I believe that if you were left in a room with yourself—-I don’t mean left alone in a room, I mean literally placed in a room along with another instance of yourself, with your living, embodied, undeniably-identical-in-every-way double tapping his feet or pulling nervously at her hair—-it would become an erotic encounter. I believe this is an inevitability and is true for anyone. Unless of course you couldn’t bear it and you killed her/him, or yourself, first.
But let’s say there are no weapons in the room. And it is evident that in a duel swimsuits sale you would be so evenly matched it isn’t worth it to try. And there are no seconds, and no door. And anyway, as experiences go, this is at least a little bit interesting.
Luckily for all those of us who don’t like this idea, it hasn’t happened to anyone we know. The closest we get is Narcissus.
Narcissus had the opportunity to experience himself as if he were another, and beyond that, in the moment of encounter to be fully convinced. He saw in the lake someone he thought existed, and when he believed this person existed he became ravenous. But it turned out that this person did not exist. Not to him.
There is an unbreachable boundary between the way you appear to yourself and what a person appears to you to be. A person is someone with a solid exterior, with a personality. It is someone who speaks and acts in intelligible ways, someone distinguishable from others by definable characteristics. The differences between any given person and another do not challenge the category of personhood.
You do your best to assume that you appear to the world as a person. Most of sanity consists of successfully maintaining this assumption. But you appear to yourself as a mess of consciousness and desire, as a wild emptiness you struggle to contain in the cheap and thin sack of a self.
To climb over the wall and to see yourself as an other is to enter dangerous, uncertain, embarrassing territory. It is a magnification of the strangeness of hearing your voice issue from somewhere outside your body. It is comparable to the instance when you leave a message on your friend’s answering machine and then the machine offers to you the option of hearing the message. You are tempted and say yes. And then in your ear your self begins speaking—-full of earnestness and hopeful wit, every inflection or pause between words betraying too much. How preposterous that you are going out in the world every day of your life and speaking like that, masquerading as someone real.
It is hard to sit alone in a room and write poetry because it is an evocation of the more literal scenario: your self in the room with you, where everything she does to hide her terror from the world is transparent and gleaming and failed.
In poetry you are always in the bedroom with yourself at dusk, where you cannot bear to look and you cannot bear to turn away.
It gets so the only time of day you can enjoy is dusk, and it is best when it is long summer dusk and the windows are smeared with rain and green. I cannot bear to sit in a room with myself; I am always longing for another. In the moment of poetry the other you long for is yourself, for all her particulars which are ravenously embarrassing. It is the kind of embarrassment that would break over you as a child walking home in the dark outside a room with lit windows.
If you are Narcissus, the problem is that you are the other you long for and you cannot have yourself that way. A friend told me that what she learned upon turning thirty was that (in the West, in this century) your self is all you have. But maybe you have nothing, or at least in poetry you have nothing.
This is all there was, waiting for the lightning of the phone call to pierce the dusk. What I want most is to be with someone, but what I want more is to be alone and long for what, in poetry, will not come. And will not return to the calm after the need has subsided. And will always be waiting. The one you are longing to have call is you.
You want to keep looking.
You come to poetry when you are tired of what is bearable.
It is the way, during that time of life when I used to come to parties, that the night was a unit of infinity and everything that could be found would be found there.
All writing is only longing to write. In my life I cannot be in love with myself, because it is outside of the realm of the embodied human. So I choose to be in love with a writer. He lives in a different house. I want so much to call him, but then I imagine him locked in a stare with himself while the fainter stare of the stars starts and I don’t want to call.
I wish I were writing a poem.
All longing is longing to be in love with oneself.