So about my last post . . .

Screen Shot 2014-12-17 at 11.27.28 AMI’m thinking about Miss Emily Litella today. For those too young to remember the Saturday Night Live character created by Gilda Radner, Emily Litella was a commentator on Weekend Update back when Jane Curtain anchored. Miss Litella was a daffy little lady with a high voice and a hearing impairment. She was invited on the show to respond to issues of the day, but she always misheard what the issue was. To her ears, “presidential elections” was “presidential erections,” and “endangered species” was, well I’m sure you can guess. It’s certainly not endangered.

 

Miss Litella would get more and more upset in her commentary until eventually Jane Curtain would cut her off with a correction—it’s “make Puerto Rico a state,” not “make Puerto Rico a steak, “Miss Litella. And then Gilda Radner would look at the camera and say sweetly, Never mind.

 

And so, regarding my last post, in which I got into a lather about Lawrence Raab’s poem “Marriage, “ I say this:

 

Never mind.

 

I got it all wrong. And I have it on good authority, from Lawrence Raab himself.

 

I had posited that the man in the poem was deflated by his wife’s revelation about their early courtship. I compared his reaction to Gabriel Conroy’s come-down at the end of James Joyce’s “The Dead.” I went on about how real marriage begins when you let go of the image you’ve created of a person who doesn’t exist and accept the one who does.

 

Wrong, wrong, and wrong.

 

Mr. Raab responded when I sent him the link to my post. (I always send poets a link if he or she is still alive. At least half the time I get a response.)

 

He wrote, I’m glad you like the poem, although I have never thought that he would be deflated by her story; it’s too good a story, and her reason for not initially answering relates directly to him. 

 

In a subsequent email he told me that he’s heard the poem is often used at weddings.

 

I’m sure there’s a reason I interpreted the poem as I did, but I don’t want to know it. I tend to be cynical and let’s leave it at that.

 

So here’s my question: if you hadn’t read my post, how would you have read the poem?

14 Comments

  1. Theodora

    I’m so glad for this post! Personally I didn’t think you were “wrong, wrong, and wrong”, but I did feel strange trying to see your point of view after reading the poem–which was beautiful by the way and thank you for sharing it! It was something I’d never think myself, I too felt like this was a love story with some initial fear and young love excitement, anticipation and not quite knowing how to handle it all. Maybe some over-thinking of the consequences and over-worrying about the future too! But still the poem shows how it all worked out in the end. At least that’s what I got when I first read it.
    Maybe your description was a bit cynical, but your advice was helpful too, even if it was wrong!

  2. Mary Lee

    Haha. Well I jumped on YOUR bandwagon with my previous comment on this poem, didn’t I? I follow Poem Elf monthly and this is the first really long critique I had seen by you. But, to tell you the truth, when I first read the poem I thought the husband would be amused by what she had said. I also related to her not answering the phone many times, because that is what I had always done with a man that I was REALLY interested in. Playing hard to get is a ploy that works when flirting with Alpha males, especially. They like the thrill of the chase. The ending rung true also. Never sound too interested when you finally answer, after all, she likes the thrill of the chase too. Keep posting…it is all interesting and fun.

    1. poemelf

      Mary Lee,

      Interesting. I hadn’t considered the “playing hard to get” ploy…but still I like Theodora’s idea of “not quite knowing how to handle it all.” Clearly I missed the lightness of tone here.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  3. sourgirlohio

    How wonderful to be able to converse with the author. I am often caught between trying to find the “author’s” meaning in a piece of writing and what it means to me when I initially read it.

  4. Trish Rawlings

    Hi PoemElf,

    To me readers write poetry just as much as poets do (which is why this is such a perfect venue for you!), and this poem seems to have many “writers,” starting with its author.

    I read her not answering the phone several ways, not so much being about him specifically or about their relationship but about her and about the demands and impulses of self-will and the contarinesses of desire.

    At first I read it as her forestalling the inevitable, suspending the future–maybe to add to the titillation, intensify the frisson of anxiety surrounding changes to come, the good old paradox of pain as pleasure.

    Then I saw it as her enjoying her power over him–just not answering the phone answers it, after a fashion.

    Then for a third go-round I read it as an act of willfulness on her part against the siren tug of desire–a rebelling against herself, in a way. We want what we want–but sometimes our wants tyrannize and obfuscate, until we don’t know if it is us wanting them or them wnting us (and having wanted us for a long time) Is that bride choosing that $20,000 gown–or the gown choosing her? See how long you can resist wanting what you want. It will probably not last the night.

    1. poemelf

      Reading your thoughts makes me think about all the times I’ve pushed back against what was expected of me in certain situations….I remember telling someone shortly before I got engaged that I didn’t want to get married because getting married put you on the track of children and then it was just death to look forward to. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to marry my husband–or have children—I just felt anxious about setting out on a path. Ah, maybe now I’m beginning to understand the poem. Thanks, Trish.

  5. Trish Rawlings

    Exactly! Whenever I’ve hesitated like that I’ve felt like a walking contradiction, not making sense to myself.

    I’ve never been married but recall relationships that intensified to the point where I felt it there–in the next room. waiting.

    When they ended I think I cried as much from the weight of the contrariness I was carrying inside and a guilt which I didn’t understand as over the end of him, his smell on my pillow, the meal we planned that would never happen, a recipe in his handwriting tucked behind my mirror.

    He was newly divorced and shaky and wanted me to go with him to Bahrain (a test?) where he would teach higher math. I’d go as his pretend wife (wouldn’t the Saudis have loved glomming onto the truth about our relationship! I’d probably have been wrapped in a blanket, taken to a dusty yard, and stoned…).

    But, much as I cared for him, I feared this leap.

    I remember leaning on my elbow in bed next to him on a windy fall day, looking out my window at the Navy towers scouring for cold war subs across the Severn as he talked about the contract he’d just received from the Saudis, ten feet of paper teletyped to him that he’d gleefully unrolled on my apartment floor. He told me to walk on it. We laughed. But inside I knew that, where he was seeing a celebration streamer there on the floor, I was seeing a road to–to where?

    Looking out the window past his happy, contended self, I took in the trees and the grass and the river and felt a rush of joy inside as I thought: Soon he will be gone! Soon I will have this place to myself again!

    What?

    Was I crazy?

    The truth was.I knew there was no way I could make that trip to that place as exotic and slightly scary to me now as it was back then. The combination of the repressive, foreign Saudis, the lie we would be telling, and his needs and almost smothering absorption with me and my “doings” would have done me in.

    And all that sand.

    And the foreign language of his math.

    And the Arabic that would make no sense to me. .

    And no ticket home!

    My father having to once again toss me a line.

    It scared me more than I loved him.

    The path from Romance to Marriage to Children to Death, so well-marked, so well-traveled, so laid out like Unalterable Destiny it’s turned from a modest lane laid down by Eve into a deep ravine. No wonder the approach to it is dizzying! And if you should want an end, climbing up those damp, crumbly sides, praying for a branch to help you up and out…

    He turned polite.

    He never went.

  6. Jenny Love

    So cool that you send your posts to the poets and that they sometimes respond! I love that, I feel like it makes these poems more “real” and less a distant thing I can only vaguely try to understand!

  7. gertloveday

    I did read the poem and not your comment and have just gone back to read the whole post. I certainly didn’t read it the way you did. I thought it was about the way our emotions, love in this case, rule us (“not thinking you have a choice”). Some things, like loving someone, are there without any rational thought. The poem says to me that that’s a good thing, it’s the human way.

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