In this book is the Book. The careless
Queen tells the King their own
half-forgotten story. Distracted
by the din of past enchantments
they forget who they are … and dream.
– Jorge Luis Borges, “Metaphors of The Arabian Nights”
I remember how this journey began. Everything took place
on a clear day. There was the city.
There was you, and there was me. Always,
those three things:
- The city
I tell this to myself so I do not forget.
On days when I look over empty hills, the wind blows dust to my eyes and I hear its voice soft, secretive, whispering a story:
Remember how our arms always formed cups each time rain fell to the ground? How we used to collect the water – cold, cold droplets escaping through the slits of our fingers. Our fathers and mothers would be angered, calling us foolish for wasting water, their hands dry, rounded into fists clenching sand, chasing us as we ran laughing, our limbs kicking sand and dirty water to sidewalks.
We believed in open spaces and doors that yielded when pushed only slightly. We believed in our mouths – what they said, how they smiled, how they seemed to know what the rest of the body didn’t: there was room for silence.
We believed in so many things, even in sand: covering our eyes in days of dry storms.
Today I stand before the city. This place: one
of the thousand and one others it chooses to be. Today –
it veils its face in snow, and the people
inhabiting it, they keep their mouths closed
far too often. They have so many names for cold,
so much that even the words grow icy in my throat.
In one version of the story the city was made of towering pillars, alabaster columns, and brick walls stained with the sweat of slaves. Encased in glass, none of the inhabitants knew of passing save the motions of the sun and the ceaseless shifting of sand.
In another version: the city did not exist at all. Just piles and piles of sand waiting to be built into castles.
Sand: the same color, the same
dry harshness caked on my tired lips. Shifting
like waves but without the quality of change.
Legend tells of a princess named Scheherazade who saved her life by telling stories for a thousand and one nights.
When the sky is blue, I believe she is the wind: sewing sand with stories, spinning them around our bodies until we’ve forgotten which story is which, which story was ours.
On some nights I wake from the sound of my heart beating in a way that seems to call out your name.
But it has been so long. Already
your name has stayed too hidden
in my mouth, making for itself a home
so small between my teeth.
The absence took with it other memories:
The color of the sky that first time we met, the sound of your laughter, the feel of sweat – beads of saltwater stringing itself on our backs as we ran through the marketplace, our feet striding towards the end of the horizon. The sound of air and sand rushing through the door before it slammed shut that day you left.
In one version of the story we lost the ability to perish in exchange for half of our memories – and tell me, what am I to make of this?
What am I to make of anything that so easily slips through the slits of my fingers?
In this version of the story the city watches over us as we find ourselves lost. Century after century, it looks upon us in pity, sighing as it rearranges its buildings, giving birth to new people, new memories, turning us into strangers.
Always we are given a new beginning but somehow this never seems fair when all I wanted was to remember the sound of your name.
These days I speak less, leave
the telling of our story to the wind,
let its voice turn into hands painting
a landscape of memories
constructed from sand, gathered
particles into a pile, reminiscent
of the castle we used to live.
Dearest, I have written so many stories for you all these years we have been apart. The ones I could keep, I sealed in bottles, kept them from being touched by sand.
When my hands showed signs of slowness, I spoke to the city and its towering walls. I whispered the parts I am convinced are true. Always I did this at the dead of night, so that I am the only one the walls can hear, no wind to blow my stories off their course.
I imagine my voice echoing from those old walls
one day. Perhaps the city will be kinder this time, send
my messages through a dream you will have
as a lonely traveler asleep in a small room, searching
for someone you could never place, mouthing in dreams
a name that was once mine.