song by hanne steen. photography by carla richmond.
Bangui, Central African Republic, 1989.
Today is the day you burn his things. A shiny grapefruit lies alone on the kitchen table. Don’t look at it, it will remind you of his shoulder rising up out of waves of sheets, pink and soft and strong.
Make coffee, burn your tongue. Breathe through waves of morning fog. The suitcase hard and packed at the bottom of the stairs, full of things for the fire. Don’t look at it, it will remind you of him. His shirt, don’t look at it, his gray shirt with the holes everywhere that you wore to sleep and how he would stick his fingers through the holes and touch your shoulder blades. The card he gave you for your birthday, and his handwriting on the inside like spiders across the page saying you’re my favorite human. Don’t look. Let the door slam behind you and throw the suitcase in the car.
Today is the day you drive to the desert to burn his things. The city blurs concrete and glass refracting suns and you try to take different roads, but it’s no use, you went everywhere together. Don’t look at it, the parking lot where he kissed you in the dark with tacos in your mouths and laughing. Don’t look it, the drive-in where you always said let’s go and never went. Don’t look at it or you’ll have to wonder where he is and if his hands are reaching through the holes of other shirts to touch the blades of other shoulders. Don’t.
Out in the desert under the blazing sun you build a fire. Sweat is pulled straight from your skin into the sky. Gigantic rocks bubble up from the ground like fat men’s bellies. Don’t look at them or you’ll be sick. The fire roars in the afternoon, reaching up to the sun. Don’t look or you’ll go blind. Lift the suitcase from the ground, leaden with his weight. Swing it up and into the flames and feel the fire heave back, singeing your eyes.
Now look. Look hard into the flames. Look at the walls dissolving. Look at the layers peeling off, curling over like dry leaves. Look at the crumbling box that held him captive under your bed, after he had walked so long ago. Look at the holes in the shirts where his hands used to be. Look at the cards bending and blackening, the books he gave you to read on lazy afternoons, fanning open in the flames, look at the notes, I love you more in spider, the cowboy hat, the feather he found on Lake Michigan and sent you in the mail, the blanket he wrapped around you when the stars were falling absolutely everywhere. Look at it. Look at it burn. Look in the end how it curls up and dances away. Look how you burn, and how your walls turn to ash, and how you reach up, free as smoke into the sun.
my fish is dying. I tried to mend her fins like water wings but I think I failed. all this failing is killing me. all these parking tickets. all this driving on the freeway after all the wine with my phone all out of juice and not caring to find my way home. what is home without you. hardwood floors and a dying fish. silence and a chandelier.
at the party I smoked cigarettes and played werewolf. kept my mouth shut. the boys scared me for the first time ever but I killed them all in their sleep. there were plenty of glasses and shadows of you but not the right shadows and nothing you enough. had you been there I would have been nervous you’d shoot someone. I would have drunk too much to quell my fear of riots. you would’ve paid my parking ticket. I would have kissed you through the bars of your cage. you would’ve pulled me close and told me I was your favorite. the wine would have spilled us.
but anyway you weren’t there, nor will you maybe ever be again and I can’t figure out how to swallow that so I try more wine and I curse my god for my dying fish and my parking tickets and this damned broken heart I broke all by myself. go to bed. strike a deal with god. in the dream your arms are ribbons wrapped around me. I am the scissors. dream of falling in the ocean with unbroken wings.
this is black friday and the end of the world. this is my head on a chopping block and my heart in the dirt. I don’t know how to stop. if this is love then this is the end. this is a game of bullshit. these are your eyes across the table in the cold light. this is you behind your sunglasses saying see you around. these are your hands across your heart. this is your face in my hair. if I made the world I would tie you around me. this is black friday and everything has failed. this is you in montreal while the rain comes down in LA. this is the loneliness of a dying fish. this is everything in wax paper, the ribbons I cut and threw away. I doubted everything. this is not the end. this is the end of something.
iI could have given you everything but I didn’t. this is just a dream I made of your arms and I need to listen now for real. I need to hear what you said. if you came back with bright eyes I would fall into them with wild wings and never look back. I cannot bear the silence or the dream. I must stop looking backwards. I must bury my fish. I heard what you said. my wings are unbroken. I’ll see you around.