Sixpence and the Moon
The faculty for myth is innate in the human race. It seizes with avidity upon any incidents, surprising or mysterious, in the career of those who have at all distinguished themselves from their fellows, and invents a legend to which it then attaches a fanatical belief. It is the protest of romance against the commonplace of life.
Paul Strickland is the man that you see there,
World-famous artist that he would become,
Back in the day when all were unaware,
Somewhat a dullard, neither smart nor dumb:
You see him at his office. A stockbroker,
So he worked in and out for many years,
Before he learned to paint with mauve and ochre,
Before he caused his family many tears.
Some men, square pegs or round, they do not fit
In well-appointed slots—these are ground down
By world’s vicissitudes, and made to quit
Their private passions, or in passion drown.
Tedious must have been the daily tasks,
Laborious servile duties in his charge,
Yet, here was one, who strove to tear the masks
False men must wear, and roamed from marge to marge.
Yet, let us leave him: time is not yet ripe
For the artistic transformation—there
You see his wife, a not uncommon type
As for her dinner guests she does prepare.
It was the first occasion that I met him,
Nor was it any matter of great note:
One meets a man, as likely to forget him,
Though afterwards historians will dote.
The table is not filled: I have a gap
Demanding me to fill it. Please excuse
Me: it perhaps would be no great mishap
Did I not show, and yet there is a use
“To swell a progress, start a scene or two,”
To raise good cheer with raising of a cup
In part of good civility, and do
Fair share in keeping conversation up.
Willie, I’m so glad that you could arrive
On such short notice: you know Rose, of course.
My husband has been indisposed, and I’ve
Is he better?
It’s sheer exhaustion: as a member of
The parliament, it’s murder on the man,
Having to shake hands, yet wearing no glove
To keep the germs at bay.
Well, it is an
Exquisite pleasure, on this evening, to
Make service as your partner.
Well, I’m charmed.
You know I am perpetually fond of you,
And I’m perpetually disarmed!
You have not met my sister. This is Petra.
Her husband is retired. Colonel MacAndrew.
Retired? He loafs!
I loaf, and then et cet’ra.
We travel. Go to plays.
Play bridge. And you?
Willie is a great author. He has had
Several books published.
Anything I know?
Nothing, I’m sure.
It isn’t that they’re bad,
But Willie’s books have sold less than their due.
It must be hard to be creative, and
Trying to make a buck off of one’s effort.
I was at sea. Perhaps I may expand
My mind with something that you have endeavored.
Willie has written several books, and I’ve
Copies inscribed of each and every one--
Perhaps I’ll lend you one.
Yes, there are five.
I’ll take one when I’m lounging in the sun,
I’m sure to learn a lot from your insight,
Though, as an older man, my life at sea
Has taught me that the mind casts its own light,
His own best counselor a man may be
Without flim-flam ideas he may have took
From source extraneous. Most of us must work,
We haven’t time for looking at a book
Until retirement. Then there’s time to shirk.
Dear, don’t embarrass Willie.
We must put
Some effort into it, but then, alas
Unless in public fancy it takes root
Without notice or sales, a book may pass
Without remuneration to its author.
You have the world ahead of you.
Is quite industrious. There’s little sloth there.
Yes, sloth within a man is something silly!
Dear, when is Paul arriving?
Why, Paul is over there.
Dear fellow, we
Have been here for no meager interval
Yet hardly noticed you!
Well, Paul, you see,
Is rather unobtrusive for a man.
Darling have you met Willie?
He is filling
In for my husband, indisposed by an
Illness—he has both fever and then chilling.
It’s very good to see you.
Pleased to make acquaintance.
It is a pleasure consummating bliss
To be invited—how could one demur?--
Of your and your wife’s hospitality.
Willie has come for luncheon several times.
But never for a dinner.
Remedy that—if not the worst of crimes--
That most desultory situation. Yes?
Paul is his same old self.
I hardly knew
That he was sitting in that wing chair. Bess,
We are deeply in gratitude to you
For having us for dinner; and you always
Have such intelligent and charming guests.
My sister loves the arts. In large and small ways
It’s evident; and these, her splendid fests
Are not the sort, you know, the sort one hates,
Which one attends with merely wan elán,
Held but to show that one reciprocates
For some prior occasion. Yes, I can
Vouchsafe my little sister knows herself,
And makes full usage of her talents.
He’s looking at the delf.
You have a nice array; and yet you please
The eye in your arrangement of the pieces.
I always say a small collection is
Better than large, if every item pleases
Upon its own accord.
The total’s bliss.
You flatter me.
My little sister has
Taste that’s impeccable.
I do agree.
Luncheons are grand; but dinners, as they pass
Reveal her grand dame of society.
Rose, in one’s forties, Paul and I have tried
To build a comfortable, appealing nest
Here in our humble place—though he is tied
Often to office matters: not oppressed,
Mind you, but he must even work the evening.
That’s how it is. Old boy, when you retire,
You’ll find one’s bread becomes too tired for leavening,
And one must struggle just to tend the fire!
Paul is so witty.
Witty, yes, but quiet.
I do admire your delf.
Yes, such a piece
Is scarcely made—one can’t afford to buy it.
It makes me feel so tranquil, and at peace,
The quarters as you have them.
Tell me, Willie,
Are you at work upon a brand new novel?
Yes, it pertains to a hermit hillbilly.
Living alone, the mountaintop his hovel--
I’m going to call it Appalachian Blues.
Willie has just come back from overseas.
I have a restless soul, and like to cruise.
It’s seeing forests for the trees--
I get ideas for things to write about,
The novel will be set in the US,
My subjects people met upon the route.
I’ve heard it is barbaric there.
You are accustomed to the finer things
Available at home; but the wide world
Reveals places where chairs do not have wings,
But still the Orient is finely pearled.
Dear, don’t bore us with your sea tales.
I love to hear the Colonel tell of life
Among the natives, where things are peut-être.
In some quarters man takes more than one wife.
What was the Kipling line, about the dreams?
The wildest dreams of Kew.
Yes, that’s the one.
Are the facts of Katmandu.
I see it seems
Your friend is quite the literary sun.
The crimes of Clapham chaste in Martaban.
You know your Kipling.
It’s a writer’s task.
Paul, isn’t he a most engaging man?
But, let me not presume: if I may ask
Whither you traveled in the States?
Why, San Francisco’s merely a resort
For pleasure—it’s a land of many boasts,
America, but really not my forte--
The citizenry is so barbaric there.
I spent time in Chicago. But I like
To pose a challenge in my art, and dare
Myself to go beyond, to further strike
Than what would merely be a comfort zone.
True, it will not be easy, giving flesh
To my hillbilly hermit—but the known,
The tried and true, can hardly be kept fresh,
When I would rather into unknown places
Attempt my art—or really, humble craft,
And pray the muses favor me their graces
Although one’s critics may receive one daft.
I’m sure that it will be a big success.
You must inscribe it for me, when you have
The published copy in your hands.
Bess, what a party! In this dear enclave--
Humble abode as you may style it—you’ve
Arranged a kind of meeting of the minds;
But so your dinners always splendid prove,
One much of wit—and witticism—finds.
I try to make a complementary pairing,
And I so wanted everyone to know
Willie’s adventures. Dear, why are you staring?
Tell me, when you were there in Chicago,
Did you perchance go to the stockyards to
Observe the slaughter of the animals?
But everybody does!—although the view
I daresay fascinates as it repels.
Tell me about it.
Paul, some other time--
Why, we’re about to eat. You know, my cook
Is envied for each masterpiece sublime
That she creates—she’s worthy of a book--
And I’m the envy of society
For her good efforts, but I manage my
Affairs with acumen, sobriety….
And well-apportioned taste, do not deny.
Rose, that is such a lovely broach you wear.
Those settings, when they were in fashion
Elicited from sundry everywhere
The oohs and ahs of unrequited passion.
My sister, I believe, has one much like it.
Dear, let’s—before we eat, before we dine--
View your collection.
An excuse to hike it
Off from the stage, and it suits me just fine--
You see the first occasion that I met
The man who would be great, extraordinaire
Renowned for his great artistry. And yet,
For general amusement, now let there
Come onto stage some characters as will
Figure into our story later on.
The man’s an artist; but I need not spill
The beans, lest the conclusion be foregone.
I sold my paintings near the Spanish steps.
I was the governess to a great prince,
But he seduced me—rather, to the dep’s
Brought me against my will, and Providence
Saw fit to bless me with a growing tummy--
Bless me or curse. They cast me to the streets,
And, destitute, but horror could become me,
And afterward I tasted other sweets.
In learning of your plight, I married you--
But you became the world to me, my love,
My utmost treasure, and you only do
What fills my heart with joy more than enough.
The canvasses you paint are very good.
Except they lack the spark of genius. They
Sell to the tourists, but I rather would
Paint masterpieces thought I starved away.
I never could allow my dear to starve.
No. Having you makes it—the spoiled ambition--
Never remorseful: we together carve
A home sweet home. I paint by repetition
Of one romantic vision—Italy
As it appeared to me in childish dreams,
And tourists love it, gladly paying me
To take a canvas home. My heart esteems
True greatness, but alas, I cannot reach it:
It is a thing that very few possess,
Nor the salons, the institutes can teach it,
But I paint to my talents, I confess.
Your paintings are most lovely. I was born
In England, but the Italy you paint
Seems just as I imagined it. I mourn
The life I led there.
Love, you are a saint--
That you were victimized, is not a sin.
The images I paint, are quaint and trite,
But sales enabled me to take you in,
And, in the balance, life is quite alright.
The baby that I carried, died before
The giving birth.
And yet, our marriage vows
Create the roof, provide the walls and floor,
Of this, if no great hovel, yet a house
In which true love may flourish. One day yet
We may see born a baby of our own,
Whereon the past will give you no regret.
I feel that I am born to die alone.
No, never can it happen.
I am happy
To go about my life’s quotidian tasks:
I know that you would never curse or slap me,
While your sobriety steers clear of flasks.
The artists you consort with, envy you.
They envy my success; but they despise.
It cannot be.
But that is what they do.
You paint a masterpiece before my eyes,
And with success, the world corroborates--
Theirs be the envy; talent you possessed
Leaves them as humans, hopeless second-rates;
I press my head upon your heavy breast.
It was not mine, to be a genius born,
Yet having had exposure to the master
Painters of Italy, though I may scorn
My talents, yet my life is no disaster.
Rich widows, wealthy wives, admire my work,
And it perhaps gives them an image to
Hang brightening a drab life—while my quirk
Is but that I would rather better do,
Yet, if that which I do, is good enough
So to secure my pretty wife, and have
The blessings and the benefice of love,
It is enough for me.
You like to rave,
Because the truth is that I am not pretty.
Within my eyes, the prettiest of women.
I am not schooled, and neither am I witty.
And yet the love you bring me is uncommon.
I never would have found, in Amsterdam,
This kind of joy—in Amsterdam my home;
And though the vision I paint is a sham
Yet even I believe it, partly numb
To any greater truth. If I were not,
Then I might be a genius—but I do
Recognize that my talent has not got
What Rembrandt or Velasquez have; but you
Remain my consolation, in a way
Greater than all their works of art.
I hardly can believe the words you say;
The room is cloudy with the smoky incense
Of words nonsensical.
That is the reason
My vision won’t produce a masterpiece
On canvas. So my talent is a treason,
Yet love remains perpetual in increase.
I have housework to do.
And I must churn
Out canvasses to meet with the demand.
It is a blessing that I cannot spurn,
The making of a living by my hand.
These brushes and these oils, tools of my trade;
I work the theme—an olive grove in sunlight;
The finished product is crafted, well-made
When it is made to please—so it is done right.
I pause a moment from my work
To glance at magazines,
So this is called an “office perk,”
A method whereby gleans
A soul sedate vicarious
Some news about the islands,
And, while content to tarry thus
Glean someone else’s violence--
The task today is almost done,
I have a secret outing
Tonight, a type of work, not fun,
And Bessie would be shouting
If she surmised the place I go,
With whom and what I do--
A woman has got hawkeyes, so
For such a rendezvous.
O, I am faithful to my Bess,
But faithless to myself
My cherished dreams devalue less
Than ware upon the shelf--
This double life has got to stop,
I cannot keep pretense up,
The finest earthenware may drop
And shatter—how to then sup?
My duty is to feed my soul,
The primacy in man,
Though it may mean I must eat coal
And leave the troubled clan--
Stockbrokers—all my “pals” at work
Will make a scandal of it,
Gossips will talk—inchoate lurk
Pretending so above it.
I am a common run of man
Except for this desire:
I’ve got to paint, though Bess’s clan
Guess not what I conspire--
But in a moment’s notice, see
That I will have absconded,
“Go west, young man,” or to Paris,
In London I am stranded.
I am no youth, but forty-five,
I’ve just begun to live,
But, cramped and stifled in this hive
An office but can give
Remuneration of the sort
Most callous—I, a painter,
Live like a slave, life growing short,
Its colors growing fainter.
These are my things: tonight, tonight
I bid adieu to Bess,
In secrecy my silent plight--
My children let God bless.
One never keen on comfort, so
With little trepidation,
With God or not, I go—just go!--
And feel a wild elation.
My fellow-students in the class
Laugh at my lack of talent--
Let mockers mock: it may be crass
But life becomes more salient
When one pursues the nature in
His bones, and let me tell
As critics, gossips preach my sin
That they can go to hell.
“Issuing from the mouth of viaduct
The hogs are huddled in a larger pen,
But driven to a smaller: strikes instruct
Small several at a time. What happens then,
A hinder leg is with tackle affixed,
Then each in sequence, is swung overhead,
Carried by pulleys, like damned souls betwixt
Heaven and hell, but they are not yet dead.
Railway of death! A man in blood-besplattered
Slashes his victim in the jugular
Whose squealing shrieks and screams but little mattered,
Sputtering, fiercely kicking”—but these are
Details to make me cringe.
Why read it then?
It was your sister’s friend, that little man
Has published it—an impish sort of men,
Writers, write things the censors ought to ban.
Well, I don’t want to hear it.
“How his hand
Covered his eyes, but not from some compassion,
But to prevent the blood still-spurting, and
A sound of tropic rain—red all the fashion.”
Methinks he overdoes it. It’s too gruesome,
Mechanized death. Who wants to read about it?
He seemed a pleasant chap.
Maybe. I knew some
That “seemed” most pleasant, don’t you ever doubt it,
Who, when the back was turned, would stick the knife in.
Literary pretensions! I don’t trust
Artistic sorts pretentious with no wife in
The picture, scribbling novels—it is just
Amusement for the idle minds of women.
I like my magazines. I like the ads.
To read about the stockyards is no omen;
I like to keep abreast of fashion’s fads,
But articles as this are educating,
The mind is broadened, and when next we dine
I’ll know a little more, no hesitating
When topics are conversed on, which is fine.
I liked the article. “Hog Butcher of
The World” he titled it—or so it was
The editor. Americans are gruff,
But one may not inure oneself, because
It is the way the world is turning, trend
To which the rest of humankind, so I
Believe, is ultimately going to tend:
As flies America so we all fly.
It is technology.
“Railway of death.”
Slaughter of beasts is not a pleasant matter,
But he is wasting words and wasting breath
To draw attention to it. “Amidst the chatter
A woman strode, and wearing her high heels
Crossed red blood underneath her saintly feet”:
By such a detail, so the writer deals
Verisimilitude both quaint and neat.
“Amidst that factory of ceaseless slaughter,
With vivid carcasses tacked all around,
She strode with boldness of a rich man’s daughter,
Voiced commonplaces o’er the squealing sound.”
What rubbish! Why is it that every bloody
Tourist from England, in Chicago, must
Visit the slaughterhouses? Anybody
Ought to leave it alone, and keep non-plussed.
As I recall, Paul asked about it. That
Inquiry of his, which got no response
Perhaps planted the seed, the notion, at
Which Willie—Bess’s friend—strove for the nonce.
I think it splendid.
Splendid! Rubbish done
Merely so that some firm may sell some drapes.
Here is the moral: “they are hurried on
By a remorseless fate and none escapes”--
Comparing pigs to men!—“struggling they come,
The poet, statesman, merchant prince and all,
No matter what ideals they had: in sum
Passions and high endeavors hereby stall,
As in a sequence regular mechanical
Hog follows hog, as by conveyor belt
Or escalator, death tyrannical
To one and all most equally is dealt.”
Rubbish I say.
But those are lovely drapes:
Fashion must advertise—the words are filler,
But goods for sale—here camisoles and capes,
Cloaks and conundrums—are the real thriller
For any woman as would keep abreast
Of latest trends. I love to decorate,
So that we may enjoy a happy nest,
And let the pigs be pullied to their fate,
Catapulted, however it may be--
I’m sure my sister’s friend, has also got
To advertise, his novel happily
Forthcoming, or else no one gives a jot.
A writer has to keep his name before
It may be so; yet I find
Artistic types are rather such a bore,
When life requires a smattering of grind
So far as men’s lives are concerned. You may
Look to Paul for example. He to me
Appears an odd sort, but I have to say
Through work and diligence, even as we
Exercised, he has helped create a life
Stable with comfort. If he gave it up
Pursuing some artistic fancy; if
He penned a drama, Bess would take a gulp
Of hard reality, and I’m afraid
We would be called to bear then the expense
Of schooling of her son and daughter. They’d
Be our responsibility, so thence
We must be glad that Paul, and men like Paul are
Both diligent and stable, willing to
Don in the morning jacket tie and collar
And go to work: so good virtues accrue.
You talk as if you thought that Paul might run
Afield and let my sister come to pot.
No, I suspect, as any man has done,
He rather is contented in his lot--
Yet, disappearing, as Bess says he does
Is likely in pursuit of some flirtation,
Perhaps he has a mistress. If he was
Prudent it ought to be no devastation,
And when he tires of the offshoot romance,
Tranquility at home kept undisturbed,
He will be happy with that touch or glance
Illicit—so then’s greater folly curbed.
You speak as one experienced.
Dear, I am
Elder than he by nearly ten years, and
Know passions carry men as do a tram,
Railway funicular, not always planned,
But—even as one takes the stol’n caress--
A level-headed man retains his balance.
I am too old for smutty wantonness,
Nor let some whore abhor me in her talons,
But younger men—say Paul—must face temptation
In course of time. The office desk job grind
May emphasize deluded desperation
Which plants itself in an unstable mind.
I’m lucky I had travels oversea.
I bet you had your flings among the natives!
But since you came back to me
I fretted neither fricatives nor datives,
But waited patiently. A woman’s trust
Thus has been repaid handsomely; but Bess,
I worry for her—Paul has been discussed
As something of an oddity no less
In social circles. She pretends him witty,
Eccentric even: one day he refused
To trim his beard, appearing thereby gritty,
And she, my lovely sister, felt abused.
One must fit in: appearance is the key--
Fail to conform, and one may be thrust out
Into the streets. So much of villainy
Augurs the world, you can have little doubt;
Yet you saw how he is: no time for small talk.
Amongst a close-knit group of friends, relations,
What matters it? But conversation’s all talk,
While those in power oft display impatience
With men who’re less convivial than they.
One must fit in; but Paul, at times he seems
To disregard concern in some small way
For social graces—fine, if as Bess deems
It eccentricity, but one day if
He carries further nonplussed nonchalance,
Going off on a tangent or a riff
Nonsensical, it may be happenstance
But people will take note, and when the drift
Of continents divides like souls from like,
It may be opposite to man’s uplift
As thus—unknowing—does disaster strike.
You make too much of it.
Perhaps I do.
He’s never warmed to me, or I would strive
To make inquiry; he may muddle through
Without the need for us to prod and drive.
There is a sweet felicity of phrase
Here in the wording; words remain but talk,
Which is enough to fill our boredom’s days,
But right now I think I will take a walk,
And meditate, in silent contemplation,
Upon one’s lot in life, and also Paul:
He seems dissatisfied within his station,
Yet we perhaps ought worry not at all.
While you go out upon a stroll, my dear,
Then I will busy with the housework; maybe
Resume the magazine, as you appear
Concern and love, if they be
Imposed upon too much, or frequently,
May shrivel up and die: not the expense
But disillusionment would trouble me
Did Paul dishonor love and innocence
By running off on some torrid wild affair
With an unbridled floozy.
I may make
Inquiries at the club: to seem to care
Sufficeth not when there lies much at stake,
And—if it comes to that—a man must act.
Your sister is as though my flesh and blood,
Her children almost ours, as by a pact,
And love must never prove itself a dud,
Yet, did one on one’s kindliness impose
Then it might be a problem. Never fear.
The Lord helps those who help themselves, not those
Who “merely stand and wait” albeit sincere.
Dear, you go walk, and I will tidy up.
If Paul fell out, or had a nervous breakdown,
It’s more than merely him would land in soup,
His cozy coterie so it might take down.
There are no signs, but I’ve a premonition;
My instinct seldom fails. My husband will
Talk to him, being older, set condition,
Lest cleanup be required after some spill.
I daresay it could be that vixen Rose,
Wearing a broach like that: outlandish, she’s
Not going to fool me, with a casual pose,
As she insinuates by slow degrees.
Her husband “had the fever and the chills,”
As if one might believe that—if a snub
Then it could lead us to a clash of wills,
To which we go unwilling: there’s the rub!
Paul Strickland seemed a kind of nullity;
Upright and honest, diligent perhaps,
But not the sort one might expect to see
Holding a hand at bridge, or with his chaps
Down at the club in casual intercourse
With members of a comp’rable rank and standing
Within society—which made things worse
When all the scandal broke; but I am landing
Ahead of where I want to be. I went,
Upon the dusty season’s close, for summer
In Norfolk—summer pleasures indolent
Suit me, an author yet erstwhile beachcomber.
I didn’t learn the news till I got back,
And then—not one for gossip—it was an
Accident, in the city, midst the pack
Of jostling Londoners by chance I ran
Into Rose Waterford on Jermyn Street--
But rather than recount, let reenact
The momentary juncture we did meet,
And she apprised me of the salient fact.
It seemed to me her eye was twinkling.
The world is all abuzz—have you
Heard of the scandal?
I have not an inkling.
I thought—of all people—for sure you knew.
Rose, I have just returned this very minute
From Norfolk—practicing my golf swing there--
But if there is some gossip, count me in it,
Salacious news of which I’m not aware!
Willie, I do believe you met Paul Strickland.
Rose, you were there. What is this all about.
It’s said, come middle age, a man turns fickle and
Changeable—like a cad or like a lout.
Rose, draw the matter to its point. I’m desperate.
Poor Bess with her two children. O, she’s in
A wretchèd state, and you must question Bess for it,
I’ve only heard, but for the thick and thin
It’s best you got it from the horse’s mouth--
I’m not the sort that likes to spread vile gossip.
Do tell me, Rose.
But there is not a drouth
Of dirty secrets that the crowd can toss up.
Oh, one believes the faces in the crowd
Represent honest, true upstanding folk,
But there, as seething underneath a shroud
Lie hidden secrets—till comes off the cloak
And one reveals himself or herself as
Quite different than the reputation cherished.
Poor Bess, poor Bess—so these things come to pass,
But false illusions oftentimes have perished.
But tell me, Rose, what is the matter? What
Is it, the scandal you say has transpired--
For gossip you know my ears never shut,
Though never one in sins salacious mired
As heard vicariously—while mine I keep
(Insofar as one’s able) under wrap;
But I fear for our friend, discomfort deep
Worries me that there has been some mishap.
Paul Strickland has abandoned—this is hearsay,
Though they are trying to keep the fact submerged,
That you heard it from me nor don’t you dare say,
But it seems truth from posture has diverged--
Abandoned all his wife and children.
Even—I do believe—has left his job.
I may not pry, for it would seem a rudeness,
But curiosity makes my head throb--
Willie, you have to find it out. She will
Tell it to you, you are her confidante,
And needs a friend on which her woes to spill,
Her aching tears. You know how much I want
To help and to find out what is the matter,
But women are inclined not to confide
Upon their peers, their marriage is a tatter,
But rather, I believe, she tries to hide!
Willie, you’ve got to find it out.
I’ve heard that simultaneous to this news
Corroborating facts portentous show
If no clear motive, what none dare confuse:
A young person has left her situation
Within a City tearoom.
My, my, my.
It is amazing: love in desperation,
A dreadful passion made to horrify.
I can’t believe it.
I cannot vouchsafe
More than the hearsay of it; but you know
I am the sort that gossip tends to chafe,
And I am not the sort to idly go
Into the realm of rumor, innuendo--
But still I’d like to find out the true facts:
In sympathy with Bess my heart does rend, O
But luridness repels more than attracts,
While I would give her my consolidation,
My consolation woman unto woman--
I’m sure she drove him to the desperation,
For such events were never so uncommon
As we make them appear, but even so
I weep real tears. Could Paul have been a cad?
Perhaps the truth of it we’ll never know,
And he may have an alibi ironclad
Before I slander by insinuation--
But grief wells in my heart, and issues forth
In tears—what desperation, desperation--
The dirty secrets when deceits unearth.
Rose, I have sent a note already to
The Stricklands, just announcing my arrival,
But I’ll not pry intrusive, although you
Would have it seem a matter of survival--
No, if one wishes to confide in me,
As sacred I accept that confidence,
But I will not pursue it wantonly,
And gossip that one hears across the fence
May make it hard in dealing with one’s neighbor:
It breeds an awkwardness for me, now if
I heed an invitation, to belabor
Foreknowledge of the rumor. I am stiff
Adamant in my opposition toward
Hearsay and innuendoes, as you say,
Yet through the social circles one must ford
Impartial, never prejudicial play
Despite conflicting friendships; so you have
Troubled me by this news, but my allegiance
Must treat the allegations very grave
Pertaining to the Stricklands, and though legions
Of curious onlookers would like to hear
Perhaps what has been whispered, not repeat
A confidence made in friendship sincere
As willy-nilly for the gossip’s treat.
Willie! How can you think that I would play
The gossip? I consider Paul and Bess
Both cherished friends, and don’t you dare to say
In your imagination I might less.
No, never, Rose.
It’s good to have you back.
It was a restful summer.
Tell me, Willie,
Is publication of your book on track?
Hillbilly hermit from some region hilly,
Your “Appalachian Blues” I think you called it.
Yes, I have sent the final manuscript
From Norfolk, nor the publisher stonewalled it,
But said, potboiler-like, it had him gripped.
You will inscribe a copy for me.
I’m sure that we must see each other soon,
Though often good intentions stay but purely
Intended, with no corresponding boon.
You and I share a sense of humor, Rose--
Friendship cuts deeper than the casual fling
Common when conscience keeps a comatose
Morality, as social circles bring.
This true affection is no moribund one,
And I am glad to see you here today
On Jermyn Street—so many streets in London
Yet we brush elbows in this roundelay.
I’m sure I’ll see you soon.
Goodbye, dear Rose.
You see the way the meeting went, when I
First heard the news, which you by now suppose,
But I was younger then, and by and by
Received with an amusement verging on
Enthusiastic, news of such a tenor
That I had only seen in books. As one
Ages one learns that each man is a sinner,
And common infidelities and intrigues
Across which one must come, are just that: common.
So youth’s illusions fall before the blitzkriegs
Of hard experience, no less men than women,
Though women often have that buffer zone
Social conditioning provides: however
To be untouched by life, no there is none
In aging that has learned to be so clever,
And I imagine, you within the mind’s
Eye without any prompting from the stage
Easily visualize the grief one finds
In an abandoned woman—mixed with rage.
My children are away at school
While I am left to fend--
I feel like such a perfect fool,
If he had died, I’d tolerate,
For there would be a pension,
But living at the current rate
Will bring me hypertension
After seventeen years.
When we were young he wooed me, or
To put it rather bluntly
Rather I wooed him; from the core
I loved so love might stunt me:
I sacrificed, gave up the skills
Required to earn a living
Depending on him for the bills
So can I be forgiving
After seventeen years?
Almost eighteen years since we wed,
While Paul—if not the charmer
In world’s eyes, since he shared my bed,
My “knight in shining armor”
Became along the use of years,
I loved him and depended,
But he has left me to my fears,
My peace of mind upended
After seventeen years.
A woman’s love runs very deep,
At least so I profess mine,
Yet he would get it on the cheap
Whereas I did undress mine
Before his pleasure all these years,
Connubial bliss a duty,
But suddenly, I must shift gears
That have no longer beauty
After seventeen years.
He’s run off with a trollop, tramp,
A strumpet, slut and vixen,
While I hope that he gets a cramp
That left me in the quicksan’,
For daily do my bills amount,
And pressures are arising,
Upon Paul I no more can count--
So shocking and surprising--
After seventeen years.
I am the laugh of all the town,
The brunt of jokes, and gossip,
While “friends” attempt to dab my frown
With vinegar on hyssop
And tell me that “I ought to smile”:
The bliss of seventeen
Was mine, but marriage strikes me vile
And I am not so keen
After seventeen years.
“You had a good long run of it”
So well-wishers assure me,
But at my back make fun of it
And how they must endure me--
It’s true, I’ve gotten bitterer,
You’d be embittered too;
I that of time was fritterer
I have so much to do
After seventeen years.
I gave my heart and soul to Paul,
He gave humiliation--
Can woman scorned from her great fall
Recover? The sensation
Which most I feel, when love converts
Is overwhelming hatred,
Because to see my ledger hurts,
The ink on my “clean slate” red
After seventeen years.
Ledgerbook of my days and ways,
A ways and means committee
Of one: a woman always pays,
Abandonment’s not pretty
After these years of wedded bliss
Connubial comfort missing,
The compact bargained for by kiss--
I hate the sight of this ring
After seventeen years.
Then do I have to pawn it off
And find me a pawnbroker?
A new whore uses Paul for trough
While I am left the joker--
I hope that he grows sick and dies,
It cannot be forgiven
What he has done, which I despise
Within my malice driven
After seventeen years.
She’s going to have to move to smaller quarters--
Without Paul’s income, this cannot go on.
And we, as her supporters,
This distance to the poorhouse may go down.
Look, as a stopgap measure, I am glad
To keep her with a cook—she has the best,
And if she lost her then it would look bad,
Doubly bad, when Paul’s finished with his jest.
You think Paul will come back?
Of course he will.
I hate to see her in this state of mind.
Sometimes one’s life provides a bitter pill
Which one must swallow, by the fates consigned.
She stepped into the next room for a moment,
But I heard sobbing coming through the doors.
You asked a cigarette.
No further comment:
It was a bungling faux pas but of course,
She hasn’t got the wherewithal today
To keep her cupboards stocked—but it will worsen,
Tuition will be due: then I must pay,
And, as a generous and loyal person,
I’m glad to lend a hand; however we must not
Allow the matter to go on forever.
Your nephew and your niece without a doubt
Depend on you; the blood-bond does not sever
So easily, unless one is a cad
Like Paul Strickland has proven.
At his age
One feels imprisoned; life is not so bad
So he will realize, and turn the page,
When steam of his romance begins to cool--
That tea shop girl you mentioned. He will find
That running off was acting like a fool,
And come back with his tail tucked in behind,
Then all of us will cease to mention it,
Forgive, forget, continue with our lives,
Bess will find love rekindle, bit by bit,
And paucity return to love that thrives.
You sound like a psychologist.
More than a half a century observing
Foibles of human nature. Dear, be brave,
Although the situation seems unnerving,
Your sister’s made of sterner stuff, and she’ll
Erasing from her mind
The bitterness she presently must feel,
And to the sorrows of the past turn blind.
You men do silly things.
It’s human nature;
Look, Bess no longer is the woman Paul
Was wed to.
So she has increased in stature,
But heft ought not a difference bring at all
To one’s true feelings.
That’s the way it is.
Men are so shallow.
Take us as we are,
We have our own criteria for bliss.
So Paul has wandered. Paris isn’t far.
Soon enough, as a boat took him away
A boat will bring him back.
I’m sure of it.
How will he earn his keep? You have to pay
In Paris or in London. Bills won’t quit.
Here she comes.
Are you ready?
Yes, are you?
I’m sorry, I’ve run out of cigarettes.
Rose will have one.
Oh, this will never do,
This kind of life I am consigned to.
Get going. Rose will be expecting us.
It’s Rose, Rose, Rose, her husband this and that,
And when the people see me show up thus,
The other dinner guests, you know the cat
Must come out from the bag.
People are talking;
People surmise already.
Let’s get going.
Yes, but to have them staring at me, gawking:
It’s like a pregnancy, a woman showing
Up and no husband there escorting her.
Rose has troubles, as you know.
The perfect marriage seldom does occur,
But even so, we’ve got to make a show.
Her husband has been known to chase the whores,
You’ll have a lot in common. Let’s get moving.
Yet she’s too timid to sue for divorce.
When Paul begins to tire from all his roving
He will return. That’s what men always do.
There is no limit on my hate for him.
Emotions of the moment are untrue;
When he returns, harsh feelings will grow dim,
And you’ll return into the stale old groove
Of what life was before, dinners and luncheons
And gay conviviality will prove
The perfect tonic. She is strong who staunchions
Herself in faith tomorrow will be better.
What is my commonality with Rose?
We have to go.
I have to get my sweater.
She is distressed, distraught.
And off she goes
To have another cry. My sister is
So sensitive; but one cannot put stop to
Living because of an event like this:
When life starts hopping then you’ve got to hop to.
She will adjust, as made of sterner stuff
Than what women, by sex, have been reputed:
It is not wholesale, Paul’s little rebuff,
For she has qualities yet unconfuted
As unrelated to her role as wife--
I’m sure she does.
Yes, I agree.
She is a splendid hostess. In this life,
Society thus wheat from chaff divides.
Then there is training of the young, as well.
They need a mother’s guidance, children do,
And many some disaster has befell
But Momma, in her wisdom, sees them through--
Wisdom and courage, these both are required,
And Bess will rise unto the challenge, surely,
If she must work: with her ambition fired
She’ll wrestle fate, and conquer not demurely,
Or else—I hate to say this—you and I
Must bear the burden, at least the expense
For education of her children—why
A man like Paul would flee just makes no sense,
Except some flighty thing, caught by reflection
In some shopkeeper’s window—you know, with
Ladies apparel in a fine selection
Intimately displayed. It’s all a myth.
Or maybe it was not a comely thigh
That caught his fancy, or a pretty face,
Entrapments common I will not deny,
But rather, harried, with hair out of place,
She went to him for sympathy perhaps,
A sweet young thing, but poor, down on her luck
With a sob story, and as time elapse
Regaling him, she thus his fancy struck--
It may not be a torrid sexual thing
At all, initially; some other factor
Aroused his interest. Yet, a fling’s a fling,
One must admit it.
I’ll be no detractor
Of either Bess or Paul, and yet I did
Oppose the match, you may recall, when first
Bess set her eyes on him. Delusion hid
The truth from her, not that Paul is the worst
That was available, but Bess deluded
Herself, and wouldn’t listen to my caution.
I do recall, at her engagement, you did
Express yourself quite plainly.
Propelled her: she fell so deeply in love
She blinded herself to the man’s defects.
Not even God has power to remove
A woman’s will, when she her mate selects.
When woman has decided on a man,
Hapless and gullible, there’s nothing he
Can do—try to prevent it as he can--
Short of absconding, hastily to flee;
But when a man has bit the bullet, bit
Chomping, and she taskmaster holds the reins,
A captured horse, it is not time to flit
After the bond is sealed. Good sense restrains.
She’s been married upwards of eighteen years.
All the more reason he’ll come back to her,
But I believe it’s not so long.
Flow copiously—I hope I don’t appear
As though I had been crying.
Not at all,
Just wipe some of this smudging off. Now, Bess,
Are your chins up and ready? If we stall
We must be late.
Yes, are you ready?
We’ve been discussing how long you’ve been married,
I say some eighteen years, but he says fewer.
Seventeen years. I’ll live to see him buried,
That man for dragging my love through the sewer.
I’m sure that when the passion fades
Paul will be back—and then ’twill be your task
To welcome him, accepting.
Me having to present the world a mask--
Already there is gossip, you have said.
I would be turning in my grave, or rather
I wish it simply were that Paul were dead,
I by the casket weeping Holy Father.
It is not right, he tramples on my love,
And shames our children. You know people talk,
All for a tea shop hussy—good enough
For Paul but it makes this good woman balk.
No, don’t enrage me. If Rose saw me breaking
Composure I could not abide the shame,
So with a brave comportment and much faking
I hold my head up high, and my good name.
I told you it was seventeen, no more
Or less. They were engaged, the deal was closed
Eight years after we met, and not before,
And I recall the instance you proposed.
Don’t get maudlin on me. We have got
To hurry. Rose has gotten a new cook
So I have heard: her husband stirred the pot
Too many times, and he did more than look
If rumor tells the truth. He’s known to wench,
But this was interfering with the broth
Of domesticity. The cook was French,
But Rose survives despite her plighted troth.
As you will too. That is a lovely sweater.
Come now, let’s go.
You both have been
A strong support to me, both you and Petra,
And though I’m feeling haggard in my skin
You know my gratitude exceeds all bounds.
There is matter of tuition,
I’m overwhelmed so much that it astounds.
I haven’t told the children. My ambition
Will be to start a typing service, if
Paul fails to come back soon. I’m sure he will.
Yet husbands aren’t known to be in a jif
Returning to their wives when they are shrill.
In the meantime, you help with my affairs,
But in retirement you perhaps have time
To travel there to Paris. If he hears
All is forgiven, I annul the crime
But just our previous life he do restore,
And harbor him no grudge, I’m sure he must
Consider favorably. I do deplore
Thought of a rival, but I surely trust
His good sense will return. No, not a grudge
Harbor I in this breast. If you can travel
And tell him this, I’m sure that he will budge.
O, look! The sweater’s starting to unravel.
It’s like our marriage. With a little thread
It can be patched, and none will ever know.
It was for better or for worse we wed
And I accept him.
Yes, dear: will you go?
It seems a proposition worth discussing,
And you have been to Paris. I don’t fear
You’ll follow his example. With talk buzzing
Already—men don’t notice; women hear--
There’s little harm to come of the endeavor,
More than mere modicum chance for success,
And you can talk to him, if not so clever
It is a good plan, Bess,
But Paul has never warmed to me, and I’m
Inclined to think another might do better.
We can discuss it on the way. The clime
Is pleasant there in Paris, no regretter
Am I of time enjoyed in her milieu--
The cultural climate seethes, is all a ferment--
And I am glad to do this thing for you
If truly the best course has been determined,
But I am not so sure: Paul has disdain
For me, I do believe—I feel it so,
Though he was always civil. But we gain
Nothing by good intentions, even though
We proffer them sincerely, if we clash
In temperament. He must be sympathetic,
Lest all our hopeful plans reduce to ash.
We must not be too hasty, or frenetic
In sending someone out. We must determine
Where he resides. Perhaps his business partner.
He will not be receptive to a sermon;
Nor needs your sister false hope to dishearten her.
I do believe it’s from his partner came
The news he was in Paris—the tea girl
I don’t know how originated—name
Me any source. Perhaps I’ll take a whirl
Down to the club, in hope of catching him.
The business is dissolved, there’s no love lost--
But we must not be hasty, on a whim
Proceeding, which could lead to holocaust,
But rather, reason out the various tactics
Available to us, at our disposal,
Discuss contingencies, and prophylactics
Against disaster. Words may be ambrosial
And our objective might be better served
With an envoy more literate than I.
We have to work a plan, then be not swerved
From putting it to action. By the by,
Do you know who is counterpoint for Bess
At table of the evening?
Her friend Willie.
I do believe you met him.
Yes, yes, yes,
Perhaps we ought to badger him until he
Consents to be our emissary. I’ve
A sense to pay his fare. A trip to Paris
Would be no burden.
See how you connive?
It is contingent on the hope that there is
Chance for success. Bess, what is your impression?
They’ve only met that once. It might be well.
Willie has tact.
I must make my confession,
The scheme delights me, heart’s worries to quell,
Because there is temptation there in Paris,
Romance that in a whirlwind soars and swells
In revolution as designed by Ferris--
And you might wheel and deal some Mademoiselles.
You’re safer here in London.
Not go for it.
But then again if we
Present him our dilemma, Bess’s plight,
Approach with tact and prudence candidly
After the guests have gone--
And Rose is out
After we have left the place
We make proposal. Dear, you must have clout;
He must abhor to see you in disgrace.
We’ll be a little late. But it is well.
In our discussion we’ve accomplished much.
Yet we must act; not let ambitions swell
But fail to implement, or out of touch
With the parameters of the case at hand
To implement them poorly.
This will be
Divine rescue by meager mortals planned
If we succeed and Paul comes back to me.
It seems the meal was insufficient tasty--
I have to find a cook, but not a French one.
Compliments voiced, they all seemed rather hasty
To go. It ought to be a woe to wrench one
Up from the table—then ’tis a success,
One’s dinner, the event. I feel disgraced.
Yet how do more, when many offer less?
It really must boil down to lack of taste,
Yet how may one engage an unattractive,
Ugly unpleasant woman for a cook?
My husband’s escapades are ever active,
And I won’t let him play me for a schnook.
The only thing, in all the world, that means
A jot or an iota to me is
Popular opinion as convenes
To make pronouncement, Rose’s fare is bliss.
Why does the estimation of one’s peer
Matter so much to women? We are judged
Harshly, but in my heart, I hold most dear
Popular sentiment, which can’t be fudged,
And reputation. It is strictly earned,
Though hard to know the standards. Women are
Discerning—pity whomever is spurned--
Nor hesitate to get the jugular
In their assessments. No, they are not squeamish,
Nor failure can be masked with cheap cologne.
It is not easy to continue beamish
With standards so exacting and unknown.
At least I have a husband. He’s no oaf
Though he may act that way, not run to Paris
For an illicit squeezing some French loaf--
It ought to make her squirm, ought to embarrass,
Yet she, a woman scorned, rejected wife
Maintained her pose: it seemed no words could cut her,
But rather, though one’s wit might wield a knife,
It seems she yielded like the softest butter,
But with a careless laugh, without a hint
That there had been a problem in her house--
Making excuses, evasions, no dint
Allowing there were problems with a spouse.
Willie is an enigma: he prefers
Bess over me, an intimation tells me,
But why my taste is not so good as hers
How may I fathom? Yet whatever else he
May be he seems the perfect gentleman,
A book that has been showing some success--
He might have any woman, yet how can
One explain his extreme fondness for Bess?
Howard has gone down to his club to make
Inquiry of Paul’s business partner there
If he should find him. Willie’s going to take
A journey on behalf of you, my dear.
If anyone can pull it off, it’s Willie.
He is happy with his book’s success,
You know, the one describing the hillbilly,
And would avoid the hoopla. I confess
That if I were an author I should rather
Seek out than scorn publicity, but he
Is so old-fashioned. As it is I gather
Poets and wits, a little coterie
About me over luncheon now and then.
Envious Rose would like to have my guest list,
Yet she attracts a second tier of men--
She fails to realize, to get the best list
Drawn from artistic circles, those of fashion,
One must contribute something, must possess
Some wit and interest. How she tries to cash in
On my friendship with Willie, though I guess
That it is fair to say she introduced us.
He warms to me but not to Rose. Dear Rose,
That was a fatal soup which she produced us--
One’s got to use some herbs, but I suppose
That she instructs her cook in how to do it.
Willie observes. He’s too refined to speak,
But now and then our eyes met.
We got through it,
That horrid dinner, though I tried to sneak
A morsel to her dog—that ugly thing.
It ought to be locked back. The capers were
An added touch, but how to numb that sting
When the main entrée’s worthy for a cur.
I must admit, I only liked the port.
Too her décor—I mean, if one enjoys
That kind of gaudiness, that clumsy sort,
Then why not scour the waterfront for toys,
Things floating in the bay—that kind of trash
Looks ugly, even though she likes to mention
How she paid for this piece that kind of cash,
For such-and-such an artwork, by contention
Some vast amount. I don’t believe it though.
Her husband does well. In the government
Service one rakes in many kinds of dough.
To me the soup was tasteless. If she spent
More than a farthing on that cook of hers
Then it was wasteful in expenditure--
Yet when the men of letters, men of verse,
Painters, philosophers, sadly demur
An invitation, she has not a clue
To what the reason is.
He makes good money.
I’d like to talk about the soup, if you
Haven’t objection. Don’t you think it funny
She pays good money for that kind of fare?
The capers were a nice touch, I admit it--
It’s just the kind of ostentatious care
Rose likes to put forth, judgement can acquit it--
But was there yet a course better than soup,
That puke green colored broth which we were served?
If I had half a mind I’d call it goop;
But Willie seemed to gulp it down unnerved--
I know that he detests it but he’s too
Well-mannered to disparaging remark
In such a way that it gets back to you,
Yet our eyes joined together in a spark
Of momentary insight, and I knew,
Could almost gauge from their delightful flash,
That he was thinking the same thoughts I do:
He’s cultured but not smitten over cash.
Rose thinks that the amount one paid
Qualifies it to be a thing of beauty,
But her husband, by whom the cook was laid,
Ought not to justify her acting snooty.
If Willie’s mission fails, perhaps you ought
To think about divorcing Paul, and trying
To capture him.
I’ve given it some thought--
First of all Willie’s not the man for tying
Relationships with women. I believe
He has a wife off somewhere, not divorcing,
But he’s mysterious, and I’d rather leave
That stone unturned—if it would be like forcing
There’s not much point pursing of a man.
Besides, I am determined not to let
Paul get divorced—abandoning our clan!--
Although I’m sure it’s what he’d like to get.
No, let him suffer with the consequence.
He ought to learn a lesson, drinking tea
When he ought to be thrifty with his pence,
Earning and spending all of it for me.
And for the children.
That was quite a pause.
I’ve tolerated him for eighteen years--
Almost eighteen—and put up with his flaws,
Yet he repays me giving her his leers,
Some hussy that he picked up on the street.
I’ll make him pay.
Don’t be vindictive, sis--
Within this world you’ll be hard-pressed to meet
A better. So the situation is.
Men have their indiscretions. We indulge.
That cook of yours might do her job too well
Considering it’s the battle of the bulge.
You ought to exercise. One cannot tell
What is the reason Paul sought other venues
If I may say so, for companionship.
Too much distastefulness despite the menu’s
Broadness caused him perhaps to lose his grip.
You’re saying I’m too fat.
Sis, look at it
This way: whatever it was turned him off,
If it’s a habit then you’ve got to quit--
No, don’t you ridicule and don’t you scoff.
You think that it has been an easy game
To keep Howard in line, Colonel MacAndrew?
If you believe so, you deserve your shame,
Blame, spite, self-loathing, bitternesses and rue,
Rueful regret, since it is your own fault.
Howard was a good catch. He still would be.
You think I’d let him go to Paris? Halt
The imbecile presumption: think, and see.
If Paul has run away it may be that
You’ve gained too many stone.
I’m getting old.
You’ve gotten sloppy.
I’m not getting fat.
No, Petra: you abuse, brassy and bold,
But your advice is stepping out of line.
No, you are right.
It’s all of this abuse
From you and everyone, of me and mine,
It’s making me begin to feel obtuse.
Dear, you are right. We have to pray and pray
That Willie’s a success when he’s in Paris.
Take care or Rose will snatch your cook away.
I think Willie would like to wed an heiress.
I feel obtuse and useless. Paul won’t find
That I’ll divorce him easily. Let them
Struggle against the law, why should I mind,
Legitimacy wholeheartedly condemn
The offspring of that union. I’m disgusted--
Whatever money Paul comes into should be
Staying at home, because the man I trusted
Has obligations to his family.
And that’s the way it is.
I have some patterns
I’d like for you to look at, page by page,
Designed for lady’s portage, not a slattern’s,
And it’s a good excuse to leave the stage.
We make an exit; but let hearers trust
There is no end to lashings from my tongue
Against the man which turns my hopes to dust
Which I invested in him when so young.
The narrative is this: on my own dime
I take a trip to Paris, to encounter
One hardly known to me—back in that time--
As Mrs. Strickland’s husband. One surmounter
Of fame and reputation such as he
Has gotten over time, were hard to find,
Yet wily are the ways posterity
Thrusts fame in places where we have been blind.
During his life, he hardly sold a painting,
Some few he gave away, still with refusals,
Yet such embellishes than rather tainting
The stuff of legend. Scholarship’s perusals
Now casually say, he turned the course of art,
His name is with Cezanne, Picasso spoken
In the same breath. So legends do impart
Their mythos, and the spell is seldom broken,
But everything contributes to the myth.
If he had failings—dullness or a meanness--
Why so his fame imparts to it new pith,
And even it transforms itself to keenness
In men’s perceptions. One whom they rubbed shoulders
With in the streets, or took no notice of,
Becomes the icon of next day’s beholders,
Inspiring accolades of awe and love.
Paul Strickland died, and I once had my chance
To buy a canvass, but I passed it by;
But no regrets are mine, I sought romance
Out of the world, not things to own; and why
Should I deny that following my ambition
Has worked out well for me, and to my bent
Been complementary. Without inhibition
Some tales about Paul Strickland I present,
A subject but for hagiographers
Today it seems. I didn’t have an inkling,
What lay ahead, but it could be no worse,
A pleasant voyage under stars a-twinkling,
The waves illuminated by the moon
Gentle within the Channel. I was born
In France—always homecoming opportune
It is to travel there, with never scorn,
Though English was my parentage. I had
In youth traveled to Italy, and met there
A dutchman selling paintings, none too bad
If lacking inspiration. When I get there--
You see, I am in mode upon the ship--
When I arrive in Paris, after crossing
The Channel so myself I do equip
To have pleasant reunion. Lulling, tossing,
The waves induce remembrance. Dirk had moved
To Paris, my Dutch friend—this was before
Paul’s talent and ambition had been proved
Or much less known: an artist to the core
Paul Strickland was, and Dirk would recognize it,
But I am lulling toward the further shore,
Here on ship’s deck. So memory does prize it,
When we were young, bound on excursion for
Uncharted regions in our expectations,
Though I knew Paris well—even the dives.
The ship moves forward. Waves their undulations
Never diminish. Memory survives.
Colonel MacAndrews, what brings you today
To Jermyn Street—a fancy meeting you here.
It’s Mrs. Waterford, or may I say
Rose. Pleasant day.
Yes, shopping’s what I do here.
I’m headed on my way out to the club--
Pity, it seems, this brilliant afternoon
To be there—staid yet smoky like a pub--
Old codgers bored to hear each other croon.
Still, I am fast becoming an old codger,
So it must be the place where I belong.
You seem sprightly to me, an artful dodger,
Yet admirably both vigorous and strong.
How is your wife?
You know her sister,
Bess Strickland is a problem to us all,
But you don’t want to hear it.
Fortune kissed her
With bounties that are not ephemeral:
Her two healthy intelligent young children.
I’ve seen their photographs; and such a cook,
I fear mine brews things in a witch’s cauldron.
Your Petra’s sister has a lucky hook.
Not with her husband.
He’s run away--
Now don’t you feign surprise. It’s all about.
When you were over, just the other day
I heard some chatter.
Though we did not shout.
I overheard a word or two.
Fled off to Paris, with a tea shop girl
They tell me; but I’ve gotten his address--
Willie, the friend of Bess, has deigned to hurl
Himself in our affairs, and help Bess out,
Approaching Paul, with motive to persuade.
It’s not the news that we want spread about,
But he’ll be tactful. I would never wade
In the morass of other people’s foibles,
But he’s a novelist, it’s for ideas
He’s happy to immerse in people’s troubles--
His cultured words may bring no panacea’s
Miraculous conversion to our Paul,
Yet wholesale transformation’s not the goal--
He’ll sway the man if any will at all
But it’s a doubtful prospect, by my soul:
If Bess is anything like her own sister,
She’s hard to deal with, sharing of a house,
Ways so insinuous it’s hard to resist her,
Or, when one tries, disruptive ugly rows.
“Don’t make me scenes” when we are out in public
I tell to Petra, but if she is mad,
Willful with spite, perceiving slights, she’ll drub, sic
All her derisiveness upon one’s head.
If Petra is like Bess to live with, he’s
Made him a wise decision, Paul has done--
Rather than cower before her, on his knees,
No please or thank you paid his loss of fun.
Even so, much as I can sympathize
The burden falls to me.
What is that?
It’s such a lovely day, beneath these skies
So picaresque—you should take off your hat.
It is a lovely day.
I hope it all
Goes well for Bess. Perhaps you’d like to stroll
Beside the brook, before you go to call
Upon friends at your club.
Rose, by my soul,
Mostly it’s games of patience. Well, why not?
The day is lovely, neither hot nor cool,
But temperate to perfection. Cool or hot
The company is pleasant, so if you’ll
Accompany me, then why not amble thither?
I’m pleased to take your arm.
A lovely day.
The vestiges of life are born, then wither,
But for the moment, persons in a play,
Ours is the great enjoyment of it—that
I know to be the truth.
Might be propitious. I am glad to chat.
Meeting you this way, if without intent,
Without those silly women with their chatter--
O, I can’t stand it—is a pleasantry
Upon a day when nothing is the matter.
By accident so you bumped into me.
By accident we stride down to the brook.
Your vigor enthusiastic is a joy.
It seems not only Bess has got a hook.
Those women they do nothing but annoy--
Well, Bess makes conversation, she is proud
Of serious conversation, but she deigns
The rest of us benighted by dark clouds
Oh, she lacks brains
For all her fancy chatter—kissing up
To artists, writers, and that sort of lot
Of reprobates. I’d rather, when I sup,
Just focus on the food, and not some rot
Pretentious that some gentleman avers
Because he’s done a book, or drawn a picture,
When all it is is begging for the purse
But they treat art like it was holy stricture.
I’m just a simple girl myself.
It is a pleasant afternoon, and we’ve
Endless time to enjoy ourselves. Anon
The sun descends, but now we find reprieve.
I have my simple, small vexations like
A woman has: my husband has been vexed
With our new cook—she’s like a sapphic dike,
Can hardly cook, but I fear for the next.
It is a lovely day. I’m tickled to
Be sneaking to the brookside with a friend.
My Petra would be livid if she knew.
But man must not, on woman’s whim depend.
Follow me here, the water’s clear.
With Bess’s circumstances being straitened,
If her cook may by chance be cast asunder.
Come, come, Rose: happiness wells in me latent!
They said someone was waiting, so I came
Down from my room—to have a visitor
Is quite unusual. I forget your name.
Willie is fine.
That’s right: one of a score
Bess showers her affections on, or really
Her affectations. What brings you to France?
Or I suppose the question’s rather silly.
You know—but I can guess the circumstance.
I thought that I knew Paris rather well,
Born in the British embassy, you see,
But I had never heard of this hotel--
Hôtel des Belges. The Colonel thought that he
Remembered it, a grand pretentious place,
Sumptuous, by the Rue de Rivoli--
My concierge but displayed a puzzled face,
Gave me a look such as can only be
Called quizzical; then found one by that name
Here on the Rue des Moines. It’s very small.
The cab that brought me was distressed I came
To such a neighborhood unfashionable
To say the least.
It came well-recommended.
A friend. Not even fashion, it’s
Hardly respectable—I’ve not pretended
Otherwise. Who needs putting on the Ritz?
But I’m afraid it’s almost dinnertime.
I was about to head out for a drink.
There’s matters to discuss?
What matters? I’m
Contented. My defenses have no chink--
You’ll not persuade me into going back,
But since you came a distance, best enjoy
What Paris has to offer. There’s no lack
Of gay amusements, though sometimes they cloy.
I’d rather not.
You owe me dinner, friend.
You have me on that point.
You must oblige.
My poverty demands it. Why pretend
I asked the concierge
If there had been a lady with you, she
With whom you hastily departed London,
But I presume the break-up hastily
Ensued arriving short on ways to fund one.
That must have been amusing.
Far too much, my young friend. It is beyond
Your league, my motive to escape the tomb
Of London life, to be this vagabond.
So everyone has said.
So people talk.
Now will you have a drink? I’m not inclined
To listen in the lobby while you squawk,
When there’s a better place to hear your mind.
It’s hard to see what else the reason could be.
When you have more experience, you’ll know
In life the facts aren’t always as they should be,
Though I have got no secrets even so.
I came to paint.
I study painting,
But the instruction that I need was not
Available in London: it’s no quaint thing
But a hard art, demanding time and thought,
And lots of practice.
It has beckoned,
A spirit drives me, calling me to master,
But not young as you are, so I have reckoned
My time is short. I needs must move much faster.
I dabbled, for a long while, after work--
Bess probably surmised I had a “side dish,”
A mistress on the side. This is no quirk,
But facts with fancy sometimes must collide, wish
Away the truth of it though Bess may try
And all her coterie. You think I would
Abandon life in London, by and by,
To get a woman? Women aren’t that good!
Your wife is sick with anguish over it.
Oh, she’ll get over it.
That strikes me callous.
That’s your concern, not mine. Discover it
To have been spoken with no shred of malice.
Time is a palliative, and heals all wounds.
You don’t mind me then speaking frankly?
I envy not your task, though it astounds
They put you up to coming. That I show
You such a civil welcome is a thing
For which I think you rather ought to thank me,
But no, I do not mind: assail me, fling
Your accusations, even speaking frankly,
Yet while it may enlighten you you won’t
Budge me in my determination.
That’s what I think it is, and an affront.
That I gave poor Bess cause for melancholy?
Life with her was no cup of jollity,
Despite the tea-times, luncheons and the dinners:
In all of that where was the place for me?
Of social webs these women will be spinners,
But you are young—a novice I declare
Do you think that she deserved this?
What are desserts? I find none anywhere.
Things happen. Maybe it was God who served this.
You find this most amusing.
Yes, I do.
Have you complaints to make against her?
Isn’t it monstrous, then, the way that you
Left her, nearly two decades marriage done?
Monstrous. Entirely so. But I agree.
If you acknowledge it, what’s to be said.
D’accord! But you’re the one who’s telling me.
I feel embarrassed.
But your face ain’t red.
A woman can’t be left without a bob.
How will she live?
Well, think of this:
For seventeen years I worked at my job
Supporting her, so what would be amiss
If she supported herself for a while?
Well, let her try.
One can’t just quit.
I’ve done. I erred the day I walked the aisle.
But don’t you care for her?
No, not a bit.
I walked the aisle, but it is a damnation
To walk eternity, upon my leg
That dead weight shackled to it. Her privation
Is hers to bear—so she can borrow, beg.
Then what about the children. Think of them.
They’ve had good years of comfort. Many more
Than most children have had.
So you condemn
Their fates unto the streets, if you therefore
Persist in this delusion.
The one that tells you you must be a painter.
That’s my prerogative. Bess feels confusion,
So with the facts of it you can acquaint her,
It’s not some false romantic interlude,
Though women want to have it it’s romance
Motivates man, or Eros. Life is rude,
And she may pipe but I don’t have to dance.
Women are stupid creatures.
Don’t you care
About your children’s futures? Don’t you love them?
When they were young I did, but now that they’re
Older from my mind I might well remove them.
They’re growing up and in particular
I haven’t got a feeling.
I wish them well, but that’s the way things are.
Public opinion, when the facts illumine
The way you have presented them to me
Will disapprove, and people call you swine.
Is that the way you want to be
This way or that, to me it’s fine.
As loathsome and despicable, they’ll see you.
How would you feel if your wife died?
But who is she to me?
How hard to be you,
So I imagine.
You have got a deal
Of growing up to do.
In either case,
The law can force you to give your support.
Can blood be gotten from a stone? You base
Your argument on words for which retort
Is easily made. I charge by charge refute you.
But have you had enough of badinage?
Silly fool. Sad sack missions hardly suit you--
But do you mind my asking you your age?
Isn’t there even some jot of remorse?
Bess ought to get remarried. I can give
Recommendation, and grounds for divorce.
I estimate you can’t be twenty-five.
She told me to report that under no
Circumstance will she let you be released.
Divorce is off the table. She said so.
So let her suit herself. She is no beast,
Still relatively attractive: she can find
A man to make her happy. Divorcees
Don’t bear the stigma that was once assigned,
But she may do however she may please,
It doesn’t matter one way or another.
It wasn’t for somebody else you left her?
I told you so; but who are you, her mother,
To feel the onus of how fate bereft her
So deeply? It may turn out for her good.
It’s my impression she would be well rid
Good fellow, make it understood
By her, when you report on what you did.
Your art may be the pinnacle of illusion.
To make it as a painter, one must be
Not merely mediocre. A profusion
Attests the fact of it with clarity.
So I suppose you’ve joined a studio?
I’ve got a hundred pound.
When it runs out, I’ll rustle up some dough
By laboring. Why should the fact astound?
It’s foolish to believe, at your late start,
That you can make a dent in some salon,
Or take Paris by storm, and have your art
Widely appreciated, lauded, shown.
I do it for myself.
Then you’re the fool.
You’ve written books, and I believe beginning
To have success—success for which you drool
Apparently, but what’s the use in winning,
And what good is success, striking it big
If one does little more than serve the market.
That piece sensational, about the pig
Slaughterhouse in Chicago, first did spark it,
Your breeze of notoriety, your whiff,
And your new book’s beginning to take off--
I’ve heard about it—but if it turns stiff,
Your art because success, it’s best to doff.
Years later you’ll remember what I say.
You want to make it big, but big is nothing.
It’s tea parties and dinners all the way,
And ultimately a fast path to self-loathing.
I made it big in my chosen career,
But now I answer to a higher calling,
Or deeper, more innate, and true—more dear
To heart and soul than fell success befalling.
There is an honesty. You will recall
That I said so, albeit long time hence,
For starting early’s no excuse to crawl
When time hastens us by expedience.
It’s like you want to sabotage yourself.
Art means to me becoming. You prefer
To be admiring trinkets on some shelf,
As Bess enjoyed, and meant the world to her;
For me, act of creation’s paramount
Though it all get destroyed within my wake.
One’s sensual pleasures are not worth man’s count,
But serving innate nature no mistake.
To run off with a woman. Bess, Bess, Bess,
You think the whole world deeply fancies you,
But what the truth is, you can scarcely guess.
That what I’d say to her, but you will do.
Listen, my friend.
You really are abhorrent,
You’re calling me a sinner,
But greater than the norm, the facts don’t warrant,
But I grow hungry, and it’s time for dinner.
END of ACT I