|It definitely wasn't like this!|
Once upon a time, just about exactly 24 years ago (it was an October), a poet who had just turned 30 was giving a reading in an art gallery in a university town. This poet’s readings were fairly popular events & usually were well-attended. That night—a Sunday as it turns out—was no exception. There was a good audience gathering. & amongst that audience, the 30-year-old poet noticed a young woman & quite immediately lost his heart.
Now, you must understand, this poet had a great capacity for falling in love. We may find that capacity jejune or neurotic or otherwise objectionable on any of several levels, but this was the truth about him. Given that, what should have made this evening different?
But he believed it was, & in fact, from our perspective over two decades removed, we must admit he was right, tho probably not in the ways he suspected. After the reading, he met the young woman, whom we’ll call EG (exampla gratia? she might get a laugh out of that.) They spent the evening together, & something akin to a romance began. Unlike Dante, the young poet didn’t just glimpse this woman at a distance. He came to know her as a brilliant poet in her own right, as someone with a giddy & flamboyant sense of humor, & also someone whose psychological complexities seemed a match for his own. His poetry took a decided turn—if we look back over all his work, we might say this was when his style started to take a definite & recognizable shape. People noted that his new work was innovative & exciting.
I imagine you think I could go on at length with this story, & you’re right. The young poet & EG spent a lot of time together. Tho she didn’t live in the same town as the poet, her sister did, & she visited often. The winter passed & the spring came, bringing with it all sorts of promises, as it has since time immemorial. The poet & EG seemed quite happy, tho their relationship was decidedly unconventional & difficult in some ways. But she soon would be moving to the same town.
Then, suddenly, there was a rift between them. It was indeed sudden & drastic, & the poet didn’t understand what had caused it. This went on for months, during which the poet (of course) wrote a long poem about it all. Then, there seemed to be a chance for reconcilation, maybe even a brand new start. For various reasons, the poet couldn’t bring himself to act on this, because he was afraid of being hurt, & because, for reasons we won't go into here, he believed the relationship was "impossible." He was in the habit of quoting the line from Five Easy Pieces about “things that get bad if I stay.” At a certain point, he learned that the obstacles he believed had stood in the way of the relationship were not in fact real, & he felt very hurt. Still, he seemed to move on with his life, & wound up on the other side of the country.
But he never felt resolved about EG, & in fact, she continued to play a significant role in his poetic imagination. Characters somehow based on her cropped up in a lot of his poems. Then, 10 years after the first meeting, the poet—now 40—met an old acquaintance from that earlier time. The acquaintance knew the story about the poet & EG, & the acquaintance told the poet how EG had never wanted things to happen the way they did—how much she had regretted that & had wanted to be reconciled. The acquaintance said that EG was now married & successful in Hollywood as a screenwriter; he also told the poet about love poems EG had written to the poet that the poet had never seen. He asked the poet if he’d like to be in touch with EG again.
The poet felt strangely helpless, as if someone had just given him a glimpse of an alternative life he had let go by. He was sad—the hurt he’d felt for the years intervening came to the fore on that evening in a San Francisco studio apartment. But he said, “It’s too late now,” & passed on the acquaintance’s offer to put him in touch with EG.
Then it was 12 years later still, & the poet had moved on to a new life—a settled, middle-aged life, generally full of great contentment. But he no longer wrote poetry. In fact, he really hadn’t written poetry since around the time that he met with that old acquaintance who had revealed more of the story about EG. One morning, he found an email in his inbox. He couldn’t believe his eyes: it was from EG. It was almost like seeing a ghost; but after a brief deliberation, he responded.
For a couple of months, he was in touch with EG, mostly thru email, but a few times on the phone. He was really quite happy, & felt as if everything that had gone so wrong was now redeemed thru this newfound friendship. In fact, he began writing poems again.
But things went wrong again, rather dreadfully so, & since this is no longer “once upon a time,” we’ll leave it at that. My father used to say, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions,” & perhaps that applied to this situation.
The poet stopped writing again, but not for too long. He began a blog; when the next spring came, he wrote some poems, & then more in the fall & winter. Once the poems were done—& the poet knew exactly when that was—he published the book of them.
The book was called The Spring Ghazals.
Image is "Dante meets Beatrice at Ponte Santa Trinita", by Henry Holiday (1839 - 1927)