I live in the red, beating heart of poems. Words are my world, my constant companion, my passion, my sex. Nothing is as vivid as their flow and shape, the way syllables skate and spiral off my tongue. Nothing is as real or hard as the work of, word by word, pulling the truth out of the world, out of my heart, and putting it on the page. Except maybe love. At least, once written, words are constant; lovers always change, disappear.
Sometimes I want someone to whom I can turn when the world cracks open its red velvet heart and spills out the wonder of the ordinary. Sometimes I’m a pomegranate, full to bursting with sweet, jeweled seeds of syllables inside me. I want someone to taste me, to consume me and the world and my words, someone to break me open and savor the juice, to wear my skin, all my life like a crown, and enter paradise with me. But it’s always Persephone and Hades all over again, seasons cycling by, a taste of sweetness before being stuck in a sunless land, waiting for spring again. Je ne regrette rien and all, but sometimes. . .
We met in the library, both reaching for Skim, and I thought for sure that was a sign. A sign of what was the question I always forgot to ask myself. We struck up a conversation, and I was instantly charmed by the sly crescent curve of her smile, the arc her dark arms described as she detailed her theories. She explicated Audre Lorde and Angela Carter; she quoted Stacey Anne Chin and Yellow Rage and Gayatri Spivak; she sang snatches of Jill Scott and Vienna Teng; she watched jPod and the Guild and read ½ Prince. She said, “Every person carries a different world behind their eyes, and romance without culture shock is just conversation,” and I was gone. My heart was a flying paper thing--a kite, an origami swan, a paper airplane, a lantern cut loose--flimsy and airborne. I folded it up and gave it to her like a wish.
For a while, it was glorious. We stayed up late into the night, argued about Amiri Baraka and the Black Arts Movement, read bits of Evelyn Lau to each other, made milk carton and pulp paperback dresses for my final project. I was drunk on her alone and we danced into the night to Sun Ra and mourned the passing of the dawn with elegies to time. She brought me roses made of red velvet, like your heart, I said, each petal uncurling for me like her sex uncurled under my tongue. On bad days, I said her love would be as fleeting, the petals falling to the ground, soon only a brief token pressed between the pages of the book of her life. In the early days, she would take the rose between her teeth, waggle her eyebrows and dance me around the room or tell me terrible puns until I couldn’t help but unscrew my mouth and laugh into hers. But that was then. The way I saw the world was what drew her to me, and it was what pushed her away. I was as constant as my words but she changed as much as everything around me. In the end, she just rolled her eyes and derided me for dramatics, panned my life's production.
But without the drama of life what was there? There were days when the curl of clouds in the sky could send me into tears, when the sight of her laughing at someone else’s jokes made me flush with anger, when the curl of her hair made me weak with desire. I thought she understood--I couldn’t help feeling the world the way I did. She’d said it herself--all of us carried universes behind our eyes. Couldn’t she feel it--the way the world pressed down sometimes, the way it splintered into nonsense, the way words made things make sense again? But even when world fragments winnowed me down, even when I was threshed and harvested by love, it was still beautiful. Even when we fought, I thrilled to it. Even when we were in pain, we were in pain together; we could feel each other’s messy insides. Sometimes I tore into her just for the pleasure of feeling her flesh, unfair as I knew it was. Sometimes we pressed into each others' flesh until the air was perfumed with our scent, like bruised peaches. All great love affairs were turbulent, I told her. Wouldn't she rather be celebrated for centuries like Sappho, memorialized like Mizi Xia and Duke Ling, than settle for a split mortgage payment? But she was more interested in normal than notoriety.
Lovers always think it will be romantic to be with a poet until they realized that they will never be as vivid as the last line about them. She accused me of premeditated poetry, of ignoring her presence to phrase the moment in my mind, but she couldn't comprehend that my recording eye always saw her, was the way I tried to apprehend her, ever seeking to close the gap between us. She said I never came to see her. I traveled to her all the time, my heart cried out, just not in ways she could see. She wasn’t the only one trying to make the journey. It wasn’t my fault that words were my best bridge of the distance between the ways we saw the world. We just weren’t speaking the same language, no matter how many words we shared. I could see us crumbling, the foundations dropping into the sea, taking my heart with it.
People think poets have some special insight; what always disappoints them is that I am not a soothsayer. I cannot speak the future; poets are mostly good at post-mortem, the endless reading of entrails and tea leaves.
Her friends warned her (her very traditional parents didn’t know about very non-traditional me, or they would have too); they warned her that my ardor would spark and die out like matches, but they had never felt my fire. And oh, how I burned for her. She asked me about previous lovers. She wanted to know their favorite colors, what side of the bed they slept on, what we had done, like a fill-in-the-blank that would prove I passed the test. I shrugged, said it did not matter now; they were part of the poem of my life, but everyone faded away, turned into tracks in the dust wiped out by the furious wind of my love for her. She was my lightning strike, my bird of paradise, my inspiration. She scoffed, said pretty words for someone who has buried the past.
This is the problem with falling for a muse. On paper it all looks good. It's easy to slip between the sheets, to read between the lines and see her regard, to return again and again to the unchanging altar of devotion. But she was no mute muse, no still statue, no household goddess who would hear my prayers. She had her own journey to make and longed for quieter seas, not grand oceanic adventure. She slipped anchor and drifted away slowly, majestic then smaller and smaller in the middle distance, her lights disappearing from my distant shore. On parting, she said, love is not performance.
But for me, the performance of love is art.