Marina Tsvetayeva wrote it, a long poem titled The Poem of the End, a mini epic of a poem about the ending of a long love affair. I wrote about that poem while in graduate school, can see myself at my tiny desk before a dirty window, shabbily dressed in a shabby apartment. I see myself from the back, my long, long hair a dark river down my back and I’m wearing my father’s old brown cardigan, the one with suede patches on the elbow, frayed cuffs. As a teenager I used to steal that cardigan out of my father’s bureau because I loved wearing it, because I craved my father’s love. At that time, it angered him. At that time, I was decades away from remembering the incest that turned him into a predator and me, small fry prey.
Now I’m writing my own Poem of the End—an elegy, a lament and yes, a furious poem—as the great love of my life has stepped out of it, irreversibly so. Once again I’m sitting at my desk before dirty windows and see myself from the back. I’m wearing a velvet jacket and my hair—wild, thick, blonde—curls down my back, but this time I’m wearing handcuffs, am chained to my writing table.
I no longer have the treatise I wrote on Tsvetayeva. I no longer have my father’s sweater, the one I wore while writing for many, many years, the one he finally boxed up and gave to me for Christmas after I declared I would be A Writer. I called it my “habit of art” sweater after Flannery O’Connor’s strong belief that one must create the habit of art, daily, or the art will not appear. Not only do I no longer have that sweater, I have lost my father and now, the love of my life.
I do have my notebook, reams of pages about my own Poem of the End, as well as Tsvetayeva’s Selected Poems on my desk, a desk whose finish has worn away just where my hand moves back and forth across while writing poem after poem, hour after hour. In “I’ve dissolved for you,” Tsvetayeva writes:
I’ve dissolved for you, in that glass over there,
A hand full of burnt hair.
So there will be no singing, no eating,
So there will be no drinking, no sleeping.
In my Poem of the End, I have appointed spring as the season of ungodly grief, have written:
Mysterious are the matins turned into
dirge, into elegy made potent by
the loss that laves me instead of love,
a hierarchy of loss that’s a shattered lattice,
a lattice without blooms, without vines
and what are vines but veins,
vines gutted but there own thorns?
I feel gutted, remember a story I wrote as a young woman with that nearly famous mane of mine titled “The Inside of a Woman’s Body.” In it there’s a description of a man raping a woman, then stringing her on a tree and gutting her like one would a deer. That really happened, in Palo Alto California, and if that scene was a window, albeit a dirty one, into that young woman’s life, it remains one some thirty years later into an aging me.
Body as junkyard, dump, depository of waste, denied, used, shunted and shunned. Outside it’s April, tomorrow is Easter, and the bulbs are pushing up, thrusting through hard soil in singular light. Inside it’s winter, there’s ice on my hand-me-down bones, my entombed womb is a black fig without the sweetness, my voice box a frost heave, my light suicidal.
In my backyard, the fallen branches are pitchforks and there rinds around clouds whose cream has soured. A line keeps repeating itself in my grinding down, winding down brain—“in the clear voice of the grieving poet.” I am that poet and my poems are eager to eat grief, get fat on its sweet fat, suck the marrow out of those hand-me-down bones and I am broken, broken, broken, even beyond the belief of God.
Yesterday I read a question that I will use as a title. I know this, just know it even though there are no real words to go with that title which asks “What is a Spirit Dancer?” Short answer—the poet. Slightly longer answer—a love tryst. Now that love tryst has been twisted into a torque, turned into the black gnarls in old trees or has become a frozen statue, an ice sculpture hit by the pick, hit by the pick.
Enormous the weight of these words on the page, mere words, words that are bricks in one of Neruda’s blue buildings, sad Neruda, sad blue buildings under a sad, deathly pale sky upon a sad earth soggy with tears—yours, mine—in the Season of Ungodly Grief.
I once wrote that men are darkly magnificent in a dark and magnificent world. That still holds true for me as I am a woman who has had many lovers, a fallen woman with dark lovers, sad lovers, lovers who left me at the drop of a hat. That hat fell into the world’s hatbox which is just one of Popa’s little boxes in his little box poems. Now I creating my own little box poem and in it goes Stein’s tender buttons, Ginzberg’s howl, Simic’s famous sentence and Van Gogh’s slaughtered ear. All the world’s music resounds in that slaughtered ear, an ear that is soft as a peach, that’s a coral conch, an ear that hears the terrible, terrible cries of grief in a spring that loves Sexton’s killing rains.
I just stood up, went to the bookcase, pulled out the only copy I have of my first book, its spine moldy, its pages unread for years and years. I opened it to the title poem, “Twenty Colors.” In it I wrote about how I once lived inside a flower, that while I outgrew that flower it grew within me became the gift I gave to men. Toward the end are these words: “There are at least twenty colors/in the wind. There are at least twenty men who love me, whose hands/are trembling flowers ripped/by wind. I can never have enough/of them. I can never/have enough. O flowers! O wind!”
The man who was the love of my life was one of the men back then who I could never get enough of. I was shunned by him while I was still young, now I have been shunned again and I still cannot get enough of him, never will. Some people have God hunger, I have love hunger, am half-starved right down to my anorexic bones. As I write this, I’m remembering another poem written by that young woman, unpublished, irretrievably lost as is this man. It was titled “Anorexia.” I don’t remember how it goes, but I do remember that it was about a lost love, how the speaker stepped on the scale each day, weighed less and less, only ate ounces of air. I’m eating that air once again, dead air, I’m stuffing myself with it as I grow less and less, become one of the lesser animals as in a poem near the end of Twenty Colors.
I do know how that one goes. Beauty, it declares, turns us away from inner pain, from the lesser animals who love us, the ones down at the bottom who are dark mites—all mouth, no soul. Like lovers who have raped me by leaving me. Believe me, the earth knows this story as does history. Believe me those lesser animals still love me.
Last night, I stood by a bonfire down at the sea built from torn shingles, branches from an old Christmas tree and Ammon’s garbage. I tell you the wood was singing. Like martyrs joyous in their deaths. O how I wanted that wood, that bunch of junk wood, to teach me its song, its high whistle, deadly joy. I want to die while singing that song, go to the grave with it on my lips, be buried alive on my own pyre of junk wood down by the sea, let those hand-me-down bones turn into ash and with it all my poems which are in the end just one long poem of the end.