Winter Sea (1925) by Paul Nash
After the war, we take down our barricades and sift through the rubble. We walk the low sea wall at night. We take off our uniforms and soak in the tub, assessing our injuries and gazing at our bruises until we can daydream about orange blossoms and libraries with big brown leather chairs and soft hands and open pastures and big blankets, splendor in the grass.
After the war, it feels good to love what you have and love what you don’t have with equal passion. Surrendering to reality includes surrendering to fantasy: You acknowledge the richness of everything within your reach, but you also acquiesce to the sweetness outside your grasp, beyond your fingertips, yellow butterflies floating away like rising smoke, stretching out your longing as far as it can go to brush against something sublime, to find another kind of girl.
I need this. I need you, so I’m dragging you into this. Let’s make our bedroom into a butterfly house and sleep on the driveway with the tomatoes and the tomato rats and the mosquitoes. The butterflies deserve this, we deserve this, the chilled air, the waning moon, tiny bites all over, I still need you, cement digging into our shoulder blades, I still want you here. Don’t be careful not to hurt me. Protect yourself instead. This soldier can survive anything.
After the war, don’t look back at what you never had. You keep telling the same story about who you were before the war, how they broke you. How many gorgeous tapestries can you weave about Jesus? I always hated that part of the museum, Mary and her baby over and over again, placid, disgruntled, disaffected, unmoved, squirming, soft, hard, absent, like the world’s most boring baby book, embossed in gold, a new moral on every page. You say you’re against morals but you keep repeating the same one over and over again, do you hear your words? The moral is that you did it wrong, you fucked it up, placid, disgruntled, disaffected, unmoved, squirming, soft, hard, absent, they fucked you up and then you fucked everything else up after that.
Stretch out your longing as far as it can go, become another kind of girl, caress the sublime, this solider loves you for who you were as a child and who you are today and who you’ll be tomorrow and the next day. The middle part is well documented, that’s for the fandoms, the compulsively nostalgic, addicted to the repetitive punishment of bad pop songs. Let’s leave that behind us, nothing can bring back the hour, forget the meanest flower, heaven is right here. It’s time to ride into Jerusalem on a donkey’s back, a simple animal of peace, daydreaming, relishing these waving branches, preparing to feel forsaken, sweet betrayal, sordid resurrection, I see you, feel that, let it in.
When I was younger, men only wanted to talk to me in the dark. I had to feel my way to who was sincere and who wasn’t. It wasn’t that hard to feel the difference. Now I can feel it from hundreds of miles away. Now my cells know who’s genuine. Now I’m more beautiful with the lights on, even after the war, dirty bombs replaced by wicked moons, pulling the tides around. Save your pity for the weak. I’ll always have more supplicants, clutching their rosaries, each bead representing a song: This one is a jagged ballad for us sinners, this one is about young lambs and rats and butterflies, this one is about burning your old tapestries so you can finally rise from the dead.
After the war, I’m rising with the tides, commanded by these wicked moons, relishing this abundance. Across the ocean they’re already on their way to me, dizzy from my waves, already dropping to their knees, blood and ripped sails, child’s pose, salty drifts of foam dancing across the deck.
Mercy implies sin. My love for you is more simple than that. I just want to take care of you. It feels good. It’s not pity and you’re not weak. You didn’t fuck anything up. You did exactly what you needed to do in order to arrive on this perfect, gloomy shore, at my feet, emancipated, humbled, alive in your grief, luminous, full of grace, electrified. Let’s rise above this crooked world like smoke. Don’t attach a moral to this story. We deserve so much better than that.