My love appeared to me in the hour
in the dusky hour heavy with the
weight of unspilled secrets. Tell me,
where do you gaily frolic in the hours
you are apart from me? ‘I toil ‘neath
the scorching sun,
weaving love’s incessant yearning like
the beams of bridges to find my way
My heart is made of sandalwood, I trail
myrrh and fragrant spices
You are a city built of shadowed corners
and mysterious alleys
I long to explore them with my fingers and my tongue
Trace the fine veins in your marble walls and wrap myself in your tapestries
I look at you and I see a dark and sweltering night
pregnant with heat and a full moon
and all the little things I want to reveal
in hushed whispers and languid caresses
But you keep your secrets close
and your walls maintained
with the sharp arrows of your archers
that are careless sometimes
with where they choose their target
And I wonder
if you are even aware
My culture is drunk on weddings. It was something that I despised when I became old enough for the matronly mamas at social events to start asking me whether I had managed to snag a potential husband yet. Young ladies were expected to be married off at a very specific age, and the sooner one was able to pull off that feat, the more accolades she could acquire as personal trophies. What one did with those invisible trophies was anyone’s guess because I always had this sneaky suspicion they weren’t keeping anyone warm at night. It was obvious to me that the ring on my finger wouldn’t soothe my upset late at night when I was unhappy if I had only pursued it to prove a point to gossiping busybodies. At some point I started despising the Olympic-style competition for weddings so much that I became averse to the idea of dating at all. There were moments in my life that when a man crossed my imaginary boundaries in pursuit of dating me, I would have severe panic attacks. This also led to toxic relationships that I would only allow because I always subconsciously knew that the relationships would never lead to marriage. It was a self defeating cycle, one that I am genuinely relieved to be able to say I am breaking free from. To this day when in serious conversations about things that break my heart, people mistakenly, albeit with good intentions, slap the ol’ “we need to find you a boyfriend” bandaid on the whole thing. I am always taken aback because in essence they are saying that a love interest will fix all the things have been incredibly grievous to me in my human experience. Sure, I am not averse to love, but I am, and will always be, vehemently opposed to finding love for all the wrong reasons.
If you’ve forgotten how to love me, mi amor, then please recall the words that once upon a time were softly sung to you,
that were crooned so sweetly at your mothers breast in the land that bore your father and his father before him.
Draw near to me, amor, and we’ll map our bodies with the sounds of passion,
where we’ll learn to love anew in your mother’s tongue, passed down from generation to generation.
Let us ink our hearts in nuances of sun-baked streets and moonlit trysts
in dialects that knew of love and loss long before our stars were lit,
that echo still of golden skin, and raven hair, and lips that taste of briny seas.
If you’ve forgotten how to love me, mi amor, let us learn to love again in languages unspeakable.
It is said that one changes personalities to subconsciously reflect the language that is being spoken.
Ukrainians don’t say, “I love you” to each other. We could love someone fiercely and yet still cringe when it comes to verbally expressing that emotion. I remember the first time my mom told me she loved me, I cringed so hard that I kind of just wanted to crawl into a corner somewhere and hide. It made me feel so exposed. “Why are you doing this to me?” I thought to myself. It was something she had picked up from her American client whom she is a caregiver for, and she thought it would be a really nice ‘Americanism’ to incorporate into our inner lifestyle. I dreaded it. Every time I had a phone conversation with her and we were nearing the end of the conversation, I kind of hated that inevitable moment when she would tell me she loves me. So many times I just quickly hung up without saying anything in response. Yet it never deterred her. She would also start out her texts to me (when she finally learned how to text) by bestowing a blessing on me and wishing me all the best that God could possibly give, and that was easier for me to handle because texting “I love you” back wasn’t as hard. I could hide behind my screen, after all.
Over the years, I slowly got used to my mom telling us she loves us when it was time to hang up the phone or when leaving the house. Honestly, it wasn’t until very long ago that I started telling her and my dad that I love them, and it took moving out and living on my own to be able to really respond in kind. Weirdly enough, I am actually happy that we didn’t grow up hearing those three words, “I love you” bandied about because it taught me what it really means to be able to utter those words to someone. Every time you say it, you expose your most vulnerable self—something that does not come easy to a Slavic person. I had to choose to be vulnerable and consciously tell my parents that I love them, and when I say it, I mean it with every particle of my being. Something tells me I wouldn’t mean it as deeply as I do if it was something I had cut my teeth on and took for granted.
I sharpen my teeth on all the words I keep from you,
rolling them to and fro in my mouth,
tasting every nuance,
so that even if they do escape
they are smooth as glossy pearls.
I cut my tongue when they gallop up my throat
demanding to be released
and I’ve no choice but to choke them back,
slicing my throat to ribbons on their descent, on every jagged crest and
But even in their wake,
I still bleed silver.
You weave around me with the grace of a swordsman,
only your weapon of choice is your words.
What a lethal dance we engage in,
striking with focused precision,
sliding that unbearable hurt between my ribs with a lovers skill.
How beautifully I fall apart before you,
as you watch in silence with glittering,