The beloved city, like the beloved person, makes you move differently. You adapt yourself to its rhythms, your pulse quickens, your perceptions are more alert; the feeling of being constantly gazed at animates your movements. You come to know its least foibles well enough to predict them. Its personality grows more intricate the more you discover it: the twists and groans and chuckles, shouts and whispers, the blood-beat of its infrastructure, the topsy-whir of its inhabitants’ lives. It demands nicknames and immediately slips from their grasp. You wriggle into its language, learn to negotiate its secret folds and alleys, gloat over the quirks that nobody, as you convince yourself, has ever discovered but you.
You grow to know this city by heart, to recognise the smell that drifts over it on November afternoons, of rotting leaves and sad drains, and the peculiar way in which the noises intensify during rush hour; these become as domesticated as the warm salty odour of the shirt your lover discards when you meet, or the huffing sounds he makes as he sleeps. The city’s skylines are as distinctive, and as infinitely examinable, as the creases and contours of his face. The languid water, the bridges you cross and recross, remind you of his supine body, of shadows rippling on his skin, of tireless fingers.
Some cities, and some lovers too, lay upon you a first hollow impression of banality, chaos, greyness. You look elsewhere for more stirring horizons, but as your attention wanders, the dull image you have set aside begins to edge itself with colour, gradually staining itself addictive, until you reawaken to it and find that you can no longer take your eyes from it; until you cannot do without the smell of his skin and the particular sounds of dawn traffic that mean you are lying beside him in his rumpled bed.
The beloved city becomes part of your skin: its dust is beneath your nails, its water has infused your blood. Your senses have become attuned to it. Your inner compass navigates according to the pattern of your footsteps along its streets, just as it corrects itself along the lines of the fit of your lover’s body to your own.
you must uproot these structures
these patterns and conduits that have come to extend so deeply into you that you know not where they end
and you find that you have been shaped into an inverted version of the landscape, so that you do not know how you can exist without its embrace
and you are slowly torn across, and then across again, as if you are no more than a street map that is no longer required.
As the end, a silent juggernaut, approaches, you attempt to fill yourself up with the essence of your lover, your city, your beloved.
You seek desperately to list those memories you allowed to flit away when they were experiences, for you had thought that they would be ever renewed, back in those days when you were still the beloved of your beloved.
You try in vain to engorge yourself with those memories in the hope that they will overflow later, back into the wasteland that will be left of you, when it is over: when you are far away.
Helen de Búrca
Twitter handle is @helenlechat and some of Helen’s other publications appear here:
http://webstory.ch/Liste/Auteurs/215-helene-page-egalement-helen-de-burca (in French)