Jerusalem Sonnets (11)

J
One writes telling me I am her guiding light
And my poems her bible — on this cold morning

After moss I smoke one cigarette
And hear a magpie chatter in the paddock,

The image of Hatana — he bashes at the windows
In idiot spite, shouting — ‘Pakeha! You can be

‘The country’s leading poet’ — at the church I murmured, ‘Tena koe,'
To the oldest woman and she replied, ‘Tena koe’—

Yet the red book is shut from which I should learn Maori
And these daft English words meander on,

How dark a light! Hatana, you have gripped me
Again by the balls; you sift and riddle my mind

On the rack of the middle world, and from my grave at length
A muddy spring of poems will gush out.

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I wanted to have a poem and I was pregnant. I was very thin. As if I’d lived on air. A poet must be able to live on air, but a mother must not attempt it. My mother wanted me to buy a set of matching pots, Wearever aluminum, like the ones she had. They were heavy and had well fitting lids so my suppers wouldn’t burn. My husband wanted me to give dinner parties. John F. Kennedy was running for office.

I sensed danger. Kennedy wasn’t against the Bomb or for nuclear disarmament. I joined SANE at its inception. Also Concerned Scientists. I spoke with Linus Pauling and encouraged my husband to help his partner organize Physicians for Social Responsibility.

There was a baby in my belly. I wanted to write poems. I had a crazy idea that a woman could write a real novel, the kind that shook the world. I hallucinated that a woman could be a poet, but she would have to be free. I couldn’t imagine that freedom for myself even though I could see it in Isla Negra when I followed Pablo Neruda. I could see it in the way he walked. Even if he were walking inside a dictatorship, among guns, soldiers and spies, there was nothing between him and his vision. Anything he saw, he was able to take into himself–there was no sight, no image, no vision to which he didn’t feel entitled. In his heart, everything–everything–belonged to him. Pablo Neruda was–more than anything–a poet, and so he was an entitled man.

I was a woman and entitled to nothing. I had nothing except a husband, a rented house, a set of pots, living room furniture, a frenzy of obligations, credit cards, anxious relatives, too many acquaintances, a gift of future diaper service, two telephones, no time to read, a plastic wrapped cookbook of recipes gleaned from the pages of the New York Times, and a hunger, a terrible hunger for the unimaginable, unlimited freedom of being a poet, and a baby in my belly.

I would have called Pablo long distance if I had the courage, if I had the ability to speak Spanish fluently, if we had ever talked about real things. But, what would a man know about a baby in the belly? And what did it matter if there were to be one poet more or less in the world when so many in his country were dying?

I woke up one morning and thought–I can’t have this child. My husband said, “You’ll have to get a job after it’s born so we can buy a house. You’ll need an advanced degree so you can do something.” I thought, I can’t. I have to write poems. My mother found a crib. Someone painted it white. A friend sent a pastel mobile with tame wood animals. I thought about blue curtains, making bedspreads, and abortions.

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