I don’t know why Carson subtitled Husband as An Essay in 29 Tangos, since there was no music, express or implied. Maybe it was the posture of the tango, in which both participants sometimes press parallel against one another, as if against a mirror. Or an allusion to Borges’s application of the tango to the knife fight, wherein the combatants are tied together at the arm by a scarf. I would say that although the space is fixed, both practices allow for improvisation, and thus for error. Which is a form of generosity.
S. tells me about a Russian number she’s obsessed with. A female duo’s bubblegum song about being in the theme. Radiating such cool that you and the confirmed object of your desire are hanging out together in the quarter notes. In a movie. In a harmless attachment. She’s not sure if the phrase comes from the text or the music.
Hosting a trial dinner party for our families. Fought with N. over the seasonal appropriateness of the dishes. The quail is arid, but the rosemary mashed potatoes make up for it. Feel like a ’50s housewife languid with Valium. Talking in a circle after dinner, I retell how I named musicals for an hour, and N. could sing a line from each one of them. N.’s dateless sister looks up from the depths of her sickly cosmopolitan and bursts out: Oh, my God! You are sooo boring! Silence. If I were wearing a dress, this would definitely be the time to flounce out of here.
We only know about Sei Shõnagon’s Pillow Book because it was stolen from her and passed around at court. I like it because it is a grandly subjective reference book. And entirely parasitic. B. takes special pleasure in this entry from its list of things that are not beautiful: snow on the houses of the poor. You spend all this time being contradictory and then someone goes and politicizes the lyric on you. In secret. A thousand years ago. Without using even a single adjective.
I write about N. as a geologist with vertigo and an unconscious partner. She refuses to believe it, even when my intention is right there in front of her. I love you, I say, so I have disguised you. This is not as sweet a sentence as it first seems.
Walked through the Common last night with N. after getting fancy desserts that were more architecture than food. Tiny reliquaries of caramel. White chocolate shaped into astrological crescents. My suit made me feel mildly electrified, a subversive WASP who goes around leaving tweed explosives. Fog ate the tops of the buildings, and made the park smell like an ironworks. I was pleased by the implication of all this activity under the earth.
My mother sends me a divorce care package with ineffective oven mitts, prunes, a tiny measuring tape, cheap pens, and index cards. She has sent me the latter every year for 17 years. I almost call her up and say, I’m 35. I’ve had sex. I’ve done drugs. I’m divorced, and you’re giving me index cards. You know, in case I ever want to write anything down.
E. says she’s not a golden lesbian. Not only has she touched men, she quite enjoyed having sex with them. My poetry professor used to say that there was no such thing as a synonym. I still believe in them, but not the way I used to.
Chandler trained himself to compose on small notebook paper, so he could be sure every page had a witty line of dialogue or a good metaphor. There is no way to do this in poetry. We either succeed on an atomic level, or not at all.
Simeon Berry lives in Boston, where he is an associate editor for Ploughshares. He has won a Career Chapter Award from the National Society of Arts and Letters, the Dana Award for Poetry, and a Massachusetts Cultural Council Individual Artist Grant. Recent work appears in Crazyhorse, Hotel Amerika, and Colorado Review, and is forthcoming in Another Chicago Magazine, 5 AM, Green Mountains Review, and DIAGRAM. (updated 4/2010)