Motifs & meaning & malaise & misunderstandings.
There are literature professors who will tell you that within every literary work, there lies a fountain of motifs. Everything symbolises and comes to mean something else. In The Unbearable Lightness of Being, photographs, spas and alcohol tumble through the texts and find their meanings in the origin of something else. In A Room of One’s Own, oil, light and libraries all illuminate the truth: which is that they are not themselves but rather the other. The careless brushing of fingertips between the hero and the heroine in any one novel can come to mean anything the author should wish: consciously or subconsciously.
But if we come to look at novels as the motif for existence within the reader’s every day life, then we may look for motifs of meaning within a mundane existence that we all partake in. The front door comes to symbolise beginnings, endings, adventure. Rumpled bedsheets, intimacy, ecstasy, passion. Bitten fingernails become anxiety personified. In everything that we see, touch, taste, feel, there is another meaning.
But if everything has the potential to become a motif, can we then trust the stability and the truth of anything at all? To be in love would not, then, be a cornerstone of our lives: rather, making love to someone and being bound to them in mind and soul would simply come to represent a concept, an idea—perhaps that of absolute trust, or rather, being imprisoned in flesh. The romances and intimacies of our lives would eventually become nothing more than symbolism of universal truths to our descendants.
And if everything is a motif, a symbol that shudders endlessly through our time here on this world, then perhaps we cannot truly believe in anything. Everything tactile come become something strange. And if everything is something strange, than those somethings can come to mean another. Our day-to-day existence becomes a complicated tango of meanings and understanding, and just when we have grasped the message behind the bouquet of flowers, or the clock ticking on the bedside table, then the world shifts and morphs and everything is unknown once again.
Everything is a motif, as the literature professors would have us believe. But if everything is a motif, then nothing can be trusted, nothing can be known, and everything will come to mean nothing.
“I have never understood why we must always make love in the moonlight.”
“It’s because your collarbones catch the light, pooling like raindrops. It’s because you look like cream spilt by a kitten. It’s because you feel like dreams and silk. It’s because in the dark you shine brighter than ever. It’s because I can taste the stardust in your wrists.”
“And in the sun? What then? What am I to you when I am scorched and burnt by the daytime?”
“It’s then that you feel like fire, that passion rises in you like a tsunami, and I am drowned by pheromones It’s in the warmth of the afternoon that you laze, languorous and heated, seductive in your knowledge of caramel skin and tanned shoulders. It’s in the sunlight that my finger burn every time I touch your ribs, and I can hardly stand the fire running through my veins.”
“You only love me when I am demure, curves and milk and feminine. Is that so?”
“Yes. Or perhaps it’s that I love the sun too much, but I’ll burst into ashes if I get too close.”
“I don’t understand.”
“I’m just afraid that loving you will tear me apart.”
“It will. Even beneath the moonlight.”
waiting for rosehip
I am waiting for your kisses to fall on my collarbone.
I can feel my skin slide from my skeleton, slipping
into the earth, dripping into the dust, and my lungs
wither & wilt, because the light from your eyes
is taking forever to photosynthesise with mine— -
and I am so very exhausted, my love, that my heart
flutters and flings itself across the room in a masochistic
declaration of adoration and complications. This is all because
your kisses are ancient by the time they meet my bones.
The winter sleeps inside me when the world chases it away,
and the girls in knee-high socks demand
for the rhetoric and politics of summer,
when the sun debates the moon in circles,
and everything smells in Sydney like lemon myrtle.
Still, in spring, I am waiting for your chapped lips
to remind me what it feels like to be young, alive
and smelling just like rosehip.
If you are quiet, you can see photographs fading in the afternoon sunlight.
(What I mean is: you can see history become insignificant in the light.)
I find it so strange that you’ve slipped beneath my skin and you’re just breathing quietly inside my bones, and I have no desire to have you removed. Doctors tell you to remove that which should not be there, the alien, the unknown. They’ll medicate you with antibiotics and douse you with creams that smell of waiting rooms and despair, and they’ll write notes in messy shorthand that looks like my hair when I wake up from a night of lovemaking. I can feel you there, all the time, sipping at my marrow, playing tic tac toe in my ribcage, and it’s uncomfortable. I can feel you squirming inside my chest when you’re trying to fall asleep with my back pressed against your chest. I can feel you thrumming away, singing Cole Porter and Louis Armstrong when I have a headache and just want to fade away. But still I let you sleep, still I let you stay. I let you find rest within my bones, and although I’ve had to rearrange my skeleton just for you, although I’ve had to get used to new ways of joint-clicking and piano playing, that’s okay. Because you’re you and I’ll take apart the entire puzzle if it means that your pieces will fit with mine.
Wish you were here, xox
And if like condensation on a mirror
you should stumble over my name in casual conversation,
stutter your way through writhing syllables,
trip over the sun-warmed letters
that remind you of
the promises of Rio:
you may wake up one morning to find
a postcard on the pillow,
with borrowed lipstick for a kiss
pressed to paper instead of skin.
These are the reminiscences of cloth.
You wear an old tweed coat.
It smells of mothballs and cigarettes,
with patches at the sleeves
& a faded name (Archie, Allan, Alex…)
on the label scratching against your neck.
You bought it for two dollars twenty,
from a little old lady who carried
singed relics from houses turned to ash
in the pockets inside her dress.
You roll the sleeves to the elbow;
and still, they keep falling,
dangling, giving you longer arms
that cannot grasp at coffee cups and hips.
You are a mismatched body:
as if your limbs had been quilted on
by a blind, daft seamstress.
You carry a notebook when you wear
that old tweed coat (it reeks of absinthe
and memories). With your paper-crinkled fingers,
you tally the glances alive with a question,
eyes that shimmer with signs that read:
“I had an old coat once.
It was linen, not tweed,
and smelled of roses and coffee,
and it killed my mother with sickly-sweet
You stumble in that old tweed coat
through the gentle rain. You wash away
clinging house fires, and ask for strangers in their
silk skirts and velvet brassiere to burn your
polaroid image into their thoughts.
You scrounge for sympathy,
like a beggar on the Spanish Steps.
On stars and wrists and all things poetic.
Everyone knows that we are all made of stardust,
that my fingers were crafted by the whisperings of light,
that my lungs were created by the remembrance of energy.
Inside my bones are the stories of eternity, of the night, of the morning,
of the void.
I am made of celestial queens, who ruled over
planets and moons, who governed the men who tripped
over atmospheres and gravity in their haste to touch the heavens.
The star in my wrist was in love with another,
one far greater, far brighter, who danced more brilliantly,
who illuminated the way for sherpas and midnight teenagers.
(The star that my wrist loves lies in other lands,
in other worlds where they speak in grunts and groans,
in touches and in making love, but we’re all just the
quintessence of dust.) And though I am the composite of space
and the reminiscences of night, and in the whole I am bound to flesh
there is still the star in my wrist
who twinkles quietly and longs to be
with the nebula in his left ankle.
I think about our first kiss almost constantly; that shiver of electricity running along my skin, searching out the rhythms of my pulse, melting into my blood with the very essence of you.
He drinks coffee like he’s drowning in the night, the warmth spreading through his lungs like sunlight seeking flowers. He clings tightly to that heat within him as he writes. Inside his palms lie secrets, hiding quietly beneath the wrinkles and the scars, too old at twenty nine to have seen the death of foetuses and the drawn out life of ancients. He spends his days with milligrams and needles, exploring veins and looking for tumors; he spends his mornings on cot beds in sweat-smelling nooks, and he dreams of home. At home, at home, there are mismatched plates and chipped tea cups, and a wife who cooks lasagna with an absent-minded grace. When he’s at home, he rests his head on his folded arms, and watches her sashay around the kitchen, watches her cook up stories of old Italia and bygone China, and he thinks, this is her operating room. And then he writes out the deaths he’s seen and the birth’s he has brought about. He spins poetry of how each birth was damning and death was freeing, and his little wife, his little waif-wife, sleeps on the couch and waits for him to cradle her to sleep like a child. Because he heals her like sutures and awakens her like adrenalin, and one morning she’ll wake up and he’ll still be sleeping next to her, and when she murmurs the time, he’ll fold her into his lungs and breathe away the next fifty years of death.