January 20th., 1916
I write in rainfall on furlough from our failed campaign. The stream swelling mid-November cannot contain the tears I have bled, and yet, in the midst of night, when I seek silence rather than sleep, it is your subtle breath I constantly hear. Though not near, and from my heart so many centuries, it seems, destined to be far, I am here; formed like crystal in the hearth, broken with aching, listening to the shatter of the dawn’s caress on my ears. Each rustle in the wood, each tumble of torn paper searing with my sobs onto the muddied boot with which I try nightly to trample my fear; I write.
I wonder, Breath Without Which I Cannot Live, if you can hear? As you lie sleeping, your breast falling like the sun, sounds in its tranquil exile, the beating my heart endures as my mind awaits the executioner’s drum. My hands are tied as I welcome the suffering. Gunning for it, my thoughts run; but I cannot. I am posted here, without duty or task even, until someone succumbs to the stalemate, and we kid ourselves, saying our side has won.
Do you recall the drums in Vienna, as we passed through the square? Faces of meek children splintered with smiles, aromatic rundles calling our spirits to climb to heaven outside the door to a baker’s lair; how you insisted we share a croissant, and how its filling tickled our chins with kisses of fear—would we be seen? What if? Would the locals condemn, or at all even care? I am here. I ponder before the sun resurrects its throne, what might stir you to whispers, what might your soft lips in a secret subtly condone?
Tomorrow I reach the border, and am permitted an hour before mandatory return to fading exile; forbidden to fight and limited in expanse, my break from fire sees no chance of sending to your arms the embrace I too shamefully, like a fool, allowed myself to resist. Come, Creature; please. Sign a peace and send for me, for stars are no nearer in the foothills of the battles sweating in the East. I keep in the treasury of my soul, a secret of my own I want no longer to be discreet. Come, my Love; please. Let us throw off our masks and leave the doors unbolted, and take our place at the feast. On my return, if Fate permits me its reprieve, welcome me but once and I will never again leave.
I am the powder spilling the keg, part remaining to ignite, my remainder, if any, falling to the ground knowing it might never light again the silver of your face. Shadows in the crystal of contemplation race; each wound I covet, but each kiss has been erased. The Moon, without its own light, darkens and grows cold, knowing not if we, like two bodies milky and celestial, might ever orbit in a state of Grace. I write, but spend what remains of my ration of paper, burning cigarettes not for their death, but for flicker by which to conspire from my depths a spring, no more than a trickle.
As the night has darkened, my tears have dried, and from my well there springs no more your breath’s sound, nor Life’s laugh, nor Vienna’s squares and pastries; only paltry admissions I cannot confide, burn through my pen, and singe my fingers, as I wipe my courage from my eyes. The war is over, but tomorrow I may not rise. My constellation, my bloom, my lilting song flirting the city walls with feet flowing from our tomb; I bid you rise, and like Lazarus, greet those to whom you have been rightfully returned; I am no more your beloved, but as my ink dries, I send by daybreak’s post, if I survive this loneliness, what might escape this prison; and over a continent, put into your hands what I have written. Here is my tribute to ours: a Love which could have been, but is now not, and a unified heart we’d sought, but isn’t.
In affection and admiration,
I am yours always, pierced but pure,