Nov 022014
 

Sharon

Notes on Metanoia

I had a job that I did not like. It was a perfectly good job as a parliamentary editor in the Hansard office of the provincial legislature. The office was in a gorgeous heritage sandstone building and my coworkers were good smart hard-working people who had put their faith in me and needed me but I knew from the get go that it was all wrong. I was bored. I know how that sounds.

I lasted six months. What got me through that time was T. S. Eliot’s Four Quartets. “And the end and the beginning were always there/Before the beginning and after the end./And all is always now.” “We shall not cease from exploration/And the end of all our exploring/Will be to arrive where we started/And know the place for the first time.”

Every morning, the first thing that I did at work was open an online version of Four Quartets on a tab on my computer and an email message to myself. Throughout the day, I surreptitiously read bits of Four Quartets whenever the dreardom overwhelmed. As lines and images materialized, I jotted them down in the email and, at the end of the day, dispatched the message to myself at home. Those lines and images became Metanoia. Its form was dictated by circumstance.

I was not slacking off. I was a good producer and, when I did quit, the supervisor said that I could come back any time. This was comforting and I told her so. We get our comfort where we can and then we fare forward. “Not fare well,/But fare forward, voyagers.”

—Sharon McCartney

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Like Jesus, I was born in the desert,
the barrens under Camelback Mountain.
That emptiness has dogged me all my life,
an arid wind clawing my sundress
on the gravel playground.

……………………………..*

I banished the banker forever. Told him I wanted to be alone.
I didn’t really want to be alone. I just didn’t want to be with him.

The banker said, great.
Being with no one is better than being with me.

……………………………..*

Mother said, smile. Learn to cook swiss steak. Sew a French seam.
Be a good wife.

I think, now, that she should have known better.

……………………………..*

How I told myself that I loved
the husband more than he loved me.
So self-serving.

I loved him so much
I wanted to be him.
I thought that was love.
He did not want to be me.
I saw that as a lack.
And left because of it.

……………………………..*

No man in my life, nothing to worry about. No one to disappoint.
A failure of nerve, perhaps, but peaceful.

……………………………..*

All of that effort to make myself loveable only made me unloving.

……………………………..*

When the married man rebuffed me, I was worthless.
In this way, I discovered my worth.

How crushed I was if he did not respond to an email.

Then furious.

……………………………..*

Eternity is not time everlasting, but the absence of time.
When we created time, we created death.

……………………………..*

I do not believe in death anymore.
For you people, perhaps. But not for me.

……………………………..*

The man in New Mexico said maybe the secret
is to find someone with matching neuroses.
But I want him to be hot as well.

……………………………..*

I am not alone.
I am in an exclusive relationship with myself.

……………………………..*

I knew that the fat man was wrong,
not immediately, but soon enough.
The way he crowded me on the sidewalk.
Yet I hoped that it would work.
I wanted to love him.

……………………………..*

A warm rain in the lime tree.
Pigeons fornicating under the eaves.
My sad neighbour feeds them. I wish she would not.

……………………………..*

When I say that I do not want anyone but the husband,
I do not mean that I want the husband.
What I mean is that I do not want to want anyone else.

……………………………..*

The banker said, my life is a shambles.
I said, everyone’s life is a shambles.
Why do you think you are different?

……………………………..*

When the husband was younger,
I loved his broad shoulders, particularly
when they were above me.

Now that he’s older, his shoulders
have gone soft, annular, sloping
tenderly under his mandarin collar.

And I love him again for being one of us.

……………………………..*

The banker snored outrageously and twitched in his sleep.
I could not sleep beside him.
This became an “issue.”
That last night, I snuck away to the spare bedroom,
hoping for an hour or two.

At 5 a.m., I heard him downstairs, loading
his vehicle, the door slamming, his shoes,
angry. He tromped upstairs, perched on the edge
of the bed in the dark, saying, darkly,
I didn’t want to leave without saying goodbye.

No, I thought, you didn’t want to leave without hurting me.

……………………………..*

I pleased the banker. He didn’t please me.
I withdrew myself. He was no longer pleased.

……………………………..*

Eliot says, to get to where you are not, you have to go
by the way in which you are not.
I want to love again.

……………………………..*

The Mayan was the best.
No prudishness, no hesitation.

I said, could you please teach that
to every man on earth?

If he had wanted me to come to Vancouver, I would have.

In pain, I locked the door, turned out the lights,
so he would return to a dark house,
myself in bed, my back to him.

All of this calculated to push him away,
when his leaving was what I feared.

……………………………..*

I strung the fat man along, not voicing my reservations,
thinking that I was sparing his feelings.

A lie. I was sparing myself.

Because I waited too long to speak,
I became revulsed.

The last time we had sex, I said to myself,
this is the last time.
I did not say that to him.

……………………………..*

How to live then?
Honour my mother.
Honour what is in me that is her.

Don’t cultivate relationships as panaceas for loneliness.
Be true to my loneliness.

That scares the shit out of me.

……………………………..*

I always loved the husband. Oh when I first saw him,
six pack slung on his back, in hiking boots.
How he flirted with me the first time, poking my shoulder.

What I did not love was myself with him.

……………………………..*

The task is not to find god or a new man.
The task is to find wholeness, magnitude.
Having that, all other needs fall away.

……………………………..*

I used alcohol as a way of masking insufficiency.
Ditto men.

Alcohol has become too complicated for me.
Ditto men.

……………………………..*

The body is time, yet our selves are timeless.
We can only know time through timelessness.

……………………………..*

Eliot says the ocean is us.
We cannot think of a time that is not oceanless
because it does not exist.

……………………………..*

California resides in my memory as the occidental
aroma of exhaust and brine.

……………………………..*

In grieving the marriage,
I grieved the loss of an abode for my love.
I was taught not to love myself.
A girl should accommodate.
A girl should not love herself,
or no one will like her.
This was the supreme hell. To be unliked.

……………………………..*

I am continually struck by the oddity of the mirror.
Who is that visage? I do not feel so contained.

……………………………..*

And there it is again, inexplicably, the fear
that I have nothing if I do not have the husband.
That is the fear that I have to stride toward.
Walk into it even though my stomach is upside down,
even though I would rather not.

……………………………..*

If you’re not nervous before training,
you’re not training hard enough.
That’s what the crossfitters say.

……………………………..*

Younger, I wanted to obliterate myself,
the emptiness.

Older, I want to uncover myself,
the emptiness.

No longer preying on the emotions of others
to satisfy my need for approval.
What I did to the banker was unkind.

……………………………..*

If I seek wholeness, I am entirely unwhole.
Therefore, seek emptiness.

……………………………..*

More light snow falling.
No wind. All of the acute angles softened,
corners blunted, discordances resolved.

Nine years ago, when I was mired in despair,
disillusion, believing that I had been betrayed,
I found snowbanks seductive, imagined laying myself
down in their albino deeps, never to rise.

This was ridiculous.
Further, no one had betrayed me.

……………………………..*

All of life is a learning to let go
until life lets go of us.

Grace is the time to do this.

The banker wanted me beside him all night,
no matter what.

……………………………..*

Let the husband go to his beloved blonde,
strumming her 12-string.
That would have been better.
Not my dire meddling. Even my rejection
of him was grasping.

……………………………..*

Language bridges the gap that it creates.
Words isolate us; we connect through words.

……………………………..*

The excitement of the unknown waned and then
there was nada. The banker’s tongue down my throat,
but I just wanted to watch Friends.

……………………………..*

Marrying was escaping my mother,
her life of diminishment,
her Colonial furniture and braided rugs,
her Tennessee Ernie Ford.
Anything but that, I said.
And so she continued to control me.

……………………………..*

The pain is not the pain of losing the husband, of seeing him
with another, trying to please her, but a deeper,
more fundamental pain
that engendered the original need.

What was I trying to avoid?
Mother, supping alone in her enormous house.

……………………………..*

In the dream, I wanted lights installed on my bicycle.
The guy at Savage’s showed me that they were already there,
front and back.

……………………………..*

The owl looping through the black willows,
backlit by the group home’s spotlight.
The owl is process. I am process.

Clinging not so much to life, but to life as it is now.

……………………………..*

I hope the owl kills some of the pigeons.

……………………………..*

The fat man thought that he knew what I wanted.
I shied from that. It’s too much to ask,
to be someone whose wants can be known.

……………………………..*

The horse shied, not at the fence,
but at the absence of the fence, where one section
was removed for repairs. The opening, the break
in the rhythm of fence, fence, fence, as startling
to the horse as any fleeing rodent or green garbage
bag torn and flapping.

We only wake up where there is discrepancy.

……………………………..*

The body is a convenience.
In order to perceive a world, we have to stand outside of it,
in the stand-alone body.

The price we pay for convenience
is loneliness.

The fall being that into the body, the perception
of a world that is outside.

Like the dog in his crate, what first appeared to be a prison
becomes, with time, a refuge.
Comfortable old crate. A soft rag for a bed,
a rawhide to gnaw.

……………………………..*

The troll at work demurred, “We are not trying to demoralize you.”
Percheron man insisted, “I am not controlling.”

Whatever they said, they meant the opposite.
It was in their minds first, not mine.

……………………………..*

I want to think well of the future.
Better not to think of the future at all.

……………………………..*

That lesion on my chest may well be murderous.

……………………………..*

Language is born in loneliness,
the lapdog howling for the pack to return.

All writing is about loneliness.
Miscreance, misadventure.

Consciousness is the zone of evolution,
the struggle with one’s self the fundament.

……………………………..*

Coffee, cigarettes, asthma puffers, anti-depressants,
cookies, pie, donuts. He could not walk past sugar.

……………………………..*

To get to where you are not, you have to go
by the way in which you are not.
Go by the way of loneliness, fear,
to get to where there is no loneliness, fear.

……………………………..*

Why did Mother hate Father so much?
I do not know. It was not spoken of.

……………………………..*

If we can only know the world through our own experience,
then everything that we see in the world is within ourselves.

Look for beauty in the world to find it in myself.
Look for goodness in the world to find it in myself.

A thaw, rain before dawn, syncopation of the leaf-clotted eaves,
my morning tunes.

……………………………..*

Always the tendency toward mortification.
Starving myself as a teenager.
Quitting the comfortable job.
Walking out of the perfectly adequate marriage.
Let all of that go, all aspects of self-importance.
The world is mortifying enough.

……………………………..*

What I learned from the married man:
to love without wanting to deprive
anyone else of the beloved,
without wanting to exclude. So difficult.
The grasping is fear, a failure
to love one’s self, the false conviction
that if someone else has what I
want, I am diminished.

……………………………..*

The husband and I drove to Cut Bank, Montana, on Friday nights
and drank at the Winner’s Circle for hours.
There were others there. Railroad workers.
The dollar store clerk. A woman offered to buy a round.
She dumped nickels and dimes on the counter.

……………………………..*

I dreamt of horses swimming underwater,
myself rolling over their tumbling haunches,
incipience just under the surface.

……………………………..*

I could have loved the fat man but his stomach got in the way.

……………………………..*

I loved the husband but what I loved in him was what I wanted to love in myself.
What I thought was the death of love was only love coming home.

……………………………..*

All shyness, all anxiety is an excess of self-love,
a mistaken belief in how much we matter
in the minds of others.

Let that go.
Nothing can touch me because I touch nothing.

……………………………..*

The basswood is budding. The morning dogs are unleashed.

……………………………..*

When I told the Mayan that he made me feel like a fuck,
he said, That makes my eyeballs burn if you feel that way.

Rubbing his eyes.

And then he left.
There was Rogers Cup tennis on the HD at his sister’s house.

……………………………..*

The banker said, I feel like an imposter.
Then he said, I meant imposer,
not imposter.

……………………………..*

On an operating table again, under surgical lights.
The lesion on my chest is basal cell carcinoma
if I am lucky, melanoma if I am not.

A needle goes in for the freezing and then I am left alone.
I’m thinking about 12 years ago, my mastectomy.
How frightened I was, my world gone cuckoo.

I lay myself down under the globular lights
and breathed down to my heart as the anesthetist
leaned over me. When I woke up in recovery,
I could see sideways a row of beds. Nurses.

One came over and said, you were crying.
You were crying for a long time.
When we asked you what you wanted, you said,
I want my husband.

……………………………..*

The husband’s overt scorn for the hoi polloi.
What was he so afraid of?

……………………………..*

I dreamt that a passenger jet crashed into a bay
right in front of me, the wings narrowing
as it dove, like a petrel. At the same time, nearby, a ferry
capsized and sank. I could see the faces of the people
climbing out of the sinking ferry. Wet hair.
Pulling on the railings as they climbed the sinking stairs.
Gasping. Who were those people?

……………………………..*

Jung says what we deny inwardly
will come to us outwardly as fate.

I denied my mother. I have become her.

……………………………..*

That abyss of loneliness that I saw yawning before me
was Heidegger’s openness of being.

……………………………..*

Still a little fluish, my throat rough.

The dog skulks when I cough,
as if he has been rebuked.

……………………………..*

The banker was always in my face, wanting to kiss me
while I chopped onions, while we waited for the elevator.
Aggressive. Tongue. Did he think that I liked that?
I shrugged him off. I need someone who doesn’t need me.

What I mean is I don’t want to need anyone.

……………………………..*

The world is my representation.
I shall not want.

……………………………..*

More snow in the forecast.
This year’s plowing bill is going to bankrupt me.

……………………………..*

The sun comes up so late these days,
sometimes I fear it won’t.

……………………………..*

The woman next door says, I am going to feed
the pigeons and no one can stop me.
She says, This is who I am. I am very passionate about this.

She’s in my driveway, shouting at me.
All I can hear is I, I, I.

……………………………..*

Sin is a refusal to grow, to change, to love.
One’s self, mostly.

……………………………..*

The last child leaves for good and the house is empty.
A predictable sadness but also a wholly unexpected sense of peace,
relaxation, wholeness. I am that emptiness in the house.

……………………………..*

The husband was a way to get out of myself,
out of the emptiness. As were children.
I thought that I could fill it with other people.

Only woe can come from that.
Emptiness is what I am,
what I remain.

……………………………..*

Pain is born from the effort to abjure the emptiness,
to be what we are not.

……………………………..*

Don’t you hate it when Buddhists get all emptier than thou?

……………………………..*

What I felt so many years ago in the Grade 9 English classroom,
how I lost my sense of membrane, of containment, my self
leaching into the Bermuda lawn beyond the sliding glass door,
into the eucalyptus, the succulents, the Birds of Paradise.

……………………………..*

The ocean is emptiness.
The ocean is us.

……………………………..*

The good thing about the husband
was that he was never really there.

This was also the bad thing,
or so I thought.

—Sharon McCartney

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Sharon McCartney is the author of Hard Ass (2013, Palimpsest), For and Against (2010, Goose Lane Editions), The Love Song of Laura Ingalls Wilder (2007, Nightwood Editions), Karenin Sings the Blues (2003, Goose Lane Editions) and Under the Abdominal Wall (1999, Anvil Press). Her poems have been included in the 2012 and 2013 editions of The Best Canadian Poetry in English. In 2008, she received the Acorn/Plantos People’s Prize for poetry for The Love Song of Laura Ingalls Wilder. She lives in Fredericton, New Brunswick.

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  7 Responses to “Metanoia: Poem — Sharon McCartney”

  1. I am a man. I am a fat man. It is not that that speaks to me in this poem. It is that need to be alone and the wonder how it might be if we weren’t that, — if we weren’t.

    I guess it doesn’t matter much, but I really liked this poem. Thank you, Sharon McCartney.

  2. Thank you for this wonderful poem and your introduction. The intro resonated, as I was in a very similar situation and had the same feeling, but stayed for 14 years (first of blue collar family to law school, fear, bullheadedness etc.). Then one day, I hallucinated that the words of a government contracts regulation lifted themselves from the page and started to float ’round in the air before me! I took that as a sign and departed.

    About a year before this, wrote a poem called “Night Terrors of a Hermit Crab” about another creature in an outgrown shell who was afraid to move. Part of it reads:

    “Restriction to the left of me/Terror to the right/I crown myself the frozen king of night,/emperor of inertia.”

    Best regards!

    M.A. Murphy
    Washington, DC

  3. Wow. This is stupendous!

  4. I still treasure my signed copy (“in Halifax on a wet day”) of Sharon McCartney’s “for and against”

  5. This line: “What I thought was the death of love was only love coming home.” Wow. This poem. Wow. Lovely, Sharon. Thank you.

  6. Terrific….

  7. Oh! This!

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