for A.

All around me, relationships heaving, like the Earth in its final hour: hoarse cries and recriminations, the future collapsing, the shock felt across the hall and around the block, the gossips in a stampede: it’s a small town and a big ache. But there is no final hour. The night drags on. The mind drags itself through other nights, gone now. Everything closes but the bars, then the eyes, then the sleeper’s eye opens to another night like a knife, Time’s brawny arm tight around the neck, one more mugging on the way to Selfhood. Just a dream.

“All you can do is praise the razor for the fineness of the slash,” Bruce Cockburn sings. I’m singing my heart out, living alone again, staggering between dying and being born. “What the fuck is going on?” my preening ego wants to know as I reach out for strength and sympathy; the diamond of awareness I show off at noontime turns out to be cheap glass at night, loose in its setting.

Always, I’ve been a cop, walking the darkened streets of “my” women, trying doorknobs, aiming the light — like Peter Sellers’ preposterous Inspector Clouseau I bump into the walls and chairs of my own projections. Enough. I’ve turned in my badge, tossed away the key to the cage I advertised as love. I still wander the precinct like a ghost, but there’s no paycheck, no fringe benefits, nobody wanting protection.

And what do I want? To fall in love, at last, with the face in the mirror. Naked, hair dripping (“stocking wet,” my younger daughter calls it) I stood in front of the mirror last week saying “I love you” to myself, again and again, and between the crying and the laughing, I saw, in my own eyes, for one bewitching moment, my beloved. Not man or woman, not flower or thorn. In no need of worldly protection.

What a love affair this might be! To see in my own face the innumerable faces of life that have been revealed to me, to discover the long lost city of my own beauty: to come upon myself in the jungle — amidst gnarled vines of disillusionment, paths winding into utter darkness, the swamps of the mind calling me down — and find a clearing, a piece of heaven, light chasing itself in my eyes, my mouth made of air.

My beloved urges me on: decaying temples of thought open like roses. Every law in my head is a white bird taking flight, and rules are broken like the air by wings. I am dangerous. I am out of line. The child in me howls at the judge, naked under his robes, and the judge howls at the moon. How to judge love? Lone hitchhiker in a world of jets and instant communication, love plods on, no possessions, no complaints, the same smile for everyone: jagged mountain tops for teeth, love’s tongue rolling like the sea, love’s kiss nailing me to life.

My beloved reminds me: my first history lesson, given by my grandmother in her steamy kitchen, was about the ovens at Auschwitz. Growing up, I tested every theory of human nature by seeing if it could stand the heat. Student of the world I was, until in my own closet I found the executioner’s hood, next to the strap-on angel wings. Now, I am an ash drifting upward, lifted by the breeze that some call love and some call God and Hitler’s soul and the souls of the Jews call to, endlessly.

Is this delirium? I’ll take its heat over the tepid jealousies and warmed-over sympathies I’ve served no one with. I’ll take its heat over the heat of the ovens in which we torture ourselves.

—Sy