THE DEMON OF SUBSTITUTION. Late nineteenth-century playing card.

I WAS IN LOVE WITH TWO PEOPLE and I had traveled to their country to be near them. 

I already had a lover, with whom I had been suffering a disappointment, and I had just completed a large and demanding work of art, so in many ways I no longer knew who or what I was, or what good I could possibly be to anybody. 

I am only telling you these things, and in such a dispassionate way, because I want to tell you about a dream I had, in which my great-grandfather appeared, and his many progeny—

But the dream won’t make sense unless you know I had traveled a great distance to be near these people, that they are psychic, virtuosic geniuses, which makes them daunting to love and easy to love, and unless I can give you to understand that my great feeling for them caused me to become entangled with others, and if I had not become entangled with others I might never have had this dream, which paradoxically drew me nearer to them even as it drove me definitively away from them.

Well. I was in love with two people, and I felt that if there was any truth left on earth it was with them. They were certainly the truth for each other. This no one could deny. Even they could not deny it, though I’m sure that they had sometimes tried to be rid of one another and also to be rid of the truth, but all that had happened before my time. By the time I met them, they were in balance to the extent that any human being can be, which is to say they may have still sometimes been bothered by torment and confusion, but they knew what their task was, and from that they could not waver. I loved them for that, and I loved someone already, nevertheless I had traveled to their country to be near them, and once I was near them my love for them grew, and embarrassed me, and I watched my feeling for them grow, like a giant sail being hoisted in slow motion up the mast of some ancient ship, and if this were fiction I would describe it all for you, their art, and their friends, and our conversations which I beveled like a diamond off of which the light of their beauty could glance at many angles, and how the whole thing was like some ridiculous, obstreperous yoga of self-control which I just did not feel I could give up. Like a character in a Jansenist French novel, I would remain true to my ideal and unyielding, while simultaneously yielding—spiritually at least—to every little thing I saw and felt. Whatever I did, I was doing it, I told myself, because they were inspiring me. I would continue to do this, whatever it was, until I could no longer stand it. And by “do this” I meant: behold my love for them and pretend to be autonomous from it with all my might.

I will not exactly offer myself to them, I decided, but simply become filled with them until my fruit drops, as it were, from the tree. One night, after we awkwardly kissed in their car and they left me at my hotel and I had once again not pressed myself, as it were, more deeply into their lives, I could no longer stand my longing and went to a bar and seduced a tourist.

As anyone who has ever been in love knows, it is also romantic to give yourself physically to one while thinking of another, and for me this single conflicted act had unexpected consequences. First of all, it abolished all ambiguity within me. After that night, I would yield easily and wholeheartedly to strangers—waiters first of all, who were an easy sport in that country, and a brilliant young musician I met on Tinder, I know, sorry. . . 

But now I have to admit that the country was Argentina, because the instrument he played was the bandoneon.

Dino Saluzzi’s Bandoneón Tierra Adentro.

HE WAS THIN AS A BLADE and had curly black hair which stood tall after sex, making him look like a manga of a 1960s folk singer. There was revolutionary feeling in him, which my presence seemed to nurture. He played his instrument too cerebrally for my taste, for it is a cerebral instrument, I think you basically have to be a math genius to play it, but I didn’t care, because he was beautiful, and his voice was mellow and he was intelligent and devout, and because like everyone else I knew down there he didn’t care about winning, which is an ancient bohemian virtue that no longer has any currency whatsoever in America. 

While falling for him I went to a bar to describe him in my notebook and there allowed myself to be gotten drunk by the first of two waiters I would keep company with on that trip, and when I went home with him, the first waiter, I found that his apartment was a temple to oblivion. Above the bed he kept a shelf stocked with expensive liquors; we fucked to reggaeton in the lurid light of a big machine in which he was growing marijuana. I was distracted by the sorrow of this unfortunate young man, who was extremely handsome and almost glossy in appearance, like a pop star in a magazine, hairless and muscular, and who was also very slow and methodical in grooming himself the next morning, and also tender and insecure in a way that caused me to worry a little for him. He was what TIQQUN might have sneeringly called a “Young-Girl,” according to their formulation, which I don’t want to elaborate upon here, for many reasons chief among which being I do not wish to sneer, only, it made me a little sad to see how wholly he had embraced the ethos of hedonism and I guess a mendacious idea of romance, the kind you find in magazines, and how nervous and unreciprocated he would, I sensed, remain—until he could find a more nourishing philosophy to organize himself around. In any case, that evening, alone in my hotel room, I discovered the humane, old-fashioned dance music of Dino Saluzzi, which caused chains I had not known were there to drop from my heart. And it was that night I dreamed a dream that restored me to sanity, but also revealed a deeper insanity, which might have been the entire trajectory of my life up to that point.

Kim Gordon’s “Earthquake.”

I DREAMED MY GREAT-GRANDFATHER, we called him Gramps, was seated at a table with all my aunts and uncles. My father was there too. Gramps looked about seventy (he had died at a hundred or so), his white hair elegantly cut and shining, and he was wearing a crisp and well-tailored white shirt, open at the collar, and an excellent jacket of black gabardine. He had the unmistakeable aura of a man who had been enjoying his time with women. This was not the Gramps I had known in life, who lived alone in a dusty apartment in the city, who rode the blue line to my grandmother’s house with a manila folder full of matzo balls under his arm, to preside over the family Seder without having glued in his dentures, so that they knocked about his open mouth as he muttered his prayers. . . . The debonair old gentleman who visited me in my sleep in Buenos Aires was a very different Gramps from the man I’d known; who had never visited me in a dream, much less assembled the entirety of my estranged family—and for some reason I was certain, even as I slept, that it had been the sound of the bandoneon that brought him to me.

Upon waking, I wrote a letter to my estranged family, to whom I never write anything, and I shared with them this same record by Dino Saluzzi which I have just shared with you, and I described to them my dream, leaving out everything about why I was in Argentina and with whom I had been spending my free time, and my father wrote back and said, yes, you are right, that music sounds like Gramps, and Gramps’s love meant more to me, my father said, than anybody else’s, and my father never says yes to me, and even more seldom has he ever told me what means something to him, much less more than anything. I was so moved by all this impetuosity and sincerity that I could almost neglect something else my father told me, in an offhand way, in that same letter, which was that the Lubavitcher Rebbe was our cousin—

Mondongo, Portrait of Rebbe with Tifilin, 2007–09, cotton threads on wood, 59 x 59 x 3".

Which is going to seem like an arcane aside, a pointless digression, especially if you don’t know who the Lubavitcher Rebbe was, unless you are Jewish, in which case it is a little bit like saying, gosh, I don’t know, Mahatma Gandhi or Martin Luther King or Joseph Smith or Moses himself was your cousin. The thing is, the people I had gone to Argentina for the sole purpose of being near and who are not Jewish at all, and whose artwork would not on the face of it make you think of the kind of thing that would attract the interest of Orthodox Jews, had begun their career with several lucrative commissions to paint portraits of famous and beloved rabbis, not the least the Lubavitcher Rebbe, whom many thousands of people still consider to be the Messiah, and what could it possibly mean to be the Messiah’s cousin, I have no idea, this is a thought I can’t even begin to think, but in my immense blindness upon the face of this Earth, toiling like a worm from poem to poem and lover to lover in a false secularity and in the burlesque of all freedom, in my immense ignorance and cowardice and with all the force within me which I invariably misdirected and which I repeatedly yoked to wrongness after wrongness, I learned that the people who had drawn me down to their home country had painted the portrait of my cousin the Messiah because the sound of the bandoneon of Dino Saluzzi, who played it like a man who understood women, who played it more warmly than my young lover could yet play it and far more warmly than Astor Piazzolla, whose art is like that of a meth-addicted neuroscientist, and I, saddened by the temple to oblivion that the waiter had made of his apartment and sweetened by the melancholy of my incapacity to love the people I had come to Argentina to love and soothed by the suave lust and revolutionary feeling of the young bandoneon player who looked like a poet and who instead of saying goodbye to me when we took our leave would often simply say “Viva Perón,” had drawn the apparition of my great-grandfather to assemble dream figments of the entirety of my estranged family into the warmth of a convivial meal inside my sleeping brain, through which I learned that I am a distant cousin of a supposed Messiah, and that my friends, whom I loved in many ways at once, my feeling for whom I could not cease to fail to live up to, but who in any case perhaps, let us be honest, perhaps and even probably did not need my love, had painted that man’s portrait.

Ariana Reines is a poet and astrologer based in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Her newest book, A Sand Book, was longlisted for the National Book Award.