(After Sarah Kay’s “Postcards”)
I had already fallen in love with too much water, when you showed up out of nowhere, heart full of flood, mouth full of ocean. You kissed me, and that was it. I stopped looking for the shoreline, and I can’t tell you the last time I did that. I can float here for days or find my way to the bottom—both equally safe. Is there a word for arrival that feels like the word home? If there is, it is made of a bird’s wings, the smell of dirt in spring, the crisp smell of a fire burning on a cold night. If there is, I’ve seen it in your smile.
I keep waiting to take one breath too many, to let in what should be kept out, to be overwhelmed by it. But it doesn’t happen. I’ve started to forget what pain tastes like, the metallic aftertaste, the way grief always finds the bathroom floor, how nothing’s ever as clean as it should be. I stopped counting the awkward tick of my own heart. I used to think it was proof of life, but it’s only living if you are brave enough to share it. Here, look: I’ve got something in my hand. Sorry about the mess. I’m not one to be afraid of it. I know other people are. Still, look: red’s always been my color.
Is there a word for yes that feels like warm blankets, a deep kiss, the lingering of fingers on hipbones? There are a thousand rivers underneath my skin, and each of them are looking for you. There is purpose in the current, but I know it holds too many secrets. There’s always something living underneath the surface. Would you wade in anyway, not knowing what it is?
I don’t know what to call this. There’s no way to dam it. All I know is I love the undercurrent of your laugh, the way I can picture you in a room, even when you’re not here. Come, paint the ocean on my back. Say it’s a map. Say it’s a lighthouse. Say you can find me, even in the dark.
I ask the easy questions: how are you? How has your day been? I talk about the storm, the lightning, prattling on about work. As if that’s really what I’m thinking about. As if I’m not wondering about your hands, your mouth. As if I’m not trying to say I miss you in a thousand different ways, but the words vanish when I open my mouth. I’ve gone soft. That is to say, afraid. That is to say, silent.
I don’t want to be the one who says it again, first. The silence after leaves too many scars. And I’ve gotten really bad at waiting, but I don’t say that either. Instead, I ask about work, if you’re ready for what’s ahead. I know the question has more than one meaning. Neither of us acknowledges the wake of it. You give me the easy answer, but I hear the way your voice dips, that half growl. I picture too many things and begin to stammer.
I wonder what you’re thinking – how loaded is that shotgun in your heart? Do you hear the bullet in my teeth? Every now and then, it whispers: you’re going to have to swallow eventually.
In order to see the stars, you must first see the night. The sun overshadows starlight, and it’s only revealed after all the light is gone. Have you ever noticed that when everything is dark, stars arrive like magic, appearing one by one, too fast to count. Little bright bastions of silver, taming the wildness of an empty sky. For every point, there is a counterpoint. For every fear, there is a hope. For every weakness, there is a strength. Even nature holds a balance. This is something we forget when we start to take the sky for granted.
Some people are like that, too. Miracles borne of twilight – the bright hope that keeps you going when the sunlight has gone away. Do not take them for granted. Look for them when everything has gone to hell. Remember them, those who have touched you and kept you. Last week. A year ago. A breath ago. Or, perhaps, they are long dead – but like stars, the light still carries.
Hold to the things that chase away the dark. Fill your life with starlight. Gather love the way children gather constellations: with absolute certainty and delight. Map your world by what fills you with wonder. Live it by indrawn breaths and arresting surprises – that which stops you in your tracks. Don’t be content with what does not nurture you. Don’t curl your fingers around your pain or that which seeks to hold you in your place. Don’t merely count the hours until the sun comes back out. You cannot outpace the moon. You cannot conjure a sunrise.
Find the magic in everyday things. Resurrect your will to believe. Don’t chart your course with wasted words and rung out reasoning. Trace tomorrow by Orion, Draco, and Ursa Major. Live your life by starlight – that is how you find your way back home. No, that is how you find your way.
Home is a heart; the destination varies.
I can think of a thousand different ways to explain the way I miss you. It’s like the world is made of water, and all I have are lungs. It’s like the moon has forgotten its place in the sky, all but disappearing. The stars are a circus, and we are performing acrobats, flipping through emotions like wonderful experts. Only, there is no net. Only, there are lions. Only, we are the lions – and this is our cage.
I wonder if summer misses winter like this – like a season dancing out of turn, passions outstretched in a whirling dervish. I think we’re all missing something, someone. Absentmindedly, I wonder if I’ll be warm again. I wonder what it’s like to pull a feeling out by the roots. Does the heart grow emotions like weeds and wildflowers? Mine would never be roses, not even sunflowers. Mine spring up, resilient, defiant, a blossoming little promise. A petal of a dare. Mind the thorns, but breathe in the fragrance. They will arrive again, but it’s never the same bloom twice.
I can think of a thousand different ways to explain the way I miss you. And yet, I have no words to unlock this door. I have no words to call you back. They have all gone, swift as any thief. I am a magician without weapons, a conjurer without panache. I am broken mirrors and trap doors that won’t open. I am drowning in an ocean made of the word absence. I am lost, even knowing exactly where I am. This maze I built is mine, mine, mine. And I am afraid that I am the monster at the heart of it. Now, there is the truth: I am afraid.
And it’s fear that keeps me silent, here.
*from Silent All These Years by Tori Amos
Have you ever watched a boxer tape up his hands – the precision in preparing for a fight? It is methodical, like surgery, each woven line clean enough to cut if it had an edge. It is acceptance of the inevitable: that bruises happen, and the best we can do is prepare ourselves. It doesn’t matter who swings first; we are our own weapons. And this sacrifice of our pristine selves is ragged and ugly. Someone rings a bell, you get in the ring, and all of hell starts.
The opposite offering is violets in a bowl at daybreak. Remember what you were doing August 2012? Remember the words and the phone ringing, how everything just stopped in a single breath? Change, no matter how you dress it up, is never pretty. The bowl cracks. The violets don’t mean forever. And yet, it is its own beginning. It is how things become more than what they were. It is how we become more than what we are.
The secret to each thing is vulnerability. In order to gain, you have to give up yourself. This is how a heartbeat slows to match another. This is how you run, ready for a chase. This is how we offer broken ribs and glass, bloody lips and rivers. This is how the lingering night dares to bring out the stars –how the moon says yes when we cannot find the words. This is how passion demands tribute, how the hours fall away, and how we lose everything to find ourselves.
If there’s one thing you remember, let it be this: no fight, however beautiful, asks for permission; no promise ever asks for forgiveness; and no true kiss is anything less than madness.
Tell me: how ready are you to tape up your hands? How beautiful are your violets at daybreak?
Darling, sometimes love is a battle that you are fighting from both sides. Your heart is two hemispheres, reaching for separate outcomes. The world spins on the axis of your erratic pulse. Close your eyes, and it is all stardust – the burning out of a star from millions of years ago. Forget the armor. Forget crest you once wore. All honor changes with time, and what you love demands its own worth. Take a breath, and show yourself how you feel. Unclench your fists and fight that way: without weapons. It is a risk. It is one way to break your own heart. It is also the most beautiful way you can save it.
Tell the truth. Do not tell it slant. Peel it out of every word you’ve been too afraid to say. This is your story. This is proof that good people do terrible things. Sometimes, a broken promise is a miracle. It is water changed to wine, stone changed into a heart, and a love so fierce that takes the place of a pain so vicious. Mistakes are how we learn to breathe again. Nothing clean is ever quite true. Worship the knife edge, the spilled coffee, and the feel of fingers slipping into your hand.
Sometimes, the map is half-burnt, and you are wandering in circles. Sometimes, you are an ocean made of someone else’s desires. Sometimes, you light the funeral pyre yourself to put somebody else’s mind at ease. There are a hundred different ways a soul can burn. There are a hundred different ways a soul can swim. But of all the secrets, this one is the truest: love is a forest fire, and we are all the driest of trees.
I can still taste the ashes in my mouth from the last time you kissed me.
*”Heart on fire, ashes everywhere
— there’s no return from a red like that.” ~ “Fado Menor” by Manuel de Freitas
The other day, someone asked me, What do you believe in? Without thinking, I almost gave up your name, let it slip like a river, turned out it like an ocean tide. Without hesitation, my heart conjured your face and the way your voice sometimes catches on your smile – unhesitating and full, like a wish that never stops being true. Without a doubt, I remembered every word you’d ever said and those you’ve held in, tightly. Words, you know, never stop breathing, even when they’re stuck in your throat. Even when they’re hidden in the corner. Belief is like that: always what it is, never more or less.
I believe in the way you say my name, as if it is a prayer. I believe in every impossible possible thing, like how a storm can bring lighting or a rainbow – and they are both beautiful. I believe in passion that does not pretend to love, and that passion is love’s shadow. I believe in renegotiating the world, just to keep you. Give me the pomegranate seeds. Hand me the apple. Don’t look back.
I believe in patience and forever, but I do not say this. Those words are kept like a pacing jaguar, prowling at night: dangerous, and yet unseen. This is a creature we both feed. This is a creature we both flee and pursue. This is, at times, what love is: keeping the balance. Trying not to be consumed, yet willingly holding out a hand to the consequences. Is it bravery if you’re hands aren’t shaking? Is it hope if it feels like madness? Is there, I wonder, a way to love and still keep your footing? For me, it is a freefall.
I keep a thousand secrets, like stars, stark against the night sky – each night, I wish on every one. Sometimes, we make promises without speaking. Sometimes, we keep fighting for things, when saner fools would’ve given up, retreated – I know nothing of this. I do not believe in halves or halfway. This is patience. This is kindness. This is the very best madness.
I hold your name in my mouth. I like the way it tastes. I like the way it feels like it belongs to me. Another thing I never say – that I belong to you. That your kiss is what home feels like. That your hands are an open door. That the way you look at me keeps me. That everything about you feels like a warm bed and blankets on a lazy Sunday morning.
What do you believe in?