Low-angle shots show Viv, Eliot's hormone-plagued first wife,
sunk to her knees and scrubbing, scrubbing blood-stained hotel sheets
while her husband walks along the beach, crowded with housewives
and families on holiday. He wishes his new wife
were like those singing mermaids he wrote poems about in college,
poems he later recited Camside to court his future wife,
eyes needy in the flashback as when she becomes his wife,
as when she's pronounced "morally insane," drunk on ether
and raving about thrice-monthly periods and saints. Either
you take his side or you take hers: wives sympathize with wives,
usually, husbands with husbands, but I fell in love
with Eliot during freshman year, read "Prufrock" and loved
every last word. Getting pregnant the first time you make love
is awful luck: my roommate hid in clothes like a fat housewife's,
spent five months drunk before she finally told her ex-lover
and me, who took the Pill each time I thought I was in love.
A shot andI'll call her Ruthiewrithed on clinic sheets,
writhed as I read to her the bedstand's From Russia with Love
and Modern Poets, read to myself Saying No and Love;
and British spies and Prufrock and freak pregnancies collaged
with punk blared from next door, where kids from another college,
in that town we'd come to by bus, heard the death of love
and God and maybe Queen Elizabeth screeched by either
Sid Vicious or Johnny Rotten, or maybe both. "Ether
is contraindicated for your friend's procedure; ether
lessens the contractions and the fetus won't expel, love"
a nurse said on that night's first rounds, the full moon etherous
and clouding over in the window pane. Smell of ether
no, Lysoland Ruthie's sweat. Was Nancy Spungeon a wife,
or a girlfriend, when her nags sabotaged that haze of ether
Sid wrapped around himself, a heroin drift etherous
and shared like the Chelsea Hotel's cigarette-scarred sheets,
till he stabbed her dead? I read "Prufrock" aloud, smoothed those sheets,
fed Ruthie ice-chips till she finished screaming in the calm ether
of the recovery room, dark as that bar near our college
where the father cried and gave me cash: "Three years of college
and she thought a baby could be wished away?" Back at college,
Ruthie moved to another dorm; by the next year, either
she'd lost contact with me or vice versa, and I left college
for more school, to study those poems Eliot wrote at college
on erotic martyrs like Sebastian and the arrows he loved.
Now Viv dies in the asylum: I'm pulled from friends at college
to recall scenes from that other movie, just after college,
its scenes razored by Nancy's whineshe was a perfect wife,
if you live in hell and want some company, like a wife.
The two films twine with that clinic, the club's kids from college
who spewed cheap beer, Ruthie's why not you? muffled by sheets
as I left at twelve to buy cigarettes and stand in sheets
of rain like tonight's, peering through the door at a torn sheet
emblazoned with a safety-pinned Queen Liz, at a collage
of pulsing acrid spotlights, of beer and spit and blood in sheets.
"I'm not an animal," rose Sid's dazed choral leer, sheeting
the words in cut-throat fury. "And I'm not a discharge, either"
"I'm an abortion." Eliot sent his friend Aiken a sheet
of the Times once, red-circling words like "mucus," "bloody sheets,"
but this after he'd renounced Viv and her half-mad love.
Aiken's left out of tonight's film, which, like London, I love,
though I'm travelling alone, sleeping chilled by nylon sheets.
On the late bus, a punk triohusband, toddler, wife
nuzzle each other's spiky hair; he kisses his wife,
who's given birth to more than rage and pain. Both of us wives
just after graduation, Ruthie, and I sent you lace sheets
but missed your wedding, write each year in care of the college.
This scrawled postcard will say there aren't any mermaids here, either,
but the punk husband's singingI sweara lullaby, with love.
copyright Denver Quarterly, Story Line Press