I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethrough
Gleams that untraveled world whose margin fades
Forever and for ever when I move.
~ Alfred, Lord Tennyson, ‘Ulysses’, 1833
I keep thinking about that night when I woke to find you standing at the foot of my bed. You were naked and earnestly speaking about time; how you needed time as if I were its keeper and had the power to give it to you. And then you accused me of only wanting certain parts of you and I confess I didn’t want to listen. Not then. Much better that I did not wake, and you, like one of Picasso’s engraved beasts, had just continued to watch me sleep.
Let me return you to memory. To earlier the same evening as I poured you weak tea in the yellow light of the bedside lamp. You were lying on your side and when I glanced over you were gazing at me and smiling. You said, you are a woman pouring weak tea.
You told me about the house you lived in as a child in Balmain. The property backed down to the sea and you used to spend hours staring into the rock pools searching for anemones, or maybe even for your father’s face. He died when you were five and your mother could no longer keep the house. I never knew her but I wonder if she, like you, begged for time?
How time rattles through my brain now, like a ghost train. Sometimes I feel something pass across my thigh and I think that it is you – returned to me in a gesture or the trace of a touch from the dead. But surely you are not dead and it is only my imagination gone wilder in this bitter wind down at the jetty where I have set up my table to write letters. The rigging clangs, frenzied, against the boat poles and I want to stop my ears against this desolate sound. But then all I would have is my sight turned inside. No ears and no touch and nothing between my arms.
I don’t know how to picture you.
You do not know who I am, but I have watched you walk so many times through the park in our barrio. There is a wooden bench on which you often sit and stare into the flaming petals of our national flower, Erythrina. To me, this red beauty reclaimed from the swamp has always looked uncomfortable there and the more I see you, your face downcast with heavy thoughts, the more I want to lift you up and spirit you to my side.
This is what I know: you yearn for someone, a girl, who barely acknowledges your existence so distracted is she by the polo players who parade through her father’s ranch, kicking up dust on their stallions. You cannot get close to her to hear the sound of her breath, so instead you await her glance, believing that even this might sustain you. You are young so you can be forgiven for frittering away your time. But I do not forgive you for I am young, too, and I watch you and I breathe.
Each evening after I have bathed, I lift up my window to climb outside onto my balcony above the piazza. Here I sit on a stool and let my hair dry in the evening air and sometimes it takes hours. Andreas, I have a room and the room has an alcove for my bed – the bed I dream of sharing with you after you have worked all day in the stables. At my bedside Veinte Poemas by Neruda waits in the red glow of the lamp. My love, I would read to you until you are asleep in my arms, or even wider awake. Totalemente despierto, your fingers growing wild on my skin.
I shall give you this part: the architecture of your heart in elevation.
My time without you has no pattern, except for the endless cups of tea I pour here by my window in the pension. It is long dark and there are only a few lights down at the water. Some boys hang about at the cigarette stand and their voices float up to me as they joke and push each other about. I bought a single cigarette earlier and smoked it. I know you don’t like me to smoke and so I had it before I sat down to write this letter.
A man came to my table today wanting me to write a letter to his son to try to entice him away from a futile love. As I wrote he sat nearby and waited and I was about to ask him if he could leave me alone for I was having difficulty concentrating. But when I looked up, I caught him watching me. The utter kindness in his eyes caught me off-guard and I could not recapture my train of thought. Lest he think his money was badly spent, I feigned writing, repeating the same word over and over on the page until finally I felt his gaze turn away. The way that he looked at me was familiar and sometimes I have even seen it in the eyes of a complete stranger. It was as if this man already knew all that was important to know about me in order to make the choice to love.
Darling, it was your name I repeated on the page. Now as I sit here with my tea gone cold, I feel frightened that our separation, which I can hardly bear, is already driving me to seek you in the eyes of another. Let it not be in their arms. Please do not see this as a weakness or as a deterioration of my love, for you, of all people, cannot blame me for being disarmed by the space of writing. In this space who we are loses all origin. You have told me this many times yourself.
I crave something from you – anything – more than just your memory.
My dear Elena,
It has not been an hour since you left my bed this morning, and although I am not a man who is given to write, it is the only way I feel I can taste you twice. Yesterday, when I was traveling on the train to work I overheard a young man, whose bag was loaded with books, speaking to his female companion. I think they were fellow students because he spoke as if this was something that might be on their history exam that day and there was no tone of seduction in his voice. He spoke of lovers in ancient Japan and how after a night of lovemaking it was incumbent on the man to produce a poem, which then had to be delivered to her bedside before she awakened. So, Elena, please take my letter in this spirit and forgive its late arrival, for even had I the talent of a poet I doubt I could have taken my hands from your beautiful skin as you slept last night – a beautiful skin which bears the marks of your life’s travels thus far – or avert my gaze from the fine lines across your brow. I hope to be around long enough to see these lines deepen. My dear Elena, these are early days for us and I understand that life will lay down its series of obstacles. But for now, let me tell you about the thrill I felt as I was undressing you last night and you gripped my arm suddenly. Through the window you had caught sight of the moon, which was barely a sliver in the clear night sky and one star was burning brightly. As you watched your moon and star, I began kissing your shoulder. Your utter sense of distraction is just another part of you to fall in love with. When finally your arm encircled me and you turned your face to mine, the rapture you had given to the heavens did not seem to alter when you met my eyes. I cannot stop thinking of you.
Until we meet again, amor,