1. On Smoking:
Smoke and suck are interchangeable words in Japanese, and like herpes or Chlamydia, if you sleep with someone who smokes, you’ll catch it, too, but at least herpes never killed anybody and Chlamydia just sounds like a flower.
Smoking is the softest form of suicide, my mouth tonguing Death’s with necrophiliac fervor, a taste like Proust’s past, a carcinogen Madeleine .
Scar tissue accrues in our lungs, raised like a relief map. With each inhale, tar loosens loamy lung fiber, cells like dark matter distend the way black holes chasm the cosmos. Breathing is a way to fill ourselves with sky.
—in which you’re both the vampire and the hemophiliac, both the Abu Ghraib prisoner and Lynndie England, at least Private England knows that just like the stuff in our achy breaky tracheae, all discharge, it seems, is dishonorable.
Asian or aging? Violets or violence? Ardor or harder? Herpes or heartbeats?
You murmur Tasha, and all I hear is nausea.
I mishear JonBenet as Jean Genet—which one died tripping on the way to the toilet, a face dissolved from throat cancer, skin collapsing in on itself like a dying star? Which one gagged with tape and found furled in a quilt in a wine cellar?
Did you say terminal disease or terminal degree?
Darling, your life is over either way.
Because verb tense is the most furtive form fiction.
We read about extinction in the Tribune, all of dying things: the ash trees, blue crabs, the Tribune itself. Seaglass is becoming scarce on the shorelines.
We do our share, dispatching messages in bottles one Midwestern winter, when Lake Michigan is the color of mildew.
We’re walking home while curtains quiver semaphores, skeletal trees shorn of leaves weave brushstrokes as if in Japanese, an arc of white birds like vertebrae.
I’d like to imagine a girl with wren-wing hair, her feet in the marl, finding the beer bottle-letters you and I wrote, and for a heartbeat, the entire universe is you and I minus you and I—
—unless we live in a world of without, without the girl with wren-wing hair, without pockets with pastel taffies wrapped in waxed paper, without moonscape footprints in frozen sand, without wind-sculpted sand dunes and sawgrass. All our bottles uncorked, our letters for sake’s sake left to forever drown deep in that lake.
What I mean is: erstwhile love flares up once again like a herpes outbreak.
I’m somehow still sitting there at our kitchen table, a bowl full of lemons, I’m in the middle of writing you an apology when I hear the door unlock, and go greet you, my note unfinished. My expired apology, scrawled on the back of a receipt, reemerges years later, here in my new life, among old bills and syllabi, words haltering midsentence—“I’m really sorry for being ”
I’m really sorry for being.
Tasha Matsumoto‘s fiction and essays have appeared in DIAGRAM, Ninth Letter, The Collagist, Black Warrior Review, and elsewhere. She lives in Salt Lake City.