Probably Written by a Man
Old is this earth-cave, all I do is yearn.
—“The Wife’s Lament,” from the tenth-century Exeter Book
The husband has to go, for a distant government post
or into exile for a violent crime or to the store for milk,
the wife is left behind, alone, as women are apt to be
through the ages, in China or England or any territory
where schools and force and money all belong to men.
I don’t like this unromantic truth. I prefer to imagine
the wife, pretty as the day of the wedding or disheveled
by the distress of not knowing where her lord will rest,
watching by the thin curtains or sprinting to the head
of the river every day to look for signs of his returning.
For, the scholars say, the woman is not really a woman.
She is the children of Israel in their Babylonian captivity
crying to God for release, or the Soul yearning for reunion
with Truth or Beauty or Goodness, those eternal verities,
confirms the footnote in my Norton Anthology of Poetry.
I thought to right this poetic wrong by writing about me,
a man waiting in a darkening apartment for another man
—the white candles burning steadily in the tall glasses—
subvert the structure of yearning but keep romance alive.
The gender of the waiting one, however, is not germane;
what matters is the gender of the one who gets to leave,
women and men administering justice in the swamps,
men and women growing a head of cattle from the range.
But if both should go far from home, how could we understand
the captives’ cries or the Soul’s yearning or the married life?