cell by cell

I live in a cell bricked with books. Thousands of them, cemented with desiccated flowers I grew myself, sweat riming their papery remains. Glossed with calories burned and the tear of muscle. Wooly bits of yarn stick out from the cracks between the pages. Quilts blanket the ceiling, blocking out the stars. Outside, the myriad me stands sentinel. Altar boy, prep school scholarship star, Mardi Gras king, all in a row. It certainly is beautiful, as far as prisons go. For someone else it might even be a castle.

This is what idolatry looks like. These walls I built myself–these are my golden calf. Good and beautiful things, holy even. Ambition and moxie and nerve, all used to brick in a life, to create a simulacrum of safety. To keep things small and manageable.

Do the walls keep desire out, I wonder? Or do they keep it keep it inside, hidden, like a furnace one spark away from a rager?

Who is that coming up from the wilderness, leaning upon her beloved?

I want nothing of wildness, even as I burn. Keep the fields and the woods at bay, the perfume of the sand under the sun’s hot eye. Give me the beloved without the searching, the cool annihilation of longing finally tamed. Whatever you do, just don’t wake me.

I had a dream once in which two tigresses and a panther circle me. I sit, straight-backed on the sofa. Its nubby upholstery cuts into the tender flesh of my thighs. The wildcats’ long tails keep time with lithe hips: power clothed in fur. Their movement like the slow drag of the Hudson when it changes tides. Up and down, up and down. They drape across the sofa at my back. Their fur glimmers like starlight. Each takes her turn scouring my face with her rough, stubbled tongue, peeling away the dust of me. I stare into the caverns of her mouth, at the sharpness of those teeth. She purrs in warning. I feel safe even as the fear turns my body to stone and the blood slows in my veins.

Ambivalence is my metronome, the blood beating in my ears.

I was a wall, and my breasts were like towers; then I was in his eyes as one who brings peace.

Tear down these walls, my beloved. Make haste. Burn the books, the flowers, the quilts. Turn it all to ash and sand. I can build the prison and lock myself inside. But I cannot break it down. I cannot get myself free again. And I do miss the stars.

But that isn’t how it works. I know that.

Your whisper slides through the roughened pages of my cage, drip drip drip like the coming of the flood. It undoes me, like Hadewijch, wider than wide. In my unbecoming, the dust of myself can feed this hard-packed ground. If the kiln gets hot enough, our fire will crack the calyx, let the leaves unfurl, until branches tear the quilted roof in patches and snake their way skyward. Reaching up and pushing down, cell by cell. Torn apart, but so astonishingly alive.

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