love is a letter without an address
now finally at long last, i can fall once more into the light. hours pass into me & still i stay in my body. now no more of the desire to flee out of it. but then this is no longer my body, is it, abducted as it is by your memory now. Proust said that memory is like a translucent alabaster. but i say that memory is an abalone lust. you would agree, yes? yesyes. so, for the umpteenth time, to begin at the beginning…
it was on the shoreline that we first met, under the sun whose golden heat made the sweat stream down my skin in such a lot of waves none of which i could ride upon, but which kept convulsing me from within, as if it were (you). so there i was sprawled on the sand, a room of boredom banging into my own walls, feeling like a sparrow perched far above the ground: tiny, flightless, scared of the song of my own breathing. but it must have been a loud sound, for it reached your ears even at that far distance from where you were walking towards me, feet dragging their aimlessness through the sand. how could it have happened? maybe because what they say about love being a big thing is true (i can’t say anymore), but i certainly felt that way then for the first thing that i saw of you was the big shadow shifting on the sand in which I lay. a gentle shadow it was that had appeared out of nowhere to suddenly shade me from the unbearable heat that had only a second ago been burning into my skin.
i didn’t know then that i was seeing the fluorescence of light, real light, for the very first time. but i was to realize soon enough that in that eternity in which our gaze touched each other for the first time, you & i had both metamorphosed into plants, the only species on earth gifted with the capacity to convert the furnace of sunlight into the breathability of oxygen.
because suddenly i feel surrounded by a darkness that won’t let me breathe, let me proceed with this lonely letter by switching my pronouns to the detachable omniscience of the third-person. for not only the i that was with you seems like a stranger to me, but the space of all the time that has passed in which muscle transmogrified into memory, it seems fitting that the piety of narrative distance be observed and equally fitting that this history of eros unfold in the form of letters, all letters, so many letters, useless letters.
the day (during which their eyes met) having finally fallen into the sea, the specter of night now looms large over the horizon where her roving eyes are etching the various postures his still-foreign body will make while it is away from here. here it is entering the booze shop, looking for the desired brand; placing the order, taking out his wallet, exchanging the paper money for the coolness of the parcel, turning around with it to walk back home.
this home is a ramshackle shack stationed so close to the sea that she can smell its aqua flavor digging into her nostrils. why did she refuse to go with him? anticipation of…agony for… expectation for….arrival of…he is out in the world; she is in hers; very soon they will both be in the other & out of the self. and yet, more than the length of time, it is the sheer breadth of the waiting period that has taken her breath away. how deep, how wide, how vast is this desire to touch & be touched by desire.
how long now before time for no more sad longing but only for the wild lounging & leaping with joy?
outside her, the moon is pulling the sea asunder, commanding wave after wave of foaming water to thrash against the shore. inside her, a few moonbeams falling through the open window are enough to drench her to the bones that are being crushed to powder under the weight of this interminable wait.
one more hour: his watery absence is now threatening to consolidate into a solidity that can she no more surmount. what if he has fled? what if he has been mugged & shot in an alleyway? what if he’s lying even now in the baby pool of his own blood singing around his spinning head?
what if what if what if?
now her mind has found an occupation: it is busily playing with the image of a barbed wire. for this is that pretty piece of string that she will use to wrap around the gift of her body in that moment when it will have to be offered to the sea. because if he is dead in his own blood, shouldn’t she reciprocate with an equal gusto?
her soft plant body will lull & rise, loll & fall amid those waves that continue to mock at her forced solitude. at the hour of death by love, one must never expect the penetration of light to break open the moment into newer possibilities because the cause for such a death is the exhaustion of all other possibilities.
stranded amid the sand castles, wafting over the somnambulating breeze and whipped by the untouchablity of the moon, she is an erotic wail heard only by the silence of the receding night.
at this point in the narrative when the tension had reached its apotheosis, he returns to her, but he seems beaten & bruised by…by the want. in the exhilaration of this resurrecting moment, she is quick to mistake it as the want of her, the want for her, but his empty hands signal otherwise. because right now, it is the lack of the booze that is tearing him apart. but to her everything else in his presence is merely distraction. only the fullness bursting in his soul is what matters and so she is happy. but she is also unable to comprehend the cause for his disproportionate misery that suddenly seems to make him heavy, slumped on her left shoulder. so she just stands there cradling his hung head against her heaving chest.
to distract from the gnawing hole left by the booze, she asks him if he’d care for oranges? still slumping, he whispers a tired yes. after a while, he tells her that since he’s started smelling like the oranges, he wants no more of them. she asks him to stick the peel of an orange on her neck; he obliges, and then all the space that has hitherto been between them metamorphosis into the spacelessness rising & falling within them.
what does a woman ought to feel at certain points in her life such as this when something has been lost even as something else has been gained? and how is she to know what (and how much) was the loss and what (and how much) the gain?
this was the loss: he kept flaming all over me, even as i tried pouring waters of calm over him; he kept skying over my bewildered earth that went spinning away into other directions, but which he kept calling back home by the way of clouds that were words. that is how i knew that love is a river of fire made up of words.
or their memory: this was the gain.
you see, there is it: my unconscious slip into the first-person as if that night belongs to me much more than i did to it. but don’t you also see that you remained he because now after so many unanswered letters, you appear on the horizon of my memory as a foreign familiarity; a parasite that was also the host?
so many words to describe the silence you plunged me into. you left before the sun could begin its assault on my abandoned skin. but after your gap, nothing could assault me anymore. the hole you poured into me was enough full for anything else to be allowed in. all that was left behind of you was this empty expanse of white silence that began: dear N, and ended, yours benumbed,
if you could have only seen me, as i stunned myself into a forbearance that hadn’t been possible before i heard your wild heart racing so close to my wild skin. i was stunned then as i am stunned now, knowing that this letter will not have anything else attached to it but the impossibility of an addressee. who were you that you dared to change me as fate changes us? the ghost of my former selves? the hint of my future ones?
you never told me anything other than your name into which I kept moaning my prayer even as the night kept passing us by, going towards that inexorable dawn when the god was to become a void. you never asked me anything about myself but only kept staring above my left shoulder as if that spot in the universe were the solid roof your trembling world had lacked.
and now mine also does. in the country of remembering, nothing stands solid. love is a lack, of my name that you will never finish taking in its entirety; n u p u r
aletters, so many letters, useless letters, piling up on the shoreline of my heart on which i trace your shadow shading me (even now) from the harsh light of the pastless future.
Nupur Shah recently graduated with a BA in English from Mumbai University.
THE AUTHOR ON MUSCLE MEMORY
There is a double process of reflection and refraction going on here. To extend the physics metaphor, if reflection is the bouncing back of light upon touching a surface, then what I have attempted here is to make memory bounce back (as light) from the physical reality of the body-in-love.
But since that reality is now passed, this is also a refraction, a bending of the light (of memory) so that, at the bend, a penetration into the immediacy of the body-in-love may be achieved (via words). For which reason also, I have deliberately used the present tense so as to stage the "mixing of memory and desire" as Eliot so helpfully put it.
& ON WHAT IT MEANS TO BE KALEIDOSCOPED
The conflation of the universe with the centre of the eye so as to simultaneously see within and without because a Kaleidoscope dissolves all false binaries into One.