Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Betrayed by a Bookmark

Back in 1998, when my husband was ill, I checked several books out of the library thinking that I could read one of them aloud to him while he was in ICU after his surgery. You know, to pass the time.

So sitting there in ICU, after they'd cracked my husband's skull open and removed part of his brain, I opened one of the books and a bookmark fell out. The bookmark had a poem titled "A Locked House" by WD Snodgrass printed on it. The poem is about this couple coming home and he has this moment of anxiety that something might have happened to their house while they were away. That they are too lucky, things are too good. The end of the poem on the bookmark was this:

Everything we own
Can burn; we know what counts—some such
Idea. We said as much.

It was so beautiful to me. It summed up exactly how I felt at the time. That I'd give up everything else, the house, the cars, everything could burn as long as we were together. It meant so much to me, I had a friend read the poem at my husband's memorial service.

I ran across the bookmark the other day (yes, I still have it) and decided to look up the poet and maybe read some other poems by Snodgrass. I found "A Locked House" also. Get this. It turns out the poem has TWO MORE STANZAS . That's right. Two stanzas not printed on that bookmark. And those two stanzas are about how the marriage fell apart and the house is still standing!

The house still stands, locked, as it stood
Untouched a good
Two years after you went.
Some things passed in the settlement;
Some things slipped away. Enough’s left
That I come back sometimes. The theft
And vandalism were our own.
Maybe we should have known.

I would like to find the asshat who decided only to print part of the poem on that bookmark and bitch slap him or her across the room. Preferably a big room. I cannot tell you how betrayed I feel that this poem that I HAD A FRIEND READ AT MY HUSBAND'S FUNERAL is not about the primacy of connection and union between two people, but is instead about a bitter divorce.

Anyway, I'm not sure what my point is. Don't trust bookmarks? Check the source material? Print the whole thing? I just had to vent about this somewhere and was darn happy to have a place to do it.


Anonymous said...

I'm so sorry for your loss and for your experience with that bookmark.
When it was printed--it's been so long ago that I've forgotten by whom and for what reason--my late husband and I were appalled that the closing stanzas weren't there. We asked that they all be destroyed, but clearly some weren't. I can't tell you how sorry I am to hear of the pain and anger it caused you.
Kathy Snodgrass

Molly O'Keefe said...

OH my gosh - Eileen - what a terrible moment. what a radically different poem from one stanza to the next.

Eileen said...

Oh, my gosh, Ms. Snodgrass, I can't believe you saw this post and commented!

I also can't believe they didn't abide by your wishes.

For years, that poem gave me a huge amount of comfort and I suppose what's most most important is that it gave me comfort during a truly dark period of my life. Maybe I should focus on that instead.

Stephanie Doyle said...

I agree Eileen. You can still have the first stanza of the poem. It's yours and the rest doesn't have to matter.

Maureen McGowan said...

Eileen, I can only imagine how you felt, but the part of it that spoke to you and comforted you at a very difficult time did it's job. It's a beautiful poem.

It is crazy how part of the poem was used out of context like that. I'm not surprised to hear that the poet was upset by it too.

Maureen McGowan said...

PS. At least you understood the part of the poem that was there, even if it was taken out of context... Someone played Pearl Jam's Better Man at my late cousin's funeral last year. So inappropriate. I can only assume that his friends or his brother or whoever made the decision had never read the lyrics beyond the title or thought about the meaning behind them... My cousin did not abuse or neglect or cheat on his wife... Or any of the things implied by those lyrics.

Anonymous said...

If part of the poem could offer comfort, I say claim that part. It is beautiful.

Anonymous said...

As the one who READ it at the funeral, I'm going to suggest taking a post-modern approach; the first stanza gave you comfort for years, meant (stripped of stanzas 2 and 3) what you felt at the time, and more recently provided blog fodder.

-- Adam

Anonymous said...

Dear Eileen,

In not even partial recompense, here's the last stanza of one of my favorite poems of De's, "Old Apple Trees":
Soon, each one of us will be taken
By dark powers under this ground
That drove us here, that warped us.
Not one of us got it his own way.
Nothing like any one of us
Will be seen again, forever.
Each of us held some noble shape in mind.
It seemed better that we kept alive.

All best,

Eileen said...

Kathy, that's truly beautiful. I'll hold that one in my heart now, too.

Amy Valentini said...

I agree with all who said take the first stanza and cherish it as the words that comforted you through a crucial time. My condolences, by the way, it's been many years but grief never really wanes.
But let me add this. After reading through the comments, including Kathy's admission of the origin, I realized something - the bookmark didn't really betray you. Actually, I think besides bringing you great comfort when you needed it, it also preserved your moment in time, your memory of your husband, your friend Adam's memory of your husband, and fate made it reach out to those involved who didn't know they were at all.
There was a little bit of magic in that bookmark you found that day and it's still with you. Cherish it.

Eileen said...

Well, I didn't throw it out and I still couldn't possibly read it without crying. :-) You know, I'm beginning to feel guilty that everyone's being so nice about the fact that whined this much about a bookmark. Time to, as my niece says, put it in a bubble and blow it away.

Molly O'Keefe said...

I can't believe the conversation here - it's lovely. Ms. Snodgrass thank you for sharing these poems.

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