Amy Sayre Baptista &
Carlo and I often set the poems individually around a central artifact word. The way one bone found in the unearthed soil leads to the next until a body is built. We tried to bring our discoveries to each other in drafts. Specifically, in this piece, we kept the word “deciduous” through both drafts. A concept of growth that sheds like leaves, and also of the soft milk teeth that drop from all animals, inherent then is the sharpening of the next growth.
We wanted that language of the grotesque, the beauty and terror of the natural world that is Inês and Pedro’s ongoing love affair in the afterlife. Maybe Carlo originated this piece, but I honestly cannot say. I can rarely tell in this work, where either of us began or ended. This was a true collaboration in that we trusted one another enough to turn it over so the whole could be greater than the two. I am not sure if we knew that from the outset or if Inês and Pedro taught us along the way.
With this epistle, the obvious shift from first to second draft is the voice. In the first draft, Inês addresses Pedro and stretches forth over him like a storm. The tension centers on how and when she will enact her rage. For Carlo and I, her anger at Pedro felt relatable to that of any lover consumed by the abandonment of a beloved. Her rage is justified, but our concern was to keep her ferocity fresh. So we tried the second draft, using similar language and voiced as Pedro. Small but radical, the switch makes the reader a witness to Pedro’s reaction. Now the reader sees not just Inês, the building storm at sea, but the storm connected with the shore, by way of Pedro’s response. And Pedro—always the swordsman—parries, dances through her anger, because to take her on directly is to end all conversation, and that is the real death.
It was in these experiments that we realized Pedro preferred even Inês’ violence to her silence. He loves her across life and death, and built their tombs as much towards the hope of an eternal marriage bed as a resting place. We wanted to try and bring the reader an unsteady familiarity in all of us that these lovers inhabit: Who among us has not crossed the thin line of love and hate, at least in our minds? Who has not invited it back again after a sure swearing off?
This poem appears in They Said: A Multi-Genre Anthology of Contemporary Collaborative Writing.
< draft >
In the future—for the tongue can see as well as the eye and taste the kind of dark that always opens eventually to light and air—grave powers will rush to bind us, will slip to claim our ill-starred and blood-rilled sails, and, of course, our songs to the toothsome anchors under a layer of silt, harbor fog, and salt mist. But you, meu amor, you are erosion, wearing my boundary as your own, a glacier's wreaking claws. And I . . . I am deciduous—deadly to look at and ready for a fall, ready in the dirt that hides the bone meal of knuckles and toes. And when I rise to lash the lips of spring again, none shall leave our throne room exactly as they came.
< REVISION >
The tongue can see as well as the eye and taste the kind of dark that always opens eventually to light and air. In life, grave powers rushed to bind us, slipped to claim our ill-starred and blood-rilled sails, and cast our songs to the toothsome anchors under a layer of silt, harbor fog, and salt wind. But you, meu amor, you are erosion, wearing my boundary as your own, a glacier’s wreaking claws. And I . . . I am deciduous—deadly to look at and ready for a fall, ready in the dirt that hides the bone meal of knuckles and toes. And when you rise to lash the lips of spring again, no promise, no craft, no performance of cool can move you. You become the false notion that it could have gone differently, avuncular as a father’s tired hands, like all people with principles but not the courage to live them. There is no law, after all, regarding things left undone or unsewn. There is something in the way you always just . . . something bitten and battered about the edges. You are sod and moss and anvil like all the women in your family, not sap and nectar and reluctant buzz of bees. It’s all in the waiting, I guess, a tamping-it down like cannon fodder and sandbags and serpent smoke licking the air. I ask you to forgive those foolish enough to have severed head from tongue in the great relief of your silence.