07 April 2016 – ‘O, that our stars might collide…’. So begins a unfinished thought poem G started composing, he figures, over a decade ago. An artifact of his early days letting words work their magic. The piece, entitled great gravities, has but one additional line, enclosed in parentheses, ‘(what we simplings call heaven…)’. It rests with scores of other pieces on an external hard drive that came out of hiding last week.
We were at a craft brewery enjoying jars of beer when G recognized a classmate from his university days. Tony was his name. He came over and, though late for an engagement, made time for a quick catch-up. All very light and cheerful. Then, as he was about to leave, he asked if G was still writing. G responded with a shrug of his shoulders. It seemed a harmless enough exchange but after Tony left G’s manner underwent an abrupt shift. He scratched his head and scrunched up the left side of his face. His mouth froze in an open grimace. He leaned forward, propped elbow on table and held up his angled head with thumb on cheekbone, fingers spread across the upper ridge of his left eye socket. Eyes closed tight, clearly grappling with something.
The beginning of another piece from the hard drive. This one untitled:
‘We were living in bliss. Not that happiness was our guise or guide. I mean bliss in relative terms. We had a house, a small parcel of land, a truck, and a dog. The house wasn’t much to look at. But it served us well enough. Kept the rain out and the few possessions we had in. It also had a fine portico that ran around the west side. We sat out there almost every evening, whether we had guests or not.’
In the car, away from the noisy ambience of the brewery, G quickly recovered his composure. He no longer bore the look of torment. Little by little, he loosened his cognitive knots and explained that, for whatever reason, Tony’s query about his writing had the disquieting effect of reminding him of two things he’d done his utmost to leave in the past. Firstly, how important writing was to him at the time: his beacon, his respite, his purpose. Secondly, that in a prolonged moment of derangement he had destroyed the majority of his work—a comprehensive purge that entailed deleting files, tearing apart notebooks, going on a shredding spree, and just to make sure, taking a lighter to anything combustible.
Although we had talked about this period of his life on many occasions, touching on key events (him finishing university, feeling torn about how to proceed, his relationship with Beth, her cheating on him, his decision to wipe it all clean, sever ties and set off in a new direction), how pivotal a role writing played was news to me. In fact, I don’t remember writing ever coming up. I just accepted it as something he’d always done. Something he could take or leave. A private habit.
Opening paragraph to how light it’s supposed to be, how dark it is:
‘Dad told Bailey loudly to go to her room. She stomped down the hall, her face burning in the effort to stop from crying but as she mounted the stairs the first tear broke. By the time she made her room her hands and cheeks were sodden.’
I’m not sure what more to add. Back at home we had a good long talk. We got into some pretty weighty stuff. But it wasn’t difficult. Nor was it all about G. We drank a bottle of wine and laughed at our former selves. Liz came home and joined the fun. We drank another bottle of wine and mused on the many faces memory wears. How selective it can be. Sometimes overlooking, sometimes embellishing—and ever and always editing to suit the present.
At some point during the night I asked G if he regretted not having the writing he destroyed.
“To a degree,” he said. “But not really. I did what I felt I needed to. And besides. It’s not like it’s all gone. I still have some it kicking around somewhere.”
Which is how we got to digging out the hard drive.
Since then I’ve done little more in my spare time than delve into G’s surviving pieces. To cap things off, at least for now, here’s the ending to one called laces:
‘You liked to call the poetry you wrote a series of instant pieces. Because you were after moments that don’t last very long. The poems you wrote for me are among my favorite. I can’t recite them. Nor is it likely I shall read them again any time soon. But I still cherish them. For sentimental reasons. I need only think of them, the pieces of folded paper they were written or typed on, and you return, smiling, ducking head to hand the better to brush a fang of hair aside as you bite your lip, those little white teeth of yours holding the light wetly until the lively shine in your eyes takes over, glancing here, looking there, drifting off to attend some sound or movement, your nose and chin following as you look over your shoulder, one hand reaching over to the other arm, uncolored and nibbled fingernails clasping, digging, scratching, waiting for whatever it was to make itself conspicuous, waiting for the moment to bloom, which it won’t, not just yet, because when it does it’s over and you don’t want it to end, not just yet, so you continue to stand there, looking at something of the world, looking as you did at me, with the outside of one untied sneaker resting on the other.’