Charlie Bertsch (cbertsch) wrote,
Charlie Bertsch

Fishing For Ourselves

The last few days have been extremely intense. I knew that when I posted my entry juxtaposing paragraphs from my "Hotel California" essay with Kim's school photo from 1975 that the collision between them would generate some energy. But I wasn't really prepared for the surplus. I've been moody ever since, like someone who has gone overboard in his love. Call me Werther. Still, I think it will ultimately be for the best, since Kim and I have been able to have incredibly rich and revealing conversations on every topic from the angel of history to sexual congress. It's hard to find spaces to have a truly deep conversation with one's partner, so I suppose I'm glad that I did something to clear one.

One thing that I realized, in trying to explain myself to Kim, is that I'm really attuned to the way in which representing another -- see my previous entry -- constitutes a power move and that I have therefore tended to avoid it where she is concerned. I go out of my way not to explain her, not to give her away, not to speak for her. I sometimes fail in that pursuit, surely, but I keep trying. That's why my decision to appropriate her photo and recontextualize it seemed out of character for me and also a major reason why she was so taken aback at first. I needed to do it, though, even though I recognized that there were pitfalls involved.

During our conversation Friday on the way to Raging Sage I mentioned that the poem "Meat" that she recently posted on her blog always stood out to me because of the way in which I am represented within it:
We don’t
want to know
what’s inside just
touch the
outside. Don’t

like wet things
red things
about the womb.
He is

coming now making
We blow
out the candle
drive to Denny’s.
While it wasn't obvious to anyone else who encountered the poem, I always knew that I was the one who kept suggesting a drive to Denny's after sex. Sometimes I was happy to witness my reflection in the surface of the poem. Sometimes I was troubled by the view. These days, when I get explicitly represented by her in public it's almost always in a favorable way. And on those rare occasions when she discusses her sex life I also make an appearance as the negative space of her description, also favorably for the most part. For all that, though, the experience of being represented retains a degree of strangeness. I trip on it from time to time.

That was definitely one of the motivations for my turning the tables and representing Kim. My entry was intended as an act of love, certainly, but acts of love often double as acts of aggression. As the two of us continued to talk out the intensity and diversity of our feelings about my entry, I recalled what it was like to be represented by another on a steady basis. My first long-term relationship -- I'm on my second one right now, in case you're counting -- was with someone a year younger than me but worlds older in aesthetic sophistication. In our first months together, I got to experience the full force of a phenomenon that a number of her subsequent intimates were also acquainted with. In addition to the poems she was writing for other purposes, she wrote many poems to me, for me, and about me.

This was my first sexual relationship. Due to being an outcast for much of my time in junior high school and high school, I had developed a poor self-image that I had only partially finished discarding when I met her. I was seeking new ways of understanding myself and therefore particularly receptive to the ways in which she characterized me in her poems. Indeed, I felt myself changing to match her language, though my initial impression of it often highlighted the discrepancies between her image of me and my sense of how things really were. Not all of this was conscious, but I do recall thinking on a number of occasions that there are worse things than refashioning oneself with the words of a passionate, talented poet.

As I reflect on the last several days, I find myself thinking hard about the mixed feelings I carried with me after this first girlfriend of mine stopped directing poems my way. We were together as a couple for a year and a half after that watershed and remain good friends, bound together in ways that are hard to pin down but palpable nonetheless. Once the stream of words to, for, and about me trickled down to nothing, though, I felt a tremendous void that I struggled to fill with words of my own. It's no accident that I started writing poetry shortly after she stopped writing hers for me.

When I met Kim, who declared herself to be a poet on the night we met -- the ex-girlfriend was present, incidentally, and came along on part of our honeymoon too, believe it or not -- I pondered what it would be like to have her words directed at me: "Say you're sixteen and never seen a gun. I mean a real gun..." Luckily, I largely avoided that fate at first. I'm not sure I could have withstood the force of her inchoate rage towards a world that had done her wrong. By the time I did make an appearance in her poetry, we had been together long enough that I could take it. Still, when I heard "Meat" for the first time I couldn't help but wonder whether I should reject the representation of me inside it or embrace it.

The night before last, my moodiness and the morbid state of our beta fish inspired me to write a poem confronting all the suppressed feelings that are rising to the surface in my life. Today, I rummaged through my box of especially special memorabilia looking for a poem by my first girlfriend with which to ground the entry I'm writing right now. I had a few specific ones in mind, but when I saw "Charlie's Fish" I realized that it was the perfect counterpoint to the poem that Kim posted on her own blog today. She watched Old Boy without recognizing the way in which the film traversed sensitive psychic territory relevant to her present state of mind. I wrote a poem about a fish having forgotten that I was once driven to conceive of myself in relation to the word "fish." And, just as Kim feels better for realizing the blindspot that had prevented her from making the connection between her own situation and Old Boy, I'm calmer now that I see why the plight of our fish resonates so richly for me.
Tags: autobiography, blogging, poetry, theory

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