it shall be your occult convolutions

I took pleasure from tending the wound, as a gardener takes pleasure.

In its infancy, it was entirely spiritual. There were not many physical pleasures to be had, in the early days of our new life; either that, or we were incapable of understanding them. One of the strangest aspects of human experience is that we cannot remember the moments, or even the years, directly following our own births; the time during which our most fundamental patterns and habits are laid. All the memories that we consider old and important are merely shadows laid on top. Once we have forgotten, we can know only that the newly born feel pain, because they tell us so with cries. But do they feel pleasure? Do they delight in the newness of their flesh, do they realize that to focus on delight is to multiply it? Or is that focus, that divine multiplication, the very definition of loss of innocence?

If it is possible to be born twice, I have been. The one beside me is my mother and my child and my twin. So I can speak as if from the mouth of the infant: there was not much pleasure in the condition of newness. Not much focus. Focus requires routine, expectation. And only once it was clear that the new life washed out of the ocean would take, that she had not miscarried nor stillbirthed us, could there be expectation of anything.

My expectation, the first of this new life: every evening, I would change the bandage on Will’s shoulder, and he would change the one on my belly.

Abandonment also requires expectation. Will said this once. He was bathed in holy light, and smelled of fever; he paced the floor of my study, my soul, with his bare feet hovering above the ground. No footsteps on my carpet to prove he was there. If so personal a gift could be acquired through so impersonal a means, I would have prayed for mud-tracks to follow him home by. Instead I had to bathe his feet in mud that fell from my eyes, dry them with leaves cascading from the crown of my head.

Abandonment requires expectation and the possibility of separation. Will spoke of separation once as well. He was bathed in the flickering light of the Phlegethon and smelled of iron. He stepped in up to his eyelashes, in the hopes that I would pull him out; but I allowed it to carry me away instead. I was certain that when he reversed the rotation of the world, there would be a brief moment when all five rivers stood still, before they began flowing backwards. Instead he became a moon, and the river of blood a sea, and he pulled me up on his shores with the tide.

When he began refusing to have his wound cleaned, it was not abandonment, because the possibility of separation was long gone. It hurt, as it was meant to, like newness hurts. Teeth pushing through gums, cartilage hardening into bone. There was fluid seeping through the gauze, and it smelled of potential. Potential flows downhill; it pools in valleys, erodes rock, seeps into graves. I told him that it would get infected, and he said “yes,” and touched my side, to tell me that he would still change mine. My habit is to roll onto one side, then push myself up until I am on all fours. From this position a bandage around the middle can be easily unwrapped. From this position a man can be easily fucked. There is, to the best of my knowledge, no religious tradition that makes use of this form of kneeling, with the thighs and straight elbows both at right angles with the torso. Kneeling with no hands, or genuflection on one knee, yes. Prostration on the knees with the elbows bent, or with the haunches back, or with the forehead on the floor, yes. But this position is used only by infants crawling, and men being fucked, and myself, who was both and neither.

Potential flows downhill towards entropy, but this is not always apparent from the effects of the flow. A wound untended becomes active. Civilizations rise and fall, consuming each others’ ruins.

The battleground of Will’s body contracted and shifted in the days of his refusal, plains razed to make way for the troops. He was pleased by the pain, the smell, the warmth of it. He had succeeded in making his shoulder, and not his mind, the battle-prize. I hovered above the battlefield and saw it as a god does, as a great ripening. And yet it was left to me to make the sacrifice of the first-fruits.

“You need antibiotics,” I told him on the fifth day of the ripening. The stink of rot rose and condensed into a stratus, dripped down the walls and spread slick on the floors, crawled up the bedposts to smother me as I slept.

“I’ll take them,” Will said, “and I want something in return.”

A good trade is like a good joke. It calls together elements that had previously been unrelated. It gives them the relationship of market value, which is funny. The punchline of the best trades is the untradeability of the items being exchanged; the settling of a score that could not have existed had it not been spoken into being at the moment of its settling. I told him that I would give him everything forever in return, which he found funny. He told me what he wanted.

He was spread out as a smear on the bed. The flat side of a careful knife could have deposited him there like butter. His foot touched my thigh. His posterior forearm touched my side. The sensorimotor homunculus, with his huge hands and lolling tongue, is not well-equipped to categorise these things, unless he is focusing very closely. The infant cannot focus, but I had been given something to focus on. “You don’t seem enthusiastic,” Will said.

Enthousiazein: to have a god in you. 1600 years after the word was coined, the Puritans gave a pejorative sense: if you have too much god in you, all items seem untradeable, all pleasures ungovernable. Before we birthed, Will was full to bursting with gods, great ones and small, afterimages of human life excarnate until they could borrow his flesh.

Afterwards we were full only of each other. Until he made room in himself for the ripening of stinking pus, and then he asked me to consume it.

Will said once that the light from friendship would not reach us for a million years. He was bathed in phosphor glow and terrible enthusiasm, and smelled like prison soap. But a million light-years is nothing; potential is measured with reference to the point at infinity.

I had told him then that friendship is a breach of individual separateness, and the words tasted like old ash in my mouth. Montaigne tells a story, taken from Lucian, of Eudamidas of Corinth; a man who left in in his will, as gifts to his friends, the care of his mother and daughter. Lucian takes the story as an example of dutiful friendship: that the friends accepted even though the will, which ought to contain gifts from the deceased to his friends, contained burdens instead. Montaigne takes the matter differently. He says that in true friendship there is no boundary of the self, no individuals to give or receive; and if there is, then the benefit of one friend is the highest desire of the other, so the most generous man is the one who provides the occasion for the gift. In his view, Eudamidas had given to his friends the most valuable gift possible: the opportunity to give him a gift even after his death.

I first read Montaigne as an adolescent in my uncle’s house; it was the first book I picked off his shelf when I arrived and I sat by it with a dictionary month after month until I understood, though Robertus offered to buy me a translation. It was as if, for the first time, someone was demonstrating to me how to truly speak; and eventually I did, breaking the silence that characterized my time in the orphanage. Robertus was pleased. He was less pleased when I reached Of Friendship, and threw the book in the fireplace. The fire did not help me come to terms with it any more than the dictionary had, though it told me all the words in their proper places. I ate the ashes of it, and did not read Montaigne again for a very long time. When I did, it was in translation by necessity: Alana said it was all she had been able to find at the bookstore in the shopping mall one exit down from the prison.

What Montaigne knew of friendship, and I with ashes stuck under my tongue did not, is this: he is my mother, my child, my twin. Because he is my mother I want to make love to him, who gave me life with his own body. Because he is my child I want to cut his throat, to make sure the life I gave is mine. Because he is my twin I want to become him, erase him, override the accident of biology that made us aliens to each other’s insides.

My loss of innocence, then, was kneeling over him bathed in the light of the sunrise; he smelled like rot. It took a long time to soak the bandage off. “Borrow my imagination,” he said when his cells and their invaders released their grip on the gauze, “and tell me how it was for me the first time, when I did this alone.”

I bent my head to lick along the edges of the wound, where milky-green bubbles popped under my tongue. There is no such thing as borrowing. His desolation by my hand was a wound inflicted on myself, but I had not tasted its fruits; I had temporarily had pleasanter things between my teeth. I tasted them now. I sucked at the sour rot, the last feeding of this infancy, and told him of his abandonment. The wound offered up more of his body, and more of what his body summons to fight off the alien. He held my head down when I gagged, and I pushed my tongue in farther when he cried out with pain, and told him of his own forgiveness. Small pieces of tissue came off in chunks, and I chewed, and told him of his divinity.

A harvest festival, the culmination and celebration of ripeness, requires waste. Thrift cannot bring increase; only consumption can do that. I ate of his body, choked on it, and so it unfolded before me. Slowly: vast dunes of skin, forests of soft hair, the oceans of eyes, ears, mouth and nose. Mountains of kneecap and nipple, the secret glades of asshole and cock. The seam of the lips and the soles of the feet and the brushstroke of scars.

I watered the soil of him with ciprofloxacin and he harvested the seed of myself the way no god accepts worship, as only an infant crawls and I am fucked. The ashes in my mouth gathered back into words, and we expected, and expected, and expected, and are still expecting.