Aria Aber

Los Angeles, March 27, 2023

Dear S––

I have made a fiction of you.

Given you a new name, etc. But even in the masquerade of fancy, thinking it now, this silly name—fate; star, light in the sky––Setareh—the sediment of me whirls. Around you I was prone to schmaltziness. Clumsiness. Klutz! I’d like to hear you say. I was always dropping things—a stack of papers, cigarettes, my wallet––in your vicinity.

“It’s the poet in you,” you said, “so ignorant of the material.” But it wasn’t that. It was that I assumed conclusions, but then it was midnight on a Tuesday in America. And I saw your hands resting on the cobalt lacquer of the café table across from me. How could anyone have hands like that? I thought. And how could I go on living if you had hands like that and I was not allowed to touch them?

Why are you so sentimental all the time? you asked the last time I saw you.
It’s not all about you, my god, I said, defensively.

But S, I’d like to show you this handmade thing I bought in Mexico last spring. A tiny book, no bigger than the size of your palm, bound with navy linen, fastened by a conic button made of resin. Every page shows a different shade of blue watercolor—just a circle––corresponding to deteriorating degrees of melancholia. And I thought your mind must feel like that: wrapped tight in linen, locked, and full of sheets of blue.

When we were young—remember the sunny courtyard between Leinestraße and Kienitzer?––I would’ve described dark feelings as a black thing, like the airplane boxes meant to record ruin.

Oh, I would be keen to ruin something again, with you––

But the book I am writing has nothing to do with you. And still you are there, in every room through which I walk, material or simulated. I can feel your grief in there; your light.

Some things are thought to be impossible to attain in this lifetime. Peace in our home country; the kind of love between you and me. And still, we must reach for all. For mustn’t we fight for it, always, each other’s life?

Though, it wouldn’t be a lie to say I am happy now, without you.

Yours, anyway,

Zain Khalid

La Marsa, May 2023

Dear Negar,

My past is rewilding itself in my absence. The rent was unpaid for much longer than I remember. Some lovers thought, and continue to think, having children will keep me sober/sober me up. Five or six years ago, my mother admitted to my confused paternity—your father's probably not your father, that sort of thing. And so, yesterday, we had a terrific fight. I told her we have always made each other very unhappy. She is multifaceted in my imagination, subject to the copresence of guilt and lust, when it’s more likely she enacted a simple revenge. Oh, this is too much to admit. Some parents persuade their children of immortality. Mine couldn't; they were ceaselessly ambiguous. And now even my nationalities are cheap partitions!

The wall text at the O'Keefe exhibit (MoMA) was bad. If it were good, it would have consisted entirely of time, only enough context to decontextualize, stripping meaning to whet our appetite. Certainly not a slender thread of history or a digest of Snapple facts. A tune should enter your mind, which becomes a marble flicked between inchoate desires. I relayed something like this to my museum companion, a busy person. She was unable to listen or look closely. I worry about her bones turning to wheat. Her life sometimes seems a doorless room, fully provisioned. One could describe that as love, though, yes?

The two stories are coming along. The summer is beginning; an equal sign has been placed between morning and late afternoon. La Marsa is bitter whiffs of smoke and ungovernable cats. Everything happens against a backdrop of a blue that is bone idle. They know I’m from elsewhere and that I would like to go unseen. Someone has spray painted "Teaching Bitches To Swim” on a beachside mosque. I'm allowing myself a generous, somewhat metaphysical interpretation of the sentiment.

An art opening tonight. Tunis proper tomorrow. Looking forward to our next conversation. This was a thoughtful request, as I often think of leaving you a note.

More soon.

Calla Henkel

Berlin, May 23, 2023

To my upstairs neighbor;

You are making me insane. It is not you, exactly. It is the grinding howl that wrenches me from my loom of fiction and melatonin every morning at five AM. I wonder if the sound comes from your body. Or the hacking of a Marcel Breuer chair with an angle grinder. Or some baroque piece of work-out equipment advertised to you on Instagram. It is both blood curdling and metallic. Human and horrible.

I understand, from your glasses, that you are a graphic designer. Or maybe an architect. I understand from the occasional bottles of French Sancerre you dispose of in the recycling bin, that you are a man of taste. When you look at me in the hall you nod as if I exist. And I feel like I exist. Enough to nod back at you. And so, in that moment, we both exist which disarms me. But what I want to do is shake you. To take you back to the caveman times. I want to deprive you of meat and berries. I want to dump every last bottle of Sancerre into the street and send you black and white prohibition-era-photographs of the act. I want to enact Rococo pain.

I tried to type this letter. Then I thought it would be nicer if it was hand written. Loopy and girly. Then I settled on a type-writer. More manic. More The Shining. I then trolled the aisles of the hardware store to find felt with an adhesive bottom; as if whatever ghoulish nightmare, whatever daily morning slaughter you perform, could be solved by a little felt. I had the letter on my desk. Folded. In an envelope. Ready to drop on your threshold in some drunken burst of courage. But then our other neighbor had a psychotic break, and suddenly you were at my door, concerned, he sold drugs, he did drugs, perhaps he had done too many. I nodded. Sometimes he gave me pot in little glass jars. Now, he was throwing crockery and mirrors from his window, the backyard a shocking disco ball. So, from then on, we all had to be careful when disposing of our trash. A plate might come flying. An insult or two. To me it was obvious, he had simply succumbed to your sound.

How much Joseph Beuysian felt would it take to halt the progress of this entire building slowing going mad? I would have to take more extreme action. But I stalled. I was dealing with personal issues. You probably heard me crying. Then, one morning, drinking my coffee, your ferocious metallic howl filled my light filled room. I felt myself snap. I dropped the mug, just to hear the sound of it crack. Just to take back some control. That was how it started for our other neighbor; I was sure of it. I went for a walk avoiding the slippery mess on my kitchen tile. Then, a week later, I saw another neighbor, the one from the first floor, he’d just had a baby, he was pointing at cobwebs in the stairwell and shouting at them, telling them to shut the fuck up. I am worried for all of us.

Your ten-step-makeup-routine of sonic war crimes is going to ruin us. But I’m left only to wonder; why couldn’t I leave the last letters for you? Was I afraid you would come for me with whatever chain-saw ear-marked your mornings? Was I worried you would tell me there was no sound? Was I worried there maybe there really was no sound? It no longer matters. I am out of mugs. I shattered them all. And I just wanted to write to let you know; I’m moving.

All the best,
your downstairs neighbor

Maya Binyam

Los Angeles, May 24, 2023

Dear brother,
It was great of you to come to and pay me a visit. Many thanks for your financial offers, for the invitation to restaurants and hotels, for the private car you rented, and for the cost of the dentist you covered. It was my great pleasure to have you as a guest. You may remember the gray car we rented and drove from the hostel through the major streets of the city. It surprised me how rewarding and challenging it was to guide you through the streets based on knowledge and experience rather than plotted maps or GPS. As you may have read in the newspapers, the Middle East is well known for anthrax and the War in Iraq. But we had a nice visit, and it was my pleasure to hear all about your age, well-being, and close family members.

The last time we spoke on the phone, you asked me to expect visitors for the Christian holidays. My wish is to be informed about their bookings. My wish is to meet them in the hotel they rent, although walking with them to Christian holy places is out of the question. Kindly forward me some money in advance, so I can greet our close family members with all the necessities required for tourists: informational guides, history textbooks, etc.

Additionally, my wish is to call your attention to the five years’ service of our late father to Italy during the Second World War. Tamene Afework served fascist Italy as Governor of Meket, and was responsible for keeping civil order, as well as settling property and legal disputes among the residents of the region. The government of Italy has compensated Libya with billions of American dollars, and we may be entitled to the same. My wish is that you talk to an international lawyer, gather oral evidence, and collect affidavits for a possible court face off with the State of Italy, which may stand as legal precedent for the rest of Ethiopia.

My wish is to inform you of my interest in a bank account at one of the Banks in Boston. You may choose the bank you consider best, such as Citizens Bank, Bank of America, and so on. My wish is for an initial minimum deposit of $10,000, which will go toward the purchase of a studio apartment on the Red Sea. My wish is that it serve as a vacation destination for myself and close family when the need arises. My wish is that you buy it for me.

My health and physical conditions seem to be at the most questionable point, under the presidency of the First Black Man. My wish is that you send me food. When you shop for yourself, you may consider sustenance for me: energy bars, powdered drinks, and other products fit for mail delivery.

Kindly yours,

Emily LaBarge

London, June 23, 2023

Dear N,

Your letter comes at a good time. They’re here again. The hot, slow days that jumble the brain, scatter duty and desire, paralyse with indecision, inspire recklessness. Sometimes, the tickertape runs out and I find myself, as the sun lowers, still sitting at the kitchen table, empty coffee cup in hand, wondering in what order to do things, how best to start the day. Other mornings I’m out early, pounding the hot pavement, listening to music, walking fast, eyes clear. This time of year, everyone in shops asks me how I’m enjoying my stay. Well, I say, earth has its disadvantages. But they mean in London–think I’m a tourist, my accent. When I get tired of telling people I live here, for 15 years, I throw on an indeterminate brogue, see what they’ll say, what far-flung reach I might appropriate. Dreaming of elsewhere comes naturally, though it can be hard to keep your vowels straight.

I’m trying new things, is what I meant to say, to keep the stasis at bay, to make the writing come back, to really mean it. Celery juice, greens, and lion’s mane power, OR wine, whisky, and cigarettes. I fish the butts out of the geraniums the next day. Consulting the stars. Acquiring certain gems and stones. I have a nephrite jade bangle on the way, the Etsy seller has assured me of its auspiciousness. I thought about going to Smithfield Market to procure some animal intestines for haruspicy, but I’m not sure it’s so simple. I went to yoga in a room hotter even than the outdoors instead. An ad on Instagram tells me it takes only eight weeks to make a habit permanent. Hard to say which will stick, but I can see pros and cons to each.

At the end of the punishing hot yoga class, the teacher leads a self-massage as we lie wrung out on the mats. Circle your fingers around your temples, he says, clockwise, counter clockwise. Cleaning out the temples, he says. Cleaning them out. Yes, I think, as if armed with a mop, scrubbing dirty, crumbling ruins. This morning after reading the news I couldn’t remember the name of the Bauhaus song, could only think: Silvio Berlusconi is dead.The bats have left the bell tower.The victims have been bled. Red velvet lines the black box. Silvio Berlusconi is dead. .The temples are not clean.

In the heat, the vase of store-bought peonies bloomed so beautifully, a pink largesse, I was unsure what we had done to deserve such extravagance. Today I found they had taken on a fleshy atmosphere, like you find in some Rembrandts, their outer petals tinged yellow, jaundiced and growing velvety and limp, a sickly hint that the time had come to dispose of them before it was too late. At 6am, it was pathetic fallacy weather. Portentous light and gusts of wind, the trees sending messages, birds flying in predestined patterns. When it finally arrived, the rain was the kind of rain we needed. Pelting down in straight lines, thick like a curtain, loud and insistent, flashes of daybreak lightning unaccompanied by cracks of thunder heard elsewhere.

Today is the day I promised myself I would start writing the book again in earnest, start finishing it, that is. The only problem is I have so many things to do first. I need to finish cleaning out my desk drawers. Return all those Man Ray books to the London Library. Sort through old clothes to give away. Research types of windows for the new flat. Order more magnesium bisglycinate, L-theanine, ashwaganda, liquid B12, and those Polish herbal pills, Esberitox, for my sinuses. Clean my mouthguard. Get a haircut. Make sure I have all the right pens (Pilot V5 Hi-Tecpoint 0.5, Blue) and pencils (Caran D’Ache 849 Fluo Line Mechanical pencil 0.7) and paper (Rhodia yellow No.19 legal pad). Organise my papers, draw out a new structure for part two, the middle of the manuscript, which isn’t working. Track down my special edition of NOX. Alphabetise my non-fiction. Meet with four PhD students. Plan a 5oth anniversary party for my parents. And then I have to figure out what’s for dinner.

The list goes on if you can believe it. Like the Lydia Davis story, “A Few Things Wrong With Me.” The man the protagonist is dating says he has a list for her, and she makes one too but quickly realises it could contain everything and nothing. She doesn’t really want to hear it. Or maybe it reminds me of “Break It Down,” which I always hear in James Salter’s voice because I once listened to a recording of him reading it. The way he speaks. The soft, quavering s, the flat a that rolls a little when it precedes an r. Those perfect pauses that seem of a bygone generation, no one talks that way anymore. That will break your heart a little if the story doesn’t.

I mentioned this running to-do list to my mother, and she sent me a copy of The Power of Now . The only thing is, I already have two copies, each a gift from her, and when I tried to read it, the first time, I was offended by the extent to which it was just Zen Buddhism. Who does Eckhart Tolle think he is? Like I’m some kind of mug? I concede it’s true, nonetheless, as my mother says, that he has undoubtedly aided a great number of people. (Paris Hilton, for instance, brought the book with her to the Century Regional Detention Facility in June 2007, and she didn’t stay for long, did she?) I’m just not one of them.

I made some notes earlier, something about writing under the sign of: “In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson is Buried,” Wide Sargasso Sea, Liz Phair’s first two albums, Haruk0: Love Poems, Nichols and May sketches, Einstein on the Beach, Cocteau Twins, Born in Flames, Schubert’s Impromptu No. 3 in G-Flat Major, Op. 90, D. 899 as played by Edwin Fischer, and The Hours (film, not book). We’re working our way through Cassavetes in the evenings, having just finished all ten seasons of Columbo, in which John and Gena star in two different episodes: he as a philandering conductor (married to Blythe Danner, burnished like a soft focus angel) whose murder of his musician lover is exposed by a stray lapel carnation under the piano; she as a wealthy disabled woman whose mother is murdered by her electronic genius husband (Oskar Werner, or Jules from Jules et Jim) who sets up an elaborate video system to cover his tracks. Apparently Falk gave Cassavetes $500,000 to help him make A Woman Under the Influence, in which Falk’s mien bears more than a little correspondence to our beloved Italian American detective. Which is all to say, I think this selection is affecting my cadence.

I’ll drown my book, etc. Honk if you feel seen. Me, I don’t have a licence. Tell him the page I didn’t write, says Emily Dickinson in one of her letter poems. Tell him I only said the syntax, / And left the verb and the pronoun out.

Since we met the book critic in Washington with the blackberry, blackberry tattoo on her foot I’ve had the first lines of that Hass poem stuck in my head. All the new thinking is about loss. In this it resembles all the old thinking. I feel like I’m walking that line between new and old, and it is long and querulous. They say that even when you’re not writing you’re writing, something is happening, but I’m starting to think they know something I don’t. Just like I used to laugh when people asked if I had children (can’t you see I’m far too young!), but now the truth is settling in.

When you first wrote, I thought of sending the letter I penned to Walt Disney when I was ten to register my displeasure at his sexist adaptation of Snow White (who sweeps a forest? what is the story with Dopey?), how it failed to live up to the Brothers Grimm original. Why didn’t he make the evil queen dance, in metal shoes heated in the fire, until she dropped dead? Did he think so little of his young viewers? I had wished the missive sent, but my parents, prizing precociousness, stuck it up on the fridge instead. Unfortunately, last summer my mother threw out all my childhood memorabilia. “Go through it one last time,” she said when I was last home for a visit, “take what you want.” But most of it was gifts for her. What was I supposed to do with all that? She felt badly afterwards and fished some of it out of the bin but still didn’t keep it herself, rather mailed it to me in a large manila envelope. A mixed-media collage of two stick figures tobogganing; a picture of “mommm and dad” floating above a lake; a letter to Santa Claus asking him to confirm or deny his existence (riddle you that); report cards.

Emily loves describing things and writing personal experiences in her journal.

Emily can still dissolve into tears if someone hurts her feelings, but she is developing strategies to cope.

In language arts, Emily has worked hard to “publish” her book.

Emily still appears to have difficulty organising herself.

Very hard to read, the messages that pass / between Thou and Emily, Anne Carson writes about a different Emily entirely. Thou and Emily influence one another in the darkness, / playing near and far at once.

My last trip out of London, I had the idea for a book of letters, each written on a different train journey. At the time I thought it recalled—who? O’Hara? Schuyler? Spicer? Lowell? A poem that was a letter that was a letter that was a poem. Something about Europe, the headlines, a misremembered encounter, longing at a distance, headed somewhere more glamorous than I usually am. Dear X, Dear Y, Dear Z, I realised quickly they would inevitably be variations on a theme. The children’s eye hospital on Peerless Street. The man at the opening who told us he was reading Wuthering Heights to impress a woman who lived in Los Angeles. It’s darker than I remember, he said, furrowing his brow. How, if you look closely, every person is an Alice Neel person, outlined in blue, hands dissolving into the ether. And did you know an octopus has three hearts? On the one hand, how romantic. On the other, how could you bear it?

I told you it was coming out lachrymose. I tried some revisions, some Dickinson-inspired variants, which she sometimes wrote on used envelopes: an x or a + hovering over a word to indicate other options that could be swapped in and out. The puzzling permutations of poems and letters both; her sense of writing to a public-private audience. But it seemed forced when I did it—dishonestly à la lettre. So instead, you have just me and I’ve gone long, as usual. Poetry is filth with its coveted endings, wrote Bernadette Mayer in her book of unsent letters, is there something I don’t know.

With love and squalor,


Anahid Nersessian

Los Angeles, May 2023

Dear N/Dear B/Dear C,

Someone died on my plane last week/as I’ve already explained/twice. Before we boarded the doctor on call at LAX came and checked her out /I kept this part of the story from you, conscious of your superior capacity for narration/and because I was worried you’d think it was filler, extraneous, wordy. The first time was before we boarded, the second time was before we took off/I hesitated to tell you about a death/I hesitated to move too quickly from this story to what I really wanted to talk about, which was life or this version of it. But we did take off/when I owed you an email/while I deliberated about whether to tell you when I was getting in, because I really wanted some time alone. Under Greenland/not quite 2,000 miles from Brooklyn/three hours away from you, I woke up to the sound of feet charging down the aisle/and strangely did not panic/as you would not have panicked. The dead woman was already dead/but still the crew did chest compressions on her for 45 minutes/I know you didn’t ask. No one was crying/you would have lost it/you might have kept on sleeping, I’m not saying that to be mean. When they stopped they laid her body on the floor in front of the bulkhead seats in the middle of the plane/I couldn’t find a way to write this without feeling as though I were in violation of some kind of moral consent and/I wonder what you would have said. Her son was on the plane/that part was unmentionable/to almost everyone. They hung white sheets from the overhead bins/you said it was inevitable, given late capitalism/and here I imagine you in one of your unexpected postures of gravity. No one looked at anyone, no one spoke a word. Forty-five minutes from London the captain came on to say we were forty-five minutes from London and normally he would tell us the weather/you love weather, I mean your books do/is this a time to make a joke about the English? But instead of telling us the weather he said there had been an unfortunate incident, he never said death/and later I learned from my mother that technically no one dies on a plane, because deaths cannot be certified until everyone is on the ground/and here I think you would start to lose interest. He said also that there would be a delay upon landing and not to be alarmed by the police/this was politically significant, of course/you often strike me as anti-political or anyway I can’t draw you out. There were police/a lot of them/but the delay was all of five minutes. I did not know I was allowed to be upset until I called a friend from my hotel and she began screaming what? what?/you took it in stride, given late capitalism/I texted you, “someone died on my plane” but you never followed up. Now I cannot decide whether our collective unconcern was evidence of inhumanity or traumatic dissociation or else of a sublime detachment someone could find a way to call enlightened/you would say trauma, familial and historical/you would say I was overthinking it. The rest of the trip therefore unfolded as if within a dream, and when I got home I was certain I had left something behind/I’ve always wanted to tell you everything but it doesn’t feel right yet/twice you called me a heartbreaker, as if your life isn’t difficult enough.


Avigayl Sharp

New York, May 8, 2023


    Years ago I encountered a rabbit in a field. It was night. I walked alone. The sky was clear. When I looked up at the moon I had the feeling that I was staring down a long, dark tunnel into a bowl of milk. I made an irrelevant phone call. Across the field there stood a low, concrete building, from which I could hear a terrible music playing. The sound of the terrible music assured me that I was going to have a good time.
    It was at this point that the rabbit appeared before me, a few feet away, nestled in the grass.
    When I say “appeared” I don’t mean like out of a magician’s hat. I just mean that the night was dark, and so at first I couldn’t see the rabbit, and then eventually, due to a lessening of distance or to the fact of my eyes adjusting, I did.
    It looked asleep—it had a face and legs and ears, all the proper parts—but then there was the gash that opened its belly, and the blood.
    Have you ever considered the fact that writing letters is so embarrassing………….?
    I mean I hate little anecdotes that are supposed to communicate something secret and sublime but also I can’t seem to stop myself from writing little anecdotes that are supposed to communicate something secret and sublime.
    Whatever. My life is so full of bathos. I’ll tell you about myself. I’m literally a secretary. They call it something else, for feminist reasons, but that’s what it is. Every day after work I go sit at the bar across the street from my office and pick at a plate of soggy tater tots and call my friends to talk about that scene in Knut Hamsun’s Hunger where the guy tries to eat his own finger. “That is so me,” I sigh, and my friends say, “That guy was homeless. He was starving to death,” or, “Please stop talking so much about Knut Hamsun’s Hunger.”
    I don’t actually have very many friends.
    You should keep in mind, obviously, that I’m saying all these things because they’re the natural things for me to say, not because I’m certain that they’re true.
    Blah blah blah. Here I am, invoking the concept of animal death when really I just want you to know me.
    Writing to you is like knocking on the ugliest door in the most beautiful apartment building.
    How are you? How’s Chicago? Is it nice to hear from me after all these years? Is your mother well? Does it disturb you to learn that I’ve become less attractive with age? Do you have a savings account? I do not.
    In truth the whole point of this letter is that I am working up the courage to apologize for every false accusation and recrimination that in my indeterminate youth I lobbed in your direction. I did mean everything I said at the time.
    I hope you will write back if you’re willing & able.

Yours affectionately,



Iva Dixit

New York, June 6, 2022

---------- Forwarded message ---------
From: Iva Dixit <>
Date: Mon, Jun 6, 2022 at 1:04 AM
Subject: Hi.
I need you to know that I first wrote this all out by hand today, because as you very well know (since you said it yourself) I’m “Arkham Asylum-level insane.” At the very least, this will give you the freedom to come up with some more inventive comparisons of me with other Home Depot construction tools. This time around, when you inevitably decide that I’m once again making a thing out of nothing, may I please request that you call me a rotary drill? Or a chainsaw? Turbo shears perhaps? Something with metal teeth preferably, because I think the occasion of something as drastic as this email I’m about to put you through has earned me a promotion in the tool hierarchy and frankly, I am bored of being the hammer looking for a nail. Maybe you could even work on some newer military metaphors, now that we’ve exhausted “difficult” and “battle.” (Personally I quite like “ambush” and “warfare,” but “siege,” and “combat” will also suffice.)
I hope the boxing match was worth it.

Stephanie LaCava

Apr 27, 2023, 8:51 AM EST New York

Dear Anahid,

Your life-drive turned mechanical is too a little like Duchamp’s Large Glass. The third person we went on the walk with, reminded me that it was you who said we should keep going, up the hill to the top.

Tracks. (As they say.)

I have a strange problem, I’ve realized: my death drive inside sees with child’s gaze-eyes. They say children have yet to learn how to focus on one thing, they take in all the outside world with equal emphasis. Nothing is more important than anything else. Value is the same all around. No hierarchies beyond attraction or innate fascination.

This is my curse. I see everything for the first time.

They say as adults, these same minds are able to decide what to focus on, to give attention to and figure out. I think if one isn’t careful, here on earth, this begins to mean power.


Pippa Garner

May 16, 1989 (circa)

Kay Gabriel

New York, September 3, 2023


Dear Jo,

By love I mean a mutual, interminable capacity for transformation. Do you think that’s cold of me? No, love, I’m nothing like it. Did I solve something?

Why interminable? I picked up the habit of saying it from an ex, who got it out of Freud’s “Analysis, Terminable and Interminable,” and fell decisively on the side of the latter. The point of calling love interminable is to say that while it’s love, its dynamism is an external force that moves without rest. I’m defining it because that’s what the lyric does, though not always well. Inside the lyric, a history of wealthy love. Inside analysis, private apartments. But you know that I don’t think that love is an anti-social theory.

Love flash-flooded me. Love undertowed, and love delivered. When it arrived it felt like the end of a fast day, a secular fast day, for a worshipper in white clothes. I’m gonna get written into the book of life. I’m writing it with my body. I’m tall and hollow for my own feeling. Before I overthink it, here’s the track:

Inaya Day recorded Feelin’ Feelin’ in the 00’s, but only released it in 2021. It feels untimely somehow, with its retro Chicago-style minimal production—like Show Me Love minus the torrential synths. It turns sweating heads into goons for love and I am so gay for that. The track starts with a muted kickdrum, a syncopated touch of a high hat, and four notes in a melodic line that sound a little like a digitally plucked string. The final note rises in pitch, so the sequence feels like a question that the track poses again and again. Eventually there’s a handclap, an organ, and an eight-bar piano break, but it’s all fab limited staging for the voice. Inaya Day’s vocals surge into the track, heady, secretive, relentless, water through a cracked dam destroying farmland. Bless me, love, she appeals, arrest me, love. Come test me love, somethin’ ‘bout the way I’m feelin’. She gives the addressee a lot of power without losing any of her own. The beat stays the same so the voice can crest to full force, and submerge every other sound and sense. Summoning love isn’t surrender, and it isn’t lying in supplication on the muddy ground. It’s an invitation to be changed and drowned. I saw Shiv carried up on a love tide. It ran through his body.

I’ve never danced with a lover to this song, though I hear it played out all the time: Soul Summit, near sunset, when the light in Fort Greene Park lay thick enough to look like a substance flecked and dropped on the dancers; an edit played in Alinka’s Berghain garden set that looped only the piano break, and bewitched the regulars; Campout this year, in the rain on the first night, when Scaaarr dropped the track and sopping people howled the words. If I had a lover by me for it I’d slow down to sing the lyrics into his mouth. I’d—Kylie—skip a beat and move with his body. I have a lover: he obsesses. He didn’t know the track.

But he listened when I told him about it, and he wrote me a letter, so this is a reply to him that snakes through you. He called it “an invitation to love without restraint, ... a frightening proposition.” Love wakes him up beatific. It terrifies him, who once might have called himself jaded. He lays his pretty head in his hands, and denies it’s pretty. He likes to ask me how I’m feeling. Swerving from a collision with doll turmoil, I send him tracks, and answer behind a lipsync of someone else’s lyrics.

How am I feeling—is that a threat? Somewhere a transsexual is breathing life into unruly emotion, sublime habits, major use, major dysfunction, grand mal everything. She’s sinking into her perma-sulk  She’s in a crying jag. Oh, she’s in a k-hole, or a forever flame war in somebody’s DMs. She fell for a loser who isn’t worth her time, or she’s dating a fuckboy trans guy, or she’s on and off with someone her friends agree is definitely an addict, or her ex is a basically decent person with problems and appeal of his own. I love that girl and her problems, and I fear being found out. If I cry in front of him, I want to cry nobly. I want him to marvel at me without knowing that I’m meat. If he pitied me, I’d make him buy me drugs for life. I refuse to be pathetic, by which I mean, I fake that I’m better than that tranny shit, and actually I’m just more private. I disclose it over the phone. I sublimate, baby, but not in front of you.

Dear Jo. Trannies are damaged goods, and I say that with precision and reverence, and I say it in the first person. So is love a gift freely tendered? If she’s a bad beloved, is love fraudulent or is it gracious? Somethin’ ‘bout the way I’m feelin’: the lyric is indeterminate. Love controls, not sin, and not even forgiveness.

In her emphatic address, Inaya Day summons intimacy. I’m right here, love, come close to love. Remarkably—to me, anyways—it’s neither sexual nor not sexual; it’s more like a culmination of maximal, impossible closeness. Or even unbearable, in that being naked and animal in front of another is unbearable, and it is unbearable to put oneself in someone else’s hands. I have been, frankly, awful to myself in ways that ended love, or that is obvious to me now. I see women act impossibly, and sympathize. Take my love—take all my love, the track says. That is unbearable, too.

Unbearable to accept it, and, accepting, see yourself as someone who amazes him, not a drug user throwing tantrums. Unbearable also not to have it, or to have it just enough. I want this, he says, when “it” is in his power, the sign of which is how badly he could damage me, if he were a different man. What he really does is make me introspect, even when I’m throwing ass, though don’t mistake me for somebody who cares about “intelligent” dance music. Here’s one thought I’ve had. Trannies make ourselves sick we feel so much, and the question we ask without answering is am I worthy of your love. It’s harrowing to see a normal person ask it too.

Only he’s not especially normal. Should I tell you about him? He’s shy and ESL, and because he’s beautiful, too, strangers mistake his conduct for arrogance, but he’s not arrogant. He’s fastidious and self-possessed. He doubts himself, which is endearing, not obnoxious. He likes the word obnoxious. From him, it’s a compliment, and he pins it on me. He’s nearly as vain as I am, remarkable in somebody so cissexual. He works on his lats, with supplements. I cheerlead in a little tee. He’s cool enough to be a little corny for a good reason, like AOC. He adores me—his words—and once he stopped our kissing to say that he could be my dad, which if true would’ve made him a teen dad, and I am so gay for that, too.

Or because he’s shy, should I describe myself instead? Should I say I’m feral? Should I describe the track again, which I loved before I understood? Am I writing to you because I had a big feeling and I listened to music that made it bigger? Come close to love; I’m right here, love. Closeness isn’t closeness. Love wakes him trembling. I’m right here, love, and I’m frothing at the mouth. I think I’m ready. I’m the first openly trans woman to have a feeling. I’m drenched, so now what I’m wearing is a wet look. Maybe yours is too.

Love for Chicago, and keep some for yourself,
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