Conjunctions:69 Being Bodies

I’m in my green velvet dress again with the streamers at the shoulders in the ballroom turned crimson at the Machado House where we have come to honor the great writer and statesman M. Dignitaries have gathered—among them the Countess Cristina Leonor and her teenage son …

     There is a profundity to the body, and a madness.

     Oh, someone sighs, there’s Carlos, making his usual entrance.

     Who is that wild child?

     Oh no one important Ava Klein.

     And half your age by the way …

     He appears to be bleeding—having somehow cut his hand on the punch bowl, rather dramatic don’t you think?

     And now coming this way.

     Green how much I want you green, he says. He turns to me and my dress with streamers. A wind moves through my body as if through olive trees.

     He limps to the periphery, God knows why he’s limping, holding his bloody paw and I follow, drawn irresistibly to this bleeding Spanish saint reciting Lorca.

     I secure a linen napkin as a bandage. There is a profundity to the body. And a madness. It harbors darkness, sadness, bells, a strange joy, deep song. The punch bowl shatters, something is lit on fire, the distinguished writer speaks, confetti and birds fall, champagne floats by in flutes. I’m alive for a nanosecond on this beautiful, burning earth.

     in the Cloud Forest

     the Abyss of Tears

     the Gardens of Lamentations and Ecstasy.

     His blood blooming through the linen and ice (scooped from the silver bucket). And already I am burning under his bleeding hand on this spinning earth. His body makes the room, drenched in red, spin.

     From the body emerge: larks, nightingales. From the body: longing, deep song. Emanating from the body, the scent of jasmine and wolves.

     Green how much I want you …

     The body grows wings, sings in new languages, creates philosophies. The body retains what the mind lets go. As one wakes heavy, leaden, having forgotten the tragic news in the night. The body recalls, harbors ruins, sorrow, keeps what the mind cannot.

     I’m alive for a nanosecond. I am alive and burning under his bleeding hand.

     But he’s barely half your age

     Obviously a teenager Ava Klein.

     Is that what he is?

     For I have not dared look at him. The hairs on my arm stand on end. And there is a low call from the small of my back. And already I feel him brushing up against me—but so gently as to be imperceptible, as if a kind of torture.

     Look, it’s the countess now coming in for the kill …

     Not even you Ava …

     Whispers in the room, and a scarlet scrim descending.

     The countess comments on my gray-green dress—that particular shade, quite interesting. Pulling her son away.

     His turns to me, his blood gaze blazing, and wordlessly we leave the room. Knowing things as only the body can know them.

     I dreamt we were alive. How many times after would our blood bloom as on that first night? I dreamt of the passage of the moon. I dreamt of the passage of the moon across the sun. The violet shadows. And the birds quiet and the darkness. And the weeping body and the body that each night voyages beyond the boundaries of the body. It is not infinity but it is something like it—that expansiveness, that awe, impossible to fathom. The words blur, and the feelings grow more and more imprecise. Yet more intensely felt. Those fugitive nights. All the molecules of the body opening onto wonder.

     Viewed now as if from the afar:

     The mortal blood rising in a red mist, ascending like the ruby-hearted Christ on the third day. And now staining the wild green where they find themselves.

     As he fastens her to a tree. Her body, birds.

     He tells her of the seven-hearted boy, the seven petals, the insomnia of the horse, the prayers in unison, the mute one, the body with wings, the transfigured night, the asphyxiation—that sublime descent. All is measure and recklessness. And her safe word, choose a safe word, her safe word is green. When the objective all along was that he take her to the speechless place, the mute island where no word, safe or otherwise, could be uttered.

     Carlos adjusts the ropes

     the gag

     the garrote

     the stirrups

     the blindfold

     the leash

     the mask

     the pale blue scarf

     the tether

     Leaving no room for doubt, or margin for error—

     My safe word was green. A word to be uttered to indicate too much or too far, a word for stop, before wordlessness.

     Just a little bit more burn now—at the place the body ignites. Floating lanterns illumine the night. And her body at last sails into the darkness and the stillness … How to describe the feeling?

     Have no fear

     I’ll be going far off

     like an echo

     I’ll be going far off

     In a boat

     With no sails

     & no oars.

     And what is this taste for oblivion? For nothing more and always with him? Carlos singing at the place of horses and skulls, takes the scissors. This theater of the utterly absurd we were all too happy to perform. The body in plaster of paris drying. A kind of cast. Few points of entry. It’s like a comedy sometimes is it not?

     And what is the thing, unknown, indecipherable in her, that he brings up so urgently, this longing for both being, for living, and for nothingness, for erasure, for oblivion? She thought of what one body might do to another, instill in another—a taste develops, a predilection, and they marvel at the body’s intelligence, the body’s instincts for both survival and annihilation, and how he opened whole worlds, this most unlikely boy, and more than anything I wanted to be opened. The jet of blood, the mysteries of pulse, vertigo, the dark philologies of the body as Dalí has said, the central fire, the funnels of night.

     The body when pressed, when pushed, when adored, when deprived, floods with beauty, nostalgia—memories, and the small child she was, her fingers on the piano keys. A whole octave. In green light. The tree leaves pressed up against the music-room window.

     Blindfolded she ponders the gift of sight. The voracious, insatiable eye. In the soundproof room, she hears things—the goddess Melancholy is black. Her light is all inside. The body wails and keens. Green how much I want you green. The body dwells in darkness, profundity. Deep shadows, an eerie silence, the wind all of a sudden come up—all this, long after it passes, the body shall retain. Not an animal moved, and the birds went quiet.

     A solar eclipse—during which the Countess Cristina Leonor assuming herself exempt, looked directly into the black sun, and soon went blind, her retinas singed. And though she could no longer see, it was revealed shortly thereafter that she had in the process somehow acquired the gift of second sight.

     To announce this to the world she held a formal dinner at the Rochambeau House: I can see the future. She declared. And the first thing I have seen is this: that woman is soon to die. It is evident in her face. This uttered about Ava Klein, not yet thirty, and in the peak of vibrancy and health. Look! she declares as if it were proof: The black dog that never leaves her side, and the stillborn child. Slit your throat now Juan Carlos, the countess instructs, because your bride is doomed and she will cause you only heartache I see it clearly now as if it has already transpired. You are following the bier. In your blacks. So dapper my son.

     Bereft, wrestling with ghosts, he weeps. Against the door now he’s placed an alarm clock, a grandfather clock with a crown that chimes, an egg timer, a pocket watch. When the hour strikes he begins his rituals to the chiming of blood and bells. The tolling of bells and the blood toll. The body’s desire to transcend its verdicts, its dark archive. Alive. The fury and rapture that lift us up into the air—the seething creature we make. The clocks unwind. Suture me back together now. Resurrect me. Retrieve me from the dead.

     Black iris, black hollyhock, black horses. A procession. Birds fall now and hail, the real and the unreal mingle in a shatter of falling stars. The body is placed in a wooden box. The bones go to earth. The body, underground under the impossibly garish weight of the gladiolas, sighs. There’s a skull, an apple, a horse. A still life. And a clock. The darkened drapery. The mossy wings. The cat is blue and trussed. She’s seeing things.

     For the body as much as you try to negate it returns. The body—and how it resisted their foolish games. The death charade they were lucky enough to stage for a time. And yet … Was it not a rehearsal in some way? The body is a boat, a dirt road, a begging bowl. The body houses the bells, and the death knell.

     We stand before the Black Paintings. Do you know what Miró said on his deathbed? He said I want to see The Dog of Goya.

     We stand before the Dog. There is not a single Spaniard who does not pray before it. Who does not lie prostrate.

     His wounded hand. Poor paw she had said to the creature. There is something monstrous about him don’t you think? In the way children can be.

     That beautiful bleeding boy.

     We’ll make the light shine through.

     With brilliant and sudden splendor now he has returned. From out of the obscurity and the distance and the years, he lifts us into the air, levitates us into the air once more. The body’s late hallucinations. The body’s resourcefulness. The body’s profound attachment to aliveness. Carrying ruin and feeling, beauty, the blood vessels. To my hospital room. The hummingbird heart. The wing beat.

     And who now cannot think of the countess when I am diagnosed with a rare blood disease, and then some time after that, when it becomes evident that an intricate and risky procedure would be necessary.

     The nurses swoop and dive.

     This should not hurt too much.

     The vulnerable body

     The porous body

     The body of uncertainty and roses—our pure perishing.

     The disembodied, bloodied paw floating in the room.

     I’m in my velvet green dress again with the streamers at the shoulders. The dead wear mossy wings the Countess Leonor said absently that day staring at the black sun.

     Now that the body betrays, now that the body poised at the edge of the abyss or so it seems, appears to be failing—that once unflappable body, the one thing that could always be relied on—the way it lit up in the dark, the way it went far, and then too far.

     Swoop and dive, they take the vital signs.

     And it is true. The more the body was canceled or erased, the more she wanted to live and her resolve grew despite her death foretold. She remembered it from here—a world of pure vibrancy and form. She cries out green!

     He genuflects now before her. Small deaths all around them and confetti barely perceived and the distant sound of cheers as if from a faraway bull ring. The matador so small. A small red speck. From the blur, confined, the body rises. And there is no rising like it. And there is peace a while.

     A wistful dark angel, bodiless, now presides. But it is not your time Ava Klein.

     There’s no hurry.

     It’s all right.

     The angel

     will wait

     as long as it takes to escort you


     to vapor.

     The longing of the angel around the bed. The desire to have a body. It would do anything for one. For it would be a privilege simply to feel—the way the flesh presses against earth, the way the blood from a gash flows warm and red, the way breath like wind inhabits the chest—for our instants on earth.

     Your safe word is (inaudible) I can’t hear you anymore.

     Inside the body birds fall now, a black dog, a stillborn, perfectly formed, and hail, a girl playing a piano at her first recital, a big bow in her hair. The white ox passes through and the moon. And the dead wear mossy wings. The cat is blue and trussed. She’s seeing things.

     There is a profundity to the body. And a madness. It holds, it harbors darkness, sorrow, beauty, joy, melancholy, wonder.

     He’s back. His red gaze blazing. I am alive for a nanosecond. And without a word exchanged we leave this stark, white room together. Knowing things as only the body can know them. Imagining the wings I will soon leave on the sheet …

Carole Maso is the author of ten books, including novels, poems in prose, essays, and a memoir. She is Professor of Literary Arts at Brown University and recipient of the 2018 Berlin Prize.