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Today’s guest poet: Elizabeth Barrett Browning


[Portrait of Elizabeth Barrett Browning by William Charles Ross]

Sonnet XXII: When Our Two Souls Stand Up

When our two souls stand up erect and strong,
Face to face, silent, drawing nigh and nigher,
Until the lengthening wings break into fire
At either curvèd point,–what bitter wrong
Can the earth do to us, that we should not long
Be here contented? Think. In mounting higher,
The angels would press on us and aspire
To drop some golden orb of perfect song
Into our deep, dear silence. Let us stay
Rather on earth, Belovèd,–where the unfit
Contrarious moods of men recoil away
And isolate pure spirits, and permit
A place to stand and love in for a day,
With darkness and the death-hour rounding it.


Today’s guest poet  —  Conrad Aiken

Chance Meetings

In the mazes of loitering people, the watchful and the furtive,
The shadows of tree-trunks and shadows of leaves,
In the drowse of the sunlight, among the low voices,
I suddenly face you,

Your dark eyes return for a space from her who is with you,
They shine into mine with a sunlit desire,
They say an ‘I love you, what star do you live on?’
They smile and then darken,

And silent, I answer “You too — I have known you, — I love you! –‘
And the shadows of tree-trunks and shadows of leaves
Interlace with low voices and footsteps and sunlight
To divide us forever.

Something happened last night.  I’m not exactly sure what, but it was important. 

I woke up long before dawn, maybe around four – I didn’t bother to check the time, but you can tell from the quality of slender light if it is less than the darkest time of night.  It wasn’t exactly waking.  It wasn’t exactly sleeping.  It wasn’t the kind of visitation that I used to have in the closest and most tumultuous periods of my relationship.  In other words, it wasn’t another person visiting me.  I don’t think I’ve ever quite experienced this before, and I’m struggling for the words to describe it, just as I am struggling to remember it.

In this time and space between sleeping and waking, between darkness and dawn, I learned things.  I understood things.  Things were revealed to me, truths that perhaps I had known and denied, or perhaps hadn’t known at all.  But truths nonetheless.  They were poignant, painful, comforting messages from the universe.  Perhaps the universe knew that I couldn’t hear them, hold them, understand them unless I was at a peaceful place where my emotions were not standing center-stage – and that place was betwixt and between. 

I cannot for the life of me remember what I learned in this space, but I don’t think that it matters that I can’t consciously recall it.  It was planted in me like a seed into earth worn down by winter, but burgeoning with the promise of spring.  I lived in this space for about 90 minutes, then went back to sleep for a little while.  I woke feeling different.  For one thing, I was hungry, which I hadn’t felt in longer than I can remember.  For another thing, I was motivated to clean things, change things.  It was like coming out from the ether.  It was like surfacing for air after being underwater for almost too long.  It almost felt like the person I knew two and a half years ago, who was strong, changing and loveable. 

I know I am on a journey here.  Right now feels like being in the eye of a hurricane – calm, with the sun breaking through the clouds, though a dark bank of storm is still to come, a time when I (I had originally written “we”, but correct myself, as there is no “we”) can walk out on the beach and assess the damage up to this point, and start thinking about what needs to be done.  There will be more waves, swells and swamping as I put my little boat back in the water to continue on.  More tears, more desperate pain, more embarrassed anger.  Those things have happened before  – never to this extent, but they have happened.  I can only hope that after this time, they will never happen to this extent again.  But I can’t dwell on them.  I can’t live there.  I want to live in that loveable, strong woman I was – but now, more clear on my own value and my own worth.  And I have pity – but not for myself.

Today’s guest poet – W.H. Auden.  (I believe I include this poem in an entry last year as a tribute to the poet on his birthday, but it is one of my favorites, sad as it is, and deserves another look.  I watched “Four Weddings and A Funeral” the other night, and the reading of this piece in that movie was amazingly moving. )

Funeral Blues

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He Is Dead.
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now; put out every one,
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun,
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the woods;
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

Can You?

Can you not be happy
Until you feel that you have mourned?

Day after day, you are faced with your losses
Like a high-stakes gambler who has to
Drive a cab to earn enough money to get out of town.
Some days, loss is a vicious presence,
Others, it is a subtle shadow,
But it is always there.

Must you embrace it
Wrestle it
Conquer it
Before you can free yourself?

Before you can forgive yourself?

Before you can reclaim yourself
and your dreams?

I am sad to think
That you cannot separate me
From your loss
Because I know

Today’s guest poet – my favorite, Pablo Neruda.

I Crave Your Mouth, Your Voice, Your Hair

Don’t go far off, not even for a day, because –
because – I don’t know how to say it: a day is long
and I will be waiting for you, as in an empty station
when the trains are parked off somewhere else, asleep.

Don’t leave me, even for an hour, because
then the little drops of anguish will all run together,
the smoke that roams looking for a home will drift
into me, choking my lost heart.

Oh, may your silhouette never dissolve on the beach;
may your eyelids never flutter into the empty distance.
Don’t leave me for a second, my dearest,

because in that moment you’ll have gone so far
I’ll wander mazily all over the earth, asking,
Will you come back?  Will you leave me here, dying?

The Rec Center where I work out (almost daily now, like a very good dog!) had a little handwritten sign up the other day:

Widow’s Potluck

with a little arrow pointing down a dingy hallway.

It got me to thinking, which, as we know, can be dangerous. 

If I were married and my husband died, I would not want to be identified as a widow.  What a sad status.  Sad because you are identifying yourself by what you have lost.  Sad because it places you in an exclusive club that you never wanted to join.

And that got me to thinking even more.  Almost every form you have to fill out asks you for your “status”, with “status” being defined as:

— Married
— Single
— Divorced
— Widowed

Now why should anybody care?  Is it really anybody’s business?  Why should we clump ourselves into these categories?  It’s not as if this question provides any insight into your emergency contact information or mental state.  Don’t they realize that there’s a judgement involved in each of these categories?  The boxes might as well read:

— I have not been successful in finding a mate.
— I’m better than you because I did find a mate.
— I failed at making my marriage work.
— My life is defined by the death of my spouse – hell, I might as well die too.

Honestly, how rude.  And doesn’t this leave out those of us who may be in love but do not want to be married?  We don’t exactly define ourselves as single.  We’re in a committed relationship.  We have a life partner (which unfortunately also implies that we’re gay.)  We just fall outside the check boxes.

Can’t someone please come up for a word for those of us who are “of a certain age,” dating and totally committed to a man, but not really interested in marriage?  I hate using the word “boyfriend”.  It makes me feel like a middle-schooler.

Why do we define ourselves with these terms?  Isn’t it the same thing as defining ourself by our relationship (or lack thereof) with someone else?  Why can’t we just define ourselves as ourselves?

Alternatively, we define ourselves by our jobs.  This identifying label makes losing one’s job that much more difficult.  Not only have you lost your income, your self-esteem, your routine, and a big chunk of your social network, you’ve lost your identity.  When strangers ask you, “What do you do?”, what can you say?   “I exist”?  That just implies failure or laziness. 

I have a British friend who told me that in England, you must know someone fairly well before you ask them what they do for a living.  Asking such a question is essentially the same thing as asking how much money they make, and heaven knows we never ask about that – it would be entirely too vulgar.  Yep, that’s us, shockingly vulgar Americans.  Just think about the John Goodman movie “King Ralph”.  Gotta love the scene where he’s wearing the crown in the bathtub.

I suppose this was a mini-rant.  It’s not a battle I’m willing to spill blood for, but it is an interesting set of thoughts, at least to me.  Now it’s back to the drawing board for coming up with that word for my relationship – and checking to see if there are any goodies leftover from the Widow’s Potluck.

So, I asked the person that I’ve been seeing his opinion about my new work (such as it is).  And he declined to provide it.  Now, you must understand that we talk about everything.  His refusal to share his opinion with me automatically implies that it’s not positive.  He’s my best coach in a lot of things, including my attempts at writing.  I’ve always thought he supported what I’m doing.  And he says he does – he says he is totally supportive of me.  But what he’s not saying is that there’s something he doesn’t approve of.  He says his opinion doesn’t matter — that it’s my life.  It IS my life.  Everything he’s saying is 100% correct. 

So why does this bother me so much?

In Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, when Robinson had a dilemma, he used to tally up the Pros and Cons in the sand.  (I haven’t read the book in years, if ever, but I can’t imagine what sort of dilemmas he had on a deserted island – perhaps whether to name Friday Saturday or Sunday?) 

Following is a similar exercise, comparing my perceptions of reality (the Pros) with the Headtwisters, otherwise known as Blurts or Cons — those thoughts that we sometimes-insecure people have that  just seem to be in your head to mess with you, not for any other reason.

Pro/Reality: I don’t need anyone’s approval but my own. 
Con/Headtwister:  If he doesn’t approve of what or how I do things, we will have no future together – this thing, this unspoken disapproval is the beginning of a pattern that will make us fall apart.

Pro/Reality: He is supportive of me.
Con/Headtwister: It’s an illusion – how can you be supportive of someone (or something) you disapprove of?

Pro/Reality:  I’ve always had a strong work ethic.
Con/Headtwister: I’m not working as hard now, and I think he thinks less of me for it.  He’s still working as hard as ever and that work ethic is something we’ve had in common.

Pro/Reality:  He says he doesn’t want this to impact our relationship, because in his mind, it doesn’t.
Con/Headtwister:  I don’t believe that it won’t impact our relationship.

Pro/Reality:  I asked him.  I want to know.  Why won’t he tell me?  Is it that awful?
Con/Headtwister:  Why am I making this a problem?  If I hadn’t asked, it never would have come up.

Pro/Reality:  It doesn’t matter what he thinks.  No, yes, it does, because we are in a relationship and what impacts one of us impacts the other.  He says if it made a difference in our future, he would tell me.
Con/Headtwister:  I need his approval.  I always need the approval of someone I’m with.  (Wait, no I don’t.  I’m a grown up – he takes me as I am.  That’s what he gets to do.  I don’t have to change to get his approval unless I feel that the change is right for me.) 

Pro/Reality:  I am my own woman.  That is one of the reasons he likes me.
Con/Headtwister:  He’s hiding something from me.  He doesn’t think as much of me as he says he does.

He’s done nothing wrong.  He’s only opting not to be critical.  He’s really doing something right.  Isn’t he?  So why am I being such an obsessive little basket case about it?

UGH.  THAT exercise didn’t make me feel any better.  

Signing off to make more mountains out of more molehills….

It feels like so very much longer than three months.  My goodness, this year feels as if it has lasted much longer that three months.  So let’s check in.

We’ve got the child support payments taken care of.  That’s good.  And I’m in compliance with the court order and have gotten insurance for Kelsea through Cobra (or Snake, as she calls it.)  $384/month isn’t bad for the two of us, but it’s still outcome, and I don’t yet have the income to balance it.

Pat calls me “ex” now on the phone sometimes, where he used to call me “wife”.  I guess it’s okay with me.  He almost never called me Amy.  He complimented me on a shirt the other day – guess he thinks I’m prettier now that I’m down by 16 pounds.  His loss!

The whole thing feels incredibly strange still.  But I must say that most days, especially if I am busy, I don’t have that sense of surreality, that this is just a phase.   I am happy with my freedom and would never go back. 

Strangely enough, though I noticed it slightly before, Pat’s scent has changed.  At least it has changed for me.  It is very unappealing now.  Like the pheromones have been reset or switched off.

I can’t help but wonder how much the divorce has impacted Kelsea’s mood levels that naturally accompany adolescence.  But divorce is one of those things (like having kids) that it’s never the perfect time for.

What I know right now is that I am on some kind of new path – I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I know something will.  Something good.  And I know I never could have gotten on this path without leaving my former marriage. 

I guess I’m doing okay.  It’s still up and down.  One day at a time.  One month at a time.  One diary entry at a time.

May 2020


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