sade's mistress
Lydia Yuknavitch
© 2000


the mouth of a room

The dark travels her waiting as sweat on skin. Her eyes wider than sky, pupils huge as fat black buttons in the night. The room is not a room, the body unbodied, wedged between the expanse of dark and walls lost to sight.


No, not naked. Without borders. No difference between flesh and the molecules of dark surrounding.

Days? Weeks?

Gray folds of mind folding and bending in on themselves into bone or idea or matted hair just outside skull.

Did she dream she was waiting, legs spread, to be overcome?

How long ago?

A smile spreads over her face. Overwhelming, stretching, obscene, as if it might devour the head altogether.

Fingers in a cunt. Her own. Shoving furiously and alive as thick strong worms pounding and thrusting. She grits her teeth. Closes her eyes, but the closing is identical to open. The blindness of a desire beyond death.

Shoving and shoving her hand into her cunt.

Spittle loose at the corners of her mouth.

Her ears filled with a wax ready to explode.

Her other hand in her mouth and deep and deeper to throat to back of the throat to gagging biting flesh reflexive gag laugh. Laughing hysterically.

Coming. Shitting simultaneously.

She sits laughing in her own shit, drool and smile dripping her face into dark. She has never known, nor will she ever know, more thick love.


the war of atoms

"Shortly before my incarceration, I began a diary. I thought that if I could write what the events that have so violently changed me were, transcribe them, if you will, I could at least say that I had moved something from the inside out. A woman must speak herself or be damned. By damned I mean lost to the script of the world; not a story at all. Storied over."

She pauses to pour the liquid over the absinthe. The glass shimmers. Her hand wavers, then reaches. Her lips form a kiss over the cusp of longing, her eyes close, her head rocks back nearly imperceptibly, her throat receives and contracts. Let's go. Contracts. Her teeth clench themselves.

"This is the fortieth page of my own hand. I do not know if I could survive the last forty days if I had not this writing, this black ink and white page as a face facing me, returning my gaze, forgiving, or not; ever-present. I will say again, as I have stated over and over. I have no memory of pain. This is no small statement. To live beyond pain is to live out of language, and yet, millions of people experience the moment either unknowingly or with complete understanding every second of existence. In this I am not alone. It is in the discourse that we defeat ourselves, arrange taboos, laws, the limits of imagination, the stops of a body. No, this last description is too simple. I am speaking of an altered state-this is the connection to the rest of the universe."

A hand travels to the neck. Fingers massage as if the woman has split in two, the sufferer and the caretaker. Her own hand finds her own stone of an ache, her neck gives over to the loving strength, she does not think of who is responsible. She does not wonder what kindness. Her head again bows. Her eyes such concentration. Her hand a world.

"Did I love him? A moment or ten years? I lost that word so long ago the question of it seems laughable. I will say this. If I had known, as a young girl, say, twelve or so, that love was an obstacle to experience and the chaotic breaking of insight into the world of experience, body or no, I would have, as a girl, thrown myself into fire and begged for burning. Not unto death. Surely someone would have pulled me free from the flames before death. I would then have lived inside a burned shell the rest of my life, every touch excruciating. And yet, I would have been better prepared for what I know now, I would have expected it and welcomed it, I would not have struggled so. I would have understood with the clarity of a diamond's cut. There is no inside out. There is no outside in. Only the mind grids experience into social orders. Only collective consciousness convinces us that to live one way and not another is the way of the world. Did I not love him? If love is bone exposed through a wound so deep as to lose one's name, then I love him beyond any romance ever written. If love is a gaping rip into flesh so as to edge mortality, then yes. I loved him. But to speak of love is to let someone else guide the story. This was not love. Nor desire. But death released into life. The body of a woman."

She is thinking, he will be coming soon to retrieve me. She gazes for a long second at the clock on the pub's wall. The powder on her face and bosom has become damp. Wet along the line between her thighs, wet under the cup of each breast, wet at the upper lip. Under her dress the corset wound tight so as to prohibit the freedom of breath. Under the corset her deep cleft. Inside her cunt a hand-sanded wooden ball, as if a child's toy, larger than the space allowed. Her eyes swim in their little sockets; she has worn the wooden ball for a day and a night, the cavern slowly taking it in, her anus contracting again and again, the inside of her opening red and raw with holding. She writes and the ink nearly tears the page, as her flesh nearly tears, her face, her mind. The molecules of her wage a war against themselves. Matter against matter, like a disease or chemical angst.


spine of longing

A man is imprisoned for the last ten years of his life by a historical figure of great weight. He writes a play set in an insane asylum, in which the terms of the French Revolution are set into theatrical debate with, as a background, patients demanding release from the insane incarceration, with, as a background, Parisian mob cries cacophonously delivered from the inmates, with, as a background, a man submerged in a tub dictating debate, philosophy, knowledge, his body unable to bear itself, his mind surrounded. The writer is considered immoral. The character in the tub of water is considered insane. History moves itself without art. Art clings like a parasite, or the neurological paths hidden in the spine.


day and night, night and day

A crack of light splits her cornea or skull as if with a knife. The dark explodes into light. A soft edged blur in...a doorway? Her eyes tear and tear. She closes them against light. Her arms reach out. A moan. He takes her into his arms, carries her out of the dark. Small wailings.

A room with the dimmest of light. The smell of sandalwood. Candles. She is lowered as gentle as a whisper into a tub of very warm water. Scent. Her hair is washed anonymously from behind. Her head rests on the edge of a porcelain tub. Her jaw is taut. Her lips slightly parted. Smell inside her, around her, womb.

She is left there for one half hour.

She is lifted from the tub and carried to a sofa. Rested there as if precious cargo. A fur across her body. She recognizes his smell, though she is still blind.

Fingers in her mouth. She sucks and spit fills the hole and fingers tasting of sweet and more sweet and around her mouth a little down her throat and again and again. The same fingers into her anus and back to the mouth and the ass and back and forth like that. Sweet as brandy or peach. Her nipples harden.

He removes the fur. Her body is amber glow. Forgetting itself.

Memoriless. Her wrists are bound with a satin tie, she can feel this precisely. Her legs are spread. Each ankle is taken tenderly between hands, bound with satin ties. Her sight returns to the head slowly, slowly. A man in a white wig; blue satin clothing. Hands as tender as birth.

Her cunt is wide, opening and opening, lips sucking apart, legs pulling their tendons toward life.

He enters her for hours; a long thick candle. The flame lit again and again. A wooden truncheon. A hand. Tongue. A silver rod. Fruit or vegetable or some solid large food. He eats, passes wet food to her mouth to mouth. The neck of a bottle of champagne. Foam and cold entering her. He drinks from her mouth.

She is left alone for one hour. She drifts to sleep.

People enter the room. She is untied, a man enters her quickly from behind, a woman sucks her nipples, bites, draws a bit of blood, laughing. He thrusts into her while the man is still taking her from behind. Women kiss and fondle her, lips, tits. Laughing.

She is so filled with joy her teeth unloose themselves inside of her mouth in an ocean of saliva, like the sea overtaking a ship or the mind, like the body turning back to its breathable blue deep, like oxygen melting into give.


history lessens

A woman says this: The most interesting modern theater is a theater which goes beyond psychology. Her pencil breaks at the white cusp of a page. It is nothing.

A man says this: We need true action, but without practical consequences. It is not on the social level that the action of theater unfolds. Still less on the ethical and psychological levels.... This obstinacy in making characters talk about feelings, passions, desires, and impulses of a strictly psychological order, in which a single word is to compensate for innumerable gestures, is the reason theater is dead. Figures must be freed from psychological and dialogue painting of the individual. He has been institutionalized already.

A man writes a play in which "realism" is transcended by "insanity." Modernism begins to borrow things from his private body without permission.

Language. Incantation. Exchange. Details of an execution. Dismemberment. An audience is listening. The world turns.

The phrase "the work of art" becomes political. Many people are frustrated and unhappy at having to think.

Neither moral nor aesthetic. Humanism's other face.

Speaking in fragments untethers. She knows this. So does he. All of them.



There is an ice pick and a huge chunk of dissolving ice-I say "dissolving" and not "melting" for the room is cold, the air cuts with each breath, cold as the white outside, the winter, the edges of inside and outside dissolving in cold and white breaking. Her arm raises as in a murder scene again and again and her face distorted by fatigue or cold or the mind dull numbing into blind. She has been in this room for two weeks, no food, no clothing, no heat. The furniture in the room is what we think of when we say "opulent." The tapestries, the velvet, the gold ornate carvings, paintings and silver, windows barred but huge, majestically open, beautiful. The carpet a bear's head, hand-painted tiles from India. Giant fireplace barren. She is screaming with her mouth but no sound comes out, the mouth and the throat having lost voice days and days ago.

She has sucked the block of ice again for sustenance.

She has mounted the block of ice in furious grotesque sexuality.

She has not killed herself; this interests the watchers. The ice pick was so obvious, and they even laid bets as to which day she would do it. Would she stab herself in the eye? This was an idea debated with much consternation. Surely the heart. Her longing frozen and dead, unable to bear her desire, to pierce the muscle.

But she had not done it, not then, not after starvation set in, not when she went from sobbing to hysterical laughing to rage, not when she sat in a drooling and freezing heap in the corner eating small bits of bear fur from the carpet, not when she shit the last of her body's waste into the fireplace, covering it with a tapestry over and over again, not when she knocked her head against the bars of the window dully for twenty hours in a row, until her head, bruised and beyond bleeding, closed itself to night.

When the door finally opens to human she is not of this world. She is play. No, pale, we meant to say pale.



"I have laughed aloud in the writing of this. I understood long ago that I could not utter a phrase, or a single word, that was in any sense "descriptive" of the events which transpired so uselessly named in "my life." I saw immediately what the consequences would be and I saw as immediately how my attempting to contain my opportunity into discussion or description would kill any chance I would ever have. Don't you see? It would be as if one could travel into space and rediscover night and planet and self. I saw that. I retain a great sense of pride for having seen that. For realizing I might witness or give witness to the body in a way no woman ever had. That I might have access to a knowledge out of the world of my gender's experience. Friends, relatives, pregnant, husbands, children. At the point at which I thought I might vomit myself out, release myself to some river or pill or knife's edge, he came. Not as a lover or desirous of me as an object."

She wipes sweat from her upper lip and moves in her chair as slowly as molecules of air around a gesture.

"I was nearly struck dumb with the simplicity."

Her hand is cramping, or is it her eyes? She looks toward the door and back to the page and up and down like that too often. Her temples thud. Her hand aches.

"I want to write down in a sentence or two the first moments. Not to remember them. I haven't the slightest interest in nostalgia. Neither have I an interest in recording events for anyone or for myself. I want to write the sentences as a form of surrender, so that I need not worry about containing the chaos of my body, so that the grammar might hold what I cannot. I am no longer able to hold the sense. I want to let go. I want to go. I am choosing a wordless being. I do not want my I. I release it, I give it back to the world."

Her hand quivers violently. She calms it through will or love. No, not love. Never love. Her will. She begins.

"A night in November. A hand, a knife at the throat. A cut, night, cold, from jaw to shoulder blade. I do not cry out-this is the miracle. Nothing he ever does is as enormous as this thing I did to myself. This silence not from pain or from submission or from fear but from desire. Nor do I die from this wound. He stays with me for seven days, nursing me as if I am the tiniest bone of a child. I am beautiful beyond words. I am written, devoted."

The door brings him into vision. Her hand ceases. She closes the book, the pen is at rest. Her eyes the world.