dark room, bright heart

for Jessica

You said: I have nothing sage to offer. Maybe a little thyme. Dollops of hugs when a recipe never asks for it. Then: 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 negligent handling of herbs. But I agreed with you: there is little you can teach me about love. There was that man whose exotic-sounding name alone always unpeeled you with the ease of an unsentimental banana farmer, the one you ached to build a world with on that beach in Sierra Leone with nothing but parched earth and a pair of flip flops, shucking oysters on a rock outside your hut, washing each other's bodies from moonlit buckets of salt water, making love with rocking delight on the waves; the one who moved in the world like a soft-footed coyote, sang songs of sickening longing, the one oyster you were afraid to shuck because he would know the dirty secrets of lust. What were you thinking? How could you not name the agony pulling you into the vortex, taking away your voice and leaving you with nothing more than a disinterested sigh? Who was this Poseidon offering you refuge, who fished with a spear when the local trawler could gather you with greater expediency? Don't you know that love, like every other living thing, needs 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 fantasies 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 to me like the paper filigree of a forgotten valentine, I knew that my own pursuit of tepid love must be smashed on the rocks. I knew that the one shivering 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 star and toward what was real, if you saw lava flowing down a mountainside and wished to immolate yourself? I 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 or the gods visit us ever so briefly.Yet you turn my partridges into spinning and diving starlings, you sharpen my wings, yes, you have this way of teaching me what I thought I already knew about love.

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