Letters to Arm (2016-7)
Performed live at Seventeen Gallery (2016). Sound piece in Mons Mensae Pavilion, curated by Jack O'Brien (2017). Click on play buttons to hear audio. Full Transcript of text below
Last night I dreamt you were made of flesh. A flesh-and-blood arm, I ran my tongue along your length, felt the hairs on your skin bristle as you shivered with pleasure. I closed my mouth around the underside of your bicep, and I bit. A metallic taste of blood lingered, and I woke feeling hungry.
A strange dream, I do not know if it was fantasy or nightmare. With love,
I am thinking of you. You lie there, on our bed upstairs, and I can only hope that you are thinking of me. In truth I do not know what you think, you have never told me, you have never talked to me. Still, you remain there, so I know that you are happy, to be here, with me. My dear Arm, divorced of body, a perfect plastic member.
Sometimes I wish you would come downstairs. Sometimes I wish you would come outside. Other times I am glad that I know where you are, at all times. You remain there, lying on our bed, your presence testament to your love for me. But you are so calm, so impassive. You reveal nothing of your emotion, nothing of your desire, you coy seducer.
As you lie, calm and supine on the sheets, I write to you in a frenzy of emotion. I am at the kitchen table, to give you a fuller picture. Beside me is a large mug of coffee, which I am drinking at a furious pace, as though the answer to my lust lies at the bottom of the cup. Do you love me? Truly? I drink, I gulp, and the answer does not come. I knew it wouldn’t.
You do nothing, just lie there in silence. You reveal nothing, you tell me nothing of your feelings, you just keep me guessing. Your presence in our bed tells me yes, but your silence tells me no. And this silence! Infuriating silence! In presence you are still absent. Cruel, cruel, lovely Arm.
I must. I must. I must do something. Something, something, I need something to occupy me. I take a deep gulp of coffee, I write some more, then I stand up and pace furiously, trying to expend this useless energy. To give you a better picture. Except, the coffee is finished now. I drank the last few sips in desperation, trying to wring more liquid from the cup, and you know I think I have become quite manic. Must not overwhelm you. I must not overwhelm you.
This is, you see, why I must write to you. Why I must not try to express my emotion whilst in the same room. Who knows what I might do, carried by the wave of love! A veritable tsunami! I might drown you in the salty liquids of my desire.
And so, I place this letter underneath your hand, and absent myself. Speaking my love in person to you has perhaps felt a little overwhelming. Perhaps you have been intimidated by what you have mistaken for an expectation that you will form an immediate reply, and that such reply must be equal to mine in intensity and pitch and poesis. Panic not! The smallest hint of affection towards me would suffice. If my love is a tsunami, a wave of ocean, I am happy to be only gently misted with the light spray of your regard.
So, I leave this letter for you to peruse at leisure. Now, should you intimate such a desire, I will place pen and paper beneath your hand that you might scrawl a word of acknowledgement. But–no matter if not. For now, I shall satisfy my desires on the page. Though I fear that this will merely be a perpetual skimming off of the frothy lust that threatens, at all times, to bubble over and spill out everywhere.
Confused water metaphors, Arm. Love for you confuses my poetic mind. With watery love,
It was your surface, I think, that first drew me to you. A metallic blue, so shiny I could see myself in you. A hard, plastic blue. You are so light, so hollow, all surface. When I pick you up you are so light, when I touch your outer I touch all of you, because there is nothing within, just air. You are: the line of plastic described through space. You are not the volume within, for you are: all surface, all skin, plastic body, delicious, plastic, blue, body.
I have remained in the house, our shared abode, for too long, and I have now run out of food. Do you eat, Arm? No–I cannot ask. I cannot think of this topic: the topic of you, eating. No, for now I have begun to picture a crease opening in your surface, a soft fold that opens into a slit, delicately ribbed and slightly sticky with saliva around its edge. I picture you slowly enveloping an overripe strawberry, your lips attach to the strawberry’s edge, the friction of membrane against the plump, slightly rough, seed-dotted fruit, lubricated by your saliva, and with a slow, slow, suck, a trickle of its pink juice would run from the corner of your mouth-crease and onto the bed linen, and slowly, as you sucked, ingested, the strawberry would disappear. Do not worry about the juice on the bed linen, I have already overlooked it, sheets can be washed, with vanish, stains disappear, my desire remains.
So: to the supermarket. Top of the list is strawberries, your favourite. What else do you like to eat, dear heart? Bananas, chocolate, oysters, cream from a squirty can? Is your palate limited to the erogenous?
For myself, an ascetic diet might temper this furious want. Right now my hunger is overwhelming me. I must tell you, Arm, suddenly I have a taste for the meat. I am concerned to go to the supermarket, in truth, in case I approach the meat counter and cannot contain myself from just picking up a raw steak and biting into it. I want to feel a slab of wet flesh in my hands, I want to squeeze it between my fingers until the blood trickles down my knuckles, I want to tear of a hunk and chew its tender pinkness and feel the slug of meat like a dead tongue in my throat. I want to eat everything in sight but nothing that isn’t you.
Strawberries for dessert, shared with you. Signing off now, Arm: the supermarket closes imminently.
I went to the beach today, leaving you safe at home in the conjugal bed. But the sand was dotted with couples; I confess I started wish that you had been there, it seemed inappropriate to be there alone. Though you must not leave our domestic space, and I know that you agree. You still have not moved an inch, which is how I know that you do not like the idea, just as much as I do not like the idea. I know, Arm, I know.
So, shall I tell you about the beach, dearest heart?
The sun was bright, but there was an odd kind of haze over the sky. It felt like early morning, although it was, in fact, the afternoon. And do you know, Arm, as I was staring out to sea–thinking that its inky blue-green was no match for your metallic lustre–the strangest thing happened. Or, perhaps it was not strange, perhaps it was entirely normal, but it seemed supernatural, or supra-natural, I don’t know. Because as I was sitting on the sand, which was hard and compacted and not very comfortable, two swans flew overhead and then landed on the sea, about twenty feet from the shore.
Can you imagine?
Swans! Swans, at the beach! It was very odd. A pair, because they mate for life. They just swam along, and I can honestly say they looked as though they had been collaged in from another scene. Far too large for the ocean, and also too small: just out of place. I wondered how strange it would be if a shark were to come along and just BITE. Swans should not be eaten by undersea creatures, do you not agree?
Did you know my dearest arm that swans mate for life? Like you and I, they find a mate, and it is their soul mate. You are my soul mate. When I was there, on that uncomfortable sand, I thought of you lying prone on our conjugal bed, unable to move, and I thought, you will never leave me.
I love you.
Do you recall the conversation we once had about the colour blue? I told you, blue is unnatural, blue is indigestible. Now I know, I said, I know that some flora are blue, but I always think of blue as unnatural because. Think about it. Can you think of a single blue food? A naturally pigmented, blue food? There is no naturally blue food, Arm, there just isn’t. Blueberries are not blue berries, for they are in fact between indigo and a deep purplish hue. You are an indigestible colour, you refuse to be eaten.
An anecdote about blue foods: when smarties switched to natural colouring for their sugar shells, for a long while they could not produce the blue smarties, because there is no natural pigment that is edible and blue. Until, they discovered they could use a blue algae.
Now when we first had this conversation, you lying there in your blue lacquered beauty, you said nothing. I think I may have upset you, for I felt the weight of your silence hang heavy between us. Being told you are unnatural perhaps doesn’t sound so good. But in fact, Arm, my dear Arm, what you did not know then was that I see this indigestibility as a form of beautiful pride. You are sacrosanct, you refuse to be eaten up by the world, you even refuse to be eaten up by me. How noble, how beautiful, how very blue of you.
Dear Arm, I lick your surface, and you taste of nothing. You do not have a matter I can bite, insubstantial, light, hollow, inedible, blue. I lick your surface and my saliva leaves a distinct slick, nestled in the crook of your elbow. Three inches long, approximately, my liquids remain in a line on your skin, and refuse to sink in. You refuse to let me sink into you, but there is no you to sink into, there is nothing beneath this blue, you hold no depth, only air beneath. I sit, staring at my stickiness on your surface as it gradually evaporates into the air, and leaves a smeary grease. You are a tease.
Perhaps, you wonder why I have decided to write letters to you, although you remain physically close to my body. It is a question I have been asking myself, but I have begun to realise that this physical proximity does not make us any closer. You remain, in your shiny repelling state, distant to me, as distant as though we were separated by a great ocean, or a great war, or a great catastrophe. It is as though we were other sides of the world, even though you remain on the other side of my bed. And so I write to you, my distant love, in the hope that these letters will reach you, will reach some part of you, and somehow your hauteur will dissolve.
Furthermore. It is important that there is something timeless about our correspondence. I am wary to talk, or talk about talking, via digital platforms. The great couples of history did not communicate via Facebook or WhatsApp; indeed, I am wary even to mention the names of these various corporate interests, as they lock our love to a specific time, a specific moment when a particular corporation was the dominant mediator of social interaction. Letters are timeless, no?
The contemporary world is a dank and smudgy grey, with a sharp yellow antiseptic smell of chemical-laced household cleaner, and always, perpetually, two degrees too cold for comfort. There is no great romance to be discovered in the world, so we must make our own.
And so, I write love letters to you, my love. With love,
The strawberries I left on your palm have started to attract flies. A soft white fuzz across the surface of the fruit, too, the fruiting bodies of a mould, and the sticky juice has quite puddled onto the sheets. Yet you remain intact, unsullied and unpolluted, immaculately sealed by your plastic, no pores to absorb them. But the strawberries are still there. Now, I just want to remind you to eat them, you must keep up your energy levels. I will not watch, I will not even pretend to go downstairs, imitating fading footsteps then creeping back to put my eye to the keyhole and observe: no, I will leave you to eat in private. I just worry that your energy dwindles as each day passes. Open your mouth, reveal your mouth to me, and eat. I can bring you fresh berries if you like, I can even bring you blueberries.
Fresh from our last encounter, I feel unlike I have at any other time post-coitally. Fresh is the word. I feel clean, and bettered, and I do not feel that odd animal sensation. I think back to times with other lovers (all inferior to you). Aware of my own smell, a mixture of my sweat and my juices on my lover and my lover’s juices on myself, and feeling the lazy sluggishness of exhaustion, disinclined to wash, but not feeling clean. But now, after that last encounter, I feel, somehow heightened, and not lowered, but elevated.
I like that when we are together, we remain so distinct. With other lovers, the mutual softness of our skins felt too sticky, too ripe with warm and sweat and other fluids, we would touch and everything would become a little bit hazy, mutually contaminant.
You do not give in so easily. You are hard, hard and plastic, and cold. It is a relation of impact, not dissolve, a sort of knocking against each other instead of melting into one another. You do not yield, you tease, you delicious tease. Playing hard to get, I know this game you beautiful, blue, demon. How could a plastic shell be container for my love? It bounces straight back on me, reflected in your shine, and I am left filled with my own love, a veritable frenzied, sweating, frenzy.
I hope this talk of other lovers does not upset you. In truth it feels as though there was no other until you, all past encounters were clumsy, failed attempts towards what we manage to achieve so perfectly.
You are cold. Not physically: in fact your surface always seems to remain the ambient temperature of the room. But you are cold, and again I speak in the language of metaphor. Cold, distant, unresponsive to my touch. I love it: I hate it, and it drives me wild, and I wonder if you know this and, in knowing this, are ever more cold and distant. You are a tease.
I keep thinking about those swans. A thought back to my childhood, when the decapitation of a swan caused a local scandal. Indeed, it made the headline news of the town’s newspaper. I do not think the decapitation of a pigeon would get the same level of coverage, or stir a collective horror at such a monstrous act. Now, quite why someone would be motivated to decapitate a swan may remain a mystery forevermore, for the perpetrator was never found.
But Arm, it made me so sad to think of this again. For somewhere, there would have be the swan’s mate, roaming, bereft, unable to find another, always alone, their complement decapitated, headless. So abject: such an abject way to die, I think of a bird flailing headless, an odd reptilian noise like a death rattle that would be impossible I think without a mouth, but still this rattle as blood spurted in ejaculatory pulses from truncated neck. The other swan watching, helpless, losing its own head metaphorically, after its mate had lost its own head physically. Dearest heart, poor swan.
I think of these stories and I feel a sadness, but also a relief. At least we both know you will remain safe, safe in my home, in my bed, and I will remain safe in your arm forevermore.
Not much to report today. Dinner tonight: a whole head of broccoli, spinach, plus half a large potato. Too much brassica. I’ve lost all taste for flesh.
Your smooth fingertips, fused together, fingers indistinct like a hand coated in honey. I held them in my mouth for some time, then ran my tongue along your surface in slow, lazy, meandering circles, first one way, then the other, all the way up and down your length. How I love to feel the brittle hardness of your exoskeleton against my soft membranes, up and down, a slight drag of friction when the saliva ran dry and my mouth snagged on your impossibly smooth surface. I licked my lips and began again. And then, when I reached the fingers once more, I gave the lightest graze with my teeth, thinking that you too might experience a pleasure in a shifting sensation, from soft to hard.
An involuntary shudder, a ripple across flanks as my pleasure mounted, but this rise was swiftly quelled by an unpleasant sensation in my mouth. A flake of your blue, from the tip of your index finger, had detached and was lodged in my teeth. I pried it free and swallowed: it scratched my alimentary canal all the way down, refusing to be digested.
Now on the tip of your index finger there is a patch of dull silver, a caesura in the metallic perfection. You have been horribly sullied, and it was I who did the sullying, much to my shame. I do not know if you can see this because, can you see?
I feel atrocious, Arm, disgusted at myself, racked with guilt, et cetera, et cetera. Will you ever forgive me? With love and contrition, but as ever with love,
A return visit to the beach today. The last of the warm days, a few brave souls were swimming. I had to leave quite soon, as the sight of so much flesh on parade made me feel quite queasy. I was at once repulsed by its doughiness, as I was drawn to its promise of pillowiness. I saw a dimpled buttock, covered, no doubt, with the lightest haze of sand, and I wanted nothing more than to take it in my mouth, feel the thick wad of fat and muscle and blood and feel my teeth gain purchase on downy skin. I wanted to chew and rip and bite down to the bone, get past the soft parts and down to the skeleton.
So violently did I feel this desire that I had to leave and come back to our home, our shared abode, though I dare not go and see you yet. Still, perhaps this violence will be quelled by you: no soft puckering skin, no sinewy muscle or taut elastic nerves: just pure, hardened, blue shell. I do not need to find your skeleton, you are all exoskeleton. I find myself pacing the kitchen again, wanting to reach something, the nub of a something, an end point to this fury, this frenzy, this love.
For I love you. I love you. I LOVE you. I love you. I love YOU. I love you, and I know now I have never loved before. What I thought was love before was not love, it was, I don’t know, something I can only refer to as not- love, mistaken for love. Recognition is the misrecognition you can bear.
I awoke in the night, and left you, ravenous, starving, I felt as though my hunger would never end. I stood in front of the fridge and ate an entire packet of cooked ham, feeling at once abject and the embodiment of a cliché. I am unused to eating animal protein, the ham sat heavy in my bloated stomach, and I regretted my choice of luncheon meat immediately.
Food is a convenient metaphor for existence
Cheese of the soul