The Center Cannot Hold

[‘As the end of April approaches, tensions in both households reach unsustainable levels, and in both situations, in the words of Yeats’ “The Second Coming,”  the center would not hold much longer.  The first letter in this post is mine, describing the tension I am dealing with.]

Sunday night


Notes from the combat zone–general atmosphere gray and sullen with eruptions of red .  hostility and blue desperation.  I try to remain firm and calm, fight a holding action, cede minor concessions and occasionally return fire.

I think a lot about you.  Each acid bath now only strips away dead skin.  There is something new growing beneath that is impervious to the bite of the acid.  I feel good about this–strong and confident–it is rational and right.

This feeling survives a weekend of odd scenes, of the web strung against the old, dead skin, but unable to form the new.  Friday night in an amusement park.  Saturday in a department store viewing meticulously dressed women and wondering if they make love with the same magnificent self-obsession as they dress, deciding they probably have no surplus energy beyond their mirrors.  Saturday night with the kids watching a Disney Robin Hood, and enjoying the escape into a simpler world; Sunday at a Senior Citizen’s Center, finding unanticipated support from my father-in-law even with the sadness in his eyes, and all those frail elderly people smiling bravely, some others seemingly beyond feeling, and my note to myself to leave instructions with a trusted friend that should I ever be found resident in such a place I should be summarily shot–and all suffused in thoughts of you bouncing over the rocks on the raft while contending with very different rapids and breaking waters of your life.

I plan to start getting up early in the morning to write–first to you, then other things.  We’ll see how good my discipline is.  Meanwhile, I rest with you.

Monday morning

So much for discipline at 5am.  Much static from my wife about being awakened and little enthusiasm on my part.

Everyone has left now and the house is quiet except for workers next door doing something to a swimming pool which was begun last August and is still not completed.

A busy day ahead, and I’m off to work.

5am is an obscene hour anyway unless you are doing something obscene.


[Carol’s response is quite long, even by her standards.  In it, she deals frankly with her separating from Steve1, and then considers her relationship with me.  In the latter, for the first time in these letters, I believe, she does what neither of us had done to this point, and that is use the word “love,” which she introduces  casually as if it were a given

Tuesday, 4/20


I’ve decided to do the impossible, the improbable, the foolish & the brave to try to finish the semester w/out incompletes. [What follows is an impressive list of assignments she must complete]  Well, I know somewhere in the recesses (deep) there existed a reason to be here.  I just can’t recall what it is or whether it’s even still there.  School has become a thing that exists for itself. [Next is a rather long description of sitting through a lecture on Hamlet.  She states she would much rather be in a theater where James Earl Jones is playing Othello and then responds to my comment about being in a senior citizen’s home.] .…You’ll end up in a senior citizen’s home asking for a gun & I’ll be somewhere begging for a reckoning at the last moment (but not ’til then)….

You sounded a little frustrated in your letter by an aborted 5 o’clock am writing plan.  Did you give in & not want to?

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could share a writing space?  Other writers, I think, must not mind the click at 5am of a typewriter going.  I could be wrong.  I’m a dreamer.  That’s what I’m good at. That’s why I’m a poet.   I’d better go home or this guest lecturer will drone on into the night.


Freed.  No more classroom restraints ’til tomorrow.  A cup of hot tea.  Yusef Lateef on the stereo stretching out strange, mellow, comfortable tunes, & not another person in sight.  I’ve been waiting a number of weeks for this place, this space, alone w/ a cup of tea, at last.  So nice it almost seems perverse–the first quiet after the storm.

The web surrounds me (not now, not at this moment, but other times–here in the ap’t, it seethes, if you can imagine a web of seething & I’m sure you can.)  Desperation–a word I picked up from you–always linking it to hostility, some forms of hysteria or weeping, as you spoke of it–never connecting it w/ the idea here, in its quiet form.  This is a quiet desperation & it’s disturbing, to say the least.  He doesn’t know how he does it & I see now, today, that it’s fear that motivates the desperation.  Personally, I don’t see what’s so difficult separating from me.  He  admits he’s not happy w/me & I admit I’m a real terror to live w/ sometimes, but still…not happy w/me, not happy w/out me.  Perverse logic motivated by a desperate fear.  I turn in circles, round & round looking for a way out of that illogical logic & find suffocation, finding somewhere along the line that it’s his logic & exists outside mine.  And what is mine?  These web spinning turns around me confuse me.  Like the spinning dancer who hasn’t learned to spot-check, my equilibrium is off.  Emotions confuse even themselves–the falconer just barely hears the falconer [allusion to the Yeats poem] & I am both–Listening, finding a strength in you, finding some long lost source way back inside of myself–and still not hesitating, following the forward path because it is the only one.  Keeping to the road–well pitfalls or not.  I’ve always been a good driver.  It seems too slim & simple a metaphor between automobiles & life—there must be better.  I’ll think on it.

Time for a switch from weird & mellow Yusef to Jazz 88–Pissant station–only rarely comes in w/out fuzz.

And You–what do I do w/you?  You’re like a dream–sometimes you don’t seem real.  And sometimes you do and are.  Sometimes I wonder if I know what I’m doing–I’m involved w/ a married man.  You’ll have those responsibilities practically forever, divorced or not.  And I’m just beginning to realize where my feelings for you are leading me.  Hello, Olf.  Future arrangements, in whatever form (my attempt to keep the road open, no matter how strong the feelings) look bleakish. Olf is a good inlet for despair, a good outlet for anger so I aim a piercing glare his way.  He’s sitting on my ashtray & doesn’t need cigarette butts for sustenance.  A glare makes him bare his teeth & jump around & flail his scrawny arms.  The little monster.  I don’t know, Steve–I apologize for all this line of thought, but I’ve been avoiding it & that’s never a  good idea.  Repress it, eat it, stomp on it, but not avoid it.  Why I’m telling you my despair, I don’t know.  I’d rationally rather not but you may have already guessed it’s there.  Anyway it goes much more than it comes.  It may just be the realization setting in of what’s involved w/ our situation–& the more I know of what’s involved the better able I am to shove Olf off the ashtray onto the floor & kick his scrawny little hide out the window.  You’d think he’s break his back falling two stories, but either he’s got drones or he’s indestructible–no need to guess which.

It’s be so much easier if 1) I had your wife’s hostility (w/out the mood range), 2)my housemate was hostile, 3) I wasn’t in love w/you.  I’m almost 30 & I have these feelings?  I thought they stopped before the age of 24…..

This letter seems to be coming to a close.

Take care of yourself–


Click on the Covers for Steve and Carol’s Books


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