In the Bleak Midwinter

February 14, 2015 § 2 Comments

wallkill_cabin

“What can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.”
–In the Bleak Midwinter, Christina Rossetti

On the days I don’t write, I’ll blog. That’s the discipline, which I have not been following, but the scalding boredom of illness and my tap-dancing dreams makes me think I have to try harder. It’s Valentine’s Day. I remember February 14th four decades ago: I was a lonely college freshman, recently broken up with my first college boyfriend, living in a rental apartment with my friend Ellen.

Charles, my landlord, was downstairs, with his daughters, six and two, sleeping in the living room (their old bedrooms were now mine and Ellen’s rooms). His divorcing wife lived elsewhere with the boys. Charles had a crush on me: my kilt, combat boots, big Mexican sweater with the cigarette burn on the sleeve, round glasses. I had barely noticed him. I paid more attention to the six-year-old who visited nearly every day and kept me company with her nonstop chatter. But he came back from visiting (breaking up with) a girlfriend in New York and he looked different. He’d cut his straggly hair. He had a certain swagger. I became aware that he was possible—and not all THAT old. He was thirty. I was seventeen.

I seduced him. Even now, I stick to that story. I may not have known I what I was doing in the larger sense—certainly not that I was setting out on a lifetime cruise, that the children would grow up and have children and I’d still know them, that love as the answer to a problem or a question or a dream would be abandoned in rage, while love as what accepts and endures would calmly sail on—

No, I knew none of that, but I knew what I was doing. I’d slept and fooled around with a number of boys: in the wet Vermont woods, on the beach in Mykonos, at a funeral in Long Island, in a threesome with my cousin. I’d read everything from Gone with the Wind to Justine. I knew men were simple creatures in bed, though infinitely mysterious and frightening out of it. I liked making them tremble. Pleasure was my weapon and I wielded it with confidence.

Love is something else. I’ve only ever loved two men, discounting countless infatuations. The early excitement fades. The feeling that you are discovering the meaning of life—I refer to the kind of meaning that lifts you above the unending confusion of the everyday—disappears. You pay the price for not knowing how to handle conflict, which nobody does. You pay the price for secrets and lies. You regret.

I’ve been a dumbass for love and, yes, I regret it. There may be a book or ten in it, but I don’t care about that so much anymore. I learned the makeup of my humanity and have been humbled but not yet made wise. Grudge is my constant companion.

That was the one that got away. My therapist refers this event as my great piece of luck. I can’t really argue. Sanity has its grays, but more madness is not the answer.

And the other? He brings me soup, cleans the kitty litter, entertains me when I am sick at 3 am, and will not, does not know how to, ease my loneliness with make believe. You see that? Lies/make believe. One is nasty; one is nice. They are the same creature. I chased after that creature until it bit my head off.

I don’t really understand anything. Maybe you noticed that already. I would like to say something simple about love; for example, that’s its wonderful, sustaining, infinite, the pulse of the world. But others have said that. I need to find the courage to try again to say whatever it is I really know.

I dreamed last night that my novel (one that doesn’t actually exist, making fun of hostile men) was rejected by a British publisher, causing me to have a tantrum— but it was a snarky, lively book and, leafing through it, I found I was happy to have it home. Then I was buying china with a French country tulip pattern, a gift for Dick Cheney. I was a little embarrassed to be his friend. The salesmen at the china counter insisted that Cheney’s views on torture were his own business and no reason for anyone to criticize him. He loves art, they said. Music and art; he’s a big fan. He can’t make it himself but is passionate about those who do.

I was confused again. Dreams aren’t always clearer. Father issues ribboned through the air. Happy Valentine’s Day.

Windchime

BY TONY HOAGLAND

She goes out to hang the windchime

in her nightie and her work boots.

It’s six-thirty in the morning

and she’s standing on the plastic ice chest

tiptoe to reach the crossbeam of the porch,

windchime in her left hand,

hammer in her right, the nail

gripped tight between her teeth

but nothing happens next because

she’s trying to figure out

how to switch #1 with #3.

She must have been standing in the kitchen,

coffee in her hand, asleep,

when she heard it—the wind blowing

through the sound the windchime

wasn’t making

because it wasn’t there.

No one, including me, especially anymore believes

till death do us part,

but I can see what I would miss in leaving—

the way her ankles go into the work boots

as she stands upon the ice chest;

the problem scrunched into her forehead;

the little kissable mouth

with the nail in it.

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