Shedding Skin: Sex, Intimacy, Writing, and Social Media

Disconnecting from a lover; attempting to reconnect elsewhere

“Here I am shedding one of my life-skins…”

– Bernard, in Virginia Woolf’s The Waves

i. Consummation

October through January

Writers are always thinking about readers. As John Cheever put it: “I can’t write without a reader. It’s precisely like a kiss — you can’t do it alone.” Yet, as poet C. D. Wright reminds us: “Readers have to be sought out and won to the light of the page, poem by poem, one by one by one.” And since writers are, or should be, first and foremost, readers of the insatiable sort, ones who have located in books read from infancy onward a kind of gap or channel missing — a space into which we might insert our own fresh phrases or rancid rhythms for readers to come — we are always thinking about the kiss, as Cheever articulates it: is my poem seduction enough for you? is the relationship we build together as writer and reader enough to uphold the poem, to make it resound, reflect? is social media the only way to seek out readers, to follow Wright’s remark, teasing them with tweets that read less like poems and more like marketing ploys, causing one lone tweet to receive tens-of-thousands of “impressions” on Twitter — whatever that means; however that is gauged — and making one wonder if the tweet is doing the seduction or if the poem is. Beneath which social or sexual relationship is the writing subsumed: is the reader an excavator or a lover plumbing the depths, wanting to grab the gristle before deciding to either stay the night or take the first train home?

We are always thinking about the kiss, as Cheever articulates it: is my poem seduction enough for you?

Lately, I have been thinking a lot about readers, perhaps because I miss them; perhaps because I have lost them; perhaps because I have failed even at that. For the past several years, I have been balancing writing criticism and book reviews, as well as editing them, with more creative writing; into the juggling mix was thrown yoga and meditation practice, as well as social media, from which it seems no writer today can escape. There are times when this recipe yielded fruitful bounty; there are other times when jumping ship seemed a wiser idea — and so I did. And so I do.

I had unwittingly adjusted myself to deadlines and pitches (and the pitch of his body; the sound of him breathing hoarsely beside me every night), wedded my words to publishers’ publication dates (waited for him to fall asleep to chant, to write, to breathe), and sketched out the skeletons of pieces to editors before they had fully formed in my mind, let alone on the page.

I became accustomed to writing for others, I suppose, as well as losing myself beneath my lovers’ desires, differences, schedules, skepticisms. And during a bleak time, I decided that I would abandon the company of other writers — and the readers for whom all writers thirst — and redirect my focus inward, as terrified and as anxious as that made me feel. I wrote a piece on unplugging from social media in August 2015, and in many ways — despite some flirtations, some casual encounters as if with men whose names I never recalled by the light of day — I have yet to return to it. I’ve thought about it, about social media; I’ve missed it on a few occasions, like I miss a body beside me in the morning after having acclimated to the at-first-queer chiaroscuro, his body forcing mine into shadow or relief. During a particularly dizzying breakup with A., I thought about tweeting cryptic phrases or half-born poems as I had done in the past, relaying some kernel of my story, my truth, to an audience on whom I hadn’t realized I’d grown to rely until too late — until I was no longer in front of them, doing the social media version of passing letters, holding placards, patting fellow writers’ backs.

I became accustomed to writing for others, I suppose, as well as losing myself beneath my lovers’ desires, differences, schedules, skepticisms.

This break from social media, and an attendant pause in pitching critical pieces to editors or commissioning pieces which I myself would edit, was intended to coincide with my sense of an urgent pull downward, inside, into the wreck — to use Adrienne Rich’s metaphor — which is where my daily Kundalini practice was taking me. But, since writing is an act of turning inward even more than thirty-one minutes of daily chanting can accomplish, I hoped that without expectations and deadlines and an endless cascade of timelines to which I felt I had always arrived too late that I would somehow unearth a source of sorts: the potential for the writing to dig down into shadows even I knew nothing about, bringing truths to light I might find harsh or appalling or downright violent; the potential for the writing to be wholly unfettered, tied down by nothing but the previous word and whatever logic that word mandated. It could go wherever it wanted; it could take on whatever form it saw fit as the piece developed, morphed, turning inside-out or upside-down as it pleased: no editor to machete or excise her way through the manuscripts meant, I thought, a freedom for the writing process (perhaps also from the writing process), permission to journey as far down as I was prepared to go since there would be no readers, no audience whatsoever. Or at least there would be no readers until I chose to share these hoarded pieces, these poems written in metaphoric caves (sometimes while fasting; sometimes under stark, ascetic conditions I thought matched the bony husk of some of the stanzas I encountered or else invented)… There would be no indelible footprints on the poems or on social media timelines that would somehow cage the poems in time, leaving traffic on my blog, leaving more “likes” than constructive feedback.

There would be no indelible footprints on the poems or on social media timelines that would somehow cage the poems in time, leaving traffic on my blog, leaving more “likes” than constructive feedback.

And I thought that I needed this kind of self-imposed isolation in order to write in, as Woolf phrases it in The Waves, “the dismal days of winter” that was as yet one of the most temperate winters on record — at least until I broke up with A. for the third time, and then later when he broke up with me for the first and final time. As Neville says:

You say nothing. You see nothing. Custom blinds your eyes. At that hour your relationship is mute, null, dun-coloured. Mine at that hour is warm and various. There are no repetitions for me. Each day is dangerous. Smooth on the surface, we are all bone beneath like snakes coiling. Suppose we read The Times; suppose we argue. It is an experience. Suppose it is winter. The snow falling loads down the roof and seals us together in a red cave. The pipes have burst. We stand a yellow tin bath in the middle of the room. We rush helter-skelter for basins. Look there — it has burst again over the bookcase.

From our red cave that winter, I cared about the desiccated bookcase that held my teaching copy of The Waves; from our red cave that winter, A. cared solely for the financial pages of The Times — and, as I will explain, for his skin. And yet we were cocooned together, stewing in a slowly-forming animosity. The poems might be ways out for me, but they were traps for him. I would hear him cry out as the metal snapped against his ankle out there in the snowdrifts, and instead of coming to set him free, I would imprison him in lines he was too frightened would not only outlive him, but be deciphered by someone who came long after he had perished. “This is not poetry,” I said to him, to assuage his fear, “if I do not write it.” Suffice it to say, in agreement with Neville: “Each day is dangerous.”

With A. and without the community of other writers and readers to which I had grown accustomed on social media, I began to flounder in the hermetic pieces I was writing, never knowing when they were complete, unable to gain enough distance from them. I no longer knew for certain when pieces wanted to see the light of day, to be read, to be consumed by others or else if they preferred to languish in a bedside drawer. For in asking A. to love me, to own me, to name me his, wasn’t I also asking him to read me? Wasn’t I opening myself up to him, baring all, as one would open a well-thumbed book, pointing out the underlined passages, the sections where others had tread lightly or left rape-marks (“Oh God,” he exclaimed when I told him I had been raped, “you didn’t write about that, did you?”) — those core elements of myself with which I needed him to engage, unravel, puzzle out if he were to accept me as I was, to, in effect, consume me, as Rhoda says?

There was a star riding through clouds one night, and I said to the star, “Consume me.”

As the bookcase example demonstrates, A. was not a reader; in fact, the first few poems — which were about him insofar as a poem about plums in an icebox is about plums in an icebox — he read with greened interest, as if there might be some mystery in them for him to solve. But he soon became unnerved; he admitted to feeling violated — this, my lover and reader, this transaction of the kiss — as if I had placed him within stanzas without his permission despite never once naming him apart from the ambiguous use of pronouns and the even vaguer use of the second person. He said he felt that anything he said or did would end up being written about, caged, fish-hooked, placed forever beneath glass or amber. A. was more frightened that readers of my poems would judge him than that I, the one who wrote them, was judging us, trying to figure out through words — the only way I have ever been able to suss anything out — if we were going to last the winter.

For in asking A. to love me, to own me, to name me his, wasn’t I also asking him to read me?

Which perhaps leads to a larger question: Do writers crave readers or do we merely crave attention? And do we fully understand that with attention can come judgment? Twitter is obviously populated by a great number of writers; I recall conversations about books and events and rumored translations in which I took part (and which I miss those nights A. droned on about his mother) that seemed to be conversations taking place in a community of ghosts — we were writers talking to other writers from our cubicles or home offices or local coffeeshops where, by day, we were copyeditors or professors or data-entry clerks or else in between jobs entirely. The conversation, the company, the camaraderie were ways to prove that the other half of ourselves — the writer part — still existed during the more mundane moments, that it wasn’t buried beneath our bosses’ complaints or the looming conference call or the student who plagiarized an essay straight from Harold-fucking-Bloom.

We validated each other, in a sense, perhaps more so than the publication of our pieces did; we read each other’s work, or claimed we did, but being scattered geographically made connecting with other writers on social media easy: it made us feel less isolated, not only during the necessary jobs we all loathed so much but also in our personal lives. Because A. can be anyone; indeed, he is every nonwriter lover into whose bed and into whose life a writer has tumbled. He is the one with whom we share the banal aspects of our lives: we go food shopping with him; we fuck him; we go out to dinner with him before catching a film; we meet his mother and suppress our desire to break her china; we argue until 3 a.m.; we walk lizardly hand-in-hand wherever there is green space beside a slick shock of water. But A. does not know the more metaphysical sides of our lives, or, if he knows about these dimensions, he does not attempt to comprehend them in the slightest.

Because A. can be anyone; indeed, he is every nonwriter lover into whose bed and into whose life a writer has tumbled.

Perhaps for the sake of a short argument, then, A. is not a writer, but the casualty in a relationship between me, my writing, and his body, for his body is much more what I require than his fears about my poems or his incredulity about my past. His body serves its purpose every night, as far as bodies go. Yet he thinks his work is more important because several global companies rely on the decisions he makes, whereas whether I use the word “crenelate” or “notch” — a matter which, to me, is of almost existential weight in the moment of writing — is to him trivial, inconsequential as an itch.

ii. Epidermis

February through March

As the winter wanes there is both a body and the absence of one. A.’s body becomes invisible, it is the elephant that we dare not discuss, sprouting red spots, causing him to scratch himself raw all night long, keeping me awake with his nails scraping like talons across the surface of his skin. He is the one infected first. We think of sex as an act involving genitals, lips, tongues; we take precautions with condoms and PrEP and regular STI screenings, yet we rarely think about another person’s skin — covering ours like an angel or a shroud. A. slept with his clothing on beside me, terrified he would pass whatever it was he now had on to me; similarly terrified, I tore off his shirt and pressed my body against his — “Consume me” — touching even the crevices of his armpits with my fingertips.

Soon, I, too, am covered with welts, lesions; I can’t stop scratching myself: no lotion or cream or antihistamine numbs the impulse that leaves bloodmarks on my flesh. I scratch his back and he scratches mine — well, not quite: we eventually sequester ourselves, he in one corner of the room and I in another. Now we are trying to read the other from a distance since up close we have transmitted some form of contagion; from opposite ends of the living room, we blame ourselves, or else, if it’s easier, we blame the other. Who brought this thing in on their skin? Who passed it on and from whom did it originate? Our language used to be flirtatious and bawdy, caustic and crudely sexual. A. once told me of a time he waited for a guy to cum inside his underwear so that he could then put the semen-stained briefs on his own body, to repeat the act again, like a gay sex party version of the game of telephone. Now, past deviations or even fantasies are safe even if they’re off limits as far as conversation goes: they’re irrelevant to the problem at hand; they offer no solution or diagnosis — not even the doctors can provide the latter, but we are experimented on, prescribed ointment after ointment, pill after pill, subjected to biopsy after biopsy.

Since we can no longer fuck or even touch one another for fear of recontamination, I read aloud fragments of things I’ve written since I’ve last seen him, awaiting judgment like some thief out of Camus: seeking absolution yet expecting nothing apart from a quick toss into the Seine. A.’s shelves are piled with business management texts; my copy of The Waves looks forlornly snobbish beside them. I read poems that are about A. and that are not about A., but a nonwriter dating a writer presumes that all words are real. He doesn’t realize that the poem might begin with him, but where it then ventures is beyond both him and me. “If the poems make sense only to you,” he jabs, “then why are you reading them to me?”

He doesn’t expect that the poem might begin with him, but where it then ventures is beyond both him and me.

How can I explain that I’m reading these paltry poems so that he can know me, whatever unconscious me morphs him into a mandrake in one poem or has me dancing quadrilles with him in another? That my poetry contains truths about me he will have to accept, truths that run more obscure than sex or even infection, more abstruse than our calamine-scented skin and our sad, pocked epidermises? That I am offering up my most unconscious self, the dusty and darkened pieces, for judgment, criticism, condemnation? That I am a writer even when I am not writing, something the workaholic in A. fails to understand: how can I be writing a poem while we’re hiking along the towpath? how can I be writing an essay as we’re having dinner on the pier?

(Seeing me itch one evening in class, my yoga teacher reiterates that skin is the largest organ, often illustrating on its surface what is going on inside the body. “What are you holding in your body that wants to get out?” she asks. “Poems,” I say, without even a moment’s reflection; “poems.”)

In The Waves, Neville lusts after Percival despite knowing that they are so different — not to mention that Percival is not homosexual — that nothing lasting will come of it. He confronts his own fantasy:

He will forget me. He will leave my letters lying about among guns and dogs unanswered. I shall send him poems and he will perhaps reply with a picture post card. But it is for that that I love him. I shall propose a meeting — under a clock, by some Cross; and shall wait and he will not come. It is for that that I love him.

And so it is with A. and I: the discrepancies are there, but so is the desire for connection, for fusion, for creation before the inevitable parting. “I shall send him poems and he will perhaps reply with a picture post card” … perhaps! “I shall propose a meeting… and shall wait and he will not come.” But fuck if that isn’t the exact reason why I love him, for I propose other meetings after waiting in a train station for him for five hours; I get in his car and say nothing. The next evening I read him Neville’s lament; I tell him it is he and I to the letter; he scrunches his eyebrows; he says it’s too “abstract” to understand; no one really talks that way; ad infinitum. We might as well come at one another with daggers, our skin already so bloodied no one will know the difference; there will be no one to blame because we both foolishly remained.

I don’t realize that I’m using A. as a reader because he can no longer be my lover: he sleeps on the couch; I sleep on the bed. He has made it clear that our skin can no longer touch, “not till we’re cured of this thing — whatever it is.” The poet in me paradoxically and masochistically revels in this, much as Neville himself does: the beloved is present but absent in the Barthesian sense, here but not here, attentive but languid, physically poised on the edge of the couch and yet eons, eons away so that my words or Woolf’s words or any words at all can’t be savored for their rhythms, their flavors, the timbre of the voice reading that is full of such yearning.

I don’t realize that I’m using A. as a reader because he can no longer be my lover: he sleeps on the couch; I sleep on the bed.

I send a poem to a fiction writer friend of mine; he immediately asks who my new lover is, as the words prove I am evidently besotted as well as infected. I read this same poem to A. and he clicks his tongue against the roof of his mouth like he’s chewing gum or having a seizure; he is infuriated, remarking on how violent the poem seems to him, how untrue, yelling: “How can you do this to me, how can you do this to me, how can you do this to me?”

iii. Fortunetelling

April

In the cruelest month, it dawns on me that I have indeed been using A. because I no longer have a connection to other writers. We visit a psychic whose bay window looks out over the Hudson on the wrong side of the river. Her sign announces her as “Madame X” which makes me think immediately of John Singer Sargent’s painting, so I ask: “After Sargent?” She looks at me incredulously; A. looks at me as if I’m mad, hisses into my ear: “What the fuck are you talking about?” For not only is A. not a writer, but he is a corporate drone who believes that no poem can alter a person’s life, changing it irrevocably, let alone a painting — art, at any rate, is to be shown off at the house upstate, a capital investment not to be analyzed for deeper meaning, and most certainly not to be discussed with someone who will soon be telling your fortune.

A. goes into the inner chamber first, and I’m left to look around the small waiting area at the bric-a-brac assembled on the walls, complete with sticky paper labels placed beneath each item. There is a rock purporting to have been chiseled from Stonehenge; a diamond that claims to have been dredged out from the Nile’s depths; an unlabeled crystal whose prismatic, enneagram surface shows me nine sides of my anxious face. When A. opens the door, he looks as if he has just been released from a session of extreme torture, the lines on his already haggard face chiseled a bit more deeply. I think I know who has been hammering away at Stonehenge behind the backs of the national guardsmen.

When A. opens the door, he looks as if he has just been released from a session of extreme torture, the lines on his already haggard face chiseled a bit more deeply.

And with this thought, Madame X ushers me into her sanctum, a white-speckled room whose haphazard paint job is belied all the more by the stains of smoke along one side where a conical incense burner sends out more smoke than I do on a night battling insomnia. Before I’ve even sat down, she’s shut the door behind us, caging us in the room she has made to resemble her idea of the shrine at Delphi; she snaps in my ear: “You must leave him. You must leave him.” I am so stunned that I don’t know what to reply with; I turn my palms upward against my kneecaps, wondering if she will scrutinize the lines; I look to a red-draped table to see if there are Tarot cards or a pot of tea whose leaves she will read or even an axe standing in a lone corner, should she be a soothsayer who still believes in the ancient art of haruspicy.

I look for a reason on her gold-stained lips, but she offers nothing but a sigh as she sits down and beckons me to do the same across from her. For ten minutes, there is only the swish of traffic outside on the ring road along the River; perhaps there is the sound of gulls or croaks of waves crashing on the bank’s distended side. And it is in those ten minutes that my skin begins to itch uncontrollably; I can envision A. feeling the same sensation in the waiting area, fingers gnawing at his skin like the tines of a rake. I look again for a reason on Madame X’s inscrutable face, but the reason has been inside me all along, ever since A. failed me not only as a lover, but also as a reader. This is also Susan’s failed sacrifice:

For soon in the hot midday when the bees hum round the hollyhocks my lover will come. He will stand under the cedar tree. To his one word I shall answer my one word. What has formed in me I shall give him.

And the most troubling aspect of acknowledging this — leaving red lines on my arms and chest as I scratch the truth out — is that I’m not sure which is worse: the fact that I require a lover to read or at least try to comprehend me, or that I have been asking him to take on the role of audience or community on which I have willing turned my back? Is it wrong of me to desire what I have relinquished? Is it asking too much that the man with whom I sleep, the man who fucks me every night, the man whose skin has somehow tainted mine… is it so wrong that I want this man to be able to consume me, to know all the rancid depths in me? To be able to see me beneath and between my lines, even if he doesn’t know who Sargent is, even if he doesn’t understand why Neville waits and waits and waits for Percival as I, too, have waited, even if he decries how I have laid myself bare for so long to an audience of some kind, solely for the perverse and likely selfish need to feel known, justified? The writing is not for the vacuum in which it was written, nor for the body whose presence is etched in the space between words; rather, the writing is a prelude to a kiss, it is me offering up my eager lips.

So I turn my back on it all. I leave Madame X sitting in her wicker chair with the sun speckling the grooves on her face, grooves as deep as those on the rock and the stone and the crystal she has placed like exhibits on her shelves — or at least as deeply as the passing of time those objects denote, to which they bear witness — and I open the door to see A. digging fields in his neck with his fingernails, his face crimson from the exertion. It is in that moment that I know I will leave him, that I will take the unopened bottle of Vicodin from his kitchen cabinet as a delusional kind of parting gift, a bottle I uncovered on a sleepless night when the itching was so intense and his snoring so virulent — or is it virile? — that I stocked up on ways to waste time or else make it pass more quickly since there is only so much meditation a person can do in the dead hours. It is in that moment, too, that I know I must stop expecting him or any other man to understand the words: to them, I might be as ineffable as the fortuneteller deluding herself that she is back in the days of Delphi.

It is in that moment that I know I will leave him, that I will take the unopened bottle of Vicodin from his kitchen cabinet as a delusional kind of parting gift.

For aren’t those words mine, mine alone? Why do I feel this compulsion to share them, to disseminate them like samizdat? Why do I feel the need to flay A. as I stupidly expected readers to flay me for staying with him as long as I did, for carrying both my desertion and my desire on my skin in this visible way? I can’t help but feel that I have passed along the infection, or, rather, that if I were to return to the community of writers I abandoned, I would somehow bring this pox with me, infecting those who might come into contact with my words.

This is the third time I leave A.; it is not long before two predictable things occur: I emit the word “forgive” and I end up sleeping next to his itching, heaving, inconsolable body again — out of what masochism or what sadism, I am still uncertain — and I reinstall social media, flirting with it as I would a lover, trying to regain the sense of camaraderie and fellowship that I felt was such a distraction and yet which now has proven to be such a sustaining force. Were my correlations logical? Is it reasonable to expect that the person with whom I share my body should know every aspect of me, all nine sides that the enneagramatic crystal reflected back, all six voices of Bernard in The Waves, sitting together at the table:

Thus when I come to shape here at this table between my hands the story of my life and set it before you as a complete thing, I have to recall things gone far, gone deep, sunk into this life or that and become part of it; dreams, too, things surrounding me, and the inmates, those old half-articulate ghosts who keep up their hauntings by day and night; who turn over in their sleep, who utter their confused cries, who put out their phantom fingers and clutch at me as I try to escape — shadows of people one might have been; unborn selves.

Is it even acceptable for me to expect that others who are strangers, mere pixels on screens, will also feel compelled to read me, and, in doing so, to somehow unravel parts of my story? And yet, I, like all writers, desire to be read; the poems are eager and sometimes loud, clamoring out of the nightstands and notebooks into which I cram them. But I begin to wonder at what expense I wish to be read, or if I can even offer anything in return to others — not to mention my lovers — when I begin to make half-articulate metaphors about how the poems are like my pockmarked skin, how they are capable of infecting like a lover’s body can infect… The strange riddle: how we require readers to legitimize the act of writing; how I only want to let a man fuck me if he has looked my nine-sided self in the eye and accepted each self fully. Are these that different from one another after all? For we never once stopped arguing about the words. Bernard: “I need a little language such as lovers use, words of one syllable such as children speak… I need a howl; a cry.”

iv. Moulting

May through August

Craving seclusion; craving intimacy — Cheever’s textual kiss: these are paradoxes with which I grapple in my writing life, my digital life, my love life. After A. leaves, I slough my skin nightly with a coarse sponge, apply creams and potions, the lesions the only trace he’s left behind: the only evidence that he had ever been there at all. I start to erase my digital life; I delete all my tweets, I create a secret blog, I install apps on my phone to make sure that I do not use it. There is a constant sense of retreating, and yet this surge, this pulse, to reconnect.

I start to erase my digital life; I delete all my tweets, I create a secret blog, I install apps on my phone to make sure that I do not use it.

Is it masochism, that I stayed with A. despite the words coming between us, despite their tendency to make him recoil as if I would divulge his secrets in stanzas so cryptic he could not recognize himself as the interlocutor my poems’ “I”s addressed? If the “you” is unknowable, even if the “you” is you, then what is the danger in designating you “you” anyway? Is it another type of masochism — or is the strain similar to the diagnostic criteria — that causes me to deny myself the community of other writers, those who know all about words, that I instead seek out body after body in the hope that one of them will somehow read me as I am?

Whatever the drive and whatever the diagnosis, I write for no audience for another season, scratching my skin and leaving scars in my fingernails’ wake. “What are you holding in your body that wants to get out?” The real answer to this is: what am I not holding? what do I not want to release? The loss of a lover; the severing of ties across social media; the pitying eyes of doctors, still unable to arrive at a diagnosis for the skinspots A. brought into our bed — the insane impulse to scratch my skin raw is the same impulse, at its heart, that drives the poems to seek readers, to complete a proper scene of bloodletting; it is the same impulse that makes me regret leading a hermetic existence on digital terrain.

Release; reconnection: I require both, in equal measure. I need my distance from the endless timelines, but somehow my poems are in dialogue with that speed of communication; their energy is a collective one which, in isolation, forces the poems to lapse like plants I always forget to water, the fronds of which I find in the morning in the cat’s mouth. I write fragments here and there, pieces that have no logic, shards that are diaristic rather than poetic; but I can write nothing of cathartic value — I cannot write “you” out — without some form of audience, even if it’s composed of one lone reader. Those evenings that A. caught me writing in a notebook while he slept and I didn’t; how he asked me, cuttingly, on his way to the bathroom to read him what I was writing; how this act of being prodded to embody — if only for a moment — my identity as a poet was enough to keep me going. It was enough to keep me waiting, as lovestruck and neurotic as Neville, as hopeless and broken as Bernard.

I can write nothing of cathartic value — I cannot write “you” out — without some form of audience, even if it’s composed of one lone reader.

Even the sensation of scratching my skin, though knowing I will leave more scars, recalls A. and makes me realize the loss is too immediate, the “gift” he gave literally too raw, oozing, pus-filled. In the past, I would yell out through the poems to the reader, hoping that he or she would find me when I could not find myself. I produced and I provoked and I stalked images, past lovers, dead things, rapists; I kept the poems alive so that I would always be writing, so that I would always be read, as if the reading secures my identity more so than any other sort of relationship. The audience does not make me a writer, but it makes my identity as one palpable; in the background, A. yawned at my verse or silently shredded my manuscripts.

Again, I flirt with Twitter. Many there are silent as judges, others I will never know and perhaps never did know; but there is a bolt of shame I haven’t felt in months when a writer acquaintance messages me and asks what I’ve been writing during my absence and where he can read my work next. Nowhere? Everywhere? In a jumble of folders on my desktop; in ink across the calloused side of my hands; in the margins of books I am currently reading, teaching… With the freedom from deadlines and the flight from social media, I thought that time would be filled with less distractions, that the poems would have room to grow. Instead, for months both I and my writing were stuck in a quarantine zone, rendered mute from a contagion my lover passed on to me with his kiss. What this other writer’s message drives home to me is that for some reason, and in a way I cannot fully explain, the community holds one accountable for one’s work. It is two different hungers meeting at a crossroads. Whatever A. brought into our relationship, whatever parasite or infection or time bomb, it was because I had invited him in: into my poems, into my body, into my heart, into the most vulnerable parts of myself that I had somehow already been sharing openly and eagerly with strangers online.

I tweet; I take on new lovers; I begin to reconnect; I enroll in Kundalini yoga teacher training; I complete 365 straight days of meditation. My skin receives the antidote from an unexpected source — a man in Astoria whose bedroom is rocked by the Q train all night long — and things, cells, memories begin to fall off. The poems come when the poems come; my body cums when I need it to cum: again, these two are inextricably linked. In desiring a reader I also desire a lover; I want, above all, to feel that the tethers that bind me to others — to lovers, to readers, to other writers — are ones I have chosen rather than ones into which I have fallen, that I am as okay with the silence as I am the noise that community brings. Fuck, in those winter months, in that infected bed, did I ever miss noise, did I ever miss you.

I tweet; I take on new lovers; I begin to reconnect; I enroll in Kundalini yoga teacher training; I complete 365 straight days of meditation.

Perhaps what I want is too much to ask for, and so instead I ask nothing. I remain on the proverbial bank, writing all the while in my head even if I have nothing to show for it: the emptiness on his side of the bed somehow becomes, or is, a jumble of words that either belong together or are different poems entirely. I can no longer differentiate between these two states. I believe for a time that I cannot return to a place that I have left, even though I forget that I returned to him over and over again; I begin to open my hands, slowly, and hope that you will see me.

If the words are a ghostly trace I have left behind, their trail or scent is still there, noticeable enough for me to pick up where I left off. I have never found it easy to forget lovers, especially when they brand my skin in such literal ways; but I know that people do forget. I write poems about a new lover, but stop myself from reading them aloud; I let my body speak instead — but there is something missing. Some tweets go viral or receive “impressions” but lack any click-through. If you are not reading what I am writing, at least you are reading about the fact that I am writing. I suppose, above all, there is a worry: that my words do want you to read them; that I do miss your company and our daily interactions even though I left — can you forgive me? — in order to grieve alone in a red winter cave.

I write poems about a new lover, but stop myself from reading them aloud; I let my body speak instead — but there is something missing.

Did you see a shimmer of it? Do you know that I miss you? Do you know that you are “you”? Do you know how I worry that you will have forgotten all about me when I have remembered you so vividly, especially on the nights when the itching kept me awake and I was writing words no one would read? There is an urgency here that has gone quiet, dormant from lack of use like vocal chords or limbs or even sphincters. I have been nursing you and the poems all this time, hoping to one day return (I know that now), impress you — or at least impress them upon you — and say how much I respect you, admire you, how much I need your support through the banalities so that we can know for sure who we are. I could not — I don’t think — do this without you. Some season, whichever it is, will prove to be mine: I will reconnect; I will juggle; I will find the words and the readers I lost in the company of A. And even if there is silence, there is still a connection there, a recognition: I do not ask that you miss me, only that you see me and read me for whatever and whomever it is I am, newly-skinned.

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