In the Presence of Absence
Love, like meaning, is out on the open road, but like poetry, it is difficult. It requires talent, endurance, and skillful formulation, because of its many stations. It is not enough to love, for that is one of nature’s magical acts, like rainfall and thunder. It takes you out of yourself into the other’s orbit and then you have to fend for yourself. It is not enough to love, you have to know how to love. Do you know how? You cannot answer, because you cannot relive the ecstasies that shook you and scattered you all over the lilac’s escapade, electrified you and tortured you with the scorching taste of honey. You cannot recall the liveliest and sweetest modes of death; when your “I” left you for your woman, and you encountered your self, fresh as a ripe fruit, in her.
When recalled by words, those moments are impervious to the attempt to raise the body to the station of the soul. Who among us has not said to his woman: “I only exist in you,” and was truthful. We were truthful, as well, when we found our existence in a similar utterance in a different place. So do you know how to love? You cannot answer, perhaps because you did not notice the subtle atmospheric shifts when traveling from pole to pole: love and passion, rapture and infatuation, ardor and affection, fondness and devotion, blazing love and bewildering love, craving and caprice, dalliance and desire, longing and lust, admiration and attraction, and other desires in search of senses. In every station the body has a certain state, and for every state there is a station between death and life. So you never know where or how you are.
But as you look over your life now, like a mariner considering his own disappointment with the unfathomable secrets of the sea, you ask: Where is my port? You are uncertain how your heart returned safe and solid, like a quince still too hard to bite. Why did you cry, then, when the virgin by the tree was no longer a virgin because one of those who tame the wind had beaten you to her? And why did you cry again, when the second one did not open the door as you stood in the bitter cold shivering from humiliation, not from the cold that lit up your furnace? And why did you cry a third time when the third one departed without noticing that you were hugging a pillow, not a body of silk and ostrich feathers?
There is no love, you say, because no love is like any other. The magnetic pull that uproots a being from its being cannot be defined. So forceful is it that he never asks about his spirit when it is exiled, nor about his freedom when it has become voluntary slavery: I am yours! With one lock of hair astray in the wind, mountains are moved. Two parted lips ripen cherry orchards before their time. With a word without meaning, interpretation makes you a king on a throne of dust.
As if electrocuted, you walk aimlessly, drifting with falling leaves. The storm and your emotions make you dizzy and you make them dizzy. You do not know if you are happy or sad, because the confusion you feel is the lightness of the earth and the victory of the heart over knowledge. You will later learn that love, your love, is only the beginning of love. In the beginning of love you are prepared, like a musical instrument, to compose according to the dictates of the air. Every breeze is a musical note and every silence a prayer of gratitude.
You are prepared also for a nocturnal reconnaissance of every sound coming to you from the star’s abode. So prolong this beginning, the beginning of love, so that imagination will submit to you as a horse to its rider. So that language will conquer you and you it, like a man and a woman racing to greet the unknown with the generosity of mutual obedience.
In the beginning of love, beginnings swarm down on you, deep blue. At the height of love you live it, you forget it, it forgets you and makes you forget the beginnings. At the end of love you look long at the clock. In absence, beginnings find the residual aches of the room: not having a second glass of wine, a missing blue shawl. The poem is filled with missing elements, and when you complete it with an incompleteness that opens into another poem, you are cured of memories and regrets. The gold in you does not rust. As if writing were, like love, the offspring of a cloud. When you touch it, it melts. As if the utterance were only incited in an effort to make up for a loss. The image of love reveals itself there; in a profoundly present absence.
And when you step out of yourself, as if you were you, you look at yourself from a distance as if you were he: standing in the rain on a street crowded with pedestrians, a bouquet of red roses in your hand. You do not feel cold in your peculiar stance, you feel the chill of mockery. You wonder: Was it love or passion or lust? And you forget your emotion. You forget it and do not look for it. You are not hurt or regretful. You simply greet it from afar as it moves toward a distant memory that will not make you sleepless. A memory you control as you might control the VCR: you place the end at the beginning, or freeze the image according to the wishes of your mercurial heart.
You laugh, embarrassed by words that were so excessive in praising lust that they consumed it. A lust that starts with a pair of feet sculpted by a sliver of sun, moving up two skillfully cast legs from where lightning flashes, and on to knees that were certified miracles. Higher still: the belly ebbs. Farther up: sunset gradually absorbs you with noble, bashful voraciousness. You approach and retreat, rise and fall, sweat, sigh, and drown in an enchanting night of sultry darkness. Her hands, or maybe yours, gather and carry you like an eagle swooning in a sky dripping with stars. You peek at her half-open eyes peeking at your half-closed eyes. Each of you wants to make sure that you are budding inside one another.
But no one makes a peak his abode. You both slip together from the highest heaven into a dewy drowsiness. You both whisper in the shared silence and say nothing, but it is more lucid than anything. You dream together, and separately, that this embrace might last forever, until you realize that “forever” has a very short life span, and that eternity does not heed anyone. It often circulates and shifts from one minute to another and from one state to another.
You, who only know love when in love, do not ask what it is, nor do you look for it. But when a woman once asked you if you were in love with love itself, you were evasive and escaped by answering: I love you. She persisted: Do you not love love? You said: I love you, because of you. She left you, because you could not be trusted with her absence. Love is not an idea. It is an emotion that can cool down or heat up. It comes and goes. It is an embodied feeling and has five, or more, senses. Sometimes it appears as an angel withdelicate wings that can uproot us from the earth. Sometimes it charges at us like a bull, hurls us to the ground, and walks away. At other times it is a storm we only recognize in its devastating aftermath. Sometimes it falls upon us like the night dew when a magical hand milks a wandering cloud.
But all of these forms coalesce – become visible, perceptible, and tangible – in a woman, not in the idea itself. We love the lure of form, and imagination devotes itself to discerning what is mysterious and wondrous within. As for souls, they acquaint themselves and become intimate with its glittering form through its essence. You might disagree about what one body says to the other, so you move on to the transparent and slip into bodies brimming with water, harmony, and music. Love shifts, transforms, and is impervious to identification. It is being seized in such a manner that infatuation becomes confused with illumination. It is what you do not know, and know that you do not know. It is the completion of meaning with non-meaning, because of its excessive tendency to take things for granted and squander its presence. It resists repetition and negates the need to mend air with color. Otherwise, it might become a marriage where correcting each other’s assertions replaces the improvisation of poetry, from which love breathes. The prose of domestic chores is not conducive to keeping two fresh pears on a marble plate, or for inciting the unknown to block the road in the face of the known. There must be a secret. There must be an ongoing secret for love to remain a surprise and a gift. So do not open the closet that contains the secrets of her nature.
If infatuation subsides, love drifts, little by little, toward the daylight of friendship. You say to her: How beautiful is our friendship, to age together and lean on each other and feel compassion for each other in an old people’s home when we lose our memory. But I would rather lean on my cane, and not on you. I do not want to see Romeo and Juliet, or Qays and Layla grow old before me. Love has an expiration date, just like life, canned food, and medicine. But I would prefer love to collapse from a cardiac arrest at its peak of desire and infatuation, like a horse falling off a mountain into an abyss.
I asked you: Who is she? You said: She has so many selves that I myself do not know her. She and not she. She and her personae, when they come together in a love poem, that draws on many sources, search for the fulfillment of what cannot be fulfilled, are moved by a call that overwhelms us without our realizing that it has yet to arrive, and by a renewed thirst next to the spring. She and not she; she is present and absent, it is as if her presence holds my absence within her, and her absence carries the presence of details. But she moves with so many names it is impossible to know if she is she, or one of the women my imagination and mercurial desires have invented. But it seems that she is an invention, because I never confuse names. I never call another by her name, which I have forgotten because so rarely did I use it.
I asked you: Do you not know how to love, then? I was astonished when you said: What is love? As if I had not loved, except when I imagined that I was in love. Such as when I am taken by a hand waving out of a train window – perhaps not meant for me – but I take it as such and kiss it from afar. Or when I see a girl waiting for someone at the entrance of a cinema and I imagine that I am that someone and take a seat next to her and see myself with her on the screen during a romantic scene. I do not care whether I am happy or sad by the end of the film. Because I look for her in what comes after the end. I do not find her next to me after the curtain falls.
I asked you: Were you acting, my friend?
You said: I used to invent love when necessary. When I walked alone on the riverbank. Or whenever the level of salt would rise in my body, I would invent the river.