a pale, blond woman with the usual number of limbs. She was helping him down to the water. Their movement, jerky and storklike, drew attention to itself, but I was looking because of something else. It was how . . . sexual they were together. I don’t know how else to put it, or what that means, exactly, except that they were playful with each other, as adults rarely are. Theirs was a performance of a sort. They had established clarity on the point, and such clarity can be important. It is, for instance, important to me at times, when I find myself at dinner with my mother, to announce loudly to the waiter, “This is my mother,” or an equivalent expression that makes our relationship unambiguous.
Celeste was still on her phone, so I walked to the water by myself. My thoughts had turned to the couple’s sex life. What was under the man’s bathing suit, and how had the woman responded when she first saw him naked—with aversion, or arousal, or something more mixed and subtle, a curiosity and an arousal that were inseparable from or somehow part of the shock or fear that we feel in the presence of difference? It was, of course, possible that the absence of his leg did not enter into it, and that, as we are taught to believe and no one, I think, believes fully, the matter of love transcends all superficial considerations. But who is to say what is superficial and what isn’t? No, more likely, I thought, entering the water and feeling the warm salt liquid envelop me, cooling nothing but seeming to focus the sun’s rays more penetratingly on my skin and eyes and lips, more likely the woman enjoyed the idea of herself as someone who chooses an unusual partner; or—for that was only one possibility—she understood that we are all incomplete versions of an unafraid self trying to be born, and that our apparent wholeness only blinds us to this more substantial insufficiency. If Celeste had been there with me, I would have remarked that this couple had taken up arms in the fight against death—not because an incomplete body represents death, but because normalcy represents death. Because every decision that conforms to expectations, that raises no eyebrows, prompts no outrage or whispering or gossip, that merely reprises the ambered templates forged as prisons by those who have come before—every action taken under this regime of fear is the prefatory enactment of death.
And Celeste would have said, “I see we’re back on your favorite subject.”
And I would have said, “I want to talk about death. And other big things, like life and the soul and tax policy. I want to tromp around in boots in the china shop, where you’ve laid crystal figurines on the ground and dressed the halls in lace that someone went blind to stitch.”
“You’ve made your position clear.”
“My position isn’t clear to me! ” I’d shout. “My position isn’t clear, because my position depends on you.”
“Then talk to me. And don’t speak for me in imaginary dialogues in your head.”
“But you’re not here,” I said, and watched her tumble into the blackness of my mind, spinning like a falling figure in an old movie.
There I go, speaking for everyone when I’m alone, naming all the animals and plants as though my words could turn them into something else.”
- from Greg Jackson’s story, “Poetry,” from The New Yorker: https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2019/04/29/poetry