Poet Lauren Berry brings us two beautiful poems that explore the theme of eavesdropping in 1 Corinthians 14:33, Luke 12:3, and Ephesians 4:31-32 in a very intimate way.

 

A HUSBAND EAVESDROPS AS HIS WIFE CONFIDES IN A BOX OF MATCHES

 

For God is not the author of confusion…
1 Corinthians 14:33

Therefore whatever you have said
in the dark shall be heard in the light.
Luke 12:3

 

Some nights I cannot remember what I’ve promised him.
Some nights I cannot speak at all.
How long will it take to convince him that
my mouth contains no open dictionary?

Some nights I cannot speak at all;
I cannot go more than three full days
with a dictionary of prayer in my open mouth.
He will need to build me a room where I can be alone.

I cannot go more than three full days
without longing for my father, the fire wrangler.
Maybe he could build me a room where I can be alone
with the memory of my mother, who sold diamonds

while she longed for my father and for fire and for danger.
The light in the store made her look younger.
I don’t have memories of the diamonds my mother sold
before their farm house burned to the ground.

Did the light of that fire make her look younger?
I oil my forehead and cheeks before I sleep.
Who burned their farm house to the ground?
Will my husband be wise enough to hide his matches?

I anoint my forehead and cheeks before I sleep.
There are things I doubt my God will forgive.
Will my husband be wise enough to hide his matches?
He will need to find a way to bring my Florida back.

There are things I doubt my God will forgive.
What is the remedy for escaping a small enclosed space?
I will need to find a way to bring my Florida back.
I will become the perfect wife. I can make dull things bright.

 

 

 

WHAT I WANT THE NEIGHBORHOOD WIVES TO SAY ABOUT ME
THE NEXT TIME I LOSE ANOTHER BABY

 

 

Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander
be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another,
tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
Ephesians 4:31-32 

 

 

 

1. June Gillespie should say,

     If you placed
     a sheet of white paper
     into a bathtub of scald,

     and from the marble edge
     you sang the length
     of the alphabet twice
     before slipping
     the paper out

     and expecting it
     to beat a man in an
     arm wrestling match,

     the result would be
     this woman, here.

2. Marguerite Elliot should say,

     It’s simple.

     She is tired from shifting
     between each of the wives
     she is supposed to become:

     the grief counselor,
     the washer of others’ hands,

     the translator
     of dictionaries, the voice
     of reason, the knife
     through every apple,
     the blade sharpened always,

     her glare too beautiful
     when its drowned

     in a juice that sets
     the hearts of men
     racing when she winces.

3. Claire Donnaway should say,

     We drink black coffee
     every morning.

     We drive down
     to her house
     with the perfect
     lipstick, casseroles.

     And yet—

4. Anna Marvin should say,

     What is anyone
     supposed to do
     with her story?

     Why won’t this town just
     let her lie down
     in a bed of white sheets,
     coverlets pulled up

     around her neck
     by a decent doctor now.

     A good pillow
     under her head would let
     her dreams alone.

5. Rebecca Halifax should say,

     Who was this woman
     before her song
     became a tangle
     of everyone else’s wishes?

     In my fantasy for her,
     she can’t even read.

     We can’t trust her
     to hold so much
     as a glass of water.

     We have to tell her
     if she’ll need
     a jacket to go outside.

     Let her never empire,
     never white silk, never
     moonstruck, let her
     never leap year,
     never one-way.

     Let every theater
     she enters
     have the spotlights
     switched off.  Let
     the bulbs break 
     in all our hands.
     
6. Elizabeth Vaughn should say,

     Has she slept since
     he broke her
     bedroom door down

     and found her
     on the floor with blood
     in her nightgown?

     That cracked door
     leaned on the garage
     for a week before
     it was taken away.

     Who knows now
     where that gold
     doorknob turns?

     To what
     does that door open
     now that she
     can never close?

 

 

From the Artist: 
Of the three Bible verses that have inspired these poems, the most compelling for me is, “For God is not the author of confusion…” from 1 Corinthians 14:33. I am currently teaching Truman Capote’s 1965 non-fiction masterpiece, In Cold Blood, which vividly connects to notions of eavesdropping. In the book, Capote observes a small-town Kansas community whose innocence is shattered when a family of four is mysteriously murdered in their modest country home. No evidence. No apparent motive. When Capote first discovered the tragedy in the newspaper, he telephoned his New York editor and demanded that he board a late-night train across the country so that he could immerse himself in the community’s reaction to the tragedy. In the years that followed, he became embroiled in the act of listening to other’s conversations and quickly became an expert on the townspeople who “found fantasy” in recreating the events of the murder (pg. 5). He studied the electricity of their speculation; how abuzz they were with the churn of the hypothetical, how hungry they were for hearsay. In short, Capote crafted art out of the practice of placing his ear to the hive.
 
To eavesdrop is to seek the truth— but not in a way that God would condone. We know this, and yet are tempted by the guilty pleasure of overhearing private conversations. I wonder: why are we so desperate? Why do we concern ourselves with the business of others as Capote and the townspeople did in In Cold Blood? The most generous answer that I have is this: human beings are hard-wired for making sense of chaos. We desire the possibility of comfort brought by any semblance of the truth— even if this search for truth results in the proliferation of misperception and boundary breaking. The poems that I offer here engage in this question about the bittersweet pleasure of voyeurism—the choice to transform an act from the private to the public.
 
In “A Husband Eavesdrops As His Wife Confides In A Box of Matches,” a husband craves the “truth” gained from observing his wife’s dialogue with an inanimate object. When writing, I sought to disrupt the traditional eavesdropping structure by placing an inanimate object where a female friend or relative might appear. In “What I Want The Neighborhood Wives To Say About Me The Next Time I Lose Another Baby,” the disruption of the traditional structure offers not pleasure, but healing for the speaker, as she is able to play the role of puppeteer; she finds power in creating the very dialogue that she wants her community to have about her. In reading both poems, I hope that readers will consider: What are the consequences of this type of voyeurism? What would we gain if we could rip the curtain? Should we?

 

 

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Lauren Berry received a BA in creative writing from Florida State University and an MFA from the University of Houston, where she won the Inprint Verlaine Prize and served as poetry editor for Gulf Coast. From 2009 to 2010 she held the Diane Middlebrook Poetry Fellowship at the Wisconsin Institute. Her first collection of poems, The Lifting Dress, was selected by Terrance Hayes to win the National Poetry Series and was released by Penguin in 2011. She currently lives in Houston where she teaches AP English Language for YES Prep Public Schools, a charter school whose mission is to transform the low-income communities of Houston through college preparatory education and community service.

 

 

 


This work was curated by Hayan Charara.

This poem is copyrighted by the artist and used here by permission.

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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com  The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™

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