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LOWELL, Robert

To Speak of Woe That Is in Marriage

“It is the future generation that presses into being by means of these exuberant feelings and supersensible soap bubbles of ours.”


“The hot night makes us keep our bedroom windows open.

Our magnolia blossoms. Life begins to happen.

My hopped up husband drops his home disputes,

and hits the streets to cruise for prostitutes,

free-lancing out along the razor’s edge.

This screwball might kill his wife, then take the pledge.

Oh the monotonous meanness of his lust. . .

It’s the injustice . . . he is so unjust—

whiskey-blind, swaggering home at five.

My only thought is how to keep alive.

What makes him tick? Each night now I tie

ten dollars and his car key to my thigh. . . .

Gored by the climacteric of his want,

he stalls above me like an elephant.”

Memories of West Street and Lepke

Only teaching on Tuesdays, book-worming

in pajamas fresh from the washer each morning,

I hog a whole house on Boston’s

“hardly passionate Marlborough Street,"

where even the man

scavenging filth in the back alley trash cans,

has two children, a beach wagon, a helpmate,

and is “a young Republican.”

I have a nine months’ daughter,

young enough to be my granddaughter.

Like the sun she rises in her flame-flamingo infants’ wear.

These are the tranquilized Fifties,

and I am forty. Ought I to regret my seedtime?

I was a fire-breathing Catholic C.O.,

and made my manic statement,

telling off the state and president, and then

sat waiting sentence in the bull pen

beside a negro boy with curlicues

of marijuana in his hair.

Given a year,

I walked on the roof of the West Street Jail, a short

enclosure like my school soccer court,

and saw the Hudson River once a day

through sooty clothesline entanglements

and bleaching khaki tenements.

Strolling, I yammered metaphysics with Abramowitz,

a jaundice-yellow (“it’s really tan”)

and fly-weight pacifist,

so vegetarian,

he wore rope shoes and preferred fallen fruit.

He tried to convert Bioff and Brown,

the Hollywood pimps, to his diet.

Hairy, muscular, suburban,

wearing chocolate double-breasted suits,

they blew their tops and beat him black and blue.

I was so out of things, I’d never heard

of the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

“Are you a C.O.?” I asked a fellow jailbird.

“No," he answered, “I’m a J.W.”

He taught me the “hospital tuck,"

and pointed out the T-shirted back

of Murder Incorporated’s Czar Lepke,

there piling towels on a rack,

or dawdling off to his little segregated cell full

of things forbidden to the common man:

a portable radio, a dresser, two toy American

flags tied together with a ribbon of Easter palm.

Flabby, bald, lobotomized,

he drifted in a sheepish calm,

where no agonizing reappraisal

jarred his concentration on the electric chair

hanging like an oasis in his air

of lost connections. . . .