I was standing in a hallway of Mona Lisas. I passed face after face after face, that smile appearing and disappearing. It’s a painting of secrets, that much I know. I walked the length of the exhibit wondering if I’ve ever had a smile like that.

They said da Vinci was thinking of happiness. Perhaps the kind that lives in the corner of your mouth, or in the empty space that spans the distance between sitting still and the landscape beyond. Perhaps he meant colours warm enough to soak your bones, or the greens and greys where a soul can live. I once found contentment in the inside of someone’s wrist. It lasted as long as it could last.

I passed a wall of flowers, from the ceiling to the floor. Then I sat at a table under the sunlight to have lunch. A. and I talked about our lives so far, and I realised we’ve known each other for thirteen years. I cut into my tomato face up and it exploded on my dress. She was talking about investing in a neighbourhood café. Maybe I’m leaning now towards something I’ve read before: we don’t really change. We just grow into the person who we really are.

On the walk back, I was thinking about the invisible scars of the original Mona Lisa. How many times has it endured attacks? From red paint to acid, all those years. And yet it lives.

And yet it lives, my silent mantra, trying to keep up with A.’s brisk pace and even brisker talk. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw another familiar face: K. How many times have I embraced people I love in a public space? Not nearly enough. But Saturday was a day for pleasant surprises, the kind that feeds your spirit. Two hours later I stood before the stage, looking down at the orchestra playing a familiar tune. Listen: do you know how sacred that must be, to sit in an alcove, hold an instrument close to your body, and play with such abandon?

The room was filled with people. I couldn’t hear myself. K.’s voice in my ear: I’ll see you soon. Evening, and R. was telling us about fitting a washing machine inside his bathroom. A. was telling a joke about a chocolate frog, and I was laughing until I was crying, and look, it’s all really simple, isn’t it. Things happen. The universe happens. In the hallway of my life, my face appears and disappears, and appears again. Sometimes I’ve willingly framed black holes and appreciated them more than I should have. Sometimes I place my mistakes under the light, as if to tell myself, look at this, look at what you’ve done. And sometimes I am able to walk past them all, and continue walking, saying, and yet I live, and yet I live, and yet I live.

Ten Thousand
Roo Borson

It is dusk. The birds sweep low to the lake and then dive
up. The wind picks a few leaves off the ground
and turns them into wheels that roll
a little way and then collapse. There’s nothing like branches
planted against the sky to remind you
of the feel of your feet on the earth, the way your hands
sometimes touch each other. All those memories,
you wouldn’t want them over again, there’s no point.
What’s next, you ask yourself.
You ask it ten thousand times.

Dear Lolo,

It’s been three years since. I remember you. I remember that day. I remember rushing to call a cab, because Papa can’t function enough to drive us to the hospital, sick with worry over you. I remember rushing to the elevator, the background noise disappearing as we stood there watching the light blink one number after another, like a countdown. I remember pressing the button repeatedly as if that would make it go faster. I remember the small white butterfly that fluttered above our heads before finally settling at a corner of the door. There were never any butterflies before in the hospital, and you can trust me on this: I’ve passed through that lobby so many times. But that day—the moment I saw it, those little white wings—I knew you will go.

I remember standing at the foot of your bed. I remember looking at the machine because I couldn’t bear to look at your face: those faint beeps that look a bit like a river passing through some small stones. I wanted a spike—I wanted a mountain of your heartbeat, forming there, saying, alive, alive. Instead you gave us that moment, the one where your breath goes, the one where the line goes so long, the one where the sea and the horizon meet forever.

I remember the small wrinkle of skin between your thumb and your forefinger, I remember walking around the hospital crying and shameless, I remember wishing I could hold my father, I remember—

Three years since. When I see a man on a street, riding a bike, I give him a small nod and think of you on your way home.

With all my love,
Your apo

After a Death
Roo Borson

Seeing that there’s no other way,
I turn his absence into a chair.
I can sit in it,
gaze out through the window.
I can do what I do best
and then go out into the world.
And I can return then with my useless love,
to rest,
because the chair is there.