Mike recited poetry from memory to me frequently, in the first giddy days of love. He’d leave recitations on my answering machine (in the last century, before voicemail). I thought I had lost the tape of him reciting those poems, and scoured the house frantically for it for years, until it turned up right under my nose, in a drawer with all the other old cassette tapes. I listened to it once and put it away, and now I can’t remember where I put it.
We’re at that time of year in Chicagoland when spring flips to summer overnight, and back again. Thinking it was time to make the change from the chill of spring to the humid heat of summer, I got the window fans out. Angelic Daughter loves the sound of her fan, and once it is out and in the window, she doesn’t want to go a night without its hum until the snow flies.
But after two days of 80 degree weather, spring swept back in, with chilly nights in the 40s. She kept her fan in the window, on, and it filled the house with natural air conditioning for when the heat returned, as I knew it would, a day or two later.
Mike taught me how to keep this unairconditioned old house cool on hot days. In the morning, turn the fans upstairs to “exhaust,” and turn the fans downstairs on high, just until the sun was up enough to make patterns on the floor. Then pull the fans out of the windows and put them on the floor, to keep the air circulating, and close the window and the drapes.
The “close up” moment comes around 9:30 or 10 a.m., when I can feel the heat suddenly as the sun reflects from the interior side of the open casement windows next to my desk. That’s my cue: put the fans on the floor and shut the windows.
Back at my desk, just after I put the living room box fan on the floor and closed the window and drapes, I heard a crash. I knew instantly the fan fell over.
I was sure I had placed it so it would be steady.
So I decided Mike must have knocked it over, and I started talking to him.
“What’s the big deal? I’m just doing what you showed me to do, to keep the house cool. Sheesh! But thanks for teaching me that. We miss you. She misses you. We’re lonely. And you still owe me a man, so get busy, OK? I still have a few good woman years in me, so step it up, alright? It’s been nearly six years.”
I wanted him to find me a new man, a Mike-approved man, to ease my loneliness and perhaps bring a male presence back into this house more often.
I went and sat back down at my desk and got to work, putting my headphones on, streaming classical choral music.
And just a moment later, I noticed the piece that was playing, one I’d never heard before, was a choral setting of one of the first poems Mike ever recited to me. He left it on my answering machine:
I Am Not Yours – Sara Teasdale
I am not yours, not lost in you,
Not lost, although I long to be
Lost as a candle lit at noon,
Lost as a snowflake in the sea.
You love me, and I find you still
A spirit beautiful and bright,
Yet I am I, who long to be
Lost as a light is lost in light.
Oh plunge me deep in love–put out
My senses, leave me deaf and blind,
Swept by the tempest of your love,
A taper in a rushing wind.
I had forgotten about that poem. As soon as I heard it as lyrics to a choral work, I remembered Mike’s voice on that answering machine, his gentle, almost whispering voice, “I find you still, a spirit beautiful and bright…”
I was that woman, the one who was fully herself, but longed to be lost in love, when I met Mike, and he recognized that.
Maybe he still sees that in me. Or maybe, somehow, he misses now how intensely I loved him, way back then.
Poetry can crack you right open. It goes straight for the heart and grabs on, squeezing, leaving you crying and short of breath.
And then it passes, like a taper in a rushing wind.
Angelic Daughter was out with her companion, so I let myself cry.
And then I went back to work.
Remembering poetry and love, I remain,
Your aging widow, concealing deep inside the part of her that still longs to be lost in love, lost as a light is lost in light,