A New York Love Letter

by Michael Abraham-Fiallos

[This essay closes a loose trilogy of essays, which I did not quite comprehend as a trilogy until I finished it. The first can be read here, and the second can be read here. In closing the trilogy, which is focused on love and the queer, this essay acts a kind of coda, a lyrical “testing out” of the ideas that I proffer in the earlier essays’ readings of literature.]

Nighttime, and we’re on the bridge, my head leaning against the cab window, my head a swim of beer and love for you, for this life which I feel very distinctly just now, which I feel like heat on the skin. Skyline’s a huddle of gods, and you say, This is the only home we’ll ever know; and I say, Maybe we should move to L.A., to the beach; but I don’t mean it. I could not. I came out of the West with pine in my blood and luck in my pocket. I came out of the woods to live deliberately. I was mad with thirst, thirst for wind down wide avenues and the crush of serious people, serious people with their dollars for the homeless, with their failures and their triumphs and their magazines. I was going to see for myself the way the sun kisses the water towers in the evening. I was going to waste time in the Village and become a writer, that thing one is always going to be here. I was going to wear laurels on my head. I was going to know the places where the mad ones dwelt and bled out their mad novels, where the drugs and the liquor and the hard beat of the bass have flown for seemingly forever. And I have known these. I have known them well. 

O—there is nothing in me but skyline, but long sprawl and tight crunch and a glint of vertigo off the rooftops. There is nothing left for me anywhere else anymore. I am a thorough current of electricity. I have been taken in by harsh talk and cheap pizza, by trash and chance and summer thunder. There is rushing here and rushing there in my days. The trundle of trains below the earth and on long jumbles of beams through the sky. Takeout food and the endlessness of other languages, their snatches like snatches of birdsong. The birds in the sickly trees, the parks starving against the concrete. The sluggish rivers unfit for swimming and the lust that washes into them like runoff at dawn, when the sun chases the revelers and the drunks off to bed.  All this, and more too, leeches the pine from my blood. All this, and more too, makes a home in me. 


I came for fame but found love instead. Isn’t that how it always happens? I hope that’s how it always happens. Would be a tragedy if it happened the other way. Love is the better thing of the two; love is that treasure that makes the time go wonky, fold in and out and become altogether different. Love makes the time thrum like a drum struck or a string plucked. Love makes happening happen and makes it good. Aglow, awash with light from no source, ensconced, enshrined at the center of my city is you and all your wonder. Let me tell of you. Let me tell of what love made.

But first let me tell of the city and what love of the city made of me. For as long as I can remember, I wanted to be an elfin little thing, due, I imagine, to a childhood ruled over by Harry Potter and Frodo Baggins. I came to New York with an impossible idea of self. I imagined vines in my hair and light under my skin. I imagined grace of movement (I am terrible-clumsy) and the power to sing the stars into shining (Legolas does this once). I spent my childhood in the woods, with any perfect stick for a staff, casting spells up at the pine needles. I was a faerie or a wizard at heart, a woodland thing that dreamed of city streets and their power, of harnessing their power and making magic of it, of becoming a shining. Again, impossible, impossible. 

Or so it seemed. So it seemed until I took my first club. There is this picture of me from years ago, taken from behind and at a distance, with those grainy phone cameras we used to have. I am mid-leap, pink flannel thrown open, blond hair wild and in every direction. I am about to dance. I am about to discover, for the first time in my life, a love of dance. I shake my ass, and there is magic in it. I throw my limp wrist to the ceiling, and it’s shining. Sweat drenches my hair, and it’s full of impossible leaves, laurels and linden flowers and lavender stocks. The city whispers outside, hums. It flows into me, into my gut where all the biggest feelings are, and it transforms me from the inside, makes grace and power where before there was only the yearning for those things. My bare chest stands like a sigil, its little smattering of hairs like a ring of arcane runes. It declares intent; it makes a space, erotic and charged, about me, a wild space, a space fit for an earthy spirit of sex. I am ecstasy itself. I am full to brimming, full to bursting, of myself. I am human, but only slightly so. Something else, something fay and red with potential, with potentiality moving and churning, strays into my being. In party, in dance, downtown at nineteen, ignoring my friends and having an experience entirely of my own, I find the faerie I always wanted to be. 

There is a picture in my mind from years ago. I’m in my very early twenties—I don’t remember exactly how old—and I’m stepping out, late, from the jazz and wine bar where I worked as a barista and bartender. The bar is on the corner of Christopher and Gay. I stand on Christopher Street, that street that holds such a potent moment in the history of my people, and I stare down it toward the west. Slowly at first, and then more and more quickly, it becomes violet in color, dusky. The streetlights become fairy-lights in the dim. My vision tunnels as I stare down at it, still wearing my collared shirt and vest, with prayer beads wrapped around my wrist, staring down the street as the street becomes a wonderland. In a session with my psychiatrist many years later, I attribute this memory to mania. Maybe it was that. But, maybe, it was something else entirely. Maybe it was the queer, lodged in the very bones of the street, coming up for a moment and making beautiful what before was merely quotidian, the queer rising like shadow to bathe the street in impossibility, to make of my perception of it what it really is: a shrine. A moment later, the spell is broken, and the gay bars beckon with their promise of the promiscuous and the profane. The sacred in the profane—if this is not the queer, what is? In this moment, a young queer theory student at NYU struggling to define for himself what exactly it is that he is, I fall madly in love with myself. I fall madly in love with all that I am and all that I might be. It is a moment only. The feeling passes. I drink too much, and I do madling things because I am, after all, mad. But, for an instant at least, I know what it means to hold your whole self in your mind as a beloved thing, as a treasure. 

I am twenty-six now. I am out for the night with my most beloveds, at the Rosemont in Williamsburg. The black walls are sweat and pop music. They beat and reverberate through the brain, through the core of the body. The dance floor is a sway of hipsters and queens, and they are mighty. They are angelic, throwing themselves against gravity and each other in their overlong sleeves and their skimpy skirts and their huge platform shoes. I stand on one of the benches that line the dance floor, and for a moment I stop dancing to watch the tumble. I am filled with it, with something yellow and vibrant, some current that comes roaring up from the crowd. I exalt in this existence of mine. I call it perfect in my head; loudly in my head I insist that it is perfect. I am reminded for a moment of the twelve year old boy I used to be, watching RENT and dreaming of queer rooms like this, queer people like these. I turn to the husband on my left and the best friend on my right, and I beam. They beam. We feel it together. We are together in feeling. 


O, but then there is you in the story. Then there is all you made happen and all you made possible. There is what love really is, which is the madness of potential, the opening up of the horizon to any possibility. You are born of the city. It is in your blood as the pine is in mine. Your thick Queens accent when you’re angry is my favorite sound in all the world (even when you’re angry with me). Your silver Spanish that pulls words from every Latin country under the Sun, the cosmopolitanism of your slang, pulls me into wonder. Your taste for every food, for every culture of food, for the adventure that food affords to far distant places: oh, this is quintessentially New York, the love of street carts with flat grills—quintessentially, quintessentially New York. The way you dance, how each move originates from somewhere else, how they meld in your body into a fluid tap-tap of the feet and shimmy of the shoulders, how serious your face when you’re dancing until it breaks into a wide belly laugh: you enthrall me in the club; the club becomes all about you and no one else. I swell with pride to dance with you. 

But there is more to you than New York. There is your love of simple pleasures, of long, nothing Sundays and nights at the movies. The way you curse in your sleep. You are in turns tender, soft as summer rain just before dawn, and frightfully fierce—and fierce for the right reasons, for justice and fairness and the ability to be. In some ways, you have made me into a battleground: a battleground against my whiteness and my narcissism and my obsession with competition. The battles rage on, and you witness them; fully and entirely, you witness. In other ways, though, you soothed me, and soothe me, as lavender soothes one to sleep and to dream. You found me a raggamuffin and a little bit of a wretch, a thing twisted up on itself under its own pressure, and you made me over into a thing which loves itself. You did this with the wholesomeness in you, with the sex and heat in you, with your goodnaturedness and little kindnesses. You are all the rage, my darling—always in vogue. You are the open seed that spills over with life. You are the heady lazy of the afternoon sunlight that slinks through the blinds. More than all this, you are the stillness of a moment, its gently brimming possibility, its what if— and its yes, but—.

I think sometimes of Paradise, of its glowing, celestial orbs, its ineffable spheres of platinum luminescence interlocked and tumbling outward in every direction, in mighty defiance of the void that swallows all things. I don’t believe in Heaven, but I picture it all the same. Maybe it’s better to say I don’t believe in a heaven out there, elsewhere; I believe, rather, in a quality, an essence or tendency in matter and time which we might call heaven. I believe in the little, red sphere in our study, spinning ineffably, full of occult potential, so small in comparison to those massive spheres of Paradise but mighty like them in its own, tiny way. I believe in the seemingly endless nighttime conversation that happens there, in the thrill of excitement with which we leap down upon one another’s sentences, red wine sloppy and full of the love of making sense together. I believe in the swell of feeling in the morning when we sit in silence over iced coffees in the glare from the eastward facing window. I believe in that night we got married at home in the midst of a pandemic and smoked cigars in that room with my father and felt sealed in light. You see, Paradise is a little matter, a matter of daily clutter and waking up late and ordering Chinese, of the bitchy cat and the needy dog and the raggedy couch, of letting the moments of our short run at life expand into aeons, into vast, ripe fields of time. 


I came to New York for whatever reason that I did. Never did it occur to me, though, that a New Yorker would become all of New York for me, that I would be taken into the swim of another so fully as to need no oxygen. Never did I expect that, having come to New York, all I would think of it was love.