Nathan and the Forgiving Life

Nathan, at one of the outlying tables,
His feet tangled up in the disc jockey’s cables,
Surveyed the room, as unseen as a ghost,
While he mulled over what he might say for his toast.
Though the couple had asked him for this benediction,
It seemed at odds with parking him here by the kitchen.
That he’d shown up at all was still a surprise.
And not just to him; it was there in the eyes
Of the guests who’d seen a mirage and drew near
And then covered their shock with a “Nathan! You’re here!”
And then silence. They’d nothing to say beyond that.
A few of the braver souls lingered to chat.
They all knew. It was neither a secret nor mystery
That he and the couple had quite an odd history.
Their bonds were a tangle of friendship and sex.
Josh, his best pal once. And Patty, his ex.
For a while he could barely go out in the city
Without a being a punchline or object of pity.
‘Poor Nathan’ had virtually become his new name,
And so he showed up just to show he was game
Though his invite was late, a forgotten addendum.
For Nathan there could be no more clear referendum
That he need but endure through this evening and then
He would likely not see Josh and Patty again.
Josh’s sister was speaking. A princess in peach.
Nathan dug in his pocket to study his speech.
He’d poured over Bartlett’s for couplets to filch.
He’d stayed up until three, still came up with zilch.
Except for instructions he’d underscored twice.
Just two words in length, and those words were ‘be nice’.
Too often, he thought, our emotions betray us
And reason departs once we’re up on the dais.
He’d witnessed uncomfortable moments where others had lost their way quickly,
Where sisters and brothers had gotten too prickly
And peppered their babbling with stories of benders,
Or lesbian dabbling or spot-on impressions of mothers-in-law.
Which true, Nathan thought, always garnered guffaws
But the price seemed too high with the laugh seldom cloaking
Hostility masquerading as joking
No, he’d swallow his rage and he’d bank all his fire.
He knew that in his case the bar was set higher.
Folks were just waiting for him to erupt.
They’d be hungry for blood even though they had supped.
They’d want tears or some other unsightly reaction.
And Nathan would not give them that satisfaction.
Though Patty a harlot and Josh was a lout,
At least Nathan knew what he’d not talk about.
I won’t wish them divorce, that they wither and sicken
Or tonight that they choke on their salmon or chicken.
I won’t mention that time when the cottage lost power
In that storm on the Cape and they left for an hour
And they thought it was just the cleverest ruse
To pretend it took that long to switch out the fuse.
Or that time Josh advised me with so much insistence
That I should grant Patty a little more distance,
That the worst I could do was hamper and crowd her,
That if Patty felt stifled she’d just take a powder,
That a plant needs its space just as much as its water,
And I shouldn’t give Patty that ring that I’d bought her,
Which in retrospect only elicits a “Gosh,
I hardly deserved a friend like you, Josh.”
No I won’t spill those beans or make myself foolish
To satisfy appetites venal and ghoulish.
I will not be the blot on this hellish affair.
And with that, Nathan pushed out and rose from his chair.
And just by the tapping of knife against crystal,
All eyes turned his way, like he’d fired off a pistol.
“Ah hem, Joshua, Patricia, dear family and friends,
A few words, if you will, before everything ends.
You’ve promised to honor, to love and obey,
We’ve quaffed our champagne and been cleansed by sorbet,
All in endorsement of your hers-and-his-dom.
So now let me add my two cents’ worth of wisdom.
I was wracking my brain sitting here at this table
Until I remembered this suitable fable
That gets at a truth, though it may well distort us
So here with the tale of the scorpion and tortoise.
The scorpion was hamstrung, his tail all aquiver.
Just how would he manage to get ‘cross the river?
‘The water’s so deep,’ he observed with a sigh,
Which pricked at the ears of the tortoise nearby.
‘Well, why don’t you swim?’ asked the slow-moving fellow.
‘Unless you’re afraid. I mean, what are you, yellow?’
‘It isn’t a matter of fear or of whim,’
Said the scorpion. ‘But that I don’t know how to swim.’
‘Ah, forgive me. I didn’t mean to be glib
When I said that I figured you were an amphib-
ian.’ ‘No offense taken,’ the scorpion replied.
‘But how ’bout you help me to reach the far side?
You swim like a dream and you have what I lack.
What say you take me across on your back?’
‘I’m really not sure that’s the best thing to do,’
Said the tortoise. ‘Now that I see that it’s you.
You’ve a less than ideal reputation preceding.
There’s talk of your victims all poisoned and bleeding.
You’re the scorpion. And, how can I say this but, well,
I just don’t feel safe with you riding my shell.’
The scorpion replied, ‘What would killing you prove?
We’d both drown. So tell me how would that behoove
Me to basically die at my very own hand,
When all I desire is to be on dry land?’
The tortoise considered the scorpion’s defense.
When he gave it some thought it made perfect sense.
The niggling voice in his mind he ignored
And he swam to the bank and called out, ‘Climb aboard.’
But just a few moments from when they set sail,
The scorpion lashed out with his venomous tail.
The tortoise too late understood that he’d blundered
When he felt his flesh stabbed and his carapace sundered.
As he fought for his life he said, ‘Tell me why
You have done this? For we now will surely both die.’
‘I don’t know!’ cried the scorpion. ‘You never should trust
A creature like me because poison I must.
I’d claim some remorse or at least some compunction
But I just can’t help it. My form is my function.
You thought I’d behave like my cousin the crab,
But unlike him, it is my nature to stab.’
The tortoise expired with one final quiver,
And then both of them sank, swallowed up by the river.
The tortoise was wrong to ignore all his doubts
Because in the end, friends, our natures will out.”
Nathan paused, cleared his throat, took a sip of his drink.
He needed these extra few seconds to think.
The room had gone frosty; the tension was growing.
Folks wondered precisely where Nathan was going.
The prospects of skirting fiasco seemed dim,
But what he said next surprised even him.
“So what can we learn from their watery ends?
Is there some lesson on how to be friends?
I think what it means is that central to living
A life that is good, is a life that’s forgiving.
We’re creatures of contact, regardless of whether
We kiss or we wound, still, we must come together.
Though it may spell destruction, we still ask for more
Since it beats staying dry but so lonely on shore.
So we make ourselves open while knowing full well
It’s essentially saying, ‘Please, come pierce my shell.’”
Silence doesn’t paint the depth of quiet in that room.
There was no clinking stemware toasting to the bride or groom.
You could’ve heard a petal as it landed on the floor.
And in that stillness Nathan turned and walked right out the door.

Manic Most Days

I’m trying to figure out what’s wrong with me. It really can’t be that hard, can it? Shouldn’t I know myself better than anyone else? Why don’t things render in real life in the same way the I expect them to in my head?

My sister came home this weekend to pick up a few things. She came with a whole bunch of friends and an incredible weekend plan. I have to admit the smallest amount of jealousy. I used to do things like that with my friends in high school. She’s not in high school anymore. Sometimes, just a little bit, it’s always there I think, I wonder what I gave up by attending school in the place that I did. It’s not usually a bad thing. Sometimes, though, I feel like I made the wrong decision. Is it my fault? I feel so loyal, but no one seems to deserve it. I expect a phone call, and nothing. My parents are leaving for the entire week. I know I shouldn’t be saying this, but it’s the first time they’ve really done this, and I feel anxious being so on my own.

There’s one thing I’m going to miss when I move away from this desolate place. The nights in the desert will be hard to give up. I’m trying really hard not to cry.

The Love Song of Alfred J. Prufrock

Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherized upon a table;
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The muttering retreats
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:
Streets that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question…
Oh, do not ask, “What is it?”
Let us go and make our visit.

In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.

The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes
The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes
Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening
Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains,
Let fall upon its back the soot that falls from chimneys,
Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap,
And seeing that it was a soft October night
Curled once about the house, and fell asleep.

And indeed there will be time
For the yellow smoke that slides along the street,
Rubbing its back upon the window-panes;
There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create,
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate;
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions
And for a hundred visions and revisions
Before the taking of a toast and tea.

In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.

And indeed there will be time
To wonder, “Do I dare?” and, “Do I dare?”
Time to turn back and descend the stair,
With a bald spot in the middle of my hair–
[They will say: “How his hair is growing thin!”]
My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin,
My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin–
[They will say: “But how his arms and legs are thin!”]
Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.

For I have known them all already, known them all;
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;
I know the voices dying with a dying fall
Beneath the music from a farther room.
So how should I presume?

And I have known the eyes already, known them all–
The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase,
And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin,
When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall,
Then how should I begin
To spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways?
And how should I presume?

And I have known the arms already, known them all–
Arms that are braceleted and white and bare
[But in the lamplight, downed with light brown hair!]
Is it perfume from a dress
That makes me so digress?
Arms that lie along a table, or wrap about a shawl.
And should I then presume?
And how should I begin?

Shall I say, I have gone at dusk through narrow streets
And watched the smoke that rises from the pipes
Of lonely men in shirt-sleeves, leaning out of windows? …

I should have been a pair of ragged claws
Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.

And the afternoon, the evening, sleeps so peacefully!
Smoothed by long fingers,
Asleep…tired…or it malingers,
Stretched on the floor, here beside you and me.
Should I, after tea and cakes and ices,
Have the strength to force the moment to its crisis?
But though I have wept and fasted, wept and prayed,
Though I have seen my head (grown slightly bald) brought in upon a platter,
I am no prophet—and here’s no great matter;
I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker,
And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker,
And in short, I was afraid.

And would it have been worth it, after all,
After the cups, the marmalade, the tea,
Among the porcelain, among some talk of you and me,
Would it have been worth while,
To have bitten off the matter with a smile,
To have squeezed the universe into a ball
To roll it toward some overwhelming question,
To say: “I am Lazarus, come from the dead,
Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all”
If one, settling a pillow by her head,
Should say, “That is not what I meant at all.
That is not it, at all.”

And would it have been worth it, after all,
Would it have been worth while,
After the sunsets and the dooryards and the sprinkled streets,
After the novels, after the teacups, after the skirts that trail along the floor–
And this, and so much more?–
It is impossible to say just what I mean!
But as if a magic lantern threw the nerves in patterns on a screen:
Would it have been worth while
If one, settling a pillow or throwing off a shawl,
And turning toward the window, should say:
“That is not it at all,
That is not what I meant, at all.”

No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;
Am an attendant lord, one that will do
To swell a progress, start a scene or two
Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool,
Deferential, glad to be of use,
Politic, cautious, and meticulous;
Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;
At times, indeed, almost ridiculous–
Almost, at times, the Fool.

I grow old…I grow old…
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.

Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.

I do not think they will sing to me.

I have seen them riding seaward on the waves
Combing the white hair of the waves blown back
When the wind blows the water white and black.

We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
Till human voices wake us, and we drown.