Nikujaga, or Aphrodite

I write when I’m pain mostly because writing is what cools the pain. It does not cure nor resolve it, but it does cool it; it brings its temperature down into the world of the bearable. But the unintentional result of writing-as-healing, repeated over the course of years, is that the posts on this blog are, in their majority, sad to the point of histrionics. This August, “Conscience Round” will be ten years old. I began writing here when I was fourteen, an age that can be forgiven for sentimentality, but I will readily confess that, even as I’ve aged, I’ve never lost that taste for unpalatable, indigestible melodrama. I will confess too something most of us know already: writing about the bad is usually more fun, and somehow easier, than writing about the good.

But the map is not the territory. I don’t want to reach my twenty-fourth birthday in possession of an online diary that is textual misery. I promise, there’s plenty about life that I enjoy. Really. For instance, not too long ago I fell in love with Olympic figure skating, and especially, specifically, in the nature of physical strength and physical beauty. How a single movement can be a hybrid of that which is strenuous, and that which is sensuous. It was not so long ago that I practiced martial arts and felt that same energy enter my body as I crouched into fighting stance, and I remember, with the same tenderness that one recalls a first love, how immediately explosive, charismatic, and powerful just that motion could make me feel. I have decided to reform my now sedentary living habits, and maybe build up to a standard of athleticism that would permit me to comfortably practice karate again. I have bought a bicycle, which is still lacking a name (I’m debating between “Aphrodite” and “Nikujaga,” a Japanese meal of beef and potatoes) but which has expanded my radius of exploration several kilometers in every direction. The countryside to the north is dominated by inclines and traditionally-constructed houses veiled in bamboo and cypress. My calves ache as I crest the hills, and I’m suddenly aware of how blood moves underneath my skin, its speed and sound.

I’ve been trying to rediscover my love for fiction, both the consumption and production of it. It’s been years now since I wrote a story, but last night I dreamed of a thick, dusty manuscript which could be mine. What a tragedy it would be, if I gave up that dream entirely. I’m doing my best to reconnect with the muscle in me that commands the urge to write; if that sounds as esoteric as holy communion, know that the ghost of God and the writer’s muse are never far apart. I’ve started reading fantasy novels again, which return to me the three relics of childhood: imagination, curiosity, and the instinct for adventure. I had almost forgotten the pleasures of a magical playground, which lies outside human realms but is still familiar enough that I can reenact the theater of human emotions there. There’s something so fulfilling in rejoining its vision now. While I suspect I’ll never return to writing pure fantasy, I think I’ll always gravitate towards stories that contain its elements, and resurrect its flavor and mood. Threads of gossamer, dragon scales, spells of healing. A heroine’s journey. The soft gray mist around a castle moat, the last of three trials. A sorceress in a grove of willows, turning to face an approaching visitor.

I’ve taken to listening to music from the cheesy, indulgent 2000’s, and it transports me, for at least a brief moment, through the fine mesh strainer of youthful, gem-flecked optimism. Nostalgia is almost the sister of romance in how thoroughly and universally she bewitches. I’ve also been exploring music as an art form that warrants response; I’ve never been a sophisticated or scholarly listener of music, but I love reading critical reviews of performances and albums. The literature of music is peppered with fascinatingly textured onomatopoeia and technical language that manages to convey, with startling specificity, the ethos and engine of a song. When a writer can ground the experience of sound in a relatable world, but still leave a degree of the mysterious, the mystical, what was once abstract takes on a second life in the text.

I know this has been a meandering laundry list of what I love, but I’ll finish soon, and I’ll leave you with something important. The last month of winter is rupturing over the Japanese landscape. I’m a voyeur to its departure, which despite representing an end to the season, feels like triumphant performance by nature. Snowflakes collect in my hair during sudden daytime storms. I walk through the neighborhood wearing a checkered scarf bought for me by my father. The cold wind feels like something supernatural. Slowly poking through the trees, spring arrives in bashful, pink-plum blooms, like a bruise spreading through the forests. The world is changing like a mind in transition. Gradually, but powerfully. Eventually, I will wake up one morning to find the view from my window totally transformed.

A Bouquet of Spoiled Fruit

At the discount supermarket beside the station, a mounted television screen plays the video of Mariah Carey’s Christmas classic on repeat. A shopping basket made of peach-colored plastic looped around my elbow, I pause to contemplate the image for a moment. A 90’s Mariah in red velvet plays in snow while I watch her almost twenty years later, on a dark Saturday afternoon in suburban Tokyo. There’s something about this instant: shopping for groceries by myself, a girl in tennis shoes with no weekend plans and no future goals, that feels like a revelation midwifed by loneliness. I buy toilet paper, oranges from Ehime, and instant miso soup containing dehydrated pork and a foil packet of monosodium glutamate. As I’m leaving, I suddenly hear and feel thunder, so close and so physical my mind leaps from my body. It takes me a second to recognize that the sound is not coming from outside, but from the thudding of bowling balls against the synthetic wood lanes of the alley on the second floor above the supermarket.

Lately, out of a desire to occupy my thoughts with something other than fear, I’ve been reading the books left on my living room shelf by previous tenants. At least one left behind required reading from an art history course, a fact revealed by the content of the texts: The thoughts of W.H. Auden, the letters of Van Gogh, and several dense analyses on art itself. On the train into Tokyo, I read thinkpieces about the purpose of art, the nature of its operations, and the effect of its manipulations on the mind and the emotions. I am not sure if I can comment meaningfully on such pieces without engaging with, and thus succumbing to, their trap: that any one person can dissect the feeling of feeling.

The feeling of feeling. If I overthink this, I start to panic. Perhaps panic isn’t the right word; “unravel” might be a better one. A human in a human world, I know I feel every animal sensation: disgust, hunger, pain. What does it feel like to feel the loftier, cortical emotions? I have never been sure I understand love, spirituality, or art, which may be the three vertices that make up the geometry of truly higher-order apes.

Across from me in the subway car sits a young man in heeled boots, an alpaca wool shawl in blue, red, and mustard, and a silver necklace with a flat, round pendant, in the style of a saint’s medallion. I think of an illustrator friend, and how her descriptions were submerged in the language of art, suggesting an alternate way of seeing: a woman’s head “shaped like a hot air balloon,” the skin on the cheek shaded in “pinky-purple.” I try to recast the young man in her eyes and come up with a poor, but honest, imitation of her vision: uncommon colors, unusual lighting. A prophet from the era of fast fashion, scrolling through a chat screen. Though I’ve long since lost touch with my artist friend, in these instances, her mode of perception still manages to echo through my mind. It comforts me to finally understand that she, like every individual to enter and momentarily wander through my life, has sewn a thread through me that can never fray thin. A drop of rain always remembers the ocean from whence it came.

In the northernmost of Japan’s main islands, I watch as Strawberry witnesses snowfall for the first time. On the eighth floor of a department store, he pulls out his phone to film the snow coming down on the unremarkable street below. His movements as he walks along the window, gently angling the camera to capture the fullest extent of the scenery below, are full of a natural, breathless tenderness, like the beats of a winged insect settling on a flower. We play outside in the snow, and, with total absorption and entirely no embarrassment, he builds a tiny snowman with mouse ears made from dry leaves. I am reminded of the undisguised rapture of childhood games, but filtered through a new layer of adult consciousness. The wind feels like it could pick me up from off the ground. Snow, piled up against the curbs, glows like a halo. The day progresses into soft blue and golden apricot, littered by an arc of reflective clouds.

The Surrender

Walking home at night, alone in a suburban neighborhood, I am seized by something that could be a fugue state, clinical depression, or Byronic infatuation with a mood of dark, plummy blue. Potentially, probably, a simultaneous blending of all three. It’s barely past six in the afternoon, but the sun set hours ago; the cul-de-sacs parting from the main road are soaked through in nighttime, and occupied solely by ornamental plants and silver-plated bicycles propped up against fences. Once in a blue moon, I spot a young man in a suit, briefcase in hand, or the sweeping headlights of a minivan circling the gardens that will be mute until spring. But mostly I am fiercely conscious of being alone. In this isolation, I draw comfort from the small things that will accompany my body in perpetuity: the sensation of my winter coat around me, brushing against the backs of my knees, the sound of my breath and footsteps on the gravel. Beside a driveway, a Christmas tree glows faintly.

On the last turn before home, I spot something I’ve never seen on this commute before. A few feet to my left, a rectangular hole lies deep in the ground, enclosed by tall wire fencing on all sides. It is easily fifteen feet across, as many deep, and paved in concrete. My heart leaps in confusion, and for a moment I stand in the glassy pause between the end of peace and the beginning of horror. I feel like I am standing in front a painting depicting an act of extreme bloodshed, or watching a video on loop of lions feasting after the kill. But soon enough my vision adjusts to the darkness, and my rational brain kicks in, and I recognize, with a breath of relief, what I am looking at: the community pool, emptied in preparation for the winter. There’s the ladder extending into the shadows of the deep end, and posters with red-lettered warnings about the dangers of jumping. In the cool night, with the wind softly shaking trees that shed their fragile crescent leaves into the pool bottom, it looks so misplaced. Like an entrance to another world, too hastily camouflaged to be perfectly disguised.

Felix Culpa

Strawberry comments that Japanese chashu ramen tastes like a pig sty, and immediately I understand what he means: there’s something delectable, but undeniably disgusting, about the braised, slimy pork belly suspended alongside billows of flavored oil and shoestring noodles, in a slow-boiled broth that is fatty, sticky, and as richly gold as saturated urine.

I am nonetheless glad he makes the pig sty comment after we’ve finished our meal and are sitting lazily on the restaurant floor cushions. While he serves us both lukewarm water from a textured plastic jug on the low tabletop, my mind goes to a farmstead swathed in amber ears of corn, the porcine mewling coming from the muted red barn in the corner of “American Gothic.” I think about the scatological, the vulgar embedded in human lifestyle: underarm sweat trapped underneath my nylon rain jacket, pig lard emulsified in soup.

Outside, the first typhoon of the season announces its approach. We walk to the station in a rain like dust falling. I think of how cinematic this time of year can be: the leaves like August’s sarcophagus, the sudden darkness collapsing upon afternoons at five o’clock, a final, blazing amen from the fall. If I were a girl in a movie, this is where I’d rely on film-making’s deftness to produce feeling: the arrangement of a piano-heavy score, each note like velvet, coinciding with our steps against the pavement, the panning over the fragrant, lushly orange landscape. Cutting a take the way a gardener might labor over a delicately manicured hothouse flower.

Even when I find that the beauty created by the fine articulations of directorial input feels a touch too manufactured, I still am in love with it. Hopelessly, indulgently, and totally. For better or worse, I am a devoted patron of the manufacture of emotion. It’s the affectation encased in the part of me that wishes the replay of my first kiss came with artfully curated music, a shot of my face shrouded in airbrushed moonlight. Maybe the violins emerging in crescendo.

But kisses are, in fact, much more delectable, and infinitely more disgusting. The tongue trembling in your mouth. Sweat, glossy and acrid, building above the Cupid’s bow. The fleshiness of lips, slightly sweet and tender, like horse meat. Absolutely obscene. And that’s not even getting into the amount of saliva involved. But, truthfully, there may be nothing better than kissing in the mortal realm.

Life, defamiliarized

In the east, the apartment buildings rise into the evening. The multi-colored lights in their rooms blink slowly on and off like approaching airplanes. Against the intensely black horizon, their size reminds me of the gods from the Cthulhu mythos, but more benign somehow, quasi-angelic: a reversal of the fall of Lucifer.

Clusters of trees between houses, their trunks so tall and so slender that I can’t understand how they hold up their huge, unwieldy bouquets of diamond-shaped leaves. A tiny Shiba Inu dog lying on its side in a miniature Japanese town enclosed in trees. An orange tabby cat poised by a vending machine. Thickets of bamboo, so dense no light can make it through, and the vaguely mechanical sounds emanating from somewhere within. The dirty patina of old coins exchanged during purchases of yuzu-flavored soft drinks at a lonely convenience store.

The nighttime view from my window reminds me of a gloomy 80’s music video, slowed down fifty-percent; dark, melodic, glittery, soft, the cars visible as beams of light, moving at a steady pace, in and out of my line of sight. おつきさま, the full moon, penetrating through a field of clouds with the brightness of a switchblade.

Dimensions are altered slightly here in Japan. The cars seem designed for Polly Pockets, but the insects are massive. Cicadas, wasps, and moths flit through the air with gold thoraxes the size of human thumbs. Compound eyes unreal in their size. Animals crop up in uncommon circumstances, like omens from nature I don’t know how to interpret. A bone-colored crane motionless in the middle of a river. Monkeys close enough to touch, emerging during the autumn rain to crawl along the phone lines suspended above a shrine. A single olive-green lizard I’ve named “Marmalade,” found in a paper bag on my shelf.

In Kyoto, with Strawberry, I walk through the nighttime, along the bridge straddled by a sprawling bamboo forest. It is late into the evening on Sunday, and we are mostly alone in Arashiyama. A typhoon warning has prompted an exodus of tourists and the shuttering of the cat café, the tea parlor, and the kitschy smattering of Edo-style souvenir shops dotting the main road. Immersed in a darkness that arrived swiftly and unexpectedly, we linger by the river’s edge, the mountains close enough that I feel their figures present as third parties to our conversation. Strawberry leans against the railing and his eyes, though stripped of color in the dusky conditions, gleam with an authenticity untouched by artifice. After a lifetime of cultivating a suspicious nature aimed mainly at my own behavior, I am thrown by how deeply and fully he believes in an idea, a conjuring, of me, that I myself have never trusted.

A tiny bookshop open in the hour before midnight, where I flip through pages of a Japanese fairy tale, a butcher called “Fishery and Chicken Tanaka,” an eggplant-purple subway train leading back towards the city proper. The night like pitchblende. Aphrodite in the foam. The wind, felt and not seen, from the kingdom east of the sun and west of the moon.

How important is shared sense of humor in a relationship? How important are common priorities and visions for the future? Under his clothes, Strawberry’s skin is like almonds split open, in color and odor. The sudden protagonist of a folktale à la Oscar Wilde, guided by a lark of silver, a witch in disguise, and a god clothed in peach blossoms, I arrive at a final miracle. The birds outside, lost in a song of autumn. The once-green leaves, shedding in whirlwinds, a shallow tide of amber, orange, and watermelon red. A twin-sized mattress, moved to the floor, and fitted with navy blue Mickey Mouse sheets. How likely is it that Strawberry might be the one I’m writing about in all my stories?


In the backseat of a first-generation Daewoo Matiz, I am reading a roman à clef that seeks to describe the overlap between the grotesque and the sublime. The palm trees and dry, yellow plains take on an almost phantasmagorical quality. Moody, layered 80’s ballads emanate from our car radio, set to a brew of white noise, dark news updates, and Kiss FM.

The idea that idiosyncrasies are flowers in the garden of the mind has led me to cherish those peonies, irises, and chrysanths that I otherwise would have left for dead. Consider indole, an organic compound found in fecal matter, but which at low concentrations smells of flowers. At the gas station, we buy potato chips and a Milkybar; they melt gradually in the mouth, a blend of salt crystals, cocoa butter, and the heat of the Spanish summer.

Rural Japan, the southern coast of India, the American Midwest: they each left their emblems — aromatic pine, rich benzoin, Buffalo wings. But this upcoming departure feels like it’ll be the most difficult to shake. Every memory made here is incurably bittersweet. Marmalade orange, ziprasidone. I can’t help being irascible when my mother cries, but know, at least, that I regret it always. I don’t know how to say that, in our interactions, I am seized by a fear that consumes every minor detail of existence: the craggy mountains, the fine lines like petals around her eyes. The most painful reality of being the child of divorce is that my parents will grow old alone.

From faraway, I text Strawberry silly endearments, but I wonder, privately, how much any one person can wring from love before it withers. To my mother and my father: You deserve much more than what can be given to you. You always have.

Thunder Thighs

Every couple we pass on our bicycle tour of the Tiergarten seems to be in the middle of the most somber conversation of their lives. On a park bench, a young man stares tearfully at a female companion seated beside him. The content of their partnership is drawn in between swaying branches in the Impressionistic style: light and feathery strokes, framed in the gilded notes of a plump, sylvan July. There’s something touching, albeit hardly unique, about his expression, drenched in that Romanticism that feels so Edgar Allan Poe, and naturally, takes on a pained, sepia-toned form. Ah, adolescence. I imagine him clutching her pallid hands as he promises, in the center of Berlin’s fairy tale gardens, to cryogenically freeze himself alongside her in their old age. There’s a pause and he looks up, the spell briefly broken, to catch my eye. I am perched on a Dutch bicycle borrowed at the hotel reception, one foot on the dusty path for balance. I half-smile, feeling suddenly and severely my intrusion into their intimacy, and pedal away, into the glossy shade cast by the flowering trees.

In the mountains surrounding the Elbe, my brother and I are halfway completed with the day’s trek when I hear the white noise for the first time. It sounds like muted, distant thunder, or like what I imagine it feels like in the mind, when you are looking at a body after death. The waters of Lethe against the shore. At that altitude, when we peer down, the granularity of the leaves of the valley are erased into a mottled, still wave of mutton fat jade. As the white noise fades away, the question of its origin comes up and freely we speculate: the river down below, the Bohemian winds, the reverberations within thousand-year-old layers of white and salmon pink sandstone. Unreasonably, but maybe understandably, I’m possessed by the notion that the noise has something to do with the ocean. Everything mysterious seems like it must come from the sea, you know?

In the Palace of Sanssouci, which I, with my usual grotesquely unhistorical humor, describe as a dick-measuring contest between the Prussian emperor and the residents of Versailles, we wander amid ultra-detailed landscaping and 18th century chinoiserie chic. Hundreds of tourists traipse across the terraced lawn. Life seems so urgent now, and I can’t decide if that’s due to the current stage of my life, or the current state of the world. But I myself am detached. In Sanssouci, surrounded by vineyards, playful Rococo, and caramel yellow Caryatids, I find myself incapable of prompting even fractured emotions.

I remember an afternoon from three years ago, during a similar summer, in Kyoto’s Ryoanji. In the gold-toned heat, Alex and I sit on the wooden viewing platform beside the temple garden for the better part of an hour. Flanked on both sides by a varied crowd of strangers, we stare at the five groupings of stone and puzzle over the meaning behind their number and arrangement. Alex’s theories from that day are still my favorite: The principal emotions, the bodily senses. Most of my life I’ve enjoyed paired objects, triptychs, and, being an April-born Aries, the number four, but I see now there’s something robust and mystic about sets of five. The Ryoanji zen garden is one example, but then there’s also five-petaled flowers, five-faced Shiva, the five wounds of Jesus during the crucifixion. Taste, hearing, smell, sight, and touch. Anger, disgust, happiness, fear, and sadness.

I come across a photograph of snow online and am overwhelmed, unexpectedly, with a crushing nostalgia for winter. The hours of night filled with darkness, but also the violet, ultra-reflective glow of the snow banks. The sensation of submersion in the honeymoon of a situational “otherness” when snow, delicate, translucent, and symmetrically shaped, is falling. The temperature at white twilight, as the wind slows and stills. An ode to winter, written during a season of cherries, plums, and beaches.

Jesus in His Twenties (II)

Long-time readers will remember “Jesus in His Twenties,” a cryptic, surreal little bildungsroman about a millennial Jesus Christ growing up alongside a handful of philosophical, metaphysical housemates. I added a few extra chapters onto the story in early 2016, hopefully arriving at a semi-conclusion, but never got around to posting it here. It is, without a doubt, still a bit rough around the edges (my God, I sure was a devotee of the semi-colon), but I hope you enjoy.

Continued reading >

Blueberry Boy Bait

In springtime India, a woman in my hostel splits a pomegranate and hands me half. (Insert that mythological chestnut about Proserpina here: her blue velvet gown rippling behind her as she falls.) Broken open, the pomegranate spills its globular, wine-colored contents. Each individual seed plays with light like bodies of water do, the single white grains refracting with the glamour of pinky pearls. Past the initial tartness, pomegranate tastes faintly of meat, a gamy umami flavor that reminds me of sex, or monosodium glutamate. (This is not the first time I’ve made a comparison this vulgar, and trust me, it won’t be the last. Nothing better than a tradition of metaphors that encompass both fruit and fornication.)

Months later, while on the road to Damascus, Strawberry and I split a serving of fried rice, Bayou Bourbon chicken, and existential anxiety in the food court of an American shopping mall. There’s something so fatally unreasonable about being twenty-three and thinking you know anything about philosophy but eh, fuck it. Strawberry is always a willing audience to my demonstrations of ego, a catalog that includes plagues, absurdism, and the separation of the body and mind. If he notices how badly I’m trying to arouse his interest, he reveals nothing. It occurs to me that he could easily decide to embarrass me, but in the next beat I recognize, with a punchy breath of fondness, that it just isn’t his style.

In love, I have encountered a syncretism of ego and insecurity that manifests itself in incremental contradictions. I am possessed by the desire to be adored and, conversely, abandoned; to be described as charismatic, but diffident, bratty, but poised, empathetic, but unyielding. On more than one occasion, I fall into the “cool girlfriend” trap, going along with nearly any proposition in an effort to construct a facsimile of relationship perfection. This attitude would be untenable if it were not so typical: a girl trying, passionately, but pathetically, to be impressive.

In the Florida Panhandle, we have a dinner date at a pho restaurant in a strip mall. The interior decorating captures an aesthetic that is halfway between elementary school cafeteria and airport waiting lounge. We face each other over a table surface laminated to resemble oakwood grain. A plasma screen television mounted on the wall above the counter plays an endless loop of Vietnamese music videos. Squirming on emerald-and-burgundy upholstered plastic seats, I look at Strawberry’s impassive face as he scans the menu and feel the sudden horror of inaccessible emotion. I realize that I don’t know how he feels about me. An accompanying realization: I don’t know how I feel about me. Only the idea of me seems real.

When my moodiness over us feels pathological rather than circumstantial, I retreat to the supercut my mind has assembled of the past year: the nacreous, drunken flush across Strawberry’s cheeks, the ancient forest in the summertime, the midnight in May spent crying together. I think of Martin Buber’s “I-Thou,” a framework for human relations that feels like buried instinct rather than improbable theory. (Yes, I too am rolling my eyes at myself. Bear with me here.) To communicate as an “I” with another “I,” the world of the free, and the genuine. My misreading of Buber reinterprets the theory as a mechanism for emotional exchange between souls. But what is a soul? What is Strawberry’s soul, which I imagine to be the human core stripped of everything extraneous? Without his green eyes, his rounded, Slavic features, his soft spot for folk songs, his particular combination of shyness and charm, his blasé, sometimes evasive attitude, so impossible for me to decipher?

Strawberry orders two bowls of soy sauce ramen in Kansai, Japan. Outside, the hoods of cars parked alongside the rice fields gleam like Tungsten. In silence, I break apart a pair of disposable chopsticks and examine the textured strips of seaweed, the delicately soft-boiled egg, the helix of flavorings, as though reading our fortune like a millennial witch. I think, not without shame, of the night before: a baffled, semi-sweet fumbling, a faked climax. The unbearable melodrama of my pronouncements. How what had started as an impulse, a brief encounter, had culminated in entry into an underworld, loving and not dangerous but mysterious nonetheless, and I was buoyed up through it by him, my heart turning over in my chest with Prosperina’s brew of anxiety and exhilaration. Seems about right, for a first time.

Baby Barracuda

The name “Mangoes Marina” has the steamy, kitsch sensuality of a strip club; with the terms inverted, I imagine it could even be the alias of a playfully comic online writer of erotic fiction. But the marina is a tamer location than its name suggests: a white-and-chestnut dock framed in floral trees and liquor stores, where the boat remains docked for two days and a night in fecund mid-May. We refuel, empty the trash, fill up the jerrycans, and do the laundry. I tag along as this sequence of operations is performed, ostensibly as an assistant but more accurately as an observer. The entirety of the trip, really, has been characterized by observation — mainly of my boyfriend, who won’t be named in this text (a decision made out of consideration for both his privacy and my heart, which cannot bear to type out his name without squirming in sudden shyness. But because he does deserve some manner of identification, let’s call him “Strawberry.”)

Scenes from the Bahamian sky: On my first night, the clouds appear in a triptych of blues, each superimposed upon the next in tones of increasing lightness. A visual voyage from dark, lavish navy to semi-opalescent bleu celeste. At twilight, they are often bulbous, pulpy, arranged on a background of glowing rose. My favorite clouds are enormous and grotesquely fast-moving, possessed with an energy that borders on life-like, and, as they void themselves over the textured sea water, they rouse in my mind the most passionate ideas in my memory: the physicality of ripe fruit, the mysticism of witches, the divinity of thunder. I remember most vividly the rain at night; awakening on the deck to the sensation of wetness across my breasts and toes. Maybe I love Strawberry because our reunions coincide so often with rainy days, which are to me an experience in ecstasy like that of Saint Teresa. (Near the end of my visit, on a magnificently rainy afternoon, he dresses me in his waterproof jacket and watches as I roam barefoot in the puddles in the parking lot.)

Strawberry’s father describes the waves and foam as fields crested by sheep: a metaphor that makes me want to laugh with pure and unexpected joy. The surface of the sea behaves as though Epicurean, non-Newtonian, Dionysian. At times jagged, massive, and at others finely milled, nearly imperceptible, the waves between cays capture a spectrum of form. I understand now why so many nymphs copulate in these waters, and why the representation of the sea in oil paintings is extravagant, enigmatic; I picture Boucher’s “Arion on the Dolphin,” the titular character clothed in waves, hugely feminine eyes cast at the heavens.

On the islands, Strawberry and I walk through streets lined with Bahamian pine, Surinam cherry, and coconut palm trees. The rental homes are painted in a palette of flushed pastoral colors: baby blue, pale peach, lime green, sunshine yellow. Tiny flowers immersed in grass, picket fences straddling Man-O-War from shore to shore. I think of maximalism, the art of excess: hibiscus, frangipani, hurricanes descending.

My tan lines start at the base of my throat, and end at halfway between my hips and knees. Nut brown to olive-veined cream, the contours where colors change are studded with hickeys. The royal blue bathing suit I bought specifically for this occasion ends up being a size too small, much to my embarrassment and Strawberry’s delight. There’s something inescapably sexual about this landscape. Even the names of local restaurants have a coquettish purposefulness: Nipper’s, Grabber’s, Papa Nasty’s BBQ. In the shade of poisonwood trees, we drink sumptuously overpriced beverages made from pawpaw, guava, banana (the lusty, aromatic fruits.) The “Goombay Smash,” a cocktail indigenous to the Bahamas containing coconut cream, rum, and pineapple, features prominently in one of our best afternoons.

While snorkeling, an activity Strawberry’s mother adores, I discover my favorite fish species: the parrotfish, which comes in queen, princess, stoplight, and rainbow varieties. It bumps clumsily against the coral, nibbling audibly at its surface. The colors of the parrotfish possess that surreal beauty used by Creationists in support of their beliefs: neon, hypnagogic Creamsicle orange, aquamarine layered in a gradient, fuchsia so glitzy Ariel in the Atlantic clutches her scales in vicious jealousy. Runners-up for the prize of my love include the trumpet fish, the hogfish, and the squirrel fish (entirely on account of their names, which add a dash of flavor from the carnality of land animals.) In an instant of prodigious coincidence, a green turtle glides by within a few feet of us; I feel caught in the depths of sensation, like watching wind move through the boughs of trees.