Tempranillo meets pinot noir, and he shows me what he carries on his shoulders. To bed with Herakles and his lion’s cloak: even heroes need their rest. I linger for awhile in the whir of the AC. Bloodshot, these eyes.
I lace up to walk out, and there’s a kiss waiting for me before the door clicks. Invitations that never form into words but merely sweat in the heat. We both check out. Diaspora.
Pork in every dish. But we go way back, so I learn to savor it for her. Mutual laments stirred with a straw. The taste of cinnamon and a good house red. The lightness of small pleasures.
A call from a country code we don’t want to recognize. She now no longer speaks. Critical. How our voices fail to carry.
Satie’s four nocturnes. Music like wallpaper, he said of his work. So I feel then like a fly on the wall, a proliferation of spaces where my gaze might land. A gaze that cuts through the still air, and I return to an old photo of him, dapper in a tan trench coat in the middle of winter before he received his white coat. The titillation of the first, the one who shared my desires in their manifold forms. Shortly after that photo, he would ask me to call him a brother, and I felt hailed in that delicious kind of way that I had never felt before. The intimacy of thousands of miles of space, what lay between the words and every silent pressing of the enter key. No kiss, no tell.
Yet he chose ultimately to make a choice because of last name. Severance: all because he could not bear to see his mother cry. He would bury the rest in the snow.
E. once tried to teach me the courante, so I could properly dance to the partita I was able to play at one point in my years of violin. After watching me fall all over myself, she deemed me too embarrassing to continue teaching. She saw my face turn ever so slightly, her attentiveness catching me just as I flashed back to the moment when my teacher told me I lacked the form for any sort of physical grace. I laughed it off and played back the video we had recorded for her future blackmail should I ever gain any claim to fame. Yet what she ultimately desired was just to watch me at my most infantile. To see me as I was when I was struggling to walk, when I finally let go of the family coffee table to brave the world on my own. I have flown from her and our days in the backyard, and she wanted to see me again when I had courage instead of apologies in my mouth. I say sorry for the shadows that don’t speak, the ghosts that I presume are in the room, for the thousands of selves I feel don’t deserve to grace the light of day. Enough of the apologia, enough of my needless self-defense.
Much of the give-and-take has been in the slow acclimation to independent study. The way scholarly time itself is consumed, dispersed, transformed by the nature of research. I’ve been learning a lot about progress and process, both terms that have undergone significant revision in my understanding. As I’ve come to release my death grip on certain stakes in my profession, I’ve found that I’ve come to a place in which I can truly evaluate my relationship to my work. There is absolutely a problem with work, and I think the academy and its members are particularly vexed about how to handle the nature of intellectual endeavors and service to their departments and students. I have to think very seriously about what it is that I’m committing myself to doing, what kinds of investments I’m making in colleagues, modes of thinking, modes of being in the academy and beyond. I think to myself also as I approach 25 what kinds of questions I’m asking, be it scholarly or personal. Am I actually asking the right questions for myself and allowing myself to think of answers that might otherwise seem inaccessible, implausible, or inconceivable? What obstacles am I generating by deeming certain life paths are beneath or above my own? If asked directly, could I accurately and honestly describe my own position and where change might be appropriate?
I and a few of my fellow cohortmates have been particularly cruel to one of our colleagues because of what seems to be her blatant lack of commitment to the pursuit of her degree. While we feel like we’re barely able to make it week to week, she seems to have her energies everywhere else but in the department and in her reading. Yet, I must ask myself why her way of being a graduate student is so infuriating to me, especially when she is investing herself in places that might otherwise sustain her and contribute to her ability to be a scholar? I haven’t handled well in the past 2 years the precariousness of being a graduate student (or scholar-in-training, to some in this department). What pressures and expectations have I wholly internalized yet never truly agreed with from the start? What kind of graduate life am I choosing to live if it feels like one of which I might never take ownership? Is the inherited narrative of graduate school-as-struggle really the one I want to maintain when I’ve spent two years proving its wholly not viable?
Revision can grind a good impulse to dust.
(my entire academic and creative writing experience.)
You don’t forget the taste of certain metals in your mouth. Points of contact, a little red for iron. Lockers that keep everything but me safe. Yet I remember when that man in uniform threatened me at the barricade for telling him I deserved better as a student at the university. There is a discourse of rights, there is a mobilization of voices penetrating in their hoarseness, there is the spectacle of a lie-in, where we performed the death of the institution. But there is also that intensity of his look that told me in such disgusting terms that he, in his uniform, was not there for my safety, not there for anyone’s well-being but for the few men and women who had locked themselves in a small room in the building where I worked to defray my 60K of debt. Pepper spray, tear gas, riot gear, inexplicable arrests. The violence of the everyday takes many forms in this country that so many cannot call their own.
I can’t sleep again, so, knowing full well she’d be awake, I go over to Mom’s room to chat with her. We always settle into our special kind of back-and-forth: her little quips, traces of her bitterness that does not always reach the surface, my deliberate contrarianism, invocations to some once-upon-a-time when I cried for a hundred days.
I tell her about the memoir I hastily committed to paper last semester, and we drop to a hushed tone as I breach the topic of my father and the way he courts his own suffering. The perils of fatherhood, his days on the soccer field when he’d get into schoolboy brawls. His days in a tailored suit with enough coffee to burn holes in his stomach lining (machismo and good business, he called it). There was the very moment he decided to fly to the States at about the age I am now. Dark faces at the doorstep: an unwelcoming from new family. And then came his child with too much of a voice, the affective labor for which he was never trained.
I hear, for the second time, about that woman bathed in shadows, the woman who has never once appeared before me in a recognizable form. She is a woman of old letters, locked in her unfortunate form as the woman who never should have continued writing to my father when he flew 11,000 kilometers to take a wife. My mother sheds no tears like she is wont to do when the Qing woman is beaten by her husband. She has no plight to share but the burden of keeping together the gossamer concept of a family. She will not tolerate rupture so long as I, with my wide eyes, might bear witness to it. So she, like my grandmother, bears the weight of unlove, the repeated truth of a bed not shared, of flowers forgotten after thirty years. Her daily rosary.
These are the trials of a man, of two women who bear saints’ names.
The solo viola takes me back to those jacketed days in Berlin and Vienna. My back already aching by the middle movement with full knowledge that I had to survive Shostakovich at tempo right after. Yet there is a certain flow of pleasure in disappearing into the undulating motif of the second violin section. The panorama of the English seas, fantasia on an Elizabethan hymn. A certainty of muscle memory, these bodies deprived of sleep. Eyes closed, I need not read music. I am carried, I am held in the field of the moment. Its gravity, its way of taking me before I am even aware. I who am not yet eighteen.