This poem was originally published in The Raintown Review, Volume 8, Issue 2 in December of 2009.
The Writer’s Wife
“For fifteen years we lived against the sea
Below Ogunquit where the surf marks time
And tide, and days remained unchanged, and each
Of us learned to watch the seasons silently.
He needed me. I cared for him. He wrote.
I listened when he read to help him find
A voice. But otherwise, we seldom spoke.”
She owned a shop in Perkins Cove. A sign
That long ago surrendered to a vine
That choked off half its words and cut its way
Across the paint still offered works of folk
And modern art – some pieces she had made,
But mostly it was others’ work. It soaked
Up time, and she could draw on slower days.
“I’ve kept books I’ve filled with faces from the crowd,
A different one for each of thirteen years.
My therapist suggested it would help
To use a pen to get my feelings out.
It did, so I stopped seeing him and kept
On drawing. Over time it eased the fear
From always feeling helpless and inept.
“The sketches give me strength, and I can hear
Myself sometimes in the mothers standing near
The girls I draw. I’ve labeled every book.
It shows the age its models represent,
First nine, then each year adding one. It took
Me days, sometimes, when, after some effect,
I’d seek a face. But it gave me peace to look.
“My husband wrote a book he called To See
From Distant Stars. It was his way to fill
The void, the way that sketching did for me.
But truth is neither one of us could free
Ourselves from the haunting silence of the night
When even winds and crashing waves grow still.
She’d barely made a sound. Just slid from sight.
“It’s strange how you remember things. A chill
From a current in the sea. Like an imbecile
I thought of being cold. And when the man
With a surf board yelled take hold, I knew my plight
Was sealed. They searched for her for days. A fan
Shaped pattern spread from Wells to York. And tight
Along the shore, boaters scoured the rocks and sand.
“They never found her. Gradually our friends
Began to put their worries on other things.
It often goes that way. Some pain just ends
When another takes its place. A life depends
On letting go. You have to let things fall.
Some say it’s pre ordained, that life springs
From life’s decay, and nothing matters at all.”
She stopped and looking down removed her rings.
“I don’t need these any more. If I had wings
I’d fly away I feel so light. We had
A chance ten years ago. He said he saw
My books and opened them, said it drove him mad
To see what might have been, said his soul was raw
And he was tired of always being sad.
“He wanted to believe we owed her more
Than grief. Five years had been enough.
That week I put my books away and closed the store,
And we considered moving from the shore.
His book had made him famous and Hollywood
Had made him rich. Now he wanted us to seek
What was left between us that still felt good.
“On Friday morning he’d been asked to speak
On God and fate at Boston College. He’d sneak
Away at noon, he said, to see a farm
In western Mass. He said he thought I should
Come too, and then he smiled. He aimed his charm
At me. I knew he always understood
The way his smile could undo any harm.
“I almost told him yes but then said no.
I don’t know why. I heard the harbor bell
And thought it rang for me. It said don’t go.
And so I stayed and felt the undertow
Of loss refuse to let me up. There are caves
Beneath the sea where drowned souls go. They dwell
There undisturbed by tide or clutching waves.
“But we, who’ve stayed behind and sampled hell
And know too well the terror of a swell
We can’t escape fight, just to stay ahead.
And I’m not sure it ends, unless the grave’s
An end and nothing lives among the dead.
I got a call that Sunday night. Fate so enslaves
And taunts us even hope’s a thing to dread.
“He’d swerved too late to miss the deer and caught
The berm and its hind quarter. When they found
Them at the bottom of the hill, they shot
The doe. Twelve weeks went by before I brought
Him home, and now it’s been ten years. I grew tired
Almost at once of tending him. I’d drowned
His girl, he said, now penance was required.
“There is no penance in this world. We’re crowned
The day we’re born with thorns and walk around
Blinded from blood that runs down from our brow.
We both lost sight of what I once admired —
The way he handled grief and could allow
Me mine. Some said his Distant Stars inspired
New hope. But hate was all he offered now.
“Each year to mark the day she disappeared
He’d find the place above the rocks where he
Had stood to watch what every parent’s feared
But can’t conceive. Each wave that rolled in leered
At him and nothing ever changed. He went
Alone before the crash. He and the sea,
A willful pair, both static and unbent.
“Then when he couldn’t walk it fell to me
To push him up the cliff where we were three.
That changed things. He no longer hoped to stare
Down waves and force the ocean to relent
And give her up. How could one prepare
For that first time? He grabbed me and would have sent
Me to the rocks if I’d let go his chair.
“You can’t prepare. ‘Why not this one?’ he cried.
‘Why’d you leave her here but take the child?’
As if I’d never asked the same. I pried
His fingers from my arm. ‘You should have died,’
He said and grabbed my hair. ‘But it’s not you.
It’s all of this. This emptiness. This wild
Insane eternal silence.’ ” She was through.
She pushed her hair back from her face and smiled.
“You know the rest, the way his charm beguiled
A public hooked on fame. Some said they learned
From him. Some looked at me and said he drew
His strength from love. They said that I had earned
My place beside him. No one ever knew
How intensely hot the rage inside him burned.
“And no one cared. No one asked me why
I stayed, or why I took him there each year.
I drew the last face yesterday. A bride
Of twenty-two. My baby girl, my pride,
Was grown and gone. I watched her walk away
To build her own new life away from here,
Away from us. I’ve no reason now to stay.
“I took him up early. When we got near
The spot, a seagull rose and in the clear
Air bobbed above the rocks before it rolled
Sideways, falling forward through the wind. ‘Say
She’ll come,’ he said. We stood facing a cold
Wind from the sea. I said, ‘she left yesterday.’
At the cliff’s edge, my hands let go their hold.”
© Joseph Saling and The New Word Mechanic, 2012.