Poetaster
Jen McGregor

To you, my beloved.

 

To you whom I loved.  You for whom I lived. You without whom I am nothing.

 

I shall never forget this night, the last night I shall ever see you. How beautiful you look, with your golden hair catching the candlelight! Will I ever be able to forget your glittering eyes gazing over the rim of your glass as you drank… gazing into eyes that were not mine?

 

Did it have to be him?

 

I knew that I would lose you someday, I had already surrendered myself to the inevitability of our doomed love. Your heart, I knew, was too expansive to be mine alone. But him...

 

Was it just proximity? Was he just to hand? No. No, let me believe that you were motivated by something other than mere convenience… Let me think that your eyes met and he swept you up in a torrid and irresistible love, that you were moths to each other’s flame… a love so overwhelming that you could see past his deeply inadequate poetry.

 

It must have been. It must have been. Only the deepest of loves could have induced you to leave me for a man who could rhyme “death” with “breath”… or “together” with “forever”.

 

Together does not rhyme with forever.

 

Together does not rhyme with forever.

 

Together. DOES. NOT. RHYME.

 

With forever.

I thought that you would mock him with me. I knew your hatred for lazy rhymes, obvious imagery, the cheap but crowd-pleasing sing-song of an ABAB structure. That first night as we listened to him, I glanced over at you, thinking your eyes would meet mine and we’d smile the smiles of two superior artists anticipating the joy of eviscerating this dullard’s work once safely home.

 

But your eyes were on him, and your look… I knew your look of polite attention, I knew it very well. That was not it. Yours was the face of one experiencing a revelation. And still I thought perhaps it was the joy of the vicious, that your fervour was for your own wit and the quips you would make at his expense later…

 

And then it happened. The pathetic fallacy. What the topic of his doggerel was I don’t remember, all I can recall is this:

 

“Just as my heart lies nestled in the hills,

So too my heart lies nestled in your hand.”

 

How am I to describe the pain, the injury you did me when you, the woman I loved, listened to those lines and did not flinch?

 

A home cannot “nestle”. It has no capacity for “nestling”. A home, a building, can do nothing but exist, it has no emotions, no agency, it is not personified by anything except the touch of a lazy pen.

 

And a heart? Can it “nestle”? Can it? You would know better than I ever did, since you were in possession of both mine and his. Whereas I never had yours in any sense except the literal. And in that sense, my beloved, it does not nestle.

 

I hoped I had been wrong about what I saw. I was sure I must have been. So, as we made our way home through the empty streets I tested the waters, I asked for your thoughts.

 

“I enjoyed that last fellow,” you said. Enjoyed. Enjoyed. How many times had I hear you pour scorn on that word, that tepid term employed only by those who know what it is to have a nice time.

 

Yet still I gave you the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps, I considered, you were using the term ironically, an in-joke with the only person in the world you knew your antipathy. “Hahaha,” I ventured. “Indeed. Enjoyed. I enjoyed him too.”

 

I willed you to show me that malicious smirk of yours and say “Spare us from any more such enjoyment” or something similar – better, since you were always the one who excelled at cutting remarks. But you did not. You… you glared at me. You made an impatient little noise with your tongue and said “You know, you don’t have to be so bloody critical of everything.”

 

 

I tried not to let it prey on my mind. Perhaps I had been wrong, perhaps there was some genius in his work that I just didn’t understand. You were always quicker to appreciate talent than I was, and I knew how much of my own taste and discernment I owed to your guidance. I tried. I tried to keep an open mind and allow myself to see the skill and subtlety that you appeared to see… but I could not. Try as I might, whenever we attended a reading where he was on the bill, all I could hear was that same juvenile pap.

 

We didn’t speak of him. On our walks home I would avoid the topic so completely that he might as well have been absent from the evening and from our lives. And you? You were likewise silent. Had I not been able to see your attentive face whenever he read, I might have thought that you had forgotten that first night and that each night since he and his work had slipped straight out of your mind. But I knew you were exercising the same scruples that I was, and that worried me.

 

When I found the first poem, I was hardly surprised. It was under your pillow, scribbled on one of the scraps of paper you kept by the bed to capture late-night inspiration. As I straightened the sheets it fell into my hand, and what could I do but read it?

 

New

 

I’m not supposed to feel this way.

Your white-hot words

In my long-dormant ears

Your white-hot hands

Awakening the one I never thought

Could ever be awoken again

The one who slept so long

Deeper than ice

Deeper than time

Deeper than I ever knew love could run

Yet you have found her

Woken her

Saved her

From what she was,

What she’d become,

Which was?

Was not.

Was nothing.

Until, magnetic north-pointing you found her sepulchre

And woke her with a word

The word “together”.

 

In the grip of despair, I searched desperately for the imagery that would allow me to articulate my pain. A knife to the heart would be too cliché, likewise a punch to the gut, the rug being pulled from under me or being plunged into an abyss. It wasn’t that there were no words to express how I felt – the trouble was that I knew the scorn you would have poured on me for using any of them. Because for me, and apparently for me alone, you had such exacting standards. For him you had none, and you had relinquished your standards while I lay unaware beside you.

 

I let the paper fall from my hand, and as it drifted to the ground it turned over to reveal another poem. I retrieved the scrap and set to work again on the spider scrawl of your handwriting.

 

In search of an Exit

 

You’re not a character in a novel.

(I wish you were.

If you were I’d shut the book

And give it to a charity shop.)

 

Thinking about it, though, perhaps you are.

How would I know?

Perhaps I’m just unfortunate

Enough to share a page with you

 

In some teenager’s overwritten opus.

God, I’d hate that -

To think the brain that thought me up

Could also spawn someone like you

 

And that we might be stuck forever

Here on this page

With me trapped listening to your

Recital of recycled wit and wisdom.

 

There it was. There, on the flip side of the stanza you had crafted for your new muse, your new love – there were your words for me. Not even for me. About me. The words that confirmed my every fear and stabbed me – yes, stabbed me in the heart, why should I fear cliché if you were not to be there to condemn it?

 

But you were not gone yet. There was still a chance, I knew there was. I believed I could win you back if I could only remove you from his influence. I would, I would do it, I would take you away and together we would find out love again. Or if we could not, at least you would be rid of him and could leave me for an artist who deserved you.

 

I searched for you all day. I went round your every haunt, every bookshop and every café you loved to frequent but you were nowhere to be found. As I returned home, I knew with increasing certainty that you were there with him, but I hoped, I hoped that you would disdain to play out such a commonplace trope.

 

But you did not. You were there. You, and him, and a bottle of wine, and candlelight. Candlelight.

 

The bottle proved useful, at least. There can be poetry in motion, and the turn of my wrist as I smashed the end had a certain elegance. And the mingling of blood and Valpolicella did look rather lovely in the soft, flickering glow.

 

By the time I was done, there was no question of your heart being anyone’s except mine. Just as mine was yours, along with every other element of me.

 

No question now, I know your heart is mine

Each atrium, each ventricle, each vein,

This organ that contained a love so fine

My loveless life won’t know its like again.

 

Each breath I loved, the blood your arteries

Carried through your corpse, new-ox'genated,

I loved this heart that powered you to seize

The day, and never allowed you to be sated.

 

Your pulmonary artery now severed,

Though your heart may be cold, it’s mine forever.

 

 

I was proud of my words. Your eulogy. My elegy. And if the rhymes contained a little less effort than they should, then you and I both knew the literary reference I was making.

 

But you did not respond. You didn’t respond then… and you don’t respond now.

 

Each night I visit you, my love, to read my latest compositions to my decomposing darling, and each night you gaze blankly back, eyes a little open in the same fixed expression of eternal boredom that I recognise from life. Perhaps if I were just a little more gifted, if my facility with language were greater, I could win back your attention and your love and perhaps your life… so since you were so enamoured of his words, I’ll endeavour to incorporate his skill into my own being.

 

I eat him. Does that satisfy you? I eat my lover’s lover, a little each night. His cuckolding heart, his impertinent eyes, his gilded tongue, on and on until I have ingested every morsel of the faithless flesh that you preferred to mine. I hack and bite, I chew and gnaw, I force each sinew down my gullet and I wait for his words to spill from my carnivorous mouth… but they never do.

 

And all you do is rot.