Still Ugly Inside
I sit writing in the treasure room, puffing my cheeks, ready to exhale my seminal work. The room is flooded with water and my keyboard is on fire. I see you at the edge of the cliff with your lyre in your hand. Your eyes gaze resolutely downward. The wind blows through your loosened hair. The sea lashes below and the seagulls coo violently behind. Your bosom glows with the riot of your passion. You leap into the abyss…I scream myself awake in the middle of the night.
I remember how you used to fill every room that you have entered; how you would suck all the oxygen out. I remember how you invented the love song at age ten. I remember your Aragon, your musk and your black cumin. I remember your restless flame, your unruly ruminative lines. I remember how you slept with a dagger under your pillow every night when I was away. I remember how afraid you were to lose your mind. I remember how you fought life and won.
You come to me with a riddle:
There is a female creature who hides in her womb unborn children, and
although the infants are voiceless they cry out across the waves of the
sea and over the whole earth to whomever they wish and people who are
not present and even deaf people can hear them. The female creature is a
letter and the infants she carries are the letters of the alphabet: although
voiceless they can speak to those far away, to whomever they wish
whereas if someone happens to be standing right next to the reader he will
You, the self-willed daughter of Pegasus, wrote yourself into history. You were the muse that muses longed for. How I wished to be one of your scribbles.
You put yourself to sleep in my arms as we sit in the elephant garden. We were madly, clumsily, brutally, agonizingly, shamelessly, childishly in love with each other. I should add hopelessly, because we never had a chance. I was not equipped to carry your love in me. Not yet a man, but no longer a boy, I had nothing to offer but foolish pride. I was given beauty, but still felt ugly inside. I kept one eye always opened while you beautifully slumbered in love. I let you practice the art of our love all by yourself. I heard that you said:
I wish I were eloquent now! Sorrow checks my art and all my genius is
halted by my grief.
My old power for poetry will not come at my call;
My plectrum is sorrowing and silent, sorrow has hushed my lyre.
Daughters of the island of Lesbos, children married and soon to be wed
[ …] Phaon has stolen everything that once was pleasing to you,
Phaon, alas, I came close to calling him mine.
Bring him back; your singer too will return.
He gives power to my genius: he takes it away.
You finally lose control over the complications of your myth. You beat your chest, you tear your hair and you wail and wail. You say “Unheard I mourn, unknown I sigh; unfriended live, unpitied die.” Quite the opposite, my dear. You leap into water, and I leap into fire.
Hakim Bishara is a writer and an artist based in NYC. His latest work is a play titled It’s Only Through Your Thoughts that I Can Remember Who I Am.
Quotes from Sappho: First, from Antiphanes’ play Sappho (fourth century B.C). Source: Kock, Theodorus. Commicorum Atticorum Fragmentafr. Leipzig: Lipsiae B.G. Teubneri, 1880-88. P 196. Second, Sappho’s words in Ovid’s Heroides 15. Source: Greene, Ellen. Re-Reading Sappho: Reception and Transmission. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996. P 85.
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