I Miss You

For V (with gratitude and apologies to Billy Collins), 2005

 

You are the rice and the bowl

The brass lamp and the prayer

 

You are the distant sound of temple bells at dusk

And the elephant’s trunk poised in blessing above a child’s head

You are the wholesome fragrance of thulsi in the garlandmaker’s basket

And the wise old banyan tree where the birds rest their songs.

 

However you are not the droplet that sleeps on the lotus leaf in the

middle of the pond

The potter’s wheel or the stray notes in Krishna’s flute

And you are certainly not the cry of the milkman in the morning

There is just no way that you are the cry of the milkman in the morning.

 

It is possible that you are the splash of the bucket lowered into the well

Maybe even the custard apples on the bough

But you are not even close to being the red banana flower

 

And a quick look in the mirror will show

That you are neither the saltspraysting of the sea

Nor the hurling grace of the fisherman’s net.

 

It might interest you to know,

Speaking of the plentiful imagery of the world,

That I am the sound of crickets at sundown.

I also happen to be the shooting star,

The umbrella turned inside out by the wind

And the silk woven mat on the floor

 

I am also the sway of the coconut palm

And the longing of the red earth for rain

But don’t worry, I’m not the rice and the bowl

You are still the rice and the bowl

Not to mention the brass lamp and — somehow —  the prayer.

***

Ten years and more later…

My husband is not a sentimental person. He has a box of old letters, photographs and miscellaneous keepsakes saved more by benign neglect than emotional attachment. He is as likely to ever want to look through it as he is to want to go salsa dancing on a Friday night. Which is to say– very, very unlikely. As far as I can tell, he is immune to nostalgia. This affords him a kind of peace that I sometimes envy. While I am far less sentimental than I once was, I’m still prey to occasional bouts of nostalgia that fell me like the flu.

***

“I miss you.” Three words that I’ve said so often to V over the years, and his response has always been the same: “But I’m right here.” And he always is. I have never known quite how to explain this quality of missing. The piercing sense of the absence of a thing that surfaces bewilderingly and most keenly in the full-blown presence of that thing. It is a subtle, gnawing, uncomfortable sensation. Like an itch that’s impossible to scratch because it is impossible to locate. A distance impossible to bridge because it isn’t located in space. But you feel it. You know you feel it.  In an unguarded moment this feeling can bring you to tears. In moments when you are better defended you laugh it off.

Life is a strange animal. And animals get hungry. And it is hunger that gives us the potential for tragedy, comedy. Hunger that gives us the potential for metamorphosis, and evolution. 

Hunger is an animating force. Perhaps the animating force of this world. And it is fundamentally defined by the sensation of lack, and its identical twin, the sensation of longing.

***

“It’s funny,” says my husband, “But these days I get hungry while I’m eating.” I look up at him across the dining table and we burst out laughing, because it’s a ridiculous statement and yet it makes perfect sense. It is not long after the ER visit. V at this time had spent two weeks on a strict diet of fruit, rice and boiled vegetables. No spices, no sugar, no gluten, no dairy and very little salt. “I’m eating plenty,” he says, “But there’s this entire compartment in my stomach that stays permanently empty.” He is smiling as he says this, his eyes full of merriment and not a trace of self-pity. V has always enjoyed variety in his food, but he has no trouble accepting, with monk-like contentment, whatever happens to be served on his plate, literally and metaphorically.

I think again, what I’ve thought many times over the years: This person whom I live my days side-by-side with, is no ordinary being.

***

From the Online Etymology Dictionary:

hunger (n.)

Old English hunger, hungor “unease or pain caused by lack of food, debility from lack of food” from Proto-Germanic *hungraz(source also of Old Frisian hunger, Old Saxon hungar, Old High German hungar, Old Norse hungr, German hunger, Dutch honger, Gothic huhrus), probably from PIE root *kenk- (2) “to suffer hunger or thirst” (source also of Sanskrit kakate “to thirst;” Lithuanian kanka “pain, ache; torment, affliction;” Greek kagkanos “dry,” polykagkes “drying”). From c. 1200 as “a strong or eager desire” (originally spiritual).

appetite (n)

  1. 1300, “craving for food,” from Anglo-French appetit, Old French apetit “appetite, desire, eagerness” (13c., Modern French appétit), from Latin appetitus “appetite, longing,” literally “desire toward,” from appetitus, past participle of appetere “to long for, desire; strive for, grasp at,” from ad “to” (see ad-) + petere “go to, seek out,” from PIE root *pet- “to rush, to fly.”

***

“I miss you.” 

“But I’m right here.”

This is what it distills down to. 

“I miss you.” 

“But I’m right here.” 

Just so you know — this is the only conversation we are having. And by we I mean me. I mean you. I mean almost anybody. Almost everybody. This is the only conversation we have ever had (no matter how much it seems otherwise, it’s all just variations on the theme), with each other, with ourselves, with our God/s, with our time, with our reality. 

“I miss you.” 

“But I’m right here.” 

The compartment in your stomach that cannot be filled. The itch that cannot be located.

The hunger we carry like a koan (that is our privilege to carry like a koan)–

Until we don’t.

[End of conversation.]


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