Better this immersion than to live untouched. — Lynda Hull
So many derivatives. You knew them well: the needle’s rough delicatesse, flowering ecstasies, its promise always falling back to earth. Never a new beginning. Never. The gravity of it all. Some kind of grace, though, in the ruins. If I say tonight I love you, it’s no more pointless than the pain. No less. Sometimes I think I sense you in shadow, the breath of another world. Seized, who knew the wages, the cost of things better than you?
The needle was your imprimatur, flowering rush turned roseate, spreading like testimony to your face, and beyond. Those were the dying days, each one a document, signed with the fiery ink of the spoon. Simulacrum. Only the ring of truth. So many ways to authenticate. So many. You made your own heaven. And hell. I always wait, look upward for the moon, that seal, the night’s neon that burned through your veins.
Thirty years later and I’m still getting the lines. Tags kick around, like you did: come and go. Withdrawn, it says. Release-stamped, sold: some Florida gallery. Strange how paint can flicker, shift. But never shimmering spirit, incandescent. Utsuroi, you called it. How everything’s luminous, the most beautiful, just before it’’s gone. Just at that exact moment. Just then. I don’t have to be hooked to feel the pain, the empty rooms. I don’t have to be there to touch your hand. But I am. Sitting on the floor with your last hit, pain trailing away to some other world. I think I’m a little in love now. Maybe more. It’s hard to hold a shadow. Put my arms around the past. You knew it: everything scatters, moves away from everything else. Everything’s just a bit behind itself, falling behind, always falling. Withdrawn, not even you could catch it.
Down to the nub. Grace of alcohol gone to penance. Sweet consumptives. Tangle of smoke in the air. No one keeping score. Only Death taking down names. The soon-to-be late shooters. The early hours of eternity. Closing time scatter and melt into alleys, interstices, moons of the neon night. Diaspora, like the whip- crack snap of the last break, balls clicking, flying, settling close to nowhere, pockets still empty, the rack broken now, the run almost over.
Rhetoricians of singularity. Disdaining dialectic, they have come not for logic, Socratic beauty, the essence of all azaleas, but for each blazing blossom, taken slowly, one by one. Incommensurable, the unnamed secret names multifoliate, magical, whispered softly only once by the wind, then gone. The mourners, like passing shades, tremble in the wake of purely and precisely the most glorious gods that will never come again.
Reclusive, almost as if she knows the glowing habit of desire is merely memory, a path one cloudy day long ago she could not take. The dark raven she’s become. The silent shadow. She sometimes dreams. Her dress, crackling blue fire. Her eyes, ravenous. That burning communion. That vault of heaven. Those stars, just beyond the moon.
You are not the crown of creation. This you speak to me without a word. Or malice. Only root tongue and leaf laughter. You argue with your sway, the light encircling you like a lover. From out of darkness you bring your bright star and glisten. Gently, without effort. Come now. Teach me more. How you rise on a ladder to the sun. Words you whisper to the wind. Hold nothing back. The mystery. Grace. That secret journey from seed to stem to dying light.
Pyrotechnics, yes, the sharp cymbals of swords, the flash of brilliant armor. Never forget the gods, their charm, and treachery. The sea is best. Sit down by the shore and listen. In the restless waves the story of mortals. Great ships attacking, wandering, following currents home or to Hades. Courage, betrayal: how the moon glistens on the loved and lost alike. The rhythm of the words, fluidity, dispassionate compassion. Nobility. Strength of resolve in a time before evil. Follow the pace, like dolphins in the wind. Racing, shining, jumping now, rising to raise their heads, as if to say, in sunlight or storm, everything eases, everything’s beautiful. Never rush. Lose yourself and you will find him waiting for you in a world of water, ebbing and flowing, nothing forgotten, nothing overlooked, the great and the small, the ocean coming in, going out, the endless story, the timeless tides of our lives.
John Valentine teaches philosophy at the Savannah College of Art and Design in Savannah, Georgia. His poems have appeared in various journals, including The Sewanee Review, The Midwest Quarterly, Southern Poetry Review, The Adirondack Review, and Rock Salt Plum Review. He has had five chapbooks published with Pudding House Publications and one chapbook with Big Table Publishing.