my pulse.

Show me your tongue. It’s what I thought. Your tongue is orange, like the belly of a slug.

I ask her how bad this is, and she smiles with her hand over the needles.

It just means, she says, that your heart is broken in several places, all mending together badly.

I tell her to treat it, make it go away for a while, take off my mind this badly mending heart, like a face reconfiguring itself after a crash.

If I treat it, will you still want to know what lies ahead?

I tell her I will. I have no way of proving this.

I thought so, she says. You’re that kind of person.

What kind of person, I ask.

She pulls out a ruler and measures my forearm.

The kind, she says, that’s afraid to be forsaken.

She measures, scratches notes onto loose paper.

Relax your hand, she says, why are you so tense?

A finger, then a needle, pokes between my tendons.

You body, she tells me, is full of holes. Wind and heat. Wind and heat are holes, and everything inside you is too thin. There is nothing to dam the growth of emptiness.

She punches another needle in a few points above the first one, then looks up as I rearrange myself on the table to shift away from the pressure on my spine.

Again and again a man will destroy you, she says, though not the same man, and never completely.

She sniffles and observes the pattern her needles make on my skin.

Lie still. Your Qi is all over the place. In fact, you are all over the place, leaking out of yourself like crushed entrails, it’s disgusting, keep it together.

I think I laugh at her words, why shouldn’t I? It’s a miracle that sound can escape me at all. Her eyes pull her head towards the window.

It was supposed to rain she says.

I know, I say, it never rains.

They ought to fix the roads, she says, on my way here I ran over so many dips in the tarmac. If only it rained, it would fill them up. If only it rained for days. A rain thick and dense like glue.