Bianca, from the perspective of the living room couch, the German language and a long-ago death, points out, laughing, how close the words “dad” and “dead” are. Mired in English, I have never noticed. I dreamed of my father’s death last summer, at the beginning of my last romance, and woke up momentarily frozen until a freeing phrase snapped into my head: This is the pain of love, and you have to be able to bear it. He drowned in a flood and business people came to take us away in ships. True story.
Peer like a bad novelist into the well of this photograph of parents, younger than anyone else will ever be… The recursive strips of this life, sum total of conversations, crossing back and forth to commit acts of fatherhood like a woven basket. Daddy, a margin is not the same as a border! One is a breathing space and the other is a rag tied over the mouth. Daddy, I’m calling you from the place you hooked me up with in Spain, sometimes the African coast is visible from here, on a clear day, that’s real, it’s very late and my friends are gone. I hurt all over, in organs that we as a species haven’t evolved yet. I hurt all along this long genome. I’ve folded the sheets in the basket for the woman who comes to clean and I’ve cleared out the fridge, but my inner head is blurry and wet. Spring me from this trap? What’s that? OK, talk soon.
Ebba diagnosed me with a complicated form of entitlement and read to me from a self-help book: You think basic tasks are harder for you than for other people. Definitely agree. Other people arrive triumphantly at each midnight, having lived an entire day… No I know, the burden is everyone’s, but the planet’s beauty and its star have me believing in other people’s luck. I know I have been led astray by this hole in my side. Once you let a little chaos in, more follows. Don’t begin.
Entitled? Jesus told me I would inherit the earth! But I am not meek. This idle fingernail is ingrained with plantation dirt and the palm stained with the ink of lethal bureaucracies, but all that’s old news. You think the world owes you something. All the world owes a girl is a death. Don’t think I don’t know. I can see your ghosts over your shoulder.
Chaos appears in the doorway.
Yeah I know you, you can’t come in.
Then I’ll wait for you here, in this hallway.
Chaos makes my hands shake, reaching for my keys.
I fear its insect-like underneath, genital and complicated, dead and alive both at once.
But life is mess!
Dead fathers can be worn like jewelry around the neck, and living fathers, you can put a stone in the place where they once were. Funny how the words for mean, act like a bitch, and mean, carry the luggage, are the same, right, B? If I’m too dumb to learn this new language, tensed up against this city I almost can’t live in, I’d better make my own language strange to me. Funny how sentence can mean both phrase and jail.
The primordial mother is like an ocean, lava, mucus and/or a melted Snickers ice cream bar. The primordial mother dissolves in tears. That oceanic feeling. The baby climbs up out of the swamp, the swamp that the baby almost can’t live in.
Never being happy might include moments of happiness, memories of happiness, a constant fretful search for happiness. The baby cradles the big mother in her small arms. The arms shake and the mother falls like an apple straight out of the tree; the problem with Newtonian physics is that it is, in theory, time-reversible. That’s dumb because life goes forward, but not as dumb as being a baby. Mother and baby will meet in the next life, when the baby will give birth to the mother and, next time around, the baby will raise the mother right. Ma, I promise. All you need to do is suspend this rationalistic anxiety for a moment or two and trust in the flux of eternity, in which no one is permanently one. These are my first words.
In the bike shop I told the person who fixed my bike that she was an angel and she turned around and showed me the wings tattooed on her back. “My mother said I was her angel, her phoenix, I saved her life when I was born and raised her up from the ashes,” she told me. This blurred identification between mother and baby is irresistibly swampy. When I next need to get my bike fixed, my bike-baby, I go back to the shop, but they’ve closed and moved to another location, and at the new location, the angel/phoenix isn’t there. I point to the chain and say, “It isn’t working!” The non-angel/non-phoenix looks at me strangely. “If it’s an old chain, you could replace it.” I realize the bike is working totally fine. The problem is simply that I am crazy with longing.
Travel advisory: don’t drink the mother’s faintly poisonous milk. But the baby gets thirsty. Step one, be scared that the mother will go away and never come back. Step two, be scared that the mother will never go away. Step three, synthesise. Scared yet? Good!
I massage oil into my hair. I lie down on the bed. I look at my phone for two hours. I turn off the light. I close my eyes. I have a series of dreams. I wake up. The dreams coagulate into one lump of dream. I remember where I am. I look at my phone. Dread is at my throat. Is this normal, doctor? On the one hand, fate, and on the other, control of days. What marches on the border in between?
The baby has lost her sweater. It is black with purple and blue glitter and a silver zip. When they return to the beach, there it is, just out of the ocean’s reach as the tide crawls up the shore. The mother runs down, in a joyful burst of energy. For years the baby is unable to throw the stupid ugly sweater away, long after the zip breaks and the glitter parts fray and so on, because she hoards the sweater’s rescue like a gesture of love. Stupid ugly baby with a broken zip.
The legs and sleeves of discarded garments, of all the clothes I ever wore, wave back at me from the bottom of the landfill. Earth falls on them like rain. Have pity, little fashion suicides: if I start now then I might never stop.
This trash place is the hole that my mother and I are always digging, and always falling into. Then she pulls long white gloves onto her long white arms and says, “I don’t remember.” To think I once thought that running from this long glove would be as easy as forgetting to read.
It was as if all of history was just an attempt at gradually unwinding old knots, then making new ones: bitten fingernails picking at intractable thread. Somewhere in between, I did what all lost souls do, i.e. traced a slack thread up out of the gutter of the womb. Still I go on climbing, across love and hate, fear and anticipation, which are all the same to me.
Sitting cross-legged on the gym mat I watched an insect trail its long legs through the dust-clouded sunlight. Nostalgia is a knife; put it away. The hours I waited for them. Twenty-five years later, the hair starts to turn white, here and there.
This text was commissioned by Daniela Cascella and Natasha Soobramanien for Smarginature, a project that explores the ways in which language and languages can elude definitions and trespass boundaries.