[This year is the 20th anniversary of Cape Cod Light by Michael Hattersley. The other parts of this series are here.]
Falling in love is a thrilling ride, when the real difficulties of sharing your life with someone are still invisible, irrelevant. The fall is that of a playground slide, a swimming pool springboard, a sky dive.
The twenty fifth poem in Cape Cod Light is Falling in Love Again. It’s about a different kind of fall.
The opening line, “When you’re dying” is ambiguous: at first it reads like he is using the third-person, generic you, as if what’s to follow is advice from one who is dying (so, really, the first person I). But the later use of we makes it clear he really does mean the second person you: he’s writing about his relationship with David, living with AIDS.
Having spent a lot of time with Michael, I can’t read the phrase traveling companion without involuntarily mentally completing the line from from his favorite album Graceland (“My traveling companion is nine years old / He is the child from my first marriage.”) There, too, Simon is using the phrase to mean a companion in one’s travel through life, a constant reminder of the unintended consequences of an earlier relationship, an earlier fall.
Like in Provincetown, December 5, 5:00 A.M. Michael is on the deck of the house, at night, looking out at the weather, the dunes, and contemplating his place in it all. But here instead of projecting the sentiment outward, connecting stormy weather to world politics, he is introspective, connecting raindrops’ action on the dunes to the emotional pangs of confronting the hard realities of life and love.
The mood of the poem is one of estrangement: the mutual unanswered questions and promises; the eye as an abyss of shame to be avoided during sex.
But even as he is contemplating the aftermath of the “final argument” with its “irrevocable statements,” the title tells us how the story will end: falling into that abyss, falling into a deeper kind of love, and in the final lines Michael steels himself to make the jump.
Falling in Love Again
When you’re dying
Other tensions become trivial,
A device to remain involved in life.
We have been introduced in youth
To our traveling companion, death by sex, and
Bit by bit my substance leaks away through my eyes.
From the residue, fear flies up, flicking
Sharp notations across the dunes.
If I turn to you and open my eyes while we make love
To meet yours, spying on me in the low light,
I read a promise based on a question.
My body can answer on its own terms,
Cutting through to the calm across desire,
Stepping stone by stone down into sleep
Without entering the eye, the abyss, the answer
In a magical enchantment of shame.
After the irrevocable statements of the final argument,
The catalogue of admissions I never made to myself,
I walk out into solitude, moonshadow.
A sheath of cloud changes the climate
And the raw, surprising cold slips inside.
Big drops score the sand, and I think:
We can accommodate knowing these things about each other.
The heart bumps back together again for a moment,
The heart at the center of circles:
The night, the house, the body.
The next poem is here.