“A Catalogue of Loss” by Gathoni Ireri
One: When You Misplace Yourself
There is a store at the intersection of nowhere and everywhere owned by a woman with hair like gnarled hardwood branches wearing a patched cloak of forest floors. There, in grimy jars marked with the yellow tracks of time are stored the scents of imagination, the last dregs of dreams; the battered-but-still-usable hope of those who have owned nothing but second-hand fear. For the right price you can buy back fate. But what do you give to a woman who is dressed in the world, who wears earth as an off-the-shoulder, like a last minute addition; existence as an afterthought.
If you walk past on a Tuesday morning, you will find her blending knives with a sprinkle of lemongrass: flavoured pain. The store is filled with people who can buy nothing; who come to gaze at what-could-have-been, lying trapped behind glass, close enough to touch yet ten-different-lifetimes away.
It is a store for those who have known the non-sleep of cold floors; have wondered why if ‘frozen’ is a solid word, how does it then soak through the skin into the bone until you are nothing but skin wrapped around ice. She keeps the place open for those whose power was carried away on the backs of obese cockroaches: the coup d’état of ideals. They who came to understand that the absence of beauty can cause a physical pain, can cause a throbbing ulcer that breathes and sighs on the tender back of stolen happiness.
It is for them, the ones who have the notion of better as a memory, false, a trick of the light of conscience. How many times can you die without dying? Infinite: again and again on a divine-loop. The body will turn to mush and the spirit to pulp, you will lose the capacity to bleed and still live. Still live. A collection of unseen bruises, an unending open wound, a tapestry of hurt but alive. Deceptively: alive.
There is no empathy without imagination. Maybe that is why the woman, the one who rose fully grown from the womb of the earth, made this shop cluttered with befores and if-onlys, to stand as proof that the wounds of the spirit can be bottled, placed on display, acquire a physical form. Perhaps it is her way of fixing a language that does not have a word for the unseen ways a body can hurt beyond itself. Maybe it is her way of fixing a people who can only understand within the boundaries of their own realities.
You will always find them there, in that store, the broken. They walk around, grazing the jars with callused hands, suspended in the glow of the yet-to-be-improbable, ultimately to-be-impossible, finally to remain as the potential of something that never-became.
And it was for things that floated along tethered to the little pockets of air that hold and hold before they don’t.
Sometimes you are a lostness. The only thing that remains after many things have been pulled away.
We sit like this in the tension of things that must not be said. That must be left in the spaces between the spaces until we can let them go without summoning a flood.
We are an abandoned coherence.
But it was not always like this, was it? No. It does not begin as a swirling ball of things that cannot be defined except by the reality of all that they bind.
It is unclear when the drop becomes a suspended state in daylight until the sun falls and you fall with it.
They say write. But for what and about what when all the letters are drowning?
There’s no space in tragedy, even the imagined kind, for anything but itself. And aren’t all of ours imagined?
What is the catharsis of writing? A lie, maybe, or something we have not found yet. Or an illusion necessary for those who have nothing else but the inner world.
It is impossible to write if you do not trust yourself. If you walk with the seams of your life pulled taut. If you imagine that you will trip, unravel, and spill out.
It is impossible to do anything like this.
Art must be a kind of confession? That is where the trouble begins.
Three: Splinters of Sound
Our mirrors were shattered,
And sorrow was multiplied a thousand fold.
And we gathered the splinters of sound.
Mahmoud Darwish, ‘A Lover from Palestine’.
Singing a slow-breaking soliloquy in the cold, high, quiet of abandoned cathedrals. Songs of a time before this when words were a thing that fell, spilled and bubbled in the caves between bodies. All that is: a thin layer of scars, a bridge to countries we created and destroyed.
A single note trembles below the layer of stone: a river rising, rising, rising and quelled. Always a fresh mourning so much like the last they blend together: the conspiracy of losses. The cloning of each and every one of our phantom pains.
I saw you earlier in a small piece of things that I carry with me now. Delicately. Oh so lightly. I set you down in every house, a desecrated shrine, the blade of memory.
It is the betrayal that hollows you out. Leaves you with gaping holes the shape of a mouth trapped in the ebb of weeping. Hollows that throb and hurt and hurt and hurt so nothing else can fit there. Hollows where the space is a live, spitting thing that coils around and around eating the air.
I would tell you that I have forgotten to speak of things that make the heart cave into itself. Forgotten the language to articulate what pain feels like entering and reentering the body. I have ten words stolen and wrestled for. They fill the air with something that sounds like language but is fear in its gentlest form.
Look and see what you have made of me. What I have made of myself. What we have made of it all.
The only stories are dug under the lines. The stories that remain gasping under a thin film of water. The stories that hold together the illusion of solidity.
And it is here, in the shallows and the murmurs that we breathe our whispered pleas for forgiveness. From ourselves. For all we gave away.
Gathoni Ireri, the creator of this collection is a sometimes writer, most days she drinks tea (black, lots of sugar). When she does write it is for the beauty of the words.
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