Nowhere Near the End

At a retreat house in Tagaytay (Taken October 9, 2010)

At a retreat house in Tagaytay
(Taken October 9, 2010)

26 August 2013
1:42 PM
Manila

M.–

I have started reading a book last night, the first in a series, and it made me stay up until four in the morning. I am only about halfway through it, and I am absolutely taken. It is painful and cruel, and I don’t know why I am reading it, but I am.

No, I think I know why. These days–this year–I have been reading a lot of stories with dark and horrible themes. About horrible people, who do shockingly brutal and grievous things. Perhaps I am interested to see how far I could take my mind. Perhaps I read about monsters because a part of me feels like I’m becoming one, in a way, as I descend lower and lower into the pit. Perhaps I wanted to see if these characters will ever find redemption. Perhaps I wonder if I ever will. Perhaps this is where I feel safe at the moment–together with these animals who are still, overwhelmingly, human. “You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves,” says Mary Oliver, in a poem.

I met up with two of my favourite people last Saturday. I told them all about you. I told them how we met. Why I love you. How wonderful you are. How your letters save me. How writing to you is an anchor I’ve made for myself. How thankful I am for this friendship.

I showed them some of the things you sent me. My manuscript with your comments in it. They understood the need to have someone else’s perspective. Someone who writes poetry, too, someone who reads, but more importantly, someone outside the little circle from which we have removed ourselves. I showed them Mark Doty’s book. They loved his inscription. They loved the postcards you have inserted.

You would love them, M. I told them, you would love her.

It’s great to be finally out of the house. I mean–I’ve been out, from time to time, of course. Only with family though, and only during errands, or when I can be conspired to come and watch a movie, or if there’s some pressing (obligatory) lunch or dinner with kin. Other than that, I’ve mostly kept to myself. The lack of money to spend is a big reason, but something bigger is the fact that I do not want to leave my space. I do not want to have to deal with people. I can’t bear to be with anyone at all.

But these two friends–I have put off seeing them long enough. I have ran out of excuses, and I miss them terribly. So I swallowed my pride and borrowed money from my sister, and before I know it, I was dressed and hailing a cab, and smoking a cigarette for the first time in weeks. As I told you yesterday–the floods have subsided. It was raining for a bit, but it was perfect.

I have missed so much of what happened in their lives for the past few months because I have disappeared again. If there’s one thing I regret, it’s that. But they are good people, they are kind to me; they forgive me for vanishing. They forgive me because they love me, and as I sit there listening to their stories, I berate myself for my behaviour, for not being in touch more. I am an idiot of epic proportions. I should know better.

The photo above is from one of our trips together. I remember that afternoon: three writers–three poets–sitting on the porch, drinking the second bottle of wine that day, reading, talking, watching the sun fade.

That is the life I wanted. The life I still want. And for three days I had it.

I met them at a workshop. The last I went to. We were still in college, studying in three different schools. But the universe brought us together. And we have managed to stay together. After all this time.

I can’t tell now what the deciding factor was, what made me choose them. Or maybe they have chosen me. Or maybe choice wasn’t even a factor: there was a path beneath our feet and we traveled it, and it led here. We graduated. Made new friends. Outgrew some. Got jobs, left jobs, got different jobs. Started relationships. Ended them. Went to other countries. Came back. And still the path continues, still it leads to the moment where I enter the bookstore on Saturday morning, heading straight towards the poetry section, looking for them.

S. is leaving for India this week, I think, and will gone for a while. S. is getting married in December. Somehow I don’t feel abandoned. It’s just life, moving forward. I feel like that with other people–feel absolutely abandoned, I mean–but not with them.

When it was finally time to tell them where I’ve been, we have changed venues. We are now at a cafe (aptly called Pages), sitting outside, the rain around us. I was on my second cup of coffee. S. has just about finished her glass of wine, and S. has eaten the last of his key lime pie. I took a deep breath and said, “I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing with my life.”

And just like that–I let go.

You know, I have just noticed this: our names. S. is the day. He is gentle and loving, and he held my hand. S. is the earth. She keeps me grounded and is patient and can meet the sea. I think I am the night sky. Or the something in someone’s eye. I don’t know what I provide them. I don’t suppose this makes any sense. Also, they are probably reading this, because I have finally told them all about it. (Hello, lovelies.)

When I am with them I feel safe. And myself. Sometimes we talk, and we don’t even need words.

When I try to describe you to them, perhaps the most concise thing I could say was, “She’s an extension of me; I’m an extension of her.” Now, I am trying to tell you all about them, and that’s all I have, too. Perhaps because it’s true: they’re an extension of me; I’m an extension of them.

They tell me I am not alone. I said, I’m going crazy. I feel unstable. I feel mental. I said I’m angry all the time. I’m so angry that I meant to go to a protest rally today just so I can have a venue where I can shout. Three years ago I would have probably gone because I’m angry at my government, I’m angry at all the fucked up things in this country. But today I am reduced to this selfish thing: I wanted to go because I am angry at myself, at my life. I wanted to scream the pain away, I wanted to shout and rage, anguished over my tiny life, while everyone else around me is fighting for a thing much bigger than themselves. I tell them this, and I feel ashamed, embarrassed at having even thought about it. This is me now, I say, with disgust, with tears in my voice, with my hands on my face and the rain falling gently on my back.

S. mentions a time when she did nothing all day but cry and cry. They tell me again: I am not alone.

I tell them what I’ve been doing. What I’ve been avoiding. They said: one at a time.

Here now, is what I am most grateful for: they don’t tell me to stop writing. They recognise how important it is, how it keeps us all sane, writing. They know how important it is to keep it, even if it’s giving me absolutely nothing in return, and by that I mean financially, I mean monetarily, the bane of reality.

After I’ve laid it all out, they begin to help me identify, one by one, what must be done. I had to smile, because I remember you. I remember your letters.

Because they don’t tell me to give up what matters, I start to feel a bit braver.

S. said that I might be like this because I’m alone most times. And I don’t have to be.

Theory of Incompletion
Mark Doty

I’m painting the apartment, elaborate project
involving edging doorways and bookcases,

two coats at least, and on the radio
—the cable opera station—something
I don’t know, Handel’s Semele,

and either it’s the latex fumes or the music itself
but I seem never to have heard anything so radiant,

gorgeous rising tiers of it
at some point ceasing briefly,
then cascading again. As if baroque music

were a series of waterfalls pouring in the wrong direction,
perpetually up and up, twisting toward the empyrean.

When a tenor—is he playing
the role of a god, perhaps the god of art?—
calls for unbridled joy in an outburst

whose golden form matches the solar confidence
of its content, I involuntarily say, Ah!

I am so swept up by the splendor,
on my ladder, edging the trim
along the crown molding, up where

the fumes are concentrated. Is this what music is,
a seemingly endless chain of glorious conclusions?

I am stroking the paint onto
every formerly white inch,
and of course I know Semele will end,

but it doesn’t seem it ever has to; this writhing
stacked superb filigree denies the need for closure

—let it open out endlessly,
let door after door be slid back
to reveal the next cadence,

the new phrasing, onward and on. I am stilled now,
atop my ladder, leaning back onto the rungs,

no longer painting at all.
I am the rapture of denied closure,
no need to go anywhere.

If God is entirety forming and reasserting itself,
then this is what the supreme must be like,

an endless, both the nothing
against which forms arise
and the variable patterns themselves:

self-enfolding, self-devouring of which Handel
constructs a model in music’s intricate reapportionment

of minutes. And then there’s barely
a beat of a pause before we move on to Haydn,
and I am nowhere near the end of my work.

I come home, go to bed almost immediately. I go inside my head. Relive the afternoon. Turn words over and over, testing their weight.

The world chafes, but I have my friends. I have you. I have books, and the rain, and poetry, and life. This life, the one I fear, and detest, and loathe. And love. Yes, love.

I hear my phone, look at the message: miss you already.

Yours,
T.

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