the summer I refused to shower
by Isobel Atacus
I wake up with a desire to email you. I splash my face with water, cold, sharp, then pick up the bags of recycling to take along to the bins in the local praça.
I walk slowly, as if to feel the whole day ahead.
Pushing bottles through the holes and stamping on cardboard boxes,
I’m thinking about the way you left. The way my fingers rub against the
surfaces of rubbish, scrunching plastic into weird contortions,
as if to express my response
as if anyone is listening to a single thing I say.
I think about how there’s no dignity in falling,
it’s as if my skin has turned itself inside out, all veins and raw emotions,
or something similar.
The way this makes me think of you.
How I allow my thoughts to drift like this.
There is a small queue of people behind me waiting for their turn with the bins.
Everyone is very polite. Everyone seems to understand
I need to take my time.
That last text – I can’t remember all that clearly
but I think you said something incomprehensible,
(because you often sent me the kind of stream of emoticons my phone model can’t process and so they simply appeared as small rectangles on the screen)
I fold up the recycling bags and head to the small quiosque for a coffee.
It is noon.
a blue jumper
5 hours squashed down in the same hard seat
expressions turning on their sides
I somehow want to convey to you: you knew me only by mistakes I made
Sometimes I go to sleep thinking
about how a human can be a landscape,
not just through their skin, but their very way of
folding in and of themselves,
in time and space;
with this thought comes a way of speaking that stretches out, somehow.
There is a kind of intimacy to this; I felt it in your sheer expansiveness, a quality of presence that eluded me, that still eludes me.
Your voice was higher than your physicality suggested,
this was grating in a way I found quite pleasing.
Perhaps your rectangles were simple landscapes,
translations from one device to another, iridescent and alive.
I loved your contradictions.
You told me that my raincoat was the most punk thing.
A compliment that seeped
like treacle down my spine –
The sun is overhead,
I turn for home and shade,
pausing at a fruit stall on the side of the road to buy some plums.
I consider throwing them off the balcony,
tossing remnants out to
spill, squash flat and juicy on the street.
I wonder how it would feel
arriving breathless at the door at 2am, hoping simply for a kiss,
then ask for money for the bus, and leave.
Notes, small poems written late at night.
Living for a living.
I wonder why I spend my summer drafting emails to your absences,
leaving me halfway cut through
ravished by complexities
that escape my
ability to understand.
I count the plums slowly. I have bought 17.
I remember when we took a coach ride
and you bought along a disposable camera
and we took photos of all the doors with the number 17.
We were both born on the seventeenth of different months,
and this felt so prophetic, whilst at the same time simple happenstance
that would not be rewarded,
because the campsite wouldn’t let us in.
We had to camp on the beach
until the police moved us on and who knew
how cold it would feel
with all the salt soaking into our bones like that?
On that trip I kept pulling my hand away from you and feeling my palms become sweaty with the heat and its concomitant fear of intimacy. I wanted to apologise but instead you told me with a smile how seventeen is the number for wishes and alchemy
and then I reached for your hand,
and then later we reached our own gentle resolution
the coach arrived
and we parted.
I eat a plum.
I am left with sixteen, a small stone
in my hand
I might plant it.
For now, sixteen feels a safer number to sit with,
less aligned with wishing and more with circumspection.
I’m curious about it, so I look it up online, and find out
the number sixteen is about willpower and independence
it’s about seeking wisdom
In Tarot the sixteenth card is the Tower.
There’s a story about how in the late 50s the filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky travelled to Mexico to meet the artist Leonora Carrington. He wanted to ask her to be his Tarot master. To take this voyage to simply ask a question (a question simple enough to need to cross the seas). When he arrived at her house – it might have been the middle of the night, she might have been naked except for a shawl, sitting on a wooden throne, expecting him – she began to make tea.
Imagine that everything is always a kind of ceremony, a kind of a test, how strange and symbolic everything must be. Leonora gathered the tea things together, poured two cups, one for herself, one for Alejandro. Then she took a teaspoon and held it next to her left leg, where she had a wound. She cut into or
squeezed this wound
until it opened,
and allowed a few drops of blood
onto the teaspoon.
She stirred this into the cup she handed to Jodorowsky.
He drank it down.
I want to ask you who you’d wish to be, Carrington or Jodorowsky? I try to place you between two different camps – the seeker and the sought – but this is impossible to fathom. And I suppose, anyway, you would refuse the categorisation.
I eat another plum.
Perhaps this is what achievement should feel like,
ending up where you want to be,
through only making small decisions,
such as getting on a boat
such as eating or not eating a piece of fruit.
With two stones in my hand.
I look at how
Actions have consequences,
I don’t know
who first said it in my ear,
or why it feels so naughty
or why the consequences
feel as if they are only mine.
Something has to belong to everyone.
I lay the remaining plums out in a line.
Like the first time we properly met,
I believe we’d been sending some messages back and forth about books we wanted to read. It was a simple beginning. I hope you remember too,
how it was on a bench outside a pub
and you were delayed coming off a bus after Christmas shopping somewhere central
and hadn’t brushed your teeth after a party,
and I don’t remember where I was coming from
what I’d been doing,
but I know we both sat facing one another,
straddling the bench in the dark cold December outside the Stag’s Head in Clapton drinking wine with our knees almost touching and talking about awkward interactions and our shared love of writing. The last photograph you sent me a few weeks ago was of the dog that you bought for your father. It is jumping out of a lake in the autumn, with such boundless energy and joy.
I send you a text
so that we can remember this meeting together
across our different cities.
You reply straightaway
and add details –
in a panic you had just purchased a thirty pound scented candle,
I read out something from an old educational book I had found
in a charity shop
about young adults and sex.
There was a chicken cooking in the oven.
There was laughter.
The plums are so deep and sensual
in colour, catching the light
in this confused way, as if they
haven’t quite decided whether
they are shiny
or matted on the surface.
I start to rearrange the line
sitting on the wooden floor
of the apartment
rolling them slowly round.
I used not to be able to
the idea of ripping through the skin
with my teeth
was too difficult.
how the two textures collided.
how the surfaces rushed up to
meet my tongue.
Fifteen is the Magician card in tarot.
This feels a more auspicious start.
Tall and graceful
A few weeks ago
we crossed the river in a small ferry
and drank far too much
in the small tasca with the
football playing in a corner,
and we were talking
and surreptitiously watching it
even though we had no interest in anything
except for the wine.
On the way back over the river
we stopped for a final whisky and we were
leaning against a car
and there was a moment
I reached for your hand and you didn’t notice,
or maybe you did notice but still pulled away.
There was a moment you reached for my hand
and I started to panic and
later I cried.
I walked home
and didn’t understand.
It all felt too stupid, too rushed.
But I know somehow
that through contact comes time
I am no expert in this.
It is not a new scenario.
The Portuguese word for seagulls
is gaivotas. I like to
hear them every day,
and whisper to myself:
The word meets
each sandy tread.
I wander down to the river to
hoping it will somehow filter via osmosis
that I might learn to heckle
be more audacious;
Once I threw some chips into the air on the beach at Brighton
and imagine how the swarming gulls circled,
and how I never felt so silenced, so alive.
In the mornings when I get up and look at the window,
I think about a kind of lucid pond,
whose sides are so intricate and muddy,
dragonflies swarming round
mating, dipping towards the water
and I think about how you disappeared
in the middle of my performance
and how it feels a kind of opening >
I’m back at the river
in the late afternoon
Sending small messages
without any kind of rhythm or expectation for a reply,
a way of allowing things to find their own way, to shape themselves.
to be alone
We cross between languages as if at some point these separate bodies
I bend to the water as if to my own demise –
each drop is its own sweet symphony –
It feels as though
Everyone around is sighing,
as if reaching for their
Tracing them along the cliff edge,
The coastline seems scented,
three seagulls hovering, some sinking ships, too many tides to count.
And is this how it ends? Or just begins.
I throw two plum stones into the river,
one after the other
and watch the ripples
Isobel Atacus is a visual artist who works across text, sculpture and installation. Writing and poetry have appeared: Inland Magazine, The Poetry Society, Notice Bored for Muddy Yard, Vol.1 Brooklyn, MadSwirl, Revista Decadente, The Big Other, Water-Sound-City. Atacus is a contributor to Wrong Wrong magazine, and runs the icing room press. (www.isobelatacus.com)
Image: Andrea Davis/Unsplash