When I was in college I took a class in poetry writing. I had this crazy idea that I could do it at least as well as many out there, and better than quite a few. I enjoyed doing it, and kept at it for a number of years, until the responsibilities and depressing reality of marriage and work stole my muse.
How arrogant was I when I thought I could write?
Let me tell you just how arrogant I was.
I was arrogant enough to think I could improve upon the great Thomas Sterns Eliot. In my arrogant delusions of grandeur, I believed that Eliot’s whiny Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock needed improvement.
I was just the gal to improve it, too – I knew exactly the elements it needed. It needed a dose of realism, I thought, and not just anybody’s realism, either. It needed the realism of a twenty-something wise-ass. After all, I had the real skinny on life. At the time I wasn’t bogged down by the silly responsibilities and obligations that get in the way of people with families and jobs and mortgages.
Imposing realism on an unsuspecting, conventionally-oriented public takes open eyes and open minds and open hearts! And back in the early 1980’s there wasn’t much that was more open than a female college student’s legs. (This before AIDS. Herpes was incurable, but not fatal. We had antibiotics for the rest. So free love, baby!) Yes, I was a college student then. Don’t assume, though, that just because I was in high school and college in the late 70’s and early 80’s that I lived a life of drunken debauchery. Oh, dear me, please do not assume that! Wait until you have gathered proof. I mean, faced with incontrovertible proof I won’t deny it.
Oh, and, twenty something years later, I must really, sincerely apologize to Mr. Eliot. I promise, honest, swear on a stack of Bibles and on my father’s grave, that this poem is not really all that autobiographical. And I’ve changed since then. I’m a middle-aged matron now, the sainted mother of a teenage son. I’m a virgin, really….
Here it is: my morning-after tribute to J. Alfred Prufrock. Or whatever his name was.
The Morning After the Love Song
Let me see now, how can I,
While the sun is still belly-low in the sky
Like an ancient whore in a back room,
How can I, from this strange room through this strange street
Make my retreat
And forget the stops nearly made at cheap hotels,
Leaving behind me the oyster shells,
The memory of a night of lust and heat
And of nearly making it in the back seat?
It leads me to an overwhelming question…
I dare not ask why I did it;
I’ll never admit it.
Beyond the door the paperboys come and go.
I think they know.
The yellow stains upon the windowpanes
Are nicotine stains on the windowpanes,
Smoky stains from nights like the last,
Lingering in the light that comes through the windowpanes.
Smoke belongs in chimneys
To be sent out over the roof at night,
Boiling slowly out of the house
Not to block the windows’ light.
Of course there should be a time
That a window’s light is blocked,
Like at night when I try to sleep.
That is the time, but not the only time,
For a room to be dark and its door locked.
There’s also the time when we procreate
And the time when our hands
Reach for ourselves (when we masturbate).
Time for me. Time for me.
I have time for a hundred indecisions
And for a hundred visions and revisions
Before finding the car’s key.
Beyond the door the postmen come and go.
I think they know.
And now is my time!
Do I dare? Do I dare?
Do I dare escape and descend the stair?
I am pinned under him by my own hair!
How can I move? How can I squirm
Away from him? I wish he’d turn!
Perhaps slowly, slowly I can squirm…
Do I dare
Disturb his sleep?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will keep.
Oh, I remember them all, remember them all:-
I remember the evenings, mornings, afternoons.
I have measured my life by the length of afternoons,
From long in the summer to short in the fall,
From one television season to another
Secrets from myself I have yet to uncover.
And I remember the shows; I’ve watched them all –
The shows that catch you and force you to follow
Their silly stories and repetitive prattle.
I’ve watched them all, I’ve watched them all
Until my mind has begun to rattle
And my mind and spirit have become hollow
Secrets from myself I have yet to uncover.
I have known arms such as his, known them all
Arms that are muscled and bronzed and bare
(Arms that have me trapped by my hair!)
Is it his smell or perhaps his undress
That makes me so digress?
Arms that lie along beside me, or arms that call
Secrets from myself I have yet to uncover
Because my mind has begun to rattle…
Shall I say, I have gone at dusk through narrow streets
And watched the smoke that rises from the pipes
Of lonely men in shirtsleeves, leaning out of windows?
If I had a pair of claws
I’d have torn my hair and scuttled away at dawn.
It’s almost afternoon, yet he sleeps so peacefully!
I attempt to peel away his fingers.
Asleep … he’s still asleep, the malingerer,
Stretched out in this dirty bed beside me!
Do I, after a drunken night’s nap,
Have the strength to force the moment to its crisis?
But though I have agonized and squirmed and prayed,
I have seen a vision of my room mate opening the door with a snicker,
And in short, I am dismayed.
And could this have been worth it, after all,
After the drinks, the oysters, the drinks,
Among the lounge lizards, among sone talk of him and me,
Could this have been worthwhile
To have bitten off my arm with a smile,
To have squeezed myself into a ball,
To roll myself toward some overwhelming question,
To say: “I am Magdalene, come from the bed,
Come from a stranger’s bed, and I’ll never tell you all –
I left one with a pillow under his head…
I shouldn’t say anything at all
Nothing, nothing at all.
And could this have been worth it after all,
Could this be worthwhile,
After the broken romances and cooling of passionate heat,
After the gothic novels, after the dreams of skirts that trail along the floor –
After all that, and so much more?
It is impossible to say just what I mean!
But as if a magic lantern could cast a light to expose me
Would this have been worthwhile
To expose myself to me, and tell myself all,
To look in the lantern’s glow and say,
“That is not me at all,
“Not what I meant to be at all.”
No! I am not Ophelia, nor was I meant to be;
I am almost a harlot, one that will do
Anything to swell my own ego, start a scene or two,
Opposite the virgin; no doubt an easy tool,
Deferential, glad to be of use,
Easy, uncautious, not meticulous,
Full of high living, but a bit obtuse;
Almost, at times, the Fool.
I grow bold… I grow bold…
I shall be out of his place before out of bed he has rolled.
Shall I leave my hair behind? Do I dare as bed springs screech?
I push away the white cotton sheets, the white-sale-special sheets.
I can hear the children calling, each to each.
I do think they will call to me.
I have seen them playing stickball in the streets,
Taunting their playmates and strangers who dare to pass
As traffic becomes heavier and their Mamas go to mass.
I have lingered in this filthy bedchamber
With its walls splattered with dirty reds and browns
‘Til children’s voices have waked him, and he frowns.