An open fruit, split at the center. A bright sunset orange on the inside. There are layers wrapped in layers and most days, it is my hands that do the unfurling. Or it is perhaps my words, for my hands are clumsy, trembling little things. But my words, they seem to hold things together on the page. When I come to it, there’s a kind of freedom and it is a rare moment where I need no permission to express or question or simply be. Thank God for the sacredness of writing, for this inward space that must be carved if one is to think, if one is to look at themselves, if one is to take a step back from the disorder and examine, for the first time, their place in all of it. The openness is a risk, and it is one we cannot afford to not take. I am very familiar with walls, circling borders around myself, raising a fence and so when someone, who is learning my ways and beginning to love me looks at me and asks, “Where are the walls? I don’t see them,” I smile a fearful smile. I am exposed, vulnerable, open. He is right. There are no walls; there are no walls with him.
These days, I am many shifting shapes: stretching my arms for an embrace, sitting at a desk and hunched over a book, walking so fast with my head hanging low, walking so fast and looking at everything—all the bare trees, construction workers, flurries of snow out my window, the yellow string lights of restaurants filled with people sharing a meal. I am the sad eyes behind a door, waving goodbye until the car is out of sight, until the face of the one I love becomes smaller and smaller. In my kitchen, I slice onions, bell papers; I fill a vase with water for a long-stemmed rose. I read the news and there is a war. All of it is horrifying and disheartening. Bodies buried under collapsed buildings, bodies left behind, bodies in panic and escape, bodies pressed against each other, seeking refuge. I think of my student and immediately check in.
She writes back quickly: “I get messages here and there from them about the levels of stability in the area they are from, Kherson, Kherson Oblast. Some of them have chosen to try to leave the area which has been a challenging task. Others are staying in Kherson to provide aid and out of a feeling of obligation to their home. As of now, they are all alive which is a blessing.”
Blessing. Aliveness. It makes no sense why it should be stripped away from others. What a useless and absurd and foolish thing, war. It is as though one plucks out their eyes and because they can no longer see, they go on a blind mission to tear the living flesh apart. Because truly, if you do see, if you do hear, if you do feel something-anything-and insist on this kind of savagery, I wonder, what has become of you? Are you not a little petrified when you look at yourself? How do you live when you’re pumped and veined with the stuff of death and terror of indifference? Twisted, damaged thing.
And the world, hasty and surviving and broken, moves on. I wash my hair and wash his. It is as if knowing the endings surrounding us, sensing the rage, we cast off the heaviness and reach for something light. I tuck my phone away. We make chicken wraps. We slow dance in the middle of my apartment. I talk softly about the state of my heart and how lucky I am, that there’s someone who cares to listen. We say to each other, “How can I be better today?, How can I love you?” We are slow learners and patience abounds.
I sip honey chamomile tea that’s too hot and burn my tongue. I go on my knees and scrub my tiles, I go on my knees and talk to God, I go and my knees and cry. The days are quiet and long; my to-do list overwhelms me. I am tired, hopeful, anxious and there’s always too much to be done. I teach, go to class, and wish for a just a moment that everything would stand still. I put on lipstick for a poetry reading and, in an email, I write to a colleague: It was lovely to read the poems, and nerve-wracking to answer questions from the audience. Who at all came up with this idea of writers talking about their work? It terrifies me, Tara, the notion that if we’ve created something, then we must know enough about it to have answers. My first instinct is to raise my hands in surrender and cry out loud on the screen: “People! I have no idea—that’s why I write!” But alas, the world is hungry for something, so we give in to their needs.
When the lights go out and the world quiets down, I love the shapes where two steady hands, strong and tender, are holding me: hugging me, tilting my face to the light of their eyes, keeping me locked in their arms for a moment too long. Two long legs rushing on my wooden floor at the sight of my body going down, catching me, lifting me, carrying me to safety. And I stay there in their arms, cling on tight like a baby, and just weep and allow myself to be held. The shape of my body is surrender—to be seen in less glorious ways, to have no compulsion to separate or hide what I feel, what I fear, and what I’ve lost. I am seen and taken care of. I am loved in utterly surprising ways. It feels like a homecoming and there’s sweeping joy just knowing how much I’ve yearned for a moment like this. I, too, carry carefully what they share with me. I marvel at their hope, worry about what they’ve seen and done, and witness our bodies take the shape of new beginnings and of trust.
It’s true that the times are destructive and cruel, that the human race is divided and tipped over its head and yet, in the face of terror, the shape of love is possible, and it takes place loudly or silently, in whispers and in songs, in poems and in stories, in touch, in prayers, in the same room or apart, in fierceness and gentleness, in the burden and ease of this ever bruising, generous living. It is here, alive and spirited, and planting itself in all the numb and dark places we’ve long given up on.