“Vague Pure Affection,” an illustration from Annie Besant and Charles Leadbeater's 1901 book "Thought Forms." H/t: The Public Domain Review.


Imagine a small town in Southern Ontario with two rivers running through it. Church spires, cobblestone, Carolinian forest. It is the early 80s and, besides the Iroquois children in your school, you are the only girl of color: brown skin, black eyes, bowl cut. The locals think your father is First Nation. They sometimes give him tax-free gas when he fills up the tank of his Soviet-era olive-green Lada, the first car your parents owned.

The snow is so bright you have to squint when you walk out into it. It’s a blinding white. Your father gets pneumonia because he grew up on an island in the Pacific. He and your mother emigrated to Canada when you were only a speck on the horizon. You are born in that northern country, so your first memories are of snow: your skinny father building an igloo big enough for both of you to sit in. The sky is white, the streets are white, the people are white. Your mother worked so hard your first year of life that you barely saw her. You were relegated to a Filipino granny who fed you from a bottle, your baby lips pursed.



Your first kiss is with a Haitian-Canadian boy from Montreal with a French name that sounds aristocratic. He courts you in two languages. He kisses you in a stark white racquetball court in the middle of a game, and you drop your racket, the sound of it reverberating through the soundproof room.



The man leaning over you is concentrating on your left breast; the sound of Mozart ribbons through the air. His tongue flutters over your nipple as the rest of your body rises. You clutch his shoulder then slap his face, your teeth on his white skin. Months later you still remember his mouth, approaching and retreating.



The midwife tells you to think about the sea. A beach strewn with palm trees; docile white-tipped waves. “I don’t fucking like the beach!” you tell her through clenched teeth. “Breathe,” she croons. “Where do you want to go then, let’s go to that place,” she says with her gentle West Indian accent, taking your hand in hers. “A field of snow,” you say as another torrent of pain rips through. Everything goes white.



A wail slices through the air and you come to. “She’s losing blood,” you hear a nurse say, and at once there is a trio of people congregating in front of you, looking between your legs. You are suddenly conscious of tears running down the side of your face, you are inhaling tears as you breathe, tears are falling into the sides of your mouth, you taste the salt of your own tears. You see a pair of metal shears, severing the cord that has attached her to you. The tiny mouth won’t stop wailing, the tiny fists beat the air—first contact with the outside world. Her body is covered with your blood and then her body is pressed against your body, her mouth clamping onto your breast, a wet animal warmth.



A mother’s milk, the first inherent ardor.

“Imagine a small town with two rivers running through it,” you tell the child, the whites of her eyes shifting back and forth as her mind moves.

“Her voice was like a line from an old black-and-white Jean-Luc Godard movie, filtering in just beyond the frame of my consciousness,” writes Haruki Murakami.

“I can’t remember kissing someone for such a long time,” you say to him, your mouth on his eyelid.

“A field of snow,” you shout before the pain rips through.

Mother, lover, sister, child.

“Everything,” Kant says, “exists only in our mind attended by a motion of pleasure.”


The Kiss is a bimonthly series curated by Brian Turner.

The Kiss: Intimacies from Writers is available from Norton in February 2018.

J. Mae Barizo

J. Mae Barizo is the author of The Cumulus Effect (Four Way Books). A poet, performer and critic, she is the recipient of fellowships and awards from Bennington College, the New School, the Jerome Foundation and Poets House.  She lives in New York City. 

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