Jade Sylvan is an award-winning poet, author, performance artist, yoga teacher, and bon vivant based in Cambridge. Or as she puts it: “Troubadour, Eschatologist, Bum.” Her latest book, Kissing Oscar Wilde: A Love Story in the City of Lights is out October 3—here’s a sneak peek at the first few chapters.
When the French news stations did a piece on Adélaïde, they wrote under her name, poetesse Dijoinaise. Adélaïde wore a Humphrey Bogart hat and cowboy boots and showed me and Caleb around Dijon, cobblestone and gargoyles dressed in dusky mist. She blew her nose constantly. She gave me a paper notebook. I’m writing in it right now.
It’s 2012. I don’t believe in gender, I’m perpetually in love with around fifteen separate people at any given time, and I haven’t written in a paper notebook for four years. I spend too much time on the internet looking at faces of people I used to know. I blow my nose constantly. I think sometimes how we’re all separate and all lonely in our skins surrounded by empty space and how everyone wants to break their skins and become soup with everyone else and that’s why “the internet,” and then I don’t feel so bad about all the time I spend on it.
When Adélaïde came to meet me in Paris I gave her a paper copy of a poem I had written for Louis. The poem was about Paris and Arthur Rimbaud and a man I was in love with a long time before I was in love with Louis. Louis loved Arthur Rimbaud. I was in love with Louis because his name was Leaf and mine was Sylvan and when we met he said, I could be a Leaf in your forest, and I said, This looks like the start of a beautiful friendship, because Casablanca was my favorite movie and then forever afterward he called me Rick and I called him Louis. We talked about loving Arthur Rimbaud. I went to Paris, in part, hoping to impress Louis, because he loved Paris, or at least loved a woman (who was not me) who loved Paris.
Adélaïde loved Patti Smith and so did I and so did Caleb. Caleb and I had gone to see Patti Smith sing in Providence years before, because I was a poet and Caleb was a photographer and we had always joked that I was Patti Smith and he was Robert Mapplethorpe. When I read Just Kids I cried and texted Caleb from Tucson to make sure he knew I loved him. I asked Adélaïde if she had read Just Kids but she hadn’t because it was too hard to find in French.
When I met Adélaïde I said, This looks like the start of a beautiful friendship, because Adélaïde was as beautiful as Louis. She said Casablanca was her favorite movie. She’d seen it in French on the internet.
Louis is not on the internet because he believes in paper love. I see Adélaïde on the internet. I carry the notebook she gave me everywhere.
I get the feeling sometimes that these people I love are all the same person. This is chauvinistic, I know.
The word “chauvinism” comes from Napoleon’s soldier Nicholas Chauvin, who blindly loved the Empire long after it fell. The word “romance” originally meant the vernacular language of France. I wouldn’t know any of this without the internet.
I wouldn’t be able to see the news story about Adélaïde without the internet. I wouldn’t know almost anything about her.
I love Louis when I write six evenly measured, six-lined stanzas about him. In real life his slouch annoys me and he smokes too much.
I love Caleb when we take pictures or talk about taking pictures. In real life he’s neurotic and difficult to touch.
I don’t know if I love these people or if I just love to write about them.
Or maybe I just love Paris.
I don’t know if I really know Paris. It’s been written about too many times.
But I love Patti Smith.
Patti Smith loved Arthur Rimbaud. In Just Kids she wrote about flying to Paris just to write about him. Adélaïde is back in Dijon now. When I got back to the States, I bought her a copy of Just Kids in French on the internet. She says she carries the book, and the poem I gave her, everywhere.
I get the feeling sometimes that we are all of us the same person across time and space loving ourselves from afar, star-crossed and lonely.
Maybe that part of us that’s the same in everyone is a moth, drawn to the light of computer screens and cities.
Maybe that part of us is a messenger, sending ourselves desperate love notes inked on rustic paper, flawed and organic, unreadable in the dark.
Maybe that’s why we always go looking for ourselves in the cities with the most light.
When you learn that most of what you’ve read and studied for in school is a crude approximation or shrewd merchandizing tool, and your lungs will one day shrivel, and your heart will fizzle out when tricks of science peter and religion’s sick with doubt, and your rapist’s hands weren’t dirty, and forgiveness won’t clean deeds, and just ’cause something’s dirty doesn’t mean it seeds disease, and your safety net’s dispassion on this centripetal whirlwind, and without the lights and makeup movie stars look like your girlfriend, and your doctor’s a mechanic, and your therapist’s a nut, and your head and heart betray you till you only trust your gut, and Hitler was a vegan, and an artist, and a Jew, and Hussein was not a devil, and your father’s half of you, it can be hard to keep on going, but you do.
When knees wake stiff, reminding you that death’s your only birthright, and there seems to be some script you lost to move across the earth right, and soil swallows all your clothes, books, houses, clocks, and letters, and credit scores and income are the first things in the shredder, and your synapses are labyrinths that coax desirous heat and beneath their skins your enemies, like you, are only meat, and the pattern of his birthmarks and the odd bend of his hand are death when you recall them, and Inferno when you can’t, and the upright slouch in alleyways while Rupert Murdoch thrives, and money is a symbol, and your children won’t survive, and vodka seems to work as well as any cheerful pill, and college girls and soldiers look so young, and younger still, it can be hard to keep on moving, but you will.
When masturbation’s better than most lovers’ hunger pangs and love produces chemicals, like chocolate and teen angst, and you only feel by bleeding, and Top Tens have made love cheesy, and all your pain’s cliché, but that still doesn’t make it easy, and once you struck a song while wrestling with an old piano and played it to an empty hall and hummed the sad soprano, and the moon will never care for you, the sun will make you blind, and there’re rooms locked in your body even you will never find, and her back is pressed against your chest, her scapula are wings, and sex is high and sacred, just like every other thing, and your belly’s slightly fat and gapped with stretch marks where it grew, and you know you’ll never meet someone who’ll love you more than you, and you wake up in some room alone, the sunlight cold as flan, your skin saran against the dawn, the door, a businessman, it can be hard keep on breathing, but you can.
Because I’d just been fired and come to the realization that everyone in America from baristas to CEOs to groundskeepers to lawyers is one bum stroke away from total material upheaval and all its subsequent blows to the Self displayed around apartments or printed on business cards, and that everyone, no matter how much money they make, is always walking around quietly quelling the hum of the belief that they will die alone, penniless in some lukewarm miasmic gutter in an unfamiliar city, and because I’d woken up again sweating bourbon into unwashed sheets in my ten foot by ten foot occupation of a house that was in no way mine after driving back ill-advisedly from Ralph’s Rock Diner, where poetry happens on Mondays and where, this Monday, uncostumed on Halloween for the first time in my life, I called Louis from the toilet and told him about my befiring and about my general failure as an adult and as an organism and my sudden stomach ache and desire to die (because I’d always found calling those you wished would love you at the nadir of performative despondency produced a result, even if I’d never examined those results’ favorableness) before getting onstage beneath a menagerie of taxidermied ungulate faces and reading a poem called “On Breathing” that changed the air in the room, made the young tatted-up Straight Edgers and the scotch-pickled English Leather fogies halt their chitchat and stare, literally stare at me with jaws agape, and made my buddy Alex take my arm oracularly and say, You know that poem is important, right? after two beers and grab my shoulders and kiss me full on the mouth after four beers, and since Dareka had assured me that if I came to France, I could count on bookings at all of the poetry venues and safe sofas to sleep on and all the pains au chocolat I could eat, and since even though it wasn’t a real job or even a character with a place-card in the societyscape of the 21st century I had never seen myself as or wanted to be anything other than a poet, I thought, fuck it, took $750 of my last $1500, and bought myself a ticket.
OF THE AUTHOR’S MAJOR ROMANCES ILLUMINATING THE YOUNG MIDWESTERN AUTHOR’S ODYSSEY THROUGH DISCOMFORT WITH HER OWN FLUID SEXUALITY
A conflation of a series of close female friends of the teenaged author’s who she was totally attracted to and who, in retrospect, were totally attracted to her, but who she never did anything with other than write them cute, rhyming poems, drive them to Taming of the Shrew rehearsal or Rocky Horror or Bible Study, and sometimes share the same bed with them during sleepovers and let her pinky finger slip over their pinky finger or her thigh rest into their thigh.
The author’s first relationship. Dated the author for six months, from author’s age 18 to just past 19. A tech geek who enjoyed gaming LANs and performing cunnilingus and who, excitingly to the author’s parents, had a penis and a future. During a defining conversation at Mother Bear’s Pizza which eventually led to their breakup, he told the author that aspiring to be a poet was essentially “aspiring to be a crack whore on the street,” which did not set her down her current life-path, but certainly hardened her resolve. At the time of writing, he is an investment banker on Wall Street. He invited the author to his wedding in 2011 but the author was busy and hasn’t heard from him since.
Practically married to the author for five years, from author’s age 19-24. A classical composer and poet. Loved Charles Baudelaire, Jean Cocteau, Rainer Maria Rilke, John Cage, and the Beat Generation. Accompanied the author on her first trip to Europe and shared her kiss on Oscar Wilde’s tomb. All of the author’s friends and family thought he was gay, but his womanishness with the author’s mannishness worked. The author was also allowed to make out with girls during this relationship, which was a big plus for the author. He and the author thought they were soul-mates. They would’ve gotten tattoos of the two face-halves from Hedwig and the Angry Inch if he weren’t too much of a wuss to get tattooed.
A conflation of two to three inconsiderately pretty, pixyish young women with Borderline Personality Disorder with whom the author would attend Tori Amos concerts, make out in movie theaters as she wiped away their tears during screenings of The Hours, and exchange cunnilingus after hits of nitrous oxide while their boyfriends discussed critical theory in the next room.
The reason the author started getting tattooed. A gamine, freckled, menthol-smoking high school dropout with green eyes that no-joke sparkled, expansive dreams, and an even more expansive theory of her global importance. Her arms were covered in fairy tattoos that represented the four elements and scars from years working the hot ovens in pizza kitchens. She was one of those Leos who’s really into being a Leo. She was always falling out, getting fired, and raging against various establishments. This romance led the author to lose a great deal of sleep and weight.
A conflation of several brilliant, sensitive, romantically unavailable males with whom the author shared artistically collaborative relationships with obvious romantic overtones. All of these men smoked Winstons. The invariable zenith of each of these relationships was a night spent sharing past-relationship fucked-upness, splitting an entire bottle of bourbon, and listening to Jeff Buckley’s album, Grace, from start to finish lying on separate sofas in the dark.
An average man of average intelligence with average drinking and anger-management problems. He wrote average poetry and held down average day jobs. All of the author’s friends hated him and she knew it but almost loved that they hated him. For the first time since dating William the author could imagine filling a sitcom-suitable, hetero-normative female role, complete with drunken verbal abuse, emotional neglect, and repeated devaluation of all of the author’s endeavors. The fact that the author associates these characteristics with the hetero-normative female role, the author admits, says a lot about her relationship to hetero-normative culture.
KISSING OSCAR WILDE RELEASE PARTY AT OBERON, THURSDAY 10.3.13.