On my last day in Mozart's city a woman told me a story about mirrors. In earlier times, during the winter, the alps surrounding the city cast long shadows on the streets, so that the city appeared to be in perpetual darkness. The persistent darkness made the city's inhabitants depressed and eventually many began to take their own lives. They would climb to the top of the city's tall, beautiful buildings or mountains and jump down. Someone suggested to the city government what was an unlikely solution: large, circular mirrors installed on the streets. The government agreed to try it out. The mirrors were installed to reflect the sunlight, and to let the people see their own reflection. This, the woman said, was what saved the city.
It is true, darling—a mirror can determine the course of a life. Don't you know? When I think of you, what I hope for is to become the image I see in this mirror your love holds up to me.
Sartre divided his memoir into two parts: Reading and Writing, as if only these two are definitive of a man's life.
The words a man read and the words he wrote.
This distinction, although affirmative, precludes a lot. Words are slippery, vagrants—to define a life merely by them is foolhardy. Yet, something of this thinking holds true: I suppose that whatever is not written down might one day cease to exist. Writing therefore is another route to immortality.
But I lay no claim to the grandness of what writing makes possible. In fact it suffices for me—if the world disappeared and all else became dust—to be remembered simply as the man that wrote letters to you, my lover.
No letter to a lover can ever make sense. These letters subsist wholly in the realm of what is felt but ungraspable. Some try by leaving lipstick marks on the page; others dip the paper in their perfume hoping that their lover, when he opens the envelope, is in turn enveloped by their scent. All of these attempts to collapse distance, to elucidate emotion. Yet, the true weight of every lover letter is elusive. This doesn't mean that Love is not matter—Love has weight and occupies space. Love is in fact a vector quantity, its direction is never deniable. What I am getting at, darling, is that when words fail and I am lost, your love is for me, the only compass that remains.
"What is your idea of home?" you asked me once. It was a cold New York night, rain pouring on West 23rd street, both of us standing there without umbrellas. I remember thinking, how, for the first time in my life I wasn't running away.
When an existential question is asked in the cold, the solution, usually, is to quote Sartre. But I looked in your eyes and I knew that wasn't what you wanted to hear...
I am returning with you to Orpheus and Eurydice. They are, of course, the greatest possible lovers ever. Yet, their story, like those of others, ends in a tragedy: both of them hand in hand, floating in the underworld, crashing back into the arms of Hades.
Perhaps we prefer tragedies because there is a kind of healing only sadness can provide. The sad story, then, as a balm. But you and I are not a sad story—we're simply lovers holding hands, walking into this advancing light.
She said, "when you come, I must show you the island. There are no people, only birds, palm trees and dunes."
When. The inevitability of it. The firm belief that one day time's cyclical dance will bring us back together. The faith that didn't move mountains but was itself a mountain...
You know it's true, the things I grapple with: the intense fear of writing a sentence that will not live forever, that my books may not contain the world, enlarge the world. That all the cities of the world are not enough: Malaga, Halifax, Lagos, Vienna, New York, Milan. That one day you, my greatest psalm, will slip through my arms, away from my embrace. Yet will I remain...
Darling, I come bearing gifts, across all the waters of the world—my love is a trans-oceanic chant.
It is raining and I long for you—all is fair in love and warmth.
The English word “Lover” is ultimately useless. It is too vague, inaffective, carries no weight, a sore wound on the tongue. In choosing such a word, the Yorùbás—understanding that it was a matter of life and death—approached the topic with more trepidity. They understood that there was no Love without contest. That there would be wars—against yourself, against other people, against the one you claimed to love. That you would have to defeat distance, time, age, restlessness. That there was no love without light and darkness, hope and despair, faith and fear, chains and freedom. That only an image emerging peerless after these fires deserved such an appellation.
And what word would do such an image justice? Certainly, nothing as useless as "Lover."
Consider instead the Yorùbá word for "Lover"—Olólùfẹ́: "the possessor of one’s supreme love". I want you to know that you are, after my battle is done, the only flame that endures.
I carried all my books with me. First went in Okigbo’s Labyrinths, because he was the genesis. Next, beside it, I placed, with all the care in the world, Owuor’s Dust—the woman wrote a timeless Kenya, empathy oozing from every word. And of course, Berger’sHere is Where We Meet—that torchbearer of a man without whom there is no light.
Book after book.
Adichie’s Half of A Yellow Sun. I searched in vain for all my Lispector books and found just two. Then, Taban Lo Liyong. Arthur Nortje. T’chicaya U Tamsi. Poems of Black Africa. Where did I leave Tade’s The Sahara Testament?
Book after book.
Kei Miller’s The Cartographer Tries to Map A Way to Zion. Nazim Hikmet. Soyinka’s Idanre and Other Poems. Soyinka’s Samarkand and Other Markets I have Known. Mia Couto and Kafka. Love in the Time of Cholera. Cole, Gide, Mabanckou. Addresses in a Highland Chapel. Roy, Ekwensi, Bessie Head. Salter. Salter again. Ondatjee, Emecheta. Aribisala and Thoreau. Glissant whose boat was open.
Book after book.
I arrived at the airport holding Muller’s The Passport. The flight attendant, after she had eyed my bag, said that it weighed more than I’d paid for. But all I could think about was you at the other end of the ocean, weighing more than I deserve.
A small day on the Spanish countryside, a bus ride at the edge of the cliffs. You hated the turns, the towns—Coín, Ojén, Monda—cheap and littered with dog shit, sunlight filtering behind the mountains. The mornings were hot, the days gliding always ahead of us.
Surely I remember—
The hurrying radio and its flamenco, the walk between the broken houses before the townsquare, the locked gate of the perverse old man before the hills, the fights, the dance we never had, the fans twirling through the night, the lovebites, the cats atop the closed bar, the shape of your lips when you say El Gato Negro: love is when you call me a name that only you know.
Dennis Brutus had a lamp of love. One night he came to a crossroad. Confused, he lifted his lamp and saw, on his lover’s face, the path that he should take. Come with me darling, lovemaking is mapmaking.
I can recount devotion from the footsteps of dancers.
Arápáregángan. Arẹ́sẹ̀jábàtà. Adáraníjó.
Look how many words it takes to translate their inimitable steps—these worthy dancers. However, what does not need translation is what it means when, suddenly, in the middle of the night, you awake with fingers groping to check if I am still beside you.