Philip Levine dies. Out of sight, out of reach, in another state, elderly, aged, complete. No one I have ever met. I reread his poems, fall back in love with “The Simple Truth”– the things so real we never say them.
I am in love. I am a woman in love. For years, I was a woman in love with love, but it was only an idea, and it failed me again and again. It beckoned me. It led me down dark paths. It backed me into corners. It lived out in the ethers, and I believed I could nail it down. I could sew its shadow to a living form. I could turn kisses into thimbles and thimbles into kisses, a domestic Romance of the first order. With this love, I could fly. If only he would fly with me. Which, it seemed, he was never quite willing to do. Love was not patient. Love was not kind. Neither was I. Instead, I was a mixed bag of ideas shifting shape on a woman’s body. Love was everything, but it took nothing into account– and then, it gave me Hank. It sewed my shadow to my form. It nailed me down.
This morning– Hank, unbearable, as he was all weekend. Whining. Screaming. A little black-hearted tyrant like his mother before him. Like his mother, still, in her worst moments. Skin and bones cut from will– no pun, for those in the know, but instead, a basic tenant of my child, and myself: We Want, and We Will Have. Go slow with this one, maneater, said my friend the Long-Haired Poet when I met my current boyfriend. I tried. I continue to try. But how to resist it, Love, that Real Thing cut from some brand-new cloth we seem to have been spinning our whole lives in an Ithaca in the back of our minds, the corners of our eyes, maybe all this time, maybe, I’m just Penelope staving off the crowd and weaving this brightly colored man. What a foolish, sweet, selfish fancy. What bullshit. As though I had anything to do with the miracle of anyone else– as though I had anything to do with his singular beauty, as it sits quietly across from me over this morning’s oatmeal, Hank seated between us with a face like crimson misery, refusing his breakfast, having just treated me to a 40 minute tantrum after refusing to don his shoes. I speak.
“Do you love mommy?”
He nods. Barely, and sullenly.
“Does mommy love you?”
A similar response.
“Do you think Mommy loves V.?”
Here, he turns at stares at my tattooed sweetie, ready, perhaps to spit out some awful reply. Instead, though, he says “Yes.”
“Do you think he loves Mommy?”
“Have you ever, ever heard Mommy or V. speak to one another the way you have been speaking to me all weekend? Have you ever heard us scream at one another, or slam doors, or throw things at one another?”
He nods again. I begin to speak like a cribbed version of Corinthians, and I almost stop, feeling foolish, until I realize it’s all boringly, wonderfully true. We never do yell at one another. We argue, sure, but we listen to one another and respect one another. The times the worst of me brims to the surface– the name-caller, the woman with a tongue like a knife, and a mouth like a knife-tosser, body and voice a clever carnival of insults and harm– some other me puts her to silence. Or shapeshifts the words.
And later, after the shower, and the notation of all the skin that’s begun to feel like it’s falling or failing, and the inventory of the body’s fallings short, and the thought, and the next thought, and the one after that of the various magic potions and creams I might apply or reapply to somehow stop all of this thing which is even now continuing whatever I might do or wish or say or slather onto myself, as I rub sesame oil light and lovely as rain onto my thick thighs and round, fat ass, and the tiny indigo tattoo on the top of my right bicep, I think of what all this is designed to do, to make me believe that somehow, finally, someday, these magical scented soaps and serums and fine line reducers will finally reduce me to the perfect transformed imagined woman I’ve always longed to be– will, in my lessened slender state, be more than the sum of my parts, I will paradoxically achieve this impossible perfect equilibrium, I will feel perfect, smell perfect, my body will shine like the quarter he might bounce off of my perfect taut ass, and at the center of it all, my pussy, beckoning him to feel total bliss– but where, after all, am I in this? The Simple Truth– what is most real between us is what’s busted and stupid and wrong, and how we manage to forgive each other for that over and over again, every minute of the day. How we live on it.