My youngest son swimming.
I think: I’m so proud.
How we lie to ourselves.
I watch him flailing
How I lie to myself.
I scored low on a narcissism test
but I took it in the first place
so how does that balance out?
starts with I and goes and goes
line after unrhyming line until I
decide to stop it.
I’m shitting on poetic traditions
every time I press enter, or tab;
but the test didn’t ask about my poetry.
The internet is changing our minds
and its true sometimes I can’t focus,
a headline might grab me but,
scanning articles is a lot of effort.
Sometimes you apply yourself too much
and come unstuck anyway,
and sometimes I can’t tell the difference
between which and that
and so I wander off to google
to learn about non-restrictive clauses
and time scrolls by like all those words
in those articles I didn’t read properly,
a lot like how these words will slide by,
if you let them,
there’s so few key words to keep your interest
it started with I and it went and went,
it took all that time and all those liberties until
you decided to stop it.
She wants him to have kids but he doesn’t know if he has the energy. He wonders if he has the flexibility left in his spasming back to bend himself back to the past and rediscover that old energy, that enthusiasm for babies which are cute, but that cry, that need so insistently in an intrusive, pulling-on-your-clothes kind of way - crowding around his legs and pushing their complaints into his ears.
To be the father of two generations of people, across four decades, sounds biblical and presumptuous. He knows he made mistakes the first time, and the results (his grown-up children), they still weigh on him. But to try and do better this time? No, that is beyond him. He sees that clearly, he is beyond improvement, he is halfway down a gradual slope looking up. The best he could do is to try to put as much in as he did last time, and even then it would be half-hearted, mimetic. He would be reprising an old role that long ago lost its novelty.
He feels shuttered-in, panic encloses him. He can’t do it. Can’t she see the fear in his eyes when she brings it up, how he looks away and focuses on scrubbing muck off the dishes? She is so much younger than he is. God, he is old, he has done this all before, it is Sisyphus’ rock falling down the mountain and he must roll it back up step by step, for how long? Until he slips up and it crushes him.
But if he says no, she will leave and that would be understandable, but would it be bearable? Without her, the tally of his life seems so little, he’s neglected so much. There wouldn’t even be a roof over his head; he would have to go home to his elderly parents, climb into mothballed mattresses that a boy with his name lived in forty years ago. Either way, he must start again, his life or another’s. It wearies him.
I’m just trying to make you smile, you said, finding the words between the cracked rock saltiness that slithered up the coast and lodged itself firmly in your throat. I’m trying to remind you that I’m a good friend, that I’m here for you. Fault lines, frequencies, distances, maps, I’m imagining that one day I’ll find love between them. You already have and you’re throwing thousands around to prove it. I feel like I’ve run too many laps around the same field to make small changes to make bigger ones, focusing on the tiniest things and pushing to the back of my brain the thought that maybe you can’t convince somebody to love you.
I’m spending tonight in the backseat of a car clutching my phone, spending the night alone on the couch, spending the night wondering how you’re spending yours. But you’re probably warm-hands-wet-lips-cool-sheets-no-excuses right now, probably trying to justify losing something you never wanted in the first place. I’ll let you have that because I don’t have a way out and I have to support you even when you let me down and change your mind and scribble out words that you made me promise not to forget. I have friends who are disappointed when I don’t care and angry when I care too much, and I’m tired of piling love and indifference on opposite ends of the scale to stop it swinging.
You acted drunk because everyone else was slipping distant, turned the music up just to split the silence. You dragged me to my feet to dance with you even though you can’t dance and everyone thought you were beautiful and in the moment I couldn’t help but agree. We act like lovers when really I think we just fill up each other’s emotional holes with the wrong kind of sympathy. And now, when I’m wondering why people can’t just say thank you and realize that I really burnt bridges to bring you what you should have wanted, I’m starting to see that we can’t pretend to be faultless forever. I want to be with you tonight even though the things you say to me are the things I want to hear from someone else. I want to give you the attention you steal from me every day, slamming me with problems you won’t let me fix. I want to tell you the secrets I can’t shatter my moral illusion by telling anybody else. I want to see the future blotting out your past, a sloppy paper mache figure of a boy becoming a man, pasting over all the gaps in the layers underneath until you’re smooth and unscarred all over. One day this statue will be stronger than all of the people who held you up high when you were too young to know that strength is more than an unfaltering grip on anything.
I look in the mirror as critically as I always have but more and more I’m starting to see somebody capable of being loved as much as loving, capable of being strong as much as vulnerable. I have spent a lot of time thinking that someone will find my lack of control endearing eventually, will look at me trainwrecking through summers leaving behind locks of hair and chunks of memories and fall in love with raw honesty, but I’m beginning to understand that I have to stop running from the responsibility of being whole sometime. I think this is what they mean by growing up, when you can look through someone else’s eyes in a way that doesn’t crinkle with pity. I look at you like that sometimes and when I do, I can see you tying kite strings to the corners of my lips. I’m just trying to make you smile. I’m trying to make you smile, too.
new books! everyone read mary ruefle. no one seems to like updike so i won’t make a similar recommendation, but as he is a potential dissertation topic (projections of the masculine self and ‘Other’?), I am endeavouring to read a good chunk of his enormous oeuvre (yeah, oeuvre, pretentiousness win)