Perihelion: A History of Touch
No moon in sight, so I howled at the exit sign instead. Red runes, electric. Telling an old story of escape, of wind, a wide cold. A distant car alarm. Otherwise: the dark, and our bodies, two strange women trying to touch each other. Breathing strange. Moving toward or away from each other as the red ghost in the sky opened, called us gone, showed us the door to another world. Otherwise, the dark, and our mouths, tearing at what bones we could find. Grinning and hungry for something — something we couldn’t, with all our words, name.
The magic where the streetlights turn the snow pink lasts only for the first night, the same way, maybe, a blanket loses track of its scent when it’s been touched by too many hands, or the way a body grays when too many feet have dragged their cigarettes and complaints through it. But for that one first night, everything cold- flecked and whispering was ours, the pink light ours, sent from some other world so we could, for a night, feel untouched. So we could feel like sugar—crumbling, and perfect for it.
Like any girl, I pulled myself into shreds to test the rumor that something with blood like mine could be halved and still whole. And what did I learn? I buried myself all over the garden, but the pieces only sprouted into new riddles: squid leg, spaghetti squash, a jerking thumb. Their names still sounded like mine; everyone in the same dress, chewing dirt to avoid each others’ eyes. I lay down next to the one beneath the porch, hiding among the oyster shells. Don’t cry, I said, but she cried anyway. Her tears fell straight into my eyes. What a lesson—to watch them float back and forth between us until we knew each one’s shape. Until we knew, finally, what to do with them.
Outside, the colors leapt from the trees. Here, inside, some new word was blooming in my underwear—darker than I’d expected. I’d expected something pink; a slow, sweet trickle. Not this wet tar, treacle, dark, like the blood had been stretching inside me for years, slow-building into a sticky chord, the first falling away. Soil’s been watered; come play. First stuck, first gum, first hum of pollen, calling in the bees and readying to wilt.
Spring is the season of crying and seeing nothing. Of choking up on someone else’s trash. Barbed tennis balls that lodge wherever air’s supposed to go, nasal cavity homewreckers. All spring my lenses wrenched themselves from my eyes, jumped ship, spore-lined and furious. Everything melted and ran down my face. All the trees wanted my number. Sent fuzzy messengers to murmur in my ears: I get so afraid sometimes all I want all I want is. All spring I brushed confessions out of my hair. Tore the little letters apart and locked myself in the refrigerator, until the world promised to stop birthing such soft things.
The house was filled with the smell of it, the last misshapen, sweet-heavy berries of the season losing their shapes on the stove. The house was filled with the smell of fruit unbecoming, fruit pulled to its knees at fire’s feet. All summer long, the bushes had whispered take me, shown us all the places we could kiss if we wanted. And so, as the light died, we put our mouths on the least lovable, the too-full, the easy-bruised, we shouted, I choose you, and you, and you, and you, and canned that hunger, and spooned it into our mouths on the coldest days.
Some of the cloven-hoofed things are good at leaping from one rock shelf to another without shattering. Good, in other words, at falling. I never trusted that ankles were any match for my body’s insistence on becoming earth again. So when I found myself on the cliff face, I knew it was dive or dust. A boy called to me from the bottom of the gorge, called me all the names he knew, and I stood frozen, wearing a crown of bones. The gravel laughed as it fled from my feet. I shouted down to the boy, Don’t try to milk me unless you’re fond of being kicked — buck and bray and jawbone. He responded, No, totally, sounds tough, how are you feeling?
I hid in his rivers and estuaries. I ate his wet earth’s crops. I grew plump for him. Grew egg-lined, thirty tiny hearts in my belly, fruit thumping with seeds. He pulled me from the mud. Laid me out in the sun. Opened me down the center. Scraped every dead daughter from my silly maw. I learned better next time. Next time, I grew three extra rows of seeds. Hid them in my mouth. Sharpened them to teeth.
Last winter, when we finally kissed under fluorescent lights, that was the seed we pressed between the ground’s lips. Then I laughed when the sky collapsed into pathetic rivers. Then I drank the dirt through my hooves, and liked it. Then I ate all the sun I could find. Though the weeds claw, sugar-starved, at my thighs. Though the sky casts over, cataract, callous, and the earth fumes as iron claws uproot the children’s children we keep warm in our bellies. Still, when the moon and the horses are fat on the horizon, still you’ll find me, arms heavy with eggplant, chard, tomatoes bruised blue, blushing kohlrabi till the kohlrabi’s gone. Will you pluck me before the dust does, root and all, radicchio tendon? I promise, I’ll feed no upright animal. Only the bees and the bees, beans sitting on the squash’s face. Will you turn your palms to the sky? Will you turn your palms to the prayer hunger makes? Will you feed and feed, and lick the bowl clean when we’re both full?
I picked up my own scent somewhere on the forest’s edge. Spoiling flour, holy basil, sweat. My oldest smell is the smell that still clings to pajama sleeves late into Saturday afternoon. Toothpaste, mixed with the musk of rest. I pressed my snout to the ground and breathed deep, watched the tendrils of my slug trail bloom blue, bioluminescent. I followed the maze, pushbrooming forest floor with face, followed the promise of a rapid heart. Don’t ask who’s the bloodhound, who’s the hare, when there’s a chase to be made: the clarity of a cardinal direction clicking into place. And: the quickening—the tendons that appear, sudden, when the distant, rabid howl of hunters rolls across the tree line, and you lift your head in greeting.
We made our home in the place where the water slowed. Yes. We flooded the plains until the landscape bloomed with wet. We stopped the tub. We drew a bath and called the river to its new, quieter life. Ring-builders. Kingdom carved. At the end of the line, we made our own place. Sure, from above, it looks like a snaking tail, headed by a circle. From here, in the mud, it doesn’t look like that at all. It looks like a world. Like a cleared space. Like everything that’s left when the trees soften and come, at last, crashing.