MARK RUDMAN : having
come this far in time of war was too good or too bad
Monastery Populated By Women
for Yolanda Pantin
When we stood together in the brief pause at the gates of the nunnery in Abu
I knew what you were saying when you said, almost
under your breath, you wished you were one, though how absurd my "me too"
unless I meant being alone among women—only the chastity part
would drive me further out of my wits—; but the quiet, and the cloisters,
and not to be covertly sized up, eyed, or overtly molested
by monks, yes…, and to think of you, having gone through it—marriage's
rougher edges—which must now give rise to your wish for solitude
and silence when our next stop would be the Gaza Strip, where no one
was forcing us to go and the offer, having come this far
in time of war was too good or too bad to turn down.
The border: so hard to define: Palestinian, Arab, Jew, self, other….
The refusal to think ahead is the refusal to think ahead.
It defines—more than anyone would care to admit.
Why not a monastery populated by women?
Then I wouldn't have had to look over my shoulder and pretend not
to notice the stares, during that failed retreat when I needed one
to prepare for exams, bang out a thesis proposal, the Faust
myth, what other story is there? and if, among the M's in the stacks—
Marlowe, Mann, Mauriac, Maritain, and Marcel—
my attention was snatched from my task at hand
by a book called Sense and Nonsense by a man
with no fewer than two mainstay M's in one name,
Maurice Merleau-Ponty, the blame would revert to…another M.
No, better to hole up in a town in the Negev,
where, among the white buildings and demonstrative shadows
that define the limits of the human, the sun still has the power
to make its presence known and remain—
without a word—prophetic. The light still blinds.
Incontrovertible truths. Language—a prison house.
The trap’s been strung. Nowhere to run.
Conflagrations begin at noon.
Shame reddens my cheeks.
I think I will seek admission.
The "Emma" Letters
"You were so open in your letters."
"Your 'Emma' letter, after you read Madame Bovary—"
"Oh I just happened to pick up a paperback.
Have you read it?
It was very good, and you know,
her life and mine weren’t that different."
"I know Mom.
I thought you meant Emma."
"Well I just call it that. It is about her.
"No, I mean the Austen Emma."
"Oh I haven’t read that. Is it like 'Emma'?"
"No, but you really get the woman's point of view."
"I thought 'Emma' conveyed that quite nicely."
"It does. Nevermind."
"You know that Flaubert said he was her."
"It said so in the afterword.
I thought that was very interesting.
I don’t doubt it.
A lot of men have strong feminine sides,
did you know that, Mark?"
"I think I've heard it."
"Well it's true, I read it in Time.
Do you ever read it? Because if not,
I won't renew the subscription, I’ll save the $32.50—
I'll get something for myself instead."
"Maybe, maybe. But I have no time to read Mark,
I’ve been reading the same paperback for months.
No, I have no time."
"What have you got?"
"Shit is what I’ve got. The life is shit.
It's just nothing, nothing."
"The cabinet is locked wherein your Emma letter lies."
"It's better off that way."
"I'm sure you have a locksmith in your neighborhood."
"I'm not sure it’s in there but I think so. I know I saved it in a special
file, along with your 'Bottle' letter."
"I don't know why you’d bother."
"They were beautiful."
"Oh I don’t know Mark."
"Well thank you."
"Being married to two bottles…"
"…unfortunately true. I married one bottle then I married another. Two men
who lived for one thing: the bottle. I can really pick 'em."
"So you've said."
(She always repeats everything with the same intonation; it’s like
listening to serial music.)
(Imagines lonely old woman with widow’s hump walking with cane through
the aisles of a desolate book store in Florence, South Carolina. The books
are on racks. They have a dusty ragged copy or two of many standard
classics, mostly Signet. She flips through Madame Bovary, and
decides to buy it, the same way she would any other book, because the
subject—female trouble—interests her.)
"What's the new book on your bed stand?"
"Oh, another paperback?"
"I get that, but what."
"Yes, it's supposed to be very good, though I haven’t gotten very far in
it. You see, Mark, no one would have taken George Eliot seriously if she’d
been Mary Anne Evans.
I wish I'd been a man. I wish I'd had a penis."
"It's very convenient you know.
You see the lines. The women waiting.
It’s hell, just hell.
And when you have to go all the time, well…"
(Is reminded of the life his mother might have had: at the very least
an art historian lecturing happily at a university.)
"I want you to know Mark, I'm very gratified that you’re not a drinker."
(Ah, what she doesn’t see!—though correct in essence.)
"I mean you’re not living for the bottle like your fathers.
But you’ve got to cut down on the coffee.
And you don't stink up the house with cigars. It's disgusting! I made him
smoke on the terrace. But your father was the same, always with the cigar.
I wonder Mark if they both didn’t like to be holding it, if you know what I
"I do Mom."
"All men are like that.
Of course you never smoked because of the asthma."
(You made such a point that the filtered cigarettes she smoked were less
toxic, had less tar than the unfiltered. Watching you suck the nicotine
through the filters with a vengeance made me nauseous.)
(c) 2005 Slope. Slope
is ISSN # 1536-0164.