Bougainvillea petals blew around on the stone floor with a sound dry and melodic as you came into me. This was in that period of extreme weather. Heat waves followed by days of freezing rain. In that time of omens, large, medium, small, and extra small like the fact that your older sister adored cantaloupe while the younger one preferred sunflower seeds. And how in the small subterranean room with the twin beds and the walnut wardrobe, we were always cold. Staying under the comforter, both our bodies so thin that when we fucked our hipbones made a clicking sound a bit like a record skipping and there was your pale skin, your heart beating in your chest with a wet sound like water swishing through a pipe. That sound along with the click of our hips illuminated everything, so I could see deep down into the hole, the fine blonde hairs on my mother’s cheek as well as bits of green glass in the dirt of Mrs. Johnson’s garden. I saw everything all the way down into the night, drunk as I was on one thousand gin and tonics because everybody wanted you, boys and girls. I desired not after your body, which I already knew I could never make mine, but for the you in the glittering asphalt, the you in the gas oven’s blue flame, the you in the pattern of bubbles in the glass of Coke. I had to convince you to come away from your computer and lay down with me on the futon because thinking has always been hard. I mean why make yourself into a clock when you can learn the names of the flowers? Once in the car, as we passed a bed of wild flowers I exclaimed, forgetting your prohibition, I LOVE LARKSPUR, and you flew into a rage. You also claimed that sunsets, the raspberry sky over Brooklyn, didn’t really affect you that much. You loathed yourself more stylishly than I was accustomed to and so at first when I loved you without knowing you, it was like loving God.
Unable to sleep, you’d get up and stand by the fire. Nothing in the flame’s light, not the mantle marble or the splintered mirror above it, suggested the modern world. You could have been a blacksmith in a La Tour painting, with your well developed chest now gone soft in middle age. In the morning, we left the island and drove to a hotel in Norfolk, ate Chinese food and watched E.T. at the theater. This was before pay-per-view, even before cable, in that stone age when I ran around in my macramé bikini, my skin the color of milk chocolate. My white panties, your hard cock, our tan skin, we fucked every couple hours and got so high I put my hand through the headboard, through the wall and into the chest of the man next door. His heart like a peony, and I knew he had found a little peace, and so had I by loving your head of soft hair, your gray eyes. Yours was my first body, and I was scared every time you took your shirt off, your narrow shoulders shocked me back into childhood and made me miss the subtle erotics of my own family. My mother’s cleavage. My little brother’s belly button. My dad’s fleshy upper arms. Light from the stereo illuminated the glass beads hanging over your doorway and sure, it was sexy in there. All kinds of stuff happened. Later, after we both came two hundred times, you’d kneel next to the porcelain tub and read to me. Your body, pressed against mine had the exact weight of a daydream as we lay down together on the flat bed boat, a pontoon I think they call them, with a dozen red and white striped seats. We laid together on the Astroturf. Rock music from the other side of the lake, teenagers laughing, your body covered with freckles. Your pelvis like a bowl of clean water as you said the word “cacophony” and the radiators clanged and you tapped your empty cigarette box against my fingers, which were clenched tight around a shot glass of bourbon, the liquid melting in several directions, and I knew we were over the guardrail parked in your orange Volkswagen looking out on the lights of the valley while terrible pop music played. We made out ferociously, the crotch of my jeans as wet as a wash cloth. Oh my love, my perfect one, my one of the 70s sideburns and redneck appeal.
Once kissing on a blanket spread out underneath a Sunday school bus you undid your pants and your cock slipped out. The prehistoric urgency of your hard-on and the sea lamprey-like slit at the top haunted me so that later as I lay in my childhood bed I couldn’t sleep, so I got up to watch television, and there you’d be mending your fishing nets with a thick wooden needle. You could tell by the movement of the cedar branch in your yard if that morning the fishing would be worthwhile. If not you’d load split logs into the wood stove and we’d sleep, your chest pressed against my back, your hand on my hip. This was around the time I locked myself into the ladies’ room of the restaurant where I worked, sat down on the closed toilet seat and said I LOVE YOU, to no one in particular. Afterwards I went into the walk-in with the bartender and we lay down on a flat of strawberries, and when I came out, the back of my white waitressing blouse looked like it was splattered with blood. But it was the milk in her breasts that haunted you, your wife standing drunk on the grass between your house and your neighbors, her panties stuffed into her back pocket, MILK, as you said many times, STILL IN HER TITS. You told this story in the holy space engendered after mutually fulfilling sex, as well as another incident. After fifteen minutes he checked his watch, after forty he left. You looked like a paper doll cut out from the moon and so during the blizzard, I fled my parents’ split level and met you behind the Hardees. You’d built a campfire. Brought a bottle of strawberry Boones Farm wine. Ice crystallized on the rust stains of your beard. But you hated nature, and when forced to hike up Mount Lavernea with the German couple you kept stopping, hands spread wide, a cynical expression infusing your features.
These things stay with me and so when I’m finally with you in the other side I’ll remember how we went to the Log Cabin Restaurant for breakfast but stayed all day drinking Bloody Marys. You were fascinated with locker room slang. And you loved to sleep in your clothes, particularly your sweater vest and janitor pants. I remember as we sat in the red leather booth, bits of refracted disco ball light spinning, how I scanned your features — brown eyes with black lashes, thicket of silver hair, acne scars — for some clue as to why Paris is called the city of light. When, up on all fours, your cock rooted inside me, I asked you, if you felt IT, you always said YES. After the second glass of wine, I noticed that your green eyes looked like tiny planet earths and you told the waitress, the soup was delicious, and me that my profile was killing you. Later you kneeled down to unbuckle my silver shoes, talking all the while about how if Eve hadn’t eaten the apple there’d be no reason for language, that words were needed only to define our separateness from God. Later when I saw you pull the girl onto your lap, my heart broke and I threw my donut down and ran out of the loft, down the stairs onto the Chinatown street. I no longer had you to love so I decided to love the world. But that was hard, as the world, if you haven’t noticed, is not that easy to love, what with fast food wrappers blowing around the subway tracks where I waited in my slip dress for the Q train. I rode that fucker all the way out to Brooklyn, where I ran past the picnic tables and the BBQ grills to the shore of the lake to see if the flowers were on the trees. Pitching squares of chocolate to the ducks, I said with each overhand throw, my love, my own, I have looked for you everywhere, particularly in the pelvic region of the male species, but also in red wine and hardcover books. Sometimes you make the back of my head tingle and subsequently I confuse being known with being obliterated. Why make me wait for union when I’m willing to crawl into the tree, grab hold of your blossoms and fuck the dirt, my love, my beautiful one, quick before it’s too late, grab my hand in the cab and kiss the nape of my neck and work that alchemy that changes everything into YOU. My beloved, my holy one, there is a melon in the fridge, split in half, covered in saran wrap. I got it from a gray haired man who was anxious to get back to his book on genealogy. This melon is for you. I’m waiting to feed you this melon, chunk by chunk right down to the rind.
Darcey Steinke is the author of the memoir Easter Everywhere (A New York Times Notable book 2007) and the novels Milk, Jesus Saves, Suicide Blonde, and Up Through the Water (A New York Times Notable book 1989). Her new novel, Sister Golden Hair, is out this October from Tin House. With Rick Moody, she edited Joyful Noise: The New Testament Revisited. Her books have been translated into ten languages, and her nonfiction has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, The Boston Review, Vogue, Spin Magazine, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, and The Guardian. Her web-story “Blindspot” was a part of the 2000 Whitney Biennial. She has been both a Henry Hoyns and a Stegner Fellow and Writer-in-Residence at the University of Mississippi, and has taught at the Columbia University School of the Arts, Barnard, The American University of Paris, and Princeton.
“Song” was originally published in Killing the Buddha and also appeared in The Literary Review’s Winter 2004 issue, Vol. 47, No. 2