One of the first poems, serious poems, I read was T. S. Eliot's "The Wasteland". Aside from the effortless flow of the words, the imagery of the real "unreal city" Eliot is describing, what struck me the most upon my first reading was the sheer amount of references to other works that Eliot makes. Reading Eliot is not for the faint at heart (cat poems aside); this is a writer who not only knows his literary touchstones, but assumes that you, as the reader, know them as well (or that you are at least industrious enough to look them up). "The Wasteland" was my first encounter with a studious work of expressive regret, and it was my first memory of looking up footnotes on about every other couplet. References to Greek mythology, German poetry, fortune telling, and Shakespeare abound, and there's something just rather glorious about that, especially when one is reading it on a quiet farm next to endless rows of corn, as I was.
The following poem, and the one posted earlier, are my homage to this wonderful poet who had such an influence on me, both as a reader and as a writer.
Happy Birthday from the Never Again Hyacinth Girl
Hi, it’s me, remember that time when we were both dead, under the sea, exchanging pearls in the shadow of that red rock and you said come, sit under the shadow of that red rock, and we showed each other the iridescence that lurks at the bottom of each soul, each one, down in the depths of pain lit large by desire?
Well, I’m better now. I just called to let you know that, and to tell you how fervently I admire and adore you. Not that. Not really. You already know, don’t know, that part where Colin Firth was fencing and then dove into the lake, and you turned to me and told me how much you hated chick lit? Write like a man, you said, and I reminded you about Hemmingway and his sexism, but what is a man, really, if not sexist? Can a man be a man without it?
And you had no response.
Now we sit here, the two of us, separated by time recorded across waves captured and played back and I have to tell you, seriously, that I miss you. Period. Full stop. I can’t help but miss you. I miss you at the moment of this message, speaking it into a blue covered rectangle with blunted edges. I miss you at the moment you hear this message, talked in your ears covered by small, white buds, as I imagine forward in time your fingers moving across icons, pressing pictures, checking out my Facebook page (I know you do, and you don’t know that I know, but I wanted to tell you that, too). My voice played back over photos posted, and shared, and placed there just so you could see them, just for this particular moment, just because this is how much I trust in the missing and its own mutuality.
I saw her last night, again, on my walk, glinting between the smallest, icy drops of snow, walking behind me, leaving no footprints next to mine. She’s a far better crowd-sourcer than you’ll ever be, hate to break that one to you, but you just can’t compete with a perfect celestial alignment just at the moment I look up at the night sky, or a ghostly-tinged orange surrounding the horizon as I look down the hill blocks from her house. You just can’t outdo her.
She says hello, by the way, and gives you her best.
But, I just wanted to let you know this, and that I finished it last night, and that I finished with that other one, too, that anchor that heaved down at the bottom of my chest and split my stomach wide. That’s all done. He’s all done. The ghost of him is gone, never to return again, never to curl up alongside at night, pounding loathing into the mind, hitting all my sour notes. I’ve bidden him good riddance, fair well, an anti-au revoir in its finality. Should have done it a long time ago. Did it, now, with your help without it, as you knew I could.
And now what else is there to say, except I love you, wholly tactile, disembodied and without sentiment, freely unencumbered, and I choose to stay this way, and I hope you do, too, as we see you and me again and talk to each other, hands holding diamonds extending into stars, warmed to each other in the exchange of them, and only you and I will understand what we’re talking about. You hate this message, and I’m grinning like there’s no tomorrow. See you then.