Saturday, December 09, 2006

What Elizabeth knew

I just saw a picture of a clever Japanese product (I am assuming it's real--I received it in e-mail). The photo depicted a woman cuddled up to a half-torso dummy with her head on its chest and its "arm" around her. It made me think about co-sleeping in general and how important curling up with Gary is to me.

Gary's worked a lot of nights during our marriage. It's the curse of the working class, that nightshift pays better than any other and Gary's always done what he had to do to take care of us (sometimes working two jobs a time). After eighteen years, I'm still not used to going to bed without him and often fall asleep on the couch waiting for him. When I do go to bed without him, I turn on the tv in our bedroom on so I don't have to feel alone and encourage my favorite cats, Echo and Libby, to curl up with me.

I just deleted several paragraphs trying to describe my feelings about Gary and why I feel the way I do. I wrote the poem below a few years ago and I think it probably summarizes my feelings better than long essay could. It is not a perfect poem and I've written much better work since, but it remains Gary's favorite. He deserves better. Maybe someday I can write something that comes closer.

What Elizabeth Knew

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways:
She must have whispered it to Robert at least once
as kisses led to need and nakedness.
Else, would she know?

I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.

With each new son in my arms, slick
and halleluiah howling,
you stroke the curve of pinch-fisted fingers
sweeping sweat out of my eyes,
your own face flavored by tears.

I love thee to the level of everyday’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
In the wake of your Sunday morning shower

I pour wet towels into the hamper,
rinse the soup of graying stubble and
shaving cream down the drain. Above the sink
I find my hearted name written in the steam
on the mirror.

I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from praise.

On Valentines Day an old friend emails me,
asks about us. I tell him about coffee on the deck
in the grey to gold a.m., how you recited Elizabeth to me,
my bare feet tucked in the warmth
between your hands and knees.

I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs and with my childhood’s faith

As I come to bed I see your arm thrown in sleep
across the sheets. Your smell; sawdust, Old Spice,
and Dove soap, calls me to draw a bare leg
across your thigh, waking you to me.

I love thee with a love I seem to lose
With my lost saints--I love thee with the breath
Smiles, tears, of all my life!--and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

You call from work to say, “The roads are icy. I’m not coming home.”
So I slip your red flannel shirt over my shoulders,
snaps still hot from the dryer. Sleet pops
against windows over the couch where I lay, my head on your pillow.

Fifteen years of nights together
and I am still unstrung by an empty bed.

***Italics quoted from “Sonnet #43” by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

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