Letter from Lisbon


In Marseille my heart opened like a large red poppy and in Lisbon it's been slowly curling in on itself again. There have been many nourishing things about these past two weeks; rich conversations, new friendships, fado, writing. But each day, it feels, I wake up to something new and brutal, and wish I weren’t so far from home.

In the time I have been in Lisbon, an airport has been bombed, with my friends flying towards it, only hours from landing. I have watched a black American poet read from her epic poem, line after beautiful line about hip hop and God, her voice steady but her hand trembling a little as news of two murdered black men took social media by the throat. Another writer blanched when she heard about Nice, and for a short while she couldn’t get on to her sister; in her reading she magically suspended time, but she had nothing on the weight of hours until her phone call was answered.

On some days it feels facile to write and craven not to write. I think that’s what it boils down to, when the wider world is feeling devastating beyond reason. I am lucky to be here with writers who can tell it better than me:

I want children, children stronger than me. I’m afraid we’re all too weak. [...] I want Massachusetts and the woman I love. I want my family everywhere. I want to know when I’m going crazy, like now, right now. I want to feel the world and all its twisted girth, its knotted and strained heart.

I want Canberra and the man that I love and the child who make my arms feel so empty when I am away. I want my arms to be full again, and my mind to not be seized so equally with beauty and pleasure and horror. I think in part it's just that I am lonely to be held. The work of taking care of my brain is starting to become more noticeable. I feel like, in writing this book, these things in the past, I can sometimes kid myself about an invisible footnote reading and they all lived happily every after. But I need to check that the stove is really off, even if I haven't been using the stove.  

Today I went down to the ocean and stuck my feet in the Atlantic until they were numb, and that worked for a while. I tucked the hem of my skirt into my knickers like I was a child, and let the green water drag sand out from beneath my feet and take it back out somewhere else. I love that feeling of being two places at once, in the ocean and on the shore, and I would love to take my tired body home and take with me the entire ocean and the hills and the churches and the miradouros and the pateis de nata. At least, though, I think, when my plane takes off tomorrow, it will be good to be part of the sky.