this. is everything.

Nonfiction / Natalie Vestin

Revolution as orbit. I, revolving, orbiting, while you stay and change, or not. My father taught me to do this, to move slowly around something, gaze fixed on it, for an instant, an hour, a lifetime. It’s all in what I want, what I want to want and look back at me. How to be looked at by looking.

There are three parts to this activity: there’s you, and we can say you’re central. There’s me, orbiting and changing as I watch you, so each observation is about me as much as it’s about your image changing. Even a hair of mine out of place as I take another step to get a different view of you renders a different universe, a different you. The third part is the gaze, an animal of its own between us, rendered. Do you love me? The more I look at you, the more I love you. The more I love you, the more you become unrecognizable.


On a plane, on the way to Seattle. High over the Rockies, a storm. The mountains fighting back: turbulence, fear, encasement. Your touch at the side of my lips, like this. At the commissure, where the top and bottom lip meet. As if: two fingers, but also like this: all the love in the universe just for me, a sparkling cloud, prickling, a warmth but not warm, rising yet not risen. How simple we are.

I knew it was you, an instant that was full of you and still filling with you. You felt like the sedative they injected before they took my wisdom teeth, a rising and a growing. Wave from mid-arm to chest and collarbone, back of the tongue, behind the eyes, then the ohhh rising while everything fell: chemical hand grasping forward and around, pulling me back to this.


In the museum: Salome, a child, listening, knowing she’s seen. A wall of rusted weathervanes: roosters and one Plantagenet lion. Luminous skin and blue cloth made with oils, cobalt, cinnabar, crushed things. The beauty’s in both the seeing and the crushing. My skin gets cold. I have to sit frequently. I see them, but I want them to see me, to want and love me.

If you could move through a museum in a way to attract an artwork to you, how would you move? What would you change in your heart, bring outward—flayed—to offer? I offer this, hoping that something will fall in love with me as I’m loving them even though I don’t know it until it rises later: weathercock, curved Rwandan sword, chipped ass of Adonis, and Adam’s face when he finds the body of Abel. I walk too quickly through the museum, but it’s all in service to this, my movement an accreting orbit, signs buried in muscle and gaze that rise to love later.


Commissure: where two of the same—apart—connect. Junction of the lips, eyelids, labia majora, veins of a fern at the stem. A part both one and separate, strange orbit, together and needing to come together at once. Not a decussation where two cross briefly and part. Commissure doesn’t journey. It joins, though is never separate. It allows, opens into the ohhh of want or pain, pleasure, and fear; it gives and receives in the ohhh.

And there is always you knowing this is my favorite place to be kissed, you with your hand raised like this, like Amita Buddha in Nara whose cupped hand once held me while two fingers pushed me on and on. We are always together and needing to come together. You the coppery head of Eros outside the museum, knowing that every time I walk by, I want to kiss the hammered metal at the commissure.


And again, not a touch at the commissure, but a feeling as of—not a wall—but like this: a margin I walked into on a bridge, half sunken. I was returning from a chapel in the woods when it happened, when I walked into you and we continued on our separate ways each ourselves swept up. I walked into you like this, but also like nothing at all happened, like an absence (save what I couldn’t see, which is no absence).

An infinitude of you in the chapel: eight harvestmen on the cool stone walls and a man playing a violin; he asked me not to step on his glasses. Harvestmen are gregarious. They cluster and twine legs together, hundreds of them, for comfort and, because they are coldblooded, against the night’s chill. Violins must be seasoned by their players, violin and player coaxed to give and receive, and violins have been known to recognize a body given to them, to offer different tones to a replacement. And you have been known to be a margin and a sweeping up on a bridge.

I met a potter’s wife last year who said her husband’s hands had taken the shape of a bowl, fingers curved as all the bowls over all the years had shaped him, and I wanted to ask, but didn’t, how his hands felt on her, his hands which were not hands wholly but bowl and clay and circular motion, and I wanted to ask, but didn’t, if his hands were part her. I want to look forever at what I can’t see.

The chapel was called Stella Maris, the star of the sea. Another name for the Holy Mother Mary, and here I see you like this: trajectory and arc. Last summer, a motorcycle exploded in front of me as its driver was thrown across the intersection, and is it profane to have drawn this parabola of tossed-across man over and over in my mind and seen you?

You, or he, screamed out Mother Mary Mother Mary. My long skirt intact, but somehow all the skin off my knees entirely gone as I braced his broken bones until the firefighters arrived. Sun in our faces, enemy sun of July. Cold cherry Pepsi and canister of coffee grounds in my bag under his head, and I find later I can’t stop shaking. You as trajectory toward injury, toward a blow I feel come against me for days, new softness in me and in you, and the arc of you I can’t stop seeing.


To connect by drawing a line like this: set forth a little boat on waves of chemical and fibrous motion. When I say draw, I mean move your gaze from here to there, from a small encasing of flesh and nerve to a star billions of light years away, to light sent and met with the gaze so easily. It’s the connection that’s important; you don’t need the story of Cassiopeia to trace the lines of the W in the sky like this. Maybe it’s the fill-in-the-blank or maybe it’s the blanks, and we only need the stars as guideposts along the absence.

My father tells me that in the summer, between six and seven p.m, things start to change shape. It’s a matter of optics, the way the light forms angles and junctures that obscure and reveal and give the air strange forms. But—as I walk along this block in the city where once I thought I saw the air split open like a curtain to reveal nothing but the splitting and its own guise, only to blink and have it return—there is something present, something more, at this time of evening when light is low. I move through a thickness that wasn’t there in the before, a valley of ghosts or of you, and I want to walk into it and never return.

At Pentecost, the church is red, aflame, and there I am, so lousy with spending all this love that wastes me, so lucky to receive the gift of ghost. Filled with the want of light descending, not hovering but touching me like this.

When the sun piles high on itself or crushes its sphere into fragment, the illusion is called Novaya Zemlya. A jumbling of objects in the distance, atop and into each other, is the Fata Morgana. All tricks of the traveling gaze, tricks of traveling light; all true. We are the absences given over to creation. Traveling flame hitting our gaze like this.


A man once taught me to eat purple clover to cure headaches, but every clover I picked was taken over by mycetozoa. Fungus like a globule of saliva: pure protoplasm, the liquid from which our cells and blood arose. It moves the way we do inside, streaming forth, dividing though never separate, and joining at a margin that then proceeds ahead.

Little one, mycetozoa, you who cares for beginnings, little one without cell walls. I think of my cell walls often, not as barriers, but barring some anatomical blasphemy: commissures. Walls between blood and flesh, blood returning to cell wall like this and meeting the tissue from which its cells were formed. From whence you came, and all that. You somehow here all along in the inside and the together and needing to come together.

I once read a book by a mortician—away from all the pain, pathology, money, and disgust comes wonder, and you of course are always there in the mort- —that said all blood’s movement is a return to itself. It’s also about expectation: fainting, pallor, blushing, erection. We are always flinching or holding our breath, waiting to see what comes next. Last summer, I saw my grandmother’s ashes in a small box and expected to be horrified, knowing of the burning and the grinding of bone, but how there only was this: a feeling of all things and bodies being both or several or everything, a rightness in the changed shapes of things, and I’d forgotten about you, about all the love I could spend.

Here we can talk about loss, about an orbit lacking center, a moon with no earth. Sometimes, I feel I’m gazing into nothing. Pay attention: in the creation myths, nothing always yields to an arising; nothing is expansive with expectation. We’re all moving so fast. These absences will rise to love later.

The cremator at the gravesite made a joke to my sister about a story she could tell her children, though she has none, and I watched his face, movement of blood into opening vessels and then redness, and his embarrassment at potential hurt, expectation of the hurt although he couldn’t control his blood, and I loved him, and I loved my sister too, and I loved all the swirling blood and the still blood and the gone blood and the changed blood in the graveyard. You in the swell and spirit of swell, and me there too, anticipating your next move while I move around and around.


Trace the vermilion borders. Vermilion a name for mercuric sulfide, vermilion paint my favorite. Edges of the lips, separating them from the face, where epithelium is thin and protein transparent so that in the lips are made visible the blood, its vessels and cells.

Red attracts the eye and calls for help and for attention and also for this. I move around. I look at you, and I look away often, because you are in the away. I want to be outside everything, but also inside and swept up in the margin. My gaze is intentional. Red upslope and curved bow and lower plush, and underneath an indentation that calls for a fitting, at the sides a commissure that calls for this. I want all the love in the world.

Natalie Vestin is a science writer from Saint Paul, Minnesota. Her essays have appeared in The Normal School, The Iowa Review, Puerto del Sol, and elsewhere. She won Crab Orchard Review’s 2013 John Guyon Literary Nonfiction Prize, the Prairie Schooner 2012 Creative Nonfiction Prize, and the 2012 Sonora Review Essay Prize. Her nonfiction chapbook, Shine a light, the light won’t pass, was published in 2015 by MIEL, and her fiction and photography chapbook, Gomorrah, Baby, is forthcoming from Anchor & Plume in 2016.