I like the look of girls after a party, the way they all carry their shoes in their hands and I can tell where their eyeliner smudged and mixed with sweat or the unexpected tears, the way their curls look like each strand has been mussed by the night: the way they carry themselves with tremendous dignity but also a careful weariness, as though there was one flick of the wrist or wink of an eye in the past night that they want to return to and tilt like a curator tilts the frame of consciousness in the perception of art. But a woman is not an idea she told me, and I realize she is right. In all my time with her I can’t remember anything but illumination (neither her jeans nor her hair, not a cardigan or a tennis shoe; not even some heels or a dress of any hue) and I wondered if she had finally become what stupid proud boys can only dream of, if perhaps by choice she had allowed me to finally see a Woman. Flesh blood tissue muscle bone. But I could not be with her except in conversation. She talked about how physics fascinated her but not just of turning wheels or falling bodies but the dark matter and fine superstrings, the expansion until exhaustion, that terrible unknowable entropy. And in that moment I no longer wanted to be with her, a woman who understood empathy so well it no longer frightened her. But she covered my hand with hers the way one cup can be turned over and covered with another and I calmed down again, and when I tried to intertwine our fingers she pulled away. I was a little sad at first, but she said ice cream and I said yes and do you want to know the end of the story? It goes like this. I see her every Sunday and tell her about my father. Sometimes I remember what she wore, and today she wanted to attend a party. Tomorrow she will be mine and I will be hers. Next Tuesday I leave for New York. Five years from now she will wed in Manila. I will have my party, she will have hers. That is the meaning of entropy.
is miscommunication. Although perhaps that is always a danger, in any case. But what I mean to say is when I speak and you disagree, I know there is no respect in the trade-off. I have seen people around me clash in opinion, but I have also witnessed their conversation turn to laughter. What hurts is not the disagreement about style or message, but the fact of the years we spent together, closer than kin, sharper than a serpent’s tooth. Because with you there is no delight in the potential to grow even when we disagree as women. There is only your insistence on, well, you.
is also the irreducible happiness of being twenty-six. A select few will know this: I’d been told that to be twenty-six is to be sinfully young. I think that is true, although I have no idea perhaps, what it means to be sinful at all. And rather than dissect the term into black and white, good girl versus bad girl, I have come to the understanding that what becomes sinful to us, sometimes, are the joys we deprive ourselves of: because sometimes we think we don’t deserve them, have no time for them, or that such things are frivolities. And certainly those things exist, much like valid anxiety and priorities. But now that I am twenty-six I find that I am less worried about what might seem ridiculous to other people for as long as it makes me happy and causes no harm to others.
(A conversation with a colleague: how happy it is to spoil oneself during the semestral break! We were like two giddy children, telling each other what we planned to do once we got home. I confessed that lately I had started wondering if I was overdoing it, which is ridiculous. Because burning the midnight oil and paying for it with a body ready to fall sick at any moment, I would never tell myself, You’re overdoing it. How ridiculous, how strange!)
is the inhumanity behind positions of power: when someone is murdered and their humanity becomes secondary because of the wish to please the imperial master, when people are more disgusted at the prospect of two people loving each other despite race/distance/sexuality rather than the fragile ego of our leaders, when we refuse to acknowledge that state policies and international relations killed her as much as his hand did, we become complicit. We are the killers. We become ready to kill again and again. She dies, again and again.
is that the road seems to stretch forever: while I refuse, still, to measure myself against what others have gained I also learn impatience with the self. And how do I carefully balance that with self-discipline and care? There is, too, the material and substantive meaning of manuscript: that it exists not by mere power of will or thought, but by action. A memory now: a mentor laying down sheets of his manuscript on a long table, page by page: the way I plan lessons and understand poetry that I’ve no mind for. In that moment, when the cards are laid out and the tiles prepared for a palace, I see before me the material conditions of possibility.
What makes me happy these days:
The craft of Self, and the understanding that one grows in direct proportion to the relationships that one chooses to take care of and watch prosper.
Edit to Add: After all, some things are more important than happiness.
Somewhere on a microblogging platform, someone complained of the seeming need of people to separate introvert from extrovert, as though a person could be so neatly divided into two.
Somewhere, ghostly, I peer into the snippets of horoscopes, of people near my birth. Today, you feel annoyed, but let not the storms touch you. Today, you will face a quandary at work. Don’t let the past endanger your future. Your aura today is blue shadowed green, stay away from red.
There is a calm that only generalities can reach, and a suspicion which is delicious when suspended, though some are tempting precisely because the death of stars is tangible, like milk from the carton, or the scrape of eraser against paper. Likewise, your trail of dust may reveal the secret to the universe, or may be brushed aside to mean:
Your existence tempts no one.
Tonight, I will ghostwrite your horoscope and it will look remarkably like mine.
Once, there was an island they prided for peace, the way a poet once said Provence (when it was Provence), and we made sure that the stories were true. When love was still pure and vanity was still striking, I liked to say that this island is me and you. We are archipelagic in scope and tragedy: to reach one another, we must make an effort, pack our bags, drive to the airport, endure the pungent presence of people, pretend that a moment is worth the distortion of paradise; yet we remain moving with plates underneath us, ever drifting in tectonic, poetic justice. If you were me, and I were you, I would have severed sovereignty long ago, cradled myself against a motherland less broken, more inherently fragile, easier to love. But love was love long before people set foot on an island, before they knew the curve of rock pounded until it becomes fine powder: so grace is merely what is left when we have left ourselves. I have been told of this narrative before. When longing was still raw and insistence was still adamant, I demanded distance as long as you claimed destiny. I will outcry the loss of heaven, but airfare will convince me otherwise. If I were you and you were me, this would have ended more neatly. As it is I have attracted your interest, you have lured me to your hammock, the strings swing but do not break, their knots press meat against bone. I am you and you are me, but it will take some time until this island catches my interest again.
You look at the sky, you look at the sea. You wonder about intentions, and tourists, and how a landscape looks like a broken body after it has been subject to collision. The mind is a wonder in itself. That it is able to ponder collision, before its advent. Your mind understands this: the mental pulling-back, the instantaneous fear before two bodies meet, the intimacy of impact, the turn to either away or down. Your heart fears this: that many other travelers have walked here before you; that they know what you will say, having said this themselves. Time and again in photographs you will see them marvel at what they do not have because they will claim it is what they want. This is a lie. The vendors can read between lies. They know the hobble of a native that knows the sharp slide of sand-rock against the gentle curve of a foot, burdened with weightlessness, of a hunger they will not understand because it is a wanting that is defined by its existence, the refusal that is at the heart of deprivation. You swim, you run, you walk, you sleep, you smile, you love, you ignore the nagging feeling that behind this city-painted anomaly of ever-repentant waves, you are weeping, not for the place you have traveled to, but for one to which you will never return.
She imagines turns of memory:
He has to let go of her hand when he reaches for the salad dressing on the grocery shelf, and to squeeze himself against her body when the aisle isn’t enough for the old woman’s cart and theirs and the amazing pyramid of mayonnaise (Perfect for Any Sandwich!) on the side.
Turnstiles, she thinks, are useless; she tells him as much, because she expects an exchange. He nods absentmindedly. His eyes are on the dairy. He wants to go there, he says, We’ve run out of cheese.
She knows the gaps in dialogues are not scars. They are not lacking, they are pockets for when the cashier lady has swiped the last item and they’ve received their change, and on the way out he turns his head away from her, just when she thinks, Should I give him a random kiss on the cheek, to look at the turnstiles, where a mother with her toddler-daughter is urging, Go on, sweetie, push!, and he says, I guess, but they make their own nostalgia, you know?
There is a distance that cannot be walked, there is a peace that cannot be named.
Here, she unwraps them for the young girl that has been given to her care for all of the afternoon. She points out the remnants of her project, a work in progress.
Sometimes, she says to the little girl on her lap, there are some conversations that you will not want to have. She pauses, although the little girl is reaching for the mess of matte paper and shiny photographs before them. She does not want the girl to misunderstand.
Not because you do not want to talk, but because you’re not sure if there’s much of yourself that you can give away. To help people, I mean.
She lifts the little girl, who squirms, and kisses her on the cheek before setting her down again. For no reason that she can tell, she reaches for one of the stuffed dogs and hands it to the girl. But why?
For after all, she wants the girl to remember this afternoon of someone else’s memories, like a looping conundrum with no resurrection, until the child finds why leaves fall, or even that leaves falling can bring no desired emotion whatsoever, no matter how poets ponder them.
She tries not to look at the clock–it is a trial that counts–the little girl will get picked up soon, they ought to enjoy the few, pristine moments together (there are snacks on the counter and music in the background, things the little girl has a deeper understanding of for all that her mind is distinctly recording each second precisely: the snag of her shirt, the tug of hair caught between fingers, the faces of strangers on photographs; for these are the things she will remember in the split-second before womanhood).
The future rumbles in the distance.