Dayna A. Gross


In my past, death has already un-breathed. What once was and is are no longer the thoughts I was born with. Language has brought me back to the point and then away from it again, like an ancient symbol. This is why I photograph and will never be a writer. Writers know how to reveal their contradictions. I want to understand my behavior, why I resist and why I give in. I trust my body is hiding invaluable truths. The sharp pain of these whiskey notes stirs my spirits.

One day I’ll dedicate myself to all types of breathing, just like I’ll commit my existence to the language extreme and unwrapping – no – tearing apart of veneers. What moment is worth capturing? What must I preserve in the fixer, reproduce in the dark room under the unveiling of light? I’m holding onto several answers and they are leaking between my fisted fingers, slowly breathing outward.

    I hold many frames in my mind. I want to capture the instant, but once it’s caught it is in the past, and their unobtainable forms tortures my philosophies to satisfaction. I must prepare my camera equipment and photograph a dancer. Yes, a dancer. I stand up and position myself in front of the bar. I rock my hips from side to side on the barstool. And roll a cigarette. That was when Sade approached me.

Sade undresses and dresses again in front of me, “After I left you the other night, I took the s-bahn home and a man followed me from the station to my apartment. He rolled a joint and we got high. I ended up in a taxi with him. This morning I found a recording of our whole conversation from inside of his apartment, including the part where we had sex and I fell asleep, you want to hear it?” Sade asked.

We both listen to her moaning, but it mostly sounds like a lot of shuffling. I hear his low voice, but can’t make out any words, or country of origin.

“Apparently he had a stutter and tried to wake me up. He told me we had to go, he needed to meet his brothers in the park. We got into a cab and I ended up in my bed alone. I think it was five in the morning. Could you hear that he had a stutter?” Sade asks. “I don’t know his name, I don’t even remember his face, but he might recognize mine. Oh well. He won’t be the first and he certainly won’t be the last,” Sade says while strategically pulling down a red velvet box from a top shelf, her large lopsided breasts spilling over her corset. I look down at the way her heals lift her body upward.

    “Do you mind if I use your recording for something?” I ask. “There are these moments in the world that people know they can be living, but cook dinner and fall asleep to a movie instead. Let them live through your story. Are you ready for your portrait?”

    When I met Sade in the bar, she was accompanied by three men of three different ethnicities eager to capture her gaze. She was intrigued by my intensity and approached my concentration. I was fascinated by her ease and her indifference to her audience. Eventually she asked if I’d like to join her for a threesome, that she’d like to get to know me a little more intimately. I asked her if she would like to meet again for a photoshoot.

    “Can you sit on the edge of the bed? Bring your right foot completely out towards me and bend your left leg a little, spread them a part a bit more. I’m going to put the flame on the ground between your legs, just get as low as you can before it gets too hot.”
    “Oh, but I like it hot, you must know that by now,” Sade says.
    “Okay, then I’ll use the longer red candle I originally had in mind. Now lean back on your forearms and seduce me.”
    “Do you want to photograph me tying up my boots first? I can put one leg high up on the desk. These boots are stunning, I absolutely have to wear them for such an occasion!”
    “Yeah, it’s better if you put your leg up on the chair, but let me set up the candle holder first and light the candles.”
    “I like the color arrangement of the candles, that’s a nice touch,” Sade says.
    “Yeah, each color corresponds to a planet and the days of the week.”
    “Oh, I like that very much.”

    I photograph the woman, amazed at how beautiful her body is, so full. The way she carries herself makes her size flow flawless as if this shape has been sold and desired by women all over the world for centuries.

“Thetis dear? Can I ask you something personal?”
“What is your relationship to your body? Do you feel free in your body? Disconnected from her powers? Or, do you feel confined by her shape?”
“All three I suppose. Depending on my environment and where I’m at emotionally and intellectually.”
“I can see that. I believe you would benefit from unconventional sexual experiences. We live in a very confusing world, where money and sex have no clear boundaries. It’s up to us to explore and define these lines for ourselves, you know what I mean dear?”

Sade’s proportions on anyone else would seem disorderly, but she allows her uneven breasts to hang freely over her leather corset, her thighs much larger than her calves, her upper arms hang loosely from behind, and her eyes, her skin, glow like Icelandic ice caps. Those eyes will never mask her intentions; a youth she will nurture, undulating through time like the ocean tide.

“Desire is confusing. I’ve always wanted to be desired, but in a private way. In a way that doesn’t demand attention. I grew up in a religious home. For the first 18 years of my life I thought I wouldn’t have sex until I was married. Then I decided to destroy as many confining regulations as I could find. But I destroyed it delicately. Gently tugging at the roots, to leave behind as few threads as possible. I don’t think I’m a person who gets off on destruction. I get off on freedom, but in my case, all acts of freedom are destructive. The conflict is forever present.”

“Sweetheart, I’ve been there. I know the feeling. But our bodies our powerhouses of pleasure. And our societies are brimming with executioners and priests of shame. Your body will be a site of shame until you let her play in the wilderness. There’s an abundance of opposition in our world. We can’t let them tell us what to do with our bodies. Learn to balance out the mind with the body, instead of living in this world of logic where we fall into the prison of the mind. Trust your body.”

I concentrate on moving around the room like a centipede and photograph her from various perspectives. A silence cascades over the candlelit room. The only audible sound is her soft breathing and the clicking of my camera. Her gaze makes me feel as if I am the object and she is the predator.

My family would be repulsed by such hedonistic ideas. For them, this way of thinking cripples morality. They don’t want to understand how much they confine and restrict the body, especially the female body. Why do they fear sexuality? and beauty? Common-faced sister is already worried about her own daughter, she says it’s going to be terribly challenging at some point because she can see that she is remarkably beautiful. She’s afraid of the way people look at her. Her daughter is too young to notice it now, but common-faced sister is afraid of how the realization of her beauty can affect her spirituality, like a hand of darkness reaching for her soul.

I press the camera forcefully against my cheek and squeeze my exposed eye tightly, though I truly want to see her through every sense I posses. We move through different postures and positions. I photograph her seduction from all angles until I am no longer ashamed of looking, and move beyond admiration.

I want to capture her world, her private world. The world men and lovers don’t have access to. After clicking and rewinding three rolls of film, I feel exhausted. I’m too acutely vacuumed into this woman’s mind. I’m losing my sense of boundaries. I pack my equipment and hurry off to the supermarket. Uneasily, I search for Spanish oranges.

Dayna A. Gross has been published and shortlisted in the Büro BDP Writing Prize 2020 (November 2020), Angel City Review (July 2020), Another Chicago Magazine (June 2020), RHNK (2017), JFKI (2018), Seeing Her Ghost (2017) among other small press publications. She lives in Berlin, Germany where she hosts an experimental poetry radio show called CRYPTOMNESIA, which streams FM in Berlin and Brandenburg.

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