What if my new wife sees through me in 1993
on a long August day of the greenhouse effect
and realizes that in the end I choose
five times out of six
to do what might protect my ego from its wormy fears
instead of what might help her live
or help someone else live?
In the rippling wet heat of that long day
she comes to see that my real priority
emerging beyond accidents and gestures of this week
is to publish poems and stories and thus win praise
not much because of a great Belief in the Art
but because I was unbrave on the soccer field in tenth grade
and I do not forgive myself
and because Candy Wilson did not feel moved to kiss me
in 1964 nor did Barbara Cohen in 1966
and I do not forgive myself that either
and am desperately afraid of seeing myself
as a forgettable fleck of nothing;
and she sees that my Belief in Love is therefore frail
and could bend and even break if pressed against
my myth of Great Achievement.
(Is this true?
Is this true?)
(Can writing this poem make it less true?)
grows apparent to her
as we unload groceries from the car and I dish out some sour remark
about the sameness of our dinners while merciless heat reflects
up from the car’s hood and sweat slips
down from my scalp, scalp of balding writer in his forties.
She leaves me
twisting in the eyeless desert wind of being only
some forgettable self-licking small-headed egotist who can’t grow up?
for a long moment she ponders her choice
and imagines now she can see why
my first wife allowed herself to lose me;
a testing of love, the shoulders and arms of love tested
by a weight more than bags of groceries
that we haul up the dim stairs.
Mark Halliday was denied tenure at the University of Pennsylvania and now teaches English (not applied physics) at Wilmington Friends School, Delaware. His very human book Stevens and the Interpersonal will be published by Princeton this fall. (1991)