The Venus Flytrap: The Sadness And The River


How much closer it is to morning than it is still night doesn’t matter, but I am talking to someone I love across time zones. We are talking about ourselves, two or three years ago, marveling at how much like fiction the details of our lives then sound now. We’re a little older, cynical but outwardly thriving. We’ve had success and scandal since. We’ve relocated. Most of all, we’ve calcified. We are shells of who we were when we were poor, unpublished, camping out on couches.

How the hell did we do it? What the hell were we living on? You need to understand – we aren’t giggling over anecdotes. We’re trying to figure out what we lost, and how we might possibly get it back.

I confess that I barely remember individual incidents. I was so alive at the time, I wasn’t keeping count. Everything is a blur of readings and conversation, fashion and addictions and the lights and darknesses of the city I left my soul behind in. It’s funny to think of it now, how a bohemian, barely legal immigrant and a boy wonder acted like they owned it. I’m convinced, still, that we did. You own cities not by living in them, but by loving them. Enough to spend the night at a station after the train service stops. Or to risk your life border running. These are only examples. They say nothing of how a person will fight for what they need, for who they are. They say nothing of what we were, or how far off the map we’ve detoured.

“Needs change,” he says. “We had such simple ones though.”

We fought for ourselves, for one another, but eventually, we also fought each other. We fell apart. Things caught up (my visa status, mainly, but enough has been said and speculated about that). Then he heard I was leaving, moving back to India, and called from a number I didn’t recognise. He said he needed to hear one of my poems, to get over someone, a person he would pursue halfway across the world soon after. I didn’t think till much later that maybe he needed to hear it to get over me.

The poem “Boot Theory” by Richard Siken ends thusly: A man takes his sadness down to the river and throws it in the river/ but then he’s still left/ with the river. A man takes his sadness and throws it away/ but then he’s still left with his hands.

Two years ago, as a survival mechanism, I decided to stop being her. That ridiculous, stormy-hearted woman. But much as I dammed the river or amputated my hands, enough of her ghost has stuck around.

I don’t miss that place; I miss who I was in it. How we measure our histories has as much to do with what we choose to forget, as it does with what we choose to keep. How we determine our futures depends on how soon we realise our folly, and begin the journey back.

So dear one, I’m saying a poem for you tonight. I’m saying more than one prayer. I’m thinking of you and the cities we have known – together and apart. I don’t know what we were thinking but we must’ve thought it was forever. It seemed like it could be. After all, weren’t we?

An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express. “The Venus Flytrap” is my column in the Zeitgeist supplement. Previous columns can be found here.

7 responses »

  1. This piece could qualify as a timeless classic for the universal sentiments it invokes. Or maybe it’s just me and not everyone goes through similar spaces and ages, but you, girl, just spoke for me in addition to yourself. I’ll remember this when the river needs damming.

  2. Read this in the newspaper yesterday morning. I dont know if i’ll ever change myself so that memories dont haunt me…but life in unpredictable , who can ever say?

    Nevertheless , i did enjoy the article pointed out to me by my mother , who said she could absolutely empathise.

  3. The sentiments expressed could me mine, could be any of your readers’…
    Makes me want to take that long solitary drive to Berkeley in my black car (there’s only one “my” car in my mind, and it’s not the one I have now), with the rain beating down on the windshield, playing a song I used to associate with someone…
    There is a haunting quality to your writing. You write beautifully.

  4. This article has a haunting melody to it. And makes me think about my younger self.

    As much as I’d like to say “go back” to the person you once were… I’m not sure we can step into the same river twice, Sharanya.

  5. as much as i have been told, time heals, i remains just that, a saying.

    It takes something to dig into your past, and polish it, in order to gain from the experience of it.

    but then again, how easy is it to decide where is the edge of the past and the present.

    love the way you write, it answers to the basic human need of empathy… it makes me think…. well maybe i am not a one off case :D

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