What I Want For Christmas

December 11, 2012 § Leave a comment

dominion

I made an apple-pear pie, tossing the fruit with brandy and sour cherry jam as well as a little brown sugar and spices. It was as good as it sounds, and Charles suggested I could make a living baking pies and selling them on the street, and I said I wish I had a big apartment so I could have a Christmas party, and he said he wanted to eat all the pie himself.

I’m trying to get Christmassy but this is not the year for it. Medical bills have taken all the money we don’t have and that’s just for the animals. I’m feeling just the slightest bit psychopathic, little flickers around the edges, a kind of psychopath-halo effect.

Charles thinks me an angel because I cook dinner most nights and bake pies. “It was more impressive when I was 17,” I tell him. “By now, culinary competence is the least you could expect.”

“Frankly, I don’t expect anything.” The renegade wife is either punished ever after or appreciated all the more. If it had been the first, I would have killed one of us by now. As it is, things are good.

Well, maybe not. I woke up very early yesterday morning to take Mouchette to the vet for dental work. My usual bedtime is 3:30 am, and when dragged from the depths of slumber at 7, I experienced, for 15 minutes or so, what it’s like to be not depressed. It’s nothing like the way I feel when I up the Zoloft dosage, which replaces pain with white noise and a vaguely post-mortem indifference. No, this was the old me: the inner landscape colorful, various, rich with ideas, spread out in all directions, cities, villages, forest…I used to live there. God, I miss it.

But I’m glad it still exists, even if I can’t get to it. My buried self. What a weird life.

Mouchette needed thirteen teeth removed—we were expecting two or three. Peridontal disease. The staggering bill was the least of it. The doctor discovered a mass on the very back of her tongue and biopsied it while she was under.

I can’t think about it now. I have to believe she’ll be okay. She’s long and slinky and beautiful, velvet and snow: black/white nose, fuzzy chin, white whiskers. Her eyes brim with feeling. She sleeps on my chest in the afternoon, heavy and radiant as a warming iron. My Mouchette, my Mousie, my girl.

If she’s okay, that’s all the Christmas we need.

Last week, at KGB, Mark Doty mentioned Alan Dugan: “Whom I don’t think people read enough anymore.” I couldn’t remember if I’d ever read him, so I looked him up. Here’s a poem.

Drunken Memories Of Anne Sexton

The first and last time I met
my ex-lover Anne Sexton was at
a protest poetry reading against
some anti-constitutional war in Asia
when some academic son of a bitch,
to test her reputation as a drunk,
gave her a beer glass full of wine
after our reading. She drank
it all down while staring me
full in the face and then said
“I don’t care what you think,
you know,” as if I was
her ex-what, husband, lover,
what? And just as I
was just about to say I
loved her, I was, what,
was, interrupted by my beautiful enemy
Galway Kinnell, who said to her
“Just as I was told, your eyes,
you have one blue, one green”
and there they were, the two
beautiful poets, staring at
each others’ beautiful eyes
as I drank the lees of her wine.

Alan Dugan

Poetry is Paranoia

December 5, 2012 § Leave a comment

On the way to the poetry reading Monday, under the arch in Washington Square, we passed a slim, freckled young woman with hair the color of November leaves who’d just received a down-on-one-knee marriage proposal. “Oh my God, oh my God,” she was saying, her hands covering her face, truly startled, excited, happy and everything she should be. Charles wanted to snap a picture but I said no. The man had chosen to do this in public; the woman hadn’t. I wanted to give her privacy.

“I’ve been married twice but I never went down on my knee,” he said, as we walked on.
“If I’d waited for that I’d still be waiting.”
“I get down on my knees to clean the kitty litter. Not to mention the cat vomit. I think that’s enough.”
“You make an excellent point.”

KGB was crowded and warm, and the air felt thick; it was a smoky bar without the smoke. I wasn’t comfortable. I wasn’t really in the mood for poetry, either, but as always the lengthy and beguiling introduction set the tone for pleasure. Matthew went off on a tangent, “How many of you would call yourselves Yeats fans?” Most of us raised our hands. “Well, I have a problem with his poem—you’ll see this relates to David [Lehman]—The Wild Swans at Coole. “ He then quoted a line in a Yeatsian manner, but I’ll give you a few more lines, since I can’t resist them

The trees are in their autumn beauty,
The woodland paths are dry,
Under the October twilight the water
Mirrors a still sky;
Upon the brimming water among the stones
Are nine-and-fifty swans.

Matthew’s issue was how Yeats could tell there were exactly 59 swans and he went on a long, excited riff about dozens of birds packed close, in motion, behind each other, overlapping, squabbling, heads dipping, all that feathery white, how could you count them?

He had a point to make about precise description, about David’s poetry, but I kept thinking of Yeats seeing those swans year after year, and though I don’t doubt he chose “nine-and-fifty” for its potency and rhythm, I wouldn’t argue his authority in the number of swans. They returned, year after year, like the poet.

David Lehman (b. 1948), read his slangy, romantic, spontaneous-sounding, very American poems, poems with the looseness and swing of the New York School poets and a kind of pop, 1970’s sweetness—investigations of love and family without the deep irony and multi-faceted perception of the next generation, who somehow learned young what took us half a lifetime.

Lehman’s nonfiction book A Fine Romance: Jewish Songwriters, American Songs had been mentioned in the introduction and after David read, during the break, Charles leaned over (we were at the next table) said a couple of words, then starting singing the title song. David joined in. Could I do that?

A rhetorical question.

I nibbled at my wine. Mark Doty (b. 1953), National Book Award winner, read next and last. His poems were precise, generous, always clever (I liked one line especially, from The Beautiful and The Sublime “Paranoia is poetry/insomnia is prose”–better in context, part of a list building power), but he clipped his words and I missed a lot. I remember what he called his dog in the last line of a new poem about the animal stealing the stake marking a burial plot, running off into the woods, tail high. “Darling, you run…”

I left the reading just after it ended, while Charles was up at the bar waiting for the bill, chatting up some intelligent-looking young person. I was feeling a heavy press of wallflower melancholia, harsh whispers that all my recent rejections, personal and professional, were entirely deserved. My soul, for all its steel and shine in certain island neighborhoods, was on the whole tattered and rotting. It might not be entirely my fault, but I was part of the garbage of history, said my doleful inner voice. Writer’s envy sparked through this, not the story but the fuel for it. I needed the smack of cold night air.

Charles lingered and David Lehman pulled him aside at the bottom of the stairs to introduce him to his wife and to Mark Doty. “The three of us talked for a long time about everything,” said my dear husband when he returned to me and the cats and the sizzling pork chops. “David Lehman insisted on giving me his card…”

In my defense, he had had two gin and tonics while I had only a few sips of white wine. Trying not to drink in situations where I feel shy always makes me twitchy and hostile. But I was afraid he’d be angry at me for leaving—I hadn’t bothered to inform him—and he wasn’t. He came in happy, full of love, assuming I ran home to get a poem on the page (which I in fact did, a beginning anyway), and he chopped the parsnips and apples while I nipped the green beans.

We ate and talked poetry and he called Rebecca, his daughter who is now 42…which means I’ve known her 40 years…and it feels like a hundred.

I’m glad I didn’t drink. Yesterday was very productive. I have half a dozen poems in various states of construction and though I keep dreaming about the man who got away (to put it nicely), I’m willing to accept the dreams as my relationship, and let the waking connection melt like the Arctic ice. I have other things to do.

The English poet George Herbert said, “Living well is the best revenge.” I first heard this aphorism in my early 20’s, reading the book of that title by Calvin Tompkins, about the lives of Sara and Gerald Murphy, friends of Scott Fitzgerald who had a slightly better time of it. It was a seductive idea then, full of the promise of summers on the Riviera, delicious food, wine, brilliant friends, plenty of money…

Now the meaning is knottier. There’s not as much life left and “living well” is deeper and harder. But it IS the best revenge, though I take the idea of revenge with a quart of salt. If, for example, years from now, that person ends up lonely, broken-hearted and penniless, knocking on my door (a fantasy I entertain): “I can’t seem to get a nickel or a dime for a cup of coffee—I need a hamburg—in fact a hot dog wouldn’t be too bad,” I won’t enjoy it at all. Life’s a bitch that way. Time focuses the lens and revenge turns to ash like a vampire in the sun. But the idea of it can be helpful.

(If you don’t recognize the lyrics in the previous paragraph, go look them up.)

I need a vein of newness not sexual, not likely to drive me insane. And not just more reading, writing and attending cultural events, or making friends: something else. I can feel it out there. It’s more important than money, though the wind is blowing in through the torn paper windows, and the rats are biting my toes.

A little embellishment there. It’s cats, not rats. And they don’t bite but leave long claw tracks where they used my right thigh as a ladder or launching pad.

The Difference Between Pepsi and Coke

Can’t swim; uses credit cards and pills to combat
intolerable feelings of inadequacy;
Won’t admit his dread of boredom, chief impulse behind
numerous marital infidelities;
Looks fat in jeans, mouths clichés with confidence,
breaks mother’s plates in fights;
Buys when the market is too high, and panics during
the inevitable descent;
Still, Pop can always tell the subtle difference
between Pepsi and Coke,
Has defined the darkness of red at dawn, memorized
the splash of poppies along
Deserted railway tracks, and opposed the war in Vietnam
months before the students,
Years before the politicians and press; give him
a minute with a road map
And he will solve the mystery of bloodshot eyes;
transport him to mountaintop
And watch him calculate the heaviness and height
of the local heavens;
Needs no prompting to give money to his kids; speaks
French fluently, and tourist German;
Sings Schubert in the shower; plays pinball in Paris;
knows the new maid steals, and forgives her.

David Lehman

The Embrace

You weren’t well or really ill yet either;
just a little tired, your handsomeness
tinged by grief or anticipation, which brought
to your face a thoughtful, deepening grace.

I didn’t for a moment doubt you were dead.
I knew that to be true still, even in the dream.
You’d been out–at work maybe?–
having a good day, almost energetic.

We seemed to be moving from some old house
where we’d lived, boxes everywhere, things
in disarray: that was the story of my dream,
but even asleep I was shocked out of the narrative

by your face, the physical fact of your face:
inches from mine, smooth-shaven, loving, alert.
Why so difficult, remembering the actual look
of you? Without a photograph, without strain?

So when I saw your unguarded, reliable face,
your unmistakable gaze opening all the warmth
and clarity of you–warm brown tea–we held
each other for the time the dream allowed.

Bless you. You came back, so I could see you
once more, plainly, so I could rest against you
without thinking this happiness lessened anything,
without thinking you were alive again.

Mark Doty

Actually, They Can Take Anything Away From Me

December 1, 2012 § 1 Comment

2 cats.ps

Charles is in Montauk today, shooting a music video, a jazz concert. Not much money in it, but he’s making a start and working with excellent musicians, people he greatly admires.

So I’m alone, which I haven’t been for a whole day in quite some time.

It’s a lovely feeling. Don’t mistake me—I wouldn’t want him to move out. Our marriage is slowly knitting together, the feeling of two-ness seeping into my bones. Passion has been and gone, but all the other things people talk about when they talk about intimacy are skittishly blossoming. I like to observe his attachment to the cats, which is far more intense than mine. He tracks their eating and sleeping, broods over their fights. He talks to them a lot, as I do. That’s a problem when I’m in the other room and say, “Honey, what do you…” He thinks I’m talking to Fitzroy, even though I never call Fitzroy “Honey.” I call him You Handsome Thing, Mountain Lion Puss, Big Pig Cat, Bad Kitty.

The whole point of being a couple is to have a human you can call Honey or Sugar. Though I do reserve Sugarlump for Mouchette. That’s just what she is.

He laughs at the bad temper that erupts when I’m frustrated or not feeling well. He warns my cats that they might love me best, but I’m the one with the monster inside, the one entertaining desires to fling the whining beasts across the room. Cats are such splendid foils. To do that with kids would be seriously fucked-up, but cats? You can assign them any role you please.

He’s very good at spending no money, eating beans and peanut butter if don’t cook a meal, but when I rebel against our budget, he doesn’t object. We go to a local joint for music and a glass of wine, or go to hear poetry.

If I fall into a slough of despond and he finds me crying he urges me to talk. What I say hurts (as he knows it will), so when I’ve said my piece, he talks. I don’t want to hear it, I want to keep talking about me—obsession can tell the same story over and over—but his story distracts and calms me. I ask questions; I climb up the cerebral tree and make analytic pronouncements; I start feeling that thank-god-I’m-smart-they-can’t-take-that-away-from-me feeling, which is a threadbare shield but a necessary one. He picks up the wadded-up tissues, makes me a cup of tea, and Fitzroy wanders back in—cats desert you when you cry—and I plunge my tender brain into a book.

We both cook dinner, or not. We argue over where to put things, and I let him rearrange the dishes, the scissors, the scotch tape, because at this point, who cares? It’s only when I’m angry to start with that I get testy, but now I can apologize and he’s not upset anyway. His Margaret baseline includes snapping and kicking. A huge change from the 80’s and 90’s, when I believed my anger at him was all his fault (and so did he) and he was cowed and hurt by it. We tried but couldn’t really talk. And then his anger came out, and it wasn’t pretty. Living apart ten years makes a considerable difference. And his loyalty shines in the darkness.

But what I started to say is, I love my periods of solitude. I feel bigger inside. I feel like there’s more time in the day. I want to do things. I’m the me nobody knows and that one has fingers in every memory and is able to love the world like a saint. (Anyone can, for a few minutes.) Solitude without loneliness is precious and versatile. It flips you from loving the world like a saint to seeing the world as your canvas, every experience your paint. Your brush strokes are effortless.

Something about Charles tamps me down. It would happen with anyone—not exactly the same thing, but some unshakable influence. I used to think Philip would give me pep and drive. But I never reached a point where I wholly trusted him, so mostly what he gave me was excitement, brief hours of contentment, fear. I have no doubt that living with him would inhibit me drastically. That’s the reality, as much as the missed smile, eyelashes, etc.

It’s much easier to think about all of this when I’m alone. It’s much easier to contemplate writing the whole experience, the long marriage and the other guy, probably in short pieces. I’m having dozens of ideas but this isn’t the place for them. This is the place where I say I’m happy it’s winter. I need to shop, walk around the park, then make a hamburger casserole with black beans and yellow peppers, and a sweet potato pie. Most of all I need to remember that if you write, a failure is never a failure. It’s all gold. (OK, not quite. It’s gold-ish. You have to hew to the love of the word–or the music–because everything else dies.)


The Forgotten Dialect of the Heart

How astonishing it is that language can almost mean,
and frightening that it does not quite. Love, we say,
God, we say, Rome and Michiko, we write, and the words
get it all wrong. We say bread and it means according
to which nation. French has no word for home,
and we have no word for strict pleasure. A people
in northern India is dying out because their ancient
tongue has no words for endearment. I dream of lost
vocabularies that might express some of what
we no longer can. Maybe the Etruscan texts would
finally explain why the couples on their tombs
are smiling. And maybe not. When the thousands
of mysterious Sumerian tablets were translated,
they seemed to be business records. But what if they
are poems or psalms? My joy is the same as twelve
Ethiopian goats standing silent in the morning light.
O Lord, thou art slabs of salt and ingots of copper,
as grand as ripe barley lithe under the wind’s labor.
Her breasts are six white oxen loaded with bolts
of long-fibered Egyptian cotton. My love is a hundred
pitchers of honey. Shiploads of thuya are what
my body wants to say to your body. Giraffes are this
desire in the dark. Perhaps the spiral Minoan script
is not language but a map. What we feel most has
no name but amber, archers, cinnamon, horses, and birds.

Jack Gilbert

Dream Song

November 17, 2012 § 2 Comments

Can a person go insane from an earache and a few mad cats? What about LUST? I wish I had mouths all up and down my arms, so I could go out bare-armed like Paula Broadwell and have everyone run away in terror. Zombie Apocalypse it’s not, but enough for a Friday night. Though I couldn’t be any scarier than that ruffled dress Paula wore on Jon Stewart that made her look like Big Bird’s bridesmaid in mourning.

A friend said that in this era anyone having an affair, especially at that level, can’t use email or cell phones. But there are lots of ways they could have passed messages on the Internet, not even employing the fancy encryption/tech stuff. No, I won’t tell you. I may be involved with a CIA agent someday. I’d be the one asking about undetectable assassination methods, not what happened in fucking Bengazi.

Four people died! That’s what happened. John McCain should be serving soup to the even-more-elderly in an area nursing home, the sort of volunteer who never leaves and the staff say, after while, “We’re not really sure if he’s a patient here…but as long as we tape his mouth shut every morning, he’s fine.”

No comment on the gifts gaffe. I have Romnesia. I have a crush on Susan Rice, as well as my continuing crush on Chris Matthews. My husband is in love with his guitar. He doesn’t hear me when I speak. I don’t hear him when I’m reading. He’s an A plus husband, but we need to get out more. Sometimes, we’re too bored to eat.

I have stories I need to commit to paper, or its facsimile. Yet I hesitate. Writing my memoir, in the 1990s, I cried for two straight years. I’ve already put in my tears for this decade. I’m tired of feeling like a woman after a back-alley face-lift. I want some of those millions wasted on the election. “Will you give if you win the lottery?” asked the woman from the LGBT organization after I explained all my charity monies had gone to Sandy victims lately. “Absolutely,” I said. “Even if I win the $ 5,000 Better Homes and Gardens sweepstakes.”

I have a sparkling resume, for a writer. If you’re desperate, they’ll smell it on you, Lisa said. But I’m far from desperate. I didn’t end anyone and hack her body up and hide the pieces. I may talk too much. I apologized to my husband recently for my shitty mood and bad manners. He laughed darkly. “If you could get to me, you’d have been dead a long time ago…”

Murder is the lowest expression of imagination, although joking about it isn’t. Trolling for sweepstakes is the next lowest. The epistolary erotic novel is enjoying a renaissance. I want to laugh while I write.

Lola still attacks like a kamikaze fighter. Mouchette vanishes under the bed at the slightest excuse. Charles keeps me locked in the bedroom all day and night so Mouchette won’t be lonely, while he stays in the living room with Lola. Fitzroy goes back and forth as he pleases. He tests the water level in his bowl with his paw before drinking, contaminating it for everyone. The kitty litter is so close to my bed now, I can hear them peeing. It’s oddly intimate, like the sister who leaves the bathroom door open.

My new favorite poet

Dear Reader

You have forgotten it all.
You have forgotten your name,
where you lived, who you
loved, why.
I am simply
your nurse, terse and unlovely
I point to things
and remind you what they are:
chair, book, daughter, soup.

And when we are alone
I tell you what lies
in each direction: This way
is death, and this way, after
a longer walk, is death,
and that way is death but you
won’t see it
until it is right
in front of you.

Once after
your niece had been to visit you
and I said something about
how you must love her
or she must love you
or something useless like that,
you gripped my forearm
in your terrible swift hand
and said, she is
everything—you gave
me a shake—everything
to me.
And then you fell
back into the well. Deep
in the well of everything. And I
stand at the edge and call:
chair, book, daughter, soup.

–Rita Mae Reese

While My Guitar Gently Weeps

September 1, 2012 § Leave a comment

Charles and Lola

I’ve been feeling very loving toward my cats since I returned from California, even though we now have a second kitty litter a few feet from my bed to prevent Mouchette from being ambushed in her most private moments. Two nights ago Charles and I were ready to go to sleep at the same time, which rarely happens, and Fitzroy and Mouchette were on the bed. Moments after I turned off the light, Lola decided to join us. You can’t blame her for that. We were broadcasting family time and she was out there with the tax returns.

But the bedroom is disputed territory and there was a fight for which my body served as an unfortunate stretch of battleground. It was a hot night and I didn’t have even a sheet over me. Lola ran with her claws out and drew blood at several places on my back, then did it again. Charles got up to shut Lola in the living room and decided to stay there with her so she would feel cared for.

Then at dinner last night, deep into a bottle of Spanish red, he was telling me how I should write all the time, fiction, poetry, blog entry, anything, just write. I remarked that I couldn’t afford to always do that and he said he was sorry he wasn’t looking for a job but he had to try one more time with music. I said that was okay, which it is. Then he told me that his out-of-town girlfriend, whom I call Cynthia, was complaining that she never heard from him anymore. He said, and I quote, “I told her you’d starting writing your blog again and she could read about me there.”

Cynthia is a faithful reader. When I was in a bad way, a few months ago, Charles said she told him she wanted to give me a hug.

I said to Charles, “I’m sure she’d rather hear directly from you.”

“I’m too wrapped up in stuff.”

Okay, here’s the dirt: Charles spends all day on the couch with his guitar and computer and sleeps with his cat at night. I’m never quite sure if he’s here, especially when the air conditioner is going. Otherwise, he does dishes, takes the occasional walk and attempts to make the cats friends by holding Lola in his arms and bringing her progressively closer and closer to Fitzroy and Mouchette. He believes this is working. I make him clean my wounds with peroxide. He seems happy.

Meanwhile, the other other woman in my life, whom I’ll call Felicia, sent me an email recently and ended with “hugs.” She was commenting on this blog. We don’t have a regular correspondence.

So, things are less hurtful, but no less weird. I always liked weird but it’s different when it’s the simple exhalation of me living. The obsessive guitar player may be a dangerous influence. I’m no longer lonely, but I’m not communicating much either. It’s not love that’s lacking, but most of our love passes through the body of a cat before surfacing into language. There’s more I could say but I’m starting to feel like Clint Eastwood.

So my many dears, my wayward kittens, make my day: petition whatever gods you believe in to bring us gentle rains when rains are needed, peace among felines, a Republican defeat in November, and hugs all around.

The weird stuff I deal with as he told me to: write it.

Looking Back in My 81st Year

How did we get to be old ladies—
my grandmother’s job—when we
were the long-leggèd girls?
— Hilma Wolitzer

Instead of marrying the day after graduation,
in spite of freezing on my father’s arm as
here comes the bride struck up,
saying, I’m not sure I want to do this,

I should have taken that fellowship
to the University of Grenoble to examine
the original manuscript
of Stendhal’s unfinished Lucien Leuwen,

I, who had never been west of the Mississippi,
should have crossed the ocean
in third class on the Cunard White Star,
the war just over, the Second World War

when Kilroy was here, that innocent graffito,
two eyes and a nose draped over
a fence line. How could I go?
Passion had locked us together.

Sixty years my lover,
he says he would have waited.
He says he would have sat
where the steamship docked

till the last of the pursers
decamped, and I rushed back
littering the runway with carbon paper . . .
Why didn’t I go? It was fated.

Marriage dizzied us. Hand over hand,
flesh against flesh for the final haul,
we tugged our lifeline through limestone and sand,
lover and long-leggèd girl.

Maxine Kumin

En Famille

August 14, 2012 § 1 Comment

My office

Charles has been living with me 6 weeks. Each day domesticity settles over me more fully. I like to take care of a man (though he’s been taking care of me lately). I like the little day-to-day things, the storehouse of memory. We’ve been married 35 years.

When I was not yet eighteen, a college freshman living in the upstairs apartment he rented to my roommate and I after his first wife left him, and we’d been lovers for a couple of weeks, I took him to dinner at my mother’s house. She’d met him when I looked at the apartment and already approved of this March-June romance. He was 30, with four kids aged two to six.

I showed him my bedroom, which was on the second floor. I had a collection of rocks on my bureau that I’d found here and there over several years and had decided were magical. He picked one up and I said, “No! You can’t touch those; nobody can touch those but me!”

You have to understand, I was raised by a mother who told me I couldn’t touch her pack of Tarot cards because it would damage her ability to read them. And magic wasn’t Disney; it was The Brothers Grimm, Yeats and the Hermetic tradition, Isaac Newton, Aleister Crowley, Robert Graves’ The White Goddess (which I hadn’t yet read but had carved in my bones).

After issuing my prohibition, I went into my ensuite bathroom to brush my hair. When I came out, he was gone. The bathroom was next to the only door out of the room and I had left the bathroom door open so I knew he hadn’t left. Had I disappeared him? Was he swallowed by the rock? I’d had quite a few spooky experiences in my life but nothing so drastic. After a brief confusion, logic intervened and I crossed the room to the open window. He was on the ground below. I screamed. He got up and said he was fine. “But why did you do that! You could have broken a leg!”

“I couldn’t stand it when you told me not to touch. I felt like such an outsider.”

He was an outsider. The rocks had been with me longer. But he was my first serious lover, and I didn’t want him jumping out of windows. “But…I didn’t mean…sweetie…Okay, you can touch the fucking rocks.”

No, that wasn’t the real dialogue. I don’t remember the real dialogue. But what I learned at that moment is that men are far stranger than magic.

Fast forward, 2012, living together after 10 years apart. We’re both nervous. It’s not the old marriage. I keep asking, “What if my depression doesn’t go away?” and he says, “Just give it a try.” The autonomy Charles grants me is a rarity in the universe. The flip side is I don’t feel challenged to be better. That was a big drawback in my youth; now, not so much.

He brought his cat Lola and at first my two were excited to meet the newcomer. Charles held her in his arms for the introductions. Mouchette stood up on her hind legs with a look on her face of delighted surprise. The Cowardly Lion hid in the Taliban cave, then crept out to reconnoiter. Neither one hissed or said anything the least bit unkind. Lola yowled, wailed and flashed fang.

After two weeks, my gentle Mouchette abandoned courtesy. Now she patrols the bedroom, never letting that Florida bitch in to where the big prize writes on her weird machine. Lola owns the living room couch, where my cats used to sleep all afternoon. I miss seeing them sprawled out there, like thieves on the Riviera after a big heist. But Lola makes a silky little bundle, black and gray and copper, with emerald eyes. She has a nervous habit of biting her fur off, so her pale skin shows through and from behind—buzzed butt and stringy tail—she looks like a rat. But when she’s curled up, she’s all feline. I pat her head and she cringes. She used to like me, when I’d visit Charles, but not being allowed on my bed has made things fraught.

Fitzroy and Lola are fight buddies—she likes to kiss him briefly at the dinner hour then smack him around later. He’s bigger and doesn’t care about the violence, though I think he’d enjoy longer kisses. After taking his frustrations out on Mouchette—attacking and biting until she squeals, and trying far more often than previously to have sex (which the Princess endures enigmatically)—he goes back for more of Lola’s older woman bitch-love.

He’s the only one who’s better off. He gallops around, looks anxious, gets smacked, but no longer spends hours staring at me, communicating all too well how boring, how unbearably boring his life is. Lola’s angry and scared. She misses being an only cat. She misses catching geckos. And Mouchette, disappointed in her hope for a girlfriend, spends far too much time under my bed.

Charles spends too much time playing cat counselor, and feeding them wherever they feel safe, which means I’m stepping in plates of catfood all the time. He’s more patient and indulgent than he was with his children. For me, it seems much the same: noise and wild chases in the house, dishes broken, dinner spurned—love but no respect. But the kids turned out OK (even respectful!). The cats, I think, are a lost cause.

Affirmation

Aging, everybody knows it.
Even when we are young,
we glimpse it sometimes, and nod our heads
when a grandfather dies.
Then we row for years on the midsummer
pond, ignorant and content. But a marriage,
that began without harm, scatters
into debris on the shore,
and a friend from school drops
cold on a rocky strand.
If a new love carries us
past middle age, our wife will die
at her strongest and most beautiful.
New women come and go. All go.
The pretty lover who announces
that she is temporary
is temporary. The bold woman,
middle-aged against our old age,
sinks under an anxiety she cannot withstand.
Another friend of decades estranges himself
in words that pollute thirty years.
Let us stifle under mud at the pond’s edge
and affirm that it is fitting
and delicious to lose everything.

Donald Hall

The Un-Divorced

August 2, 2010 § 5 Comments

The New York Times has an article called “The Un-Divorced,” about couples who live apart for years but don’t divorce for various reasons, inertia and money being the most important. Since I’m in that situation with my husband, who lives in Florida while I live in New York, I would like to add my two cents (which is all I would have without him).

I treasure living alone, but it helps to have a man around, a few days a month, who considers himself part of the household and will therefore cut the cats’ toenails, sew up the rip in the comforter, and defrost the refrigerator. He also sends checks and reads everything I write. He gives me his old iphones when he buys the new model. He provides health insurance.

I scour the Internet for the family Christmas presents, remind him of his children’s birthdays and offer advice on his work woes. I remember his parents when they were younger than he is now, and his children before they had children. I remember his children in diapers. I sat at his kitchen table at 17 and listened to all the grief and confusion a young man with four children feels when his family comes apart. He listened to my advice then, too. What I remember is being glad that his obsessive focus on his lost marriage meant he didn’t notice how pathologically shy I was.

And he sat with me many nights in my 20’s when I was drunk, talking about the family deaths of my childhood and all the other events of my short life that were numinous with a meaning I didn’t understand, which I can now summarize for you: love. He listened to me say, “I wish I was dead” over and over in my 30’s and never once told me how scared it made him.

But he still leaves the milk out every single day and leaves the keys in the apartment door (on the outside). Missing each other helps. Seeing other people, both of us, is a good thing, except when it isn’t. I’m not going to pretend we’ve got something that works smoothly. I’ve never gotten beyond the stage of life where you’re thrilled when the car makes it all the way home and nothing has blown up while you were out.

Today my husband went home to Florida and I like being alone and I’m lonely. I’m still trying to figure out what I want besides all the things I used to have, including the blue dress with the zipper down the front that I wore in 5th grade. I want there to be lots of lions and elephants in Africa, and plenty of fish in the sea. I want everyone I care for living close by, but separate quarters for all. I want a common room like we had in boarding school, where you can loiter when you need company but are too conflicted to make a phone call. It would probably be a good idea to add a nurse’s station. And a place to buy milk.

Failing and Flying

Everyone forgets that Icarus also flew.
It’s the same when love comes to an end,
or the marriage fails and people say
they knew it was a mistake, that everybody
said it would never work. That she was
old enough to know better. But anything
worth doing is worth doing badly.
Like being there by that summer ocean
on the other side of the island while
love was fading out of her, the stars
burning so extravagantly those nights that
anyone could tell you they would never last.
Every morning she was asleep in my bed
like a visitation, the gentleness in her
like antelope standing in the dawn mist.
Each afternoon I watched her coming back
through the hot stony field after swimming,
the sea light behind her and the huge sky
on the other side of that. Listened to her
while we ate lunch. How can they say
the marriage failed? Like the people who
came back from Provence (when it was Provence)
and said it was pretty but the food was greasy.
I believe Icarus was not failing as he fell,
but just coming to the end of his triumph.

–Jack Gilbert

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