Haibun

12/14/2010 § Leave a comment

Here‟s a girl. All she needs is a looking glass. She has a knack for finding beauty in unlikeliest places. Under heaps of dry leaves waiting for a match to fall; on squalid faces of street beggars, our scorched offerings to Capitalism; and walls, haunted by multicoloured remnants of torn-down posters and graffiti. She sees the world not as it is but as it should be—filled with luminosity and always stretching, from one moment to next, stretching—like a cat on a warm summer day, its lines feline and gracious—effortlessly suspended indifference. This is why her photos are never still. She‟s kept the eye which most of us have long since plucked away to keep ourselves in the dark. She has taken it upon herself to be our Antigone. One of the few left.

in the sink,
gold-scaled dusk
on dishwater

Sometimes she takes photos of me when I am unaware. Like a thief with a sword she takes my image in fragments: half an eye; an old scar left by smallpox vaccination; fingertips, inky from the newspaper; faded stretch marks on my inner thighs like white gossamer worms; the area just below my navel, where a trail of hair thickly descends into my sex. Once, I asked her, why fragments? It‟s because you‟re broken, she said. I have to take you in piece by piece.

In bed, she folds herself against me like an origami flower. I try to unfold her from within but doing so only encloses me deeper inside her. It is an odd feeling, losing myself inside someone else‟s body. No, not losing but sinking, sinking endlessly through her landscape, hers and hers alone. A sidereal sky full of strange constellations; forests, deserts and cities all
entwined into an exquisite abstraction; the vast, intimate space of her being where voices like waves like echoes wave hither and thither…

As we climax, her nails dig into my back and signal my exile. I‟m brought back to here and now—our entangled bodies on damp sheets laid out like dying embers of some great fire. But when I close my eyes we‟re still in that other place; she‟s waiting for me across the street. Come on over, she calls out. I mumble something about dices. This isn‟t Rubicon, she tells me. Are you sure? I beg her. Are you sure?

lovers
naked as a willow
on a winter’s eve

She leaves me often, sometimes for other men, sometimes for solitude, and always without so much as a note on the nightstand. All she leaves of herself in her absence are the tresses of her hair on the pillow. Auburn, the colour of autumn; and autumn, the season of fading vibrantly—when ghosts begin to stir in their sleep, sensing winter in the distance. Is there an irony to be had? These locks of her hair reminds me that she is not a ghost. That our nights are not someone else‟s dream. But what are they, I ask, if not a dream? How can you leave someone who‟s not with you to begin with? How does one pine for a ghost?

on the floor
the white of her panties
an empty bed

While she is away, I mourn her faithfully (I‟m much like Penelope in this regard). I tend to the orchids. I watch TV. I try to learn a new recipe. All the while, away from the fussiness, pale-faced loneliness waits for me on the bed. It sits patiently on the edge and beckons me to lie
down and feel the emptiness of our queen-sized bed. To sweep the length of my arm along her side of the mattress and feel nothing, over nothing at all. And so it enters me; claims me for itself; robs me of my sleep, the divine condolence.

In those hours, restless and alone, I write. I write to her; of her; about her. I transpose her body, her voice, and her photos into words, until from the black and white of my notepad she emerges radiant, raised up from the thinness of wood like Lazarus of Bethany. This is how I remember her, in a body of text, to keep myself warm in the winter of her absence.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

But all of this is fiction. He writes, lies.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Once, walking out of the shower in the middle of the night, he caught her spying on his notepad. She had just returned from a month-long sojourn in Idaho, where she revealed to its dry valleys and nowhere towns the beauty they did not know had haunted them for so long.

She stood there, by the IKEA bookshelf they had built together, every ounce of her consciousness poured into his words. She was still wearing the backpack which he always worried was far too large and heavy for her slender frame. The long winding hours of driving toward the horizon evident in her rumpled cloths and matted hair.

“I‟m home,” she said without turning. And he understood at once the untenable failure of his writing. The desperate idiocy in the very act so evident to him now. What was it that he wrote? “Raised up from the thinness of wood?” “Radiant, from black and white of his notepad?” What
rose from his scribbles was merely an atrophied imitation of her form, a sickly malapropism—a thing of infected fancy, his very own Golden Calf.

“You should have called,” he said. “I could‟ve fixed up something.”
“Oh, I‟m not hungry.”
“Are you sure? There‟s some leftover I can warm up real quick—“
“It‟s okay.”

Think of Moses on the foot of Mount Sinai. Limbs aching from a long, arduous descent; the gravity of God-given words heavy on his arms, heavier than the stones upon which they are written. Suddenly he sees a great fire in the distance. The Israelites are dancing in jubilation, as they did when the Red Sea closed upon the Pharaoh‟s mighty chariots. Just so. All is the same— the music, the movement of bodies, the bodies themselves. How can such joy be sin? He closes his eyes.

“How was the trip?”
“It was fine.” she answered nonchalantly, eyes lingering on the last page of his notebook.

A great hurrah rises up from the crowd, riding the arid gust. In his absence they have found a god of their own imagining. What does he think of that? Moses forgets how, only hours ago, he had pleaded God for mercy on their irreverent souls. He casts down the stones he had gladly bore down the mountain and, before setting a few good men to slaughter, orders the idolizers to be fed with the crushed remains of their precious calf. The last of their fine Egyptian gold, thus interred into their bones.

“You know, I‟m nothing like what you wrote.” she said and put down the notepad.

He could say nothing. He expected a reckoning to follow. To be mocked and castigated for his foolishness and pride. Instead he found himself staggering for footing with her weight
suddenly on his body, backpack and all. Locking her hands fast against his nape, she whispered “I‟m better.” Then she kissed him and told him that she loved him.

Creative Commons License
Haibun by Minwook Bae is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 Canada License.

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