(for Lidia Yuknavitch)
What I miss tonight, Sukey Tawdry, are your games.
Scatter your thighs and lips on the bottomless lake?
Let them sink or float like in that story you read me at your kiln, your watery-blue tiles firing two dozen at a time?
Yes, that story, the one about the eight whistling valleys of the woman’s yoni and how, on the first day, she unrolls the map and bids her lover reach them all.
Lute String 2cm.
Water-Chestnut Teeth 5cm.
Little Stream 8cm.
How he descends valley by valley, slippery fold to sticky crease, as she reads the map aloud.
Black Pearl 10cm.
Valley Proper 12cm.
Deep Chamber 15cm.
How he turns at Inner Door 18cm to hear her promise safe return from fecundity beyond his understanding, North Pole 20cm.
Oh that story, I hear you say all the way up the Mississippi.
How on the second day the man lies back on his bed of stone and when the woman’s water hits his loins there grows a thick vine she climbs knot by knot until she disappears through the clouds into heaven.
And how on the third and final day the woman and the man stand naked at the edge of that salty, bottomless lake and make their vows of perfect harmony and devotion.
Holding identical knives, they wade in knee deep and begin the lovers’ work of releasing each other piece by piece, scattering themselves on the waters, eternal reunion the reward.
A very old story, you say.
The penis tiles were flying tonight, Sukey Tawdry, like Dada skeet over Albers Lake as I ran by, those tiles that are still all the talk.
I say Dada because I can’t really make sense of the point your ski-masked art-thug friends are making, firing those tiles as they do here and there to make what point exactly?
Best art’s guerrilla art?
Art ought to unsettle us, make our present position, our easy chair, untenable?
Here’s what I’ve heard the police know.
That seconds after the winners of the spring art show were announced, the trouble started.
That TRA pelted the building with paint balloons and frozen hot dogs and declared war.
That a local farmer’s cows were painted with one letter each and depending on how the cows turned, they formed poems.
That your penis tiles, which won nothing, were, and still are, being launched like clay pigeons all over town.
So far no one’s been seriously hurt and none of your thugs have been caught.
The police suspect you, but, surprise, you’re nowhere to be found.
Some think the tiles aren’t yours, that they’re copies, knock-offs that couldn’t (they gasp!) possibly capture the raw energy of your disembodied penises.
Art collectors, they whisper, are making inquiries.
You’ll be their darling.
I say the tiles are yours, all of them, that after slinging beers down there at your Skin Bar, you go to your studio and you make your tiles and have them mailed up here to someone in St. Louis who drives them across the river and distributes them to the TRA guerrillas.
And would that someone tell me if you’re still in New Orleans, still getting my notes?
Ah, but I can’t think about that and that’s not what I meant to write you about anyway.
What I meant to ask was how do I remove your thighs and lips so they remain thighs and lips?
How do I hack and slice them free without changing what they are before I toss them on the bottomless lake?
Yes, that story, the story of wishes and questions pricking our skin, and why not, you say from behind the bar or where you are, why not prick the very skin that makes a map of watery us?
Why not prick the soul’s the better question.
Soul the claim that maps everything, the essence that defines, sets limits, that keeps us from spreading, scattering our pieces on the water, our parts, our selves, subject positions, voices, masks where and how we will.
Essence the myth that holds us together.
Why not shed the soul or the idea of it?
Why not make the here and now of our skin the final liberty?
The open text or text opened to multiple interpretations, the text inviting those competing versions, moving them front and center or, better, all around, tucking them in every crevice, corner, piss pot, and whatnot?
Truth is, Sukey Tawdry, it never occurred to me, this thing about casting your parts on the water, on the bottomless lake, but now that you’ve brought it up, tell me the rest.
What do I do about that sweet, dark place you refuse to name, though, as you say, all roads lead there?
What do I do with the crude map you slipped into my back pocket, that brief line I found in the crease of your delicate paper, the closest you came to naming it?
And what do you do if on your walk home from the Skin Bar, if on that winter’s night I’m the traveler and the line isn’t enough, if I’m there tired and hungry at your back door, talking tight circle and the nothing beyond, which entails a something before, a something I see now, taste now in bed, the line and then the circle?
The pictures I wish I had of you walking, jumping, bending, lying, contorting, swimming, diving, I’d keep them in a box by my bed.
Now that I’ve taken your lead, dismembered and distributed you, returned you to your watery beginnings, how will you get me letters if and when you decide to write again?
Should I keep your strong, sure hands in the box instead?
Toss in a typewriter?
And what about your morning voice, husky with cigarettes and gin and sleep?
I could never box it.
I’d wrap it around my cock and thread it through my inner ear.
I’d dial it up every morning at nine sharp to listen to it.
If Mondo Dismemberment’s the game, Sukey Tawdry, I do my best.
I break you.
I take you apart.
You can put yourself back together again.
I‘m back from the ceramics building, Sukey Tawdry, and I’m burning again.
Your six-candle poet sending these notes, mad with talk of retrieval, return, making it work, dark with talk of sex and the violence we do because we do it to each other.
I’m back from the building where we measured the distance from the Skutt kiln to the kick wheel in your piss.
Portrait of the artist making water, I said.
Art, you said.
I’m back at my table, between the liquor and the television.
What I’m telling myself you read me for now, these many months later, if you read me at all, is what you needed me for in the beginning: the blood in my words, the knife you wanted pressed to your cheek.
I know you’re not coming back.
Still I sit and write at my table, not three feet from my bed, that drunken boat, not ten miles from the Mississippi, where I toss on familiar waves, call on the old myths, Rampel, Rampel, angel of the deep, dominion over deep waters and deep mountain ranges, and begin another note, song or psalm, the something you say you need to hear before we begin again.
The lata asana, or creeping vine, we made here not six feet from the railroad tracks, your body twisting around mine that August night, stretching to twenty feet, a hundred feet or more, until dripping with dog-day sweat, slick as dolphins, we slipped into chakra asana, that looping of our bodies, and fucked like a single sea beast with a dozen backs, our hips saucers and pistons, pistons and saucers, until the train made us miss a beat.
Stuff shaking, rattling on shelves, the train’s light filling the window facing the tracks until the tracks turn and go around and the long horn and the light gone and then only the rumbling of boxcar boxcar box.
We knew the tracks carried things, and we knew they’d carry you south and scatter us, and I can’t keep it whole on my tongue forever.
Only a woman like you, Sukey Tawdry, kisses, swims, smells, dives, tastes, climbs, fucks, floats, thinks, moves like only you, only she, only that woman, can give me what the river or rivers of piss can’t, her back flat against the Skin Bar wall or mine on the ceramics building floor, until I feel those bricks, the wet concrete in my liquor dreams of you.
That it were that easy even in dreams.
That it would ever be that easy again.
This fucking that becomes dismemberment, this scattering on the water that becomes all I remember, all that I have to rub into my palms, the memory of your tongue like words in my mouth, your words moving in circles around the point.
What happens, you said, when we talk is a whirlwind of chicken wire.
Add now a storm shoving a twister of questions down my spinal cord and out across the fields between us and what I see is my body disappearing piece by piece beneath the surface and your body nowhere to be found, least of all in New Orleans.
You’ll leave no forwarding address.
You’ll become the lost something, the one who never returns.
These penis tiles speak of what in your absence?
You told me once you wanted to be swallowed, overcome, submerged, drowned, obliterated, erased, and then you told me you had a dream in which you engulfed the bars that were holding you, of fucking one after another, ten in all, until they lay limp, disassembled, undone.
All this talk, all these words, these bricks twisting to Earth, so romantic, so self-indulgent like the obliterating, sacramental wine I’m spilling, splashing in waves across the space between you and me.
Nearly four in the morning, I’m falling, rolling over and into bed, where I’ll sleep the sleep of the dead at the bottom of the lake, one of my hands at the back of your neck, your fingers pulling at my belt, my fist in your hair, and there in the dark we’ll fuck or make love or whatever we call it in my dreams tonight, my cock hard and in your hand and in your mouth and my hand soft and an ear for your whistle and a mouth to swallow your songs, your saltiest of sea songs.
This time, Sukey Tawdry, you do the severing.
Prove I’m more than the sum of my parts.
Run your straight razor over my lips, under my tongue, down the side of my face, temple to jaw to chin.
Imagine a serrated line from my neck to groin.
You have to start someplace.
Know that my whimpers are sighs and your lack of mercy is the mercy I seek, your willingness to separate me from something as temporal as flesh the proof I need that anything is possible, anything but mutilation, which is slaughter for slaughter’s sake, the blood sport of children, which has nothing to do with what we’re about.
The giving of ourselves in ritual sacrifice can begin with something as small as a cigarette burn or a tattoo or an ear sliced off like an artichoke leaf to put on your plate, like a Van Gogh love note I might deliver dripping to your penis-tiled door and stitch to one of your breasts.
From there, anything is possible.
A pinkie finger like a bone through your nose or my left testicle pinned to the lapel of your thriftshop smoking jacket so everyone at Cappuccino Scag or wherever you’re working now will know at a glance what we’re about, redemption not through mortification or erasure, but the fact of scattering that precedes the myth of reunion.
I read somewhere, Sukey Tawdry, that flesh is the watery prison house of the soul, but I don’t believe it, do you?
If anything, now that you’re gone, I believe the opposite, that the soul is a set of bars cutting us off from ourselves, from the triggers and blades cocked in the flesh, a device, a frame we use to keep ourselves at a distance, our best performance a hand drawing itself.
Only when we crack the casing that is our souls can we realize the possibilities of dismemberment, which comprise, I think, a set of interlocking claims: that no division need exist between us and art, that flesh is the ultimate canvas because mutable, that the carving away of flesh is the price we pay for living, scarification the lovers’ tax levied by the angels of art, who have neither flesh nor souls, love nor pity, who teach us the hard lesson of the bottomless lake, that if we can make each other do this, we can do anything.
The original draft of “Four Dismembered Love Notes” was a sliver of this final iteration. The initial draft, probably titled “Dismembered Love,” was accepted for publication late in the last century by Lidia Yuknavitch and her co-editor at two girls review for the proposed Body Issue, which did not materialize when the magazine went into hiatus. Two more daughters were born by the time this version was published by Spork 3.1 (2004).