I can’t write a blog post tonight. I need to finish some work for the end of the semester, and I’m completely exhausted. So instead, I’m going to post a poem I wrote recently. I don’t know if it’s any good. I have the sense that it’s fine in terms of technique, but that it lacks something – whatever makes a poem mine – a certain individuality. It feels too structured, not rough enough. As though there isn’t enough struggle in it. Unlike a poem such as “The Witch,” which is obviously and completely mine, the sort of thing I write. But it does express a thought I’ve had recently – that writers betray the people who are closest to them by putting them into the writing. And we always do that, and that’s something the people closest to us should know. That should be our standard caveat: I will betray you by writing about you, or some imaginary version of you. Inattentive parents, bad love affairs? Grist for the mill, material for the art. And we’re not going to apologize for it, either.
So here you go, a poem that may or may not be any good, I honestly have no idea.
The Poet Betrays Her Lover
He betrayed her first.
With a woman whose skin was the color of piano keys,
whose black hair reminded him of a painting by Manet,
who had crooked teeth and spoke French.
Who laughed while picking up, with one spit-dampened finger,
the last crumbs of a chocolate croissant
in the café where they met every morning
before going to her apartment and making love.
He betrayed her with a city,
Budapest perhaps. With its crooked streets
and back alleys that led to parks
from the eighteenth century.
Perhaps he said, I am going to be with my love,
and you are not welcome.
If you were there, it would become
Perhaps he betrayed her with a musical instrument,
a cello he loved as though it were a woman,
caressing her hips, allowing his fingers to play
over her strings before picking up the bow
and bringing her to ecstatic resolution.
There are a hundred different ways
he could have betrayed her.
Should he blame her then, if she betrays him in lines
and stanzas? If she says,
he was my love until he found a woman
that he could play like a piano,
or until he saw a city on a river
and wanted to enter her, and having entered,
to stay? Or that he put an instrument
between his legs?
Can we blame her then, if he becomes the basis
for a hundred poems, if his betrayals
are immortalized? She is a poet.
She will inevitably betray her lover:
the sound he makes while sleeping, the feel of his hands
on her body, how light falls on his face in the morning.
All these she will betray, whether or not
he betrays her first. For a line
or a stanza.
In about two weeks, I will be completely done with the semester, and I will have time to start working on the poetry collection. I’ll need to think about what to include, and I’ll come up against the same question – what is mine? It’s always a difficult question to answer. I suppose I’ll just have to go by instinct.