Sunday, August 16, 2009

Tous les sens

Instead of all the virtuous things I could do on a Sunday morning--getting ready for church, say, or heading outdoors for a hike before the sun really kicks in--I'm listening to a dirty French song. Specifically, I'm listening to Montréal's Ariane Moffatt whisper to her lover, "Je veux faire un puzzle avec ta peau" [I want to make/put together/construct a puzzle with your skin], before proceeding to this chorus: "Je veux t'aimer dans tous les sens." I want to love you in every sense. I'm blown away--or, better yet, disassembled--by the thought of the surface of a body locked, unlocked, and interlocked like so many scraps of scalloped cardboard. Moreover, I love the idea of loving someone, of wanting them and wanting to love them, not just in every direction but in and within each of the body's senses. What would it mean to trace the fissures and seams of a beloved body-puzzle with, for example, your nose? Or with your tongue, but not just your tongue; not even just your taste-buds, as though somehow a sense could be located once and for all in a given place; but in the diffuse--yet overpoweringly concentrated--radiance of sense, of senses, beyond them?

Somewhere a dog is barking.

I'm just back from two and a half weeks in Montréal, whose homely streets overflowed with beautiful people, and where I immediately felt, a little uncannily, and despite my lack of skinny jeans, chez moi. I found that city to be a puzzle in itself, its pieces not quite seamlessly proximate, even as I got a kick out of tracing and retracing its sidewalks. (What would it mean to tell a city that you want to love it in every sense?) There was something unexpectedly bracing, for me, about the familiarity of Francophone North America, where the buildings are straight out of the Rust Belt, even as the street signs and so many of the ambient voices at any given moment are in a language that seems neither exactly alien nor, obviously, in any immediate sense my own.

(Can I say, though, how grateful I am for the patience and, even, the kindness I was shown by so many folks in Montréal who listened to and coped with and even, miracle of miracles, occasionally said encouraging things as I fumbled around with French? If part of the Twilight Zone effect of those weeks was waking up each morning in a city that looked--and smelled--a lot like home, another part of it was continually encountering French-speakers who were generous, accommodating even, with the compromises and distortions that accompany all appropriations of a new, or even an old, language.)

I spent much of this spring with Linda Gregg's poems. In one of them, "Maybe Leave-Taking," the speaker describes her fellow passengers on, I believe, a Greek ferry: "All the people / strangers, people I do not know. A truer sense / of being than lovers and friends." One of the things that kept me afloat in Montréal--that island city--was the sense that, in a bilingual place, divided and sutured by competing empires and their aftermath, there is no mother tongue, no authentic, autochthonous language: just idioms cobbled together as places and means of passage, ways of affirming solidarity among strangers. (I would, however, not exclude lovers and friends from this community of "people I do not know.")

While in Montréal, I read Michel Tremblay's _Le coeur découvert_ [The Heart Laid Bare], a novel about, among other things, the families that gays and lesbians make for themselves. The shocking thing was that, in 1986, at least ten years before the big debates surrounding "homoparentalité" in France, Tremblay was already engaging with what it meant to be a gay parent. He also bravely and, I think, delicately--it's a surprisingly light, almost breezy novel--articulates the complicated tissue of relationships that inform even, I would argue, the most traditional lives. None of us, in other words, has a merely biological family. Long before my life was saved, repeatedly, by a series of lesbian godmothers--and in this I'm not unlike Tremblay's protagonist, Jean-Marc--I had, as a kid, at least one "aunt" who was no biological relation to me and whose presence in my life was sustaining. She was and is, it's true, straight and married and an evangelical Christian, but that only goes to show that our notions of queer community need to expand to allow for these things, too. We need to let more people on the boat.

The last thing it occurs to me to say, on a late morning in late summer, is this: To love someone or something in all directions, in all of the senses, is to become exposed to what might derail us. The ferry may not bring us to Montréal (or Mountain View, or wherever we'd like to be); it might dump us off in Ithaca. Not every homecoming will be a glorious one. But to be more alive to the puzzles of those skins that surround us--and I mean leaves and streets too, and the bark of dogs and trees--is to drag some of the strangeness of the boat ride up onto the shore.