When you nervously asked me for nudes you did not specifically request a picture of my pussy and you most certainly did not ask for a word for word transcription of the short story “The Library of Babel” by Jorge Luis Borges. I’ve sent you neither, though they are the same thing.
In Borges’s story, the infinite library contains book after book the contents of which amass every possible combination of a finite number of characters in all possible orders. It’s a library of everything that could ever be written, whether or not it means anything. Most of it is, indeed, gibberish, but the law of probability tells us every work of literature ever written will, at some point, appear. Shakespeare is in there. Better yet, so is Jean Toomer. So is this essay, the version of it I’ll have written when it’s done, as well as every possible version of it that I could write, but won’t.
Every relationship in quarantine is a long distance relationship and this isn’t even a relationship, this is two adults with serious trust issues ill-advisedly admitting they jerk off while thinking about one another. Every mutual masturbation in a pandemic is a long-distance mutual masturbation. You are just across town. Across town is a long distance, because the space between all bodies expands and contracts now with the hyperventilation of threat management. Our mutual masturbation isn’t mutual either. You admitted that you think about me, but haven’t told me what you actually think about, so every time I touch myself I wander onto the page of the book you’ve intentionally left blank.
The Library of Babel includes the name of every street I’ve ever lived on. The Library of Babel includes every dance card ever completed by the fictional characters of the hit Netflix series Bridgerton. The Library of Babel includes every frantic last minute undergraduate essay on Dorian Gray and it also contains every love poem Oscar Wilde ever wrote for Bosie. The Library of Babel includes every fantasy you might have had about me, as well as the ones you actually did.
Borges’s story takes its name from the Tower of Babel in the Book of Genesis. God confounded the people, dispersing their once single tongue into an array of languages, no one any longer able to understand one another, all of it to prevent their project of building a tower that would reach into his heavenly kingdom. The people had said: come let us make bricks and burn them thoroughly. come let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens and let us make a name for ourselves otherwise we shall be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth. Maybe there is an arrogance in assuming you and I could talk to one another. Maybe we’re being punished. I don’t believe in God, though, so I’m not quite sure what is punishing us. I punish myself in bed each night, trying out different languages, wondering which one feels best in your mouth.
Borges writes: “The certainty that some bookshelf in some hexagon contained precious books, yet that those precious books were forever out of reach, was almost unbearable.”
At night I work my fingers till they ache, flipping through the volumes in search of the story you won’t tell me. I pulse and flip the page and read a story about a woman who looks like me, pushed against the bathroom counter, her panties slipped aside with warm and eager fingers, her own hand braced against the mirror, her hand slips and her lover works and the two smear glass and lace in the same pleasure, watching the reflection all the while. I pulse and flip the page and read a story about a woman who looks like me kissing each of your shut eyes in sequence. A woman who looks like me wears a blindfold, wears a cheerleading uniform, holds a flower, holds a ball-gag, holds her breath. I pulse and flip the page and read the complete works of Jorge Luis Borges. I pulse and flip the page and read the expression on your face.
In a book somewhere a woman who looks like me knows exactly what you want. I hate her a little for that, for borrowing a more beautiful version of this body and never telling me what you have needed to touch, never telling me how your salt tastes and how your heart smells.
Borges writes: “the feverish Library, whose random volumes constantly threaten to transmogrify into others, so that they affirm all things, deny all things, and confound and confuse all things.’”
I transmogrify daily. Every morning the binding of my thighs’ book cracks forth in buds of labia, which by nightfall petal me into a new and larger book flower. A quarantine adaptation, my body sprouts daily a fully blooded pussy of fresh stories. Each night, by the light of the only candle I can afford I tattoo each of my new folds with gibberish, every combination of letters that might somehow spell the particular ways in which you would ever desire me. A sentence hits the surface and the utterance arches me into a new grammar. Dripping, panting, and bare, my parts diagramed out at all angles reaching for arms and breath and tongue that are not there. An orgasm is a declarative sentence, an argument that meaning exists somewhere.
Somewhere against the darkness of my window bounce the neighbor lights of a lonely city, voices full and needing, yours among them, mine among them, whispering come here. come to me. come let us build. come let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens come to me come let us build come in me come come let us build ourselves come let us make bricks and burn them thoroughly and make a name for ourselves, legs and heart open, bed strewn with pages like rose petals.
In the moments after, tender pulp of pages inking to their full. For you. In so many respects a lover already, except of course in any of the ways that would mark us. I know where your blood goes when you think of me sometimes, but there is no corresponding pattern of fingerprints against my back, hips, cunt, throat. I know you’ve liked small sets of lines I’ve shown you but never have I moved your hands along the paper’s fiber to show you which letters are hiding your name, like these lines right here, wet in my mouth, where I’ve never admitted your searching fingers all the way to your second knuckle, locking my eyes to yours and finishing this sentence in gasps against the sunlit chair as your hold my face like a handle on the walkway to a better name for God. I’ve never dropped to my knees and looked straight up unafraid, mouth glistening, and told you that the muscle of my desire has its own verb tense. No one will see you in this essay. No one who knows your name will know your name. We have named our desire but do not claim the people it’s passing between. A Library of everything that could ever be written, whether or not it means anything.
Borges writes: “There is no syllable one can speak that is not filled with tenderness and terror, that is not, in one of those languages, the mighty name of a god.
Babble is a word for nervous talking, talking like I do without end, especially when I am nervous, like I was the night you came to my apartment just before lockdown and I talked and talked to avoid saying any words that would mark without permission either of our bodies as different the morning after. It’s excessive, I know. I try not to. Excessive talking is sometimes referred to as verbal masturbation. I guess I can see the point. I can’t imagine these words doing anything for you. I can’t imagine you ever loving me. Even before we kept our social distance, I filled the six feet of air between us with my constant talking because it was the only way to close the gap between your body and mine. I talk and I talk because I cannot touch you and I touch myself at night for the same reason. Please shut me up. You can’t hear a word of it this all the way across town but please come and end this sentence and shut me up. Just shut me up. Just shut me up. Just please come over and shut me up. I’m alone in here so long and there is nothing to stop my words or my fingers or my fears please just shut me the fuck up / just shut me the fuck up / just shut me / just shut me / just shut me / just shut / just shut / the fuck / the fuck / the fuck / just / shut / no / wait / fuck / please. just. open. me. up.
Jessica Lawson (she/her/hers) is Denver-based writer, teacher, and queer single parent. Her debut book of poetry, Gash Atlas (forthcoming 2022), was selected by judge Erica Hunt for the Kore Press Institute Poetry Prize, and her chapbook Rot Contracts appeared summer 2020 (Trouble Department). A Pushcart-nominated poet, her writing has appeared in The Rumpus; Entropy; Dreginald; Yes, Poetry; The Wanderer; Cosmonauts Avenue; and elsewhere. She is currently at work on her second book project.