Actually, They Can Take Anything Away From Me

December 1, 2012 § 1 Comment


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


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