Field Guide

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There is no field guide to help identify
the heart’s disappointments or the transient
pleasures to which it failingly adheres. Therefore
have I composed, for both lay and expert reader,
in numbered sections and according to
recurring familial traits, this manual
by which to discriminate the past cause
of sorrow from its present and enduring effect
and to be perused or consulted on this variable journey
of inexplicable sadness, irresolute powers, and yes,
even joy, as on those days, for example, when we
think we have nothing good to offer anyone and wish
only to climb into a wicker basket, close the lid,
and float down river so that we may begin anew
our lives in some fairytale where strangers find us
caught in the reeds of a riverbank and rear us
with love and kindness until we are restored
to a past and identity we never knew we lost
so that even the happy conclusion contains within it
the history of prior grief that must now be acknowledged.
So the point of the journey down river, like any story,
is to learn how to go in circles, round and round. Pain and joy
are cosmic I read somewhere and, not being a metaphysician,
did not understand though I think it has to do with
the river that circles and has no beginning or end.
Where are the numbers, you are asking. Where
are the sections. I know I put them here somewhere.
They exist, but like any order is subject to sudden
derangement and thus will require not only solicitude
but also some active reconstruction. For this,
recall, is a real-life story in the form of a field guide
that I am writing and you, impatient reader, who wants
only climax and denouement, who wants everything
explained in act three of the play, will have to reference
the healthy index I have embedded here. Conferre:
longing, resentment, anger, lust, helplessness, guilt, etc.
Therefore, a field guide for every species of marriage
you can think of, body wedded to body, body wedded
to nature. You can pull it out of your pocket on summer days
when, should you have them, your children are drawing
on the driveway with chalk the color of the sky, mourning doves
coo, and the dirty Styrofoam cup blown onto your yard
represents an apt metaphor for the almost unnatural
craving in your body that cannot be satisfied or destroyed,
which is what you feel sitting across from your beloved
as the light sifts between you onto the deck table
and the glass of wine you hold up is the pane
through which you see, no, not his or her face, but the past
condensing into so many other faces, layered and jelled,
that were once objects of desire and had the power
to betray and disappoint, and then getting angry
with an unjustifiable urge to annihilate the one person
who has given you some sense of belonging, you find
you are unsure what story you are living—
a romance plot or a revenge plot—and you consult
your handy field guide index which will direct you
to the story of Medea who well knew that love is a net
of flesh in which we are already caught and,
like a wound, makes a tear in us where the wind
might enter, and thus did Medea revenge herself
against Jason, and also on her own passions
that they would no longer hunt her down, which is why
I have inserted a picture of a deer next to the story of Medea
in the field guide so that when you think of her
you might see not only the blood of revenge
but the deer’s startled eyes of fear and think no more
of Medea but be reminded of those lines from Auden’s poem
that I loved as a child yet never quite comprehended
about the sadness of the creatures and feeling pity
for the limits and the lack set in their finished features
though I am all too familiar now with what it means
to hunger and be anonymous, for love to be suited
to the intricate ways of guilt. To name is to know
and my field guide aims to provide a concrete
yet universal reference for all the vagaries of feeling
so that when you weep uncontrollably on reading its contents
and your beloved leans forward from across the table
with concern and asks what on earth is the matter
you can show this field guide and though he or she may look up
bewildered at the blank pages you have handed over
you can say, without knowing exactly what you mean,
but having consulted the field guide with great care,
pain and joy are cosmic and I am journeying on a river,
that goes round and round like this table between us
and I have nothing good to offer you and everything
I do offer is wrong somehow or marked with
my wrongness and I am undeserving of all love
because like Medea I am caught in a revenge plot
against my own passions and thus cannot distinguish
between rage against myself in self-loathing and rage
against my beloved for having won from me this dispensation
to love or betray or disappoint and I am waiting
to be restored to a past that I did not know I had lost
but for which I have spent a lifetime grieving.
At this admission your beloved will likely
lift your face up by the chin and, combing light
through your hair, kiss you and you will not greet this moment
with distrust or skepticism because you can recite,
almost from memory, the many keywords
indexed under the letter “s” in your field guide
as well as their conflicting definitions and so realize
that there are times when sentiment is the only measure
of sincerity and that you must lift your head
with shame and receive the kiss that means everything
yet corrects nothing, for having studied the field guide
of the heart’s disappointments and transient pleasures
you know that all species of marriage, whether of the body
to body or the body to nature, are a romance
whose minor tragedies conclude in rites of forgiveness.