| On Writing
Shop Talk The Tides of Success: A Two-Artist Marriage Confessional
You loved his talent first. You hope that he will not love you less, for all that you do not now achieve.
In the dark underworld, Bill locks his elbows to his hips and pedals the wheel to mesmerizing speed. The mud fumes, geysers, drips. The jars of slip shift. Bill’s torn jeans stiffen with the soft sweet earth, and later, after the pot on the wheel has grown leather hard, he takes a gentle knife to it.
Now he climbs the slant steps that lead from the dark to the light wearing the black snout and perforated pink disks of his particulate respirator. He smells of dry dust, webs, stained canvas, wet spouts. When he speaks, he sounds like an interviewee in the Witness Protection Program.
When he removes his mask the skin around his mouth is grooved by double parentheses.
Your work, meanwhile, is in eclipse. You’re being undiscovered, unmade. You suspect yourself of having been a thief all along, of having never actually belonged. On the desks of editors. Inside the machinery of ink. On the published page. In the slight shadows of strangers’ hands. There are bruises on your knees from your confessions. There is an ache in your heart, a cunning shame, and among the things you don’t discuss are these:
· the ideas that carry Bill into the slant dark · the invidious dangers of chemicals and flames · the frigid bucket water cracking the cells in his skin · the assertions over the made thing, the power of asserting · the indignity of retreat
Instead, you just keep writing, slant. You write rogue. You write New Mexico. You write animal hurt. You write air. You favor a blueberry farm and a municipal airport and the rain through the pines of Ruidoso, and you believe in every word; you carve and trim and spin each word; you test and shift, you dig in with your own sharp stick, but again:
· given the author’s sales record . . . · given the mutations of the market . . . · given the political-socio book-buying bookselling disposition of the present hour . . . · given the president . . . · given the coming asphyxiation of the planet . . .
November, and the curators are on their way. Two men from an Old City shop who have found Bill’s art, who have claimed it. You have swept and dusted and done the wife’s work of small-charm hospitality, as bowl by spouted jar by vase by double-channeled vessel by twice-skinned pot, Bill delivers his kilned work to the dining room table. He warms the bowl of the chandelier with light. He waits.
You stand waiting, too. You stand remembering the room that Bill led you to, three floors high, when you were young. The smell of linseed. The pools of watercolor you dared to touch. The wobbly watercolor men with sepia bones. The hint of sawhorses and lead. The unframed bed. Yourself in a pink seersucker dress.
You taped your poems to his walls.
You let your poem sounds run.
You wondered what it would be to marry a man for his hands. How long it would take for others to find him out for the beauty that he was. Is.
When the curators arrive, they are kinetic. Lit by the bowl of chandelier light, they cradle your husband’s work with their effusing hands, open and close their hands, fill their hands, tilt the objects in their hands for an underneath look. They say beautiful . They say rugged . They say story. They say yes and yes , and Bill nods and you nod, and what they want is more.
In another room, your name is running the spines of books. Your awards are slouching in frames. Your files are stuffed thick with yellowed newspaper claims. The bronze medal that, once, in a floor-length gown (velvet, the color of eggplant), you wore around your neck hangs limp around a frame. That ribbon nearly matched your dress. and that woman in the photograph is prettier than you’ll be again. She looks like someone else. A döppelganger of success.
December, and in the Old City shop, sales are brisk. A collector buys nine of Bill’s pieces for her shelves in LA. A poet carries a vessel to her room. A sculptor of international repute chooses the prow of Bill’s clay ship and prepares it for the long flight home.
More , the curators say. More. Please.
The bones of Bill’s hands. The cracks in Bill’s hands. The wedge, the slab, the spin, the trim, the carve of Bill’s hands, the unshowy knowing of his hands. The trips he makes up and down the slant, cobwebbed steps and in and out of the city in his flap-windowed Jeep to the shop with the boxes of his things, where the curators are waiting.
More again. Please .
You take a job, a corporate gig. You take another job. You teach. You write drug development stories, patient stories, community hero stories, TV scripts about artists on the rise and musicians who still sing. You interview writers in the high mist of being wanted, glitter their books, refer and guide, treasure and prize; and on your porch, outside, the books that now succeed pile and pile and want and want, say more , and now at night you dream yourself writing the stories you read and praise, the stories you love and teach, the stories your students are writing. You dream yourself immune to the future of your age, immune to the burying retreat.
You try to be the blessing that you seek.
But no, the editors say. No to rain in the pines of New Mexico. No to the animal hurt. No to air itself, and to the sky, and to the first blueberry of the season. The truth thickens in you.
Bill photographs his baked pieces with a single peony. He photographs them with a stub of garlic, a twist of burlap, the hard red buds of grown things, a lemon, three brown eggs, a yellow pencil—because he doesn’t know, he never knows now, if he will see these bowls, spouts, skins, again; if they will be permanently vanished from him, these wanted and alive things. The new, fresh clay has been dug from the earth of Spain, and it is so sweet, it is so desirably delicious, that when you touch it, you yearn to touch it more.
There are no words for how you love this man, for how your hopes for him have been achieved. You loved his talent first. You loved it more. You hope that he will not love you less, for all that you do not now achieve.
You take a job. You take another job. You prize and you bespeak. You bow and shrink. You teach and you teach, you write for others, you write of others, you write (you cannot help it) slant, and you remember yourself in the pink seersucker dress. You remember yourself in the eggplant-colored gown. You feel harassed by the previous she; and maybe you will never sleep again, maybe you are too exhausted, now, to dream.
But you must sleep. You must claim possession of the couch in the room above the underworld, in the light that has grown dark. Beyond the glass door, the wind lifts the hem of pumpkin-colored leaves while beneath you the clay is on stampede. Whir and dip. Brush and stoke. Flame and crack. Made to hold. Made to be.
Last week, at night, while lying here because you have lost the perfect living thing, because you are not immune to anything, a raccoon lifted its paws to the lower panes of the door. You found the prints on the glass the next day and imagined yourself seen. You thought of the moon in its phases. You thought of the slow curve of your plots, and your gleam, and the purple on your knees.