Shadow Dancing with the Mistress Masochist


I cannot face the blank page. I close my eyes, fingers frozen above the keyboard in readiness to strike the letters that form the words that fall into sentences, sentences to paragraphs, filling the blank with black. Writer’s block again. A surprise text from my beloved interrupts my agony as does the barging into my room from a disgruntled teenager who loudly complains she waited hours to no avail only to be denied the very coveted object of her desire, a new phone.

The phone rings and the voice to my ear asks me if I’m working. No, how can I? I ask where s/he is, s/he who must sneak love in a shoebox and an envelope of emailed bathroom love notes so the wife and children will not know. I love my love in so many ways: the sharp wit, keen pragmatic wisdom and common sense beyond most and all the while sentimentally apt to fall for a romantic tune and a sway dance, singing and sighing, even as s/he urges to bite and confine me with the unparalleled force of painful passion, the one s/he loves, destroy and own me. S/he is almost home, so s/he whispers a quick “I love you” and s/he is gone. The silent space fills the room. The laughter in the next room disrupts the delightful pain of longing. My life as me is a rocket ride of amazing torment and painful contentment.

The life of a mistress is one of denial, of empty space to be filled with fantasy of future memory. Her profile reveals a deep desire for punishment and deferred pleasure. She is judged and typecast as the scorpion fly, the Lilith of Eve’s prize, ever in human consciousness, but in reality, she is as fluid as the stories she floats in and out of, the ever flux of human flesh yearning for more in the quest for meaning. She provides links, fills hollow caves with patches of light, just enough to see the illusion of shadows. To judge is to play the fool.

Joyce Carol Oates in her essay, “They All Just Went Away” ponders the tendency of women to hurt themselves, to give up their space in deference to others. Each time I read this essay in preparation for class, I sink into her words.

Above all, the real is arbitrary. For to be a realist (in art or in life) is to acknowledge that all things might be other than they are. That there is no design, no intention, no aesthetic or moral or teleological imprimatur but, rather, the equivalent of Darwin’s great vision of a blind, purposeless, ceaseless evolutionary process that yields no ‘products’–only temporary strategies against extinction.

I think of humans coupling for love, marriage and children as survivalist needs for safety, security and self-perpetuation. Passion, however, is relegated to the realm of possibility and unpredictability. Sacrificing security is painful but paramount for passion, sometimes a worthwhile tradeoff. The mistress seeks and provides pleasure where safety breeds contemptuous boredom and the cancerous kill of the fire of desire, but there is a cost.

As a woman and as a writer, I have long wondered at the well-springs of female masochism. Or what, in despair of a more subtle, less reductive phrase we can call the congeries of predilections toward self-hurt, self-erasure, self-repudiation in women.

While the empowered mistress writes her role as protagonist and antagonist, hero and villain, and sadist and masochist as she loves with abandon and shadows love, aches in abandon, the nature of the mistress is often one of self abnegation and longing desire; threadbare hope and the coat of imagery warm the space, but the intangible is the self-inflicted torture, passion without presence, longing. She waits alone. This masochism is also the source of creativity of the writer. She, an other in self abnegating aloneness, borrows mystical moments of self-evisceration–the awe and radiance of others’ pain and joy–to disappear in their destruction and reappear in their resurrection Phoenix-like from the fire since passion burns born in torment. She is both agency and objectification, the meta-narrative of reading the reader reading the writer.

The writer is a mistress, with her drive toward self-punishment, in writing absolution and taking on the sins of others; she creates in hardship and pain, in triumph and longing desire, her shadowy figures tasked with completing the possibilities of the what if and should not. She is judged and critiqued. Her life drawings show us who we are. Sometimes she shows us what we don’t care to see or even dream. S/he tails the taboo.

Yet what could possibly be the evolutionary advantage of self-hurt in the female? Abnegation in the face of another’s cruelty? Acquiescence to another’s will? This loathsome secret that women do not care to speak of, or even acknowledge.

I don’t know. I won’t be judged. The mistress and the writer are independent and free to choose their stories, write them with the beginning unknown, the ending imagined and the middle lived suspended in the shadow of the snip of the scissors’ ever-so-slowly closing blades.

Shadow Dancing

Your silhouette twirls me in a pony skirt umbrella.
I falter and still to take my bow to your dark smile.
My fingers fondle high cheek bones of ionic spin.
They poke through to the wall behind you in jest.
I stroke you yet thumbing the thin strands of hair.
You hover in my chest and feet dancing me witty.
Though silence spaces the crackled sonic voice.
It fills dark deep dread of distant lost connection.
So electrifyingly fill my ear in warm static breath.
Sigh trigger heat-pour down from my neck to toe.
Body-sense wisps of thin caress a sweet timbre.
A hand in tones transmitted in aural wood chime.
Shade palms settle upon the dip of my shoulders.
They soft sweep across the bones tracing burden.
Feather touched windless air drifts across my face.
I fall back into the deep curtsy of a shadow dance.
The song circulates my bloodless fill of time spent.
Memory kissed moth flutters of your lullaby sweet.
Twenty moons shine liquid ether ossify you to me.

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