Friday, October 17, 2008

The Heavy Bear

I've always loved the poem "The Heavy Bear Who Goes With Me," by Delmore Schwartz. It describes how I feel about my physical self most of the time; I don't identify with it, and I don't think about it more than I have to. I also like what Reynolds Price said about himself when he was already wheelchair-bound, that if any of his group of friends had to be immobilized, it might as well be him, because he never paid that much attention to his body. Are there other writers besides these two who live that much in their heads?

Now that I can walk without pain, and mostly without limping, I'm irritated by the heaviness of my tread and the slowness of my pace, which makes me think of this poem as I walk:

The heavy bear who goes with me,
A manifold honey to smear his face,
Clumsy and lumbering here and there,
The central ton of every place,
The hungry beating brutish one
In love with candy, anger, and sleep,
Crazy factotum, dishevelling all,
Climbs the building, kicks the football,
Boxes his brother in the hate-ridden city.

Breathing at my side, that heavy animal,
That heavy bear who sleeps with me,
Howls in his sleep for a world of sugar,
A sweetness intimate as the water's clasp,
Howls in his sleep because the tight-rope
Trembles and shows the darkness beneathd,
--The strutting show-off is terrified,
Dressed in his dress-suit, bulging his pants,
Trembles to think that his quivering meat
Must finally wince to nothing at all.

That inescapable animal walks with me,
Has followed me since the black womb held,
Moves where I move, distorting my gesture,
A caricature, a swollen shadow,
A stupid clown of the spirit's motive,
Perplexes and affronts with his own darkness,
The secret life of belly and bone,
Opaque, too near, my private, yet unknown,
Stretches to embrace the very dear
With whom I would walk without him near,
Touches her grossly, although a word
Would bare my heart and make me clear,
Stumbles, flounders, and strives to be fed
Dragging me with him in his mouthing care,
Amid the hundred million of his kind,
The scrimmage of appetite everywhere.

I love the way the ultimate frustration of the body is the stretch to embrace, because that one word that would "bare my heart and make me clear" just isn't coming to the tip of the clumsy bear-tongue. I feel this way sometimes after 26 years of marriage, especially when we get busy with work and don't make the time to either talk or embrace enough. Like this week.

Today I have three stacks of papers to grade. It's my own fault; I assigned all this stuff, for some reason. So I have to sit and do it. Somehow, sitting gets to be the hard part. I'm a fairly restless person, a leg-jiggler and a foot-wiggler. So what do I use to glue myself to a chair when I need to sit for long stretches? Sweet stuff. Honey. It makes the bear even heavier.


lemming said...

Sounds like Lionel and Jean in "As Time Goes By"

Jeanne said...

Lemming, I had to look that one up to find that it's a tv show. Are Lionel and Jean people who live in their heads? Big, clumsy people? People who don't communicate easily? (All of the above?)