‘Mrs Midas’ by Carol Ann Duffy

It was late September. I’d just poured a glass of wine, begun
to unwind, while the vegetables cooked. The kitchen
filled with the smell of itself, relaxed, its steamy breath
gently blanching the windows. So I opened one,
then with my fingers wiped the other’s glass like a brow.
He was standing under the pear tree snapping a twig.

Now the garden was long and the visibility poor, the way
the dark of the ground seems to drink the light of the sky,
but that twig in his hand was gold. And then he plucked
a pear from a branch – we grew Fondante d’Automne –
and it sat in his palm like a light bulb. On.
I thought to myself, Is he putting fairy lights in the tree?

He came into the house. The doorknobs gleamed.
He drew the blinds. You know the mind; I thought of
the Field of the Cloth of Gold and of Miss Macready.
He sat in that chair like a king on a burnished throne.
The look on his face was strange, wild, vain. I said,
What in the name of God is going on? He started to laugh.

I served up the meal. For starters, corn on the cob.
Within seconds he was spitting out the teeth of the rich.
He toyed with his spoon, then mine, then with the knives, the forks.
He asked where was the wine. I poured with shaking hand,
a fragrent, bone-dry white from Italy, then watched
as he picked up the glass, goblet, golden chalice, drank.

It was then that I started to scream. He sank to his knees.
After we had both calmed down, I finished the wine
on my own, hearing him out. I made him sit
on the other side of the room and keep his hands to himself.
I locked the cat in the cellar. I moved the phone.
The toilet I didn’t mind. I couldn’t believe my ears:

how he’d had a wish. Look, we all have wishes; granted.
But who has wishes granted? Him. Do you know about gold?
It feeds no one; aurum, soft, untarnishable; slakes
no thirst. He tried to light a cigarette; I gazed, entranced,
as the blue flame played on its luteous stem. At least,
I said, you’ll be able to give up smoking for good.

Seperate beds. In fact, I put a chair against my door,
near petrified. He was below, turning the spare room
into the tomb of Tutankhamun. You see, we were passionate then,
in those halcyon days; unwrapping each other, rapidly,
like presents, fast food. But now I feared his honeyed embrace,
the kiss that would turn my lips to a work of art.

And who, when it comes to the crunch, can live
with a heart of gold? That night, I dreamt I bore
his child, its perfect ore limbs, its little tongue
like a precious latch, its amber eyes
holding their pupils like flies. My dream-milk
burned in my breasts. I woke to the streaming sun.

So he had to move out. We’d a caravan
in the wilds, in a glade of its own. I drove him up
under cover of dark. He sat in the back.
And then I came home, the woman who married the fool
who wished for gold. At first I visited, odd times,
parking the car a good way off, then walking.

You knew you were getting close. Golden trout
on the grass. One day, a hare hung from a larch,
a beautiful lemon mistake. And then his footprints,
glistening next to the river’s path. He was thin,
delirious; hearing, he said, the music of Pan
from the woods. Listen. That was the last straw.

What gets me now is not the idiocy or greed
but lack of thought for me. Pure selfishness. I sold
the contents of the house and came down here.
I think of him in certain lights, dawn, late afternoon,
and once a bowl of apples stopped me dead. I miss most,
even now, his hands, his warm hands on my skin, his touch.

 

Here is a poem by Carol Ann Duffy. It is the second poem from The World’s Wife that I have posted on this blog, and it’s one of my favourites in that collection. I decided to put another poem by Duffy on today because yesterday evening I attended a reading with her at Shakespeare and Company bookshop. It was wonderful! She read this poem, along with ‘Mrs Tiresias’ (another of my favourites), and others from her earliest collection, and went on to read some poems from the wonderful Rapture. At the end we listened to another poem from her latest collection, New Selected Poems.

Mrs Midas, like the other poems in The World’s Wife, is humorous, sharp and cuttingly clever. I love the way Duffy takes the classical character of Midas, who everything he touches turns to gold, and shows the tragicomic consequences on the couple of Mr and Mrs Midas.

‘If strangers meet’ by E.E. Cummings

If strangers meet
life begins-
not poor not rich
(only aware)
kind neither
nor cruel
(only complete)
i not not you
not possible;
only truthful
-truthfully, once
if strangers(who
deep our most are
selves)touch:
forever
(and so to dark)

 

I love this poem because of the way it describes a chance meeting between two people, and the connection that can be made between strangers. This poem always makes me think of strangers on a bus, or on a train; it makes me think of the recognition we can find in a chance glance exchanged — the innocence that exists in that moment — before we know anything about the person — before judgement can interfere.

You could also read the poem as showing us a sort of “love at first sight” moment, which is truly touching. In the moment the strangers’ eyes meet, their owners are no longer “poor, not rich/ (only aware)”. The self has been forgotten and each person is only aware of the other and nothing else. The strangers, in this moment, are neither “kind” nor “cruel” but “only complete”. This part is so beautiful because it delivers the idea of how, when we connect with strangers (on a bus for example) we recognise instinctively — in the split second before all our baggage and judgement and personality interferes — a fellow spirit and inhabitant of this world.

The fleetingness and sense of chance that pervades the poem (note the title: “If strangers meet”) reminds us of the rarity of humanity recognising itself in others. It might only happen “once”. But when strangers, “who/deep our most are/ selves” — who are the same as us, at the core — “touch”, then it is “forever”. There is something divine in this recognition that makes it eternal.