We have two sensibilities in this house–my husband’s deep-rooted radicalism. He went to prison during Vietnam not just as a draft dodger, but as a draft refuser. I didn’t know him them. Now he reads The Nation.
During Vietnam I was going to graduate school, raising a toddler, and inching my way into an imagination which belonged only to me. Denise Levertov’s poem from 1964 with these lines
a spring night entered
my mind through the tight-closed
a loose Russian shirt of
lifted me on a dream of sensuality and carried me across the tops of the elms. It carried me out of the big upstairs window and into a sense of possibilities. Meanwhile the kid was playing at being “Laura” from the Laura and Mary books. Sometimes I was dog Jack, barking down from the bed onto “Laura and Mary” on the shag carpeting.
Catching the touch of imagination’s wing drew me out of bed after the husband beside me was fast asleep. I crept across the hall and crouching on a studio couch, wrote in semi-dark the lines that had been forming themselves in my mind:
Here we stand, the professor’s girls
in wallpaper kimonos,
knitting needles quiver in my
black yarn hair, my sister’s
flop like rabbit ears. Once more
she’s charmed more candy into her paper sack,
once more the neighborhood cutie
has chocolate on her chin.
I think I know she won’t blow me
any Mars bars, jelly beans, Hersey’s kisses
from her chipmunk mouth. I think her teeth
should rot. I think next Halloween
her scalp should itch from red bugs
in her witch wig of Spanish moss.
I think my mother should see me pout.
But she says the picture shows
how she makes do on a professor’s salary.
Now when I look at us, I wonder
at how we fought. Did my sister
save sweets against the winter cold?
Could I taste love or chocolate
on my spiteful tongue:
Capturing that quintessential conflict with my sister was a defining moment. It had none of Levertov’s dreamy sensuality. It was not particularly imaginative in the sense of being transported from the everyday into a land of possibility. But it was a spitting clear rendition of sibling rivalry which I had often felt but never before quite pinned down.
Now when I read a review of Levertov’s Collected Poems in The Nation (2/3/14), I’m startled by the reviewer Adam Plunkett’s preference for a much later Levertov reference to silk. This was in the service of spirituality:
I had grasped God’s garment in the void
but my hand slipped
on the rich silk of it.
Call me a confirmed pagan. I want my silk worn by a spring night, come to charm me into creativity.