I can’t write her a poem.
My life, such as it is, has always been prose, of the most prosaic kind. In it, she is the only poetry.
I don’t know how to tell you about her, and how quickly the years pass, despite my best efforts to make each moment of every day linger.
I watch modern movies. In them, men try to make themselves worthy of the attentions of their beloved. What’s always missing-every time- is a woman worth the effort. It never occurred to me, before writing this, that my dissatisfaction with the objects of celluloid obsession is just an acknowledgement of a simple fact: They’re not like her.
What is love? Beats me. I don’t see it attempted much, never mind accomplished. I see people drift in and out of each other’s orbits, and couple and coexist, and fight and cajole one other, in every sordid or blasé approach imaginable, every day, everywhere. I don’t know what love is. I can assure you, however, that I love that woman.
Our children slumber down the hall. They are a manifestation of our devotion, like burning bushes or ladders descending from the clouds. Often, I am awake when they all are asleep, and range around the silent house with some care or woe on my brow. It gives these mundane troubles deeper meaning, that I am allowed the opportunity to fend them off, if I can, and let these innocents sleep the sleep of the unconcerned. If I succeed, they will never know they happened. The smart money is on the trouble.
She used to go out to work. She came home one day, and she was mildly angry. This is rare, with her. Her coworker was a pretty, stupid young lady. Like many pretty, stupid young ladies, she was in the throes of assembling the superstructure of domestic misery so popular these days. She was busy incubating a fatherless child, and living with the man who would not deign to acknowledge it, or her, in any meaningful way. But to be foolish was not enough for this woman, she needed deeper meaning in her life, as we all do, and searched for it in assailing my poor blameless wife, whose only crime was enjoying the reality of husband and family, while she had to settle for, well, she had to settle. Somehow, my wife’s very existence was an affront to her rock-star lifestyle –a wordless accusation- and had to be disparaged.
“All you have is a scrap of paper!” She offered, unbidden. “My boyfriend really loves me!”
My wife is slow to anger. She hadn’t, and would never make a disparaging comment to anyone about such a topic. If she thought the woman was foolish, she kept it to herself, and pitied her her mistake. But this was too much. She answered, and said in prose that which is the poetry:
“My husband got down on his knees and begged me, and my Father afterward, for a chance to stand up in front of everyone he knows, and everyone I know, and a representative of God, and the government besides, and pledge to love and care for me until he is dead, or I am.”
Yes, indeed, I did. And since that day, like a bricklayer, I’ve stacked one day of imperfect but sublime marriage on top of the other, mortared with all the love and care that humans can enjoy, and tested sorely by the vagaries of my imperfections, and whatever tribulations the world could fling at it. It is a homely edifice, this love, but is tolerably strong, and if she’s willing, I’d like to start on the second floor.
Should take about fifteen more years, I expect.
As I said, I can’t write her a poem, I don’t know how. But I can steal one, sure. Lord Byron wrote this one, probably about someone else’s wife. Old George Gordon was kind of a creep. I hope my wife can settle for someone that loves her for real, but has to steal the sentiment to tell her about it.
A poem. It’s just a scrap of paper.
She walks in Beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that's best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes:
Thus mellowed to that tender light
Which Heaven to gaudy day denies.
One shade the more, one ray the less,
Had half impaired the nameless grace
Which waves in every raven tress,
Or softly lightens o'er her face;
Where thoughts serenely sweet express,
How pure, how dear their dwelling-place.
And on that cheek, and o'er that brow,
So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
But tell of days in goodness spent,
A mind at peace with all below,
A heart whose love is innocent!