My marriage ended in an airport long ago. I was not wise enough to cry while looking for my car, walking through the underground garage; jets were roaring overhead, and if I had been wise I would have looked up at those heavy-bellied cylinders and seen the wheelchairs and the frightened dogs inside; the kidneys bedded in dry ice and Styrofoam containers. I would have known that in synagogues and churches all over town couples were gathering like flocks of geese getting ready to take off, while here the jets were putting down their gear, getting ready for the jolt, the giant tires shrieking and scraping off two long streaks of rubber molecules, that might have been my wife and I, screaming in our fear. It is a matter of amusement to me now, me staggering around that underground garage, trying to remember the color of my vehicle, unable to recall that I had come by cab— eventually gathering myself and going back inside, quite matter-of-fact, to get the luggage I would be carrying for the rest of my life.
Everyone forgets that Icarus also flew.
It’s the same when love comes to an end,
or the marriage fails and people say
they knew it was a mistake, that everybody
said it would never work. That she was
old enough to know better. But anything
worth doing is worth doing badly.
Like being there by that summer ocean
on the other side of the island while
love was fading out of her, the stars
burning so extravagantly those nights that
anyone could tell you they would never last.
Every morning she was asleep in my bed
like a visitation, the gentleness in her
like antelope standing in the dawn mist.
Each afternoon I watched her coming back
through the hot stony field after swimming,
the sea light behind her and the huge sky
on the other side of that. Listened to her
while we ate lunch. How can they say
the marriage failed? Like the people who
came back from Provence (when it was Provence)
and said it was pretty but the food was greasy.
I believe Icarus was not failing as he fell,
but just coming to the end of his triumph.
Copyright © 2005 Jack Gilbert. From Refusing Heaven, 2005, Alfred A. Knopf. Reprinted with permission.
And when I heard about the divorce of my friends,
I couldn't help but be proud of them,
that man and that woman setting off in different directions,
like pilgrims in a proverb
—him to buy his very own toaster oven,
her seeking a prescription for sleeping pills.
Let us keep in mind the hidden forces
which had struggled underground for years
to push their way to the surface—and that finally did,
cracking the crust, moving the plates of earth apart,
releasing the pent-up energy required
for them to rent their own apartments,
for her to join the softball league for single mothers
for him to read George the Giraffe over his speakerphone
at bedtime to the six-year-old.
The bible says, Be fruitful and multiply
but is it not also fruitful to subtract and to divide?
Because if marriage is a kind of womb,
divorce is the being born again;
alimony is the placenta one of them will eat;
loneliness is the name of the wet-nurse;
regret is the elementary school;
endurance is the graduation.
So do not say that they are splattered like dropped lasagna
or dead in the head-on collision of clichés
or nailed on the cross of their competing narratives.
What is taken apart is not utterly demolished.
It is like a great mysterious egg in Kansas
that has cracked and hatched two big bewildered birds.
It is two spaceships coming out of retirement,
flying away from their dead world,
the burning booster rocket of divorce
falling off behind them,
the bystanders pointing at the sky and saying, Look.
From Unincorporated Persons in the Late Honda Dynasty. Copyright © 2010 by Tony Hoagland. Used with permission of Graywolf Press.
Though my mother was already two years dead
Dad kept her slippers warming by the gas,
put hot water bottles her side of the bed
and still went to renew her transport pass.
You couldn't just drop in. You had to phone.
He'd put you off an hour to give him time
to clear away her things and look alone
as though his still raw love were such a crime.
He couldn't risk my blight of disbelief
though sure that very soon he'd hear her key
scrape in the rusted lock and end his grief.
He knew she'd just popped out to get the tea.
I believe life ends with death, and that is all.
You haven't both gone shopping; just the same,
in my new black leather phone book there's your name
and the disconnected number I still call.
From Selected Poems by Tony Harrison, published by Penguin Books, Ltd. Copyright © 1984. Used with permission.
How did we get to be old ladies— my grandmother's job—when we were the long-leggèd girls? — Hilma Wolitzer Instead of marrying the day after graduation, in spite of freezing on my father's arm as here comes the bride struck up, saying, I'm not sure I want to do this, I should have taken that fellowship to the University of Grenoble to examine the original manuscript of Stendhal's unfinished Lucien Leuwen, I, who had never been west of the Mississippi, should have crossed the ocean in third class on the Cunard White Star, the war just over, the Second World War when Kilroy was here, that innocent graffito, two eyes and a nose draped over a fence line. How could I go? Passion had locked us together. Sixty years my lover, he says he would have waited. He says he would have sat where the steamship docked till the last of the pursers decamped, and I rushed back littering the runway with carbon paper . . . Why didn’t I go? It was fated. Marriage dizzied us. Hand over hand, flesh against flesh for the final haul, we tugged our lifeline through limestone and sand, lover and long-leggèd girl.
From Still to Mow by Maxine Kumin. Copyright © 2008 by Maxine Kumin. Reprinted by permission of W.W. Norton. All rights reserved.
When was the last time you mailed a postcard? My mother kept the ones I sent her. My sister mailed them back to me after my mother died. I had forgotten I had written so many small notes to my mother. The price of stamps kept changing. I was always mentioning on the back of cards I was having a good time. I can remember the first time I lied to my mother. It was something small maybe the size of a postcard. I went somewhere I was not supposed to go. I told my mother I was at the library but I was with Judy that afternoon. Her small hand inside my hand. I was beginning to feel something I knew I would never write home about.