Natural Forces

Jonathan Gleason

The title reads like a tabloid headline: “Final Kiss of Two Stars Heading for Catastrophe.” But the stars are real, caught in each other’s gravity somewhere in deep space. In my mind, they burn a divine blue, so bright and hot you’d be seared like Jupiter’s lover if you looked directly at them.

I am not an astronomer. I’m lying on a bed in a hotel in Seoul, watching television with my roommate, trying to decipher violence. We’re new friends who have moved here to teach English. Alone here together. The only channel we understand is ESPN, which plays best-of-reels from old UFC fights. He absently describes his girlfriend and her enormous tits, as two men bloody each other in the octagon. Their movement a language just beyond my understanding.


A year ago, I met a man on a train platform in Santiago where I’d moved to teach English. We drank cocktails on a patio in the sun then walked through the tattered remains of a city parade. His mouth dripped with living. He was made of stories.

For a long time after, when friends asked how we’d gotten together, I would say, “like most things, I let it happen to me.”

Santiago is regularly visited by intense earthquakes. The apartment where I first lived looked out onto a beautiful yellow church with white arches and a gold dome. During the last earthquake, the dome toppled onto the street while high rises collapsed into swells of dust and rubble.

This was before I knew him, but it seemed to contain all our knowable future.


No one reads the books in the library of the school where I now teach, so I begin stealing them, one by one. “Meditation’s of the Lover” is one of the first. I take it because of the book jacket–smears of color, complicated by white lines.

In it, Han Yoong-won writes:

Only a lover

is never 

a lover complete.

After we met, I began waking up at night imagining I could feel the subtle trembling of the Earth. Once, when I told this to a friend, she gasped and said, “How terrifying.” I looked back at her surprised. I had not realized I should be terrified.

It was around this time he started driving me to work in the mornings and picking me up in the evenings. From my second-floor school room, I had a view of the street, and at lunch he would appear on the bright sidewalk, waiting unannounced, patient as a lamb.


In Korea, I learn, they mark their subjects and objects with a sound. This is as far as I get in my study of the language, but I find it extraordinary. I want to roll in that bed of certainty.

So, I begin to think of my body as a country. Not the people in it. Not its borders or its government, but its landscape. Passive.

I lift a thought from James Baldwin to claim, “I am a man who believes he is a man.” Each morning I wake up and wrap myself in a costume of masculine—trousers, cropped hair, hours sacrificed to the gym. It is a comfortable posture, but I am left unsatisfied. I can’t decide if this is important, or irrelevant. It means nothing if we don’t believe in it, the cock that is. But it might make some difference—not that I trust in any essential difference between the skin of our sexes—to be conquered as a man who believes he is a man. After all, I have not been taught to give power away. Most men learn to be countries like a government or a military.


A woman once hung portraits of the loneliest slices of the universe on a gallery wall. No spiraling galaxies or blooming nebulas, places devoid of particle, where there is nothing to bounce light off, nothing to pass along vibrations. Nothing but black paper in a frame.

In Santiago some nights, I would wake up to a cold vacancy in his place. The door to the terrace open. Strips of thin vinyl curtain covering the void, bobbing in the night air.  I would rub one eye and lean drowsily out of the doorway. He would be sitting alone scowling at the city. Crumpled beer cans on the floor. One motion unbroken: the doomed pilgrimage of his cigarette to and from his lips.

“We never had a honeymoon period,” he began saying one day. He never stopped reminding me.

On the radio: failed missile tests, aircraft carriers approaching the coast, and someone saying “I found out how lonely marriage could be.”


Gravity is weaker than the other natural forces, though I prefer to think of it as the subtler force. An atom of Hydrogen at one edge of the universe will reach across to tug on an atom of Hydrogen at the opposite edge. The pull will be weak and confused by all the space and noise between, but it exists.

There are two continents between us now, and I still feel him.

My friend likes to repeat a horrifying statistic that nearly everyone who survives their jump from the Golden Gate Bridge say they regret it the moment their feet leave the ground. At four stories, you are statistically more likely to die than to survive, she reports, and some people hit a shelf of land below, instead of the water farther out, because they don’t look down.

The general equation for elapsed time with respect to velocity (i.e. falling) is: t = (v − vi)/g. The splat formula someone calls it online.

Fall asleep, fall in love, fall to pieces, fall to death, fall prey, fall short, fall in place, fall from grace.

One night, I tried to leave him. He was all slurred words heavy with accusations. I abandoned him on the street where he’d pushed me to the ground. I wandered an empty neighborhood for an hour, and when I arrived home he was hanging off the balcony banister of our fourteenth-floor apartment.

In the morning, I didn’t leave.


In the spring, we vacationed together among the lakes and valleys of Neruda’s youth—White hills, white thighs, I was his world lying in surrender.

While I was out, he bought me a painting from a street vendor. Thick Araucaria trees twisting their branches up towards the sun. He leaned it against the window of an apartment we were renting for the weekend and sulked for two days when I didn’t notice it.

Sometimes I believe what I love most about the stars is the gravity between them, enough to rip you apart. I imagine them turning, as two birds might pivot in the air, around a shared point at which they will eventually collide.

When the police opened the door the living room was littered with curled scrolls of green paint and shredded landscape. In the middle of the floor, sat a kitchen knife, alive with use, and a painting gashed through its center.

“Behave yourselves boys,” they said.

That was all.


A friend once mentioned that domestic abuse is much higher among gay men. “It’s because we hate what we see in each other,” he posited, or did he say, “we hate that we see ourselves in each other.”

I have never found any statistic to confirm this. A CDC report admits that “little is known about the national prevalence of intimate partner violence, sexual violence, and stalking among lesbian, gay, and bisexual women and men.”

Little is known, except that it happens.


I have loved the universe since I was a child. I used to diagram the internal mechanisms of stars. I checked books out of the library just to trace the bright lines of jettisoned dusts and burning gases with my finger.

“My gift to you will be an abyss,” writes Roberto Bolaño, “but it will be so subtle you’ll perceive it only after many years have passed.”

Some stars explode. They fill up the night sky. Others fall into one another—collapse into a vacant shadow of themselves.

As an adult, I know which future is worse.


I hear the voice of Mike Hadreas in the memory.


Take everything away /

This gnarled, weird face /


And then, a moment of distilled grammar like a clapped eraser: he hit me.

Pronoun, verb, object—I am acted upon. Mark me with a sound.


This ripe swollen shape /

I want blank, I want frozen lake /


Then there was walking out the door. A public park. Crouching in the shade of a bush. My name, screamed in dark, rattling windows down corridors of apartments. It settled into nothing as if I were disappearing into the night. And when the world was still again, I sat there punishing the spot on my face where he’d set his blow.

What did I want? A blue badge of my right to leave him.

I wanted something to show.

I wanted that abyss in a sick-yellow on my cheek.

I wanted cold, deep space.


Jonathan Gleason is a recent graduate from Northwestern University’s creative writing program. He loves work that pushes formal boundaries and makes good use of research. His essays have appeared Weirderary Magazine.