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“Out on a limb and frantically sawing
  The saw teeth grow dull and at last
  Wear smooth
  Leaving us here, still throned in the air
       Like the sage in the basket
       And the one in the jar”
    ~ Philip Whalen, “The Martyrdom of Two Pagans” (1955)


We’d compromised beyond the utmost
Thought the lawsuit settled
Our home would belong just to us
Off the property line
A home that feels like home
A feeling I strain to recall
What makes home home?
From such mystery
Comes humble verse
What to start with
There’s gotta be some romance in there to spice it up
Stillborn geek romance in my case
A history of missteps
Of passionate loves that of course never could’ve happened
Or could they have?
Struck by indescribable emotion
I describe some work in progress
That’s revealed possibilities to its ostensible author
She leans back, considering

“So now you’ve got the idea
  That when she hung up the phone
  She was thinking you’d marry her
  Just as you were thinking she’d dumped you?”

“Well, what do I know?
  I set out to cast both her
  And the woman I got to know through the personal ad
  I ran several months after she dumped me
  In the best possible light
  And that led me to take down her voice
  Like she’s speaking for herself
  Saying unexpected things
  Out of subconscious fantasies
  I wouldn’t have voiced on my own
  That’s all”

“Do you assume all those kisses were just a tease?”

“Wouldn’t she have been pullin’ my leg?”

“Why would she?”

“Look, you and I aren’t the most attractive people”

“Now you’re pullin’ my leg”

We stare at each other
Irrevocably shocked


“You realize you’ve asked me to analyze chemistry
  And that I’ve been working on it
  Ever since”

She looks
Round eyed
Round faced
Just well rounded
“It’s a mystery
  You find my sister more attractive than me
  Though we have virtually the same pelvis”

I look back at her
“Maybe the face is different
  Maybe the bearing’s different
  Maybe the spirit behind all physical manifestation
  Is different”

“Her friends always said I was different
  Such a strange little girl
  She liked impressing the young men
  I never followed her lead
  What for
  A tiresome flock of pohotleevy guys?”

“Isn’t impressing
  Just accumulating checkmarks
  And now that your sister’s turned to organized religion
  Isn’t accumulation still the game
  For her
  As for so many Americans too?”

We’re walking past the last shops now
As we approach the final little uphill climb
Before descent to the beach
“Her religion has meaning to her
  Even if she’s picking it up from books
  People around her”

“As much as she may long for the joy of directly experiencing God
  For meditating to do that
  Is she not limited by her churchgoing pals
  Who don’t want visions
  Who don’t want her praying for the unbaptized like you
  Who don’t want her flaunting her body
  Who can’t say which books imposed those limits
  Which holy writ
  Don’t the only limits come from the formalities
  Imposed by talking heads?”

“If chemistry is about spirit
  And people as far into the realm of spirit
  As you and I
  Are together despite contrary chemistry
  What’s the explanation?”

“What about karma
  I’ve sort of gathered what my karma is
  What’s yours?”

“You’ve gathered
  Nothing but the modifications to your chemistry
  That have made you prefer overstretched beanstalks like yourself
  To curves
  American coolness
  To the rest of the world’s warmth
  And all the confusion a provincial background
  A monoculture of salesgirls
  And upbringing where human touch was only in punishment
  Could’ve endowed”

From this last high spot
The two of us have a view of twilit water
Across which the pier carries our gazes
Into waves of approaching moonbeam
“If I was a child molester in my last life
  So that for much of this one
  I find myself with a woman
  Childlike to me as you are
  Doesn’t that sound like karma?”

“Though we may interact as children
  Or as each others’ pets
  I’m a woman
  You would’ve gotten
  Something other than just a sexual turn on
  From little girls
  Molestation’s about control
  Libido’s too simple for that”

“It’s before thought
  How can I think you into the desirability
  Of those walking beanstalk Americans
  When I can only react?”

“Not when you’ve developed under programming by hormones”

“And how do we know which ones
  Xenoestrogens in plastics
  Bovine growth hormones in milk
  Pthalates in groundwater
  You’ve moved to the nation that’s the long-term leader
  In programming
  Not to mention toxicity”

“Of mind as well as body
  Until all desired effects excel
  All side effects are acceptable
  You guys are made to think you actually wanted this
  So your beanstalks smile from their newsstands billboards screens
  Selling women’s clothes and women’s knickknacks
  Made by people who obviously abhor women”

“Maybe the beanstalks fit into those clothes”

“And maybe they’re the more constrained
  In mind than body
  How could either jeans or genes be the reason
  For the bulemic elimination I witness
  In your restaurants’ washrooms?”

We reach the pier
Pass a crowd of young women
All dressed alike in delicious miniskirts
The same legs
The same slimness
Even similar faces
What man would dare approach one of them
When they all flock safely like this
The intimidation’s bad enough
One on one
Could that be why they remain congregated
All hanging out together
There’s no one to ask
Who’d either know the truth about their ganged rationale
Or admit it
“Our women must be just as confused as our men
  I for one am captivated by these women
  Always made to feel so inadequate
  That I’d never appeal to them
  If other men are like me
  Then who expresses interest in the women?
  And if no one does
  Then would the women feel they lack sex appeal
  Or just feel victimized
  For allowing themselves to be targets
  For selling low-quality products?”

Out on the pier
We enter a mist off the ocean
Reeking of septic fumes
Turn back to pass the impregnable bevy
“Your whole country lacks sex appeal
  Everyone’s a target
  Blaming everyone else for viewing them as objects
  That’s why there’s such a fixation on sex
  People who are enjoying sex aren’t talking about it
  Why play games with it
  What could be the reason?”

“So that the makers of diet pills makeup hair products soap
  Clothes shoes malls packaged food cars so-called sporting goods
  Have just what they want
  A public that feels they must buy more and more
  To be sexy
  To have companionship
  To reproduce”

“Then genes are the reason after all”

“Wouldn’t they be the root biological cause
  Subverted by a raft of corporate causes?”

“Your models
  (What a ridiculous concept)
  Must at least consider themselves attractive”

“Couldn’t they too face misgivings
  Fears that this round of modeling could be nothing
  But a fluke
  Ephemeral as youth?”

“Don’t you think it’s odd
  Only women models are beanstalks
  Skinny thyroid-dominated bodies
  While their male counterparts are husky adrenal types?”

“Good point
  A man’s libido tells him
  Before thought
  To hotly pursue what he likes
  Compelling enough to push him past the barriers between people
  To risk communicable disease and responsibility of parenthood
  And if mine’s any example he likes his own type”

“His cultural programming tells him to like beanstalks
  No matter what type he is”

“After all he and his friends are shown beanstalks
  Marketed together with whatever they sell
  From childhood onward
  The peer pressure might make him mistrust other instincts”

“So the hunk builds a relationship with a type of woman
  Who doesn’t sexually appeal to him very much
  Just like you did?”

“The best-laid plans of nerds and hunks...”

“Then he finds joy on the side
  With the chunky round women his body style makes him crave?
  Maybe that explains
  What’s been mysterious to me
  Why I don’t see the bulkier women vomiting in washrooms”

“Could be they’ve given up on being attractive
  So are happy to be touched at all
  Like me”

“Or maybe they just get more joy
  While your society sets aside practically all its values
  The family values whose loss is bemoaned
  For gobs of lust money in a few big pockets
  Of rulers
  You’ve set up to create and sell you things
  At the expense of people”

“I think what we wanted was nothing but
  Better living through chemistry”

“What about you
  Not the collective you
  You all overuse
  You personally?”

“You’re asking whether I’m disappointed
  At closely bonding with you over these years
  That you for awhile called wasted
  Specifically because I thought you weren’t very attractive
  Thinking I’d found a plausible match
  For an ungainly weirdo like me
  Before realizing after years of building our lives together
  It may not have had to be that way?”

“Are you disappointed?”

“How can I be when
  Our union was clearly arranged
  And now that we share so many values
  Unusual yet meaningful
  We’re bound to each other
  As a foundation for more who may come
  Since how can I hold you back
  From living any romantic passion you seek
  With a person who gets along with both of us
  If that person will come to love and support and live with us both?”

“Believe it’ll happen
  That we’ll each have the romance
  We need by nature”

“I’ll try
  And anyway a better reason for opening the door
  Is that we’ll no longer leave each other alone
  In the remote place that’s become our home
  Where if a solo breakdown occurred
  No one else would know
  There’s always a lot to do around the place
  The road the kitchen the kindling the invasive critters the brush the walks together
  More of us would be nice
  And we could both give and take more support
  Though I’m still not quite sure
  I’m attractive to anyone but you”


She’s off in space
Though seated at the table
She speaks:
“If someone you think is sexy won’t validate at least one of us
  You’ll keep invalidating me
  But what would it take?”

“Probably the commitment I never got
  Living its life right here at home”

The settlement had fallen through
The case had gone through a three-week trial
By the end of which she’d jumped the seventeen steps
Off our front deck
Been hospitalized sedated and returned after three more weeks
This time in a wheelchair
In the visionary state more often than not
She comes out of it for awhile
Leans back at the table again
“You’re right
  The way for you to see me as beautiful
  Is through conditioning
  Let yourself be programmed as long as it takes
  By someone who craves my body”

“One of my American beanstalk model types would be qualified
  I suppose
  To recondition me
  I’d be glad to be programmed for this venture
  But what if it doesn’t work?”

“You need someone to live with us
  Who gives you the affirmation you need
  And gives me the support and admiration I need
  Like you’ve said there’s a lot to do
  Living on this mountain
  And sometimes you and I alone aren’t up to it
  With the relatives to whom you were born distant in spirit
  Mine an ocean away
  Let’s have new ones we find for ourselves
  Think local”

“So we’ll date someone
  Or reconnect with someone from our past
  Also local in its way”

“That’s true
  But if we keep it physically local
  How will we know we’ve found the right person?”

“You’re the most intuitive person I know”

“So we’ll just rely on that?”

At the thought of dating an attractive American woman
The intimidation worse than that of judges and lawyers
Makes me head for the bathroom
Though not for bulimic reasons
“I’ll be back
  Women give me the runs
  More than I had every morning of the trial”

“That’s your idea of romance?”

“It’s not an idea
  It’s action through immediate reaction
  In this case call it venustraphobia
  The fear of anyone attractive enough
  To raise the risk of falling in love
  The libido’s compromise beyond the utmost
  And how did you deal with your phobia of the court?”

“I faced it
  Fell through it
  And can never be very disturbed by it again”

Three invitations later
To those we love but long since left behind
In the abject confusion of our four formative decades each
Till now
When we’ve raised each other
She having been pampered by all before me
I having been spurned by all before her
From another continent come three responses
All mentioning almost as if in passing
Marriages and children
One immediately losing contact again
That would be the one born in America
The others welcoming the overseas visit she planned
For the purpose of catching up
Perchance rebonding
As much as their differing reactions may lack statistical significance
As much as their differing backgrounds
As much as two of three dormant relationships
Find quiet life again
We come to view the difference
One envisions a matter of lifestyle
An influence of businesslike cool token conservatism
The other sees chemistry

“You think some guys find you really sexy
  But how do you know”

“I’m glad we picked out that red minidress
  And I got at least one chance to wear it
  Remember the dance
  And the guy there who singled me out?”

“What about him?”

“He was out to lunch
  As he was craving me”

“I guess being out to lunch would explain
  Why the craving could go unnoticed”

“But all of it was there in his eyes
  Look closer next time”


“When you came to America
  And lived in home after home
  Of abusive or discombobulated patrons
  How is it that instead of getting caught up in frustration
  You were able to build a life with me as quickly as you did?”

“Because my parents had steadily encouraged and looked out for me
  In a home where I knew I was loved
  It was hard for me to see the world as uncaring
  Or to presume a person I met to be unloving
  But since you grew up isolated
  In a home of insincerity and sanctimonious rituals instead of love
  So didn’t grow up
  It was hard for you to see the world and other people as anything but perverted
  So I could trust
  And though you couldn’t
  You knew all the steps to make me feel comfortable
  And I was
  Though I’m starting to realize it took a long time to rub off on you
  But how long?”

“If my mother’s love was pretense
  If any
  That would explain why I couldn’t see any woman as loving me for real
  Including you
  At first I thought you were using me for a green card
  Then for technical help with school and work
  Then you got sick
  Came out of it slowly
  Remained weak
  Became kind of stuck with me
  Meanwhile I got to learn about relating to a woman
  And was happy to no longer be alone”

“When did you start to trust me?”

“Around the time we were driving here on Zayante Road to get some documents served
  By a friend of yours
  A woman who had nothing to gain in assisting us for free
  Maybe three years ago”

“You didn’t trust me for the sixteen or seventeen years we lived together before that?”

“Not really”

She sat quietly for the rest of the drive
Up Zayante Road and back up the hill to the house
Where I unloaded the groceries
She went to take a shower
And when everything was put away I joined her

“I feel used”

“I’m not to blame
  Anyway, I’m sorry”

“How can I trust my intuition
  When I lived with you so long and so closely
  Never suspecting all your doubts?”

“I’ll have to trust it for you, won’t I?”


What makes home home?
The ability it confers
No, the imperative
To fall in love?

Since when does passion require a home
Since when does the loner or the discounted find a home in passion
Since when does reality become nightmare
Since when does work in progress amount to a pipe dream
Since when does a pipe dream turn real
Since when does art require a point
Is but one question

“What makes you so sure
  She didn’t mean to leave me in pain to be sure
  That I’d understand for sure
  I’d been summarily dumped?”

“Trust me”

Thanks always returns

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