The Poet’s Wife

Shawn Vestal

When the poet’s wife met the poet, in their dating days at the university, his poetry—his own poetry and his interest in the poetry of others and the very concept of poetry—had been her least favorite thing about him. Never would she have anticipated that it would become what it has become, that poetry would grow into the one thing about him that was the most him—the chapbooks, the talk of scansion, the constant murmuring to himself, the insufferable way he intoned and paused and enunciated when he was reading his work in public, which he did two or three times a week, reading out loud at book stores and community colleges and even in people’s homes, readings organized by him and his poet friends and attended by him and his poet friends—no, if you had asked her then, she would have told you that the poet would probably become a lawyer or go into advertising, the kinds of careers that seemed to her the most natural fit for his kinds of talent—cleverness, quickness, meanness—and his interest in poetry seemed like nothing more than any of the other momentary interests they had back then, and nothing about it seemed particularly at the forefront, and the things that she would have guessed mattered to him more than poetry were numerous, she would have guessed that he cared more about beer or music or movies or intramural flag football, which he seemed to love and which she found endearing, because he was strong and fast and committed and never more attractive—never more physically appealing than he was coming off the field on a fall Sunday, wearing his grey sweatshirt and blue sweat pants and flushed and pink and strong and happy. If you had asked her then whether his life’s work would be poetry or intramural flag football, she would have guessed intramural flag football, so small a part of his life did poetry seem. The fact that it was poetry that rose up and became him makes her wonder now whether it was him that changed or her, or whether she had simply not known him when they made the decisions that would constrain their lives, such as the number of readings she would be required to attend. It’s not too much to say required, though the poet would never put it that way himself. He would never think to ask her to attend one of his readings, it was simply assumed that she would because poetry had become him so strongly, it was simply an understanding that entered their lives and would not go away, like a smell in the house from something dead in the walls, and she was required to attend his readings because otherwise what kind of wife would she be? Often, listening to him read his poetry, she wished that he would write a poem about her, a poem about them, though she supposed he already had done so, lots of his poems must be about them, in fact, she knew that some of his poems were about them because he had told her so, but she would never have known this if he hadn’t told her, she would not have understood that any of those poems that were about them were actually about them, because she would have sworn they were about quantum physics or river rocks or medical terminology. He loved to use medical terminology—to find the poetry in medical terminology, as he explained in the Q-and-A’s after his readings, when his poet friends asked him questions about his poems—but she wanted him to write a poem about them that she would understand as a poem about them, a poem that was not so metaphorical that she lost track of what was being compared to what, a poem that was not dumb but was not smart either, a poem about the ways that love could go away and remain at the same time, about the ways that love is a trick and a trap, about the ways that you can love a person after loving them once in a different way and losing that first way of love, which you understood at the time not to be a way of love but love itself, so that when you lost the first way of love you thought you had lost all love but you were wrong about that, and the way of love that you lost was replaced, if you waited long enough, by another kind of love that didn’t even seem like love, it seemed more like courtesy, or exhaustion, or cooperation, but you later came to understand it as love or to call it love, at least—came to understand as you sit at a poetry reading, say, while your husband is reading a poem that you have heard him read one hundred times, a poem that seems to be about his mother and the hood scoop on his first car, and perhaps the hood scoop represented something about his mother, but the poet’s wife had long ago stopped bothering to tease these things out, because whenever she asked him a question about that—about what thing meant what, about what the one thing was supposed to be saying about another—he acted angry with her, with her failure to get to grips with this part of him that was the largest part of him, and she came to understand that her feelings about this didn’t matter to him anymore, the way that his feelings about her feelings about this didn’t matter to her anymore—she wanted him to write a poem about that, about the spent fuel of time, would it be so much for him to write that poem for her, something they could have together, a poem about how love binds you even when you stop wanting it to, a poem that would force her to understand?

Originally published in Moss: Volume Three.
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