About four years ago, we spent a year in Carrboro, NC – surely one of the coolest little towns on the face of the planet. My husband spent his sabbatical as a Fellow at the National Humanities Center, where he spent long hours pondering over eternally vexing and abstruse philosophical questions. And me? I got to hang out for a year.
I met Amanda, a fellow collector of “crazy but true” stories (she’s got an endless supply of the most entertaining ones). She’s also a collector of poetry, and she introduced me to some poems that are now among my favorites. She herself is a gifted poet, who can put words together on a page that will make your toes curl. Her writing can make you gasp and then forget to exhale. We would meet at the Open Eye Cafe every Tuesday from 9 pm till closing, where we’d drink weak, lukewarm tea, read what the other had worked on that week, and dream up all kinds of kooky plots and schemes. During that year Amanda hatched a non-profit to help the prostitutes of Durham, a business plan to market ironic tampons and maxi pads, and we started writing blues songs together. It was that kind of year…all about Possibilities with a capital P.
Here’s a twisted little poem I wrote for one of our Open Eye sessions in the prevailing spirit of “what if?” It’s written from the point of view of the woman who’s married to Batman. She’s had a youthful dalliance with the Man in the Yellow Hat, and is now having an affair with Robin. It seemed somehow appropriate for the week of Halloween…
Call Me Jezebel
Hurl your stones and call me Jezebel.
You have no idea what a living hell
It is to be married to the Prince of Darkness.
Would it kill him to leave one lousy light on, I think
As I grope my way to the kitchen for a drink,
Praying I don’t wake that damn butler, (“His Highness”)
I could swear today I saw the old toady look at me and sneer,
As he purred – sotto voce – in his beloved master’s ear.
Then off He swooped – all dark glamour and leather menace,
Gunning the engine of that sleek monstrosity –
A monument to selfishness and impracticality,
Bordering on sheer malice.
How are we supposed to fit a car seat in that thing?
I asked him once, but that was in the beginning…
Before I gave up buying lamps and looking for windows to open.
So maybe I was a fool for trading in the sun for the moon:
The boy next door, who came to call on me one afternoon
Yellow hat in hand, tall and slim and soft-spoken.
Dazzling in his golden wholesomeness, he asked me to wait for him.
But when he ambled back, with a pet monkey peeking from under his hat brim,
My chiropteran Lucifer had long since swept me up under his black wing.
They tell me he still lives alone in that fairy tale house of his,
But can you blame me? Who wouldn’t be suspicious
Of a grown man who shares his bed with a monkey? In traitorous spring,
I’ll admit, I called him, one bitter, lonely night
But when he answered, half-choking with delight-
I hung up: on him, on a life half-lived, half-loved, then lightly betrayed.
He was the bright peddler of my fondest, callow dream,
Too soon outgrown and cast downstream.
But sometimes I used to wonder, should I have stayed?
Until the night I saw a boy with a bird’s soul and name.
(A harbinger of my Spring?) He was awash in moonlight and aflame
With reverence for the Devil himself: my husband.
Dynamic duo? Hardly! He suffers the boy to trail starry-eyed in his wake,
Chirping sophomoric punchlines that would make your teeth ache
Like a mere sidekick: Sancho Panza or Doctor Watson.
But it’s this bejeweled bird who casts the unjaded, vital glow
That fleshes out and deepens his black shadow
And in so doing, animates the demon’s chiaroscuro!
It’s true I chose him for a ripe and gratifying vengeance
But in his guileless, openhearted innocence
I found light and sweet consolation…Oh, I know
It torments him. He weeps and talks of betrayal
I cover his mouth with my own – to no avail.
The words I whisper fall glib and hollow.
I tell him we are necessary to one another,
Each to each: an unholy trinity. (Father, Brother, Sister? Mother?)
This tripartite union is our shared lot. It is our fortune.
Not for me the storybook house with shutters and flower filled window boxes.
I’ll live out my life here, in a mansion built over a cave, breathing air foul and noxious,
Befitting an unworthy chorus member in a gothic cartoon.
I’ve relinquished the sun,
Sold my soul to the moon.
But I’ll never give up my starlight.