Pain rests within me like toxic algal bloom in the wine-dark sea. It courses through my body fleshing out the contours of a poetic impulse akin to renaturation, it screams in color—it screams in Homer’s presumed absence of blue. On some nights, it resurfaces the mind-body problem and reshapes it into a pseudo-debate before my eyes, into something that in its strive to go beyond experience, beyond the place where reason and intellect reside, erases itself in chaotic movement. In the midst of a flare-up, the mind-body dualism mutates into an illusion—illness both becomes and expunges the hyphen. And henceforth, it would seem that the ontological problem of hurting and aching and throbbing gains a curious and rather tragic destiny as well: that of being able to exist and be established solely at the cost of illusions, at the cost of reason’s chimeras. That of being unable to possess clarity except by analyzing its own decomposition, by disintegrating and dissipating its own chimeras, and thus obliterating all fantasies. Vertical like a pendulum’s rod, I let myself be worked on by death.[1] Pain possesses and abandons my body at will. Before my eyes, philosophical creation becomes neuropathically synonymous with the confusion of the patient.

A woman wearing a fairytale-length tulle skirt and denim jacket arranges her mask with half-gloved hands. Her fingers seem to be moving to the nomad rhythm of the poem I am reciting in my mind. We are all a rag of dark horses / exiled out of heaven this very morning.[2] Black heels carry her body farther into the world. I watch from the window.

Form disintegrates in the aspiration towards the immediate. In this new configuration, language and pain are bound together by the words of others, the body expresses itself through the words of poets who want their sufferings felt not read. I’ve broken every window / but the house, the house is dark.[3] The feeling that your inwards are being pulled down and gnawed on by an invisible monster that your body has sheltered without knowing any better is replaced by the tingling and numbing sensation in your face. It can also be the other way around—it can begin with electric shock-like pain branching out in your head. One illness begets the other. Regardless of which comes first, of whether your blood or your nerves decide to make your maladies felt, the words of others are always soothing—in song, in prose, in bleeding verse under the epidermis. A formless art, yet dense, suggestive; language itself concentrated to the maximum of essence as if forced to fit in the tiniest of Russian dolls, its rhetoric stubbornly strangled. Often sterilized—a mere informative picture. Consoling, nonetheless. At other times, absurdity—larval-black epigone, desolation. Language and pain. Discourse and endometrial tissue, poem and heart rhythm, prose and the trigeminal nerve. Bound together, eviscerating the work of the writer, tearing asunder biographies, anthologies, journals, novels, poetry compendiums. For the sake of the white chandelier of clouds amidst a great calm sky.[4]I have been buying nesting dolls and used books ever since I can remember. I arrange them in atypical positions and gaze upon them as time passes to see if they’ve moved in the slightest. As a child, I used to read to my dolls—I would read to them from Eliade and Nietzsche and Cioran and share their look of painted bewilderment at such words and phrases. When you do not understand what you are reading, all words carry you through the same labyrinth. Language travels from one body to the other, from living flesh to wooden limbs. It lingers in the space in between, it sheds meaning like the snake sheds its skin. I visualize silence best when my body shivers and psychogenic fever manifests itself ecstatically. At first, I would describe my symptoms in great detail, but with time I understood that there exists a precise set of rules when it comes to what you should and should not share, even with your doctors. Now, I visualize silence and I no longer expect anyone to believe me. I pull the knives out of my flesh and describe the wounds they left behind in medical terms I learned from the internet. And they listen. For at times, language and pain are better bound together when you know what words are allowed to heal you.

To the man who once asked, how are you, I now answer, I miss hiding at your chest. A wild invocation directed at the forces of absence and separation, with the transience of the patient’s voice: I miss hiding at your chest.

Symptoms can be subjective or objective—it’s something they tell you even before the diagnosis. Fever is objective; feeling as if you are being stabbed incessantly is subjective. Drowsiness is subjective. Gasping for air—well, that’s just anxiety. Gasping for the wrong air poisons you. In a Romanian ethnographic study from the 1900s on ancient remedies for preventing and treating various diseases, the sign of the cross accompanies all poisonous plant entries. A star next to its name indicates that the illness had not yet been chronicled outside of medical literature. I used to leaf through it on winter nights and circle ailments such as those caused by ‘rotten air’ or ‘numbness of the head.’ Then there were the ones with peculiar names that sounded more like symptoms than maladies: ‘the lost one’ or the ‘may-it-disappear-into-the-wilderness’ disease. I think its name may come from a charm of a healing chant. I remember that there are also positive symptoms—delusions, hallucinations—and think that disappearing into the wilderness or becoming ‘the lost one’ might not be such a treacherous fate. My face tingles and the sound of running water pulls me from this recollection with the hastiness of fervent arms. I collected her the same way that the sea collected me.[5] When we see something broken, we are often taken by the urge to pick it up and make it whole again. Once we do, and that object rests on our shelves, we find ourselves overwhelmed by the desire to smash it to the ground. It looked more beautiful in pieces. Gazing at parts of myself in the mirror, my sight falls on the wrists and I wish away all hours. I close my eyes without moving from where I stand. Tiredness is not an objective symptom. And the rats squeak eagerly as if insane.[6]

Night comes on. I move slowly, against my own nature, a forced therapy that I have subjected myself to since early childhood—something that helps tame the restlessness bestowed upon me at birth by the hole in my heart. When existence becomes unbearable, all poets turn into monsters.[7] The auroral taste of herbs and potions ravages my mouth as I re-emerge from the river of aesthetic death currents and return to life. I sit at my desk and pen down these passages with the words of others still ringing in my head. Mourning doves are nesting on the ledge of the building. The march towards end days goes on unfettered. Pain has carved me into a weapon. I cross my name from the medical bracelet and write: animal—patient—unreliable narrator.

[1] Crematorium, Marta Petreu (tr. Adam J. Sorkin and Christina Illias-Zarifopol)

[2] We Are All A Rag Of Dark Horses, Leonid Dimov (my translation)

[3] Happens To The Heart, Leonard Cohen

[4] Of Your Uncles…, Ahmad Shamlu (tr. Jason Bahbak Mohaghegh)

[5] Animal, Wendy McNeill

[6] The Rats, Georg Trakl (tr. James Wright)

[7] The Twilight Of Thoughts, Emil Cioran (my translation)

Christina Tudor-Sideri is a writer and translator living in Eastern Europe. Her work deals with the absent body and its anonymous rhythms, myth, memory, narrative deferral, and the imprisonment of the mind within the time and space of its corporeal vessel. Her book-length debut, UNDER THE SIGN OF THE LABYRINTH, will be published in September 2020 by Sublunary Editions. Follow her on Twitter dreamsofbeing_

Painting by Mahsa Mohammadi, Courtesy of the Artist