Writing a Memory Down to Save It

[poetry]

Writing a Memory Down to Save It

Many afternoons I have spent in the shower
scrubbing ink out of my skin
in dark, frothy swathes,
and in between curses thinking of you.

We leave so much of ourselves
everywhere we go. Skin, hair, spit and sweat
and your hand in my fist, these things
as good as dead once lost,
once lost never returned, once found foreign
or too far away to reach ever again.

Once, I buried your feet in the coarse sand
of a Batu Ferringhi beach.
I remember that it was warm, that we stood in the sea
for so long our toes turned wrinkled.
Like bookmarks, we slipped siput between the waves,
begging them to stay record of our transience.
Where did we last leave off? Only the tide knows for sure.

At sixteen,
the whole world is an ocean and a coastline,
jealously shoring our secrets against us.

Sometimes we spoke in riddles,
our conlang profane and middling, the accents wrong,
the words selected strangely. Else we didn’t speak at all,
content with scratching words into each other’s elbows:
Asshole. Bastard. Too many names for two people
who learned, watching stained soap flow down a shower-drain,

that ink is no different from skin, hair, spit and sweat:
it bleeds, it weeps, it cakes like peat.
And writing a memory down will not save it.

We often found strands of hair between our desks.
Quarrel over whose head they fell from,
referencing the curl and cut and color.
I told you about my barber, the one with the soft hands
and gay lover;
you asked me for the address.

How to continue where we last left off?
Those damn mussels never stayed put. I am afraid
that someday, you will have an answer to my question.
I am afraid all our beaches will disappear,
shorelines swallowed by another reclamation project
and you with them.

Till then I can only continue writing you down,
staving off this insatiable, unconscionable desire
to keep you as you are, where you are,
close enough to sea.

S. E. Swea is a Chinese-Malaysian Sapphic writer and poet presently based in George Town, Penang.