To Aleksandra, with the secret underground gallery of herself
They introduced you as a joke: all Donatella and Botox. But when we were downstairs, everything was crushed red velvet and you. I watched your eyes swallow a camera whole. In black-and-white and sepia and vintage, you engineered everyone and led us with a flag. I waited for a photo’s frame to slide down like a peepshow to reveal more than just your cleavage, to know exactly how sharp. I believe more than think— You should rule them all.
To the chav who, plastered cadaverous, peed on me from the top bunk at the hostel
I don’t want to lead you on: this is not a love song. More of a reply to the note you did not write to the Dear Ashley column that also does not exist. The point is: you should probably start putting out ads. There are people all over the world who would pay good money for these things.
To the 70-year-old regular who, uninvited, joins our table at the all-night dive bar
You scare us, is what you do. Not because your speech is slurred or because you’re intrusive or because you know too well how the cigarette machine works. We already know your story: you come here for friendly faces. We oblige because we are determined to believe that our frivolousness is shades lighter than your addiction. But we, too, are prone to drink off loss and call the escape temporary. Because wake and bake is something we speak of casually, because we black out and have to piece together whole sections of our lives. We watch you wander off to another table in silence because we cannot laugh at you. We cannot laugh at the version of the future you embody.
To Ayelet, who, on our first and only meeting, tricked me into the sex club
A doctoral candidate in the social sciences at a poetry event couldn’t have been more harmless. You inserted yourself so seamlessly, we all just assumed: the nonchalance, the confidence. An invitation to dance is innocent enough, even the coat check in slow reveal. I honestly considered how many layers I was willing to give away: I was overdressed. I had a sneaking suspicion I was being discriminated against in the toilets.
I never once blamed you for the leather or nipples. For the couple on the balcony. For all the ass. Probably because I, too, was interested in the anthropology. All a distraction from the polite exit, the planned exit, the planned politeness of the Midwestern American who eventually decided to tell you, with apology at least, that I really would have to be going; the music just wasn’t my thing.
To Luís, who, after escaping the sex club, took advantage
You say that Spanish is too gauche, too literal. That you will only write poetry in English from now on. You admit you’ve been following me, too closely, online. I ignore this because you seem gentle. We are mostly strangers after all. But I talk in waterfalls because I am trying to forget the shock of the sex swing. It really was devious, Ayelet.
I think that I have drawn my last line in the sand. I think I have made myself clear. But your kind eyes distract, which is why I only think of slapping you later. In the moment, though, it seems necessary that your invading lips remain close to mine, that your face feel the threat of my fingernails and the weight of my hot breath as I tell you, once again, no.
To the dancing joyous who blindsided me at The Ideal World
This place feels so safe that I think nothing of it when you approach me to ask why I’m reading a book in a bar by candlelight after midnight. You seem to understand that Han Kang is simply too good to put down. You all wait on me. You play air guitar and make me part of your band. You tell me about your fathers, your dreams, insisting on English because it reminds you of your Canadian side, of your American side. I believe your laughter, I believe your joy. So your exit is abrupt. I’d only been gone a minute, and suddenly I scramble. My purse is too big. Maybe my wallet is simply lost somewhere inside? Maybe it’s fallen between the cushions? I suspect you far too late, and my spirits fall. Your skill in manipulation should’ve made me lose faith, but you are not alone in this world: That makeup artist and singer you insulted at the bar? They are with me now and they will fill me with laughter and hope.
To Finn, who, being freedom, made everything (im)possible
Love is in the secrets, and you kept the best of them, keep the best of them, from yourself. I try to separate the cream from the milk. You always liked me wet. Beautiful. Infected with your rushing love like a plump belly. In your arms, and the vines, and their pretty, pretty citadel. In their Irish lilt, the pristine ruins, and that tear-gassed riot, you were not mine. We didn’t believe in possessives. Our god the first person. All of her power breaking down all of the pluralities to only u and i. Whose spelling gave the finger to the rules. Whose grammar opened every door and window in the house. Some too wide. Some more than others. Or so you told yourself, tell yourself, every time you pick up the phone: This now means nothing. This now means nothing at all.
To Jessica, at all the modern art museums
You wear a Neutral Milk Hotel T-shirt because that’s how we are. So I trade this war-heavy skin for an older one, an Okie one: shameless, less busted, and purely at home. We see all the burnt plastic and animal fat and admit that when we were younger, we would’ve waxed poetic. We laugh at those selves, and still thrill at canvasses covered only in electric blue, in red and green rectangles floating only in blue. We meditate. We walk in silence because the images say everything already. We stand in front of twelve panes of glass, refracted, taking selfies for Bean, still forming in your belly. You and you in parallel reflection and me infinity beside you, somewhere inside a Tokyo sci-fi where the cyborgs have nearly extracted my soul. We are those smashed war instruments, my friend, still singing. And you always remain my mirror.
To the tourist in the Steve Zissou beanie, shoving past me at the Manchester Orchestra show
I ask myself how you would react to a need for dynamite or more electric jellyfish than you’ve ever seen in your life or pirates that are not hijackers or having the crazy-eye or not being picked for the team. But I get that you’re a talking-through-the-slow-songs type of tourist, so I will be gentle. I notice how you stay at the edge, not skating towards that icy center, never too far to truly risk the cracks. But I want you to. Not to die of frostbite – I’m not an asshole – but to do the simple math, to know when to forsake it to make it, to leave those deep indentations, to feel the erasure that makes you bite your veins, to be speechless in front of the king and the beast. I want you to feel it so intensely that you rip off that beanie at the chorus. I want you to scream. I want you to scream with us.
To the Japanese pufferfish, who, being so far away, still feels like this city
There is a fish in Japan, deep down in the sea, that makes sand mandalas to attract its lovers. Every day, he works, he tends, he remakes what the waves wash away. He seems so diligently charming in what could well be foggy madness. Maybe he inhabits old silos like we do, our beds and art installations squatting in someone else’s space. Maybe he wears a moustache or morphs into an octopus on a weekly basis, just to mix things up. Maybe he is a Buddhist or an existential nihilist, content to let his work be overwritten, happy to see the newness crash in with each messy wave. We are not sure if he loves us or if he laughs at our nakedness in front of him. We are not sure when or if we will ever be able to leave. Will we be washed away at the corners until we no longer exist? Will he remember us when we are gone?