Tag: things i write when i should be asleep

The Lost Paradise of the Eleusinian Mystery

I watch the night approach us through the sliding glass doors. Thinned into bloodied violet, it descends with the same preternatural inevitability as a vow of love. Inside my body, a similar sun, no less red, is setting.

There’s a tender (soft/sore) intimacy to the emergency room, in its small dimensions bathed in desert tones. Dun, milk-white, olive-yellow, carmine. Emotion has receded into my hands, but I don’t have any physical contact with the world; I feel as though I am interacting with shadows, or mirages. Only tiny images remain: the burst blood vessels in her eyes.

She is at the age now where Death comes with us everywhere: I watch him, through the rear view mirror, sweat jeweling over his brow, leaning against the palm trees. His smile is more apologetic, and comforting, than I would have anticipated. In the heat shimmer of early summer, the distance between us is like the space between me and God. Natural, and unnatural, in equal measure.

The closer she sways towards the edge the more fiercely I believe she will live forever. I won’t pretend to understand the logic of this. It is something I have long since chalked up to the useless beliefs of suicidal women and their failed daughters.


When I fell in love with you I lost my appetite for seven days.
My arms and legs ached, dully, tenderly. Along my throat, and beside my breasts,
lymph, oval-shaped, milky white, swelled like new peaches: Emotion, a pathology, pathos of.
The needs of a body silenced by the greed of the soul; my senses so changed
just walking to the convenience store in the suburbs I smelled the sea.

You’ve never even touched me. What would I do if you did —
Every nerve ending would dissolve into blossom.
The little death darkening my blood to hematite.
The largeness of love, the demands it places on pride,
would either cure or impoverish me permanently.
I don’t know if I could survive that fire.

This feeling has never been gentle to me, and fear lies
like a fragile gem in my skeleton: too tremulous
to touch, a breath away from rupturing
into a cloud of gold. The mortality of love,
its half-life a night in Pyrrhic, pellucid springtime,
is a lesson I have learned over and over again,
but never managed to commit to memory.

What does it even matter. Oh, it is not as though
I would dare think of forever. But I do
still remember the Yamanote line at six in the morning,
the train hanging suspended by a single thread
as I put my hand on your shoulder. The purity of
that instant like heroin. Like Mount Sinai.
My heart so changed when the doors opened there was lavender filling the air.

Mientes mucho

My mind often returns to August of last year, to that beach in Kamakura. I remember it was mid-afternoon. I was sitting alone on the cold sand, feeling time within me like an organ of my body, like a second heart, heated, and fast. That entire day I had been alone, on autopilot, but there, by the the ocean, I found myself shifting back into a realer, more organic state, and I thought of my life, how it had developed into this foreign animal I knew to belong to me, but did not recognize, nor control, a life powered by something other than me, something more innocent and magnetic, and free.

Life possesses its own momentum, I think, a type of gravity generated by the soul. Like the survival instinct, but more human, more mundane too; less about danger and more about memory, and desire, and the muscular, spiritual pull in the body that comes with the existence of beauty, the appearance of pain. I don’t always feel it but when I do its effect is tidal, and immediate, like an electric current. I think of that instance, a few years ago, in Washington D.C.’s Ronald Reagan Memorial airport, waiting in a shuttle bus on the tarmac wet with rain, and pausing, suddenly, to think: I’m living. I’m here, and I’m alive. It was a forceful, and tender, and gently, momentarily paralyzing thought, like passing by a garden for the millionth time and noticing, for the very first time, the row of tiny flowers lining the path.

There’s a difficult, intractable, callous, evergreen part of me that my mother often calls my “nature.” I love, and require, this solidity but I wish I could change the angle of it, give it substance instead of just density. I wish I could carry resilience like a physical object. I wish I could swing it like a sledgehammer.

I think a lot about my character, how it sees, and reflects, and pursues the world. I think a lot about possibility, and emotion, and owning up to my bullshit. I think a lot about how for years I dejectedly but willingly described myself as a neurotic girl, and then a neurotic woman, just because my father called me that once. I think a lot about what it means to judge, to separate, to reject, to forgive, to value, to cherish, and how love intersects with these, individually, and in a sequence, and all at once.

Instances of peace are close to my soul. They slow time down, prolong my life for just a few more seconds, and the pretenses of calculation — how to be, and say, and act, and to what degree — which have so sustained my identity slip away, and I am not afraid, for once, of excess, or hesitation. I return to the beach at Kamakura, alone, entirely responsible for my own life. No need for excuses; no need for lies. I go through my photographs of the trip, the snapshots of white-petaled flowers with rosette cores, the plain and dignified mountainside vistas, the gray roads, their subtle, gold-toned luminosity in the summer evening. I go through images of the sea, its mirada vidriosa (“glassy stare”) and of my face, which some have called “heart-shaped,” on those impulsive, rare instances that I turned the camera around to capture my tired but smiling expression, framed by iron and blue.

松 / 待つ

I take the night train from Narita to Umejima. I sit in the second of three seats facing a window, knees together, my head resting against the backpack in my lap. Every so often I check its pockets, confirming that I still carry three items: a square passport, a cantaloupe orange debit card, and the tiny notebook containing the only photograph I have of my parents together. Though cold to the touch, the weight of the photograph is familiar and comforting, like a nebulous, gentle memory of childhood not yet rendered bitter by time.

The woman next to me sleeps; occasionally her cheek falls against my shoulder, like a honeybee settling on a flower. The vertex of her summer’s evening has bent and met with mine, and her face is so meaningless but will remain in my memory like the smell of brine. Though I travel — and live, to a certain extent — alone, her touch on me is close, immediate, and dolefully, doggedly human.

Rilke said, once: Believe in a love that is being stored up for you like an inheritance, and have faith that in this love there is a strength and a blessing so large that you can travel as far as you wish without having to step outside it.

It has always been easy, and enjoyable, to be painfully, perversely hard on myself. I have pined for men who would not love me, and women who could not; for a release from shame, and a return to it; for thorny roses, phone calls, cool midnights, total respect, physical power, emotional intimacy. And I know it is wrong, to beat myself up over what I do not have, but I don’t know how to avoid, or correct, or suppress these feelings, which are half-man and half-beast, and which follow me even when I have left the labyrinth.

Maybe I am at my best when I am by myself. It doesn’t matter if I am a good person or just a good liar — there is no one to impress. I make it from point A to point B and point C; I feel proud of small accomplishments like counting out exact change in Japanese yen, or crossing the street in the dark, or noticing the beauty of a whole, red moon, partially obscured by apartment blocks.

On the train, the sensory hearts of the world are sliced away; no taste, no fragrance here. I don’t feel much of anything beyond the eternal, neutral desire to live, to complete a journey to its natural end. When I see my reflection in the window opposite me, the gentleness it rouses in my breast is both narcissism and pride, in my soft and tame face, which which may not be beautiful but is mine, in my alertness in an illusory world of ghosts, in my independence, which was not easily won. I am thousands of miles away from anyone who knows my name. I feel unknown, and tender, and pure, like nude, luminous snow. The world is easy, translucent, cooked down to its tendons; I am a twelve-ribbed twenty-year-old who treasures her life, whose soul is trembling, cracking, and spilling, like egg yolk.

The colored leaves / Have hidden the paths / On the autumn mountain. / How can I find my girl, / Wandering on ways I do not know?

The clouds rise off the mountains like smoke. Crows sit on telephone wires; they open their wings like Aphrodite scarring the foam. I walk through the neighborhood, in the yellow heat before the typhoon, in my sweaty tee, in running shoes trembling like orange blossoms.

Rivers travel from canyon to ocean, belly-up and boneless, in the receding bitterness of spring. They are loyal, constant; but when they arrive at the coast, at the lion’s mane ultramarine waves, do they hesitate, as I have? Do they ever think — no — I want to go back, I want —

Heaven help us. We move forward.

My mother is like a falcon lost in private flight. “Es que no hay pozo más grande,” she, in tears, said to me. “There is no deeper well.” Too much of her body is underwater. Too much of her body feels what her mind denies. It’s because of love; isn’t it all? It’s the fault of the lament, honor, and debt of love. I want to prove to her that she is worthwhile without love, that I could live forever without it, its delicate almond-shaped leaves falling, its direction as clear as exhaust ascending. I won’t be manipulated by love. I won’t be dragged by it.

When it rains here, the trains and the trees move like prophets chosen by brown-eyed angels; like their souls are crystalline, and pure, honeyed, and unafraid. I want to know that same gentle, complete peace — but I’m still distracted, by new days, new desires, their shapes when they settle inside me, round and heavy as peaches, their smell dissolving into the air, pulling me out of sleep like Athena bursting through the pate.

My body, twenty years old, can sit still, be quiet when supposed to, polite, good; but it doesn’t know how to hold my mother in its arms. My body, twenty years old, knows it’s time to go. Goodbye — no — I want to go back — I want — oh, heaven. Help me. Look at this body of mine, this river reaching the ocean and thinking of the gorge where it was born, look at me, in the middle of the fire, holding to my mother. Look at these, the wounds of intimacy; I don’t cry anymore, but God, how they still stink like oil, how they cling like anchors. In time, I know, I will grow accustomed to this. Repetition, I know, is the only real cure for suffering. Repetition, I know. Repetition, I know.

The clouds rise off the mountains like smoke. Crows sit on telephone wires; they open their wings like Aphrodite scarring the foam. I walk through the neighborhood, in the yellow heat before the typhoon, in my sweaty tee, in running shoes trembling like orange blossoms.

The God of Kerosene

I was born in love, mired in it; in the mud of a woman’s blood. This is a letter. This is a letter, printed on the air above the Atlantic, to the only two who would remember my infant eyes.

Twist the verdict like a bottle cap, until the virtue and the venom spill, staining our necks and fingers with a pink both soft and bitter. Take your medicine. Wade out into the blue ocean between your throat and shoulder. Rest from this. No more pain.

We float on opposite ends of the still water; someone watches from the shore.

How do you explain to your mother that you still love her abuser?

The serpent used to sing to Eve. A lullaby from a kingdom of salt, where white flowers that lived through the winter grew into doves, and scarring on the body, colored sweet as cotton and sea foam, was left there only by choice.

No pain here, Eve.

God would beat the animal for this song. God would beat the animal until it was blinded, its eyes and spine broken into blossom. In the dust, it wept. But it still sang: No more

Even as her hand reached up into the branches, while He soaked the garden in kerosene: still.

pain.The angels with their swords; Eve’s hand, small as a new plum. The serpent sang: No

How do you explain to your father that he is an abuser, and you love him?

pain. The kingdom by the sea; Eve’s hand, opening.

This is an attempt.

I was born in love, buried in it; from snake to woman, from flower to ocean, from god to kerosene. Rest. Take your medicine. Forgive me. Find it in your doves and scars, in your blood and belly, to love me, still. Please,

no pain. 

Somewhere, Paradise is burning.


What kind of atom string, wrapped around what kind of carbon core, what kind of beating brain and nebulous heart, what kind of moral code, what kind of mantelpiece photograph, what kind of flower in the desert, what kind of desert in flower, what kind of person are you?

I’m the kind that can’t be taken anywhere, not with all the tankfuls of gas, not with all the love letters. I should have been a vegetable garden, this life, drinking in sugars from the soil; instead I am the kind that won’t call her mother back, the kind of Persephone that has to teach herself to love pomegranate. This life, I should have been a tankful, a letter, siphoned out and measured, sent somewhere; instead I am the kind that keeps her eyes open, and hides her burning hands.

You’re just a nasty person, he says, and I laugh and answer, easily, painlessly, did you just find that out now? What kind of promise, what kind of practice, what kind of purpose?

What kind of death, the kind that dries out, sweet-smelling, on the windowsill or the kind that is taken out back, and pressed into the surface of the river, what kind of morning in bed, what kind of alarm, those four bars of a love song, or your mother crying, what kind of kind, kindness, what kind of person are you?

I’m the kind that has been yelling come here. I’m the kind in warm clothes, at the side of the lake. I should have been the first, the second, the third; I should have been the third, the second, the first. This life, I should have been the kind of person that is a room: open the door, set down your bags, come here, come here. Instead I am the kind whose hands are still burning.

After the poison, before the antidote

I am this bad summer, slung sticky, and red-hot, across the new artificial grass framing the iceberg blue pool; I am the pink moon, hanging so heavy, as though close to splitting open, ripe; I make you pity the young sunbathers, the stars.

After the poison, before the antidote; cold-water current in a glassy lake, washed in colors of tiptoeing nighttime, licking the curve of the world, the last of the sweet orange late afternoon as it rests, stretched, soft, smooth, over treetops; tasting.

You are this telephone pole, at the end of summer; you are the zebra crossing, under the moon. Sunbathers will reach to steal stars before I can return home without feeling the shape of your memory, close and colossal, soaked into the porous material of my pink-rind life. You are the breath between glowing pomegranate seeds; you are the air in the well of which there is no deeper, clogging with that wait, that want; you make me pity the best summers.

After the poison, before the antidote; center of the desert, the deserter, running only to find you, mirage of cooling green, waist-deep and expectant, ripe, your pretty fingers and long, bad mouth, you, reaching; taking.

Eulogy for this body

I’m in Romulus, Michigan’s cheapest hotel, sitting cross-legged on a queen-size bed in a too-small tank top and old underwear. It’s my last night in America.

The past eight months have been forming a callous of iron and red mercury around my shoulders, melting and dripping down my back, straight as an arrow, like a cat of liquid mineral with its diamond claws stuck into me, like a river of lava that erodes, digests the green mountain. I can feel it, with its hands and jaws around my inner organs; it’s pulverizing them, crushing my fleshy insides into a pulp that sloshes in me when I move, slowing me, dissolving me. I’ve been crippled, do you see? But my outward appearance is the same; the result is both a feeling of destruction and a feeling of falsity. My blood has been thinned by toxic and hard metal, monsters with solid gold eyes are running their teeth along the marrow of my bones; but what do I have to show for it? When I’m asked if I’m alright, I have to answer yes, yes, of course, because how could I ever prove otherwise? Where are my thickened scars, where is my silver gun, what is my war?

In the evening, I do up my laces and walk out the hotel’s sliding doors; my hands are in the pockets of my best jacket. I take small, measured steps, pouring my liquified heart out, millimeter by millimeter; it pools in my shoes, leaving red footprints along the sidewalk. I walk half a mile in one direction, and then I walk another half-mile in the other. Strips of tar flanked by concrete, a Hilton, a Holiday Inn, a gas station, the highway, airplane hangers beyond. All around me, people fixated on the road ahead, holding onto steering wheels, doing security checks on jets and puddle-jumpers. I think: You know. You know, Emma, you could keep going. You keep walking through the fields, past the highway and the hangers, cut through suburban backyards. They wouldn’t know you were gone, not for days. I pause, hovering, on the border between the end of the road and the undeveloped, blank land ahead.

Hey, God? This is your child speaking; my name is Emma, do you remember me? Do you ever think of me? I’m here now. Did you know the things I’m capable of are incredible? They are. God, did you know the things I’m capable of are terrifying? Oh God, they are, they are.

I want to open myself up, break open my ribcage like a nut, like an oyster’s shell, and scoop out my collapsed lungs onto the pavement. Pull out the threads of my arteries, uncoil the sausage-thick guts, pick at the phlegm and acid of my throat and stomach walls. Tip myself over until I am drained clean. It’ll feel good, so good, to be empty; it’s like when love is returned, becoming your shape and home, it’s like waking up with wings that open in the daylight like a flower. I’ll seal myself shut, my body wiped down and made anew, and keep going. And though I will be empty on the inside: everything else can grow.

It’s spring, today; so let the seeds of wildflowers take root in the warm coats of tissues leftover and occupy the space where my lungs were. Let the air lick down my throat, through my burned temple thorax and settle in my calves, like some small, soft-eyed animal. Sunlight and stars in the back of my neck and down my back: a new spine. Let me make a circlet of wet soil and stolen blood, like a quietly determined school-aged girl sowing daisies into a crown, and hang it close to my throat to quench the worst of my thirst. A layer of sweet-smelling yellow grass to replace muscle and fat, to keep me warm on the nights when I suck up campsite fire and store it where my heart was. Snake skin and bird feathers, river water and clay, a new shape, a new structure. I’ll lower my head, eyes ahead, and run, quick, slick, across the ocean, salt accumulating in the hollows left by my intestines, sea anemones and pink, porous, breathing coral giving me new bones; the reflections on the water traveling from the soles of my feet to the foot of my soul, patterns and color washing away the last of these months from me. I’ll be a self-made angel with a halo of rose thorns and lilies, a natural android with magnesium-rich metals, veined crystalline circuits.

I’d be better then. I promise. I’d be new, that heart of fire and those wildflower lungs don’t need anything but the air in my legs and the sun on my back. Gods and men, keep your hands and your miracles to yourselves. Write my old body a pretty eulogy. Say: She is made in her own image now. Then lift your eyes and watch me run; watch me rise.