“So he waited, listening for a moment longer to the tuning-fork that had been struck upon a star. Then he kissed her. At his lips’ touch she blossomed for him like a flower and the incarnation was complete.”
This is the most gorgeous passage from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby in my opinion, probably because I read it before I’d ever made out with anyone. I spent more of high school reading about romance than experiencing it. For this reason, I think, my tween consciousness solidified around the image of two people wrapped around each other like a Rodin.
Much of literature holds the kiss holy. Romeo and Juliet can’t screw each other until they’re married; the catalyst is their first “holy kiss” in the Capulet ballroom, a sin exchanged for a sin (“Then have my lips the sin that they have took,” Juliet demurs in Act I scene V). Holy is the kiss between Elena and Nino in Elena Ferrante’s The Neapolitan Quartet, between Paul D and Sethe in Toni Morrison’s Beloved, between Anna and Vronsky, between Edward and Bella.
In a café in Buenos Aires, I’m thinking about kissing. Yesterday was International Kissing Day, one of the many fantastic nonsense holidays that I love to hate on, but a nice excuse to wonder about why we kiss and what it means.
Besides, Argentine people love to kiss.
An anecdote: On the D-line subte, last week, I saw a couple entwined next to the train doors. I was set to get off at Palermo. They didn’t appear to be leaving. They were significantly older than me, far from the image of college kids on the UBA campus after hours, sharing cigarettes and curling into each other’s jean jackets. This couple kissed in a personal, refined way; they were giggling. It was gorgeous and they didn’t seem to notice me, or anyone. I didn’t want to bother them, so I stayed on the train for an extra stop.
When you think about it, an international celebration of the act of shoving one’s mouth against someone else’s is a weird quirk of homo sapien evolutionary kink. Believing it to count for more means a suspension of our thinking minds from realizing what exactly our bodies are doing. Chelsea Summers wrote something to that ilk in an article for Adult Magazine:
“We’re conditioned to see kissing as a sign of something larger than itself, perhaps because it is so repulsive when you parse it. A kiss may be pleasurable but it will never escape being a symbol. It is, in this respect, like the heart. An actual human heart may be a fist-shaped bloody bit of convulsing muscle, but the heart shape, that doubly round and pointed bottomed figure that any child can draw, stands in for the full range of human love. The one is not the other, just as an actual kiss is not the feeling of a kiss, and humans are more invested in the romantic symbol than they are in the sanguine reality.”
Not no. Sometimes kisses mean more than they should. Sometimes we let them. Once I kissed a boy I didn’t know, when I was too young to realize that clubs and dates and DFMOs were common and not considered romantic. This kiss thrilled me, this connection, this idea that we would never remember each other’s names but that didn’t necessarily matter. I would leave him with a story, and in turn his story would become mine. (I communicated none of these ideas to him, of course, and projected everything I remember.)
And sometimes kisses are terrible! Five days ago, I visited my first boliche in Palermo. I grooved on the dance floor, a huge jacket wrapped around my waist, Doc Marten shoes, and large ripped jeans that I thought would work like armor. Instead, two dudes pressed their lips to mine before I could shove them off.
Not all kisses are Platonic ideals of kissing, and not all of them will be worthy of transcription. The only people I’ve kissed in Argentina have been co-workers and new friends; all of them platonic, all of them swift and businesslike. Kissing is routine here, and a kiss can mean very little.
Towards a theory on kissing: A kiss as the cessation of language, language without speech. “A kiss is a poem,” as Chelsea Summers writes. A kiss is a sin, according to Shakespeare, but is also its purifying antidote. A kiss is a flower, according to Fitzgerald, and named Gatsby’s love interest accordingly. A kiss can communicate better than any writing can. It’s a poem but it’s also a fantasy, a strange, close, smooshing of lips.