On November 26, 2016, I attended an author’s talk hosted by the Washington County Museum. Although the talk was sparsely attended—I was one of only four audience members—this was not, by any measure, a reflection of the quality of its content. Flamur Vehapi, a poet from Kosovo who fled his home due to a regime that relentlessly persecuted ethnic Albanians, was a talented speaker. I pieced together that he was only thirty-two years old, and yet he had a self-possession beyond his years, a quiet confidence void of egoism. He was understated and yet commanding in his presence, and I was really struck by this quality more than by almost anything he said; it was as if his presence embodied a content that exceeded his words, something so true that it resisted speech. And though much of his talk touched on horrors that were in fact unspeakable, that is not quite what I mean. He seemed, to use a word that has become trite in our self-help era, enlightened.
Your one day of the week
Is now every day of the week.
Once, you held each of your tales
aloft, daring to expose yourself,
your sex a deadly sort of awning.
It was the kind of sex a man might
strap himself to a mast to avoid,
though his body would writhe
against rope, feeling your voice
composed of honey and salt.
And your strange beauty
bore disfigured progeny,
leaving you singular.
whore for a caffeine empire,
mystical allure traded for chemical
addiction, your terrifying womanliness
plastered over, your complexity
expressed in the fewest of lines,
White Lady to white lady holding
some weird stuff and wearing
a crown, maybe a mermaid.
Maybe like Hans Christian
Andersen filtered through
the candied substrate
of the year 1989.
I wanted to sew my shadow to the sole of my foot,
little beads of blood at the base of neat hemming stitches.
Not because I was afraid of separation.
I wanted this necessity.
I wanted something
strange and familiar.
I look down and it too is flicking a page,
a tangle of hair bobbing
just slightly in the air-conditioning.
I want to know you,
and I want you
to be unknowable.
I am the others [the pretty, cheaply-scented girls with neat, compact
calves, the gaunt boys with long, elegant fingers blunted with calluses].
I contain them I and strain to touch their separateness.
There is a knowledge
I can only get by brushing
your arm on accident.
It’s like we’re all reciting
the pledge of allegiance,
divisible like the moon,
like the face of the clock,
The meat of my heart
and the meat of your heart
can never meet.
They are plugs in closed systems
enclosed in closed systems
so that you cannot trace
their tracery, map their trajectories,
or monitor their levels
of order or entropy.
We are pressed together—
dried flowers, forgotten book.
We press for knowledge,
thinking we might know
of each other what
we cannot know