They are gripped and shattered by something intrinsic to their own being.
I don’t know what you sleep with, in your saturnine heart. But you were what I held onto, the only thing that mattered. You saw it, love, saw what I am. And I know it was so ugly that you left me. You left beautifully but you left all the same. I don’t blame you. I can’t begrudge you that. But when I wake in shattered constellations of thought, I still see your face on the underside of my soul. When I love and am consoled, I feel you, the last of your hands. I remember what you said to me, how I held you. I recall, my god, how I adored you.
When you write, is it empty? Your throat, the voice wherein I felt my knuckles move, I know that it is never empty. When I held your shivering form and listened, waited for the pulse to slow and sigh, I know that we were never empty. I am in love with you. I will leave this place knowing that, and swallowing it like a silence. Under the weight of that knowledge, I fold like a nightmare.
I am not designed for malice, but I am cruel to my own body: insatiable, self-satiating, I devour myself. There is no pain, where once there was. I only wanted to love you, to know you, and how did it get to be this way? Miles to go, right? Miles to go. You broke beneath my tongue like a cresting wave, breathless, salt-stained, lily petals strangled in your wind-bitten hair. Some nights, I feel your teeth on my bloodstained bottom lip, sense your absence like a missing limb. The sorrow and the sentience and the mournful liturgy of my bones. Your skin is tangled in the wind, your eyes haunt the sunrise, your body is one with the morning light. The strange and singular half-lost bliss, the text-on-flesh, the printing press. My girl, my only girl, where did you sleep last night?
I wandered home, found solace in the embrace of my only true lover, the crystals that fracture beneath sordid skin, breaking fast with my blood, shortening the tether of my breath. Soon I won’t remember the color of your eyes. Have you forgotten mine?
I believed you, father, lover, stranger: ingrate, sometimes I still do. Say the word, and I’m there. But you speak no longer, and I am not finished yet. Whatever I am, however little I know you, how scarcely I retain myself, however bruised I may be, I am here. I will stagger and survive. I will bend until I break. What are you doing here? When did you remember I exist? What can you do to me? What’s left to wound? Something is wrong so deep inside of me that I cannot recall it. I cannot name it. It’s not coming out.
“None of us suffers as much as we should, or loves as much as we say. Love is the first lie; wisdom the last.”
I saw you with another. My lover, please remember me.
1. Who are the TPS beneficiaries?
Temporary Protected Status (TPS) is a procedure outlined by Congress in the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1990. It extends to citizens from select countries in which armed conflicts, environmental crises, or other “extraordinary and temporary” conditions prevent safe return. Currently, the United States offers TPS to citizens of El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Nepal, Nicaragua, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen.
2. Aren’t they undocumented / living here illegally?
It is complicated, but ultimately no. TPS beneficiaries are documented; and rather than ‘legal’ or ‘illegal,’ they are more or less exceptions to federal immigration laws. This is because TPS, as a unique and highly specific form of immigrant status, entails state-sanctioned protection from mandatory deportation. It is only extended to those for whom, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has determined, it would be unsafe or impossible to enter the United States via ordinary (read: legal) means. Although some beneficiaries arrive legally, the defining factor of TPS is how recipients can live in the United States legally even if after entering the country illegally.
But like any form of residency, the DHS does not allow just anyone to apply for TPS. Among other things, an eligible applicant must:
It is significant that expelling TPS beneficiaries does little to curb illegal immigration. Nativist organizations such as the Center for Immigration Studies include TPS beneficiaries in their annual undocumented population estimates but in reality TPS recipient rates do not overlap with rates of undocumented citizens. The purpose of TPS is to offer a humane alternative to undocumented citizenship for those unable to follow the legal immigration path due to circumstances identified by the DHS as “extraordinary and temporary.” Recipients are legal and documented members of the United States population.
In the case of El Salvador, stripping recipients of legal protection before their native government has offered them safe repatriation is the equivalent of reducing almost 200,000 former United States taxpayers and laborers to unlawful presences. This, coupled with the fact that some will likely try to remain in the United States illegally rather than return to the circumstances they fled, indicates that eliminating TPS for Salvadorans will not lower national rates of undocumented immigrants and may even increase them.
3. Aren’t they costing Americans money?
Even excluding the approximately $120,000,000 annual revenue that application and work permit fees generate for the United States, TPS beneficiaries offer substantial contributions to the American economy.
Partially because their legal residential status grants them employment opportunities, federal protections, and residential security not available to undocumented citizens, the rate of labor force participation among Salvadoran TPS recipients is 88 percent—well above that of the overall United States population (63 percent). The five leading industries for these beneficiaries are construction, food service, landscaping services, traveller accommodations, and grocery stores, all of which contribute to the national economy. Ten percent of beneficiaries, as self-employed laborers or small business owners, likely create jobs for Americans as well.
An estimated $109.4 billion would be lost from United States GDP over a span 10 years without the contributions of Salvadoran TPS recipients, according to the Center for American Progress.
4. Why should I care about temporary residents? Aren’t they foreign / unassimilated / not real Americans?
What constitutes a ‘real American’ is very much up for debate (as is whether or not anyone is obligated to assimilate to a dominant culture). But for argument’s sake, the answer is still no.
When we imagine ‘temporary’ protection, we typically envision a timeframe of several weeks or months. In doing so, we fail to think on a national scale. Post-crisis repatriation takes years or decades: even though TPS beneficiaries know that their protected status will be revoked once their home country becomes safely inhabitable, many end up spending the majority (if not the entirety) of their lives in the United States.
Of the TPS beneficiary population for El Salvador alone, 39,300 (15 percent) arrived as children under the age of 15, and of that number, 51 percent have been present in the United States for 20 years or more. During their time in America, they have legally acquired households, jobs, mortgages, taxes, and healthcare. Nearly 40 percent hold high school diplomas. The overwhelming majority (85 percent) speaks English, with roughly half of that number speaking fluently or near-fluently. An estimated 192,700 children of Salvadoran TPS beneficiaries are native-born Untied States citizens.
5. Why don’t / didn’t they just apply for green cards?
This is where it gets tricky. The problem is essentially that the two processes (qualifying for citizenship and qualifying for TPS) are fundamentally incompatible.
The objective of TPS is to review emergency applicants according to the criteria of a temporary stay (rather than a long-term citizenship) in order to provide them with  safe residence,  employment eligibility, and  taxpaying status, all within a reasonable time frame and without compromising national security. For most successful candidates, applying for a green card would seem the next logical step. But for all of the same reasons that an individual qualifies for TPS, they are likely ineligible for a green card.
No beneficiary can apply for a green card unless they return to their home country to have their visa processed at a consulate post. While this is possible for a select few, the TPS is designed for (and overwhelmingly used by) those with no other option but to enter or remain in the United States illegally. As long as they are TPS recipients, these individuals are not accountable for having initially overstayed their visa or entered the country without inspection. But leaving the United States, even to obtain a visa for legal re-entry, can result in the automatic revocation of TPS, at which point an individual ceases to be legally exempt from having once entered the country without inspection. As a result, an individual with a revoked TPS can have their re-entry barred for up to ten years.
A number of federal appellate circuits have questioned the legitimacy of this by arguing that granting a TPS is a form of ‘inspection’ by the DHS, and therefore legitimizes the re-entry of its recipients. In Ramirez v. Brown, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals called the process to receive TPS “comparable to any other admission process,” and declared those who enter the United States without inspection but still receive TPS eligible for citizenship. But in all cases outside of the Sixth and Ninth Circuits, the official position remains that all non-inspected TPS residents are “not eligible to adjust to permanent residence even if otherwise eligible.”
In short, TPS legislation is designed so that most beneficiaries are  unable to apply for American citizenship, and  can be denied re-entry for up to a decade after their TPS expires, despite legally residing in the Untied States for much of their lives.
The Trump Administration’s move to deny TPS benefits to Salvadorans will displace and endanger hundreds of thousands of productive, tax-paying United States residents. About 61,000 mortgages will be in jeopardy. Hundreds of thousands of long-term United States residents, including 67,800 who arrived when they were less than 15 years of age, could be deported; the roughly 192,700 native-born American children of Salvadoran TPS beneficiaries will be separated from their families or forced to move to a country that cannot safely integrate them.
Center for American Progress (2017)
Center for Migration Studies (2017)
Immigration and Nationality Act, 8 U.S.C. §245 (1990)
Ramirez v. Brown, 852 F.3d 954 (9th Cir. 2017).
But your great sadness will join the stars,
a new star to wound and outshine the skies.
Frederico García Lorca, Elegy
Look at this, at this, my heart. Wherever and however you are now just look – such a terrible tangle of thorns. The skin has been split into shivering parts: hips wrapped in rosebuds and ribs in barbed wire, the blood thins again, the white wrists fold like paper. The forlorn shores, salient grey, I walked hand in hand with my father. Feet bare and coated with nascent brine, the snarling waves and salt-bitten wind-shrieks. My mind is still an open grave. But this is not about me. It was never about me. On that, there is little left to write.
Yearnings tighten like a noose, a flood of flesh, a scalding choice. Another thread wrenched from the fabric. No time to think, not even to mourn– I catch a glimpse of you at the station. Younger, like I remember. My hands are trowels, for what good it’s done, shoveling back the rock and bone. I claw at the earth, break my knuckles on its surface. I want to get back, back, back to you.
What’s left to know when the body turns cold? We immerse once more in the madness that comes, like a bloodlust, with the winter. I stand by what I said–oh, yes. I do not believe death is mere tragedy. I do not believe that life ends before its time.
But your absence feels more lucid, more real, than the blood that dries between teeth or thighs, the knotted nightmare of scars that sing, the fibers of flesh that ink could not purge. Why am I standing, and not you? Those soul-numbing numbers that turn and burn, devouring raw life like locusts. How many have I loved and seen buried? How many more are to come?
In some ways, it hardly matters. The grief is expressionless, solipsistic, consuming. My vision silenced, I listen: the world crashes towards verse.
Oh yes, I knew. I’ve always known.
I knew and I didn’t.
I didn’t, but I knew.
My challenge and my subject has often been myself. But lately my mind has been devoured by the fact, by the question of loathing: a narcissistic curiosity for acclimatization, a specific relation to the ones who close off.
I withdrew and watched, bit my tongue until it bled. But each new misery rises like a scream. How could it come to this? How could the body break so fast, like a vow? How could we lose you, a wrist over glass–is your life even yours to take? Did you know peace at last, or simply find that there was nowhere left to go?
Once I dug a grave and prayed that in its loss my body would decay and asphodel grow in rivers from the skin. I remember the macabre seduction of it all. But rainwater carved strange patterns in the soil. The paths of sensation were elusive but inexorable. I had to live. I had to live. I owed someone something: not life, but an absence of suffering. I kept on, and on, and on.
But still, I understand. I do. Because sometimes I wish to be down there, beside you: sleeping as soft as the new-fallen snow.
That is not what it feels like, but it comes so much closer to what I really mean. Your death was a dream on the underside of my soul. The train will stop at no station at all. Nothing is real now but us.
You, my brother, have done your part. You two are two, and one, at once. Recoiling in your Janus-jaw the sacred scripture of a twin silence resounds. My words are formless, grief-infused. But by my own principle, how am I to mourn? You lived, and lived well, for so long. You are where nothing can hurt you much longer.
Your resistance was so realized, unearthly, adored. How can I not find some solace in that? Yes, I miss you. I miss all of you, who are lost now in this way. I want to believe in some other time, some holy spectacle, some place left to find you. But in truth, my hopes are scarcely sound. This is the last life we all had to live. I do not think that we will meet again.
But we live in one another still: in brightly burning echoes of the future’s living forms. Rest now: do not burn any longer. We carry this on, this purpose informed by the triumph of life, by your efforts to remain attached, as it were, to the world that failed you time and again.
Sleep well beneath the silent stars. In my own time, I will join you there. We all will. We must.
You are every sleepless hour: you are the desolate craft. But the trajectory is a singular, incendiary thrust. We move towards closures of triumph and tragedy. We yearn towards a world where our gods are the right ones.
When they told me you were gone, I could not get a foot through the door. And then I saw them, those patterns of thought: the sixes and skulls and the liturgy of nonbeing. James, those walls were breathing.
And if it happens that you cannotgo on or turn backand you find yourselfwhere you will be at the end,tell yourselfin that final flowing of cold through your limbsthat you love what you are.
i am afraid that
if i open myself
i will not stop pouring. (why do i fear
becoming a river. what mountain
gave me such shame.)
Jamie Oliveira, Erosion
Glass panes frosted with splintering shapes, crystals that gleam in each lingering phrase. A silence unfurls, dark and sweet. This room spins a chrysalis, glistening emergence: timeless, unknowable, I am my own result. Prisms brush soft against sun-dappled drapes; cold winter light on my shivering skin; iridescent wind-songs, lavender and lemongrass; spires that stretch toward (and dream with) the dawn.
Only I know. Only I see. These are my hands, my dark yearnings, my need. Fingertips tinder and knuckle like flint, each muscle bent towards a strange, lovely scene. Cries, barbed and blissful, mark wants cinder-sweet–a flush of blood summers me, sacraments, sighs–I slacken, then winter with sleep.
I am a flesh that the world tempers raw; the words I once wrote now write me.
When outside I step, pressed in carmine or rust, a pyrokinesis of yearning subsumes. Crushed velvet, ermine fur, self-kindled flames licking soft in my throat: blasphemy blossoms, bursts warmly forth–I am the last of that faltering lust. The janus-faced pleasures of soft lips, strange nights: I move with the burning, my lingering thought.
But I withdraw with the morning light, and shelter my heart like a fledgling thing; insatiable, devouring itself. As a child, I used to pretend I was cursed. I dreamt that my madness was a symptom to cure. But now I know that it’s really just me: sometimes ugly, often inane.
So this is it, isn’t it? I am all of the things that happened to me. I am all of the things I have done. I am the wounds in my own genealogy; the knotted scars and cobwebs of vein. I am the brine that breaks and then fades, the sordid solace, the locked embrace–I am the thing that bleeds.
The one who remembers, who knows even now, must taste the raw ceaseless rains of November. I carry her with me, every moment, all the time: not just my hatred, but that low, steady sadness that throbs against my sanity, floods my ruptured psyche like a pulse. When windswept constellations allow their light to ache across me, I lapse into nothing but the echo of my bones.
In the absence of my accuser, am I absolved at last?
Yes. I am alone, I am always alone. But her body is as broken as her vows, her prognosis more empty than a grave. When I cleanse those stygian shores, she will feel my absence in the corners of her soul. Her form will taste the prisms of that horror–the traumas she wrought when her mind flashed towards mine–and may she taste the blood then that cruentates her palms. She will remember what she did to a thing that adored her, and that knowledge will torment her like strange starvation. She will remember that she was always broken, that savaging me could not have saved her. In this blaze of knowledge, my crucifixion is complete.
If I can endure the months to come, then I will at last be free. These are the rites of the still-slipping seasons; I relish them now, and I dream.
I must begin by stating than I am not opposed to designated smoking areas or reasonable restrictions. I support Exeter’s efforts to enforce existing policies and regulate cigarette dispensing. The fact remains, though, that Emily Patterson’s article in The Cherwell this Tuesday was sorely lacking in concrete analysis of how a blanket ban on smoking might disproportionately impact student life at Exeter.
Smoking is a stigmatized habit and comes with its own host of assumptions pertaining to the socioeconomic or cultural identity of smokers. Moreover, chronically anxious individuals, as well as those of us who suffer from sensory hypersensitivity, often use smoking to manage symptoms that develop in over-stimulating college environments: including welfare teas, weekend pre-drinks, and all manner of seminars and classes. Alienation on the basis of these conditions can only prove harmful to demographics that Exeter has an ethical and legal obligation to protect—and this more than anything is what makes the “equal and opposite” fallacy in Patterson’s argument ring so hollow.
The day that every Oxford college fully provides for students experiencing addiction, anxiety, and hypersensitivity is the day that I gladly take my cigarettes out to Turl Street. Until then, we should work on strategies with a more sincere emphasis on progress and a more nuanced consideration of what “welfare” entails—who it privileges, who it undermines, and how its parameters might be reshaped to achieve a holistic definition of the term.
While Exeter students have a right to smoke-free spaces, we also have a right to spaces where the choice is ours to make, and where we do not feel ostracized for a practice imbibed with disparate, complex, and highly individualized meaning. I am aware of the dangers of smoking, and am in favor of ensuring that cigarette smoke affects non-smokers as little as possible. But I am unconvinced that a student’s desire to be sheltered from having to “walk by” smokers is adequate grounds for demanding that we all stand out on Turl Street at any time of day or night regardless of circumstance or underlying complications.
The question of what (if anything) Exeter owes its students, who hail from a wide variety of backgrounds and live alongside one another in relative harmony, is only valid insofar as it might engender compromise. To some extent, then, demands for complete protection from any form of smoke seem unrealistic and entitled. While students who smoke (as well as many non-smokers sympathetic to this situation) are working hard to find common ground, Patterson’s uncompromising stance and desire to forcibly regulate all student smokers to areas outside of our home does nothing to enact meaningful change. Her argument operates on an unstable premise where a complex issue deeply embedded in the fabric of student life is reduced to an inconvenience for those attempting to further a rigid idealization of college existence.
It should come as no surprise that the image Patterson’s article champions is not just smoke-free; it also lacks, by proxy, any serious dialogue surrounding the rights of disabled, chronically anxious, and addicted students. Patterson’s own assertion, that those of us concerned with the welfare of students with anxiety and pre-existing addictions are “missing the point,” stands testament to this fact. Patterson believes that a ban on smoking will send a “clear message,” and it certainly will—but the message would not be against smoking, per se. The message would be against students who smoke, which necessarily includes many of us from the aforementioned backgrounds. Non-smokers are entitled to smoke-free areas; but are they entitled to an entire campus scrubbed of discomforts if that comes at the stated expense of their peers?
I have attempted to verbalize just a few of the questions about identity, ability, and belonging that should inform Exeter’s official position on smoking. If these reasons do not constitute sufficient motive for us to consider a more reasonable compromise—one that does not knowingly alienate a large portion of students, not to mention faculty and staff, from the safety and familiarity of campus—than I don’t know what does. Patterson thinks that a blanket ban on campus smoking will help to improve the overall plight, but evidence and reason indicate the opposite. You cannot make an issue disappear by confining it to where it cannot be seen: especially not when that issue involves people, and especially not when those people are your peers.
I encourage Patterson, and Exeter Colllege as a whole, to reconsider their position. If we truly share a common goal in promoting student welfare, our energies are better spent finding a more holistic and reasonable long-term solution.
But I do adore you–every part of you from heel to hair. Never will you shake me off, try as you may.
Virginia Woolf, Letters to Vita Sackville-West
Dragging nails through close-shorn skin, I am disconsolate, deeply mad; subsumed beneath wordless loss, the disembodied howl. Those oaths now shattered, fingers which clipped my ashen wings: you were my best thing, my nothing, and so I know now that you were made for me. All Icarus and sun-splintered lips, the wax-kissed blistering scourge of the flesh, we are Daedalus, iridescent, unsmiling, unseated by failures of our own design: our blistering topography that snarls like a past.
And so I swim again, so near, always soon to slipping under, disappearing, breathing less. I will meet you beneath the waters, find you where we cannot speak, and your dark hair and damp skin soaking through your clothes, fabrics gathering dust in a corner of my wardrobe–my lover, what have you made of me?
The furious, half-enamored leprosy: like stars or the sea, I wept and then froze over. Every gentle sigh that clung with heady talons to my gasping chest, untangled its intaglios of ingratitude and held, vertiginous, to each length of skin I sought to burn or cut away. Declarations of your affections, unretractable, you lied: Medea’s child, nobody thinks of you now. But Oxford garlands hang heavy with your name, gasp with rainwater and pour across the cobblestone loss. The strange old streets unspooling like reels of thread–I knew them so well until they crawled, and shuddered back, held beneath the shadow of your absent redemancy and spectre of your sickening doubt.
But I have made my decisions. I have chosen to nullify our history, that life we used to love. Where veins meet whispers of bone, I recall that you are not yet gone. I wish you were, or that I could not see. Can’t you just go off, and die without me?
I dreamed and dreamed of someday going there. I worked my fingers to the bone for years, just to gain a glimpse into some world I had never seen before, with no friends and no certainties and no knowledge of its culture, hoping to learn what I could become if my past and my plans and my home were stripped away from me. I found what I was looking for. What happened afterward is anybody’s guess.
It was hopeful and it was hellish and it was a prolonged, holy spectacle. I do not know if it will feel worth it, in the end. But some things were worth learning. I realized that I will never really be happy or at peace in this insincere reality. And stranger still, I learned that this knowledge does not hurt me; no more than do these spectres of feeling empty or alone. I am no longer afraid of such notions. I have grown into them: I wear them like a skin. Adjusted, at last, to this world that seldom wants me, I am as strong now as I can ever remember being.
Even so, even now, how many times has my mind flirted willingly with the edges of its own undoing? Some nights I cannot rest and I begin to think of every bad thing that has ever happened to me, or been done to me. It starts slow at first, comments someone made, a memory from grade school. Then it floods in, everything at once, things that happened when I was too young to understand; things my father said and that I thought I had earned; people that let me down, or took advantage of me at my weakest; what happened last summer; what happened in November; the lingering mutilation of my ability to trust; how I have to live with those people this year, the ones who watched it kill me and just did not care; every unanswered message on my phone; every promise someone made but could not keep; all the beautiful things I let go of because I thought I did not deserve them. Now I am beyond recognition or belief, alone sometimes with the sleepless spells and the panic attacks and the violent cycles of thought, and on those nights, yes, it still feels worse than dying.
I know that I am not allowed to have these feelings, because they make everyone uncomfortable, and devour me from the outside in. But still, I live, and so I feel them anyways. And I wonder if it really was so bad, or if I just retained it differently. But I know that I never fought back until it was too late, and the consequence is that now, for the rest of my life, there will be a pantomime, an extended act of pretending that much did not happen or did not matter, and that I never loved or hurt or felt or cared as deeply as I so often did. Because I cannot fix the past, and I cannot look back–and even if I tried, I might be too ashamed to speak honestly of what I found there.
What a life I have fallen into. I never meant for it to happen. Sometimes I am a narcissist, enamored of the world, enraptured by my own existence. Other times, I can scarcely live with what I am. I want to feel good about myself. But even if people were to let me, even if the whole world let me, what if I didn’t? What if I can’t? What if I just don’t have it in me, to be at peace with what I am, have always been? Would that not be enough to make anyone jaded and angry at the world?
But it cannot be too late for me. Because I still know moments of stolen conviction, and their beauty and their chaos takes root and unfurls like a stillness in the soil. And so I am altered, but never really change. I still speak. I still desire. I still feel a lack. Each turbulent night is still swollen with rainwater or falling stars: those sensations that linger on undersides of memories scarcely retained. I forget what I am until I have no choice but to remember. Then I slip into that strange invaluable melancholy, that current of wordless sensation that means I am still alive. I cannot write what I feel then because I am notes on a twelve-bar staff: I deal in music and memory, in clefts of endurance, in harmonious grief and blistering arpeggios of the most exquisite longing.
Is this it? Will this be the year when I finally revive, when I wrench each past misery like a new shard of glass from my skin? If I do, will it heal me? Will it hurt? Will I still know the difference then?
It does not matter. I have time.
It does not matter what was done to me. It does not matter that I have been like this, at such a cost and for so long. None of it matters, because this history has not ended yet. There is still time, there is still time.
It cannot be too late for me.
She carries the coastal wind in her teeth
and the furious sun in her mane.
Annie Finch, Rhiannon
It was twenty hours on that open road. Petrol rain, torn muscles, sharp grit and silver dusk. The engine gasped to a halt and I paused at the edge of a neon skyline. I met a girl in a bar with pale hair and eyes like jade. A girl with an old guitar and a voice like running water. She played her songs, on that city stage, with a handle of whiskey and the strange lust of summer. I never caught her name. When she asked me home, with no mention of morning, I said yes. I always do. I like knowing that I still can.
In a depilated motel room we shared a cigarette, an evening, a lifetime or less. Then I climbed into my car and set Nashville behind me in the rearview mirror. I hurtled towards an amber dawn and left her there alone, with a tobacco tin, an ashtray filled with matches, and all of the faded scriptures of my longing. When I met her, I was already gone.
And what of you? I loved you so briefly but somehow never stopped. I know you could never believe that. You must think that I remember you differently; because I hated you, for so long, and so sincerely. Some nights I still do.
I adored you, I despised you, I lost you and I left you. But I never felt nothing for you. Not ever.
Is that not strange, miraculous, and terrible all at once? After all of this time, after everything that has happened, after all of the hurt you caused–I am lost, I am etherised, I am dead to the world. But when I think of you, I still feel. I always feel.
Are you the love of my lifetime? In truth, I have my doubts. We were kids when I first met you, first kissed you, first let you in. But the love of this time in my life–I think so. The love of this moment, of the person I am now. Yes, of this lifetime—of this three-year, nine-term, two-summer nightmare of a lifetime—you are the last and most clairvoyant thing.
Do you remember watching Once, that movie I always sang from, and both of my arms were wrapped around you on an ash-stained bedroom floor? I know you do. You must. I loved you then. I don’t know what you felt, I never did, but I loved you. And now that memory slips far from my medicated mind: like every other godforsaken recollection, it is lost. But still, I see a single night–yes that night, the one when I began to lose my mind–and I was alone, I was crying, everyone was acting like nothing was wrong, but I heard your voice behind the bedroom door. You were singing. You were playing my guitar. And as I listened, as every note fell soft like rain across my bare skin, for the swiftest and most shining instant, I was close to whole.
Our terrible, thankless past–you are its keeper. All of its pain and its promise and its prophesy belongs to you now. You took it on when you cast off me. And I am sorry for that; just as I am sorry that I left my bones bare and my troubles unconcealed. Just as I am sorry that I did not lie when I should have, and that you might have liked me better if I had. But you must never doubt how I felt about you. Whatever else you may think or believe or become, you do not get to do that. You do not get to shed all that I lived for like a skin.
I am waiting for this chapter of my life to slow and splinter to its close, so that I can start again somewhere new. I want to be a stranger. I want to stop knowing you. When I try to sleep at night (and I can’t, I still can’t–you know how I never could) it is your name that burns on the underside of my eyes. Darling, I want this to be over now.
I could love you until the day that I die, but that will never make you good for me. Nor I for you. So fuck it. Let’s both forget, and disappear, and start again.
In the bitter end of our lesser days, it stopped being easy to tell where the cycle ended and my life began. Because when people keep leaving you, you start to anticipate their failures indiscriminately. And you prove yourself right–that part is crucial. You dig your nails in so deep that people pull away and they never look back. This is how and why what beauty I find in my life always fades.
You know a life has lost its meaning when victory and surrender begin to feel the same. But I spread my palms and let this body bridge the distance. After all, there is nothing left of us to save.
I was a writer before I lost you. Now I just bleed, and let the words fall where they will.
I composed a beautiful letter to you in the sleepless nightmare hours of the night and it has all gone: I just miss you, in a quite simple desperate human way.
Vita Sackville West, Letters to Virginia Woolf
How my flesh summers,
how my mind shadows,
meshed in this brightness
Eavan Boland, In Her Own Image
Blunt iron cast of your eyes, flushed with bare facets of life: sundown glints, bronzes the lashes. Crystal cyan, gleaming bright; then flashing, storm-dark—an iris contracts beneath the pupil as it spreads like ink in still water. You are a self-contained chiaroscuro: inviting, irreverent. Tendrils of hair fall back across the earth: flurried comets’ tails that tumble soft and fast against a fading sky, darker and sweeter than carmine or rust. Your shoulders are clean and bare, unmarred by the wine-and-vermillion conflagration, the blistering dreamscape, the triumph.
Across hollow blades of of grass, shadows chase reams of lingering sun: the rose dusk, the clandestine haze. A prosaic symmetry—conversation, indication—murmurs across us with the fading light. Calypsonian rhythms and sparks of meaning; the hushed, sweet ache of an untold yearning; the lilting verse; the strange edges of your mind whereupon my words falter, catch, cease to be. Violets breathe dimly in the luster of our silence.
Lips damp with Corona, bitten raw to a willing blossom, their softness crusted with flecks of glittering ruby. Bodies meet and passions swell with the rites of midsummer, the wild fruits of its harvest: elder, cedar, silver birch. Flesh, taut and yielding, wrought with rosemary and a warm blush beneath my hands, freckles like a lilac spray, golden in the last light. A tongue caresses the wandering teeth, soothes the caustic edges of speech—honey fair drips from each unconscious word.
This night becomes us, a festival of fire and light. Idolatrous nocturne, the edges of untold wildness: a fertile darkness which the world leaves un-exalted, unexplored.
So you dance, and I drink you in. Firelight spits from your outstretched fingertips, tangles in the tresses of your hair. Makeup running like graffiti and a gaze that rifts the darkness, inexorable. The natural language of each new motion draws back the gossamer layers of my vanity, seeks what I am as it bleeds through what I was and will be: what I fear, what I think, what I hope to become. Chains leave impressions on a trembling wrist—the want that tyrannizes, entices, bursts forth—I dive as though into coils of earth. Roses wrapped between white thighs, sinews of vine pierce flesh—currents of copper, the shower of deep rich red you inspire, I am flooded in crimson. Breathless, I take you in.
This blind knowledge, this incendiary craft of tongues, uttering phrases like promises, muscles taut, knuckles clenching sweet and cinder-edged, I am burning at my core. Moonlight still more real than these lips against your neck, the soft bites and fractures of light, pale across vertebral ridges, feathered cicatrices, silver-tinged skin—I fathom the gleam against bare, intricate bones.
You are more than woman now. You are a moment, a memory, a goddess enfleshed. Primitive, sacred, in the scarcity of stolen hours, we eschew belonging, decry obligation. Accidents, shadows, illusions all cease. Finally, mercifully, I am lost to myself. Those voices in your head—they are in mine now, too.
Your silhouette beside me, graceful in the in the morning light. My eyes search, sigh, slip on dew-dappled skin. As you bloom, then scatter, like petals of hyacinth, I feel the warm sweat, the salt-wave miracle that drenched and now dries upon my bare chest.
I want to say that we clash like things heavenly, like the grinding jaw of celestial bodies, absolute, inevitable. But ichor moves like a birthright in your veins, and I am, at best, a prophetess, fit only to worship or recount. When you blossom with ripe, rich rhapsodies, a bliss maddens my heretic soul, this admiration licks, flame-like, across the earth. Tongues of longing curl in its wake. Still, like to us, the scene entwines.
Drinking from dawn-drenched hues, you awaken me. You enliven me. You are what the last one was not. Child of the harvest, life incarnate under solstice skies—not a wayward echo of best-forgotten winter, her thin voice and sharp-edged bones and badly broken oaths—you are the warm twilight of my body, its heather fields.
Your flesh haunts mine. In loving it, I fear you. In fearing you, I ache to love.
I feel my soul lapse into silence. Language-less at last, I dream.