When I was a teenager traveling to CT with my mom to record our first album, we often stayed with a friend in Mystic, the beautiful debutante Elena. She, I am now convinced, was and certainly still is where ever in her travels she may be, an angel of the highest degree. She had the most lovely home absolutely filled with books and a heart so generous that there was nothing she would ever hold back from us. So with her blessing, I dove headlong into philosophical (mostly existentialist, who’da thunk?) texts, my first real experiences with the beats, and I fell completely and unabashedly IN LOVE with the Algonquins, Dorothy Parker being, in my humble adolescent opinion, the coolest thing since sliced bread.
Dorothy was not a happy gal. Not the kind of gal you look at and think to yourself, ‘you know, she’s really got it figured out’. And even as a hormonal hillbilly teenager, I knew and understood this. But, all the same, she was the One gal that could sit at the same table as the most intelligent men of her time and beat them to every punch. With her gallows humour and tragically whetted wit, she really did have a number of things figured out. And like so many of us to come after, she fell back (with humour and even sometimes grace) on the same weapons of self-destruction on which all bleeding hearts must fall back. Selfish and wary relationships, alcohol and the need for art above all else, regardless of the cost.
I am now twice the age I was when I began that journey.
Every word still sticks under my tongue like hard candy, and when I swallow the juices are still as sweet. My life has brought me round to a loving and nurturing lifelong relationship built on the rock of our shared experience and commitment to art instead of the tumult that Dorothy faced and fostered in her partners. I am lucky, I don’t deserve it. I’ve also chosen to yoke (and bless) myself with a home and hearth, a business that nurtures that shared experience with our whole community, rather than living off advances in apartments with only a typewriter for company. But our souls, and those words are not so far apart and our lyrical kinship carved forever in my own art.
Here is the poem that struck me. Everyone anticipates how they will feel at certain turning points in their lives. Girls wonder and plan their wedding days, students anticipate their glorious careers, everyone notices the onset of those first gray hairs and hope that they age as gracefully as possible. But not everyone can be so painfully honest with themselves. Not everyone has the stomach to look in the mirror and say “you are ugly” and mean it, and love it for what it is the way that we love our parents even when they are losing their strength and vitality, as we love our children when they make grave mistakes, as we love our partners when we take the biggest of risks together
The double entendre in this poem came to me in the same ridiculous childish logic that I’ve never been able to escape. When other people read this poem, they read “I loved them until they loved me” to mean that once they loved her, she no longer loved them. Which is obviously what she meant, it is a confession. When I first read that line, I believed it to mean (and to a degree I still do, because I am a proud creature and I want to) I kept on loving them until they could not help but love me in turn. Cest la vie…
Ballade at Thirty-five
This, no song of an ingénue, This, no ballad of innocence; This, the rhyme of a lady who Followed ever her natural bents. This, a solo of sapience, This, a chantey of sophistry, This, the sum of experiments, — I loved them until they loved me.
Decked in garments of sable hue, Daubed with ashes of myriad Lents, Wearing shower bouquets of rue, Walk I ever in penitence. Oft I roam, as my heart repents, Through God’s acre of memory, Marking stones, in my reverence, “I loved them until they loved me.”
Pictures pass me in long review,– Marching columns of dead events. I was tender, and, often, true; Ever a prey to coincidence. Always knew I the consequence; Always saw what the end would be. We’re as Nature has made us — hence I loved them until they loved me.