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after Anne Carson

Wadi Rum 1st of May 2018

Because the colors change so dramatically, it is difficult to see how little the landscape shifts. The dunes, the rock-formations, and the sand beneath our feet: none of it is moved even to a single quiver by the bruise palette of light. When we sit in a circle for Rheim’s workshop, the wind rattles only our hair. “Distance is all around,” she is saying. “There is so much, and so little.” We do what she says: we scan the desert through the eyes of the needles she hands us, “to prove for ourselves the ease with which landscapes traverse the eye.”

One red hour, I am bleeding too much to walk. Everything is red. Alone inside the hut, sleep blinks in me like a timid wind. Through the small open flap, I see the group crawling into the rocks. Maki is telling them a story about Fatima, a girl made entirely of wax. As I melt into the underside of my mind, I see Toto—his thick black hair against the sand. When I open my eyes, I love him. I whisper it to everybody I find.

At night, the distance between things grows shorter. A massive white sheet has been draped over the nearest mountain; overhead is a waning gibbous moon. Toto and I sit together to watch the night’s film, and of all things, we joke about sleep. We tuck our heads into our backs like a pair of red balloons. There is a kind of love that changes the color inside you. There is one that makes itself a needle and squints its eye, so nothing could come through.

Toto makes lunch for all 20 of us, and I wash the cups. Pilgrims sometimes take their clothes off as they cook. Why? To get a little closer. There are no walls around anywhere, just lines that look like them. Toto is asking everyone to first, draw a selfportrait, and then age the face 40 years. A charcoal hand, at least twice the size of the head, is reaching into young Toto’s bare chest. I know this hand. (It is his.)

Many of our noses bleed day and night. Mine hardens like bronze. Pilgrims forget that the road can be beautiful. Why? They want to get there already. I am plucking hairs off my chin—I want to be perfect for Toto. Yvonne is playing the Kalimba again. We are on the floor in our tent, and she is weeping. I am thinking about the water beneath the dunes—whose grief has it submerged? The things that look like walls tire, leave the desert callous, and cold.

At noon the distance between things is farthest. In my mind, I start walking towards Toto and stop before the onions brown. Pilgrims think they know where they’re going. Pilgrims sometimes cover their eyes with their hands. Why? To train for night vision.