Accept or reject: the matter was always in your hands. You could have said no from the first day I arrived on your terrace. The sun was beginning to set behind the neighbour’s mango tree, the sanates were screeching their evening chorus and exasperated rush hour horns blared from the periferico. You were half-sitting, half-leaning, against the flat roof of the downstairs bathroom with a glass of beer in one hand and a joint in the other. I sat opposite, on a white, plastic patio chair, thick with volcano dust and exhaust fumes, and tried to sell myself as a good housemate.
Courtney, who had made the arrangements, and Ollie, another mutual friend, sat to one side sipping beer. Their eyes flicking between interviewer and interviewee as you, looking down from behind your thick, black-rimmed glasses, fired questions at me. I blushed under the scrutiny and stuttered shy responses. You cut quite the figure, the famous poet I should have heard of, in your black t-shirt, faded black jeans and cracked black leather converse; a uniform I would come to know by heart. But, that day your intentionally lopsided buzzcut, trenza and air of studied indifference to the charms of just another white, well-meaning, NGO worker were impossibly intimidating. I was convinced you would not find me sufficiently edgy, cool or alternative to gain entry to this house of boho artists and activists.
There was no offer of beer and, in the awkward silences between your questions and my sales pitch, I stole glances around your demesne. Lush green plants sprouted from terracotta pots lining the walls, orchids bloomed in hanging baskets and a tattered hammock swung in the shade of the laminate roof that covered half the terrace. Someone’s washing had turned crispy from too many days left under the canicula’s unforgiving sun. The largest black cat I had ever seen, slinked around your ankles before embarking on a laboured ascent up a pot, to observe the prospective lodger from the shade of the violet bougainvillea. Your questions exhausted, Courtney showed me out, while you turned back to Ollie and the serious business of finishing off the afternoon’s beer. I called the next day to see if I had passed the test. You said yes, as if it was a given, and instantly forgot about me until three weeks later when I showed up at the door with two suitcases and not much else.
I tiptoed around you at first, but it was not long before your dark verses got under my skin: la catástrofe, la devastación. Death and destruction on the barren streets of the city we shared, the one I eventually came to call home as I floundered about searching for somewhere to put down roots. The timidity wore off and was replaced by admiration, then desire. You could have said no when sober, at 2 am under the fluorescent glare of the kitchen lights, leaning against a countertop in flannel pyjamas and still limping from my recent fracture, I finally admitted that me gustas. But you accepted then too, taking all the love I had to offer. You shared what you could with a ‘no expectations’ caveat.
we talk about the simple things
we talk about the complicated things
we talk about the everyday things and we cry
we dreamed the universe
as well as the rain
Sipping a cardamom and oxytocin infused coffee over the breakfast table, you were the first to say I should write.
‘What would I say? Where would I publish? Who would want to read it?’
You smiled and said, ‘you’ll think of something.’
I wondered what poet’s insight had unearthed this, most guarded, secret. I have written plenty since then (should I credit you with that too?) but rarely about you, and never about “us.” We did not go in for love letters. You gifted me verses copied onto handmade, hand-painted cards, then later denied those words had anything to do with me when I threw them back at you in desperation. I printed and hand-bound, just as you had taught me, a copy of my first short story: a nightmarish urban landscape where your poetic alter-ego took me by the hand and pulled me into the abyss. It was meant to be romantic – a lovers’ pact – the poet and writer united for eternity. In hindsight, it reads more like a premonition.
Now we do not write at all. My emails go unanswered. The WhatsApp messages stay in ‘read.’ We distilled our own catastrophe of the most conventional vintage: the pop and fizzle of mismatched expectations, delusions and disillusions that steered us towards a, seemingly inevitable, dissolution. It was I who hit reject, but only after you steered us into an end so dead neither of us could see a way out. Now I find myself facing this pandemic alone, on the other side of the ocean I put between us, with no possibility of going back(wards).
And you remain Lord of your demesne, still chilling on the terrace with a beer in one hand and a joint in the other, surrounded by an ever-changing circle of poetic disciples. Your abundance of grey, in the once jet-black mane, the only hint of time passing. So now that our “we” is no more than a memory, maybe all that is left is to spin words across the page and weave some sense into the shape of who and what “we” were, in the hope that it might, eventually, stop hurting?
Aisling Walsh (She/Her) is a freelance writer and translator based between Ireland and Guatemala, with stories, essays and reports published in Pank, Entropy Mag, Pendemic.ie, The Irish Times, The Sunday Business Post, Open Democracy and The Establishment. Her personal essay ‘The Center of the Universe’ was selected as runner up in the So To Speak CNF Prize for 2021. She is currently working towards a PhD in sociology at the National University of Ireland Galway, where she is researching decolonial and feminist practices of healing justice in Guatemala.