Poetry | Summer animal

This summer I can feel myself turning back into an animal. I wake up early and seek out trees, walking through the expansive quiet of the park until the heat starts feeling sharp on my skin. I leave the blinds closed, so when I return home the building is dark and familiar, and as I shut the door behind me I feel a satisfaction I can only describe as territorial.

I am still working from home. During the day, I take meetings with people who need things of me; I try to anticipate these requests to fulfil them expediently. In a meeting I get distracted by the thought of your hands in a photograph you sent me. There’s tension in them that is visible even through the digital blur of a phone camera. I’m eating an icy pole, and it is sticky and sweet and cold, and I forget which spreadsheet I’m meant to be opening.

I am developing a feral new mantra for this La Niña summer: be an animal. Be an animal. Every moment I am not working I am naked. I have taken more nudes in the last two weeks than I have in the last two years. In the park I watch two wrens bombarding a larger bird ruthlessly, and I feel angry and glad.

Apart from these long, early mornings, I keep out of the sun. Most of what I know of the heat comes from its impact on the living things around me. The lemon verbena is singed in its extremities; a myna bird hops by the slit in the blinds with its beak hanging open.

In the late afternoon I sleep again, or lie in my bed thinking about other people, their bodies, what their fingers would feel like inside me. My new year’s resolution is to have more sex and work less. I am trying to learn to have crushes in my body, not in my head. When I smoke weed it’s easier – I know I want to get high and fuck you. Lying in the dark as the temperature outside crests forty, I imagine the smell of your sweat, of your body as it sweats. Be an animal, be an animal. I want to bite your shoulder so hard it breaks the skin.

It’s a good resolution, but sex and work can be hard to delineate. I know I am wanted, when I’m wanted, but right now I don’t know how to ‘make it work for me’. I want the full fire of someone wanting me, but their desire, when it comes, registers as a demand, and I withdraw from it instinctively. I feel responsible for the image of who they want when they want me, and that feels suffocating. I am turning having a crush into a form of labour that is intrusive and exhausting. Just before I come, I glance at my reflection in the mirror, and I look fucking spectacular. I’m so sexy when I’m alone.

I need to be near trees to be an animal, and I need to be an animal to live. I can’t afford to live in this house, at least I can’t afford to live in this house while ‘planning a future’. But the idea of moving away from the parklands feels like giving up something vital, something alive. I once read that in an emergency, fresh coconut water could be transfused as a substitute for blood, so similar is its composition to human plasma. That’s how I feel about living in an apartment again: like my blood is being replaced with something else’s water. If I gave my landlord everything I earned, I would be able to stay.

Some of my friends are in love. In conversation, I listen for their easy slippage between ‘me’ and ‘we’, and I delight in the comfort of their joy.

Humans are not meant to live alone. But every time I come home from the park, I know where everything is, in every room of my house, even before I open the door, and that feels like freedom.

Some things are not choices. I think that, as we get older, we build the lives we want from the remains of what is possible, what has been left to us. Experiences accrue in the body over time; living alone feels like the most viable option for the animal I am becoming. In the end, you have to build the only life you can live: okay, that’s how it is then.

I am walking back from the park again, this time in the evening. The rolling thunder that comes with the season makes my lungs seize. I never feel settled at this time of day, when the warm evening stretches out like a cat, same feeling I get when I know you want me. I can walk to the grasslands and find the habitats of other animals. I can eat cherries and the juice runs down my wrists. When you ask me how my day was over Instagram, I can send you a photo of a tequila with lime and soda. I am sitting in the soft dark of the house, the trees growing over me.

Jini Maxwell

Jini Maxwell is a writer and curator based in Naarm. They co-curate Gay24, a film night for rare and radical queer and trans films. They are currently working on their first poetry collection.

More by Jini Maxwell ›

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