The Other

You ask about her once. With your head on his chest so he cannot see the way you squeeze your eyes shut in a kind of terror as you wait for his reply.

You feel a twitch in his muscle as you extend this invitation. She has not yet entered this other world. This other woman. He has not traded pieces of her for your favour. He has never once tried to use her as an elucidation (though her presence has knocked in the we of his day, the night invariably colludes with you and I).

Still, she is a gossamer strand wrapped around his finger, she glances off the gold band when he touches your face, and the knock turns in to a hammering in your chest when you ask –

What is she like, your wife?

(You have read that the source of the word ‘wife’ is veil. Here now you lift the fabric with trembling fingers)

It is not until you turn to face him that he answers.

Well (a pause) … she is a really, really messy cook.

As he elaborates there is knowing, an easy affection for this agreeable flaw. And it splinters your heart because love is in the detail isn’t it – in the ordinary, the commonplace. You don’t know what you expected from a revelation – but you never considered this.

He will tell you other things in this concession. But you think only of a kitchen in another city, of homemade sauce licked from fingers, of frustration ebbed in the taste and the smile. Of a sink cluttered with the dishes of everyday.

And now when you stand at your own sink you sense some deficiency in the even florets and the wiped-down bench. The running tap as you clean what you use and how you put each utensil away.

In the order and the precision of your empty sink you are suddenly found wanting.

Because somewhere she is splattering the oil and spilling the wine. In a kitchen over-flowing.

When you are supposed to be the beautiful mess.

But you are essentially – the other.

The best thing(s) I never had

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 contains a fault line that strains 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 never had.)

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 it 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 (who sees, who knows)

You have been tasked with finding me a name. I want you to christen me. I have nothing of yours to keep – nothing to mark me – and so particular significance weights this request. This will be the only name we ever share, and I have already determined no matter what you decide, this will be mine to keep.

You take your time (and I think you’ve forgotten) when you come back with this – Eidyia. I have not encountered this arrangement and it throws me for a moment. I sense it means something and it feels like Christmas and every birthday as I wait for the reveal.

Eidyia, it seems, was the youngest of the Oceanides. The baby sister of 3,000 Nymphs who presided over all fresh water flowing on earth. Her name – if you said it out loud – was pronounced “idea” and as the guardian of both seeing and knowing, she was considered in classical mythology the Goddess of Knowledge. Some even suggest she was a sorceress, a witch in possession of the magical eye. Indeed she gave birth to Medea, the ultimate enchantress (who would one day personify the archetypal woman scorned – I was always better at research than you, love).

But Eidyia! The daughter of all things flowing, where nothing abides. Her father Oceanus and her mother Tethys – the source of all things that never stay the same. As a kid I scribbled out Heraclitus, finding comfort in the idea that everything is in motion. To think you could never step in the same stream twice! And now the personification. Eidyia. The goddess of a family in flux. The source of clouds and weather and quenched thirst. The shifting of mud and rocks and settled earth. The impetus rushing to the river mouth and pouring out in to a salty sea.

So how did you come to this name, my love? What did you type in to the vortex of google to find your best-fit me? As the only clue to what you really thought of me I have examined this from every angle (I would build a shrine to her if I thought this is where you’d fall at your knees). Because – Eidô. To see. To know. What did I see my love? What did I know that made you want to lay in my arms and ask the truth of me?

Or was I nothing other than your siren on the rocks? A fresh water nymph with glistening legs and fair face? We joked of mermaids without their tails, and you were always a naked husband – was this just an extension? Could you possibly know that I would wear this name the way others wrapped a diamond round their finger? That this would be your greatest gift? Did you name me with a gravity that matched how I took on this mantle?

Eidyia. The Goddess of Knowing. The Goddess in perpetual motion. What I wouldn’t have given for the waters to still. For a moment treading water, where you were there right beside me, just waiting to be answered.

Eidyia the Goddess of Knowledge at body, remember
Eidyia on the rocks by Joanne Piechota
(many, many years ago)

Warning’s fair. I don’t care. Very much.

I made a list of things that have changed in the stretch of time since I saw you last. A top five in some-particular-order I thought you might like to know. In the desert certain things grow – so here goes. Here’s what you haven’t heard in the millions of seconds since the tick tock of you and I.

For one – I’ve grown my hair. I got rid of that Amelie bob you liked so much. I went all Blue Lagoon in fact. Long and lush, and messy. No more sharp angles and coy fringe.  No eyes cast down – then up – peeking out from behind a veil.  When I toss my head now people have to make way (it should be no surprise you liked it best contained).

Brooke Shields, Blue Lagoon
I think we have the same stylist.

And two – I’ve gotten fatter. I know – I’m supposed to get fit and fabulous, right? I’m sure that is # 2 on the standard list. But I spent years trying to look better than someone else – to just be me. So I’m filling out my own skin this time. A little extra flesh to feel a little less …diminished. It goes with the hair I think. I’m suddenly full to over-flowing. And very rarely hungry (I imagine in another time with my curved belly and hand-full hips I’d be good for Picasso‘s dream at least).

The Dreamer, Picasso
The Dreamer (and me) by Picasso, 1932

Number three – I’ve gone part-time. I’ve sort of stepped to the side and let everyone else keep running their ragged race. And as they heave and puff their way up the corporate ladder I’ve slid down the snake of sleeping in and pouring wine. Can you even imagine? My ambitious friend! The house I’ll never have, the ceiling I’ll never break? Oh, I’m as aspiring as ever, but the dreams are all mine now baby (I could almost bottle them).

Wild Rock Bublitz
Spilling some Wild Rock

Cause number four, love – I’m writing. Yeah! I’ll say that again. I’m writing! See, all the words got stuck in my mouth when it ended. We used to talk every day, remember? And when that stopped my mouth filled up with everything unspoken. So many words crowding my tongue. They over-flowed and dribbled down my chin, and the only way not to choke was to spit them out. I captured the words in my hands and as they siphoned through my fingers the trickle turned to flow.

Turns out that fucking writers block was you in fact. Renouncing feeling so I wouldn’t explode, silencing the questions – that was you. It all got trapped in the tip of the pen and I scribbled blank pages for years. Now I’m covered in ink.

body, remember blog
body, remember
Image by Joanne Piechota, words by me

When I think of how much I used to say – I suppose nothing was new and remarkable in the end. Even my declarations of love were lost in the rinse-repeat. Eventually we were just like any other couple, ironically. Words as wallpaper, covering up the cracks and revealing nothing.

And now I’m all cracks and splinter, and I’ve never felt more beautiful in the light. So lastly on this list of things that have changed …

If you go, or if you stay. Warning’s fair. I don’t care. Very much.  Either way.

(if you kiss me … if we touch …)

To the purveyors of a little kindness

To the purveyors of a little kindness, a thank you.

For the salve soothed over the crack and splinter of a day alone –

The love heart swirled through the froth

The change left in the ticket machine

The concrete canvas of a city scribe

The boxes ticked and forms sent (the woman running for her train because she spent a minute more making sure)

The door held open, the smile and nod, the which floor for you, the like your shoes 

The here – take two, the thought you’d like, the have a seat, the after you

The footnotes left on midnight posts, the taking time to say me too

– These teeny, tiny affirmations. A human sling for broken bones. The glaze on my mosaic heart.

(For everything he failed to do. I thank you for guiding me through)

Photo courtesy of the You Are Loved Chalk Message Project

A couple of human slings should you need to support an injured part:

You Are Loved

Operation Beautiful

It Gets Better

Before I Die

Elixir

Our first break-up lasts seven and a half minutes.

This first and only prudent decision is discarded in the time it takes you to find your keys.

What am I supposed to do you ask and because I have been lonely for seven and a half minutes now, I hold out my hand.

I write out the answer against your body until it becomes a declaration.

Break-up as foreplay. It is to become the elixir of our affair.


Our finest impulses

Henry Miller body, remember

Someone once opined there was no excuse for you not leaving. That there was no great tragedy binding you to the life that existed before we met. We were not playing out our love against the backdrop of history, no great cultural wall was separating us. To choose me was not a matter of life or death, or the demanding of an ultimate sacrifice. It was merely a play off between comfort and desire.

What they never understood was the strength of your invisible ties. Like so many men your sense of right and wrong came from a book and a wooden spoon. Later it would be your father’s magazines and a box around the ears for disrespecting your mother. Decency wrapped itself around your wild parts as love was metered out in ancient verse and trips to the bathroom at your father’s office.

I can’t imagine how much you pushed right down when they told you lust is a shameful sin. How the cravings fizzing and floating in your little head went underground. How the first woman you desired ripped it right out of you, unexpected and inconvenient. And how you spent the rest of your life trying to keep a lid on what had spilled out, to flee the evil desires of youth.

And of course it worked until this Pandora came along. When I pried open that lid and sifted through the troubles I found there. How they hit the light and were found to be things of beauty. Lust. Desire. Curiosity. Passion. Hunger. Dangerous only to those who don’t possess them. I laid them out before you, and I showed you my matching cards. Don’t slaughter your finest impulses I said. I recognise these as my own.

I know I reminded you of that first woman. I know how you had locked down a part of yourself in order to run the race. It was your good fight. But I like to think if she was the first, I was your finest impulse. The sudden and electric push. A desire of no discrimination. That for a moment I helped you believe in your own criterion of truth and beauty. That you understood life’s most basic truths when in my arms because we derived from the same source. I like to think I eased your heartache baby. By showing you what was already there.

Because it is as great a tragedy as any. The idea of someone else’s truth. The walls that are built between comfort and desire. And the slaughtering of one’s finest impulses where following the heart is not considered the ultimate act of faith.

(I introduced you to Henry for a reason. If it really was merely a play off between the two, I had hoped that between us we might have stacked the odds in favour of desire)