RAE MARIE TAYLOR
Illustration: Nadia Morin
The Half of It, For curious nieces
I have quit talking
about the men, you know,
There are the ones I love, who stand by me: Thom, my sculptor friend Pierre, my Dad, Geoff, Bertrand, Harold, then Jot, Paul, Art, Ed, my brothers-in-law, and your cousins Seena, Paul, the Davids, …and Sam?
I guess you would know about him; loved me since I was 4. Sam, of course. Couldn’t ever choose our good love though, he chose two devastating marriages instead. So there it is. Enduring love they say.
But Really, brothers do me just fine. Yeah.
They stand by you, travel roads with you through drought, trail with you through canyons and scary gorges, Italian cafés and French vineyards. They loved me in poverty and now in war. That’s good for the soul you know. They carry memory. The best is, they know what I mean. Together we know who we are, who we were in the early days, and who we’ll be, if we live long, of course.
Yep, brothers do me just fine.
The others? The others weigh in at the torn drag of my heart.
Why do you want to know about the ones who sting, sharp with ego over love? OK, maybe you do need to know…
That hungry poet? Famous? Famous as poets get, I guess. Ohhh that was rough, dramatic, practically operatic. You know that opera Carmen? She had nothing over me there! I came across his old love letters the other day, a few too of the ones he wrote after we broke up. We remained dear to each other though. He called every year for a long time to apologize; just couldn’t understand what had happened to him being unfaithful to us and all. Said he never found anyone like me again. He’s still dear, really old… Then there was the contemptuous retiree…Yeah, for sure that hurt worst, I hadn’t ever known contempt of a lover before. But, you know there was another one who worked at the same place as the retiree, years before. He was a good man. He loved right, sincere, but I couldn’t work up the passion for him. You know that can’t work! He promised to build me a studio, but it didn’t seem fair to marry him for a studio instead of hungering for him. It was a shock for him, real hard for him. He wrote me a beautiful card to say good-bye a couple years later. Clean, clear through a good man. I hope he’s happy. And there was another great good man, another Sam, actually. Talk about bond and brother, we had it! But he didn’t even get what he was asking by asking me to marry without feeling the hots for him. He never understood. Couldn’t get over it. Hated me for awhile; forgave me later but had a hard time when I left town. He came to help my friends pack the U-haul, got obsessive about those tie-down ropes, tied and tied and tied my things down; my other friends left and left him to it… Said he thought I’d always be around… Then he died! on the second girlfriend after me, a heart attack. It alters you, you know, Death like that.
Here I am talking about love again!
You want to hear more about the ranger? I did almost forget the Park Ranger,
Well, you know in that movie how Merlin said to Lancelot, ”Your lust will hold you up”? Well, it works. I drove across the continent alone in February to join him in the Grand Canyon, love and lust holding me up, and of course lots of kind people serving me coffee and wishing me luck on the way. Road people are romantic. The truck drivers were the best. Really looking out for a woman alone. They saved me once from pretty scary stuff at a rest stop. Real brothers. Oh?? More about the ranger? OK. So, lust and real love, kindness, sharing our own, fine touching beauty and our Southwest canyon worlds, the archaeology, the petroglyphs; lots of important stuff in common. Thoughtful too, romantic, but I didn’t count on the fear. Wasn’t long he started throwing himself against the walls of our hogan. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Freaking out that somehow I would get away from him – I was pretty good on my own in the wilderness, but still, I wanted to be with him. Paranoid about me screwing around when actually I was going to my poetry group in town. Now poetry is awful scary to some people, of course, but this was more than that. Talk about fear of intimacy! The happier we were the worse it got. Boy! Was he ever afraid.
When he broke the gate to the Visitor Center where I worked, that’s when I knew I’d be next. I had to leave. No reason to get beat around in the name of love. – Remember that! – Now there again, I had a kind of brother, more like a dad. Rory, a retired truck driver, knew what was going on. I didn’t have to tell him much. He cared and watched I guess. Just came up to me at work that day when he saw the gate and told me to get out. That helped, and I did, like I said. You bet, that was pretty dark stuff, pretty sad. We could have been amazingly happy.
Despairing he was that ranger, then, deep down… And I was afraid that his mom hated that I was white. Those things are real too. After that, he said what scared him most was, if there came a point where I had to choose between him and my work as an artist, I would always choose being an artist. Well, that was definitely true. I just couldn’t see why there had to be an either-or when we could be so amazingly happy. He was right of course, for him, it was already happening. He couldn’t really live with the mistress of art that needed my time and gave me such joy. Yeah, I left. 3000 miles away. He tracked me down 11 years later. A couple of months ago we were kind of surprised to find ourselves celebrating 15 years of friendship. You learn a lot with the men; Control, Fear, yours too. It’s their ego the monk says, but you never really know, you never really know…
Sure. It’s true, I’ve been lucky, been loved a lot. Yes, the Argentinian. He knew how to choose when he really loved; we were very happy, but cancer and exile got in the way of that. I know you heard that poem I wrote in French, that story’s all there. But…geography, I mean oceans and continents to deal with, is a real bugger in love.
So, You can see we tried the men and I. And that’s about the half of it.
Now, Don’t go and forget what I told you,
Like I said,
I don’t wanna talk about the men so much anymore, all I really care about is love.
October. This is my month of bull and fire. The bull immolated, let loose, let go, the cow, relieved, breathing, her heart knitting quickly, her core aligning itself whole, no hole
where the bull had been breaking the threads, stringing them to his control, inserting himself, wrapping himself in them, within her, for sustenance he hadn’t in himself, or for sustenance he ‘d abandoned in himself, holding on swinging from my threads, pulling like the puppeteer who controls a life that he doesn’t agree with, or feel.
not sucking no, he was gulping her all in, taking, tearing the fabric, not weaving the warp, or woof, not knowing how, so flaccid and fun, weak within somewhere in spite of his bitter strength; bitter yes, so bitter I never heard him say anything compassionate about himself or anyone, all his reports ringing bitter, rude, hurtful, angry, unforgiven, unresolved, not yet unburdened, so bitter, but the bull is gone. I needn’t constantly explain, be guilted for being whole and alive, for having some basic security and work, ambitions, desires, a future of my own and a car. Bull and fire. This is my month of bull and fire. The fire was in the kitchen, the afternoon after the night I said, « Let’s be straight this isn’t working, » the night he prompted me with « Then I’ll be let go. » he had already left so far and long ago and wouldn’t say it, set me up fine to be the one, the nasty woman who says no, just as he could hype me to ripen for him when he was ready, luscious taught skin, ready, in my home. Bull and fire. It was an exquisitely fine, October golden, bright day and I took longer at the park than I had thought, kept wanting to stop and rest, sit in the sun, savor the pleasure in the air, of people having this kind of fun, easy fun, not New Age or anything in particular, just easy fun because it’s a beautiful day and we need love beautiful days before this winter settles; forgetting even the arriere pensée of winter on us, that day only the pleasure in the air because it was so good, so beautiful that day when I opened the door to gasping smoke heading right away, my throat choked dry, eyes smarting gray, to the kitchen; my mind poised sharp and the relief, that the fire, yes, it really was a fire, was contained, the flames lapping out and around the cover of the frying pan, splattering the floor with grime, but the flames not, barely not, beyond the pot. Bull and fire. Was this some voodoo of his? or had heart swell pain influenced my judgement that much that day after that night as to leave the chicken cooking too high. or was it some fluke of the planets? There was another fire the next day at Canadair’s older plant, not as bad as it could have been, and Tuesday Marilyn is thinking of fire for all her student papers. It’s the way she says « fire » that fits. I didn’t tell her about my fire, but she knows that the bull is out. Then we went to C.K. Williams poetry reading. Bull and fire. That’s where this all started.