I walked across Paris to the Palais Éphémère to go to Paris Photo.
Dense with ghosts.
I walked between selves. I walked to the future. I walk. I walked.
I walked along the banks of the Seine, after an evening of dance in the Salle de Nymphéas at the Musée de l’Orangerie.
Somehow My Self Survived The Night was the title of the performance. An evocation of hauntology by , to the strains of Arvo Pärt.
I had a lover I couldn’t tell about my day, then. I didn’t tell him where I went or what I saw. The emotive men embodying the sacred chants, mirroring the stalks of the waterlilies with their corporeal affections. What waterlilies mean to me, what it means to watch them expand, what it means to be in a room surrounded by them.
I walked along the Seine, alone, after, singing hallelujah, quietly to my self.
I had joked to my lover once that jealousy was my love language. All I meant was, the idea of anyone else being the one for him was inconceivable to me. Of course we would be together, we had loved each other for years.
I didn’t realize that I felt that way until I heard him joking about picking up girls, French, German, Nigerian, each given a stereotypical name for his quintessential, nationally-identified type.
To me, none other could be for him. Who could possibly love him better?
Jealousy, a love language.
I joked to him about jealousy, because it’s a love language he speaks too. By jealousy I meant some twisted, half-formed version of monogamy, of choosing only one, of all that is possible in a closed intimacy.
But he speaks it the dangerous way: the evil eye of envy that curses, slithers and stings. He was jealous of my beauty, not realizing it was his. Jealous of my freedom, when all I wanted was to share it.
Tucked away, singing gospel along the shore.
Somehow My Self Survived The Night.
When I went to the Palais Éphémère, I had a different lover, who also asked me nothing about the show.
As I walked the halls, alone, I felt relieved to not be there with people I would have once been there with. (There will be a different essay on narcissistic men, on, pouring life force into a broken spirit to convince them they are worthy, the world is safe, so we can move, as if one spirit could ever hold up another in this way, continuously, he is a sieve, I wrote, you are a vacuum, I told the other. That essay will explore the depths to which this body had been trained that their life force is to serve others. That essay will be on the odd poetic of mourning the realization that life is a gift you must keep; on the strange loneliness of living for one’s self. On grief on the pathway to freedom.)
I was grateful to be out of the scene I had once been embroiled in. Grateful to find, hidden along the walls, traces of what I am seeking, mostly, lately the real. The in between, the something beyond, the not ignoring these worlds but finding that which is beyond the world in the world. And so, ’s photo of empty frames, and Alexey Titarenko’s ghostly images of cities, spoke to my specters, to my sentience, to my ways of seeing.
I came home. The lover told me he had missed me. The lover told me about the question he had asked in the zoom seminar, about the colleague he had skyped with, about who he hated in class.
I tied up my dreams and thoughts and visions, and tucked them into the corner of my psyche, a vast, secret space.
At the Palais de Tokyo I looked at a world I had left, or, I looked at questions in registers I no longer moved in, or.
There was a lover there, who hates and hates. I hated all his hatred, but my cousin told me there is a lot to hate. I have also hated. Imperialisms, broken structures, racisms. Later, with , I wondered “how with this rage shall beauty hold a plea?” and began to shift toward world creation. One does not arrive there without awareness of the world, but in his hatred it seemed he couldn’t imagine any response that wasn’t hatred, he couldn’t conceive of integrated action, or transformation, or the possibility of peace. Or, maybe he just hated me, or, maybe he just hates as practice, or maybe he just lands in hate.
At the exhibition I glazed past and past and past, we, wandering, separately, mostly, crossing sometimes.
I asked: is there anything good here?
He smiled and said: one thing, and began to lead me, downstairs, to a room I hadn’t encountered, to a , massive, jarring, round, evocative. Created for a poet, designed for a garden, sections having been exhibited at FESTAC, Lagos in ’77, a half circle carved to frame the rising sun. Deep with consciousness and decidedly oriented to the light, it resonated its gravity without saying a word.
It was, to me too, the only good thing here.
In a cloud of constructs, something, beyond. Something wordless. Something assertively saying no thing. This, I am always seeking. Ambient articulation, being, beyond language, taking space to make space, pointing to the real.
That he saw it felt meaningful to me. (If he saw it; I presumed he saw it, but, we might have been looking at different things. He might have been looking at the metal, while I was looking to the space it made, the air around. But, we both, separately, write on the in between.)
We wandered through the rest of the show, quiet, faces in a few other spaces. A room full of forms at a far corner of the palace. He liked that one too, this spatial thinker, spatial maker, spatial curator, sculptor.
(I could have noticed his bitterness, his victimhood, at a series made under his gallery in Lagos that made no mention of it here. I could have noticed that he perhaps liked form just because he works with form. I could have noticed that I, bored, planned to go home and read and skip the VIP party, while he said: anywhere they say you can’t go you want to go, you know? I think it’s natural. Or, I did notice this, but I related it to my younger inclination toward empowerment, toward the learning that you can have anything you want in this world, so, what do you want? And later, yes of course you could go to the VIP party, but what are you doing there? He was lying through his teeth, and, fighting with everyone he had ever worked with, and, receiving forgiveness from women he had hurt who did the work to forgive. He smiled, as she told him “you’re a good person, it’s ok,” sighing, a breath heavy with what had passed before. I did notice that. He had hurt me too. He had not apologized. He had said, cryptic: “I value our friendship,” sometime in between, I, still smarting from the racial slurs, the public bashing, the simplistic critique, but mostly the betrayal of an intimacy I had always trusted, had said: “let’s discuss it when we see.” We didn’t, really. He did not apologize. He said he lives for violence, and wakes up looking for someone to fight with in the morning. My soul splits when there are slits in my intimacies, I hold relations in my body, conflict rips me asunder. But all that came later, when we fissured along the same lines again.)
I, walking, always, between worlds, between presents, between the future and the past, was looking for someone to walk with. I was struck by the peace between us. I liked how it felt, walking with him. Deeply peaceful, quiet, still. And the energy between us, it lived precisely in my womb, warm and full.
I looked at him quizzically, I didn’t say until later, the words so loud in my head: I feel like I know you so deeply, and, so much has happened. And, both were true.
Between the before and the becoming, there was lostness. Something finished; something coming, no visible path between the two. I ended up in London, in the National Gallery, alone, fatigued at the canon, red walls stacked with Caravaggio’s. Wandering hallways wondering what to do.
I turned a corner and bumped into the toddler I once was, looking up at me from a snowy Monet.
Something small, a whisper, how we grow, the secret self we water.
I pasted a postcard of a Monet on my bedroom wall in the dangerous home I grew up in. ((Zoom all the way in to the most beautiful thing imaginable, look at only this, until it becomes your world.))
John Berger starts an essay on Caravaggio with a scene in bed with his lover. She asks who his favorite painter is. He says Caravaggio, then writes an essay on why. But first he writes on absence, on missing his lover. I wrote on , too, on how love can bloom in absence, on the intimacy of a love letter. My lover doesn’t read me, so, he doesn’t know who I am, and, since we only ever speak past each other, I’m free to say how I feel. In Vodou, houngans share ceremonies publicly, because they know the uninitiated can’t see.
Pain isn’t poetic, he told me, as he recounted hurt embedded all the way to his bones, hips, neck, ankles, brain, and, I watched the poison spit from his mouth.
I walked all day across the city to find him soup when he was sick. Walked past worlds I’d left, asked in a dozen restaurants, spent money I didn’t have, eventually cooked all day, chicken (I’m a vegan), swirling spices. When I sullied the texture, I started over. I watched my self do this, watched the love run out in front of me, tendrils from my belly, tracing me through the city. I infused it, I made tea, I boiled yam, I felt the profundity of the intimacy of pouring love into his insides, that I could build his body, with tender, intentional foods. So much life in this body, I told him, when he showed me his scars. I kissed them. Rubbed oils, poured herbs. Softened his tendons, integrated his doubts. Later, he called the soup a potion.
This body too, digests what it is fed.
Sometimes with poetry.
Somehow My Self Survived The Night.
Allyn Aglaïa Aumand is a writer, scholar, artist, and curator. Publications include The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The New York Times, Guernica, The Los Angeles Review of Books, The Berlin Quarterly, Very Vary Veri of the Harvard School of Design, and many others.