Babel

Every so often I feel a sense of historical wrongness. I shouldn’t be here. You shouldn’t understand me.

Were I to confess, you would deem my feelings appropriate. You would understand what you perceive as my sense of being wronged. But that’s not it.

I have yet to explain my constant, if intermittent, sense of surprise. Strangers speak in familiar tongues. Is it appropriate to mourn Babel?

* * *
It is important to register that the specific form of historical wrongness I am trying to register here is distinctly 21st century; it is not an attempt to recover pre-national, racial pasts. If compelled, I might describe it as my discomfort with familiarity, or the intimacy forged by familiarity. That understanding another’s tongue might be more, rather than less, cause for misunderstanding: what kills a desire for the social.

I am in thrall to the myth of a quieter, pre-Babel world.

* * *
Once, trying to compliment me, you said I felt too much, too intensely. Your eyes were tender, your face soft. According to the script, it was supposed to be a moment of shared vulnerability.

Then, and now, I couldn’t tell you how disappointed I felt. I might have forgiven the denuded cliché. I was less willing to forgive your inability, even comfort, in feeling less intensely.

Are these the sorts of secrets we keep to maintain intimacy?

* * *
To claim I’m in search of mystery would be to deny the opacity I must grant you to remain, or try to be, ethical.

But your windows keep unfogging, your pores opening, your secret places leaking. You are pleased that we seem to be growing closer. How do I explain the disgust I once found so compelling as a part of who we are has turned against us?

I am, to put it baldly, tired.

* * *
You once asked why I had no family pictures in my apartment. In tv-produced knowledge, you said it meant that I didn’t value my family. We laughed.

You treasure pictures of us, all the more because you know I despise being made spectral—confirmed always as loss. Pictures are melancholic objects.

It is not that I have no use for “remember when.” Maybe I do. It might be, as you claim, that I prefer the yet-to-be to the has-been.

I remind you that my people build their huts above ground and did not believe in foundations.

* * *
Yet I return to you compulsively, like an animal to its droppings. The Koala’s young eats its mother’s droppings to develop immunity against the poisonous plants on which it later feeds. Our relationship might be much like this.