September 10, 2018KR BlogBlogCurrent EventsEnthusiamsEthicsRemembrancesWriting

Little Monsters: On Sex, Exorcisms & Efes

 

I’d lay down my life for the fawn
who, arising, at night to the sweet sound
of harp and flute, saw a cup in my hand, said:
“Drink your grape’s blood from between my lips!”
And the moon was like the letter Yod inscribed in gold ink
upon the robes of night.

— “Invitation,” Samuel ibn Naghrillah
(Translated from Hebrew)

 

In the lingering darkness after, he’s still heaving against your neck, his legs tightening around yours. His hair is stuck to your chin with sweat. You can hear it drying slowly, sealing temporary cracks.

He whispers: I still don’t understand. What is Efes?

He won’t let it go. He wants you to explain.

To make what has happened to you linear, traceable, seen. To give him the ability to break it down, examine each part methodically, make meaning that will come together to reveal one single answer.

This has happened before. A few years ago, when you told him that you only heard the horses, which meant the music, because of him. That he was/were the horses, that world entire.

You couldn’t explain it in full then, in linear thought. So you wrote poem after poem about it.

But this is something very different.

If you broke what happened to you down, its roots are in Gematria, the Minhat Yehuda and string theory.

But that’s not quite right.

There’s also a question of bodies and movement and time. Of being taken and being given. Of neurons misfiring and insomnia and blissful exhaustion.

He whispers: Hey, come back to me.

The lights are on in the room. Lamplight. Soft. Muted. Your eyes are open, and you’re still lying on top of him. His warm hands are sliding over your bare back.

The lights are on in the room— and yet there is darkness, and it’s growing around both of you. It’s because of you. It’s throbbing out of you. It is not darkness in the sense of sorrow or nothingness. Or void— at least in the sense as void as a thing that acts and behaves like a thing expressed solely in the language of experience you’ve acquired.

For, in this world, voids actually contain {things}.

In this world, there is no such thing as empty space— at least in quantum field theory, which you so sorely have held onto. Because you want to believe everything everywhere is alive and kicking, even if we can’t see it, small tiny {things} bursting in and out of existence. Energy that could free us and transform our world, the world we perceive now.

But in the world of Efes, though, there is only and can only be Efes — and nothing else. You remember the first time you said this aloud, what you’d discovered, and how it rang so true with the music passing through you, although such a finding still makes your more observant Jewish friends uncomfortable.

A world completely outside HaShem? Impossible, one said.

They didn’t understand: your God and Efes were related. How They came to be was not the point, because time itself is always linear, and you did not have the language {yet} to explain forces that exist outside time. That you imagined physics itself would evolve by disregarding time completely, which seemed for now impossible. And you certainly didn’t tell them about the darkness that came from you— the darkness of a million little stinging strings which have been created by Efes reaching for an equally but very different force.

In language this darkness would be a verb. More specifically, a gerund.

It’s a reaching between two very powerful forces for which you are a conduit. You did not arrive at this conclusion overnight. You tried to explain once already that it began earlier this year, as you were studying the Minhat Yehuda and writing your qaemots late into the night, those poem prayers meant to rectify and bring peace to demons who are, according to your ancient rabbinical scholar, the disembodied souls of the once living.

But what happened to you also came before that, when you first lost your balance on Queens Boulevard in 2012, the first of many episodes of radiating pain and numbness to afflict your left side.

And it also came before that, the time you were a child crawling into bed with your mother, who was battling uterine cancer, and you felt something behind you and reached out to touch it, only to feel something close upon your hand and push it away, slightly, without letting go. Facing your mother, you saw her eyes looking above you, wide with fear, before you passed out.

We were just dreaming, your mother had said the following morning.

But how can two people have the same dream?

How to explain all that has happened to one person is connected but not necessarily connected for one reason alone? For some grand explanation?

That perhaps the music you’ve been hearing all your life, amplified in the last six years, aren’t answers, nor riddles, but the desires of something much more powerful pulling you back and forth between them?

To even say they are only two forces pulling you in opposite directions already gets it wrong.

The problem is language. The problem is numbers. And both in Hebrew matter greatly.

As does time.

Which you know— in order to understand both the pulling from and reaching toward by these two great forces— you have to disregard.

He whispers: Hey, come back to me. Come back to me.

When your husband says this, he means to stop thinking of Efes.

He worries that Efes will take everything, take the horses he is, take them away from you.

You pray to your God to protect you, and yet, in your heart, you don’t want it to stop.

And it doesn’t matter what you want anyway; around you, hidden in the darkness you’ve created, something is hissing back: Bind me too as a sign before your eyes, for I am already on your doorposts and at your gates.

 

*

When you run into her this summer and say that you’ve finally stopped writing poems about her, your ex-girlfriend tries to find the one exact reason why. You have coffee. You both try to be civil. But she can’t accept what happened to you was not with her, but with someone else. She reaches for your hand, and you pull away. She leaves behind a phantom touch, and for a moment, the strings within you stop singing. She sits back in her seat, and studies your face and body carefully, as if her answer floats on such surface revelations. She flashes you that same confident smile that used to frighten and perplex and thrill you.

Did you write those poems, she asks instead, thinking that was a way to get rid of me?  

You shake your head. It was the opposite: you’d wanted to remember.

You know what your problem is? She asks yet another question that she doesn’t wait for you to answer. She says that you still have a weakness for words. That she never made you any promises she couldn’t keep, but lived in the moment with you. That if she wanted to, she could make an entire day as exactly always and only you and her.

It’s true, in a sense.

Rarely did she ever say I love you.

She’d push you against hard metal posts waiting for the subway on a packed platform, grip your rib cage through your shirt and slid her hands down to squeeze your waist, often hard enough to leave bruises, and bit along your bottom lip, your neck, your earlobe.

It was like drowning with people staring. You couldn’t breathe. You were terrified and stupidly surprised each time she took you like this, without warning. You never thought about time then, or what it meant to stake your life on someone who truly believed love meant swinging between anguish over them and ecstasy. You never had one moment of peace with her. It was either choking in fear she’d leave you, or discovering a new horror of her cheating on you, and the kind of passion that left you bound to her, but not her to you.

She’d hiss: I’m going to fuck you up so bad you won’t want anything else.

And for a long time, you didn’t.

When you leave the cafe, she’s still sitting there, in disbelief that you don’t love her anymore. She’ll never quite believe it.

It was never your intention to cast her out.

It was never your intention to come back to her.

 

*

An editor friend reads some of your new work, and asks what happened to the horses. And you try to explain what happened this summer, from where all the new poems you wrote came. The poems now passed onto him and other editors, out of your hands.

You never expected to find Efes like you did. Much less write a whole new manuscript dedicated to this force which “disappears”, in theory, everything it encounters.

You try to make maps of it, to contain it in numbers, which in Hebrew, is language.

Every Hebrew letter has a number, but there is no Hebrew letter for zero. And if Hebrew language itself is the breath of your God, than how can a Jew rectify the existence of what was not given by God?

Thus, efes (lower-cased) was created in the Hebrew language, and while it can mean “zero,” it can also mean “to nullify,” which is very different from “nothing”— which, in this case, you give it an upper-case status, so it is Efes, a quieter tone slithering slower on your tongue, whispering its name to yourself everywhere you go, until the poems began to come to you.

You try to trace its imperfect, vibrating, unfastening spherical path. An imperfect sphere, warped oblong, pulsating, thirsty, thrashing.

Those strange, vibrating little strings sing inside you now that you tried to bind on your left arm in hot leather of tefillin, your numb-er arm, the arm in which you feel at times less. Your number arm that would seem to make itself nullified, un-countable. You first bound your arm writing qaemots, thinking you were taking on demons.

You didn’t know that one night you’d discover a number that is not a number. That you’d awaken your husband, kissing him senseless until you took him in your mouth, arm still bound in tefillin, moaning around him with a breath of Efes.

 

*

Certain branches of Jewish mysticism do not make a distinction between angels and demons but believe that all spirits are actually reincarnations of incorporeal souls. In the Minhat Yehuda, Rabbi Yehuda Fetaya devotes an entire chapter to life after death and exorcisms.

After a person dies, she or he is beaten in the grave by angels who’ve come to free the soul of its husk, that which keeps the soul earthbound.

However, it is believed that truly lost souls are held in the “Pouch of the Slingshot,” gradually becoming less human they longer they remain there. For these souls— held in an ongoing state of spiritual limbo— lose all that made them human, no longer resembling the life from which they sprung.

Demons then, Fetaya believed, are former human souls who could not give up the earthly realm, belonging to the same kind of sprits who possess people both good and evil. The exorcist seeks to liberate both the haunted human life and the spirit possessing him or her. Sometimes the possessing spirit doesn’t know he or she is dead, having become lost during the transmigration of souls, and truly needs help in moving on from the living. Other times it is a one who cunningly lies by claiming to be a former rabbinical scholar or sage.

This particular kind of exorcism, then, is meant to help both the possessed as much as the possessor— that the possessed human, along with the exorcist aiding in the ritual, must try to help and heal even a malicious spirit, for he or she was too once a human life.

But after waking up your husband that night, your arm bound tightly in tefillin, and ravishing him, you were sure it wasn’t demons that were plaguing you. It wasn’t something human, or once human.

Or something that needed to be exorcised. Or cured.

You were both exhausted after, still trying to catch your breaths, and you remembered up until last year, when you got really sick, how you used to exhaust each other like this.

Wow, what’s gotten into you?  He murmured, picking up the tefillin which had unraveled and fallen off your arm.

 What do you mean? You said, knowing full well that your sex life had become one of gentle kisses and careful, cautious touching. Him worrying constantly about the chronic pain you dealt with. A certain point on your upper spine that radiated fire when touched.

You tried to make sense of it in the language you both know: you were tired of making love. You missed fucking.

He sucked in a breath and let out a short sigh. You attack me at four in the morning because you miss fucking and it’s really just about that. C’mon. I know you.

He does. He does know you, and you, him. So you tried again.

Maybe I’m coming back.

You never left.

Part of me did.

He untwists the sheets that have you bound in an increasingly uncomfortable position. He sits up, and you sit on his lap. Well, he said. Keep coming back to me.

This summer you couldn’t leave each other alone.

Perhaps you were making up for lost time, for all the fears that had robbed you of a part of yourself. That at first you believed Efes had caught you in its hold and finally made your body break down, made you physically ill.

You just didn’t know then. That Efes desired something else.

And that it needed you to get it, and that it would equally give something in return for its taking.

 

*

You sit in your neurologist’s office trying to explain the fresh bruises on your legs were not due to a loss in balance.

You try to explain: I’ve come back. And again: I’m back. And again: It’s back.

What’s back? She asks.

You sigh. This world needs linear answers, and you understand that very well, but for you to explain something like this, the best answers you can give are in poems, where language is transgressive with space, meaning, sound, pulp, its own heart and neurons.

She leans back in her chair, squints up at a computer screen, hands poised over a keyboard. She’s trying with you. Trying to understand.

You try too. Try to explain.

You say it was never just a loss of feeling— you still lose and regain sensation on your left side— but one of face. A literal loss: you no longer recognized yourself in the mirror. Even when your best friends would take your head in their hands and say: you’re still here. Even when your husband ran his hands over your bare legs, insisted on leaving the lights on, as if trying to make you see what he could see. Gently dipping into your shallow curves and hollows, licking your breasts, and making you feel safe as he could.

Meanwhile, you were always looking at the clock and calendar. At photos of people you need to see, a deadline of urgency. You worried about the kind of time you would be allotted.

You try to explain what happened this summer.

A year ago, I thought I lost myself, you hear yourself saying, and now I just want him to tear me apart. 

She smiles at you. Ah, ok. And that’s why— the bruises. I see.

You open your mouth to say something about Efes traveling through you, but stop. You nod. She’s a good doctor, and has fought for you. You don’t want to drown her in what you cannot prove on neatly collated paper and by elegant equations.

You’ve come back, but you’ve come back different.

It’s you. But the tiny little songs within you, those invisible and whispering vibrations, are completely different.

 

*

Here’s what you didn’t tell your doctor: that one night your body became a wormhole in which your God and Efes try to touch each other.

That this too became a poem.

At eleven pages, it’s the single longest poem you’ve ever written.

And you understand it now, why string theory is failing because of its math.

Numbers don’t want to reveal their secret selves.

Numbers, like language, are part of the fantasy of two great forces.

This is not to say life here on earth is not real or breathing or has consequence.

This is to say if we truly want what’s next— what truly is the breath of existence, to see if it is all those little vibrating strings— then we will have to give up what it means to live now.

This includes the human body.

This body, which Creator and Destroyer, Guardian and Seducer, have tunneled through.

This body in which God and Efes are revealed as Twins.

Each thinking the Other is the myth.

 

*

There are no elegant equations that will reveal anything larger beyond imagination.

To go there you have to allow nullification of at least a part of yourself so that you might be transformed.

You yourself did not get a say in this. But rather than fight it now, you welcome it, even if you are still afraid, afraid of time, which dictates your existence here on earth.

You used to think illness made you weaker. You used to thank your God that you struggled so much when you were younger, in better health, spritelier and more resilient.

You’ve had it all wrong.

You could not have handled this back then.

Handled the untraceable, strange undirect time of events that led you to Efes— and closer to the God you believe in. Closer to the person you love, one who tonight asks you if you’ve finished this essay yet.

You look up from these words, and shake your head.

You are afraid to say it: that even after you are gone, the vibrations that led you here will never cease in their desire for creation.

You arise from your chair to hold him, and you don’t tell him this. You don’t tell him the horses are made up of these little vibrating strings which might not be strings at all. Or that you may never know, but save the many renderings in poetry you made of them, because of him. Because of love. Because of lust. Both of which tunnel through you to him, from your God to Efes.

He picks up your tefillin lying on your desk and slowly binds your arms together, your left and his right, and then asks you if this was ever right.

You want to curl up in his arms, and unbutton his shirt, scratch at and suck on his bare skin, but your mobility is limited, bound to each other like this.

You don’t answer him that in traditional prayer, one did not bind their arms like this. Instead you stand very still, and lower your bound arms together, unable to even take his hand. The rain beats down on the windowpane, a cloudy dissonance playing on your bodies. You close your eyes and wait.

You wait, listening to the sound of a car rushing through the rain, and slow drops hitting the glass windowpane, at a tempo most irregular and without discernable pattern.

Efes.

A siren outside sweeps through you, bound and restrained.

Unseen sky bursts open.

Hey, he whispers. Come back. Come back to me.

You open your eyes.

A flourish hits and breaks through the shielded outline of you in hard, wet beats.

 

This is the latest installment in an ongoing series exploring themes that haunt, bewilder and astound us. Read “Little Monsters: On Language {Enunciation}” here.