Lune de Miel
In the fall of 1992, I taught a class that will always be my favorite in a long and checkered career because in it were a few people who became good writers and true friends. One of them I talk to daily (Lemming) while others are in touch less frequently (we had tea and went to the Globe theatre last time I saw Jeremiah, who is living outside of London). Then there is Eric, who has written four books, two of them with his wife, who is the poet Amy Nawrocki. Reading her volume Lune de Miel, about their Paris honeymoon, made me remember the way I felt the first time I saw someone I went to college with on the movie screen being attacked by a vampire—a little proud, and a little embarrassed.
To get past the embarrassment, first I offer a sampling of the lines I like best in the volume. In “The Wedding Dress,” I like the newspaper-account-sounding line “The bride wears her own skin/of Polish silk…” In “History of a Table,” I like “we’ve scrapbooked/ourselves here to dip into the ink of artists like us/who came to loot and ransack the city…” The beginning of “Cimetiere du Pere Lachaise” recounts an action that can never be repeated (now that Wilde’s tombstone has been enclosed) and a wish I make daily: “As I bend down to add my lips/to the dead kisses on Oscar Wilde’s tombstone,/I can’t help but laugh/and wish there were a more punishing word/for irony…”
The poem I like best is one that starts out being about a book, not least because it’s about dog-earing the pages, one of my favorite past-times and how I marked the pages so I could write this post:
A Naked Book
The first fight of their married life
took place in the Marais apartment.
the scolding came subdued, within
the scope of suggestion not reprimand;
the offence displayed on the coffee table
left no doubt a crime had taken place:
his copy of Tropic of Cancer open
to page 161, the corner turned down
in a perfect triangular dagger. Other leafs
bore the same mark, her subtle signature,
an indulgence he didn’t seem to share.
He presented his case: Miller’s words
traipsed into the land of the sacred
where every vulgar human trade
takes on the aura of the divine.
With each reading, the edition’s yield
enhanced, a few hundred openings
preserved between a spotless cover.
She countered with appetite,
a hunger that could only be sated
with consumption—if not with lips
then fingers would do. Since a pencil
was absent she found the edge,
tenderly and with love, creased it
as one folds a napkin after savory
sips of plum sauce. Miller’s exploits
were the stuff of greed, meant to be
fondled by greasy hands, swallowed
and spit out in lengthy tendrils.
Such ferocity demands snot and blood,
mud-thick wax, spilled wine and the sap
of sex. The argument morphed
out of itself; soon, the quarrel withered,
sequestered and rightly left aside
as an afterthought. He gazed at her
with intense and amorous musings;
she dog-eared him with a syrupy kiss.
The slight embarrassment I felt on first reading this is overwhelmed by the first line of it, about “the first fight,” because this was a favorite line of my father’s every time Ron and I would have one of those brief snarling matches that married people sometimes break into in front of houseguests or when one is trying to read a map while the other is driving towards 290 or on the “wrong” side of the road in England. My father would choose his moment, break into a big sappy smile, and turn to my mother, saying “their first fight!” It would, of course, make us conscious of an audience and try to act a little better.
That’s what reading this volume was like for me, too—like overhearing something intimate from someone I still think of as young, in the first flush of everything, as if any fight that could happen must—always–be their first.