Of course today's title comes from AVA. I plucked it from the shelves just now and Wittgenstein's Mistress and My Happy Life with it. I want to read lines -- sentences, fragments -- I want to read a 300-page poem with a first-person narrator who makes me bawl.
Have you ever sat at a blue country table wanting to write your guts out? I don't often but tonight I find myself dreaming.
Something I'm glad to know: I will wait years for a few good poems to find their way. There is no rush.
How do books find us and why, when they do? Is there something in them we're meant to know?
Strange to think that after three? four? years away, I'm back to fiction again. I have no plans for it. I wonder what it will be. All I know is this: I've always loved the teacher. More and more, she demands rewriting. She wants her story told and I don't know what it is or why. I have only bits in fragmented language that won't be right this time around. For instance:
The teacher brought the father inside and bathed him in her gigantic tub. He had never seen a tub so big. He held her thighs with his thighs. They ate nothing and drank too much coffee. Black. They made love. No. Fucked. No. Some sort of savage love. Yes. No. He held her breasts in his soapy hands. A pair of castanets makes two sounds he said. The female hembra is held in the right hand. He held her right breast in his right hand. Lifted. Gently. It is smaller and higher pitched than the macho. He lifted her left. Which is held in the left. She laughed and he continued. One translation of macho y hembra is hook and eye. Her smile fell. You she said. Fit into me. Sounds like an order he said. Cast a net does too she said. But safer.
Who can resist an Atwood reference? What I want to preserve is that moment her smile falls. What's packed there? Who is this woman with a stranger in her tub? Who is this woman who laughs one moment and becomes, in the next and all at once, sad, demanding, accusatory, scared?
The teacher took to eating one meal a day. Usually lunch. An appetizer. Something fried. Or cheesy. Or both. Like jalapeno poppers. If they were spicy she cried openly without shame. She would have a cocktail. Orange vodka with soda water. She would go home and have a bottle of wine and dessert that she brought with her from the restaurant. Sometimes she went to a bar in time for last call and waited while a stranger finished a draft beer. Sometimes she asked the stranger to walk her home. If the stranger did she invited the stranger in. The stranger always accepted the invitation. It was why the stranger walked her home in the first place. She knew this. It was why she asked the stranger to walk her home in the first place. One night the stranger was a woman named Iris. In the morning Iris stroked her hair. Hyacinth the teacher said was Apollo’s lover. He died from a discus to the head. Nobody ever said it was his due for being a homosexual. Instead he was immortalized in the form of a flower. Though it was probably an iris. Not a hyacinth.
Why does she need spice and public space to cry? Why alcohol? Why now? Why the constant late-night need for bodies?
I tell you I have loved the teacher since Philadephia, where I discovered her and first began to tell her story. I was a different woman there. So much has changed. So much time has passed. And now -- why now? -- she reaches for me across time and distance, asking me to do this thing, to find the rest of her story and tell it.
The teacher went to Amsterdam and tried hallucinating on absinthe but it didn’t work. She went to the Red Light District and touched her fingers to the glass of one window where a young woman in a red teddy stared at her with sad painted eyes. She went to the Van Gogh Museum and thought of a poem she had read and taught: & what if she would’ve just taken the ear. And what if the great Mughal emperor really did cut off the hands of the men who built the Taj Mahal. By then she was in Agra where she let a tour guide tell her about Mumtaz Mahal and how she died giving birth to her fourteenth child. The teacher thought for the first time about how she didn’t have even one. She took the tour guide as her lover and stayed for seven years.
What are those seven years like? What happens to her? Wouldn't I like to know! So here it is; this is why those poems up there can wait: it's time to try "a larger canvas."