Battles, Kings, and Elephants...
"Redwood" Silver City, California 2019
Your drunkenness is so sweet to me that it intoxicates me.
You are breathing gently. You are alive. I would like to move over to your side of the world, see into your dreams. Are you dreaming of a white, fragile lover over there so far away? Of a childhood, a lost palace? I know I don’t have a place there; none of us will have a place there. You are closed in like a shell. It would be so easy, though, for you to open up, a tiny crack where life could rush in. I can guess your fate. You will remain in the light, they will celebrate you, you will be rich. Your name, immense as a fortress, will hide us in its shadow. They will forget what you have seen here. These moments of time will disappear. You yourself will forget my voice, the body you desired, your tremblings, your hesitations. I would so like for you to keep something of it. For you to carry away a part of me. So that something of my far-off homeland could be passed on. Not a vague memory, an image, but the energy of a star, its vibration in the dark. A truth. I know that men are children who chase away their despair with anger, their fear with love; they respond to the void by building castles and temples. They cling to stories, they shove them in front of them like banners; everyone makes some story his own so as to attach himself to the crowd that shares it. You conquer people by telling them of battles, kings, and elephants, and marvelous beings; by speaking to them about the happiness they will find beyond death, the bright light that presided over their birth, the angels wheeling around them, the demons menacing them, and love, LOVE, that promise of oblivion and satiety. Tell them about all of that, and they will love you; they will make you the equal of a god. But you will know, since you are here pressed against me you ill-smelling Frank whom chance has brought to my hands, you will know that all this is nothing but a perfumed veil hiding the eternal suffering of night.
— Mathias Énard Tell Them of Battles, Kings, and Elephants
I’ve been wanting to share the above piece of writing since I first read it back in March. It’s a passage from an incredible fiction novel that imagines Michelangelo's trip to the Ottoman Empire in 1506 to design a bridge over the Golden Horn as requested by the sultan of Constantinople. The book is more poetry than prose and rather light on plot, yet to me it is like a vidid watercolor that paints with exacting detail the time and place and the lost love between Michelangelo(the “ill-smelling Frank") and his Greek dragoman(the voice above).
There have been days when I’ve been so depleted from my own writing that to fill myself up again, I've read the passage above multiple times in order to savor it, let it slip in and drench the dearth of my creativity. Yet for as beautiful as the words are, the theme also resonates more and more deeply these days: What is the greater exploit, the quest for fame and riches and glory or finding the answer to one's call for the love of another? Being engaged and on the precipice of marriage to a beautiful man who consistently exceeds my expectations for a partner, I feel like I know the answer well. And so, the passage above gives me comfort. It reminds me how wondrous it is that my love turns to me and lets me in and shares his dreams. And no matter what, I will live on because of him, and he because of me. And I think, Battles, Kings, Elephants — who needs those? And I smile.