Fragments of language and story extracted from the body
~by Temim Fruchter
“Leah’s deep distress at her fate [marrying Esau] results in her crying so much that she makes her eyes weak from tears. According to some, she cries until her eyelashes drop from her lids.” – The Lost Matriarch: Finding Leah in the Bible and Midrash, Jerry Rabow
Oh, how she loved. Loved Jacob until she was red-rimmed, weak-eyed, a yarn of felled lashes. She loved from hot membrane, from thick voice, from pillowed cheeks. She loved an echo. She loved by heart.
Ladies in sacks, ladies in silks, the quiet crowding and uncrowding of the market gates. Filter in and filter out, the fat roots and the round grapes and the proud bouquets of greens. It’s funny, these moments out walking when you harbor a secret, an ocean, a second skin right beneath the first, a membrane made entirely of salt.
Did they whisper? A slender finger on a rose and on then on a gourd and a bundle of stalks, the exchange of coins, an elbow crooked in an elbow and the bounce in the step of a woman whose bags creak with bounty and whose eyes gleam with plans. She didn’t know whether they whispered, but her own secret heated her from the inside, lived under her skin and behind her eyes, rushed circles around her head like a rabid sneeze.
In a life where one you love doesn’t take the shape of one who loves you back, you are given recompense. Instead of him, you are given your weight in salt water. It comes like a surprise, but plainer, and all at once.
I wonder whether she used it, all that water. I wonder whether she used it as an elixir to treat wounds, whether she used it to water what grew from the ground, or to season her soup. Whether she collected it in jars after dark or warmed neighbors with the pulsing heat of it. A resourceful woman, it seems she’d grow tired of wasting so much water pouring out into no vessel at all.
She can’t see me because we’re on the phone and I’m on a train in the opposite direction but she tells me she knows I’m crying, and likely streaked with webs of mascara, which I will probably forget about later, not noticing when people look at me funny. She tells me she loves that I can be messy that way, says it like it’s the truest thing.
My heart. How can you see me? I say, my pores burning familiar, saline, missing all of it already.
She smiles sweet with her voice.
The tears don’t stop but they change colors.
How can we get closer to this? Is it possible to graze skin as close as water does? Closer?
Everybody knows about the tear ducts between the eyes and the nose, but few people realize that there is also a chain of extra tear ducts along the surface of the skin. These are rarely used. Each of these ducts is connected to a different word, another breath, a quality of voice, a moment of arm hair or fingerprint. Hidden joints. Skin whispers. Secret endings to nerves right past their actual endings, past what’s charted. A team of scientists never discovered this, never listened together close enough for the hush.
We are knotted, twisted around and toward, all legs and soft middles and urgent arms. A promise, a tenderness, three fingers along the dip of a waist.
In a life where one you love takes the shape of love in return and fills you to overflow, expands your unready bones and your seams to bursting, you are given respite. Alongside her, you become whole world weight, soaked full heart, swollen wave, waiting heavy bloom.
She touches my cheek and so my skin in that place writes a story to remember. She touches my shoulder and so a ready chain of tears curls like a wanting spine, curves toward my throat where they collect.
Each tear is like a different word for here.
She touches my collarbone and so my eyes fill, because secret science works. Right outside, the night bends the cool glass on the window and then swims right inside, a balm, a soft you can’t imagine unless you’re beneath it right this moment, making sounds from your throat you’ve never made and will never make again, speaking a language that has no words because there are none. There are only the shivering ducts, reverberating under the bare press of her one fingertip, for years to follow. All tears now are cousins to the tears cried that night. All tears now remember that language, how close the stars got, how soft her lips to dry them.
Porous days. I give too easy.
It is Mike Mills singing backup, or it is a hidden goat in a Chagall, or it is the memory of a piece of a story. It is how she told it and what she left out. It is someone else’s baby, or it is the shape of someone slumping, or it is a voice that cracks the surface. It is dark hot dessert, it is wine, it is watermelon, it is simple, it is noise. It is missing someone hard, it is forgetting how. It is the rose-colored lips of a woman in an old photograph. It is the sighing spine of an old book, or a new one. It is a wish. It is an exact hour, minute, second to the clock. It is a room in a certain light. It is the way Lucinda Williams looks at you when she performs, it is the edge of a piano, it is an old song on the radio, it is finishing something, it is starting something again.
Sometimes I look in the mirror and I notice that my eyes are older than I am. They’re my mother’s eyes and my grandmother’s eyes and my great-grandmother’s eyes. I sometimes wonder just how old they are. The pinking edges, the lives of everyone I’ve ever met, the lives of those before me, another kind of breathing.
I am a crier, I say to anyone, mostly to give permission. Sometimes, yes, forgotten makeup streaks, the evidence. And always, I touch two fingers to my collarbone, where my skin remembers still.
Oh, how she loved. Loved him, yes, but loved always, loved ever, loved outward. The texture of stone on her skin, a balm. The texture of yes on her lips, a relief. The soft of her cloak, shelter. The pink of her cheeks, proof.
Leah walked in to town earlier than most, wrapped and ready. Those of us who weep enough know the radiant heat of after, a new alive, and then the pulsing cool of a washed cheek, a face kissed by cooler water.
She lay down her bags, her wide fingers releasing the soft leather. She climbed up on a stone and steadied herself and turned upward to the sky. She saw two birds and then a third, following. She saw a torn cloud and the wind and then just blue. She thought of her sister and her bed and the reliable touch of her floor to her feet. She thought of prayer and of soup. She thought of maybe roses from Jacob and her knees kissed. Her chest warned her eyes and then fell tired, receded. Maybe life would be different than she thought, she remembered to tell herself sometimes. Maybe life would be different than she thought, she told the two birds as they passed, and then the third, once more.
She knelt then and lifted her bags, walking to the market with her face dry, eyes cool and pink and open to the wind.