Love in the Ruins

March 6, 2013 § Leave a comment


I’m feeling sad so I will write about what I love.

The full moon on an empty road in the country, late at night, when I’d walk out on the light-drenched road, empty of cars or other walkers, aware of every movement in the underbrush and trees. The stream was to my left, down an embankment: sometimes rushing with rain, sometimes quiet. Even when there was no breeze and the stream was dry, I could hear the moon tuning the earth, a thrumming surroundsound like crickets—and maybe it was crickets, except that I also heard it in the winter.

But mostly it was summer then. I walked barefoot. The road ran gently downhill and around a bend; I was walking into a bigger bowl of sky. I didn’t care if the moon was a rock or a goddess, or if there was a difference. Her presence pulled at me. I used to make wishes on a full moon.

I wish I had my house, the mountain at my back, the deer in the roses. I wish I had that little slab of concrete porch where the mint grew wild and we’d eat steak and corn, bowls of string beans, homemade ice cream.

Not in the winter, though. In the winter, I stayed in the city, worrying about the house in the snow and rain. I waited for my birthday in March, the shock of turning 39, 40, 45. Life was still a package to be unwrapped, the great, terrifying gift in Plath’s poem.

What else do I love?

The dead mice of yore, whose little lives made mine so much roomier.

Daffodils, their shape and color.

The word “daffodil.”

My darling friend from France. “She brings tenderness to our life,” said Charles. “I’m tender,” I said. No, I didn’t say that. I was feeling that special kind of happiness you feel when someone you love is appreciated by someone else you love, and you think how easy it is to do nothing but love all day and all night.

Fitzroy and Mouchette, who, like every great couple, are exponentially better as a pair than individually. He’s a big lug, she’s a slim girlchild; they remind me of every older brother, little sister I’ve ever known, but feline so married as well (we pretend). I turn in delight from one to another; her snowy paws and black/white zigzag nose, his humped rug of a back, his forehead that smells of chocolate. He puts a paw out when he wants me, flexing his claws. She sleeps on my back at night like the child who never leaves home, or a very dedicated bodyguard.

Lola’s rage when she attacks Mouchette, her tail stiff as a toilet brush. Mouchette wails in warning, but when Lola doesn’t come, doesn’t dispute the territory—my boudoir where Mouchette rules and is imprisoned by her own fear—Mouchette goes looking for her. The enemy is seductive. Hate is as sticky as love, but with the unfocused strength of youth.

Love is so old, it often falls apart. You have to glue it carefully. It hurts to look at.

Glass, stones, pearls. I made a crystal necklace that sent a school of light-fish swimming around the room, and Fitzroy watched the new mystery.

The sound of the wind turning corners.



Jaden and Jack and Daniel. Hannah and Myles and William.

Grilled asparagus with lemon.

Imagining America before the Europeans came, especially the abundant forests and rivers.

Portugal, Ecuador, Crete, Argentina, the Arctic Circle and all northern places where the ice is disappearing. My stubborn belief that I will see these landscapes.

My mother’s library.

My brother’s photographs.

My sister’s garden.

Charles, for loving me when I am unable to love myself; for loving the cats like children, which makes them more like children; for loving his music and never minding, as I do so much, whether there’s any reward for effort. For being pure of heart.

Language, which will still be here when we’re all gone. Language and music, gifts for the next brainy species.


I used to understand that fear was love inside out. That was when I was tender. Before.

A Birthday Present

What is this, behind this veil, is it ugly, is it beautiful?
It is shimmering, has it breasts, has it edges?

I am sure it is unique, I am sure it is what I want.
When I am quiet at my cooking I feel it looking, I feel it thinking

‘Is this the one I am too appear for,
Is this the elect one, the one with black eye-pits and a scar?

Measuring the flour, cutting off the surplus,
Adhering to rules, to rules, to rules.

Is this the one for the annunciation?
My god, what a laugh!’

But it shimmers, it does not stop, and I think it wants me.
I would not mind if it were bones, or a pearl button.

I do not want much of a present, anyway, this year.
After all I am alive only by accident.

I would have killed myself gladly that time any possible way.
Now there are these veils, shimmering like curtains,

The diaphanous satins of a January window
White as babies’ bedding and glittering with dead breath. O ivory!

It must be a tusk there, a ghost column.
Can you not see I do not mind what it is.

Can you not give it to me?
Do not be ashamed–I do not mind if it is small.

Do not be mean, I am ready for enormity.
Let us sit down to it, one on either side, admiring the gleam,

The glaze, the mirrory variety of it.
Let us eat our last supper at it, like a hospital plate.

I know why you will not give it to me,
You are terrified

The world will go up in a shriek, and your head with it,
Bossed, brazen, an antique shield,

A marvel to your great-grandchildren.
Do not be afraid, it is not so.

I will only take it and go aside quietly.
You will not even hear me opening it, no paper crackle,

No falling ribbons, no scream at the end.
I do not think you credit me with this discretion.

If you only knew how the veils were killing my days.
To you they are only transparencies, clear air.

But my god, the clouds are like cotton.
Armies of them. They are carbon monoxide.

Sweetly, sweetly I breathe in,
Filling my veins with invisibles, with the million

Probable motes that tick the years off my life.
You are silver-suited for the occasion. O adding machine—–

Is it impossible for you to let something go and have it go whole?
Must you stamp each piece purple,

Must you kill what you can?
There is one thing I want today, and only you can give it to me.

It stands at my window, big as the sky.
It breathes from my sheets, the cold dead center

Where split lives congeal and stiffen to history.
Let it not come by the mail, finger by finger.

Let it not come by word of mouth, I should be sixty
By the time the whole of it was delivered, and to numb to use it.

Only let down the veil, the veil, the veil.
If it were death

I would admire the deep gravity of it, its timeless eyes.
I would know you were serious.

There would be a nobility then, there would be a birthday.
And the knife not carve, but enter

Pure and clean as the cry of a baby,
And the universe slide from my side.

Sylvia Plath


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