Dear Rabbits in Galaxies Far and Wide,
I’m writing you beside a bouquet of dying flowers in an apartment that is not mine. This bouquet has peonies in it and lilacs too, which are my favorites, which are the flowers I ordered for my mother on Mother’s Day although she was not speaking to me. I wanted to show her that despite her inability to be the mother I want and despite my resistance to ease up my boundaries around her carelessness, I would not forget about her and I would always offer her beauty. This month, I spent a great deal of time think about mothers my birth mother and “the many gendered mothers of my heart” a la Maggie Nelson.
There are those of us who have always felt alone in the world, intrepid, aliens in every community we find ourselves in. We have had to learn our love language from strangers and take it on as if it is natural to us. Which it became. Then there are those of us who have been loved well our whole lives—and now must learn how to love others generously, without fear of loss. No matter what love planet we hail from, whether it is a planet where no life thrives or a planet full of mysteries, it is our job to take care of ourselves and each other as best we can when what the world offers is not enough.
In these letters, I aim to be your champion, a kind of mother, or lover
or anything that lets us touch each other.
Thank you to Claire Skinner, as always, for being my Clairvoyant Friend.
If you’d like to donate to the making of those love letter scopes you can visit my PayPal! XO
Recently, my dear friend Angela Watrous (Aquarius), who is an empathy-centered healer, shared this a quote from Gertrude Stein (Aquarius) about writing and creating: After all everybody, that is, everybody who writes is interested in living inside themselves in order to tell what is inside themselves. That is why writers have to have two countries, the one where they belong and the one in which they live really. – Gertrude Stein, “Paris, France.”
Despite my reluctance to hold Gertrude Stein in my mind for too long, lest she rises from the dead and decides to write MY autobiography, I couldn’t help but find it timely. There’s something about spring, about the promise of new life and new adventures, that brings out the wanderlust in all of us. And if we are lucky, or privileged, or very particular about how we spend our money, we can have what we want. We can trade apartments with friends in foreign countries, make money under the table picking weed in California with the new loves of our lives, travel all along the old Eastern Bloc and redefine who we are as artists and makers.
You can do any of those things as long as you remember, my dear Aquarius, you are someone who lives in two countries. The one you rise into everyday, weaving in and out of the life you’ve built—your accomplishments, your obligations, your loved ones—and the country that only your spirit knows by name. No matter where you go, no matter how far you’d like to be, it is your task to take your spirit with and tend to the home inside yourself. There is no else and no other place that will do this for you. Knowing can be both a kind of freedom and a kind of weight, practice recognizing it as the former.
When I met you, at a dinner party full of strangers, it was as if we had known each other all along. Something about your face, the shape of it, your unruly hair and the way you danced—stomping almost. Something about your mouth against my mouth, not perfect but young-hearted, it made me want to see you again. I imagined our affection like two wild ponies from separate herds necking in the dark.
And, even though it took you months to write back to me, I wanted to take that walk with you in the rain. I liked the way we cut through April, the spring in our hearts babbling and strewing flowers. I liked that we wanted to eat at the same place, that we took bites from each other’s plates. I liked, too, the bookstore after, with that horrible open mic and the ridiculous lesbian erotica. I said I’m free unto the world, but you have someone waiting. You said There’s no one waiting and we went to a bar where you held my knee between your knees for a long time before kissing me.
I want to write this here because in our texts since then, the pony in my heart has walked through an evasive fog. I want to tell you that I know how to let beautiful things alone. This spring, I’ve walked by dozens of Magnolia trees and never took a petal for myself. Pisces, whomever you open yourself to next, whatever door you come to, it might do you good to figure out what you want before you knock and how best to say it plain.
In the month since you’ve been far from me, we’ve relied on the phone to keep us close. You at a residency in the middle of nowhere trying to generate new work, me juggling two new jobs on top of my old ones, time is difficult and ceaseless. Running back and forth between obligations, I’ve carried two voices with me: yours and Elena Ferrante. Of course, I have no idea what Elena’s sign is or what her real name is… or anything else for that matter. What I know for sure is this: there is something radical inside her work, something so brave that the woman who writes it can’t stand to be compared to the women she creates.
There is a violence in her books I understand. The kind that calls a girl down to her knees, the kind that makes you think brute force would be better than nothing. You close a chapter and stand still as if seeing your own adolescence again: Wasn’t I just as cruel to myself? Wasn’t I just as selfish in the face of suffering?
Since finishing the second book of her Neopolitan series, I’ve felt the force of her absence and yours simultaneously. Which is really the trouble with distances and finding books to live in. Your presence and her language a kind of call toward opening in me, I want to bring you to that place and show you to each other. In lieu of impossible things, I will tell you this: whatever you are making in this world, if you are brave, if you go beyond what feels good and toward pain, then you will find an opening. You must know what it takes to lower yourself in without getting lost. You must bring the necessary tools to get out.
In the New Yorker, Claudia Rankine wrote a reflection on the work of Adrienne Rich. It’s titled “Adrienne Rich’s Poetic Transformations,” but reading the essay (which is pulled from a forthcoming introduction to collection of Rich’s work), you might find that the one who’s transformed is Rankine. Over and over she recalls a young version of herself, a writer and activist coming into her own and looking for voices that could keep her company. We see her at the table of her youth, pouring over Baldwin and Rich and Lorde, trying to understand what art is for.
Rankine shows us the poems, draws lines between where Rich’s craft began and what it grew into. She also shows us her political letters, including this one regarding her decline of the National Medal from the Clinton Administration and the NEA:
There is no simple formula for the relationship of art to justice. But I do know that art—in my own case the art of poetry—means nothing if it simply decorates the dinner table of power which holds it hostage.
Re-reading these words, which I have read many times before in a state of admiration and awe, I imagined I might bring them to you. Taurus, does your work, your beautiful energy and commitment, decorate a dinner table that you would rather not sit at? Do you wake feeling like you have given away so much of your creative force, that you barely have any left for yourself? If there is a power that holds your best-self hostage, learn to recognize it. If your boundaries are being crossed, it’s your job to maintain them.
It’s close to eight when my brother (Gemini) calls me. I’ve spent the day cleaning my apt, visiting my friend who is injured, babysitting an infant, and moving to the West Village to housesit for ten days. His phone call finds me finally beginning to write. I don’t want to pick up, to interrupt the solitary space I’ve carved out, but I do it anyway. My brother doesn’t call me often, if at all. We talk about work, I tell him how I spend my days, how hard it is to make ends meet. And, even though he replies in kind—detailing how little he gets paid, how long his workdays are, how little he sees his kids—he lets me know that if I need any money he’s got me.
Because it’s embarrassing, I’ll admit that I treasured those stories we read as children, the ones where the girl and her brother go off bravely into the woods and find a way to survive. They aren’t brave at first, just lost. And yes the girl is clever. She feeds the wild cat and knows what lights the dark heart of the forest witch. But her brother is her champion. Not because he is bigger or stronger—and he might be—but because he sees in her a great power and vows to protect it.
In my heart, my brother and I are those children. In this world, I know he doesn’t have me, can’t protect me, can’t champion me in any way I’d understand. When he makes his offer, I want to say just call me more, just try to know me but I don’t. I thank him; I ask him if he’s happy, if he likes what he does. “Listen,” he pauses, sighs. “It’s been a rough few years, you know? It’s like I’m being born again. I’m new, I’m re-building my life.” This admission, hopefulness, it catches me. With those few words, I realize that in this story, I must be the champion. Gemini, if you move bravely toward your new life, I will be your champion.
You wrote me a letter and every day since its arrival, I’ve looked it over and considered you. Considered the night I gave you my hand and you led me through a forest so dark the moon could barely do its work, the coral ring you bought me on a cruise with the girlfriend you said you were leaving. The month my family rejected me and you showed up drunk. How the car swerved and my heart lurched with disappointment.
In Bluets, Maggie Nelson quotes (a beloved song of mine) Emmylou Harris’ Red Dirt Girl:
- One thing they don’t tell you ’bout the blues when you got ’em, you keep on fallin’ ’cause there ain’t no bottom,’ sings Emmylou Harris, and she may be right. Perhaps it would help to be told that there is no bottom, save, as they say, wherever and whenever you stop digging. You have to stand there, spade in hand, cold whiskey sweat beaded on your brow, eyes misshapen and wild, some sorry-ass grave digger grown bone-tired of the trade. You have to stand there in the dirty rut you dug, alone in the darkness, in all its pulsing quiet, surrounded by the scandal of corpses.
I’ve read Bluets over and over for years. I read it when I moved across the country and away from my homophobic family; I read it when my father died and when my partner and I separated for good. When I read it, I never thought of you. Not because you didn’t break my heart—you did. I didn’t think of you because I let you go. Dear Lover, You were so beautiful, with your perfect mouth and square palms. We built a world with our love. We were covered in dirt and smelled like fire. We were water animals who felt too much and there was a time when time did not matter.
Time matters now and there is only going forward from here. You can’t be who you were, can’t raise the dead. Put the spade down and climb out of the hole, dear heart. Like the moon, love is never gone. It just keeps changing shape.
There is a string that ties us to each other, this much I know and not much more. A decade ago, in a small bookstore-turned-punk hovel that I sometimes treated as my home, you chanted your poems and they settled in me. Years later, we were at the edge of a dock, pouring honey into Seneca Lake, singing. I sent you a package made of art scraps, things that I thought might please you. You sent me your lover’s book, bound by metal bolts, picture of a girl against naked trees—furtive—you note scribbled at the edge.
The taxi ride in Oregon, our friend’s writer’s retreat in NY you demanded I attend—even if it meant paying for it yourself. A moment when, gently against the wall, you touched me as if in all those years of sailing past we’d made a lover’s cartography.
The last time we saw each other, backstage at a small show, your chair was so close to mine I thought there was only one chair. You bit into an apple and I felt your teeth, the apple’s flesh sprayed against my arm. You handed me the apple and I, knowing where your eyes were, dragged my tongue slow along the bite. A map is not a life, Leo, only a handful of coordinates that show us where we might have ventured and boundary monuments that keep shifting despite our best efforts. There’ll always be great loves that barely happen to us, an apple for each paring knife, each mouth. Look to the stars, Leo, the sea that carries you—even if this particular journey feels done, your lessons are not done.
Tonight the sky darkens in what feels like slow motion. We’re sitting on bleachers packed tight with bodies, waiting for awe. There is a structure on the river that’s part Navy vessel part pigeon coop. We’re preparing for Duke Riley’s Fly By Night, birds affixed with LEDs brushing the sky. The bird-themed music cuts off and the streetlights dim, a recording of pigeons chirruping, cooing, wings beating, comes on and it’s a little overwhelming, the way these sounds are here and not here.
The birds murmur quietly at the edges of their roosts until the recording cuts off and they’re beckoned to take flight. What if they shit on us? You ask. What if I never feel awe? I wonder. They don’t shit on us and I marvel at how peaceful it is to watch these creatures weave in and around the night, clusters forming and breaking apart against oncoming clusters. The sky begins where ground ends and we are not so separate from them. You keep pointing to a bird that flies a little too high, a little too far—that one is not coming back. But they do. They come back because their power is not solitary. If love is anything for these pigeons, it flickers above us illuminated: submission, shared language, the desire to touch freedom and then return to the hand that knows you.
What if I’m powerless? You ask as we walk home slowly, after the birds have returned to their boat. We’re talking about our families, wanting to change things that seem utterly unchangeable. You have power, our friend replies, the joy you bring to others is a kind of power. I think about the birds, their luminescent dance, the way Prince’s When Doves Cry came on and how you pulled us all in for a group hug. She’s right about you, about the kind of love you have for this world, its potential like hundreds of beating wings.
Last week, as we walked slowly around pillows stitched with images of Stone Butch Blues and maps of ye olde lesbiane textes at an exhibit called “Queering the Bibliobject,” we wondered aloud at what makes a distinctly Libra poem. Is it the quest for beauty? I ventured, a poem like a crow pecking around for jewels. Does it have something to do with balance? You replied a little sidewise, as if balance wasn’t something one could achieve with a poem.
For a long time, we shared this city and did not know each other. The lovers who bridged us were bridges on fire or bridges under construction or an ex with whom one of us was in love and one of us was a pillar of salt. So, no, we never met at a park or poetry reading or late night café to talk about the many kinds of pain we are capable of enduring for love. But, we were tied by it and If our bodies were not capable of such destruction, they could be beautiful.
Tonight I’m thinking about beauty as the ultimate balancing act. A Libra poem about the gorgeous ways our bodies are bridges and how we cross them and how we burn trying. And, there is the water rushing through trying to teach us something about what we’re scared to lose. And, here, the mysterious boats we board so that we might sail under the shadows of what we’ve built and destroyed, into wild worlds yet unknown to us.
In another universe where we live seaside lives, you are always shucking oysters. Here it is, another crustacean, another tight-lipped little treasure box and you with your perfect knife. You were born to open what wants opening, to tip it just so, and suck the secret out. But in this life, Scorpio, your job is not so clear-cut (unless, of course, you truly work in the sea and even then there are limits to what you know of the secret life of oysters). In this universe, you can’t force a secret out, can’t demand trust and surrender at knife point.
Even if you are gentle, even if you practice the oft-cited golden rule “do unto others,” no one owes you intimacy—no one has to do unto you what you do unto them. Intrinsically, you know this. You’re perceptive; you hold reverence for the hard protective shell and the pearl all at once.
Why waste your time with prying open what wants to stay shut? Could it be that this time, like many times before, you’re looking for intimacy in all the wrong places? What you’re drawn to is a kind of shadow work—you are the hand and the shore where closed things wash up at dusk. But, it’s not your job to pry out everyone’s truth and show it to them, not your place to lick sorrow from a tight mouth. Sometimes, you just have to cup what comes to you in your good strong hand, and give it right back to the sea.
We’re on a road trip together to a place neither of us has travelled. New Mexico, maybe. Your dog is with us, napping in the back seat. Or, for some reason, you haven’t brought her. We spend our pit stops watching videos of her casually slinking over to her drinking bowl or staring solemnly out a window. On the road, every song is a song we reinvent to suit our nostalgia, every snack break a guilty pleasure waiting to happen
For however long this lasts, a few days or a week, we write the story of our lives. We call on the energies of the great Sagittarians and channel their powers. Tonight, in a desert dive bar, we are meticulous as Joan Didion. We suck up local phrases like water, quietly leaning toward the other tables—nosy anthropologists. Tomorrow, we’ll be all passion and sunrise, Cisneros-brilliant, building a new language out of marks in the sand.
What I’m saying is, there is a possible world, a moment forthcoming, when you will have the chance to feel easy. Open and flowing toward the great river of being, nothing to live up to, owing your goodness to no one. You’ll be treated as good because you’ll say you are good. Your love and attention and care will be more than enough—it will be vital to the any shared journey. You will ask for what you need and, darling, you will get it.
It’s over 70, I’ve got a baby strapped to my chest in a wrap so thick I’m afraid he’ll overheat and I’ll never be allowed to nanny again. I pull his wibbly head out and support it on my arm. He’s so relaxed. Why not go to the library? In the main lobby, two separate women look me over and say, “Bless you” very matter-of-factly. “Bless you!” I reply, wondering if we’re all talking about Jesus or what. I wait at the fiction reference desk until a librarian appears and asks, “do you need help?” Like standing by the desk glancing from side to side is not indicative. I’m looking for Tell My Horse, by Zora Neale Hurston. “It’s upstairs in History,” she looks it up and writes down the number.
At the history reference desk upstairs, I ask for directions. He points me to a bookcase; the book’s missing. “I was sent here,” I explain. He apologizes, walks me over to a collection of travel books. “This can’t be right,” I conclude as if I’m the librarian. He looks the book up again. It’s available. Do I want to put it on hold for when it turns up? Possibly in a week? Maybe it’s on display. I guess May is Voodoo month. He calls the Voodoo display woman. She doesn’t pick up. I go down to the main lobby and there, in a glass case with a smudging bowl, I find Zora.
I go to the reference table. “Can I borrow a book being used in the display?” I ask but I know the answer’s no. The baby stirs. “You can put it on hold and have it in a few…” she starts to suggest but then “O it’s on hold.” “Shit,” I say and leave the library. I cross the street, settle on a nice patch of grass in Prospect Park. Then, I think about you, about Zora, about doing what needs to get done even when it’s hard—even when it makes you uncomfortable. I think about the baby in my arms that would prefer I be walking, rocking him with my stride. The baby begins to cry but I need to rest. Sha sha I whisper in his ear and download a pdf of Tell My Horse. Accept what you can’t change, Capricorn, and don’t spend too much time trying to make a thruway out of a dead-end street.