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The face of his hours reflected

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"From the first he loved me with an intensity of love, which was unaccountable. . . . As far as this world was concerned I was his first and last."
- (John Henry Newman, writing about Ambrose St. John.)

*

"You spoke then of holding hands with God."
- (Patti Smith, in a letter to Robert Mapplethorpe.)

*

It is warm, still early—the day lies within fine-spun cobwebs, in the embrace of morning, and the sky has the colour of gentle saffron and sweet secreted spice, of enchanting Eastern romances, of new paths and new lands. And I wake, holding these words and these dreams within my mouth and my heart. I wake, with the wish to kiss the very hem of your soul, like the wings of a butterfly, like the waves in the sea.

But I do not speak. I go outside to find you. And, side by side (close, as we have so been, from that very first day), we rest, with contented hearts, almost holding hands with God. And we watch the young birds—the blackbirds and the thrushes of all my longing dreams—trying their wings, learning to fly.

Here, under the soft hush of this morning sun, in this little world of ours (this refuge, this place of perfect repose, where our souls fit together just so), you sit, with a little smile upon your mouth. And your eyes are closed, but I know how they shine, all aglow like diamonds so rare—such brilliant and tender fire within! (And, in spite of all I have seen, no other fireworks have I ever wanted, no other bright beacon, no other blinding spark...)

And I pause, and my fingertips tremble. And I feel the wind stir the air around us, and I feel you breathe. And I hear your heart, I hear the word, the bird, the home within it, and I want to catch each beat and keep it, safe, like a treasure. I almost hear your voice, almost in a whisper, echoing the song within me. And I could speak now, but I do not. I keep my words under lock and key, safe in my breast pocket, along with my heart, all of it, like a little flame. And I will send my Soul, but not words—that weak interpretation of it—for I very well know that no words can convey my sense.

No, I do not speak—for I know the words in your heart, and you know mine.

And so it is.

And the world is quiet (it still keeps its secrets), and I hear nothing—nothing but the roar of the rushing winds and the sea's tides (the sea within you!), the fireworks, like exploding stars—all here, within the loud beat of your heart. And I feel its touch, its pull, its rhythm, its fiery song. And I feel the morning break—the bright sky within me, as if my love, or my heartbeat, had leapt out of the sea.

And I am at peace, floating in a sweet, fevered dream.

And I remember.

I remember walking side by side with you—the twelve miles to Mount Vesubius, with the sulphur flowers and the happiness of conversation and all the adventures of love—our mingled souls in the scorching ground and the scorching sun. I remember our barge, to go a-fishing in, our library to entertain us (love and work so perfectly combined!), and all the pleasures and contents of this Voyage—all these things to sweeten our stay.

I remember, drunk on the ebb and the flow of memories, and the world still tastes exquisite and unimaginable, like ripe fruit upon the tongue.

And I leave behind all thoughts of further wandering. I think it is time to fix at home. Yes, home—that light of lights, that beloved place within your heart.

And so, I do not miss the house upon the Black Sea, the heated, intoxicating air of Constantinople, this Paradise, shining like rubies and pearls, the birds in the gardens and the cypress trees, the stars twinkling in the pale sky, the rich tulip wine, the handsome litter with its luxurious cloth, the soft cushions and the beautiful carpets, the kaftans wrought with flowers and suns and moons, embroidered with gold and silver and perfumed silk, dreamlike and voluptuous to the touch, the dew upon the sand (sparkling dust like sharp, joyful tears), the cool tents, full of longing and full of wind, the forbidden colours that met our eyes at each and every turn, the foreign fields and shores, and the sea of Marmara with its endless, loving arms, its sharp, sweet breeze in the air like a lullaby—green as a jewel, blue as the blue sky itself.

And I do not miss the deep sea within you—the hours of tenderness, the endless days of mingled pleasure and mystification, satisfying passion and thirst, the secret dreams, the fragments of liberty, and the world, touching my hand and yours, holding the overbrimming cup to our lips, never to take it away, and letting us drink our fill—deeply to find joy, and more deeply still to drown sorrow.

Such wonders would break in upon our lives like flaming stars, and I held out my starved and greedy hands. And how my heart, in awe, leapt out to meet them! My heart, wild and unbridled and all aflame, so much like a bird, like a drum, like a furnace. My heart, never concealed, never disguised, never neatly masked, with all these places of worship and new ways of praying, both holy and profane, lying within its chambers, and all the doors thrown open, open wide, waiting for you.

See how it burns, with a selfish desire! See how it overflows—my heart, laid bare, alongside your own.

They are right, you know. I have never loved anybody—anybody but you. All I ever wanted was to be your comrade, your confidant, your knight, the Dear friend of thy bosom, always faithful, first and last—to wrap myself around you, like a shadow, like a shroud, like a shield, safe and tender.

And I never spoke, but I wrote. I wrote—letters bursting with cherished, unsent words, to relieve my heart, to pour out what was hiding, deep within it. And sometimes, I caught it—I saw you looking at me with the reverence of a disciple, with the pride of a lover. I saw your own writing becoming larger, with wider, wilder spaces between the lines, leaving room for what was secret and unsaid, betraying your own heart...

And how I cherished it, secretly, like a rare jewel! In my own quiet way, I felt it so. I felt it—how could I not?—this covenant we have made together, this harmonious cavalcade, this friendship, silent and endless, this thread of my heart intertwined with that of your own—our veins and blood vessels delicately joined in marriage knots, never to be unriveted. Two bodies, one soul—suave et irruptum animorum connubium! Yes, my whole life welded to your life, tied, mind and body and soul, merged, melted—huddling, wrapped up in one another, our hands always clasped, linked and sated, and threaded in sleep every night, fused as if to become one.

No, I do not miss any of it. Why would I? If it gets dark, and I am lost, if I become a shipwrecked mariner, stranded on an unknown shore, I will not be afraid. You will give me back my face, my eyes, my hands. You will give me back my heart. You will light the way, and you will find me. Bound to you, just so, I will see the world. I will be found. And then, I will sleep, but only if you are here.

Yes. I will wait.

And so it is.

And I sit here, with you, in silence. And then, I hear the aria of the wild, wild sea, and it makes a path for me to follow. And my heart beats along to the sound of the strange, secret cartography of this place, and to the familiar one of you—of us. Yes, my heart whispers unto yours (like the wings of a butterfly, like the waves in the sea), and I do not need to speak. And I feel it, not far off, the sweet release of dawn, of rest, of sacred, unexpressible, enduring love, of journeys homeward bound. I know it, for that bright lamp, that compass within your own heart—that Good Pilot!—so showed me the way.