“You cannot live and keep free of briars”

Standard

The Ivy Crown
-William Carlos Williams
The whole process is a lie,
        unless,
            crowned by excess,
It break forcefully,
        one way or another,
            from its confinement—
or find a deeper well.
        Antony and Cleopatra
            were right;
they have shown
        the way. I love you
            or I do not live
at all.

Daffodil time
         is past. This is
              summer, summer!
the heart says,
         and not even the full of it.
              No doubts
are permitted—
         though they will come
              and may
before our time
         overwhelm us.
              We are only mortal
but being mortal
         can defy our fate.
              We may
by an outside chance
         even win! We do not
              look to see
jonquils and violets
         come again
              but there are,
still,
         the roses!

Romance has no part in it.
         The business of love is
              cruelty which,
by our wills,
         we transform
              to live together.
It has its seasons,
         for and against,
              whatever the heart
fumbles in the dark
         to assert
              toward the end of May.
Just as the nature of briars
         is to tear flesh,
              I have proceeded
through them.
         Keep
              the briars out,
they say.
         You cannot live
              and keep free of
briars.

Children pick flowers.
         Let them.
              Though having them
in hand
         they have no further use for them
              but leave them crumpled
at the curb's edge.

At our age the imagination
         across the sorry facts
              lifts us
to make roses
         stand before thorns.
              Sure
love is cruel
         and selfish
              and totally obtuse—
at least, blinded by the light,
         young love is.
              But we are older,
I to love
         and you to be loved,
              we have,
no matter how,
         by our wills survived
              to keep
the jeweled prize
         always
              at our finger tips.
We will it so
         and so it is
              past all accident.

blinking through middle age

Standard

“Maybe marriages are best in middle age. When all the nonsense falls away and you realize you have to love one another because you’re going to die anyway.” -from Fear of Flying, Erica Jong

Erica Jong’s heroine asks in Fear of Flying: “Would most women get married if they knew what it meant?” She follows up by stating that perhaps in middle age, marriages would work better. It’s hard to say, of course, but seems reasonable enough to presume. But then maybe it’s more likely that a second or third marriage would work best, regardless of how old the participants are. The book’s protagonist is already stymied in her second marriage and seeking comfort elsewhere. Much ado has been made about “starter marriages” and the likelihood of future marriages working because you learn from the mistakes of the first. I don’t know what to make of this. It too seems plausible – but not applicable to me.

If this is true, what of middle-aged people who never married and got no “practice” other than in a collection of short or long-term, ultimately dead-end relationships? I cannot say because I am in this demographic: middle-aged and never married. I have had a couple of long relationships that never held any future promise and a lifetime, otherwise, of flings and experiments to which I would scarcely be able to apply a name or formal distinction. In between there have been shorter and longer periods of just being on my own, which have always been the happiest and most content times of all.

Confronting the ‘more’

While it’s true that being alone and – by extension – independent has given me a lot of joy, there are moments, often more frequent than in the past, that I imagine my calm life could be enhanced by the presence of someone else. I’ve already written before about not wanting to invite in ‘the wrong element’. After all, as Doris Lessing wrote in The Golden Notebook: “What’s terrible is to pretend that the second-rate is first-rate. To pretend that you don’t need love when you do”. It’s a delicate balance: you may finally confront the fact that you want and need to love and be loved, but to do so, is second-rate enough? Do you fool yourself into thinking that second-rate will do it for you? Can your view become so blurred that you think the ‘wrong element’ could be right? I’ve concluded that it’s most important to recognize the need for love – and go from there.

The ark of the ache of it

Many times I have cited Denise Levertov’s “Ache of Marriage” – and given a lot of thought to the ache one must feel within a marriage – but what about the ache you have without it? It’s something you feel without ever having had the missing part in the first place. It’s not constant but comes in waves. It can look so miserable when you look at it from the outside. Mundane, like a constant sacrifice of one’s own identity and preferences. What is it that softens us … age? The right element? The sunset? The need for warmth? Previous experience (which can also harden us)? The desire for daily soup? (Soup would really do it for me.)

Past sheds light

Blink. Blink.

A recent experience, brief enough to be like the blink of an eye, has contributed one significant thing to my life. It opened a long-closed part of me and made me realize it made no sense to close it again. I had so many times before let previous experience influence me, to close me off, to shut emotional responses down. And now… maybe it was this recent experience, maybe my age, maybe all the previous “practice”, maybe the starker-than-ever realization that there are only so many sunrises and sunsets ahead, maybe a combination of everything that convinced me to stay calm, and stay open?