Excerpts from SIMPATICO
I don’t know where he comes from. Even the full week before Christmas when I stayed with his family in a cruelly-named town, I’m sure I didn’t know. We watched “It’s A Wonderful Life”, I listened to them sing carols from memory, we rolled Martha Washington cream balls. Even then, I didn’t. His mother handmade me a stocking patterned with glitter-glued stars of David, filled it with souvenirs on a morning while I was still sleeping in her son’s twin bed upstairs, stiff green sheets, an old tabby cat kneading my breasts.
There was supposed to be a falling into place, I thought, an oh, so this is how you grew. Among all these arms, and this kind.
I thought there might be the taking me into the backyard to smell his father’s roses
to look at his childhood, at what pricked and what stung and was difficult to forgive. [Kathleen Collins] I thought I might walk to the open barn and the horse named Joy, who was older than both of us, and that everything might change, that everything might be forgiven.
The rifle was heavy, the day he brought me by the pond to pierce a rotting gourd. So that rumor was true. The bronze pellet barely made ripples across the water as it sank, and I wondered how many littered the muck at the bottom.
In the afternoons, which were colder than I expected from the South, we followed the banks of the crick down the hill, past broken barbed wire. He found a cow’s skull there one summer, but we didn’t find anything.
I liked to drive quietly through the dead red fields of cotton.
I left early Christmas morning, flew into an empty but merry LaGuardia, and was at my grandparents’ by three in the afternoon. Jews in Manhattan don’t get Christmas trees like my grandfather did, growing up in northern Germany, but we can still exchange novels or sweaters.
Two years now if you count the first which we never really seemed to. What have we done in that time? We have debated the meaning of our words, have translated each one into a brand-new vocabulary, stowing dictionaries in our pockets, their delicate feather-pages multiplying. We are trying to get through to something. He speaks painstakingly and slowly to get there. Other days, he tries out my own words. They roll misfits around his tongue, clunky and unfamiliar.
I pour everything out and then delete later. I didn’t mean that. That’s not true, what I just said. But when we finally reach something we like the sound of, we repeat it together until we believe it truth.
Do you worry about him, my mother asked. She must. But I think that would require me to understand his pain.
I start reading Anne Carson again. In 2013, a New York Times critic interviewed her over email. I hadn’t read anything of hers at that point. On writing, Carson responded, and all in lowercase:
we’re talking about the struggle to drag a thought over from the mush of the unconscious
into some kind of grammar, syntax, human sense;
every attempt means starting over with language. starting over with accuracy.
i mean, every thought starts over, so every expression of a thought has to do the same.
every accuracy has to be invented.
“Even when they were lovers
he had never known what Herakles was thinking. Once in a while he would say,
Penny for your thoughts!
and it always turned out to be some odd thing like a bumpster sticker or a dish
he’d eaten in a Chinese restaurant years ago.
What Geryon was thinking Herakles never asked. In the space between them
developed a dangerous cloud.”
(Carson, Autobiography of Red)
The cloud between us: he was always trying to explain to me.
We lay in bed and I asked what when he looked at me, was it concentration or vacancy, and then what again when he looked away to gaze at something beyond my vision. I wanted to know what went on inside his head.
How do you give someone meaning? I asked last Thursday, so bored in chemistry lecture with coffee refluxing in my belly that that was what I came up with. He was back in another city by then, the city where he lived between our visits, and had been sending me poems about things I could not decipher. They were made of things that existed so far from my heart––crabs, pirates, bloodletting letters. Snakes and criminals. Crooks.
He once said that people in relationships are on average just as happy or unhappy as single people only because the bad relationships average out with the good ones. Facts like these inevitably make one question––across from him, studying him, studying his specific unhappiness––whether one is happier or less happy than one would be alone. There is not a clear answer to me. Should there be? An answer that springs off the tongue, drops off it, like the I love you.
His face was in my hands. I want to say I love you aloud but I am afraid.
The first day it crossed into unseasonable weather, we drove in a muted sunset to the bay. I kept yelling I am enraptured
Raptured. He kept yelling other things, chasing dogs, fools. The fog was curling off the water, a dark and coiling smoke. He had never been to the Barrington town beach before, and knew nothing of my memories there.
I showed him the lady slippers, the sand showered with them, and he repeated lady in her slippers
all the way down to the crook in the sand. We ran back crook in the sand crook in the sand crook crook crook pretending to be other people.
He tried to show me how the water was pink. I tried to show him how the sky was. There isn’t any meaning to make there, in that difference, so don’t worry about trying to find it. But I always desperately wanted there to be.
Wolf boy singing or howling unclear
Oh Lily can you see all that you do not see in me
Oh Lily will you please accept the things I cannot be
Lily will you close your eyes before you try to kiss me
Oh Lily will you miss me will you miss me
I played this song of his for my friends on a Wednesday approaching midnight when none of us could be forced to do any homework. For a moment our breath fixed in Clementine’s yellow kitchen. He has a beautiful voice; Eve’s eyes could have been wet, but they weren’t. They asked me to play it again.
I’m glad we’re on the same page, he says.
page? page about what? your apathy? our absence of need for one another?
what is the negotiation here, my boy
my b my bb baby bubba buppy bucket snuppy sugar bucket honey bucket
These are names we croon to one another, nestling within epithets and joints
and was it to make it all sweeter I never knew.
I wanted to make sure, he repeats. Sometimes when we drive in the family station wagon, our voices swelling inside the muffle of the speeding glass and steel, we discuss this. The day we drive into muted sunset, for example, we are engaged in a theoretical discourse: calm, low-voiced, composed. Not a fight. We are discussing whether we should break up simply because the prospect of it wouldn’t mean the end of either of our worlds. We are laughing together about it.
But sometimes I feel like you act as though I don’t have a heart he tells me. I have never seen him hurt by me before; I have never made his lower lip quiver; we used to laugh that there was nothing I could do that might cause him pain.
This is the night he drives to my parents’ apartment to eat my father’s red wet lamb an hour after we did as a family, banished boy, and he sits below me, my hands resting on his bones. Which are starting to protrude again. He has always eaten like a starving bird, the hours stretching long between his meals; the meals, at least, are unfreckled.
There is little to say besides nod because yes, I think that’s probably true. It was easier that way, wasn’t it, to say he simply did not feel the way other people felt. And certainly did not love
the way I did.
Now he is cradling me, in my sorrow or his, it’s unclear. Unclear which is wrapping the other––only his arms are longer and thereby contain me better than mine contain him. All the bones are sticking out, and he is calling me all the words that begin with the letter b
Why is this the part that made it better?
must we always bury ourselves in other people’s bones?