“for the women I have
been privileged to
Today’s postcard is very special. Listen:
and/or read… and tell me what you think.
I’m on the verandah, smoking a cigar—yes, again, no, I’m not violating the spirit of our agreement at all—and…
Actually, first this:
I’m in the bathroom, about to sit on the toilet and…
Jane: “Why? Why? Why? Why do you guys always come in and ask me questions when I’m trying to pee? Can’t it wait?
Flora: “Well, it could. But you see, when you’re peeing, you’re sitting down and not moving and not writing, and so it’s pretty easy to get your attention.”
Jane: “Get! Out!”
Cinder: “She’s cranky. Maybe she needs to poop.”
Jane: “Out! Out! Just wait for me outside the door.”
Cinder: “We’d do that, Mom, but we’ve figured out…
Flora: “…that sometimes you go to the bathroom just to hide.”
Well. True that.
So. I’m sitting on the verandah, smoking a cigar, because…
Ender: “Are you done yet?”
Jane: “No, not yet.”
…they’re good 21st century children and they know second-hand smoke, as well as the smoking act itself, gives you cancer, and so…
…for the time that it takes me to smoke a cigar, I am on the verandah, completely, blissfully…
Ender: “Are you done now?”
Jane: “Not quite.”
My reading while here is the Paris Review Interviews, and I’ve now left Ernest Hemingway for Jack Gilbert—it’s okay if you haven’t heard of him, I haven’t either until the interview—and now I wonder how it is possible I have lived a life, at all, without him in it, and so you must meet him too.
A quote from Jack:
“Being alive is so extraordinary I don’t know why people limit it to riches, pride, security—all of those things life is built on. People miss so much because they want money and comfort and pride, a house and a job to pay for the house. And they have to get a car. You can’t see anything from a car. It’s moving too fast. People take vacations. That’s their reward—the vacation. Why not the life? Vacations are second-rate. People deprive themselves of so much of their lives—until it’s too late. Though I understand that often you don’t have a choice.”
I fall for Gilbert but hard. But then, there’s this exchange:
“Interviewer: Is being childless good for a poet?
Gilbert: I could never have lived my life the way I have if I had children. There used to be a saying that every baby is a failed novel. I couldn’t have roamed or taken so many chances or lived a life of deprivation. I couldn’t have wasted great chunks of my life.”
Actually, it’s not the answer. It’s the question.
Despite the brilliance and aliveness of Gilbert’s responses, I’ve been struggling with the quality of the interviewer’s questions from question two (“Did you ever think you’d live this long?”—what the fuck?), and at this “is being childless good for a poet” question, before I read Gilbert’s answer, I want to throttle her. (What will she ask next? “Is being a man good for a poet?” “Has being a vegetarian affected your writing?” “Do you write better in cold weather or hot weather?”)
After I read Gilbert’s answer, I laugh.
Like most breeders, I find the childless so sweetly naïve.
I would never, ever presume to tell anyone to have children. (Although, to be frank, I have at times been tempted to tell people they should not have children, frequently after they’ve already reproduced without asking me whether they should do so, but I do keep my mouth shut then as well, most of the time.)
If you do have children already, I do want to tell you this: do not use them an excuse to NOT do the things you need to do.
Because… martyrs make terrible parents. Not particularly good lovers or life partners either.
I want you to forgive Jack, though, in case you got angry with him when you read that quote—did you, my love?
Doing Poetry / Jack Gilbert
Poem, you sonofabitch, it’s bad enough
that I embarrass myself working so hard
to get it right even a little,
and that little grudging and awkward.
But it’s afterwards I resent, when
the sweet sure should hold me like
a trout in the bright summer stream.
There should be at least briefly
access to your glamour and tenderness.
But there’s always this same old
Precisely, that, yes. And also, this:
The Great Fires / Jack Gilbert
Love is apart from all things.
Desire and excitement are nothing beside it.
It is not the body that finds love.
What leads us there is the body.
What is not love provokes it.
What is not love quenches it.
Love lays hold of everything we know.
The passions which are called love
also change everything to a newness
at first. Passion is clearly the path
but does not bring us to love.
It opens the castle of our spirit
so that we might find the love which is
a mystery hidden there.
Love is one of many great fires.
Passion is a fire made of many woods,
each of which gives off its special odor
so we can know the many kinds
that are not love. Passion is the paper
and twigs that kindle the flames
but cannot sustain them. Desire perishes
because it tries to be love.
Love is eaten away by appetite.
Love does not last, but it is different
from the passions that do not last.
Love lasts by not lasting.
Isaiah said each man walks in his own fire
for his sins. Love allows us to walk
in the sweet music of our particular heart.
…oh, and just one more. This is one of his first, first poems, from 1962, before he had really lived…
Between Poems / Jack Gilbert
A lady asked me
what poets do
and visions. I said
that between poems
I provided for death.
She meant as to jobs
Commonly, I provide
against my death,
which comes on.
And give thanks
for the women I have
been privileged to
You’re not tempted to ask, are you, what any of this has to do with Havana and Cuba? Because the answer is—everything—but I sure as fuck am not planning to connect Jack Gilbert to Che Guavara.
Flora, by the way, keeps on forgetting Che’s name and calls him “That hipster-looking cute guy who’s on all the posters? You know, the one who had the good luck to get assassinated before he got old and ugly? ”
Back to Jack Gilbert:
“This is hard—when I try to explain, it sounds false. But I don’t know any other way to say it. I’m so grateful. There’s nothing I’ve wanted that I haven’t had. Michiko dying, I regret terribly, and losing Linda’s love, I regret equally. … But I still feel grateful. It’s almost unfair to have been as happy as I’ve been. I didn’t earn it: I had a lot of luck. But I was also very, very stubborn. I was determined to get what I wanted as a life.”
Me too, Jack. Me too.
On the verandah, cigar smoke sticking to my dressing gown, Ender in my lap. We watch geckos crawl on the ceiling, and the moon peek over the powerlines and old school television antenae.
Jane: “You ready to read books and do bedtime, dude?”
He nods. Negotiates for the right to light the incense stick. I read, caress, love. Turn out the light and sit beside him until I hear his breath turn to sleep. Something like a poem dances to the beat of our conjoined breaths; it goes…
My son’s breathing,
soft-yet-loud, my lullaby
as my heartbeat is his.
…look, it’s not quite a haiku. I laugh, love. Tiptoe out of the bedroom, and gather up the elder two. Read them their bedtime novel—which is The City of Ember, by Jeanne DuPrau—a post-apocalyptic young adult novel, strangely apropos to be reading in Havana, but more on that in another postcard)… and then, back to the verandah.
Rum. Laptop. Notebooks.
I’m in Havana
I. Am. In. Havana.
I am so stupidly happy in this moment, I’m having a hard time breathing.
It’s not the diesel stink from the street, or the fumes from generator that’s just kicked in ‘cause we’ve had another blackout.
It’s exhilaration and gratitude.
I realize this will be in violation of the spirit if not the letter of our agreement… but I think I might… I think I might smoke one more cigar now.
You understand why?
LANDED here for the first time? Let me catch you up:
Series 1 of Postcards from Cuba is now fully live. Check out the annotated table of contents for a tour, or, if you prefer, hop over to the chronological table of contents.
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