So many people I know and love right now are experiencing heartbreak, relationships ending and changing. It is impossible to see one’s way out of the pain when trapped in its midst. One friend says the key is to keep the blood flowing, keep breathing, keep moving forward. Perhaps he’s right. This universal pain I see my friends enduring reminds me of this poem I wrote in the early 1990s.
Ashland, Oregon 1992
“Love in its fullest form is a series of deaths and rebirths. . . .To love means to embrace and at the same time to withstand many endings, and many beginnings–all in the same relationship.” –Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Women Who Run With The Wolves
We hit Ashland midmorning in our rented Corolla
your Trooper abandoned in Weed–
transmission shot before its time.
Looking up at the sky through the windshield,
studying the gray the way you do,
you forecast: “It should be clear by noon.”
Ashland was our town.
For eight years we’ve journeyed here.
theatre our mutual love
the beauty of the town our celebration.
In mid-season we fought the throngs in the plaza
held hands to keep connection
picnicked among the flowers in Lithia Park
gazed into our future as we sipped forbidden wine from paper cups.
Late afternoon, our son ensconced at the baby-sitter’s,
we finally head to the plaza alone, through threat of rain.
We pilgrimage to the Green Leaf Cafe,
where for eight years we’ve waited for a table
amid scores of vibrant, artsy tourists.
But tonight our footsteps echos.
We sit on the balcony, and you say, finally, half aloud,
“Ashland is different this time of year.”
“It’s Halloween,” I say, “And besides, it’s closing weekend.”
We wait numbly for our food to come.
Strolling home after La Bete, there is even less to say.
Masqueraders, marauders, pass us on the street,
gazing at our own weary masks of marriage.
We are too tired to smile back at them.
In the morning it is my 30th birthday.
The card says only, “Love.” And I don’t blame you–
remembering we’ve both left our wedding rings at home.
I know you trade your anger for indifference
offering it to me, then, as a token of what love once was.
It is drizzling when we take our son to the park.
He feeds the swans, scampers in new black rain boots.
Passersby offer us the “cute family” look.
I feel us falling into separate dimensions.
Autumn leaves blanket the foot high impatiens
tired from so many months of growing.
Our son picks up a large maple leaf, yellowy brown.
“Look Mom a leaf!” And again,
“Look Dad a leaf! I will run!”
And he does, waves the leaves in his hands,
runs across the wet, leaf-speckled grass, away from us.
We stand as he extends the border of our triangle
further and further.
I watch the lines between us evaporate.
I look at the gray sky, avoid your eyes.
We window shop a little.
Shakespeare banners line the street, their bright red fading
like the leaves that still cling to the trees.
Most have fallen, mostly brown, onto the wet cobblestones.
We can’t help stepping on them.
I duck into a dress shop, buy floral bikini underwear and
two pair of warm winter socks.
Back at the Stratford Inn I show you only the socks,
slip the underwear on in the bathroom,
try to remember what being a lover means.
Curtain call: the matinee.
The cast is tired, grateful to offer its last bow.
The sky is darker still. We chance eye contact;
the starkness turns us inward, wincing.
I am too tired to stay for the evening play, and
let the rain fall on me as I wander alone up Siskiyou Blvd.,
reluctant to go indoors to the world we share.
Sipping wine from the motel glass
I watch our son breathe and dream.
Winter presses into me and I am far from home.