2018 Gulf Coast Prize in Nonfiction

Bless the Smallest Hollow:
On Longing and Online Dating

Jessie van Eerden


Ted* is a ninety-two percent match. We both mention Nick Cave, IPA, dismay over webinars. We both write our profiles with enough syntactical variation to suggest a writing habit and with enough tongue-in-cheek to balance the sincere. We answer a third of the dating site’s 1200 or so questions, lamenting at times, in the add-an-explanation box, the lack of nuance in the phrasing. You can offer your thoughts on pubic hair preferences, littering, humanity’s primatal ancestry, meaningless sex. Ted has noted his favorite cuddle position and his views on gun control, Trump, and capitalism. I can sense his deal-breakers, I know his preference for a first date activity and whether he is likely to make me breakfast and maybe take me to Greece. 

What I wish the matching-algorithms could do is telescope into the nonvirtual and give us side-by-side bodies, while also adding an accumulation of the next several years, to reveal to me, in the future graying and sagging and thickening, what our online profiles portend. Whether he would hold my hand if I were dying of cancer in a white hospital gown with no hair, and whether the gown’s white would make him think of the Charolais calf, all snowy and silvery, raised on his family farm for a slaughter he disbelieved because it was too horrible to think real, and whether this would make him think of that Andrew Wyeth painting of the bull calf against the fence wall, and how Wyeth’s whites have black in them, have textured shadow and a melancholy, like that white of the curtain he painted with the wind billowing it, how Wyeth tried to paint wind as it crossed yellow-green fields, and somehow tried to paint longing, too, such that Ted would intuit in the folds of the many-times-bleached hospital gown some kind of thing he had never known he’d longed for, welling up through time like a bubble from a gaseous fissure on the seafloor of him—and would he turn and tell it to me? 

Ted is a Taurus, like me. Drinks socially, likes Tarantino always and dirty jokes only occasionally. He never litters. He lets those with one item go ahead of him at the grocery checkout. He prefers no drama. He prefers that my drama be so minimal it fits in an overhead bin. Does not have kids but might want them. Has cats. The most private thing he’s willing to admit is that he once took the Love Languages test, though he is not willing to divulge the language he speaks. 


A young boy hunts with his father and a guide and sees a hawk. The boy loves the bird’s “dazzling speed and the effect of alternation of its wings, as if it were flying by a kind of oaring motion.” It missiles into the trees, he asks what it is, the guide says it’s a blue dollar hawk. And the boy feeds on the name that is almost so fully what the bird is, the boy is filled with the good thing of it, and filled even more so with his newly-known hunger for it, as the light of the hawk’s being shines through the small tear made in the veil by the guide’s naming. Later, in private, the father says, no, that is incorrect, it’s a blue darter hawk, which is of course right. It’s an accurate description of the bird’s behavior, and the boy does not feed because the hunger no longer gnaws. 

When Walker Percy recounts this moment from his boyhood in his essay “Metaphor as Mistake,” he names the hunger an ontological one. He asks, “Is it the function of metaphor merely to diminish tension, or is it a discoverer of being?” Does it satisfy or create desire? Can a metaphor awaken a longing you did not know you had, to bring you the unnamable you were not aware you were trying to name? 

I would like to know the origin of desire—the kind of desire that is not prefab, hackneyed, or sold—and so I start reading Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg’s book The Beginning of Desire about the Book of Genesis, in which she mentions George Steiner’s bit in Real Presences regarding the paradox of art: art is, on the one hand, “strangeness attenuated,” strangeness made intelligible, its tension diminished, and yet, on the other hand, art—like Percy’s beautifully wrong metaphors—also “makes strangeness in certain respects stranger.” So, art slakes our thirst, but it also creates a new thirst. 

And there is a space between thirst and slaking, hunger and being filled. 

It is a not-yet space in which desire can ripen and you can get to know it. 

It is a fertile space. 


There were some psalmists who asked not for vengeance, not for wealth or throne or relief from leprosy, but only to dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of their lives. Head against the mossy wood of the tabernacle frame, the cool of it, open mouthed: “One thing have I asked, that will I seek after, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple.” To live always in the inquiry and not the answer. It’s like asking for the roundness of hunger itself as you watch the light hit the acacia beam then travel slowly across the lichen, so slowly across the linen veil’s blue and scarlet yarn with which somebody has sewn angels in refrain, a pattern of them. 


Until two months ago, on my morning walks, I passed by two baying hounds that rightly belonged to a great heath, to impressive hunts for roe deer or wild boar, but who lived in a dinky backyard behind chain-link, crowded by a trampoline never jumped on. The dogs wore running paths that destroyed the grass, their big fleshy ears flapping discordantly with their bodies so taut and aerodynamic. I did not know the breed. Sometimes straw was strewn, presumably over grass seed, in halfhearted attempts to rehabilitate the yard. As I walked past, their big voices sounded their beautiful alarms, like sirens, with mournful tones, their longing far too big for their confinement. The neighbors’ patience was surely strained, but I loved to walk by them, to hear those deep wakeful tones that said fox or squirrel or rabbit or woman-shaped foe, that sang the whole houndbody as braced with want. Hearts so set on having that tiny assemblage of flesh-fur-bone in the mouth—that chipmunk up there—that they would die for lack of it and so up curdled the howl, which was itself a thing and not only an indicator of a thing, perhaps in the way I’m learning that the hieroglyph, though it can be a phonetic sound, is in some instances the thing itself: the owl in its staid glory and not simply the letter m the owl represents. 

I listened all the way down the alley that borders backyards to the baying that said may it be otherwise, may it be now, may it be thus. 

They’re gone now. No doubt the neighbors are relieved. The grass is growing back. The silence, as I walk by, is palpable. 


At five a.m. I was waked by a dream of a boy I should have loved. We got coffee once, in our twenties, and parted uncertainly at the street corner. He always tucked in his shirt until he didn’t, kept his sandy hair cropped neatly until he didn’t. One of four kids, like me, in a God-loving farm family in Minnesota, his heart the size of Minnesota. He went to India, he preaches now, I think. Facebook would tell me if I were to sign up, would satisfy that curiosity. We spoke in the kitchen where there were mice in the bread bag, with only the stove light on, his skin pale, his cheeks red from kitchen heat. We wrote letters for a few years. By all rights, I should have loved him, but I was young, early in the process of getting acquainted with desire. And his letters were penned neatly on the backs of once-used paper, his touch on the world, his press, that gentle and light. I could never tell what he longed for. 


We are animated by desire the way consonants are animated by vowels. The Egyptologist Susan Brind Morrow says the vowels in hieroglyphs are not written, so you must sniff out the intent and lift and examine the leafiness of context: “The vowels, which pattern clusters of hard consonants into nouns and adjectives and verbs, are left out, leaving the consonants to stand for the word. Yet grammar resides in the vowels. Why are the vowels not written down? 

“Who has seen the wind?” 

You must get inside the interior of words, of names, inside the house of a name and feel the breeze blow through. Vowels are the longing of the word. Vowels are the becoming. And so are we defined by the unwritten, the unpossessed, by this that we want which we did not know we wanted because it is unseen, it is unpainted even when painted, somehow secretly seeded in us. 

Something in you is activated, vowels breathed into your hard, bony consonants. 


There is space between Gus and me. Gus is the tiny gray stray whom I really should evict. Gus hungry and mewing and snug to the hot water pipes under the house when it’s nine below. In subzero intimacy, Gus and me, except not, because I am allergic to cats (I need to break this news to Ted in my next OKCupid message) and because eventually the cat-shit smell in the crawlspace will be pronounced and my landlady will not abide it. 

I was not looking for a stray to feed. He just showed up. 

“You’ve been chosen,” said my friend. 

On my way to feed and water Gus, I pass my landlady’s cheesy lawn-decor stone angel with its cupped hands broken off. I’ve kept it as a metaphor on the patio by the Weber grill left out in all weather, this decorative angel still trying to make (or receive) her offering, even with no hands. I have never liked cats, but somehow my heart stings for Gus like a cut unbandaided to cold air, and I worry about him. His right eye a little drippy, I should get him shots, neutered, get a carrier to the vet. His nose presses to my knuckle for a brief nose-kiss, then he scurries under the house. He is a fraidy-cat. 

“Well, you can be overwhelming,” says my friend. 

I worry Gus is undersized and maybe the protein level is not adequate in the food I bought. He is probably picked on by the fat bully cat next door. I really need to call the Pet Rescue people, I’m allergic, this is not my house, he must go. I have the number on a Post-it but I keep stacking papers on top of it. I picture him in the carrier, looking at me through the cage mesh, betrayed, both of us baffled by this turn of events. 

I put out food, break the ice in the water, replace it with warm water that won’t freeze so fast. I fish out a plush throw from the blanket chest and stuff it into the crawlspace, mostly impeding his passage, and it soaks in the snow and rain, and I eventually drag it out and throw it away. I offer another of the three tiny stuffed mice from Wal-Mart’s pet aisle, twist-tied to the square of cardboard: Skitter Critters, catnips for stimulation, which is “1 of your cat’s 10 needs,” the cardboard says, and now I worry about the other nine needs I’m not meeting. Gus’s voice a tiny essay of need. 

Back at the laptop, I see they call them essays, the categories for filling out your profile on the dating site: what I’m doing with my life, what I think about, who I am in summary, the most private thing I’m willing to admit, movies I rewatch. The weather hits a warm patch. I complete my essays with the window cracked to let in the night air through the screen, along with the sound of the neighbor’s tied-up dog, Perky, whose life is sad and circumscribed, and some answering sounds from Gus whose entry-hole to the crawlspace is directly under my study’s window. The cheap curtains from Target billow in the space between us. Voile, the curtain fabric is called, the fabric of veils. 

I worry about Gus. I worry, too, about Joe who taps the star that says he likes me and who poses unsmiling and shirtless with his ATV in his profile photo, also Rick in a selfie in poor lighting in the bathroom mirror with his shirt peeled up as if to have his abs assessed. I worry for Ed who berates himself for having nothing to essay about himself except he is laid back, not much else to say, and I wonder what on earth it would feel like to be laid back, also for WyldLover who messages me: “Dam your cute,” and then my worry circles around to Ted who can spell and manage punctuation but can’t manage much else, it turns out, is on half a Xanax daily now and, really, though I seem nice, he needs to regroup, he’s going on a meditation retreat and disabling his account for a while. I worry for Shelby (whose handle is LonelyGuy) and Malik (OKCupidLifer), both of whom I want to give a quart jar of soup. I know it seems suspect, or insincere, this concern for the wellbeing of complete strangers, but dating sites expose one’s underbelly such that one cannot help but be more attuned to the awful vulnerability of everyone roped into the whole enterprise. The worry becomes a hum that keeps me awake at night. 

“Wanna fuck?” messages Philip from one town over, and, no, I don’t really, but I want something that I can’t even name and I start to feel as unable to receive it as the handless stone angel, though I do think I’m trying. I shut off the site’s app on my phone and carry the picture of Philip for some distance inside my head until he is free of the sports franchise attire and free of the large car against which he flattens his butt and free of, and prior to, the forty-six years of all of whatever, until he is back to his tender small newborn body when there is seeded in him something that will eventually lead him here to this epoch of screens when he will message with an impressively concise, if crude, attempt at a translation of the language of desire. In my sleepless head, he is an infant so small and flailing, so not-yet, and I think of him maybe like my friend’s baby: maybe he, too, was born three months early and cupped in the palms of the NICU nurse, his skin so thin it could hardly hold in the zooming blood, lungs so almost, all the world’s heat and light so feelable yet incomprehensible to his heart the size of a hickory nut. And the nurse maybe said, “You will live. This will be a heart to hold a whole lot.” She wiped the yellow film from his face, suctioned out the mucus with the bulb from his pinhole nostril. She said, “All the machines and tubing, all the externalized respiratory system, you will shed. Live into your shipwreck, little one, into all your fierce desire, you’ll find your way, bless you, you will be all right.” 


The scientific community, last time I checked Scientific American, finds the claims of algorithmic pre-screening for a unique and lasting match bogus. Still, Match.com has over two million paid subscribers. I myself authorized Paypal to pay $15.95 to OKCupid for one month on the A-list. We the people have bought in, and matching has proved easy to monetize. The match percentages quantify toward a goal of satisfaction and fit. And although the metrics do apparently account for the “opposites attract” adage by gauging compatibility as a blend of both similarity and complementarity (the measure of opposite values), I learn that there are sites that narrow options to very specific samenesses: to redheads only, farmers only, tall folks, kinky folks, Ivy Leaguers, Trekkies, whatever your criterion. I learn you can become a Vice President of Matching. I learn the algorithms themselves get smarter the more you use the site; they are “learning algorithms” that are learning you, your preferences and your potential; they can advise you on proper cropping of a photo to attract the kind of person they know you seek based on how you tap Pass or Like, swipe left or right across faces. 

And there are so many faces. 

Well, images of faces, not faces. I’m taken back to the eagerness of my junior year at university, when I first read Walker Percy and, in a contemporary poetry class, read Ezra Pound for the first time, his “In a Station of the Metro.” The two-liner about faces in a crowd, but not faces; instead, the apparition of faces, unreal ghosts never becoming faces but instead transfigured into metaphor in the second line: Petals on a wet, black bough. I shivered in my desk reading that in college, I fed on it, made newly hungry, I stored it until twenty years later I would log onto a dating site, recognizing something unnamable Pound was trying to name. Here are the petal-faces you pass on or like, selfies which are ghosts of selves, faces appearing up out of torsos of camouflage beside the six-point buck just shot. 

Alan has kind eyes. I tap Like, and in the tiny rectangle that then appears for messaging I ask, “What is your favorite thing about Richmond,” when what I mean to say is, “I am up at five a.m. inexplicably, after a dream of love for a boy in Minnesota that was not love and the latent regret fills the dark, it’s still dark, it’s still raining, the rain in the dark is gentler somehow. Also, Alan, I don’t know what to do about Gus.” 

“Thanks for reaching out,” messages Alan, which puts in my mind Gus’s reaching paw batting the azalea leaves. “I see we both like the outdoors and travel. Richmond is nice,” which does not answer my actual question. I see he has posted a photo of himself hiking in the Sierras, attesting to the fitness of the body, fitness for this, a fit for me. I have posted one of myself, though blurry, hiking with a daypack in New Mexico—See? See how I have caught myself in a moment when I have maybe been beautiful? Do you think? Don’t pass on me. Alan’s kind eyes appraise me. I notice in his profile he is looking for a woman who is laid back. 

Scientific American cites studies that suggest we aren’t very good at predicting what will even attract us to someone, despite our honed search criteria and checked filters all saying: I’m seeking someone of this gender and this age range, located within this mileage radius, with these personality traits, with this education level and body type. Someone who is not messy, is okay with sex in the first month of acquaintance, prefers to split the bill, believes climate change is real. 

(What if, like art, love makes strangeness in certain respects stranger? What if our percentage-match—yours and mine—is off-the-charts-low and your strangeness is out there like a citadel, unconquerable, and I pitch my canvas tent outside you—you, my other—and I curve toward your strangeness like a nervous cat watching your graying face and greening heart?) 

Also, studies show the principles of similarity and complementarity can’t predict long-term relationship potential as the sites claim they can. And, well, neither can getting a drink at a bar with someone, but bars don’t promise you any match-predictors, and at least at a bar—at a chance meeting, unengineered—you chafe against the person and hear his skin and hair move, and he’s not in an isolated test tube of self coded into ones and zeros that glow him onto your phone screen. 

My friend told me users can submit match questions to OKCupid, and maybe they don’t vet them very well and that’s why some of the questions lack nuance. I don’t know how to submit a question; perhaps one emails the Vice President of Matching. 

Dear Vice President, I would like to submit: What will you do if I get cancer? If my spine snaps? What do you do with a word like beloved? Why can I not be more laid back? Why can I not stow my drama in an overhead bin that has that little door which the graceful flight attendant can click shut with the very sound of satisfaction? 

What I’m trying to say is, the algorithms offer us a match that satisfies our criteria, but is it satisfaction we really want? 

What I love about that Walker Percy essay “Metaphor as Mistake” is how he confronts us with a choice of two paths regarding our “cognitive orientation in the world”: “either we are trafficking in psychological satisfactions or we are dealing with that unique joy which marks man’s ordainment to being and the knowing of it.” The knowing of it—of being. That you have to get to know it, which takes time. That when we mistake our longing for a lesser thing than it could be, we will, in the end, miss the point. 


This year, 2018, the UK has appointed a Minister for Loneliness because epidemiological studies show that loneliness is lethal, connected to heart disease, diabetes, and so forth. Like the Vice President of Matching, this appointment is part of a new career field in management of the heart. More folks than ever live alone now, or estranged, on this planet, not as often in familial heaps and clans that talk over one another across tables of sausage and potatoes, as we used to live. We’re more mobile, less rooted. We age alone, we touch our own throats feeling them clammy with accumulative untouch, we are migrant, fugitive populations who don’t speak the dominant language, and we are people who live virtually in our bright screens. 

And yet, though I’m not sure how one gets in touch: Dear Minister for Loneliness, I would like to submit: While I am in favor of the commission on loneliness because loneliness can kill and can hurt worse than biting aluminum foil, or than a hornet stinging a thud of poison inside your ear (unbearable), and we need to help each other not die from it, I do ask that the Minister take care with the nuances. We need the finest of distinctions, for loneliness can have as its birth-nest real longing, and longing that doesn’t destroy you can feed you. The Minister will note that although loneliness is not so good, loneliness as born of longing is essential and more than something to be ameliorated. That we might preserve the smallest hollow. What I’m trying to say is, there is something about that smallest hollow.


That is: is desire itself a fullness? Or at least, is the space between the desire and the having more than empty space to be hurried through like a bad bit of interstate? 

Think of it, landscape-wise, as perhaps something more extreme than the swampy drab plains flanking I-75—think of it as a deep and sudden canyon. Real and opened-out. Such that you sleep in the car like the desirous Georgia O’Keeffe so you can wake with such expectation, to paint the stages of the above the land-gash, with an eye only for the living colors, everything in terms of ochre, verdant green, turquoise, emerald. You don’t even know where these colors come from. You can’t speak. No words beyond indigo, rose. All language pictorial and potent. 


I hear this voice say, For what have you come to the temple? I cannot say, my Lord, my Other. To inquire maybe, with my head upon the acacia beam? Here is this chalice, this hat with a feather, a flask in my satchel, a handwritten prayer in a tongue I can’t decipher or speak, in characters of hieroglyphic owl, bread, peregrine. Also, a map misfolded. Isn’t it true that if I give all these to you, I will get what I want? Will you fill up my chalice? Isn’t that how it works? 

Well. 


There's this line spoken like prophecy by the roving narrator of Marilynne Robinson’s novel Housekeeping: “For to wish for a hand on one’s hair is all but to feel it.” 

The longing is a thing, is itself fertile, is not merely a preface for satisfaction. In apophatic prayer, for instance, one creates a hollow and does not fill it. “Silence is not just a precondition for the revelation,” writes Cynthia Bourgeault in her book on the topic. “Silence is not a backdrop for form, and diffuse, open awareness is not an empty chalice waiting to be filled with specific insights and directives. It is its own kind of perceptivity, its own kind of communion.” 

And when Robinson’s dear, waify Ruthie is left alone on the island by her Aunt Sylvie, the narrator taps Ruth’s young-girl desire: “For need can blossom into all the compensations it requires. To crave and to have are as like as a thing and its shadow. For when does a berry break upon the tongue as sweetly as when one longs to taste it, and when is the taste refracted into so many hues and savors of ripeness and earth, and when do our senses know any thing so utterly as when we lack it? And here again is a foreshadowing—the world will be made whole. For to wish for a hand on one’s hair is all but to feel it. So whatever we may lose, very craving gives it back to us again. Though we dream and hardly know it, longing, like an angel, fosters us, smooths our hair, and brings us wild strawberries.” 

I think of that. Longing putting a hand on my hair. I can kind of sense it now, like my mother braiding it, or washing it in the tub with my head tilted back, rinsing with water poured from the big cup from Pizza Hut. And a one-time lover lifting my long hair from my throat, pushing it away, like a heavy curtain. This is memory but not only: it is also the round wakeful now. For to wish for a hand on one’s hair is all but to feel it. 

Longing is the angel-girl at the salon. I went to a salon this time, in the next town over, instead of the haircuttery inside Wal-Mart where I always go, not because the Wal-Mart stylist does a poor job, she’s very good, but because at the salon they lay your head back and wash your hair in lemon sage and tea tree oil. And when the young stylist did so I almost broke out into tears at her touch and the girl said she was bound for Tampa soon, has an apartment with a friend on the Gulf and everything, and she is so ready to go, to get out of her hometown for the very first time, and because she, too, was brimming with want, she probably would have understood, had I let myself cry.


I'm trying to talk about the pause that is not a paucity, the silence that is not empty, the ache that is not only. 


The night, of course, is the most difficult. The body is lain out, corpsish. The hand moves to the throat touching the accumulative untouch. And the skin is never as young as it used to be but is still young. Even so, at times, this thing can happen: it becomes enough to simply lie awake in the dark and not tear in even the slightest way at the fabric of the human community, of another fragile person also lying in state. To, in fact, do more than not tear. To even mend, to sew the fabric back together, and to even sew it with stars. I read in Susan Brind Morrow’s book of translations of the Pyramid Texts that as a young student of Egyptology she copied out earlier translations for practice, and there was this: 

Sew emerald, turquoise, malachite stars 

And grow green, green as a living reed 

Written on the pyramid wall by somebody fluent in hieroglyphs, in our original writing which must somehow offer a key to our original desire. I copy out what she copied out. 

Where, I wonder, does one get malachite with which to embroider? Emerald, turquoise, a yarn hued with the three greenest gems in the earth’s crust? That’s the thing. But then I think: maybe longing is generative. Maybe the source of such living color is longing itself transmuted. (Everyone knows it can also be transmuted to a lethal bitter black, but not only.) And you sew the stars all tessellated, in refrain, lovely like terracotta bath tiles in Marrakesh, ornately, extravagantly, painstakingly. This is a kind of prayer you make when you lie there and worry and weep a little. Out of you the colors come, as fluently as do your tears and entreaties, as if you’re a silk worm, and you work, one by one, through the torn-apart, delicate people from your day. You sew them up with star patterns as you sleep alone with the tick of street light slanting in through the blinds and the tied-up neighbor dog in her complaint, the room so still but for your hands sewing. Try to believe it’s possible, as dawn pinks up, that you might grow into a living reed, a green that is pungent and bright. 


I was studying the Wallace Stevens poem “Notes toward a Supreme Fiction,” written in 1942, around the time God died. This was Stevens’s epoch. This is mine: online dating and almost-weeping in the hair salon, mostly forgetting that God is supposed to have died, thinking God probably lives in the internet. The poet names Phoebus, a god dead like the others, though “Phoebus was / A name for something that never could be named.” 

Also: 

“There was a muddy centre before we breathed. 

There was a myth before the myth began, 

Venerable and articulate and complete.” 

I think Stevens was looking for the desire before the desire. He wrote: “not to have is the beginning of desire.” The line that gives Zornberg the title for her thick folios of reflections on the Book of Genesis. 

Maybe the myth before the myth is God the concave, God who longs as we do. That is one idea that could have birthed one version of the revelation: that God moves in secret into the womb, beggar-like, and attaches to the uterine lining so Mother Mary’s nourishment starts to become skin and bone and hair and heart smaller than a hickory nut. All God does in there is feed and web out toes and fingers and float and feel. God’s hunger and feeding are one, simultaneous. Then, once born, that cord which renders hunger and satiation inseparable, is cut. Then, for God, as for us, they are forever separate things: there is a space between. An interstice. God is birthed first into longing. 

And the great cry that it might be otherwise. The cry is synonymous with being. 

So, I bless the Lord who longs, blessing being an echo of the original blood. Bless comes from the Old English bletsian, bledsian, “to consecrate by a religious rite,” the Proto-Germanic blodison, “to hallow with blood,” like on the altars. Maybe the etymological path traces not only to the sacrificial blood, but also to the mother-blood. 

Bless you, Lord, bless the Lord—you, Other I Cannot Name. In my crumpled dress, my crumple-body of want and fear. On my morning walk past the yard where no hounds howl any longer, one day there is snow so I hitch up the dress above my boots, and I find tracks of bird feet in a curve of path that ends under the tree that I know to have red berries of some sort in the warmer months but not now. The tiniest feet in the large swallowing snow, wishing the berries there, under all the stuff. Little and big signs of longing that leads us. Bless. 


There was this gap of time on Easter morning in my childhood, between the sunrise service held at church in the darkness, before the sun spilled into the sky and the fast was broken with biscuits and gravy and cantaloupe and buns slathered in cinnamon butter—between that and the full Easter Day in nearly blistering light, when the day was a thing I had—in between was a drink. Was when I knew the daffodils around the large-slab rock down by the road, their heads in droop, could almost drip yellow, with the tonnage of winter lifted. I knew without seeing it the dark somehow let them be bright under only the three-thousand-year-old light of the stars (incredible that the ancient light still reached, paw-like, to touch). And I was in the house, the rooms dark, already drinking in the daffodils through the window screen—like Alice in Wonderland at tea, with the daffodil cup and saucer: sip then eat the pulpy side—and this seemed to me, even as a kid, better than when I would later go out to cut a dozen for the Easter dinner vase from around the stone slab across which I would stretch out in my purple jumper and not have limbs hang over, not even reach the edges. Holding a handful of stems remembering how sweet it had been a few hours before, in the not-yet. 


After his ten-day meditation retreat, Ted resurfaces, messages me on day eleven. He is less fragile these days, he says, but one day at a time. I think we might be friends. I think I will ask him about that Wyeth painting of the white bull calf against the stone fence, whether he knows it. I think I will ask his input on the algorithms and on Gus the Fraidy-Cat, who is less fraidy now and getting problematically bold, rubbing up against my leg with a low-motor purr. The weather has broken to a warm-springish sog of rain, the subzero nights a memory, and Gus has been tunneling; the landscaping around the azalea is compromised, the black mulch scattered on the grass, down to the dirt. He wants to walk with me in the morning now, but stays on the perimeter, like strays do, not getting their hopes too high but always hoping, keeping open to the possibility of warm love. Of otherwise. 

All I’m trying to say in these little folios scribbled by my heart is that longing is a sign of the branch bending green and toward. And that there’s a loaminess between the having and the not having, and from that fertile ground can come a thing you did not know you so deeply desired, and you will be hard-pressed to name it. Maybe you will write many pages trying to name it, and, still, it will, in certain respects, only grow stranger.


*The names from OKCupid profiles have all been changed in this essay, and the profiles described here are composites with some details invented so to maintain individuals’ privacy.