A spirit came to me in the night, its body vaporous. Touch me. Save me. She hovered above, breasts heaving. I came to check on you, she said, Kalispera Sas. My hand lurched, the mist dissolved, I woke to discover I’d wet the bed.
Argos, like every mislaid remembrance, evaporates on return. We laugh and pass by like children entering gas chambers. I wandered, forgot, dreamt this would be the end of the voyage. A building here, red-bricked, attached, gravel driveway. Inside, walls of mirrors: a house of the mind.
Approaching thirty, in a landscape unimagined, I prepare for my first birthday party. Rowing in dark waters, with words my paddles. Each dissolves, is forgotten, nearing Babel. Something holds me back: a stray wire, the latch of a gate, a forgotten thread. A flock of gulls inscribe the sky.
Outside the church now, next to Papou: He’s grown so tall, he has your eyes, they chorus, in Greek. Take us away from here, I want to leave, his eyes once pleaded. We’re at the delicatessen. A man behind the counter speaks slowly, as to a child. Papou smiles back in dumb defeat. The next day he goes alone, comes back tearful, disoriented. They’d strapped him down, he says, injected him. He’d visited a deli back in time as I played Asteroids. Take us away from here. I want to leave. He repeats. I have his eyes, but I’m taller.
There is one last photograph: cigarette in mouth, tan-coloured baseball cap high on head, strong jaw, deep eyes, rummaged skin, an offended aura. His image in home movies is an exposure wound.
They called him Fotios, for luminescence. We’re little more than abrasions of light, a façade. At the funeral I heard someone say, We loved him but he didn’t love us. He was shivering. Dust covered his face. He said to me, in a fit of madness: The empty windows seem to stare.
Semaphore: a place for signals. Larus glaucescens, the wailing bird. Grief will turn your skin blue. I’ve lost my bearings, become a scavenger of sea-scraps.
The waves lick them smooth. To perceive a thing is to decipher its meaning: how it impresses itself on the senses, how it approaches, how it vanishes. Each moment inexpressible except as it is. Like salt in water, or water in salt, there is nothing to us. The merest speck on a wide beach as hollow as a shell.
My mother, the sea, opens her arms, brays to the moon. A reflection, a long labour, a cupful of water tipping and dripping. The air we breathe is her agony. The sun dips into the ocean, becomes a vortex for eddying thoughts – a sauna. I feel strangely disturbed. What have you been doing all this time? she asks. Laughing along, I say, with a twisted mouth.
This night, late as a moan, is my soggy mud-nest and I, enclosed in its pitch-dark, dither inside: a beaded, quivering grassblade in black patchwork, a ghost-white worm’s crown glowing from the yet-to-come.
I was asleep when she slipped out of bed. I heard them whisper, then moan. She returned panting, moist. I saw things clearly for the first time. I don’t understand became my mantra.
Every ghost is she, the one from my dreams, who haunts and possesses her intermediaries.
What am I if not a collector? asks the hoarder of imperishable memories.
Incoherent signs, spliced together, as in a dream.
The birthday song echoes like a sonic puzzle
my hallucination blurs
secretes a hologram of me.
Shannon Burns is a writer, reader and critic from Adelaide, Australia.
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