The Poetry Project

Reading from The Freezer Door

Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore

A Sense of Belonging

From The Freezer Door, forthcoming November 2020 from Semiotext(e)

Remembering incorrectly is the greatest art. Remembering correctly is why people are tortured. Making art can be torture, but the torture of art is not the greatest art. The greatest art of torture is not to be tortured. But at what cost?

The best way to avoid bad sex is to search for good sex online, until you can’t find anything but the searching. Confession: sometimes I boil water, but then I can’t remember what it’s for, so I let it cool down, and then I boil it again. The failure of writing to do anything but write, and can this be its potential?

The most expensive art is a sense of belonging. The best way to remember a sense of belonging is to remember incorrectly. The correct memory is a memory of nothing. Nothing costs more than nothing. Remembering nothing costs more than remembering.

When someone says enjoy this little bit of sun we’re having, but actually it’s already raining. To trust someone so untrustworthy. And this is what we are told is love. To fall in love with this trust.

It’s been a year since I found Adrian at Pony—or he found me—should we celebrate by going to Pony, or somewhere else? And what does it meant to celebrate, anyway? I’ve never really figured this out.

We’re standing on that part of Olive Way that slopes downtown, this view just like the view when I would step outside of my apartment at Faneuil Hall in 1996, and then sometimes I would walk by Magdalena’s, after she moved into the Sealth Vista, and she would be leaning out the window, waving hi with Katie when they were getting messy or just acting messy and we could all be messy together. All the apartment building names in Seattle that don’t quite make sense, and maybe that’s one of the only things about Seattle that makes sense.

And that’s where the internet café was—I’m telling Adrian, the first time I ever went on the internet—I didn’t really know what the point was, and Andy had to convince me. Adrian loves to talk about the past, to hear about the past, to think about the past, and suddenly I feel like maybe I actually have a history here, even if it’s from so long ago—1996 was 20 years ago, no wonder it feels like it’s not connected to my life now, when I’ve been here for 4 years, but still I don’t feel a sense of place. I feel like I could leave tomorrow, and I wouldn’t even care.

How do I bring the sense of place I felt here 20 years ago into the present day—I mean a sense of belonging. Is that even possible? When Gabe gets to my house he’s so excited, there’s all this excitement, I wonder if we’re dating. I mean I know we’re not dating, but I wonder if we should be dating. Obviously I don’t know how to date, but he’s always dating someone—I can’t believe how many relationships he’s had, one after the other. He says: Maybe I would be happier if I focused on something else.

Bathrooms at art museums, what could be more romantic? Gabe says he’s finally realized that he doesn’t want to be with his first boyfriend anymore. We’re watching a video where the artist says he lets his assistants be creative, they can paint the sculptures however they want. But of course they don’t get any credit.

Gabe says he’s tried for so long to conform, but all that does is get him to the same place of failure. I guess I can’t really ask him for dating advice—too much trying to be the other person, getting pushed away for not being the other person, getting pushed. I just wish I wasn’t so lonely.

Then Andy and I are talking about the internet café, how Andy dragged me there to go online, but I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to be online. Andy says you were there because I wanted to look up gay skinheads on the internet, it was just something social, a social way to be antisocial—in the beginning it was more social than antisocial, because it was too expensive to be online for too long.

And the end? We’re living it now.

There are two times in my life when I felt like I had a home, and unfortunately they were both in San Francisco. There is memory, and then there is the memory of memory, and then there is the memory of something not-quite-memory, and this is maybe how dreams work. I miss all these faggots I once knew, who always thought that masculinity was the worst thing. I do mean the worst.

My mother calls to tell me about Spotlight, a movie about sexual abuse by Catholic priests—she says I think you recommended it to me. But I’ve never even heard of it. Of course, my father was a priest I mean psychiatrist who sexually abused me. One advantage psychiatrists have over priests: access to drugs to use on their children I mean patients. One disadvantage: lack of access to God. Anyway, when I tell my mother about her Freudian slip, she says I can see how you might think that. Which would be a great title for a movie about psychiatrists who sexually abuse their kids.

Sometimes it’s hard to write about the saddest thing in the world, I mean someone else’s saddest thing—you witness too much or all at once I mean so early, so soon in a relationship the breaking down the flooding the collapse the holding onto what will never work, but holding on anyway. I mean a relationship with someone else’s pain. His relationship with someone who will never work.

How do you tell him to get out of the relationship, when he already knows, but can’t. I mean how do you tell him if he’s already telling himself, again and again and you watch, you say it too, again and again, and again and again he’s back in the same relationship.

I would like to say that this is why I avoid these kinds of relationships, but actually I just can’t figure out how to start them, how to open up from the comfort of friendship into whatever that other thing is. The comfort of desire? The comfort of desire met. I worry that won’t happen for me here. I worry that if I move somewhere else there will just be another here.

Short story: Last night you gave me a candy cane. I took it because you were sad. Even though I don’t eat candy. Today I’m sad too.

Love story: I pick up the new Patti Smith book, read a few sentences, and drop it back onto the table. The woman next to me looks over. I hate her work, I say, it’s so overwrought. Me too, this woman says.
The problem with words is that they are only words. And then you forget them anyway. The problem with forgetting words is that then you use the wrong language. The problem with the wrong language is that then there are no words. If we were all stuck without words then there would be more language.
Who decided that language would be permanent? I’m searching for a way out, which is also a way in.
Gabe doesn’t want me to write about him, so is this sentence already a betrayal? But if I’m trying to create a world for myself with other people, how can I avoid writing about other people? I mean how can I write without writing about people I might love. I call my grandmother, who’s in the hospital, and she says: I still don’t know what it was I mean I guess it was my heart.

House Party #3