selections fromAfter Any Number of Things, What's One Thing More? a novel in prose poems
Post-Dated to the Day of the Dead
There was a time when I still loved you and you still wanted to show me something beautiful. You took me to Xoxocotlán and we walked among the dead: I did love you then, the cold of November wrapped around me. You touched my face between the walls of a crumbling church: an unbearable roof of stars.
There was one moment, one moment where I felt us light up again the way we did in the beginning, when every touch was incandescent. But you started drinking, or maybe I did, and you wanted too much then, as always: your mouth too hungry, biting down on my windpipe outside the house we lived in, your uneven teeth crashing into mine. I felt your kiss like an impact, and I was bleeding, but I yielded to you, as I always did, back then, when I loved you. That night I fell asleep with my eyes open to watch the world shift from dark to dream. We were sleeping, our bed become an altar: marigolds all around us, the house we built in flames. My face painted and our bodies sliced open and I woke up cradling your cranium: dos difuntos, still in love then, rolling in our matrimonial grave.
This is What She Told Her Friends the Second Time She Went Back to Him
They say that Persephone went down into the underworld and ate six pomegranate seeds, but that's not how it happened. What happened is she ate half a mezcal worm, and fell in love. Hades ate the other half, and the twin sides of that lombriz linked their bellies forever. She didn't eat that thing alone.
Hades had never been to the Underworld before. They ate that worm and they fell in together. There are those who'll tell you that he lured her in, but they don't know how underworlds work. The truth is he was as foreign as she was, and probably twice as scared. Women who eat worms learn to lose their fears quickly, but a belly full of underworld love can be hard to explain, harder to digest, and she learned quickly all the signs of indigestion. She didn't feel it alone, of course. Hades was hurting too. Listen: split a worm in half, and you're likely to fall in love. It's trying to leave the underworld that turns things toxic. Persephone had a previous engagement—her mother called her twice a day and three times on the weekends, voicemails piling up like unburied corpses on her phone, not so subtle messages of obligation. And the underworld was different than her life above ground, and she missed eating sushi sometimes, missed philosophy, the subway, the familiar streets. Maybe she was afraid to stay; after all, she had lived her whole life in the Overworld, which so far had been reasonable. Recognizable. At any rate, her mother called her, and she went. Persephone up out of the underworld, her underworm turning to lead in her belly.
The weight of lead is not unlike the weight of love, but even gravity is inverted through underworlds, and the farther she got from Hades the heavier that thing got. She grew heavy like a planet. She grew heavy like a stone. Hades felt it too: felt that thing which tied them tear through his flesh, mangle his intestines. He grew pale; he felt it rip through him. It felt like a hernia, and he felt it grow. She couldn't walk from the weight of it; days went by; he lost the ability to talk. She called him, frantic. She called him at 3am. She called him after nights of drinking, trying to melt the weight of her worm with whiskey. Whiskey will never undo what mezcal started, a bottle of mezcal and an eaten worm.
How could they understand it? The Underworld lay between them, and the farther they moved, the tauter it grew, hauling like fishing line on the twin hooks of their hearts. How could they understand that the same weight which hooked them, the weight which pulled their tongues through their tracheas, was love? They had seen too many movies. They had seen romantic comedies: love shouldn't look like this. The weight of a love stretched taut is Hell; the weight of a love tearing fishhooks through hearts is an entire underworld of pain. They didn't understand it. They backed up further.
They backed up so far that they snapped. Persephone went flying, her hair whipping her face, her body slingshot through customs and immigration lines, slingshot through border fences and airports until she collided with him, full on, a g-force collision. She couldn't breathe. They were kissing; their stomachs split open on impact, their bodies covered with blood and the delicious wriggling of their underworms, their one worm, their bones buzzing with the inescapable pounding of a single beating heart.
“But why didn’t you leave him?”
What Is It About Madness?
With Crazy Rob, I have to admit, that’s a thing I didn’t understand. The name itself sort of gives away the ending, doesn’t it?And I should have known that from the beginning, I did recognize that he was absolutely crazy from the beginning, but somehow that didn’t stop anything. Look at it this way: I was wearing a mustache when I met him. Look at it this way: I was wearing very short jean cutoffs and a pirate goatee and mustache when I met him. It’s not that I often go out alone dressed as a pirate, although you know I wish I was the kind of woman that did. No, I wasn’t alone: I was part of a pirate horde that night. It was Leslie’s birthday and you know how Leslie is about pirates, and it was the final anniversary of her 26th birthday before she gave up the ghost and really did turn 30, and so she asked and we answered: yes to the pirate horde. Yes to cardboard swords and plastic hooks and yes to gold dollar coins at every bar we hit and yes to fishnets and yes to dancing and yes to a mustache that I just couldn’t get enough of, until someone pushed me into Crazy Rob at a dance club whose name alluded both to homosexuality and Star Wars in a way I can’t recall now, pushed me into him and everything else was out of my hands after that.
What is it about madness? I know you’ve felt it too, that undertow, that ache, the way you’d let a complete stranger say three words to you and peel your mustache off, the way you’d let him pass his keys off to his friend from Pasadena and convince you, walking block after block, that the only thing for it was to go with him, to see where he would go.
And you did, of course, because you are susceptible to such things. What could be more dreamlike: you as pirate and a man familiar in his mania, hands insistent, logic fluid like dreams.
That first night, of course, was animal––our shit’s primal, he would write to you almost a year later, from hundreds of miles away—the beginning was animal, and then came the madness. An IV drip into your life. That’s the problem with you, haphazard as you are: you’re susceptible to everyone else’s madness. You love it: you can feel it like some ecstatic parasite worming its way through your veins. The moon that night was a dirty orange, and you felt it rise like a lump in you, from stomach to throat. What is it about madness that’s so hard to let go of? You lay in bed on hot nights, writhing in a fever of him. How hard is it to acquiesce, how hard to leave damn well enough alone? You let it go on for months like that, until finally you realized, gasping on an on-ramp in deadlocked traffic: lunacy is not a thing that shifts. It’s not malleable—you threw yourself against that rock over and over again, split open like a galleon rotting offshore. Don’t answer it, next time, when you feel that ache move through you—let well enough alone, girl, you can’t live your whole life as a pirate, learn to leave damn well enough alone.
Kimi Traube is a writer and translator living in NYC. Her translations have been featured in BOMB Magazine, Powderkeg, and the Bridge Series at McNally Jackson. Her short prose has appeared in Catch & Release, and she has been a featured reader at the Banquet Reading Series, the Dead Rabbits Reading Series, and the IAC Salon. She completed her MFA in Fiction and Literary Translation at Columbia University this year; her translation of Juan Villoro's The Guilty is forthcoming from George Braziller Press. She is currently working on a novel in prose poems titled After Any Number of Things, What's One Thing More?