By Karissa Chen
We were lovers of the sun. Before its birth, we groped through the void and found meaning in curves and vibrations. We recognized fruit in the gentle straining of moist flesh beneath our fingers. We knew love through the wide wet suction on each others’ skin. We found desire in the quickened shiver of a rib. Our world had been an endless well of black, a world filled with marvelous angles and scents, diverse textures and hums. There was nothing more we needed. There was nothing we missed.
The first day the sun splashed hot on our faces, blinding us with vibrancy, we walked around, not understanding what things were until we closed our eyes and felt for ridged or prickled or spongy. We did not recognize our own daughters, sons, lovers until we touched their faces, felt the particular brush of their lashes or the soft hump in their cheek, until we moved close and inhaled their sweet grassiness or sharp spice. When we opened our eyes again, we took in the way their features bobbed in front of us, trying to link what we’d known with the way shadows coalesced with ridges. This is what love looks like, we all marveled.
Once we made the connections, we wanted more. We wanted to know how wet was structured, what color laughter was, if musk could be seen the way it was smelled. We liked biting into plums and seeing how they gleamed a shade lighter inside. That was how we learned the shape of sweet. The stench of rotten was dark and ugly, the salty warmth of sad was bright. All this discovery hurt our chests, and we looked down, wanting to see that too. We were disappointed when we saw only the dark nubs of our nipples, same as before.
There were other disappointments: when we sang our prettiest songs, recited our favorite poems, shouted our most injurious insults, there was no change in the air, no colors that dazzled us, no formations painted in the sky. It was only when we looked around at our friends that we found anything remarkable. Their eyes shone brighter, their faces gleamed, or else their lips pursed and wrinkled, their eyes smaller and darker.
Time stretched by. We were already addicted to the light and knew we could not let it go.
When the darkness fell that first night, we cried. The sound of our voices sobbing seemed dull without the spark of tears on our lashes. The voices of our loved ones no longer sounded musical without the accompanying blush of their cheeks. Food was bland without color, sex was cold without shadow. We loathed the world we’d once been content to live in.
When first we noticed the white shimmer of the moon, we shouted excitedly. We saw each other emerging from the shadows, waved our hands in front of the gleam of each other’s eyes. We could see dark-lipped grins, teeth glistening wet. We waited for the moon to grow brighter, to shine as magnanimously as the sun, but it stayed pale and round, hovering in the dark sky and offering us nothing more.
This was not enough for us. At night, we roamed through the gray world, eyes yawned open, despairing over the limp monotony of the trees and blossoms and lakes. We discovered small flying creatures with rays of sun swallowed in their bellies. We captured them as pets. They glowed in jars quietly and we put our hands to the glass, hoping to see our fingers pink. It was still not enough. The nights we waited for color to return felt long. We grew to dread the darkening of the day.
Then somebody discovered a full moon could be climbed. So began the plan. On nights the pale disc hung over us, we took turns shimmying up the banana trees with jars of sun creatures clutched under our armpits. We wrapped several unripe fruits with vines before flinging them up at the sky, anchoring bananas into the soft powder of the moon. Then we pulled ourselves slowly up towards its surface, screwing the jars in the moon’s bony craters before dropping ourselves carefully back down to our world. The jars pulsed with yellow light above us. Time passed. Soon half the moon was bright as an infant sun. The skies no longer turned black at night. They hovered a deep indigo. We climbed every month, confident we would create a second sun.
And then one night, as we prepared to haul the last of the jars to the moon, a veil of film clouded our skies. Those of us still on the ground looked up to our family with their jars, saw their shining arms waving at us to join them, and desperately, we tried to anchor our bananas in time. But soon they were hidden behind a darkness that was different than that we had grown up with. It was a darkness that was red, like the wet hurt of falling or the velveteen of lovely among scratches. We tried to climb faster, but the redness moved in quickly, clipping our tethers. We fell back to the purple soil in defeated heaps. We waited for the curtain to part so that we could see the faces we had grown to love. But the darkness glowed deeper, like a voice falling lower. The moon became a boil about to burst. We tried to shout what we looked like so the others would not forget us, but we did not have the words. So we sang to them instead, singing the songs we had always known, that had swelled our ribs before we knew what passion looked like, that lifted us before we knew the rush of climbing towards the sky. We stood beneath where we knew our loved ones to be, hands tight and warm, banana wind breaking against our cheeks, and listened to our voices rising together in the growing spread of night.
This is an excerpt from Of Birds and Lovers (Corgi Snorkel Press)