Faded Lovers, Arcane Gods



An ex-girlfriend of mine turns 28 tomorrow. I have spent the last few weeks writing her a sonnet, to the surprise and consternation of the friends with whom I have discussed it.

They make noises about how I need to ‘put it behind me’. The truth is, no one I have loved has ever been put behind me. They are all still there, in the weird, oneiric present that hangs over the beach of the conscious and the sprawling subconscious body that breaks upon its shore.

In ‘Letters to a Young Poet’, Rainer Maria Rilke writes, “…this love, I am sure of it, will run through the weave of your becoming as one of the most important threads of your experiences, disappointments and joys.”

Stories are a kind of technology to explain these things and their relationships through the ritual organisation of events into chronology.

But when they occur inside you, it’s more a dimension of images, colours, temperatures, smells, sounds, and sensations in which everything is simultaneously present and immediate.

Chronology is an artifice. This simultaneous present is what a human is, once the blood, bone, muscle, gristle and viscera comes off the scale. The weave that Rilke describes is the mysterious weight of the soul.

The sensation of that simultaneous present, the breath-stealing, heart-stopping sensation is the sensation of being alive. The process of staking it out through chronological organisation is a kind of suicide.


I remember J- from a photo I don’t look at anymore. She took it with my iPhone while lying on my bed in her sundress on the afternoon of my birthday after I had left the room.

She’s quarter-Chinese and her hair is a chestnut shade away from jet. The ephemeral figures of her ancestors seem to shimmer across her complexion, anchored by her long, almond eyes, the only point of clear resolution. In this photo, those eyes appear bottomless.

She is an ocean of reality.


I saw Y – in the supermarket late last year. It was the week after I had just enjoyed a spectacular threesome with two beautiful young women who had decided they wanted to try out the sapphic rollercoaster and had been kind enough to invite me to do the heavy lifting in the middle.

Needless to say, I was quite pleased with myself as I rolled into the Metro shopping centre in High Street Malvern, whistling ‘Low Rider’, sliding in like the Silver Surfer on the blood-orange beam of afternoon sunlight that extended through its doors.

A tall, erect, immaculately dressed young woman stood waiting to use the self-service registers. As she turned the pale, ovoid disc of her face, I recognised her.

I turned away to ignore her so she could recognise me and thereby feel ignored. She stormed through the registers, high heels peening off the polished concrete floor, and slammed her groceries down hard enough on that register to smash it.

She jammed them into a bag in what seemed to be an inconsiderate order of their fragility before bustling outside. Moments later, she stormed back in, snatched up a basket and headed for the back of the store to hide until I’d left.

While it’s funny – and felt like a win – the truth is, the image of the pale, ovoid disc of her face has lodged in my mind.

What I remember of what I saw – in the arc-lamps of her eyes as she turned – in that instant, I saw that almost all the girl had been lifted out of her face in the six years we’d been apart. She was probably twenty-nine and six months – her thirtieth birthday is in December of this year.

I felt a terrible ache for the years I’d missed. I was transfixed by her beauty as if I had been pierced by it. That aching lingers as a perpetual echo.

She, too, is an ocean of reality.


Meditation is the act of being present in the moment, sheared away from past and future. As I was gliding through this afternoon’s sunlight, looking for a suitable café at which to sit and read in the sunshine, I thought about what a magnificent gift the afternoon was.

I believe it is true that I should practice meditation until I can be entirely present, extinguishing past and future through that singular act of focus.

However, there’s something about the terrible beauty of those women, and what they bought into my life, and what they left behind, a large part of it manifested as an echo that sounds a profound emptiness.

An emptiness that fills with sunlight.

And I was thinking about what my friends continue to tell me, the advice they give to staunch the wound. I picture them kneeling in front of their little altars, looking into the bloody mandala of their own entrails and fleeing whatever is written there. Fleeing the gory likenesses of their Gods, looking for others that cannot be toppled.

We laugh at the insights of primitive people and even those we admire, like the ancient Greeks, we view as inferior to ourselves. But the truth is, no God erects itself. Gods are bought into being, empowered and sustained through worship.

Your Gods are within you.


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