And his fist contacts my cheekbone with confident resolve. As I fall back my vision is rimmed with dark ink blots. My mouth parts to intake a sharp breath as my face jerks to the left, carrying on the momentum of the punch. The breeze from the force of my fall is resistant, as though I am falling faster than the air will allow me. My eyes roll back into half shut lids, revealing an image of the warmly lit statue of Bernini’s Ecstasy of St. Teresa. Now as I fall I see not only my hair flung across my face, but also St. Teresa’s lips. Her mouth is bound in an eternal breath as an angel stands over her with the gold arrow prepared to pierce her chest. And yet, St. Teresa’s head is thrown back exalted as though yearning for the tip of the arrow to penetrate her. The angel’s weapon is god’s love sent down to her through a vision, an incision that causes her the most pleasurable of pains.
Bernini’s work presents an eternal moment of something never happening, but forever about to happen. The angel stands poised to strike while St. Teresa lays ready to receive the thrust. In doing so Bernini captures St. Teresa in a moment of sensuality. Her pleasure is unremitting because it is found in an action left permanently suspended. St. Teresa will always wait, as though on the brink of orgasm, to feel the shaft of the arrow sent down by her god. The memory of her blissful face leaves me yearning for the feeling she is caught in for eternity and that I will continue to search for. Mesmerized by St. Teresa’s state, my head ricochets back to center as I continue my descent toward the kitchen tiles. I can see him now standing in front of me, cradling his hand. His features are blurred through the involuntary glaze of tears spread across my eyes. He almost looks disappointed, but I may mistake that for withdrawn.
As the ground rushes up to meet me I recall a childhood memory of my older sister finding a dead tadpole washed up on shore in Nova Scotia. I can see it in front of me; I view its bulbous body and translucent tail with disgusted intrigue. It is the first time I’ve seen something so revolting I can’t look away. I grow even more conflicted as I watch my sister pick up a stick and start poking at it. Flipping the tadpole over she shifts it through the sand leaving various rivets. Then she applies pressure to the gelatinous body. I continue to watch as clear liquid seeps out of the tadpole’s puncture and my sister continues to press. My body is half turned as I try to will myself to leave. An eye gives out and is quickly lost in the depths of sand. She continues to mash it into the ground with the stick until there is no difference between the liquid insides and the solid outside form. All that is left for me to peer at is an unrecognizable dark blob in the middle of the sand while listening to the heavy rhythmic waves slapping against the shore and my sister’s hot panting breath.
As the hard tile cracks against my skull I concede to the shame I feel for staying to witness the violation of that creature. The striking sight has caught me, eyes wide with guilty interest. However, it isn’t really the tadpole that fascinates me. It is my sister with the stick clutched in her meaty fingers that draws my attention. She never looks up, feels no curiosity to gauge my young reaction. Her beady eyes focus and the stick pulses in and around the body methodically. I find myself captivated, seeing a side of her I don’t recognize. She looks strangely powerful, a looming figure with a steady stance gripping a stick large against the lifeless amphibian.
At that same moment, in Rome, St. Teresa lay frozen too. A difference being that St. Teresa’s vision of being pierced by god’s arrow caused a pain so sweet and intense that she wanted to remain bound in it forever. She found bliss in being dominated by god’s love. But, in reality pleasure and pain are a precarious balance. St. Teresa found total enlightenment in the combination of both. Yet, very few things have ever blend the two effectively, and certainly not sublimely. It is a struggle I’ve always faced. It is as though pain and pleasure are on either side of a line I try to walk along. I dip into one side and the next, but am never truly able to step along the center. Lying here on the floor isn’t the result of the virtuous pain I crave. My lips are parted not in exaltation. They tremble. St. Teresa wrote that she let out several moans after being pierced by the arrow. They were moans uttered from the sublime pleasure she had experienced. I want a sublime experience. More so, I want to see what is on the other side of a sublime experience. Bernini depicts St. Teresa before she was pierced, and I want to know what it was like after. Does a sublime experience destroy everything one thought they knew, forcing them to rebuild themselves within a new enlightened context? I want to start from scratch with myself and see what more I can become after having such an experience.
I hear his footsteps leave the kitchen and bury my face in my hands. My breath comes in short gasps and my torso shudders from the shock. I make myself sit up and lean back against the cupboards, focusing on taking longer and deeper breaths. Massaging the back of my head I ponder the crux of my desire. I know that the passion we have together can be as good as it was bad. And I also know that I find the threat of him intriguing, and the hope of him boundless. I cup my hand around my tender jaw and sit a while, trying to imagine what St. Teresa had felt and if I’d recognize it if I experienced it. Or is it a thing that could never exist in my world. A feeling that existed only in a vision, not real at all.
*Originally published with Tracer Publishing