I AM TIRED OF THE MOVIE ABOUT SENTIMENTALIZED MALE FAILURE
You know the one—it stars Clint Eastwood, or Beau Bridges.
Whoever it is, he’s got a face lined as the map he crumples
and stuffs in his back pocket in the first minute of the movie
I don’t want to see. I don’t have to see it to know he’ll get lost.
He’ll spit a wad of tobacco out the window of his truck,
dig out the map and unfurl it against the steering wheel.
He looks at the map quizzically. At some point in the movie,
he’ll miss his daughter’s wedding. He’ll disappoint his wife.
His daughter will marry a man so not like him that he’s exactly
like him. In this movie, everything is about him. Look at him
looking at the map. In this movie, there will be long shots
of the horizon, strip club scenes, whiskey, fists, and pills.
They don’t make movies like this about women. The plot
is watching this man bleed out and calling it interesting—
calling it a reckoning. “You know the reckoning’s gonna come
for you,” my cowboy friend Jack told me once in a bar, smiling
in that lazy cowboy way I loved. I laughed. I had no idea
what he meant. I was twenty-two. I thought love took care
of everything, like the concierge in a fancy hotel we couldn’t afford—
I thought all I had to do was show up. So when a reckoning came,
I didn’t expect the desire to run, that lurch like wild horses
in my chest. How, when her call came—Come home—I thought,
I can’t. My reckoning came when I went home anyway.
My reckoning came with pills, prescribed, morning and night.
I counted them out into her Day-Glo Days-of-the-Week pill-minder.
Her pain was not about me, but secretly, I wanted it to be.
I wanted someone to say, Oh, you’re doing such a good job.
The shame of that. How sometimes I watched myself in a movie
as I watched her strain to breathe, watched my hands move
around her doing everything they could, which was not
enough. It was hard to watch but it was easier to watch it
than to be there. Oh, my endless lack, hard as the prairie
scarred beneath the churning herd of wild horses I called
my sense of self. That self, that sense, scattering, and scattering
again. When I paused the movie in my head, all I had
were those horses and the chalked taste of the dust they kicked up—
and even that is metaphor, a kind of watching. Past the horses,
past their fear and sweat and trembling, what was left?
A pain that was not like anything else but was only itself.
The gap between who I wanted to be and who I was.
Nothing I did could save her, and I had to do it anyway.
I hated that. Counting the pills, I kept losing track.
The relentlessness of starting again—one, two, three …
their pastel shells clicking against the plastic. I listened
to my lack. I wanted to leave every day. I didn’t leave. I stayed.
That was the only miracle, and it wasn’t a miracle at all,
but it was a kind of healing, the kind I didn’t even know
enough to ask for. I want to tell the man in the Clint Eastwood movie
what that healing feels like. I want him to look back on a life
he rose to meet, to know how it is that we’re changed in the rising.
I’ve known men like that man in the movie—men who hide
in their bourbon, men who hide in their fiction, men who hide
in being men who can’t love, and all of it is the same hiding.
Fear disguised as grappling disguised as American manhood.
Men who drawl, Baby, I don’t want to hurt you, a hoarse chorus,
hurting and handsome in their pearl snaps, studying the map
Clint Eastwood stuffed in his pocket like that’s a map that could ever
bring them anywhere new. Baby, I want to say, burn that sad map.
Spit out the fucking chew that will kill you. If you want interesting,
forget the drugs, the blood, the road. Forget your own lack,
every idea about how you can’t love or what you deserve.
If you want a reckoning, love someone for a long time.
There’s never been a map. At the end of the metaphor
is a gap that hurts to look at. Look anyway. Our reckoning
is here, and you know the only kind of reckoning I trust
ends in more love. The kind you can only see in the looking back—
but look. Look. There. How we changed. How we rose.
—from Rattle #70, Winter 2020
Sophia Stid: “Lately, I’ve been leaning into a kind of poetics of friendship—writing poems for my friends, because of my friends, writing with their words taped over my desk. This poem started in a dark movie theater in Nashville with my friend Joanna. (We were about to watch a terrible movie, although we didn’t know that yet.) Joanna is able to sit with paradox better than anyone else I know, and later that night she’d give me a back rub as we sat tangled up on the stairs in a cabin out in backwoods Tennessee, watching our friend Bea play a house show. This poem is for Joanna, and for Bea, for my friend Jack, and for everyone who finds themselves giving or needing care, or in a reckoning, in the gap—which, right now, seems to be all of us.” (web)