dark room, bright heart


for Jessica


You said: I have nothing sage to offer. Maybe a little thyme. Dollops of hugs and love when a recipe never asks for it. Perhaps even a sprinkle of cinnamon and cardamonThen: Anyone who wants love advice from me is a fool. I am a fool for love. 

I have always hated your light touch, your promiscuous way with words, your irresponsible handling of herbs. And I agreed with you: there is little you can teach me about love.

You: Something fell apart, shattered me into a million bits. Who was there to pick up the pieces? 

I recalled the man whose exotic-sounding name alone always unpeeled you with the ease of an unsentimental housewife; the one you ached to build a world with, on that beach in Sierra Leone, with nothing but parched sand, a pair of flip flops that drifted toward you from some primordial past, and hope. You shucked oysters on a rock outside your hut, washed each other's bodies from moonlit buckets of salt water, made love with rocking delight on the waves. What were you thinking? How could you not name the pain that pulled you into the vortex, took away your voice and left you with nothing more than a disinterested sigh? Who was this Poseidon offering you refuge, who fished with a spear when the local trawler gathered with greater expediency? You were right in daring yourself to make the claim that the gods visit us ever so briefly

And what about the generically-named Gorilla, the one who moves in the world like a soft-footed coyote, the one who sang to you and made you shed tears of joy, that one oyster you were afraid to open? Would he have died if you shucked him, exposed him to the corrupt elements of this world, to the dirty secrets of lust? When you watched French movies with him while drinking Italian wine in your stepmother's Dutch sauna, did you not know that the purity of your intent was never enough to sweep him away? That love, like every other living thing, needed to be grounded like gnarled toes into the bleeding flesh of another? Have you not learned the lesson of the masters: that it will cost you dearly to blast yourselves out of the stratosphere, when it is so much easier to offer yourself in less infinite doses? 

But none of this matters, nor these men who are made real only through the fission of your words, like unseen fruit bursting with too much ripeness in some neglected orange grove. 

Yes, I have always hated your light touch, but that day you sent those notes from the sky, as you were transported on aluminum wings from one bit of shifting ground to another, and let those words drift down to me like the paper filigree of a forgotten valentine or a cloud of starlings, I knew that my own pursuit of tepid love must be smashed on the rocks. I knew that the one shining star out there you saw was you and not you: that you named it Love, and therefore, like you, was everything all at once. I imagined you seated by the emergency exit, compelled to open the door and not be held accountable for so many anticipated lives, including your own. 

I wonder, when you looked away from that solitary star and toward what was real, if you saw lava flowing down a mountainside and wished to immolate yourself in itI wonder, when you flung those paper snowflakes down upon me, if you hoped they would slit my heart's eyes? I wonder, in this dark room we all inhabit, if anyone's heart has ever been open enough to ignite a life?

I hate your light touch, hate when you say things like you turn my cabbages into partridges.

Yet you. 
You turn my partridges into spinning and diving starlings. 
You sharpen my wings.
Yes you- you have this way of teaching me what I thought I already knew about love.