Soft Teeth

By RE Katz

"Homo, sacra res homini." –Seneca

Man is a wolf to man.

In September of 2001, my sister and I had our hearts broken. My breakup was a volatile month-long extrication that ended with my boyfriend moving across the world. Hers was simple, dispassionate.

The ease with which her gloomy paramour withdrew from her life undid her completely.

During that time, we only had the language to talk about one thing; and so we did.

From her diary:

“What is the point of anything if [relationships] can disintegrate into their own footprints like the elegiac steel of the twin towers.”

And from mine:

“Every love is a burning building. How can that be true?”

We each spent the next couple of years bumming around Detroit, sloughing off the remains.

I moved to Berlin when the war began. I had contacted a filmmaker named Sasha V. there on a whim after seeing his installation in New York, and convinced myself that I could learn something from him. He had the most beautiful hands. He shot on film and slept only two hours a night.

I followed him around the city that spring, sipping the chromatic unconcern of Central Europe.

My sister mailed a series of letters that convinced me that she was speaking only to her television.

Oprah told these women that

         positions of power
         late               and you know
I’ve always felt like your Jan.

Once, Sasha was invited to screen his work at a small film festival in Paris. He told me that he was bored with Paris, and sent me in his place. I bought an overnight train ticket and settled into a vacant compartment on a nearly empty train.

At first light, I awoke to a strange man sitting in my compartment. He was awake and smiling at me. A dusty beam of sunlight played on the lenses of his glasses.

“It’s like our living room here,” he said to me. He laughed, a monosyllabic airy grunt. I felt instantly disarmed. He was attending medical school in Munich but his home, he said, was in Iraq. He spoke like a grandfatherly stand-up comic. I asked him if he was visiting Iraq again anytime soon.

“No, I’ll never go back,” he said.

“Why?” I wanted to know.

“Because I love my country,” he stared at the seat cushion behind me, “I loved it.”

When I arrived at my room in Paris, a letter from my sister was waiting for me.

        and I’ve met a real
When he speaks
daggers out of my heart
up roses
up all night
        no Mary Tyler Moore.

Sasha’s film tanked at the festival. The French thought that it was dated and unsexy. They did not like that the two characters slept through the film, the breath of their bodies rising in the fire’s dying flicker. They did not want to know how a wolf could be still in the arms of a man, not even in the darkest tundra. They could not tolerate that in twenty-one minutes of footage, the only visible action was the wolf’s dream of running: the tender kicking, one leg and then the other.

“You were right about Paris,” I told Sasha on the phone. He didn’t ask what had happened. I packed and left for Gare du Leon.

My old lover, who had been offered work in Paris just before we parted, was now finishing his fellowship at the International School. He had been trying to meet with me all week, and so I finally agreed to have coffee with him at the station. We had not seen each other in half a decade.

We spoke quietly in the present tense; we idled over romance languages and weather talk. When the time came to say goodbye, we embraced. When I moved to retreat, he put his head down on my chest. Then he turned his head and bit my arm so hard I cried out. He kissed me on the cheek and walked away.

The bruise was deep and shaped like his mouth. It stayed for weeks.

Even kindness has teeth, soft teeth.

How do we memorialize our own demolished sites? What is it to apologize? How to be silent?

I count the teeth, the fanned out flowers.

This originally appeared in Gigantic Sequins 5.1.