(Writing wretched verse so you don’t have to since 1995)
They were so young, this couple
still new to their stories,
looking ahead and not looking,
locked into marriage. The problem
was the fights, how swiftly they began
and raged into violent silences.
Behind these lay the landscape after passion,
hidden by the buttery fog of hope.
The early clenches leave us all so numb
and assured; betrayed by consequent
revelations. So that’s really you? we say.
And this me? How eager we are;
how meager. She was less willing
than he desired and he helpless
before broken appliances. These disappointments
stood before a deeper set of wounds,
the self-hates and cooling sheets
which no amount of salving will heal.
Three times she returned the ring,
on the last occasion flinging it
at his head. He ducked (how we must all
learn to duck!) and it struck the wall
and both of them, just then, saw the folly
of their promise, the end of the affair. He bent
to retrieve the ring, held it to the light
to show her what they’d done: the stone,
a tiny diamond, dislodged and lost.
Without another word, they lowered themselves
onto hands and knees and moaned ensemble,
searching, hoping to find again
everything they had been and might become,
this shiny stone, so tiny
and costly and hard.
I think Bill Withers might have beaten me to the punch here. But then, Bill’s a professional poet. And he’s been married for years. Whereas, at the time of composition, I was neither married nor involved. I wasn’t even fresh from loss. No, I was wed to my art, somewhat feverish and, in all likelihood, stoned.
I knew something about the self-deception that loves engenders, but not very much. That’s why I kept writing break-up poems full of cooling sheets and broken appliances. I was rehearsing for failure.
There was a second-run movie theater near my house and I spent most nights there, alone, with a bag full of factory second chocolates on my lap. Hollywood hit me with everything it had: romantic comedies and costume dramas and gorgeous bloodletting. Some nights, I slunk from theater to theater, browsing the lunatic dreams of hard-core capitalists. Tom Cruise played an assassin in one, or maybe that was all of them, and I thought about him in Risky Business, dancing around in his underwear to Bob Seger and fucking Rebecca DeMornay on a train. Tom Cruise was probably a poet, too, a poet-assassin, shooting the wings off hope.
Often, in these mostly empty theaters, there’d be some couple talking low to one another, trying to ignore the pinhead in the second to last row, snickering at the previews, coating his arteries in sugary goo, tiny and costly and hard. So maybe this poem was a fuckoff directed towards them, for the unpardonable crime of their happiness. There wasn’t much mercy to be had in those days, which is probably why I miss them so much.
Guest Poet Ms. Paula Bomer of Sioux Falls, SD, writes the following:
“Here’s a bad sonnet I wrote while studying with William Matthews at CCNY. I took his poetry course for the hell of it, even though I was a fiction ‘student.’ He was a wonderful teacher, but that had no effect on me. He died shortly after I studied with him and I just hope it wasn’t from the stress of having to read my shitty poems.”
Please don’t flatter yourself, Paula. Bill was a friend of mine, and he did a lot of blow in the Seventies. We all did. All of us who mattered, anyway.
I could die from chain-smoking cigarettes.
If I drink as much as I often do,
That could kill me as well – whiskey and beers,
Staggering around blind, death could meet me
Easily, sloppily. Or I could die
With my stomach swollen huge, skin stretched taught,
Another membrane over her red heart.
My knees bent up, burning wound bleeding, Push
Says the doctor. I’d rather feel the wind
Hard on my face, knees gripping the sides of
My motorcycle, gloved hand pulling in
The clutch, muffler pulled out, engine loud -
The road stretched out loose in front of me -
I won’t scream in agony, won’t feel life leave.
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