We Met in a Foreign City

“I became the earth, her instrument- smoothened and dug and brought forth- but I wrote her powers into her, and played her every night. The mornings were rushed and secret, bordered on all sides with commerce, but at night I made her stretch across me until we filled most open places I could imagine in this world.” (Stinson)

I find myself going back to this section, it was difficult to choose what quote to write about. If it were possible I would have chosen the whole section to discuss the impact Stinson’s words had on me. Growing up, when I questioned my sexuality, I would immediately push the thought to the back of my mind. I found myself thinking about femme bodies and because I didn’t know queer people in my community, I spent 16 years unaware of a part of my identity. After I began organizing, all of the spaces had queer, trans, and non binary people, I learned about pronouns and the different terms. That is when I began feeling more comfortable in questioning who I was. Fast forward to college, I was in an open relationship with a rising senior who went abroad. It was my first non monogamous relationship and I was in Detroit, MI for a political convention. That’s where I met Nico. I had no idea who this person was but I remember being starstruck by their appearance, the way they carried themselves. Our first interaction was electric, we were like two teenagers teasing each other, horsing around and stepping on each other’s shoes. I fell harder than I had ever fallen. I ended things with my ex, I realized that everything I wanted was offered to me elsewhere and I chose to recognize my value. I indulged myself in another femme body. I relate to the sensation of being intertwined with the body of my lover, the way one is in awe as you watch your lover do anything. The feelings came over me and nearly two years later, I still feel the same way. To admire a body that mirrors mine is to be present. I think Susan Stinson’s strongest description is in the section, the way the details are unfolded and the infatuation is captured allows readers like myself to paint the images and understand just how strong of a hold someone can have on you. It was a gravitational pull and I also relate to the experience of leaving a heterosexual relationship for a queer one. Once you look and see the art that is your partner, it would be blasphemous to try to look back. 

“The Difference Between Outside and Inside”

TW: sexual assault

In Cereus Blooms at Night, trauma is a permanent obstacle for Mala Ramchandin. “Pohpoh worked on finding that perfect balance between being rigidly alert and dangerously relaxed” (143) Pohpoh and Mala seem to be one and the same. However, Pohpoh is the younger version of Mala, a separation of herself from the act of violence she endured. It is neither the innocent or the evolved version of herself. She is the hurting version of Mala, the one whose wounds are still open and lives with the anxiety of her trauma. Mala is the older version of herself, the wiser and protective sibling who seeks justice through means of physical altercation. Mala struggles with the wounds as she imagines herself  “wanting to to tear and scream into her father’s room” and “punching him in his stomach over and over until he cried like a baby” (143) This part of the reading is filled with the tension and internal conflict Mala and Pohpoh have. 

This is similar to the way we saw Geryon in the Autobiography of Red internalize his conflict after his trauma with his brother. The day after he was abused by his brother, they both went to the beach where Geryon finds an object he hides from his brother. “That was also the day he began his autobiography. In this work Geryin set down all inside things particularly his own heroism and early death much to the despair of the community. He cooly omitted all outside things.” (Carson, 29) The autobiography itself is a space outside of the event of trauma where he can explain himself, be himself without fear of judgement. Throughout the rest of the novel he describes himself as a red monster, a version of himself that is separate from Geryon. The four: Mala, Pohpoh, Geryon and the red monster are all versions of past, present, and future versions of themselves. The past versions of the individuals serve as guides to differentiate what is safe inside of their circles from what are the dangers externally. For Mala, Pohpoh is the preservation of her youth, her obstacle to navigate family dynamics and what it means to be a survivor. We can see that time and space in both texts is fluid despite the trauma being a constant.

The Existence of Loss

“To deny the existence of red is to deny the existence of mystery. The soul which does so will one day go mad.” (105) Red can be passion, anger, love. It can be intense, soft, or staining. To deny the existence of his emotions, his struggles, and his unresolved tensions is to deny the right to explore who he is. This will eventually lead one into an identity crisis, to which we see Geryon trying to find books about self enlightenment in the philosophy section. The act of being is complex and when Geryon finds another book that states “…to the oblivion we call health when imagination automatically recolors the landscape and habit blurs perception and language takes up its routine flourishes.” (107) We see that Geryon has constantly found himself in situations where his interests are met with challenges. Geryon makes decisions based on desires for love and long lasting intimacy but fails to accept reality for what it is. The book takes us on the journey of love and loss with Herakles but it is through the heartache that Geryon comes to realize he, like Herakles, isn’t the same person they were when they were younger. Perhaps we can tie this to his unmet needs from his family. Is what Geryon longs for, genuine happiness or reconciliation for an unfortunate loss he endured? 

In the show, How I Met Your Mother, the protagonist Ted is in love with a woman named Robin, it leads him to make grand romantic gestures until she agrees to be with him. They dated for a year and then broke up because they had different visions for their future. However, throughout the rest of the series Ted continues to pursue her while she moves on and eventually marries his best friend. Ted’s friends persistently tell him that she is not “the one” and that they’re not as compatible as he believes they are. In one episode, he reminisces on his college days and how he set his life out that by the time he was 22 he would be married. This episode occurred in 3 year intervals, with different realities of Ted almost reliving past breakups and failures. By the end Ted is disappointed with the reality of not being married or having kids. This episode and the entire series, makes me go back to the question posed earlier, did Ted want to be happy or was he looking for reasons to make his lover “be the one.” It teaches the difficulties with letting go and the heartache that comes with finding coincidences to be signs from the universe. For Geryon I believe that he was holding onto an idealized version of Herakles, someone who he could explore his identity and sexuality with. After he has sex with Herakles, he’s later confronted by Ancash who asks Geryon if he is still in love with Herakles. He answers with “In my dreams I do. Dreams of the old days.” (143) Then later says having sex with Herakles was “degrading.” I think this being the ending of the book says more about Geryon acknowledging and diminishing this romanticized version of Herakles than it does about him just feeling bad for the affair. One might see this moment as pitiful but I believe it can be seen as a moment of reclamation, to note that Geryon holds himself accountable for his mistake, but that he understands he can be afforded some mistakes because to deny the existence of red is to deny the art of letting go.

“It’s the clichés that cause the trouble”

In Written on the Body, the line “it’s the clichés that cause the trouble” (10) is one that not only is repeated in the novel but is a foundation for the way the narrator speaks. The narrator expresses their desire for Louise extensively through metaphors of nature, the universe, amongst various other elements. The narrator early on refers to love as an inexplicable thing but contradicts themself by finding different ways of explaining that for himself. In another passage, the writer details ties that “twitched when Louise walked by and the suits pulled themselves in a little.” (32) The narrator knows that Louise attracts everyone’s attention, including those of married people like themself. This is also an example of how cliches don’t do Louise’s beauty justice to the narrator, nor the complexities of the affair. At the end of the passage, they remind themself that the ring is capable of burning them. Louise is the muse for the narrator, a sin in flesh and a symbol of internal conflict about morals they choose to embody. 

In a different passage, the narrator has us visualize a conversation with Louise, who tell them that they don’t want false confessions of their love for her. The lover in their mind has a dispute, comparing Louise to the angel in Love and the Pilgrim, a work of art that shows an angel guiding a person out of vines. They say “Find your own way through and you shall win your heart’s desire. Fail and you will wander for ever in these unforgiving walls.” (54) The cliche here would have been, “art imitating life” but this individual weeds out the issue, while giving us detailed description of the manifestation of their problem in the artwork. The lovers are both actors in painting that almost reveals as if it was fate that brought them together. If the clichés are what cause the trouble, then the metaphors and imagery are what reveal the intensity of those troubles.