WAYS TO LOVE: MONOLOGUES
“There are many ways to love,”
says the professor with a birthmark
over half his face.
When he paces one way
he is almost handsome,
when he faces left
the red scar is exposed
and a monster leads the class.
“After the war I worked in a closed ward
for veterans: there was a little man—
shell-shocked, nervous, gay—who fell hard
for a big catatonic, and needed a way
to get his attention. One day he began
sitting next to him at meals and dripping
milk onto his thigh. It was a nice try,
but the catatonic didn’t get the symbolism.”
I look around me in the lecture.
I am the only one not laughing.
The professor paces back and forth.
There were days when she lay in bed
imagining a serious disease—something
that would make him feel guilt,
run to her bedside. Then
he would realize how much ...
But at that point even she
could not keep up the fantasy:
he was not a standard man,
would never follow
a standard script. “Oh,
sweet lover, that is why
I am in your thrall,
because you would not be swayed
even by my more drastic ploys.”
On days they had arranged to meet
he would sometimes wake from a dream
that he had been spread with honey
and now could not escape the flies.
For hours after he would catch himself
flicking away imaginary insects.
But he owed it to her, he’d say, the opportunity
to tell him what was in her heart.
After all she had contrived
everything for him, the luxurious flat,
the wondrous job he had always longed for,
the chance for fulfillment.
And all she appeared to demand in return
now that she seemed indifferent to caresses,
was his conversation.
Why she was so hungry for his presence
was a riddle—Lady—he wanted to shout
-- it’s over. Can’t you let it rest?
One night I say, I will find out from where
this unrest ascends. I will let it go
as far out as it wants to pace, see the space
between accepted and haunted bonds.
My heart is caught like an escaped convict.
I am led, head down, back to propriety.
“Are you sure,”
she whispers into the evening
“There is no chance for me?”
And I—in the kitchen,
white with flour and domesticity—
stop to contemplate her affinity
before I shake my head
How many ways
are there, you ask,
the tortoise who tries always
to move forward even when heavy rocks
block your path. Every one of the women
you loved might have brought you joy
had you known to turn from the rocks.
Sometimes only the pressure
of your head against them
drove them to pace
like animals in cages
back and forth.
Having one eye,
you look at me always
at an angle,
turn me this way and that,
examine it all.
We are in our patterned conjugal bed
shrieking in cacophonous unanimity.
It is both a death and quickening,
and then you roll away,
call out the name
of my god.