Strange Partners, Indeed

Those of you who visit here very regularly have surely noticed I’m not very sentimental, particularly about over-commercialized holidays and seldom post holiday-appropriate entries.

Still, it’s hard to forget Valentine’s Day, particularly since I’ve volunteered to read Valentine cards for students at Gavin’s kindergarten.

Though this poem isn’t my favorite in the second half of Wagoner’s House of Songs, it seemed strangely appropriate to the holiday as I sat in the doctor’s office today waiting to get some medicine to cure the mild case of bronchitis I contracted from last week’s cold. and it does give some indication of Wagoner’s diversity, something you might not have noticed since I tend to favor his nature poems:

BY THE SEA, BY THE SEA

In the seaside restaurant, they're cracking crabs:
He's in his thirties, she's eighteen at most.
She's still in her receptionist's uniform
With a scarf over the name-tag. The candle
Burning between them is guttering
Lavender driblets, and both are chewing
Pieces of firm white flesh, while their busy fingers
Are cracking claws and dipping more in butter.
She says she's known all along
It would end like this, with him going back to his wife.
Just like her mother's boyfriend. He says he's sorry
But she has to understand. She has to be
A matter-of-fact adult, and there's no reason
They shouldn't enjoy themselves on their last evening.
They should both be happy they recognized the fact
Of life in time to get up and go on being
Responsible. She'll see an affair
Can be just as beautiful as love
If you stop in time, and now she's going to stop
Crying and take her doggy bag
And blackberry cobbler and walk on out of here
As if she'd enjoyed herself. They both stand up
And slowly go down the aisle toward the cashier
To earn their way outside into the night
Where I follow them (having paid the price
Of my appetite this evening) and watch them
To the end of the parking lot and separate cars,
Not kissing good-bye or waving, not even looking.
Meanwhile, beyond the buttress of driftwood logs
Where the owners have arranged to keep the sea
And the sand from coming too far ashore, the crabs
Are facing each other in the rippling shallows
At low tide, performing mirror dances
the tips of the inedible parts of their claws,
Some maybe not quite sure
Whether they're mating or fighting
they face strange partners almost as insane
With longing as they are. They go on dancing
There in the cold salt.

One thought on “Strange Partners, Indeed

  1. I like this poem very much. At first sight, a contrary response to Valentine’s Day. But actually so evocative of what a romance is really like that it left me shuddering with sentimental feelings and memories.

What do you think?