Incomplete Self-Portrait of Us

By Michael Mungiello

She was an actress: BORING

There was always some makeup left in her hairline when she returned from the set, which reminded me of the ink smudges my pen had left on my palms: ALSO BORING

She ran up the stairs, slammed the door, shouted that she never wanted to see me again, and then, together, we began singing Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde: TOO HIGHBROW

Afterwards we went to see a movie: VAGUE

Back home we made love again and I got to thinking that sex in which nobody orgasms resembles a conversation at a cocktail party you attend to advance your career: VULGAR

When we first moved in together, it was April on the Lower East Side, and she still had a tourist’s curiosity about the whole thing, love and New York, and I was her guide, her personal native New Yorker who could see an idealized reflection of himself in the windowpanes of the cathedrals, museums, and skyscrapers that we spent weeks perusing: ARE YOU SERIOUS

That spring we spent whole days in bed, in part because we were studying each other’s bodies the same way we were studying each other’s lexicons, as though we were method actors researching a role or poets of witness stuck in an unknown country, the tropical surface of which poorly disguised the criminal underworld raging just beneath sight, and it made sense to think about those first domestic days this way, especially when it became clear that she was depressed and that we had spent whole days in bed in part because she could not have left our bed, unbeknownst to me who had interpreted desperation as devotion, unbeknownst maybe even to her, she had been submerged in something that neither of us saw, something like rainforest flowers so bright they are unbearable to the

Then when we fought, fights about food, fights about money, even one time a fight about Monet, we would murmur accusations and then flee from each other, she would lie on the floor of our bedroom for hours while I went into another room and scratched my forehead until my skin broke and I bled: GROTESQUE

BE VULNERABLE: You don’t mean that

TELL THEM ABOUT THE TIME: Once upon a time, you were seeing somebody else, so I took you to a poetry reading where we got drunk on complementary red wine, where I embarrassed myself in front of C. K. Williams because I wanted to say something wonderful about his poetry but found myself inarticulate because of the wine, wine I drank so I would be inarticulate enough to not be able to explain to myself what I was about to do with you, because had I been able, had I been able to explain to myself that I was going to kiss you, why I was going to do it, and what that would mean for us down the line, then I never would have done it

THAT IS NOT IT AT ALL: You’re going to quote “Prufrock” to me?

Let me start where you want me to, then, let me start the night we had sex for the very first time, that first time years ago, and for the very first time in my life, I was able to come with a woman, that was you, I was able to come, and not by picturing a million strangers alone, no, I came because I was with you and I saw you, and I did not just see you seeing me, I saw you, yes, and so that night I slipped a note under your door because this was before we began living together, and in that note I told you I loved you, and all the next day you didn’t bring it up once, in fact you hated me that day: STOP

No, I’m not done yet, in fact you hated me that day, because you thought I had flirted with your friend, the one who accompanied us to that expensive museum to watch that awful German movie, the very friend you invited, you thought I loved her, wanted her more, because I looked at her more, and I went home with my face glued to the ground, not knowing that you hadn’t read the letter until much later when you called and told me to come over, and I ran through several city blocks, memorizing everything blurring past me, until I reached your apartment, and you opened the door in a towel and you said that you too: THAT’S ENOUGH

You don’t get to decide that: INDULGENT


If you could just speak to me, if you could just see this portrait for what it is, a performance, a play simultaneously penned and performed, or maybe like a plant, growing and dying at the same time, if only you could assume for a moment that it is more than just a self-portrait of me, a self-portrait of you, if only you could trace me onto our canvas with your photogenic eyeliner and I could pour a wine bottle of black ink over your head and together we could be encased again, we could be in love, we could be fixed in the mutual avoidance of the problem of being ourselves with each other: GO ON

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