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from the March 2021 issue

Stress

An unexpected encounter on a train turns into a deeper discussion about love and desire in this poem by Antón Lopo.


We bumped into each other on the train.
Antonio, returning from A Coruña:
me, heading to Vigo.
We greet with air kisses         —smooch, smooch—
and he soon asks after Oscar.
I lie to him,
                    “havent seen him in a year”
and he wrings his hands.

Hes put on weight.
Its the anti-depressants,”
                                                he says indifferently
and flips his hair back.
Its dirty. He laughs,
                               “didnt find anyone with a shower
                                 this weekend”
and his sweater smells strongly of tobacco and theres a staleness
            to his skin, a mustardy color,
but hes still an incredibly good-looking man,
with that gaze you can dive into and lose yourself,
and half-open lips,
thirsting.
An inexplicable beauty,
as beauty always is.

Hes uncomfortable because Im observing him
and from his knapsack he pulls out a book with a rumpled cover
and pages yellowed by sun and damp.
He waves it at me to
distract me:
                        its Mishimas The Decay of the Angel.
He found it in a used bookstore and
admits hes already read it a few times.
Hes obsessed by the character of Kinue
and from how he says it,
I suspect something in Kinue
reminds him of his own life.

I dunno,”
                I say to him,
                                    “I read a Mishima novel a long time ago
            and it didnt really grab me.”
Hes taken aback:
                        “How could anyone not love
                        Mishima?”

You really want to know?”

Here goes! Kinues horrid, the quintessence of ugliness but shes sure shes the most beautiful
   woman in the world and that she suffers as only beautiful women do when they walk down
   the street and all eyes are on them, when she takes a bus and men rudely try to sit down
   beside her, when she constantly feels men at dances drooling over her, men who would, if
   they could, engage her in the most indecent acts.”

I ask if thats how he feels
and he pulls out a wrinkled cigarette from the pocket
                                                                                      of his shirt.
I cant offer you one,”
                                    he says,
                                                “its my last.”
No problem: I dont smoke anymore.”
To your health, then,”
                                    and he lights the cigarette.

He exhales smoke the way a flautist, in fine-tuning the air,
extracts from it a strange music.

The smoke slips away,
                       “to be honest, I admit that Im
                        bored,”
and he looks out the window.
Bored by what?”
By all this: by the city, by Monday morning trains, by hookups, by all those who fall for me, those
   who go wild for me, those who are starstruck, entranced when they see me, and who shower
   me with promises,

marvelous promises: a beach getaway, a trip to Barcelona to get wasted, brand-name clothes, a
     nice cologne, dinner in an expensive restaurant.

Some swear theyre serious, and at times
Id say theyre serious, but in the end,
they are all scared to death.”

Scared?”
             “Terrorized.”
                                   “I dont get your drift.”
 

Having something like me at your side means responsibilities and obligations. It seems
   everyones
waiting for something and, in reality, theyre
too self-satisfied to wait for anything
thats not a paperweight

sitting
        right on top of the table.
A stunning companion who provokes
admiration from friends
and envy from enemies
exclamation from passersby
and joy at a fulfilling reflection in the mirror.”

I interrupt his soliloquy:
                                    “It seems like youve been thinking about this for awhile.”
He taps a finger to his head:
                                    “Im on my own, by myself and with lots of time to think.
                        Ive been learning this for 25 years.

Do you know
how it feels to know exactly how everything will play out?”

He finishes the cigarette and stubs it out in the armrest ashtray.
They approach me and get an idea of me and expect me to surprise them without budging an
   inch from their idea of me, and Im not playing that game.
They love me not for myself but for what I represent, and when I give them proof, when I extract
   from beauty what I actually am, it paralyzes them.”

You mean you play them?”
In a way, yes:
                        Some I just piss on in the library storeroom,
   to others I just say no, that I dont care to be with them,
   that Id rather smoke and watch them, that Id rather drink coffee then spill it down my shirt, that I have no cash, that I need cash,
   that Ive a fine to pay, that I have insomnia, that my Dads a Fed, that I still havent finished
   high school, that Ive been arrested three times, that Im a sleaze, I have panic attacks, Im
   impatient, that some nights my wrists tremble and glasses fall out of my hands and I dont
   know what to do with my hands and I wring my fingers.”
Sounds hard to take.”
And what about them? Dont they have it worse? Its not me who tragically realizes that love is
   rotten to the core.
My tragedy is
confronting the truth that no one can love me: they dont love me, or even need me:
                    they just possess me.”

He tenses and twists
his lip in a histrionic
wince
at the corner of his mouth.
Its clear hes ready for another cigarette.
He stands and bums one from a girl at the far end of the car.
Her face goes suddenly bright and a shudder of nervous laughter rises from the girls with her.
They poke each other. A gum-bubble bursts on ones face and makes her blush.
He returns sucking anxiously on the cigarette.
You see? Everything seems easy at first . . . but that initial reaction is not to me but to the beauty
that imbues me.” 

Youre just obsessed. Youre handsome
but its no big deal.”
Dont be so superficial!”
Im not being superficial:
                                                            I can see youre not a happy guy.”
How can I be happy if I cant find anyone who loves me?”
And you? Do you love anyone?”
No one gives me time to!”
Maybe you dont give them the chance?”
I give them plenty of chances, but they always end up turning back to their money, their
bookshelves, their shirts . . . even you,

do you think I dont see how youve looked at me
all these years? Its an opaque, cowardly desire, the most cowardly of all because you fear Ill notice. Or worse: not that Ill notice but that other people will.”
I think youve got me wrong, youre mistaken.”
Do you think I dont see the pack of tobacco tucked in your jacket,
                                                               though you say youve stopped smoking?"    

I think that beauty is too narrow a path for those whom it keeps from sleeping.”

He bursts into a splendid peal of laughter, all teeth
and I pull a Walkman out of my jacket—
                                                             “Its not tobacco, its music”—
and set it down on the seat beside me.

He picks it up and leans back,
                                                “I knew it was music: I was only trying to bug you”
and unbends his legs. Theyre long.
He slides one forward aside my seat
to give it a stretch.
He sighs,
              “we still have half an hour before Vigo,
want to head to the toilets?”


Fálame © Esquío 2003 Antón Lopo. English Translation © 2021 Erín Moure. All rights reserved

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