2046 Love Songs of Wong Kar Wai
I once fell in love with someone.
After a while, she wasn’t there.
I wonder what I could have done differently,
what sequence of moments
could have led to her
standing here before me
instead of vanishing. What one thing
to put in front of another
in time? What passion,
what restraint, what silence, what word, what self, what
effacement? Every time we tried,
I took a misstep somewhere. Yes, she hurt me,
but if I had led her
this way instead of, with just the right
poise—would she have turned?
If you take the right steps,
a voice tells me, the whole dance will
open up to you.
This keeps me coming back to her in my mind.
If I could right the wrong steps, open
up a new sequence . . .
But each new one is already scored and cross-
hatched with all the old mistakes, making
it even more difficult to
navigate. Sometimes I
think love shouldn’t be
this difficult: two people are
involved, there should be room
for error, interplay between them,
one person should not have to do all the work
of leading. Sometimes I think love is
all a matter of timing: it’s
no use meeting the right person at the wrong
time, maybe I met her
at a time when no
right steps even existed. But these
sound like excuses. If a woman loves you,
and you love her, and you
fall apart, let’s face it, you failed
her. The man should take
It’s childish to blame her, to
absolve yourself by saying she made it too
you to be perfect; you were going
for immortality, of course
you had to be perfect! The poet does not
blame his poem if it doesn’t turn
out right. It may be
we are all tragically
in time, that no single sequence can save us,
but I persist in the belief,
perhaps to my demise,
that all can be won through mastery
of performance: time
can be conquered by consciousness.
And yet the cost of such
consciousness—a disinterest so powerful
as to appear cruel.
Chow leans back with a puckish smile
against his wall, stranding Bai Ling
in the middle of his room as she coaxes
her fledgling declaration out of
its nest. I don’t care if
you love me or not.
I’ll love you anyway.
He snaps smoke in through his nose, coolly whistles
it out. Since we got together,
I haven’t brought other men back. I
hoped you’d feel the same.
Will you promise me that?
—No. The grin again,
slowly fading as he looks up
and meets her expression: he knows that
vulnerability. How did he get here,
aloof from all that?
He feels a sudden falling, a drop
to the past person inside of him, but he’s
worked too long to secure
this hard housing in the present
to suffer a collapse
now. How many nights
has he spent turning in on himself
in the same knife-peel of anguish
he sees working at her face, eyes loosening,
mind bereft, a blown field
completely at the mercy of the hours?
A single god presides over
that field, indifferent.
He knows how brutal that god can seem,
how criminal it feels to have
a single visage
colonize your consciousness, but with
the slightest slip into sympathy, he knows
he soon could find himself
in her place. So he
holds his position, telling himself
he never meant to hurt
her—she’s just an unfortunate casual-
ty of this discipline—but he
can’t help but feel a slight
satisfaction at maintaining
the upper hand, which shows him his disinterest
is not yet complete,
that he’s still taking some subtle form
of vengeance on the past.
And when she screams and storms out, the way
her glare glazes him
inhuman makes him think perhaps disinterest
should be left to the gods, because
its human form always takes on an aspect
of cruelty, as now he pulls
her back by the arm
and grins: If you’re ever in the mood,
feel free to come over.
I once fell in love with someone.
I couldn’t stop wondering whether
she loved me or not. I found an android which
looked just like her. I thought
the android might give
me the answer. At first
it seemed everything had worked out
for the best: M-2046 was just as
beautiful as N,
if not more so, because she had all
the same physical features with none of the
imperfections. I thought I loved
those imperfections, but
one can get used to pristine android
skin pretty quick. Plus
M had no emotional baggage.
She was so dependable! If I called her,
she was there, no drama.
People used to say I was in
love with drama, but
I always thought this was stupid:
I loved N in spite
of her drama, not because of it.
The drama was what drove me crazy; did I
love being crazy? No.
Still, I couldn’t get past
a certain barrier with M.
She was wonderful
in all the ways N wasn’t: sitting with me
through the long afternoons on the train
reading, having coffee;
taking walks with me through the corridors to
watch the windowed whir of the world
go by; stopping to
hug me in all the cold passages;
nestling up to me
in the cinema cabin—just
the feel of her doing
things with me filled me with such well-be-
ing that I saw how much of a hole my love
had become. Yet some part of her
was unreachable in a way N never
was. She wouldn’t give in to passion:
if I tried to kiss her,
she’d accept my mouth
briefly the way a secretary
might accept a memo. Totaling up all
our kisses, our fragments
of flame, as I liked to call them,
I’d say they equaled
one semi-okay kiss.
Nothing like the nova of a kiss with N.
There was no tongue, no saliva;
I became obsessed
with android saliva—what did it
taste like? Her tongue—was it
rough or smooth? What was her hidden malfunction?
Why wouldn’t she give herself to
me? I lay next to her in her cool
grey satellite dish
of a bed thinking, This is even weirder
than my last relationship. And
soon I found myself
making all my old mistakes. When I
pressed her, asking her how
she felt, she stiffened
like a table lamp. It didn’t help
that the same parts used to
make her head and neck were actually used
to make table lamps. I began
to long for all the things in N
I used to hate, the wild emotional
fluctuations, the sad
apologetic emails always
a little too late,
her “unintentional” cruelties;
because I saw, through the contrast
with M, how these could be proofs of her love for
me, which was comforting
and damning at once.
I slowly began to doubt myself.
Maybe it was me,
maybe I was nuts. What was likelier, that
all the pain she brought was love or
Love is not love,
I said to myself, collapsing
I read to pass the time
but really time read me, flattening open
the page of my face,
picking my meaning a-
When had I boarded
this train, why was I always staring at this
Talking to myself. Counting.
I read of Unsang
Institute on Mt. Jiri, where old
to study the geomungo.
I swallowed my heart, an unsung institute.
O Okbogo geo-
mungo, I mumbled, geobogo,
giraffe, waiting is like a giraffe,
long in the middle.
“The giraffe is deer-bodied, cow-tailed, wolf-browed,
horse-hoofed, and grows one horn-
shaped clump of flesh without
I liked this sentence, all its mad hyphen-
My love was cow-browed, wolf-
hoofed, horse-horned, and chewed
my heart like one deer-shaped clump of flesh
with small bones.
I read, “We could just be
a simple, direct and straightforward person.
Form a simple relationship
with our world, our coffee, spouse, and friend.
We do this by abandoning
our expectations about how we think things
should be.” I had no world,
no spouse, no friend, so
I looked in prayer to my coffee.
Oh ma ni es press oh.
What did I expect my coffee to be? It
gaped back pleasantly.
I remembered sitting with her once,
reading the back of my coffee
cup because I couldn’t bear to read her face
and feeling all too much kinship
with the description
of this bean: “Dark, nearly
black in color, Espresso Roast flirts
on the border of ruin.” I
swallowed my heart, an Espresso Roast
coffee bean. A giraffe
was my esophagus, and the swallowing
as a dance of detachment, the man leaning
in to whisper along her neck,
the woman freezing, wanting and not
wanting his lips to con-
tinue against her flesh, the man
pulling away now with a little
smirk, saying, I’ll leave
now, withdrawing where most
men would have pressed their brief advantage and been
rebuffed. And so the posing, the
distancing, the woman laughing a little
too loudly on the phone,
the man parading
a sequence of women back to his
room, both spying through eyeholes, windowslits, pricked
for a certain set
of heels on the floor, until chance (which
the man had secretly
been courting) brings them together
in the hotel hall on Christmas Eve
where, sensing his opportunity, the man
suggests they have dinner
to keep each other
company. And then there are names,
pasts. But Chow keeps this information
at bay, trying to steer
the interaction methodically toward sex;
with one as guarded, as practiced
as Bai Ling, he knows
their coming together must seem
or she won’t go for it.
Under the lightest pressure (Another drink
someplace else?), she backs
off, smelling his intent;
so, deftly, he backs
off, saying he just wants to be “drinking pals.”
Years later, he’ll use this phrase to clench
their relationship (Of course you
missed me, we’re drinking pals) as she tries to pry
it for meaning, flicking
a finger against
her glass; and she’ll wonder how she once
took comfort in this, how once she
wanted so little
of him—why did she ever start to want more?
What filled this frame with her whole future?
I wish it could have gone
on a little longer, she’ll say,
softly, trying to
get back to this place of poise, this last platform
of sanity before everything
started sliding away from her,
as if sped from a train . . .
And of course he’ll hear her,
but ignore her cheerfully, almost—
this is what she can’t understand—kindly, as
if it were tenderness to show
her she meant nothing.