Letters from Swann In Love Again in the Lesbian Arabian Nights (1992)

Shelley Marlow

April 27, 1994

Dear S,

When I was fourteen I had a pet catapillar that I took everywhere, it sitting on my shoulder. I watched over it for months making sure it was ok, feeding and watering it. One day it climbed into a glass of water and swam. I was pleased to learn it liked being in the water. In a tall glass. It left a thin skin see-through like a squid. For months it was a catapillar sitting on my shirt then it turned into a beautiful butterfly. A yellow monarch—it flew around. I had it cupped in my hands while walking outside where there was green grass and a little sidewalk. The butterfly flew out of my hands and landed with other butterflies on the grass. There were blue pink yellow and green butterflies like a cluster of rhododendrons floating in the air. A thousand small pansy-like butterflies flew around me. A man came along and picked a bunch of butterflies off of the green grass. I said: give back my butterfly. He said how do we know which one is yours? I answered him with a kick to his throat under his jaw at which he fell back dropping all of the butterflies. They flew up into a treetop.

Love, S


Dear Solveig,

I have to concentrate on staying in the present. Right now. The importance of making earnest drawings. Though funny things are happening nowadays, too. I hope your work in Germany is going well.  I am inside a house that is heated by a small wood stove. Behind my head is a picture window as well as to my left. Outside is a lake three feet away from here. Lake Bottom in the countryside. It is night now so everything is black shadows  and stars so far away. Everything is quiet. When I think of the outhouse, I feel like the opposite of a Beverly Hillbilly. Heather Locklear's new season is starting tonight, and I left my TV with friends. I had a dream that Heather and I kissed and fucked.  I had a dream  about Lake Bottom last week, which was why I took my friends offer to stay here. I also miss watching the Canadian TV show about a vampire who has become a police detective to repay his debt to society. Lesbian vampires, pagans, and other witchy women make appearances on that show.

Green rhododendrons dry next to the floor lamp, next to an icon with ornate decoration surrounding Mary. An abstract painting in yellow and white, joyful colors, is on another wall. Behind me is a painted photograph from the thirties. Lulu the cat runs down the Dogon ritual stairs that lead to the loft bed. I got my first phone call here, from Cypress in Ohio. Cypress is a student of Chinese medicine which includes the study of herbs. I asked her about making Echinacea tinctures. Echinacea grows in the garden here. Aunt Violet said she planted Echinacea because the deer do not eat the purple cone flower.

Cypress asked if I have seen any deer. I haven’t, but I did hear a big sound from outside. So I locked the door which made that farm dyke Cypress laugh. I told her, What if a deer walked on two feet, wore clothes, came up to the door and started speaking in English? What would I do? 

Cypress laughed again, then read to me from Susun Weed’s book, “You do not have to wash the plant except to wash the soil off of the roots. It takes six weeks to soak the plant in 100% proof vodka.” 

Absolut Echinacea. 

I heard another sound outside and remembered last week when I was first here at a party, someone took a flashlight to the overhanging section of the roof to reveal a tiny sleeping bat, hanging upside down. I don't have to be afraid of a little bat.  

I see pictures sometimes like a screen over my vision. I can tell it’s just a picture over what I physically see in front of me. Once in a while, I'll see a picture of a box of Good & Plenty, the licorice candy, when something nice is happening. 

Yours truly, Swann


Dear Solveig, 

It’s now a week after I've arrived. Something has shifted. I feel more at home outside at night. I went outside to look up at the stars. The beauty in front of me has seeped in. I’ve become more porous, less of an atmosphere unto myself. On the porch, flying by me in the doorway then towards the light, was a Luna moth, one of those supernatural creatures, with wings as big as my hands. Then a flat bat creature flew by too, perhaps to say hello. I shivered, a little scared.

Aunt Violet mentioned that she thought this was not the kind of Echinacea with healing properties. A flower was in front of me while I looked it up in the botanical encyclopedia which said it is the healing kind, red-purple petals and a porcupine center.

Last night I went to the city to pick up some mail. I stopped by a tattoo show at the Drawing Center and ran into Richard who mentioned that someone else noted that he and I look like brother and sister. His theory is that we had a past life together as children in a harem with different mothers. Then I saw my ex Alice with a butch dyke who later gave me her card that had two different names next to two different cities. 

I ran into Billy and pushed him into the ladies room and then up against a wall, he cried ‘help’ but all the women ignored him. I said, You're free to go. He said, I don't really want to go. He said he’d heard I play a mean electric guitar. Fran was dressed the same as usual. Fran's look is neat, with an 80s emotional distance. I ran into Helen of the Deadly Nightshades. She looked glamorous with sunglasses. James is silver. I met up with my ex band member Irena. Now she's in Crackersnatch. Snatch is a nice word as is purse and Lora is starting a zine called Fairies Suitcase.

Driving back to the countryside I felt joy at the solitude ahead. Back to the country. Mary Daly said, “I'm here to put cunt back into the country.”

Solvieg, I’m not used to living out an old Bowie song. Is anyone awake now to call at one a.m. with no long distance? I look across the lake above the trees and see a search light funneling over the tree tops as if from a vantage point in the sky and the crickets seem orchestrated to sound like electronic machines like a spaceship. I run back inside quite nervous and not interested in finding out what it really is. No Lulu the cat you cannot go outside now! I am truly scared. It is one am Sunday night.  It’s a spotlight, but for what? Is the spotlight from a helicopter that searches for a murderer? I thought about whether or not I believe in UFOs. Had already dismissed it. Other times, I really believe they exist. Yet other times I think that it’s other people who kidnap and abuse the abducted. But at this moment I do not want to find out. I’m too frightened to go outside. I will assume it is a private airplane, something I've never seen at night. The lake acoustics breaks up the sound in a new way. It’s a good sign that the cat is not scared. Though perhaps the aliens have a way of calling cats to happily go outside. 

The next morning, I phoned Violet and found out there is an airplane landing strip a few miles away from Lake Bottom. Wish you were here. 

Love, Swann


Dear Solvieg, 

I walked in the door of my apartment building away from the noise and heat of the avenue. I inhaled the calm and cool air, with the cooler floors and walls, a refreshed feeling that made me feel you around me, my desire soothed by these moments.

This morning, Lulu and I were sleeping in the front room with sheer pink curtains that veiled the fire escape and sky. Lulu jumped at a bird that stood on the fire escape and cast a shadow on the curtain. She smashed into the window and pulled the curtain down to the floor. She dove into the curtain a few times until she noticed the bird was still outside. She gave up, sat on top of the pile of curtains, and looked amused. 

North 11th Street has a special nature view of that comet every time the sky is clear at dusk.

I miss you and your perfect behind. I look forward to your return when I will kiss every one of your long fingertips and everywhere else. 

Love as Always, Swann


Dear Solveig,

Faye was outside in the woodshed, an open shed with spiderwebs and bees. This was her lion’s lair. Now back in the city she hides in the wooden shelves; it fulfills a primitive desire in her. I wait for the rain that’s you to wet my lips and sooth my heart.

Meanwhile, back in the city, South Asian music played on the radio all weekend. Some good Bangladesh wild happy chanting is on now. I’m taping it. Mateo had his birthday party in a city garden with plum, fig, and pecan trees. I was surprised. 

We talk about people who’ve died. Someone young died of food poisoning. I have started to understand reincarnation lately. If I might live again I can relax a little, not feel so much pressure if I don’t get things done. Last night I dreamt about a kid who had several nipples like a cat. The next day on Billy’s roof, I met the kid from my dream. She was in a baby pool. She conjured two gray doves that landed next to the pool and walked towards her. The most inspiring thing was how certain she was that she’d been reincarnated and that we are so lucky to be here, alive. Also, she said that we were both witches in many of our past lives. 

Ellen told me about an old man, an artist, who almost died. He stepped out of the fabric of existence where all these souls were pressed against the fabric longing to be born. The souls like all the sexiness going on. 

The other day at dusk on Billy’s roof, I noticed a firefly. I love fireflies. They glow in the dark. I addressed that firefly as it flew and lingered in front of my face. Billy said it’s responding to your love. Allen Watts was on the radio later talking about rapports with insects, who respond to feelings around them.

The next day I was in Billy’s shop. A young woman tried on a sheer white dress with red flowers printed on three levels. She needed it for a performance, where she planned to wear a beebeard. What’s a beebeard we asked. She told us it’s when you put a queen bee on your neck and the rest of the bees surround the queen and form a bee beard. That night I was at Ned’s restaurant when he told me Nan had lice. He had to use a special comb to get the eggs out. He looked haggard when telling me this.

In my dream last night a skeleton hugged me from behind. 

I got up realizing that I didn’t shut the screen on the window, so all kinds of creatures had flew in. A rabbit, a turtle, two gray doves, beetles, flies, a miniature poodle named Lambchop, and a blue and gold butterfly named Ava. But no signs of you. When will you come home?

Love Always, Swann


Shelley Marlow

Shelley Marlow is an artist and writer and the author of Two Augusts In a Row In a Row, a novel published in the Fellow Travelers series (FT007) by Publication Studio, Portland (2015). An art edition of Two Augusts In a Row In a Row with drawings and paintings by Marlow was published by Publication Studio Hudson (2017) and Publication Studio London in collaboration with The London Centre For Book Arts, (2018). In 2017, Marlow received an Acker Award for Excellence in Avant-Garde Writing. Marlow adds, "I wrote ‘Swann In Love Again In the Lesbian Arabian Nights aka Lesbians of Arabia’ in the 1990s. These letters illustrate the inner journey to understand aggression, trauma, absence, and longing.”