In this lyric essay, persephone van ort tries to tell a joke. Then it tries to say I love you. Then it goes to the river and watches the herons. These are hard times, you know?
i. clouds in me, Sam.
I don’t think I said those words exactly to my ex-therapist, but I may have: her name was Sam and for the third — maybe fourth — session(s) I was modestly drunk while we spoke and our sessions could get as poetic as they were stupid and hazy and sometimes, there were no words in me, but there were clouds. The pandemic didn’t make me sadder or lonelier than I had been before, but nobody had to see me as sad as I was so I stayed indoors indefinitely
I like being in doors. I get stuck between them a lot. As a child, I used doors as posts — I’d sit and lean and read in them, like an interruption; when I was really young, I’d use them as physical leverage against my parents dragging me anywhere. A door might be an excuse and being indoors might be a mask. Both are transitional.
I have a joke that I don’t tell anybody. It’s a very unfunny joke about me getting stuck between rooms at a party and, as I wax on and on about liminal spaces or some shit, a fire starts and I burn to death.
ii. clouds in me, winter
I tell Sam in the first session that I imagine myself stepping perpendicular at a crosswalk, gracefully indistinguishing myself from any other pedestrian waiting at the light and then, gracefully and immediately, falling forward. Suddenly, there’s nothing else.
Or maybe I’m breathing in fistfuls of water, swallowed like whole hard-boiled eggs. I don’t want to drown or be eaten, those are my only two rules. The first movie I watched was Jurassic Park and: 1) I will not be eaten; 2) the moments before you die are terrifying; 3) the moments after you die don’t particularly matter to you.
And then of course, I realized I should never be scared of dying and often, I’m not, but I am scared that there will, someday, be nobody left to be significant to or to signify anything to anybody or me and I don’t see certain yellows or blues anymore so sunflowers sway like a congregation of silently gossiping balloons and the sun leaks in the sky and I know there’s a context for the sun but it just looks like a silent fluorescent star in a silent fluorescent space.
I walk along the river every morning where the herons fish lesionedly and the ducks have begun to miscolor and I try to say everywhere I go, with every breath, fingering, watering, drinkening, smokening, happening,
i love you. i love you. i love you. i love you.
I want to exude love and practice love every day, but I don’t want to smile or laugh because I get anxious about my teeth and my laugh sounds like fingers drumming wood. I’m scared people are as scared of me as I am of them.
iii. clouds in me. fall
There are these two men in a straight relationship in 1982. It’s kind of wretched.
There are six genders in a sexy commune in 2015. It’s kind of wretched.
There are two women in a lesbian relationship in 1997. It’s kind of wretched.
There are millions of people in no relationship in 2022. It’s kind of wretched.
There are no people in relationship in 2997. It’s sort of fine.
And quiet. It’s very quiet.
I wish I could tell you that I thought things would be sort of fine in 2022 or 2023. So I will.
It’s sort of fine. And we’re still alive. So.
So, it’s a blue heron, but I can see it because blue herons are mostly white and this one has these sickly pink lesions on the edge of its wings. I saw it catch a fish the other morning, but I’m scared I’ll walk down to the river at sunrise and I’ll find its body caught in the logs where the north branch breaks off, night herons picking little strips of diseased flesh from it. I’m scared that all the mallards — heads previously green, now grey or black — are dying. There are dozens of fewer ducks this year than this time / last year / I saw a clutch of ducks cuddling in-between some rocks, looking like a thrum of organ flesh in love with itself. This year, I just see the ducks discoloring, disquietly.
It’s sort of fine that there aren’t as many ducks. It’s also kind of wretched. And quiet.
It’s very quiet.
I love the night herons. They hunch over, with tiny red eyes, waiting for fish to pass under their feet and when they do, the herons fall face first into the water and waddle back onto their rock. They’re very clown.
OK, let me try a joke again, lighten the mood. Joke:
iv. clouds in me. summer
A person goes running through the woods and finds a possum. The possum doesn’t notice them, so this runner stops. They haven’t seen a living possum in a while so they take a moment, and observe: it’s big and furry, downy and delicate, like a plush animal in a child’s menagerie. The runner imagines a child throwing a tantrum, ripping apart their stuffed elephants, giraffes, smashing blocks, before reaching the possum and puncturing it, only to find it wasn’t a plush, it was just playing dead and now all the cotton is soaking up the blood.
Anyway, the runner watches the possum walk into the forest and wishes it the best.
The next day, animal control shows up, catches the possum, and brings it somewhere else. Or maybe they euthanize it. I don’t know. Haha.
Wait, was that funny?
I see a congregation of ducklings. Congregation: originally meaning, “with Greg, enactment.”
We’re in the ugly, ugly middle. A wretched conjunction. Conjecture, the con jungle, where all the thieves get eaten by jaguars. Conj. Conjure. I conjure a world where it’s just clouds and a grassy field. Sometimes, it rains in the field. But the clouds are always rolling past slowly. And there are still ducklings.
But that is not often this world. So.
In this world, I conjoin to a variation of me that says I love you and smiles and laughs.
I imagine this variation again and again and I hear myself say I love you to myself enough times that maybe I remember I’m precious, you’re precious; that everybody is delicate, everybody is decaying, everybody is wretched. Greg is decaying, Greg is wretched
I forget sometimes.
So I say I love you
again. Again. Again. Again. Again
until I know it all.
About the Author: persephone van ort (they/it) is a trans, white artist, writer, and administrator living in colonized Chicago. Its work has been featured with the Neofuturists, the Wender Collective, and others. It writes about time, crisis, and dreams, while making performance about social order, culture, and bodies.
About the Illustrator: Damiane Nickles (he/him) is a painter and illustrator working out of Chicago. He holds a B.F.A. in Illustration from Syracuse University and completed his first solo exhibition in June 2022. When’s he’s not creating artwork he’s diving into spirits as a Brand Manager over at Apologue Liqueurs.