Marginalia

(on 14 June, 2017 & with 12 Comments)

More than anything else, I think, what fascinate me are the sounds we make when we believe no one is listening.

Case in point: yesterday morning I sat behind a corner table at a coffee shop, very still & freshly released from school, & cried into a napkin within the yawning bustle of it all. I thought no one would notice. For a long while, no one did notice. Then – quite suddenly, it seemed at the time, though looking back on it now I’m sure he must have been listening for at least a few minutes – the man occupying the table next to me stood up, strode over to the napkin dispenser across the café, & came back to place a stack of new napkins on my table. Then he looked me in the eye, nodded as if he understood, & went back to his own table. No words exchanged. Nothing but echoes, a golden hum draining out.

The point here is not that I was sad (though I was, deeply so), nor that the man was kind (though he was, deeply so).

There are all these portraits we paint of each other in the split seconds we have together, letters never sent, quiet romantic snapshots that feel something a little fearless, a little holy. I have been remembering that man a lot today. I have been wondering if he will think of me forever as the sad girl in the corner of the café, & I have been wondering if I will think of him forever as the kind man who brought the napkins. It’s ridiculous, perhaps, but no less gnawing: it frustrates & terrifies me, how limited our visions are of each other. I want to know this man when he is at his cruellest, his most mercury-sharp unforgivable. I want him to know me when I am every incarnation of joy.

How many oceans can a single person hold? How many galaxies? One for each moment they’re alive, I suppose, one for every touch, every perception, every clock tick, every version of reality. I want so desperately to taste those worlds, those melodies that others sing when they do not think I can hear them. My mind swirls & aches, rewrites itself in too many dreams of sadness, & I feel too often as if every part of me that is not sad exists only on the sidelines. A shade of self that is foreign &, by association, wholly inaccessible –

but it’s real. It has to be, that I might still know myself standing in the sun, without the shadow of illness threatening to overtake everything. Any alternative is unthinkable. I must believe that I am still someone, that I am still worth something, even when I am not sad. Even when a kind stranger in a café does not give me a second glance. Even when I have no chance to know his kindness, to find a space in my chest around every lingering hollow where I might finally understand.

Some days it feels as if every moment I am not hurting exists only in the margins of life. Erasing & singing to sleep, a bright bloom on the sidelines of every song I’m becoming, the intricate & inescapable journey towards someone unrecognisable to the deepest parts of myself. I’m trying to discover who I am in the absence of that marrow-deep sadness that never quite fades, that sadness like a low-grade fever. & meanwhile: all these crowds. All these people I will only ever see a sliver of, who will only ever see a sliver of me. All these somnolent faces, these dreams stretched thin across the page, & how we come in contact with each other by accident & take every note, every act, every whisper that did not exist before & somehow, beautifully, terrifyingly, make it real.

 

/

 

p.s. tell me in the comments of your own understanding of who you are in the absence of
whatever emotion defines you to most of the world. i would truly love to hear your experiences.
p.s.s. all of it is art & a sudden painful joy & love letters for more


Little Horoscopes for June

(on 7 June, 2017 & with 12 Comments)

Happy June, friends. I hope you are buying yourself flowers & reading new poems & forgiving those who have wronged you & looking up at the sky & kissing beautiful girls this month.

I realise I missed sharing May horoscopes with you last month, for which I must apologise. The time slipped out of my grasp, as it so often does, & before I knew it June had happened upon us once more. This month marks the two-year anniversary of my small horoscope series, as well, which I find a rather lovely thing to contemplate.

These horoscopes feel very centred around the idea of letting oneself exist without expectation or apology (perhaps because I myself have been trying so hard this month to do just that). I hope you might find some guidance in them… & I would truly love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Enjoy. xox

 

Little Horoscopes for June

Pisces, remember what roots you here.
Cancer, you are gentler to your worst enemies than you have ever been to yourself.
Gemini, don’t forget to feel the joy you have worked so hard for.
Capricorn, this feeling you don’t know how to name is called hope.
Taurus, your body is not a home but a highway.
Leo, you have no obligation to apologise for your loudness.
Aries, we miss you even when you’re right here.
Sagittarius, loneliness is not a synonym for power.
Scorpio, it is okay to still be working up to happiness.
Libra, there is nothing dirty or shameful about wanting.
Virgo, this is your permission to keep the promises you make yourself.
Aquarius, it is a time of loud bright healing.


Silver-Tipped Swallow: “Qi”

(on 1 June, 2017 & with 4 Comments)

The year I first fell in love with a girl was the year I stopped playing the piano.

After months of build-up, from a barely-noticeable staccato-soft throb to my ears wrenching with unfathomable pain the moment my fingers touched the keys, I was diagnosed with a disorder I could barely pronounce, an illness characterised by extremely sensitive hearing. Hyperacusis: incredibly rare & even more difficult to treat, the third in a series of four diagnoses I would acquire over the course of two years. An illness that made it impossible for me to venture outside of my house without headphones because the ambient noise on the streets was too painful, let alone think of playing piano the way I used to. All in my head, the psychiatrist assured me—physically, my ears were perfect—but debilitating like nothing I had ever experienced.

If nothing else, let’s get this part of the story right: I never loved the piano. But for eight years, from the time my first lessons began, I bowed & bent & broke for that instrument, I pushed through my screaming ears to create beautiful things in service of it, I let it hold me in the dark when nothing else could touch my shaking form. I resented it until I did not have it, & then I ached & ached & ached for it. I think that is how an ending happens.

/

The girl had four mental disorders that turned her head to shambles. This is not the hard part. On her bad days she lashed out, treated me like a fumbled note at a wall-to-wall concert, worth only the ringing silence of a sold-out mistake. This is not the hard part, either.

The hard part is that she sang like a nightingale, high & clear & exquisite, enough that it reminded me of the music I did not have anymore. The hard part is that, as the nights passed long & quiet & my fingers fumbled on unfamiliar ivory, she sang at concerts & symphony choirs, musicals & festivals, dreamed brightness into being. The hard part is that, as my brand of darkness pulled me away from the music, hers pushed her towards it. The hard part is her voice, & my piano, & how both of these things were methods of violence but only one was spun of truth.

/

Six months after we began dating, I was diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder.

We matched now, I joked to the girl. Four illnesses apiece. What a pair we were. Laughing about it felt a little like music, like keeping the darkness at bay.

Here is what I quickly realised about OCD: you can make it stop. You wash your hands exactly fifteen times. You do not allow the tip of your shoe to touch the crack in the sidewalk. You erase & rewrite a poem until its edges on the page are perfectly aligned. If you play the right notes to the right rhythm in the right order, the static in your mind dips down for a little while, some kind of refuge from looming dusk.

But hyperacusis isn’t as simple as that. Nothing makes the noise quiet. There are no edges to blur, no melodies to will the sun back in the sky. I avoided the piano because it made my ears hurt, & my ears hurt because I avoided the piano. I flirted with the girl instead of the darkness, until I realised the girl was the darkness. Do you see the night that exists in this space where no way of trying is ever loud enough?

/

When the girl hurt, she made it her mission to make me hurt, too. This is not the hard part. When she hurled shrapnel into me, I let it happen. When she hissed words of crescendo-sharp rubble, I opened myself up to it. This is not the hard part, either.

The hard part happened when I was the one hurting. On days when my body was more wound than human, when my ears rang until I went into sensory overload, when all I knew was darkness, the girl held me like a fermata, whispered song into my ears. Some deep, terrible sliver of me hated her for all that luminescence. The way she could switch between horror & brightness so quickly, so easily, her sadness here one day & gone the next, but the music always remained. That was something she could control, & my obsessive-compulsive brain was unendingly jealous. I wanted to rip her voice from her the way my piano had been ripped from me. It’s difficult to fathom all of the methods of falling for a person who exists half in this life & half in another, dangling off a ledger line miles below a staff, no one to catch you when the music trails off.

But even through the horror in my head she kept singing, refused to let me go. When I could not fathom any ways of tenderness, she spoke to me of the energy that flows between every one of us, keeping us tethered to each other even in the dark. The way it fills up all silences. The notes still minor, but at least they ring in harmony. Something in me clung to that song like oxygen. Like gravity.

The energy is called qi, she whispered, drawing the Chinese character in the air between us, & I swear in that moment the movement & the music were the only things that kept me from breaking open.

/

Later that afternoon I went home & ran my fingers over the piano keys. My ears soared in hurting no matter whether I pressed down the damper pedal. I thought about calling the girl—to hear her voice, if nothing else, to taste that quiet storm song—but she was at a rehearsal for an opera. The dark is only dark if light exists somewhere else. Key word: else.

If qi is real, I wanted to ask her, then why do you get to keep the music & I don’t?

Or else, something steadier, set to a more familiar beat: if it’s real, then what night can I follow to finally understand? 

/

It is hard for me to conjure a memory of that love which isn’t linked to darkness. Even on our good days, every note was somehow still a noose. I suppose mental illness does that you: coats the mind in dusk. No stars left to burn into being. Survival means there are always things that stand in for other things, always another mess that no amount of hand washing can fix. Maybe there’s music in that, but I am too tired to light my aching into something that could pass for beautiful.

There are all these ways we learn how to face the darkness. When her anxiety made her stop working for fear of failure, mine made me work frenetically, feverishly, furiously. When her depression drove her to stay awake all night, mine put me to sleep for 12, 13, 14 hours on end. When she lashed out at me during her bad days, I leaned on her during mine. When she brought the music closer to her chest, I let it slip from my grasp, thrumming without hope of light. The same songs on repeat over & over, the same mindless ache in our chests, the same raw night stretched over too many shades of wanting, & still no right answers to give.

/

The months passed. The piano collected dust. The girl & I fought, & laughed, & cried, & dreamed, & kissed, & grew into women from the lips inward. Everyone already knows the ending to this story. Now all that’s left to do is learn it.

/

And perhaps, when every bone is laid bare & the humming in our heads finally quiets, this is all that love amounts to. A misplaced note. A piano bench pushed in. A night in a body broken by illness. All these nameless noises—so many times she lashed out at me & so many times I fought back, & it was never about the music the way it was always about the music. I wanted those notes that were never mine in the first place. Trying to create something that would tie us together, that would remind us of that fierce bright energy, but you can’t fix distance without a staff to climb. There’s only so many times you can wash your hands & cover your ears & try to keep the qi alive before night crosses horizon & breaks you apart, utterly unfathomable, entirely expected.

They say the silence is part of the music. What happens when the silence is all that’s left to hold?

The girl sang & the piano did not. I missed them both rationally & irrationally. She spoke of light through the darkness, & I nodded & smiled & tried not to listen & listened anyway. My ears are hurting: a chorus on repeat. Every song she spun made her a little more human & me a little less so. Even now there’s this dizziness, things I can’t control, things my illness wants to kill me for, but instead I step over cracks & I wear earphones out in public & I love around & through the black-&-white ivory holes in my chest. A song can be a prayer or a sin. This is not the hard part, it’s just the truth. Such small suicides trapped in her vocal cords. We all settle for something, don’t we? We all come to a stop. The music fades away, eventually. Sure as heartbeat. Sure as ache.

/

(Silver-Tipped Swallow is a Half Mystic column about the ways in which music intertwines with our experiences in loving, losing, & lingering on what remains. This column, along with two more columns by the HM team & many more pieces by contributors, is published in Half Mystic’s Issue III: Nocturne. The nocturne issue is a gorgeous volume of work that stretches out through darkness, plucks the strings of night, burns stars into being even in all this black. It is available for pre-order now.)


“Call me creature cobbled from medulla and the rhythm of song in a foreign tongue.” (a reading for you)

(on 24 May, 2017 & with 8 Comments)

My friends, I have a small gift for you that I hope you’ll accept: a fumbling & uncertain & honest reading of one of my favourite poems I’ve written, filmed while I was nestled in the gorgeous sanctuary of Virginia last year. That time of sun on my toes & joy in my chest feels too far away now, but watching this takes me back to that beautiful distance. Performing this piece was a rather nerverwracking – yet, simultaneously, an utterly glorious – experience. Perhaps I might share some of that butterfly-fizz-soft light with you today.

This is called “Love in Goddess-Speak” & was taken from my first chapbook, Heaven or ThisI’ve also attached the full text here, if you’d prefer to read it.

A reminder that I’m able to share my art with you for free because of the generosity of my lovely Patreon fireflies. If you enjoy my work, please do consider showing your support in a tangible way.

Enjoy. I cannot wait to hear your thoughts in the comments. xox

Love in Goddess-Speak

i.

The first time I realise I am in love
with a girl, I am two moments past ghosting
and every single cup of chai sneers as I pass.
I wish so desperately to be anywhere
but in this family. Somewhere catatonic,
with no lungs for knowing.
I am in love with a girl who has light skin
and glass-stained eyes, and this is just
another way of pronouncing star-crossed,
autumn, the worn-down temple elevator
when it grinds to a halt for no reason at all.

ii.

I am Indian in the way of American accent
and smiling in Tamil when the relatives come
to visit. Call me creature cobbled from medulla
and the rhythm of song in a foreign tongue.
My mother’s cousin squeezes my cheeks,
asks when I will find a nice boy to settle
down with. None of this is revolution, nor
giant solitude, but I want to remember what
the sky looks like when the world ends.
In private, I disappear in her soft arms. In public,
my uncle teases me about boys, pokes my ribcage,
mistakes the tears leaking out of the corners
of my eyes for good-natured laughter.

iii.

My body is a country pulled three different
ways, trampled into topography of wanting.
I read myths of goddesses who rolled
India into their palms, conquered
without blinking. Who baptised their souls
with blood from another aching land, who
refused to let memories pull them under.
I curse profusely. I dream of her mouth. I
do not let the words I bet Kali is a lesbian
slip out of me at family reunions.
My cousins side-eye me when I laugh at
a sexual innuendo, wolf pack wondering.
Later they will go home and speak fast in
Hindi about my scandalous shoulders, how
they peek around the edges of my sari like
something not meant to be remembered.

iv.

I love her in the way that I love garlic naan
and the feeling of a temple after dark.
My mother passes the prata, alu curry. In this
life, I am girl with hair cut short and heart
too big for my body, too afraid of seizured
legends and my cousins’ warring tongues.
I ignore the questions cascading around me.
With one hand I eat the food of a land I am
learning to call my own, even as it pushes me
further away. With the other I send her
text messages under the table, feel
the ground beneath my feet return to holy
as I do.