After Sappho

Nupur Shah

“Surely once you too were a delicate child: come now, sing this, all of you, add your voices.”

– Sappho, Fragment #26

i

THIS- all this numerous world comes after Sappho. It comes out of Sappho, our Mother, whose salt-slicked body lolling underneath the Mediterranean sun, is raining down words of cool across a brand-new papyrus, in an absurd attempt to calm a hot desire that, being so untouchable, she wants to touch.


Just as what I want is: to touch your Face. Love is a face, just as desire is a word that none can speak to none because we are all beyond language. But isn’t this your Face within my reach? According to Emmanuel Levinas, “the face is both in and of itself both a visitation and transcendence.” What I understand from this sequence of words is: you are both fully human and fully divine.


Is this a blasphemy?


Maybe; but then, don’t you say this: loving us is God’s blasphemy.

ii


After Sappho, a woman cannot love the merely singular. She needs the manyness that is her self. After Sappho, only another woman gift this to her, just as her own mother, standing side by side with her in front of the mirror, had offered her the gift of identifying herself as the microcosm of her mother’s larger self. A woman’s body, strewn around with another self-mirroring identity, emits a cosmic sound that has power enough to echo back into her soul the coos and cries it had let off while floating in the void of maternal fullness.


In life, there can be only one Mother; but after Sappho, in my dreams, there are more women living inside my ruefully limited body than one body can accommodate. So that is why I come into you: to transfigure my manyness into the largeness (the largess) that you alone can make space for.

iii


All that remains of Sappho’s genius are handfuls of fragments. While reading them for the first time (a month before our eyes met), I was struck by the uncanny semblance of their broken form with what I perceived to be my inner content. I was a ravages of my own making: in continual denial of my existence whose essence yearned for the touch of maternity, of a radical difference (of choice) that signified radical sameness (of body). By the time I met you in a bookstore where you held Anne Carson’s translation-cum-ode to Sappho, If Not, Winter, I had ceased believing in: the meek shall inherit the earth. I was too meek to inherit my own body; let alone the earth’s. By the time I met you, I was in love with the hatred the world seemed to be throwing my way.


But something changed after my body fell under your gaze and you lend me your name and followed it with a number that I saved in my phone as: What if, Summer?


The next time we met, you were coming to me after (reading) Sappho and I? All my Is we/are in love with this old world that finally allowed me to mend my lyre of love and be renewed into an unceasing thank you.

Nupur Shah has a BA in English from Mumbai, India. 

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