The title of my just released book of poems, Women & Other Hostages, draws its title from the Francis Bacon quote, "He that hath wife and children hath given hostages to fortune;" which is a partial quote from his famous 15h century Essay 8, Of Marriage and Single Life. It goes on to say that people we love "are impediments to great enterprises, either of virtue or mischief. Certainly the best works, and of greatest merit for the public, have proceeded from the unmarried or childless men." Indeed sexist and reductive, but Bacon was of his time.
He also famously wrote in that essay, "Wives are young men's mistresses; companions for middle age; and old men's nurses." I know more than one woman who has said as much over a couple of Happy Hour cocktails during the time I was writing these poems...and surviving the betrayal trauma of my marriage's explosion.
Much of the new book is about women--friends, daughters, mothers--but a large number are about the way a marriage can implode, partners, even those who love each other, can deceive and gaslight; love can, in the time it takes to close and open one's eyes, turn dark.
Bacon also wrote, "It is often seen that bad husbands, have very good wives; whether it be, that it raiseth the price of their husband's kindness, when it comes; or that the wives take a pride in their patience. But this never fails, if the bad husbands were of their own choosing, against their friends' consent; for then they will be sure to make good their own folly." Even Bacon knew nothing is quite as simple as it looks.
I borrowed as an epigraph for the book, a quote from the poet Marie Ponsot, "Heart, you bully, you punk, I'm wrecked, I'm shocked" because aren't we all just hostages to fortune, unkowable sometimes even to ourselves?
There is a section in the book called MARRIAGE, a poem with with fifteen little sections. Here's is one:
(woman with two hearts)
One of her two hearts is dying,
the other thriving. She doesn’t have a clock
for any of this. Somewhere a crevasse
opens wide near a glacier; a breach
lets contained water out. Once a man
knew about a wilderness he wanted
to explore. He told her winter involves
a little dying, a little staying alive.
He was leaving, he said.
She would have ripped one heart out
to have kept him from going. She would
have ripped out the other to have gone along.
I didn't have two hearts, and the one I do have seized one day; a heart attack can come from grief after all. Here's a poem about that:
MUSIC IN THE KINGDOM OF THE HEART
In the echocardiogram, the muscle looks
like a human drumming, though the technician
holding the transducer to my chest, merely chuckles
when I tell her this. Maybe after seeing a thousand
of these muscles close up, she is inured to their natures,
her job being to look for what is flawed or broken.
When I think of a pump & valves, it sounds
like an engine, but the whirl in me is more
than machine: the sonic arms of valves thrust open
& bang closed with a kind of music, as if life
depended on rhythm. Which of course it does.
I used to be a drummer, but was no good. Still,
I tell the technician the old drumming joke:
There are three kinds of drummers, I say,
those who can count & those who can’t.
Sometimes I experienced the “drummer’s high,”
which neuroscientists explain as the measurable
unity between brains in the act of collaboration.
& sometimes even a weary somatic metaphor
makes a person’s feeling clear: my heart is broken.
Maybe the issue is that even in married life,
I thought one plus one equaled one.
Soon, they will cut a small hole in my thigh,
snake a camera into my femoral artery up my torso
in order to see the drummer under my left breast
who thrums so wildly, & look for evidence
of what went wrong, which they will not find.
Hold still, the tech says & moves the wand
around, We’re almost through, echoing
what he’d said: We’re through.
This book is for everyone who's ever been hurt in love, been the leaver or the left behind, and most importantly, it's for everyone who ever got through the dark nights of love by the grace and mercy of friends, friendship being a core concern in these poems: we walk with each other through dark nights back out into the light again.
And we go on.