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Live Encounters Poetry & Writing January 2023
The Psychotherapist, poems by Paul Minx.
For my partner
Over the threshold, through the sweep,
tears seep, then flow,
followed by soothing words:
“This must be difficult for you.”
Tissues distributed, the sobbing slows,
then stops. The murmuring restarts.
Day-after-day, you hold hot pain
in your bare hands,
shoulder extra portions of human suffering.
You take this on willingly. You are all some of them have,
and for the most troubled, the ones
who can’t even bear to cast a shadow,
you are their lighthouse, their mind warrior.
Some days I envy – selfishly envy – their hold on you.
Are my pursuits really too accomplished to be consoled?
I’ve tried to imagine a life without you,
but no longer know how to care for myself,
stranded on Arctic sheets post-sex with a stranger,
trying to fall in love again, knowing
love’s perfection is a monster seldom satisfied.
So when you’re bone-tired, debilitated
from human overexposure, your basalt face unbreachable,
when we argue about lights left on or dog care,
I remind myself how you do god’s work. My respect,
after years of love, is more than enough for me.
The Bamboo Forest
You tell me that I’m losing it,
that apples and angles are not the same things –
anyone knows you can’t eat an angle.
I see them both in my head and that’s all that counts.
There are too many words anyway.
I can afford to let go of a few.
For months you blamed my drinking:
“Your brain is exhausted
from having to keep afloat
in a bottomless pool of liquor.”
Then it was red meat that caused
the protein accumulation in my brain.
(God I hate Internet research ….)
What if I’ve just moved inside
my mind, where
I can finally get some peace?
I flee into the woods.
I wish I could say it is spring.
My boots, when not navigating the mud,
crunch a few old leaves – the oaks and paper birches
mix promiscuously in death. A few
non-migratory birds – starlings mostly,
some juncos and cardinals —
can barely be bothered to sound an alarm.
Does nature no longer see me as a threat?
You say I’ve lost my impulse control.
It won’t matter out here.
I can scream my head off,
chatter tirelessly with the clouds,
make jokes that have no punchline
(all of them according to you).
It’s not so much the peace on offer here
as life without justification.
Journey’s end, a broken pot.
I found it on Facebook Marketplace.
I had driven too far not to buy it.
I over-filled it with black bamboo, sure
that would impress your snobby gardening friends.
After I lost interest, you kept the pot
alive as long as you could, preserving
another of my impractical dreams beyond their sell-by dates.
When I was away teaching (back
when I could still do such things),
you drug the bamboo corpses into the woods.
Standing alone in our “bamboo forest,”’
I can admit it: I am scared.
How much sanity will be enough?
I don’t travel anymore. I can still hit
a tennis ball – my serve
will always be better than yours.
Using the stove isn’t required
as long as you’re such a fabulous cook. What panics me is
your damned determination to make it all go away:
the secretive phone calls with the GP,
the urge to overwhelm with pills. (I’ll always prefer liquor.)
Don’t you know that when the time comes,
when the spirit world
comes to untie me, the miracle of modern chemistry
won’t save me anymore than you can?
I know I am being irresponsible – selfish, as you keep saying.
Old age was always meant for someone else.
I walk back to the house. I watch you
through the back window –
watching me. Isn’t that what a good marriage is,
the endless act of paying attention?
You step out onto the deck.
You’ve gotten more gray now; vanity’s
been vanquished by new bifocals. Lily
comes bounding out, glad
I didn’t get lost in our backyard jungle.
I play tug toy with her.
The world’s simplicity speaks openly now.
I make a promise to myself.
(I just have to remember to tell you.) For my part
I’ll try to make it quick,
pretend to a dignified old age,
to not fall so far into myself
that I can’t be found. Your role?
Ongoing witness, temporary guardian
of my other marriage –
to this world. Your safe house of devotion
will be more than enough shelter
until I’m finally set free.
© Paul Minx
Paul Minx is a poet, playwright and screenwriter. His poems have appeared in The Nation, Iowa Review and California Quarterly, among others. His plays have been produced extensively in the UK and New York. In London his play, Walking on Water, won the Off West End Award for best new play. Most recently, his screenplay, Atlantic Crossing, was adapted into a miniseries and appeared on PBS last year. It won the International Emmy for Best mini-series. He attended the University of Iowa’s Writers Workshop and the Yale School of Drama. He lives in London.