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I used to live with a woman who looked like you. She had large breasts that hung down and rolled across the top of her stomach and she always supported them, the weight of them, with the flat of her arms, hugging herself like a toy bear. Her teeth were even, like tiny ceramic tiles, the color of milky amber. Getting in, out of bed she always kept her legs together.

Afterwards the room seemed so much ... larger. As I stood looking at the closed door. I was aware for the first time of the space between things.

Her proportions were always astounding; each day, I discovered them as though for the first time. Her buttocks, the short firmness of her legs, the shallow back and small shelf there – these were not the ones expected, my wife's. They startled.

She disliked my smoking in bed. So afterwards, I would sit in the chair across the room by the window, watching her. The electric heater glowed against the wall and sparkled when I lit cigarettes off it. She wore shiny, round-toed shoes, wrinkled on the top, with buckle-straps going across. And tights, always – I never saw her without tights.

At two or three we would reach up in the dark and it was like shutting doors. I would lie watching her dress, then dress myself. Walk four blocks and find a cab. Back to her husband, who wouldn't ask questions. On the street: You don't take care of yourself, you know. On the street: I'm an abstraction, to you, I could be anyone. I am woman. The thing – perhaps even the quality.

When she was gone, the knives would come out of the mirror like sharks.


Some of us who come to London never drink coffee again.

We are sitting in a Lyons, having tea in the middle of the morning. Somehow (the way I chew my toast?) the talk has got onto the subject of camels.

"One hump or two?"


You will want to know
how I am making
out here in this
city of penetrating light.


I should write you letters
explaining that I am in
fact doing well; how pleasant
it is here, how good jobs
are easily come by, how
beautiful the children are.

These letters would make
you smile, know how I miss
you, make you go look
out your window and looking
for men. In your hands,
with all the scribbling
and erasure, my pressured
hand, they would have
the texture of lettuce leaves.


When we make love she turns her face to the wall, where blond and grey stripes resemble an abstract cypress forest. She puts a knuckle in her mouth, hears my watch ticking by her ear. The heater glows against the wall. Only in the final moments does she turn her face up and open her eyes, watching me. There is a spring coming up through the sheet. And then she says Hmmmm.

Later, we fold a torn sheet several times and lay it like a bandage, a compress, over the spring.


P.S. Indubitably.


Locust husks! Summers (he thinks it was summers) they'd hang askew all over trees, fences, even the side of the house. Light and fragile as fallen leaves, dead spurs caught in the bark, burst in a split along the back. He collected them; he remembers one summer when a whole wall of his room was covered with them. Lined perfectly, all climbing upward, row by row.

Also: figs, fireflies searching for an honest man, the red veins in shrimp.



What is the exact nature of their relationship?

Is there a word?

And is he weary?

Explanations, digressions, rationalizations, endless nights of discussion – what should she do?




A quality of hers: to live in a maze of possibilities.
A quality of his: to accept as what can occur, only that which does occur.
The first allows great freedom of movement and excludes responsibility; the second, similarly, makes guilt impossible. More and more, it is this that sustains him.




Him, aware of himself – and her, of him moving within her.
He has said in his allusive way that together they are long-legged flies. He tries to explain country music to her.
Finally, as so many times before, he falls back to Creeley: "it is only in the relationships men manage, that they live at all."




Where does it end?
On the 52 bus, halfway between Notting Hill Gate and Marble Arch.

Were there prior signals?
Cabs, for them, assumed a large importance. They began to read the names on bus panels and wonder about those places, where they might be.

How did it end?
In argument over the respective merits of various shampoos.



— Across this page of his notebook (as well as many others, and all the poems) he has scrawled HA a number of times, H rolling lightly like a valley into the A's hill.


They trade stories about shells.

She used to find in the Florida ocean, floating branches which, removed, proved to be covered with clam shells, tiny and white and perfect as teeth.

He once came across a huge pile of shells on the bank of a bay. Chalky white and crunching to bits when he walked into them. Bending to look closer, he discovered that each shell was punched full of round, button-sized holes; what remained were the narrow spaces around the holes, looking like a patchwork of nose septums.


P.S. I love you.

P.S. I miss you.

P.S. I enjoy mispelling and singing.


She swears that roaches live in the Swiss cheese at this delicatessen; you can see their heads popping out on the hour for a look 'round. At night they chew the soft cheese like the wax in your ears. She points out how very much this cheese resembles sponge – and how roaches, like many deepsea fish, haven't changed in thousands of years. But he doesn't believe her.


He was ill. She learned this from friends and came walking down Portobello Road with cheese and apple juice early one morning. That was the first time they tried to end it.


He has said: It's your freedom makes me do this.

And she: You contain me.


He has a knack for aphorism and she, for conjuring disappointment. Often, sitting beside her, he feels he has been in some obscure way defeated. Her preparation of meals for him, or his for her, has somehow come to be like the running-up of flags. Each morning she goes and brings him things: food, cigarettes, soup, soap, shower attachments. You don't take care of yourself, she says.At night, in the dark room, they open doors to a few more monads; advance to the next chamber of the nautilus. He begins to perceive new relationships everywhere. An evening sky is the color of kazoos, his brown shoes on the floor are abandoned tanks.

He asks her, What do penises look like? And she answers: mushrooms. One of his favorite foods.

Later she is asleep and he suddenly exclaims, The fish are not afraid!

She starts awake and when he repeats it, this delights her. But he didn't want to repeat it.


—They are in the cab.
They are going home.

— He to his, her to hers.

— Platitudes, gratitudes.
But the age demands an image.

— True.

Days later: "The residue of each in all the others." A warm day, with pigeons in the corners, and rain.


P.S. I got your letter today and will write again when I can.


I shall answer rage with outrage; expect you to collect my words in little wood boxes of parsley or sawdust; require that you follow behind, obligatto? No.

Outside, standing by the cab, I hear his shouts, the clatter of things thrown at the floor. The driver and I talk about last night's rain; how it took him two hours to cross town, generally a fifteen-minute trip; how he got a fare to Brighton, ten quid. You come out the door when streetlights are turning from orange to yellow, you are wearing your cantaloupe-color coat, the cab's blue light glints in your glasses.

Now, in the cab, you begin to talk.


"Selling pieces of my life. Am being, in a sense, auctioned off – but this is of course no truer for me than for others. Just that my bids are recorded.

"Publishers, contracts, agents, a grant here, a fellowship there, royalty statements, letters; half for my wife, son, friends.

"There is 10% left. That, I offer to you."


My speech, too much used: Je me retournerai souvent.

Memory is a hunting horn
It dies along the wind


Books, papers and typewriter, flowers in a beer bottle – on his desk.

For him: the texture of the moment, objects in disarray.

For her: a pattern of abstractions.

"I think my period is starting, you may get blood on you."

"That's fine."

"I didn't know. Whether it would matter."

Later, waking in the night, he realizes how participation in the present is always diluted – by memory, by anticipation. He resents this. Against the window and light outside, the flowers are transformed. He is becoming confused. He is terrified of hurting her.


Believe, please, that I understand and appreciate your concern but feel it, upon this occasion, somewhat a waste. By actual count there were fifty-seven people directly concerned with my affairs yesterday; and from every indication the number has risen considerably today.

At the top of this page you'll find a small rendering of two cows facing one another across a field of watercress; this is in the nature of a bonus, on your stock in me.

P.S. All the flagpoles have bloomed to flowers. The air smells of eggshells and coffee grounds. There are meringue nativity scenes in all the eggshells. I am yours.


"The goddamn hot-water heater only heats three cups of water at a time."



Things in the world: a series. A drawing.

1. Mozart
2. Watermelon
3. Oil derricks
4. Puce
5. Drambuie

Why, he asks, this urge towards capitalization?


She wants to answer but all she can think is epithesis – a nonce word. He gives her micturation in return and for days, at every opportunity, they are rehearsing one another's words. They often make these trades.


Smoking American cigarettes in London. A bit of chauvinism to contrast his adoption of a British accent, British clothes, British mannerisms, always saying "Sorry." (When she brings an American penny out of her purse he laughs; dollars, though, he can still accept as authentic, unsuspect.) Five bob a pack: made in Switzerland under American license. To buy them he puts on his best voice, assumes a business air, gets it over with as quickly as possible. He is embarrassed; she loves it.


She begins to recognize lines from Creeley.

Love comes quietly,
finally, drops
about me, on me,
in the old ways.

What did I know
thinking myself
able to go
alone all the way.


Everything is water
if you look long enough.


His favorite:

has happened

the world.
on the edge,



Conversation becomes for them a kind of verbal semaphore. Sentences need never be finished. A word, a pause – and the other is smiling, responding, thoughtful. Perhaps the sentences couldn't be completed; perhaps they were begun – formed – in this certainty of communication. Sometimes she wonders. She considers holding back her response, to see.



As a child she slept in a bed full of stuffed animals, contorting herself to fit in among them. He once began a poem: We lie down, the menagerie invades our bed.

She doesn't know about gigging frogs, so he tells her. The miniature trident; how he went gigging toads when he was ten, not knowing the difference; how difficult it is to kill a toad (one, he stabbed fifteen times). Then he explains how you can milk a toad using two matchsticks, something his grandmother taught him. She used to find frogs the size of her thumbnail in her backyard in Florida; sometimes they would cover entire limbs. Once, his lawn mower turned up a nest of baby rattlers.

Finally he remembers the plastic cow. It had a balloon udder you could fill and milk. The teats, bucket and tail (which worked the udder) were white. The rest of the cow was brown.


More and more, the word guilt enters his conversation.


Outside, it is getting dark.

Like a marble trapped in a single chute he slides back and forth through the hall between his rooms. Kitchen: milk bottles lined on the floor in one corner, apples and cheese on the table; teapot, strainer, cups and bags, all used, in the sink. Sleeping room: flowers (tulips) in a cup on the desk, returnable bottles stacked like wine bottles (a honeycomb) in the cupboard. Window obscured in a haze of blue lingerie-curtain. On a trunk, two small brass sculptures from a series called Joy of the Unborn . They are foetuses entangled in their cords.

As he walks back and forth – pouring beers down the drain, poking at the tea machinery with two fingers – someone traces his steps in the room overhead. Heads and shoulders cant out of windows across the street. Across the street a man stands poking at his belly in the mirror.

Night is falling, filling: he tries various phrases, like strings across his tongue, and abandons them, standing by the window finally, speechless.

The doctor, a woman, Pakistani, arrives and asks what he's on: Meth, pep pills.... There are several in her list that he's not heard of. Taking his pulse, she pulls his arm down and glances at the inside of his elbow.


One morning when it is raining a letter arrives. He wonders, Did he know she would write it, Has he been expecting this letter? Her name is typed in the corner, with a brown ribbon.

By the time he gets it back to his room there are spots all over it from the rain, like an unevenly ripe fruit. He props it against the bottle of flowers while he changes clothes, hanging the damp ones on a chair in front of the electric heater. Then he makes tea and sits on the bed to read the letter.

It is badly typed, on blue paper. There are many x-ings out; words break off arbitrarily at the right edge of the page and continue a full inch-and-a-half from the left on the line below. This is the first writing of hers he has seen and he looks over the page with interest, thinking how strangely this refutes her general sense of form and order, how easily the typewriter has confounded her.

Her signature is in pencil at the bottom of the second page – a row of bold printed letters, lightly connected – and he quickly turns to see what remains on the last page. It is half-filled with P.S.'s.


1. The sky is bruised with light.

2. I have to save us from abstraction.

3. The knives come out of the mirror like sharks.


Can one's obsessive guilt be cancelled by another's innocence?

He thinks so; he tries.

What qualities does she find common in him and her husband?

A certain shyness, which leads him to such ends as falling off chairs to gain attention; a precise inability to mount stairs; in bed, preoccupation with the cleft between her buttocks; a penchant for leaping through the barriers between rooms.

And he, in her and the other?

The sound of their breath in the dark.

How much has he predicted, to himself?

All but the end. That, like regret, would be against his nature.

Lying here now in the dawn, alone, how does he see the city?

As a thing composed of pale, obscene, gone-off neons. Water trucks sailing slowly down the streets. Milk carts gliding and jangling down the streets. And cats. Cats walk along the sidewalk beside them in utter silence.


First published in Transatlantic Review (1970). This is a revised version of the story.


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