These foolish things

The sigh of midnight trains in empty stations

Silk stockings thrown aside, dance invitations …

I know a girl who keeps her memories in two boxes. One box for happy memories, one box for sad. On particular nights she knows which box is required. She will sit cross-legged on the floor to sift through each reminder of her happiness or sadness, and she will carefully move a memory from one box to the other when moment is right. Though different memories may pass back and forth many times, each will eventually find a resting place amongst other, familiar relics.

There are ticket stubs and boarding passes and silver chains and crumbling flowers. Assigned to their place, assigned to their box. I admire her certainty on where each memory should go. On where to file each trinket in the archives of her life. And I admire how she knows when it is time to re-arrange her sadness. She tells me she only does this at night, deep in to the hours that memories take hold. Before she seals each lid and sleeps peacefully over her past.

I would not know how to separate our memories in this way. I would not know how to recognise the skip from the beat. Our souvenirs are purely visceral -you left me nothing to hold, nothing to shift from left to right. I asked you a hundred times, remember? Give me something of yours to keep. I imagined your red shirt, how the cotton would hold your scent and how I could lay it across my skin. I imagined your favourite poem in my drawer. Your cuff link in my pocket. Something of yours. Something you would miss. Something of yours to keep.

And even as you lined your walls with my favourite things, you refused.

So this what I have. This is what is left. A scrap of beach from a book I tore to pieces. A book of all the places we would never go, a book whose pages I shred one night in a rage on the floor. One ragged, rescued image when the heat had passed. One crumpled reminder of a memory not made, while the rest went in the bin.

And one photograph. Where the secret is brand new and the photographer snaps its glow. You are still the canary to my cat here, long before I understand the burden of the hunt. I am radiant, love-struck, perhaps the most beautiful I have ever been, with my arm draped around you. I rescued this picture too, from a discarded pack, when people were looking the other way.

This is what I have. This is what is left.

A glossy photograph wrapped in the half-torn page from a discarded book. Where we have been and where we will never go. What we were and what we will never be. The pristine frame and the ripped apart. A moment captured and a moment lost.

So entwined I cannot separate the two.

These foolish things - body, remember

And still those little things remain

That bring me happiness or pain …

The art of beginning

This weekend I am celebrating the three month anniversary of my blog. I am celebrating because for the longest time I truly thought my writing would not go beyond a walk to work composition that disintegrated by 9am. I took seriously the well-meaning teacher who once told me I had a talent, but would lose it if I didn’t use it (in that peculiar way of human beings I forgot the praise and memorised the warning).

Until I was so afraid of the words disappearing that to stare at a blank screen would fill me with a kind of terror. Sentences would trail off after the first flash of brilliance gave way to a cursor pulsing on the screen. Alone on a page, the beginnings of ideas languished in different drawers for years.

These sentences now appear all over this blog, sometimes at the heart of a piece, sometimes hidden amongst the other, stronger ideas that have grown up around them. Because 3 months ago I just started to write. To write like I used to as a kid, to write like my mind composes on those walks to work. To write like I had never been told I had talent, and to write like there were far worse things to lose than something you had never used.

Two things triggered my quantum leap. A dear (and exasperated) friend told me to stop reaching for perfect. And a dear (and exasperating) relationship came to an end. Two wake up calls on the week of my 35th birthday.

Stop reaching for perfect – the relationship ended, the blog began. Stop reaching for perfect – the blog began, the relationship ended. In every beginning an ending is written. One of those sentences isolated in a drawer until I typed it out on a WordPress post and offered it to the gods in exchange for the mending of my heart. I started with small truths, my eye on the bigger ones, and I followed the trail of breadcrumbs I’d left for myself all these years without even realising…

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

TS Eliot, Four Quartets

And someone followed after me, then another and another until there are now a merry band of us travelling along together – writers, photographers, painters, philosophers and agitators who in three short months have become my community. All an inspiration, and in your company the story of body, remember is finally starting to emerge.

I had sensed it in images just beyond clear vision for so long, and through writing every day I have come to understand this is how I first meet words. This is why I talk with my hands when I type, why I’m always reaching (but no longer for perfect). I see words, I feel them, and eventually they let me write them. So now when the cursor blinks too long I just shut my eyes and let the image form in my finger tips, or if it’s really stuck I go for a run (this is the best way I’ve found to make the words chase you!).

In the spirit of imagining, for this three month anniversary, I have borrowed from a wonderful post by Wendy at “Live to Write – Write to Live” and had a friend design me a book cover. Something to hold the spirit of the story. Here she is in all her moody glory (the image is as ever courtesy of the incredibly talented Joanne Piechota):

body, remember

It’s not ready for a book shelf yet, but it looks great on my fridge. And it reminds me that the work has begun. There is a story of a young woman who loves a man who died. There is a story about all the things she tries to remember – to forget. There is a story with the first sentence:

I am watching the coffee stain my fingers as you lay dying in the street.

There is a story I want to tell, and I hope you’ll stay with me in the telling!

And to the one who inspired this story, should you ever stumble across these words, I can honestly say – hand on heart – that I warned you a thousand times:

Careful or you'll end up in my novel body, remember

(I  do thank you for the hardest, and most beautiful lessons).

What we call the beginning is often the end. And to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from.

– TS Eliot, Four Quartets

Every day a little death

“What counts is not the best living but the most living.” – Camus

They are not the same mistakes. Most are brand new. Each time – a different set of hopes. Each time – a different way of dashing. A mosaic of mistakes as you endure time and again like Sisyphus with his rock (though it is your heart that you hold out in front of you, and your love that labours).

You have long known this to be your fatal flaw. An enduring optimism that will bring about a thousand little deaths in its time. Like the night that begins with open palms and ends with a dying in the light – when this was tomorrow you liked it more (as the dream you slept over so easily the night before).

Your heart is always in your hand when he slays you, this man. With his distance and his betrayals, with his dismissals and his reserve. He slays you in a thousand careless ways every day. And then waits in his own vigil for your resurrection.

Because there is always a resurrection, a return when the dust has cleared. Something elemental compels it – the blue of the sky or rooftop rain, or the silver of sunlight on water. All reminders that you have survived, and it is a giant shot to the heart when it hits. This little death that gives way to a renaissance when you hold out your hand, when you say “I’m still here”.

As another crack of glass is added to the composition of your love. Seen clearly from a distance, but oh so beautiful up close.

Reflection on the Water by Joanne Piechota
Image by Joanne Piechota at http://nycexploring.wordpress.com/

(He assumes I lose my reason. And I do)

Enough

E Edward Grey: Look, we can’t do this 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Lee: Why not?

You don’t think it would be enough.

We are discussing what would happen in the hours after “Honey, I’m home”. A list is made of the trouble we’d cause if we were the ones unlocking the door. On a sunny afternoon in each other’s arms an imagined history is spun as intricate as any biography.

That would be something you say, if life were a dream. You consider my view of domesticity naïve at best. You do not believe two people could sustain this every day. An intensity that does not leave room for god or neighbours, or for tricycles turned over in the yard. Obsession may prevail in moments, yes – but the rest of life is for living.

My parents still slow dance in the kitchen, I defend. A pas de deux in the midst of chaos. It makes the chaos beautiful. Or the dance. Even when there is work to be done. Because not all love is scheduled I say as you look at your watch.

And here the wall goes up. You were raised to follow righteousness, and a book, whilst my parents were dancing barefoot around the dishes – and we can never reconcile the view.

Their legacy is this then. The way you sense something ignoble in my desire – how deep down you find it unseemly. I am too hungry, too selfish and too all-consuming. What good was ever achieved through unbridled lust?

(You have lost hours, days even, over me. When there is work to be done).

And how I find you sanctimonious, restrained and reserved. My patrician puzzle collected in pieces for years. Which made me love you more of course. Your stuffiness and your worried eyes, as if you haven’t quite caught up. Your bow ties and your polite conversation. How I want to rip both of them apart. Every equal and opposite thing about you always leaves me wanting more.

(Leaves me dreaming of “Honey, I’m home”).

You don’t think it would be enough. And for this, tonight, I may love you just a little less.

slow dance at body, remember blog

A conversation between friends

“When the two people who thus discover that they are on the same secret road are of different sexes, the friendship which arises between them will very easily pass – may pass in the first half hour – into erotic love.”

– CS Lewis

Here, now, at a hotel bar. The transience of this place, a living in the moment when the rest of your life carries on outside. Talking through the wine, a gentle teasing, discussing hot-headed reactions and how the battles of two people are so finely played. Trying on friendship, letting it settle on the skin – this is your new thing. As lovers the relationship was a series of ellipsis, a trailing off when words were required. And now a chance to finish your sentences, to speak in the honest and open way of allies. You have put down your swords.

The room glows amber as you raise your glass to this new found alliance. You are friends. You are feeling your way and you are careful not to touch (though your knees list starboard).

“Lovers are always talking to one another about their love; friends hardly ever about their friendship. Lovers are normally face to face, absorbed in each other; friends, side by side, absorbed in some common interest.”

– CS Lewis

You want to understand his views on God and family. “What did your mother teach you?” … “Do you fight with your wife?” “Is being a dad what you thought it would be?” … endless and earnest words flowing… “Venus came up out of the ocean, you know … and the problem with religion is it tells us men and women are fundamentally different, and don’t you want to fuck your equal?”“See, I’m not the same as you but I’m trying to understand a little”“Can I see a picture of-” … “How many times do you-” …

(Endless and earnest, yes – though some, still, are hard to say out loud).

He answers carefully, aware of this fragile accord. You are friends. You listen with a frozen smile. As lovers, you would have stopped his mouth.

Because the real question, the one that aches, comes last. You tell him you don’t have a ballast. An essential truth about who you are together.

“Tell me please” you ask, and the smile liquefies, “Tell me when you were most true with me?”

His answer is in moments like this, just sitting at a hotel bar together. It is all right here. And the physical, the times you leave the bar and move upstairs – it is just a manifestation of this feeling. This travelling down the same secret road. Two friends, side by side. Absorbed in each other.

And it’s lightening quick. Acknowledging the confluence of friends and lovers, before he orders his last glass.

You ask him to drink slowly. He assures that you will see each other in this way again. You say “grazie destino” but you are lying, because it will never be enough to meet at a hotel bar and drink slowly these one or three with a friend.

Who used to be your lover and will move upstairs alone.

Friends and Lovers at body, remember

You and I

You say it is the most beautiful thing you have ever read. I have been holding my breath, but in the way your words catch, in the tremble I had not yet heard – I believe you. You tell me with glittering eyes that you will keep this letter forever.

And I wonder. Will you slide my confession between the pages of a favoured book? Will you see the spine each day pressed up against lesser books and be reminded of the central nervous system contained within? Will it pulse with your secret until you have to remove this book with its piece of paper tucked between pages 84 and 85? Will you place it in a box high on a shelf until the heartbeat slows? Until there is only a faint thud to be heard on certain days and certain nights – in the hope these too will fade with time?

And one day years later will you be looking for something else when that box comes tumbling down? Will you experience that long forgotten thud when you see this once favoured book and what it holds within? Will the faint scent of vanilla and dust be released from pages 84 and 85 as you open my letter with the shake of older hands?

Here I imagine you on the floor, reading the words I wrote all those years before – right at the centre, when we were brand new. When I took our myth as historical fact. I imagine you tracing the words slowly, following the breadcrumbs back until you reach the beginning of you and I. Where I told you these three little words could define us. How only the saddest of combinations – I miss you – would last longer, and how this would only begin at the end.

I wrote of how you and I were the beginning and the end, and the revelation in between. That from the big bang whole new universe created from our encounter, you and I were making a parallel world to last beyond the inevitable return to our own.

Will you now remember this long forgotten world, our Atlantis buried deep? Will my words resurrect its streets and its temples as you sit there on the floor? Will they rise up around you – the bars and the parks and the hotel rooms that were once our altars? These places of worship and exaltation, covered in cigarette burns and red velvet, and so much better in the dark?

Will your body remember for just a moment what you and I had there? Before we are again placed high on a shelf and the world contracts?

You say it is the most beautiful thing you have ever read. It is in fact a map of you and I. To help you find your way home.

You and I  - body, remember

Possession as the law

His body. I covet with the intensity of one who has borrowed and must give back.

A constant reaching, a constant touch. This need for tactile reassurance of his presence over-powering my borders and my limits.

You have a wall around you – what was that they said? I have smashed this wall myself, frantic, fingers pulling at any barrier between us. God, I can’t get close enough. I bite and scratch and wrap my arms and legs about him. I tell him he is mine. I invoke possession as the law.

I am watching how his fingers wrap around this glass right now, how they slide over the surface of his menu. I watch and feel those fingers in places they have been, my skin sears with the memory of his touch. I think, in the middle of our entrée, those fingers have been inside me. That mouth has been here, and here. I lean across the table and say this sweetly in his ear.

My eyes are wide as I kiss him with an open mouth. Other patrons stare, it’s not that kind of restaurant he says but his eyes watch me as I leave the table and it takes only seconds for him to follow.

Dinner at a pleasant restaurant, we are any other couple. And before the mains have arrived we are fucking in the men’s bathroom because I cannot bear those hands to touch anything but me.

his body, at body, remember