208 Spring 2012
I was in love when New York’s disintegration splashed its light onto my face and walls. As the hours passed, the first pictures of Osama began to fill the spaces between repetitious murders. My arms were around her soft flesh when the phone screamed like an infant in the first stages of life and need. My head was in the crevice of two pillows and she was in her little corner of the bed which later became a refuge from me – or so it seems to me now.
It was a phone call from my brother that woke us. We were in the third year of our relationship and happily lost. That night we clung to one another as children do when playing hide and seek, waiting to be found in dark hiding places. What I felt that night is strange to me. Now I feel that most of the memories (or are they resemblances?) are not grounded in specific experiences sufficiently any more, and all the pictures of her that flash before me are unreliable – a delusion.
When Osama was killed ten years later, I couldn’t sleep. I took a book from the shelf. I was still not used to sleeping alone. It was Brian Greene’s The Fabric of the Cosmos: Space, Time, and the Texture of Reality; the title only just fit along the spine of the book. I sat up in bed thumbing through its pages, its tangled lines converging, evolving into the other moving, thinning lines. Photographs of us fell out of the book. I tried to read the language of our faces as I lay in bed waiting for sleep. What I knew for certain was that she was foreign when I attempted to sketch her. I traced her edges until she looked familiar, her light and shade in balance. Her mouth opened like she wanted to say something through the light and shade. I bought the book with her from a second-hand bookshop and told her later that night that once upon a time, the universe compressed to the size of a small dot like the one that ends this line.
She was in awe as I was. I wrote a few poems that were inspired by the book which she said left her cold. The formless and desolate earth comes and then a kiss from above/the mountains rise up and some believe in the body/woken and emerging from the dust/The sculptor takes the block and chisels the luminous form/a body at the mercy of a Renaissance hand/Some believe in this kind God that plucked the mountains from the ground/and in the science or the brave ones in nothing at all/The threads expanding beyond the Universe’s convulsions/the tongues locked in the mysterious and beautiful cosmic exchange/The fresh earth is tilled and the ground opens its mouth/when Cain kills Abel and stands over his blood in awe/The universe is still unresolved/east of Eden/where the fugitives are condemned to wander/real love is an artefact of the past and a kiss on the marble lips/has its scientific and other reasons.
I remember what she said about those poems. I don’t even think she was talking about the poems. Even when I attempted to sketch us in my mind, our edges looked cubist, almost vulgar. What she said may not be what she said at all. My words and her words are broken up, formed and then re-formed. I re-assembled. I am re-assembling us until we intersect. We were never avant-garde but neither were we conventional. I think we were speaking to each other from different mouths and in different languages. Isn’t that a metaphor for a dying relationship? She said that she felt that most of the poems were not grounded in specific experiences sufficiently, and that, therefore, the language brought to the task of relating the experience seemed too abstract, too clichéd. She told me that she was trying to point to a very basic problem that I did not seem to see. Mostly, that reading our faces, she felt bogged down in a language that was not succeeding in getting at the thing, the idea and emotion that I very obviously thought was important. It was not the idea or emotion that she was devaluing. It was the language that was the problem.
When the first tower collapsed we gasped and I held her hand. The light and dark disintegrated. ‘Fuck,’ is all I remember us saying to that miserable little screen. All the elements were jumbled up. The pixels stank of burning hair. Then the images re-assembled and as the hours passed, we saw the planes colliding into both towers and their eventual collapse from different viewpoints, from different heights and different distances. I think about how I held her and remember making coffee and chain-smoking. I remember things that didn’t happen like making love as the dawn entered the room amid the sounds of the earth exploding in our ears. We were briefly in impressionist colour, then we were smudged in charcoal and we became a single atom.
Ten years later, when she was gone, I looked at a photograph of the President and his men and women watching the killing of Osama. I was immediately taken by one person in that room as the images of disintegration painted their faces. The men in the room watched impassively; the President leaned forward expectantly; the others looked defiant and stoic, some had their arms crossed, their eyes fixed like birds of prey. Hillary Clinton (one of two women in the room) held her hand to her mouth; her eyes were soft with a kind of horror and a kind of sorrow – one single image of frailty and humanity. Below the photograph it stated: ‘The SEAL then carried out what is known in the military as a “double tap” – shooting him again, probably in the chest, to make certain he was dead.’ I couldn’t sleep. I stargazed. Osama’s hole was empty and full of light and smoke. His lines were obscure, smudged. His body was thrown out to sea. After the swift scouring nothing remained and they began to re-curve the earth and fill all the holes that were made since that night when I loved her.
(Gun barrel image on previous page via Shutterstock.)