Soul Classic

We were the idealized couple and you, you were in awe, enthralled and enraged by our perfection. We had it all, I suppose – the afternoon sex, the guava tree in the kitchen, the art school teaching positions. We didn’t understand or care to know the struggle of those destitute of love. On Mondays I would sleep in while Regina let out the cat and practiced yoga on the balcony. I think she liked to show off for the neighbor across the way, or the itinerants on the corner, and I liked that.

I didn’t care about the novel you were writing, your feat of technical prose. I didn’t care that my mother had cancer and jumped into an oncoming train. There were few things to care about besides money. We all had strange names and attended pretentious literary events where graduate students read balefully miserable poetry on the metaphysics of cardigan sweaters. Or birds, always baleful wild birds in flight. We didn’t know anything but pretended to have read Lolita and The Catcher in the Rye and In Search of Lost Time and some of us had indeed read those masterpieces, not to mention Ulysses. But no one mentioned Ulysses or Bolaño and we sat in the back, rapturously devouring every word, every enjambed line.

When you finally finished the novel, an epistolary romance in the style of Dostoyevsky’s Poor Folk, none of us had any idea of what to do. We thought the canon would take care of you, like the free market. The book didn’t sell well but certain subcultures adopted is as the new anti-machismo, so we were satisfied, though none of us even knew what machismo meant. Some believed in you. Others thought of it as mental masturbation, narcissism, the crypto-mythological bullshit of modern art.

When you slit your wrists, some of us quoted Esenin and Mayakovsky while others preferred to pretend they didn’t know you. Still others alleged they were with you in the final moments.

No one knew where you had come from. You appeared like the parable where Christ rides a horse into the mountains to seek enlightenment. We were the mountains but you found no enlightenment. We assumed you were bitter and moved off, on the way to other readings, other coffee shops, other downtown lofts. You had always sat in the back, taking notes when you should have been socializing and arguing about Proust with the rest of us.

None of it made sense, not the warm water or the sharp blade. You’d been living in the studio then, scraping by on a modicum of respect and tips, writing by night. I didn’t care. I wanted to keep having sex whenever I damn well pleased. One of the boys offered you his couch and there you stayed after the money ran out.

Regina had soul in spite of everything. You told her no one asked you your name. You liked the anonymity. You told her about soul classics. “A soul classic,” you said, “captures the imagination of the lovelorn man or woman desperate for some hope of redemption through romance.” What did that mean? we wondered. We really wondered about that one, about what a man born thirty years after the advent of soul knew about soul classics. What could kids born fifty years after The Beatles performed in New York know about The Beatles? Shit, everyone knew something. The cancer had spread to her stomach and lungs and she couldn’t figure out why she wasn’t always able to breathe.

We tried not to think about it too much. We played soul classics at your funeral, and though there was some disagreement (some thought Joy Division would have been more apropos), everything turned out alright. We were alright. We were alright.

I tried to forget about finding you squared in the tub, the water tinged a surprisingly mellow red. No one asked about us and that’s just as well.

Still Haunted

Still haunted by your absence, I enter the city prepared. On campus I forget you. I do not look for you or go to your apartment. I do not even remember you: the unbound knot of your spine, our awkward first trip to the city, photographs of your mouth on my body.

I do not walk the five blocks to see you. I forget about the distance.

In the city, we do not speak of you, your present absence. We forget. We drink wine and compliment each other. I do not dream of you. You do not approach me.

I see no one. All are names and blank faces striding past into the darkness.

I am one of a group which boards the train at the station and miraculously moves as one through the tunnels. We surprise each other upon arrival, for we are unintended.

I board the plane with Proust. Outside, the runway lights imitate a flower or the curvature of your profile, two intersecting lines of brightness reflected into my eyes.

I remember you. I let you go. I let myself go into the darkness of the world, the unending horizon.