abased his pen. He could not likely think.
He took himself out of it,
both wrong & right, beyond well beyond moral,
in the groves of meaningless rage, which ache & stink
unlike old shit
which loses its power almost in an hour,
ours burgeons. When I trained my wives, I thought
now they’ll be professional:
they became professional, at once wedlocks went sour
because they couldn’t compete with Henry, who sought
their realizations. The J.P. coughed.
Married life is a boat
forever dubious, with the bilge stale.
There’s no getting out of that.
Gongs & lightning crowd my returned throat,
I always wept at parades: I knew I’d fail:
Henry wandered back on stage & sat.
Emotional outbursts with a spouse are disturbing, and the disturbance rests front and center too often in one’s mind, obscuring actual thought. So it is here. Writers make their living out of thought, so this becomes a serious problem. Zelda Fitzgerald became furious with her husband’s writing and the way he used their life together in his work. Hemingway, somewhere, wrote that in the unraveling of her sanity she became jealous of his writing and did whatever she could to hamper it. I think it was probably more complicated than that. Her celebrity husband took her thinking and work for third rate tripe, and he was furious when she used material from their lives together to make it, though the same material was at the bottom of much of his work. Did she think that was fair? Hardly, and this was a crushing unfairness. She was as much an alcoholic as F. Scott (and Berryman, for that matter), so that certainly must have had much to do with the erosion of her sanity. But she moved in a circle of truly great artists, in the eye of one of the greatest artistic ferments in history, Paris in the 1920s, and she was completely overshadowed by her husband. That had to be tough. She’s not remembered even now as an artist as much as a fiery beauty, the wife of the great writer, the gorgeous woman who went famously nuts. So it’s not surprising there was strife along the way in the Fitzgerald household. There’s the thing about spousal strife: It obscures clear thinking, but it can also become its own material. It’s a minor paradox: “He could not likely think” from Henry is easy enough to accept for anyone who has ever had a quarrel with a spouse (i.e. everyone who has ever had a spouse), but in the midst of this wedlock brainlock, B. produces this poem, and a notably interesting one. Now, I am imagining certain friends at this moment, more than one actually, who might read a line like “When I trained my wives” and have a reaction somehow reminiscent of that scene in Alien when the baby monster tears his way out of that astronaut’s midsection. I’m having a similar reaction, actually. I see it though as an unfortunate way of phrasing a request and an understanding: The writing matters more. It matters more than me, more than you, and for sure it matters more than us. If you upset me through some life-situated quarrel, about my drinking, or our children, or neglect, or my constant busyness, or my affairs, then my dear, you’ve broken the vow understood as ancillary to that other vow. My legacy matters more than my life, and since you’re part of my life, that means you too. Who knows what triggered this particular fight, but isn’t it funny the way it ends up in the work? Finds itself embedded in the legacy?
The parades he’s weeping about at the end are referring to his wedding processions. These are often tear-inducing affairs, but the reason for his aren’t about the poignancy of true love for mortal humans, tying their lives together in mutual support, till death do us part. It’s about the certain knowledge, and shame, that he’s not only not up to it, but that he has no intention of living up to the demands of a marriage. Ultimately, he knows he won’t, but I think the implication even more is that he knows he can’t. Like his addiction, it’s bigger than him. So, because he can’t control it, he can’t be blamed for it. This so reminds me of Edmund’s bitter speech from King Lear:
This is the excellent foppery of the world that when we are sick in fortune—often the surfeit of our own behavior—we make guilty of our disasters the sun, the moon, and the stars, as if we were villains by necessity, fools by heavenly compulsion, knaves, thieves, and treachers by spherical predominance, drunkards, liars, and adulterers by an enforced obedience of planetary influence, and all that we are evil in by a divine thrusting-on. An admirable evasion of whoremaster man, to lay his goatish disposition to the charge of a star!
The object of Edmund’s disdain is astrology, but it applies to Henry’s “admirable evasion” as well, dead on: Something is born in me, over which I have no control, which determines how I must act. Edmund calls bullshit on this whole idea. B. says that when his voice returns, gongs & lightning crowd his throat: He can’t stop doing whatever it is triggering the quarrel: drinking, fornicating, writing, whatever. He’s totally committed and invested in this, too. Yeah, and I can just imagine his wife’s response.