The Dream of Madame X

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These notes were found in a brown suitcase in one of the long-abandoned offices of a known doctor of the mind, whose name we have taken the liberty to keep to ourselves. The patient, a woman whose most peculiar confession you will read in the English transcription below, remains unidentified. 

“Oh, doctor! I’ve been having the wildest dreams. Just the other night, I dreamt that I was on a couch, very much like this one. Yes, I distinctly remember the rub of this fabric on my skin. And I remember finding my clothes a puddle on this very carpet.

On top of me was a man, doctor, the same height and built as you. He was as naked as I was, with lips pressed on my neck.

Forgive me for not blushing, monsieur, but I’ve been sharing with you the most intimate of my secrets for months now. I cannot even pretend to be embarrassed, especially given how bizarre this dream was.

But where was I? I was pinned down on this couch by a man, yes, and I was caught by surprise, of course. Imagine my shock, doctor. Being intimate with a man not my husband—what a scandal! I tried pushing him away in vain. But it was not long until the heat of his skin and the smell of his hair awakened desires I felt like I had not long had. The way his fingertips made contact with my most sensitive places— What a man he was! And I never felt more like a woman until then.

But this carpet—this design, this exotic pattern—it caught my attention and reminded me of a trip with my husband, God rest his soul, to Persia. We were a young couple under the haze of early love. And in one of our trips to the local market, I remember coming across this artifact. I swear on Mr. X’s grave that this is the same one I saw on that trip. Look at this design, doctor. Wouldn’t you agree that the maker would not have been able to replicate it had he tried to?

It was so many years ago, long before consumption claimed his body. I remember asking him to buy this carpet as a wedding gift. Did I mention it was our honeymoon? But he declined, harshly, saying that the carpet only reflected my provincial taste.

Oh, forgive me for straying too far from my narrative, doctor. You must think me too much of a scatterbrain, telling stories that have nothing to do with what my appointment is for. But in my dream, these were the thoughts that ran in my head about ten minutes under this man who was making love to me the way my husband never did.

So there I was, locked in the arms of an unknown lover, dreaming about Persia with my dead husband, when his speech broke the harmony of our moans and grunts. “Is this what you want, mother?” he said.

I was horrified at the prospect of having coital relations with my own son, but before I could push him away in disgust, I realized that I was not in fact the intended recipient of his query. That was when I noticed a dark figure in the corner of the room, this room, come to think of it. There was a woman sitting on that chair.

At this point, the man on top of me held my neck in a choke and I had to suppress a cough. Pinned down and strangled, I looked at the woman whose legs were spread open. It was clear to me that she was, well, pleasuring herself. Do you understand, sir? Her hand was—

Pardon my vulgarity. These are not the words of a lady, I understand, but this was my dream. And as I stared into the eyes of this woman, the mother of my lover, I felt sick at the pit of my stomach. I dare say, even the women in brothels will find the experience of being caught in the act of making love by the mothers of their partners repulsive. Even more so, if said mother thought her voyeurism particularly stimulating.

But after the alarm faded, intrigue settled in and I found the way she fingered her flushed folds most entrancing. She called the name of her son over and over between her multiple spasms. And I watched her, completely neglecting the man whose manhood was pressed between my thighs. At a certain point, I was even quite sure that there was no one else in the room except the mad woman and I.

The more I watched her, the more the space between us vanished until I was face to face, eyes to eyes, with her person. My faceless lover, I saw sprawled by her feet, leashed like a loyal dog. I observed as she placed one finger and then two in her body. And she watched me watch her.

Alas! The key reached the plate, sir, and I awoke most perplexed by the perverse nature of this dream. I find you now taking notes, doctor. Perhaps you, with your theories on the psyche of man, with your scientific insights, can enlighten me with your brilliant mind and point me to the whereabouts of my dress.

October 13, 19—”

 

*Image by Paul Medalla. Check out more of his awesome work here

Miss Takes

I have only kissed men who could only kiss me in the dark.
Not out of preference, of course, but these things
Happen. They are names
Inside a box I label “never look back”
Because the norms tell me that I am a slut
For playing with lips that other women have labeled “reserved.”

When I was in college, a man told me that he liked that I spoke French. It didn’t matter
That he didn’t understand.
He looked at me the way voyagers
Looked at the unexplored edges of maps.
And when he thought no one was looking,
He led me by the hand and marked my lips “charted.”
A man’s life is a continuous quest for terra incognita. It said so in all the books.
His wife waits for him to come home.

The first time a man branded me woman, he took off his pants but not his shirt.
His torso held a warning “only for my lover”
While I lied on his bed,
Naked space.
He looked at me the way Neil Armstrong looked at the moon, and whispered that I mattered.
Except in space, sound never learned to travel without air.
And if a word was not heard, would it have happened?
Armstrong’s ashes are scattered over the Atlantic.
Each time the moon waxes, it drags the waters closer and closer, but Armstrong
Would never
Come back.

At night, my dreams are as vivid as Photoshopped pictures—
A policeman stops the traffic to make love to my lips in the open streets.
A priest calls my name at church and proceeds to fuck me on all fours in front of the whole flock.
On the radio,
Frank Sinatra is alive and is singing my name over and over and over. On the television,
Salvador Dali is young and says he
Is nothing without me.

Yes, sometimes I would take out the box of names and rip out the label.
Look back.
Most women have photos and love letters in their shoeboxes, I
Have nothing but the memory of men on my skin, their smell long faded.
When they gave themselves to their lovers, they had nothing left for me to keep.
So I would put the label back,
“Never look back.”
I would turn off
The lights and assure myself that some people
Can only glow in the dark.

That Which We Call a Vagina

Today, I learned that the word “vagina” came from the Latin word for “sheath.” The term was first recorded in 1682, while its counterpart, the mighty “penis” was first used in 1668. But before you imagine that penis came from the Latin word for “sword,” let me assure you that it did not. It came from the Latin word for “tail.”

I cannot say why this is so. I do not know why the vagina was named in relation to the penis, while the penis stands on its own (pun very much intended). All I can tell you is that to me, it sounded unfair that the mother of the universe was named as an afterthought to the cock. Sheaths are, after all, consequences of the blade, suggesting that vaginas were thought of then as mere scabbards to the all-conquering penises. And what does that say about me as a woman?

No, I have not the least intention of turning this discussion into a feminist rant. All I want to share with you is the power that names, ultimately words, hold over our thinking. You can tell a lot about a person’s background once you ask him the story of his name. You can learn more about a culture should you study its language. Names and words, basically anything you can spell, communicate more than they are generally thought to. The beauty of language is in its being the most effective tool for expression.

Consequently, my love affair with words leads me to the thinking that who I am is a matter of words. I am a name, a gender, an animal species. I am a combination of overlapping nouns and contrasting adjectives. I use words to present myself and other people use words to deal with and relate to me. Sometimes, I feel like words define my actual existence, that I do not exist if there are no words for me. It is during these times that I have to stop and remind myself that I am more than the names I call myself. After all, words aren’t everything, right?

In a class that dealt with language and culture back in college, the professor asked the question of which came first, language or culture? It was a chicken-egg question of whether perception came first or the word for it. Some people believe in the theory of linguistic determinism, meaning that how we see the world depends entirely on our vocabulary. In the same way, my initial thought when I learned that my vagina was named after a slot that holds a sword was that to be a woman is to be man’s plaything.

But stop, I tell myself. This is just me paying more attention to etymology than I should. Words aren’t everything and all languages are just metaphors for reality. In the end, this is a battle between linguistic determinism and human determination. In the same way that we can easily dismiss the etymologies of words as things of the past, so can we easily wave away society’s preconceived notions of what it is to be a woman.

It is said that when Shakespeare found that the words of the English language were no longer enough to convey what he wanted to mean, he made new sets to better express himself. Similarly, when the names and words you’re stuck with are bothering and even hindering you from advancing, you can always make new ones. We name territories, typhoons, pets, children, and even private parts for the purpose of establishing authority. I hate the history of the word “vagina” and what it implies so I’m taking control and naming my little girl something else. Everyone, meet my sword.

Your Name (noun)

Your Name (noun) 1. The romanticization of a seconds-
long interaction beginning with your question, ending
as a knot in my stomach, a smile I swallowed

2. The bitter dawning of the impossibility
of having lips that will reach your ear, of having
stranger skins meeting under covers, accompanied
by the sweetness of becoming nothing
more;

3. The disappointment that follows a minute of introduction
to the you stripped of my imagination;

4. The laugh ripe with disgust after landed feet
proving the foolishness of constructing a future, a poem,
a noun, after a spit of tired dialogue
from an unexplored tongue

You should have taken off your shirt

You stand there with triumph plastered on your face
As if being recognized for flesh is a dive you won’t dare
But darling, your body is as much poetry as your voice
And your bare chest hold as much promise as your throat
There is no shame in nakedness when there are lines
No words can ever communicate, only fingertips can read
There are stories I’d rather not you explain, let me
Take to each crevice, taste the sin off your skin