The woman on the radio is talking about bonobos, our close relatives who don’t kill each other. Living in Kinshasa, she watched her husband fall in love with one that had been rescued from a handbag at de Gaulle. He’d been a baseball player, would throw the bonobo up, catch her. In the air the little ape would go completely limp. Watching, she says, “taught me what really being in love was, because in order to be in love you have to completely trust that person, even though you know that you don’t have control of whether they catch you or not.”
I turn off the radio—it’s my phone, actually, a podcast I pause—and fatigued by the kitchen retreat to the bathroom, the one finished place. My mother taught me that apes are disgusting, they play with their shit. Fuck that lady, her bonobo kitsch. She married some guy and discovered love by watching him ignore her?
Ninety-odd days back I lay on my stomach hot-sun-dosed on happiness, writing. Am I sinister, willful, blister shod, wolf boil, emotionally vacant, fiscally insolvent, slutty, not as smart as I think, fickle, imprudent, incapable, not so pretty, sexually misguided, a wanton liar, a raunchy liar, an excellent liar, an expert, a scholar, an author, an editor, a witch, a mouse, a cat, a style, an acquired taste, a dream, a toothache, a siren, a stove, a timesuck, a lemon, a pear—
Drunk on purity of feeling and intent, bound to fall short, or maybe not, but I couldn’t believe either, so I left four pages of my notebook blank and wrote on the fifth A NEW LIFE. OUT OF EGYPT. I thought I had made it up. The striated rock veined by sun. The little brindle, the silvered queen. Mouthstain of inky wine.
Once I watched you toss oil into pasta like hair and closed my eyes, your hand the wide comb, my head the bowl. I dreamed that touch as a river dreams a stone, as currents dream a river.
The problem, my mother said, is not not getting what you want; it’s when you do, and after.
So we sit across the blond table two blondes at slates or papyrus or computers, brindle feather-dancing at our feet. Soon I will be shot through the air in a series of tubes, crying celadon glaze. You perch in your kelly sweater, and I think about the dappled light, and light dapples. How my face felt when I leapt naked, how surfacing into you I gave. So many times we went into the milk sky, singing, my heart a gem in its little box.
Sometimes we go digging and I turn my foot in a squirrel hole. Fall. It is astonishing, pain—the way it makes and unmakes me. Pus overboil filling my mouth with sticky tack. In the river I close my hand on a fine low stone and the wound is washed clean; the green enters me and I enter the green.
In the still of evening I sat out. Burnished L.A. haze, windows catching gold, blue shadow calling. High cream of coastal glass, dry grass brushing under the rush of night. In the wet with the trees, soaring, thinking mouth. On the cliff, in the car, beside the gas station in thick heat. In the still of evening I sat out and called you. Believing, except not, that I could speak my wish into my hands. Shouting to anyone who would listen that I could do anything. And then I went home and locked myself in the dog crate under my desk. All the mornings I stretched myself out like a bird, fomented tall wings and all the days plucked them down. There was a kind of dignity in that life, a freedom of no freedom. You can live a long time like that, in a diving bell, if you keep the glass clear.
My old knockaround heart, muscular as a pit bull. I said it could stand anything, and it did: face against concrete, silence hot as a knife, the ugly emptiness of promises. Sometimes I’d take it out and beat it with the spiked side of the meat hammer. Flatten, tenderize, drop it in an acid bath, toss it in the blender. Who cared? Who knew? My heart could always take it. It blistered and burnt and finally erupted, when you brought it like water to your mouth.
So you take me out into the purple-lidded city, so fine, to show me your wing. And we are in and out of eaves and shops, handheld and kissed by kissing; and the dog and the wind and the waves and the sky, none of it is not from your jewelbox face.
Nephrite, it’s called. You can buy it for two and three hundred dollars, online—and what color? What do we call green in the Golden State? I could say emerald, my old favorite verdant, although that’s an adjective, almost adverb, not a noun. Which you are. Better maybe to find it in the water that rushes up under the Bay in eager tufts, in the wide waxy oil of a palm and toothsome strands of young coconut. In sprung almonds bottomed in a white ceramic mug and a huggable bunch of scallions turning opal coins under your knife. It is your silk jacket, a pelt unearthed in the cellar, the carapace of a terracotta soldier. Us warriors long-fought down the steppes.
Once I sat in a sealed room dying of my own arid goodness. Once I lay in the hogan in sunlight and feigned sleep. I was so happy, you see, and I did not want it to end.
Once I wrote, am I terrible, wolfsbane, liar, illegitimate—
Once you took down your hair and lit the candles I did not own. Saw my lipstick on the edge of my mug. Lippy, the Brits call it.
I’m a chatty bitch, you said. This one’s yours.