“Divorce and Astronauts” by Jesse Valentine

Jesse Valentine


In the kitchen, I read that astronauts returning from outer
space are prone to a deep and despondent depression. Walking
to the back porch, I wonder what it is about hours spent
orbiting the exosphere that wreaks such havoc on the heart.
Clouds drift over the bay, traffic continues on the avenue. When
we first moved into the attic room on State Street, we ate
ramen and smoked reefer night after night. Newly married and
underemployed, we loved the magnanimousness of marijuana.
How in the dark we felt like astronauts and moved across the
mattress unafraid. Now a pigeon flies north across the parking
lot, and I think of my indifference to love. Carl Sagan said that
the greatest revelation in the age of space exploration is the
image of Earth as finite and lonely, somehow vulnerable. If
I survey those years now I am struck by how our memories
have become film scenes transfixed in a larger picture, passing
on the way to a final disappointment. Adequately stoned, you
would go to the bathroom and return with two white pills I
would crush under the dull end of a spoon and cut into neat
orderly lines. It wasn’t hard to think of our room as a fuselage
hurtling through space, a white vapor trail tapering off into
the night. We would make sloppy love then, my cold spit
dripping across your back. Putting my hands into my pockets,
I take a deep breath, and try to imagine the triviality of
standing in line at the supermarket after spending months
amongst the stars. How are astronauts expected to stomach
the minutiae of daily life once they’ve walked in the heavens?
You often fell asleep before I did. I stayed awake writing poems
and watching C-SPAN and worrying about money. It was
still a few months before I got the job at the community college
and you sold the painting to the Broadway producer. Now,
looking out over the pines, I see the moon as a pale white dot
against the afternoon sky. For decades it was widely believed
that astronauts carried cyanide capsules in case they were unable
to return to Earth. Jim Lovell said this was nonsense, all a marooned
astronaut would have to do is vent the air from his space suit. It
was last July in Buffalo, we had been bickering all weekend and I
was tired of graciousness, when I saw those seven years shrink
down to tiny, haphazard things. Walking back to the living room
I close my eyes and placing my hand over my stomach begin to
sway in small concentric circles. In space, astronauts complain
of a nagging isolation, one that persists upon returning home. I
sometimes think of our marriage as time spent in space, as though
the despondency through which I now tend to daily errands
reflects a return to normalcy. If I am sitting in a coffee shop doing
a crossword puzzle, I will suddenly remember the weightless
love we made, and my heart will emanate a low homing signal
leaking into the atmosphere desperate for your response.
Or driving to work in the morning, I will imagine you coming
back, flying slowly over the suburbs in the blue light of a winter
predawn. This is the loneliness of the astronaut; it begins at a
molecular level and leaves us devoutly desolate. But in my sleep
I still see Cape Canaveral falling away behind us, and I wake
remembering your voice through radio static, your naked breasts
in starlight, the tiniest moon rocks in the palm of your hand.

from Rattle #46, Winter 2014


Jesse Valentine: “For the past two years I have been writing poems from the perspective of an older, divorced man. I don’t know why I do this—I have never been married and divorce has never touched my life—but somehow, they feel like the most personal things I have ever written.”

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