There are two tragedies in life. One is not to get your heart’s desire.
The other is to get it - George Bernard Shaw
A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle. You have thought often of these fish and their bicycles. How the idea of needing a man is just as curious. It is this way from the start – just ask your barbies and Laura Holt. Anything boys can do, you like to do it better.
(As a necessity it just never strikes you to equate men with air. And you never could ride a bike).
But want is something else entirely. Want, that director of desire, takes up residence well before you can name it. Your early poems hint at this something sleeping within, a dormancy more dangerous than need. Your body can barely contain it as you begin to strain at your seams.
You are 14 when the first breach occurs. A particular scene in a particular film. The way two characters make love. It stops you in your tracks. With a white hot clarity you think – I want to do that. You rewind the scene a dozen times. Your chest blazes and your heart pulses in your finger tips as you study the limbs and skin and sweat on-screen. It leaves you blinking in the light and quietly sure that you want nothing less than this from
Jeff Bridges men.
With that quiet sureness you wait. Any time a skinny boy with grass on his knees comes near you push him away. Sex will not be an education. You want to greet it fully formed. You will know when you see it, and indeed years later the recognition is instant. This boy on the cusp with no grass staining his knees. He wears an earnest love of women on his sleeve and builds you a grotto on a laundry room floor.
When you lay down with him the sheer joy of it makes you laugh out loud. Later you scrawl in your diary that you cannot erase the feeling of his strong arms, and of laughing. You fall in love with the feeling of wanting more.
(You edit out the finer details however. You do not mention the girlfriend, how your secret glows up out of you but you are not allowed to say a word. He is the first man you will lie for. The first lesson in how little people see when they decide to look the other way).
When this boy leaves town your heart contracts once, hard and painful, but brief. You carry no weight of loss. Just the memory of strong arms and laughing out loud. He has taught you in secret the lightness of love. Un souvenir léger in the swing of your hips.
The next man is just a little famous. He buys your friends drinks and snorts coke in a bathroom bigger than your apartment. It makes you giddy, but he drinks three to your one, and when you spend the night your bodies tangle but never connect. He tells you with the ego of someone who is just a little famous that the fault lies with you. Alone, awake, you test his theory and experience a revelation. Your first ever orgasm, to spite, while he snores. As the sudden shift of settled rocks floods to your limits you have to bite down on his pillow till the tide recedes.
(In the morning you are ferocious in your gratitude. He is confused by your ardour and though you never see him again, you think often of this man who is just a little famous. The one who led you to the best sex you
And now you get back to the business of want. It hits you in the stomach when you meet this next. Your mind is turned, it splutters and starts like an old movie projector every time he enters the room. This bohemian boy in shorts and a tie. You spend a hundred hours trying to capture him through your pen. Forests of words in his honour, a treatise on longing. And you literally slide down the wall when he tells you I’m gay.
But he teaches you, this man, to trust your instinct. When you get up off the floor he will become a great love of your life. You will live together in domestic bliss on a busy street and fill your house with Buffy re-runs and cheap red wine. You will spend many a night in his arms and he will be the one to say just write. He will call you New Years Eve to remind you to forget perfect, and he will never trust your crooked smile. He is your first experience of love as being known.
Then comes your Finch-Hatton. The man they say you conjured as if you had written him yourself. You are covered in red dust when you meet and this time you welcome the grass on his knees. This earthly man when you are air. You still believe in stars then, underneath an African sky. On a continent that lodges under your nails, where changing the world is changing each other. This, then, becomes your fine romance. A man washing your hair on the banks of the Mara. When he tells you he loves you the mosquitoes hum.
You survive a full year on the memory of this. But in the city your fucks become urban. Until one day Africa recedes so far he hands her back with your keys. Stilnox and bathwater carry you through the hazy weeks that follow as you slip under to silence the humming. From this man you will learn how to climb back out. But for a while the under-tow pulls you down. (You will dream of red dust for years).
It is in the wounding that you meet the one. A man with slate eyes who has a low tolerance for alcohol and your flesh. He will shuck you from your skin, this man, shake you loose and leave you scrambling for the pieces. Everything you have ever learned recedes in the glare of his gold band. And you will spend years riding your freedom with the curb of this bit.
As his sign flickers on and off you will measure your days by his vacancy illuminated. Your greatest love will be your greatest folly and you will revel in the farce.
(Funny that ‘mistress’ means having authority, heading a house. A woman who has the power of controlling or disposing of something at her own pleasure).
As long as she never needs.
And what did I get for it? I never weighed what I gave for what I got - Walt Whitman
Eidyia’s note: I wrote this over a year ago and it is funny to me now that I was always writing toward you as the conclusion. I was obviously too close at the time to see that you, too, are merely a chapter in this story of the best things I never had.
What does the body remember of another? What memory sits at the tip of the tongue, ready to burst? Does desire constantly swim in the veins, little pieces of longing that warm the blood and rise to the surface at the slightest provocation? Do they reconstruct and orient the desire toward that which we cannot forget? Is remembering merely the act of desire trying to make itself whole again?
You, so defined by absence, are always present in this. The ritual of it, fingers sliding down over the belly, the pretence of hesitation – it is all an invitation. I close my eyes and my fingers draw you out of the darkness in a steady rhythm until you appear. It is early morning now. Outside there are clarion skies. The light sits on the tip of my tongue, I press it against my teeth and it bursts in my mouth with a sudden yellow. The glow intensifies and now I taste the colour orange. It rolls across my tongue, the flavour of unfettered sunlight, filling my mouth with a burnt sweetness.
As I arch my back vivid green bolts down my spine. The light behind my eyes changes, I am soaked in the deep wine of cool, hard precision, the focus of breath and blood and nerve. Water fills my ears, it spills over and soaks my skin. There is salt on my lip and I try to lock in on those slate eyes but I am holding on to something that wants me to let go.
I lose you in a fusion of colour, I am incandescent and I cry out your name in the white-hot glow. You disappear behind my eyes and the world goes back to black.
I have to keep my eyes squeezed shut to stop the tears. This is all that has survived, and the sadness that settles over me breaks apart my still pounding heart.
The desire has not waned, no matter how many pages have turned.
It turns out convention was a tie loosely bound. I take civility and grind it to dust the first time you make me come. The way your hand slides between my legs. And your words. The electric shock of your desire.
I want to kiss you here.
I forget everything I know but my body remembers. Impossible, we have not done this before. And yet. There is the inexplicable feeling of return when you cause a thousand nerves to jump and collide. You kneel before me, make of me a temple and with each stroke the tenuous chain gives a little more, it breaks apart with every oh god that rises up against it. I bare my teeth at you, a snarl that wants to catch your flesh and taste your salt on my tongue. Whatever bound us to the rest of our lives shatters in the explosion that ensues. Our landscape forever alters and you map it as I come.
I will come to covet your body with the intensity of one who borrows and must give back. This is a constant reaching, a constant touch. There is a need for tactile reassurance that overpowers my borders and my limits. You have a wall around you – what was that they said? With you I smash this wall myself, frantic, fingers pulling at any barrier between us. God, I can never get close enough. I bite and scratch and wrap my arms and legs around you. I tell you that you are mine. I invoke possession as the law.
I draw roads and rivers across your skin. I landmark our bodies, a topography laid down through the trace of thumb, the pressing of palms. Territories are charted with mouths and hands. You learn of my heights and my depth, you discover the part of me that resides below sea level, and the parts that contain the highest of mountains. Against the terrain of your body I spend nights raising indelible flags to mark places I too can claim. I was here this kiss states. I was here this sliding of my hand declares. I was here this touch of tongue to nerve blazes.
It would seem those who aim to conquer are desperate to be known. Even when the map disintegrates and we can no longer find our way back we keep on trying to make our claim. We mapped our world so quickly, Mack. Why did we never give any thought to how it might be destroyed?
This is a work of fiction. And yet …
I miss you.
I said there would come a time. Remember? When it was all about little words, and I said the saddest three were waiting. How I knew we’d get to them, eventually.
And still, that question asked. Do you remember? Tell me that you remember. Tell me that you and I survived the night, that you miss me too because you remember. Even if it’s only in dreams, I pray that you remember.
(I never – not for one single day - forget)
They incarcerated the language. Imprisoned the words and confined the expressions until the isolation nearly killed off the 700 or more languages once spoken. They muted the hundreds of living, breathing languages of this continent by institutionalising their custodians, by ensuring the penalties for speaking these languages were severe, even fatal for the speaker.
This targeting of Aboriginal language was part of a systematic and enforced assimilation, a white-out of the oldest continuous culture on our earth. It began when colonists first put their boots on Australian soil, and continued right through the twilight of our last century. It took less than 200 years to disassemble the oldest continuous culture on our earth. A speck of time, a flash across the night sky compared to the 50,000 or more years Aboriginal Australians survived and thrived on this land.
They incarcerated the language. This affects me more than any other revelation today.
Language is oxygen to a culture. It is the trade wind on which wisdom is carried, it ensures stories survive the fire and live on. It is both the glowing ember and the flame that flares – for the individual and the greater community it is how you say I love you. How you say I don’t. It is how you play, tease, cajole. How you warn, and how you rage. It is your myth and your lesson, it is how you declare war, and equally, how you offer peace. It is how you express who you are – and how you know where you have been.
To silence language is to sever the spiritual tongue. It is to disorient one’s place in space and time, to reduce all communication to a rudimentary commentary on the here and now. It is fundamentally designed to ground the speaker in the immediate – to censor the whisper of ancestors, and to suppress the shouts and cries of one’s children.
The children. They kept taking the children, and no-one could speak of it. For the first time I realise just how calculated and methodic Australians were in their approach. How they declared this continent Terra Nullius – unowned, unoccupied – upon their arrival, and across two centuries worked backwards to make it the truth. They re-wrote history, redacted an entire people to make it so. Children, communities, and entire ecosystems were sacrificed to validate one of the greatest lies ever told. A lie so big the reverberations can still be felt in 2013, where time is marked against an arbitrary date in 1788. To be a nation in possession of the world’s oldest stories, and to start the clock here – this I cannot understand.
Today I would not even know that there are bones under my feet, but for the stories that have been fierce enough to survive.
Because they have survived, somehow. For all that has been lost there is a thread that sings one back through time, a thread you can follow on the guitar string and the mournful notes at a gathering like ours tonight. When the language is shared around the fire in this way, it vibrates. You can feel it come up through the soil where your toes dig in, you can sense it in the sentinel stars. They, who have been our story keepers for longer than time.
I believe the stars themselves sang out when as a nation we said sorry. The truth had been waiting a long time to be told.
Last week my company, the aptly named SEEK, took a group of us on an extraordinary journey, a Welcome to Country where we spent two days and nights with the Gunditjmara people of Warrnambool on the south-west coast of Victoria. For my colleagues and I it was a moving and revealing experience and I for one came away with many heart bruises. I was particularly affected by the idea of Aboriginal languages being destroyed; we learnt that it was a major practices of colonists to stop Aboriginal people speaking their own languages and I could not stop thinking about how much was lost with this calculated linguicide.
I would like to dedicate this elegy to Amy who showed me the constellations, who knows of a lake where her people used to look down to see the stars. “The keepers of our stories” she told me before we returned to the fire.