Many years ago, a 16-year-old niece asked me if I believed in true love. I wasn’t sure, am not sure, what she was thinking, though I imagine she was dealing with teenage boys, who notoriously emphasize weapon and opportunity at the expense of motive. Anyway, my response was more or less that what you can ask from love as an adult is what you got from it growing up.
How much truth was there in this response? I really do think that people who experience sanctuary and solidarity, affection and intimacy as kids will be disappointed with anything less as grownups, while those who don’t will have trouble even knowing what to look for. But people’s notion of ‘true love’ also includes the vertiginous ecstasy of falling in love, and perhaps even the sense of risk, transgression, and loss of control that is entwined with desire for many people.
IEduardo Corral’s “Ditatt Deus” reminded me of the deeply mysterious connection between the love we feel for family and the love we feel for our mates:
In high school I worked as a bag boy. To prevent shoplifting my boss had me follow the Mexicans and the Native Americans around the grocery store. I was slightly troubled by this. So I only followed the handsome men.
I learned how to make love to a man
by touching my father.
I would unlace his work boots,
pull off his socks,
& drag my thumbs
along the arches of his feet.
When he slept I would trace
the veins of his neck,
blue beneath my fingertip.
He would lift me each morning
onto the bathroom counter,
dot my small palms
with dollops of shaving cream
so I could lather his face.
“I learned how to make love to a man by touching my father.” Is this a strange thing to say? Is it strange that he experienced this, or just strange that he says it so plainly? Would it feel different if the speaker were a woman? Would that make it more or less unsettling? How does the presence of this introduction change the experience of reading the following reminiscence?
Myself, I would probably find the reminiscence appealing but a bit bland without the twisty intro, or for that matter the bagboy’s story in part 1. The last question is a tough one, and probably depends on what else I knew of the poet and her work. If it was Sylvia Plath, it would definitely be creepy, otherwise a lot would depend on whether the father seemed inappropriately interested in the child. There is no sense of that with Corral, I don’t think.
It is certainly much easier for me to imagine a woman writing about a man in this way than it is to imagine a woman behind the erotic poems of C.P. Cavafy, whose beautiful boys are made desirable by their distance from mature men, especially laborers, and by their isolation in an aesthetic sphere separate from what CP himself conceptualizes as normal or healthy life.
The title,, by the way, apparently means “God enriches” and is the motto on the Arizona state seal, which depicts such sources of wealth as irrigated fields, grazing cattle, and a miner (but not, I think, Mexican-American farm workers or bagboys). I am not sure how exactly this relates to part 2, except that perhaps it describes an alternate form of enrichment; elsewhere, Corral does write about transcendent domesticity, or domestic transcendence, as a desirable substitute for public religion.