Friday, October 4, 2019

The Proof by Toi Derricotte

The Proof
After thirty years, I was done
with talking. I had told him
I was leaving, but still we’d sit
at the dinner table—me, to his right—& I’d watch him. He’d
put the forkfuls in his mouth & chew,
a calm look on his face. How I wanted him
to suffer, to see that there was some
register where it
mattered. If he would just turn
his eye, like a great
planet, slowly, as if over
epochs. I wouldn’t have left
if he had
looked at me with
sorrow or, perhaps, not even
sorrow, but to turn to me with sudden
awareness. Why were tears
pouring down my
cheeks? It wasn’t that he was angry,
that would have been
a kind of recognition. If anything confirmed
my going, it was that ab-
sence—not even cool—as if there was nothing
between us that couldn’t be dissolved
by will; nothing that could be
altered by desire.
He would often tell me about a tree
in his childhood that was right in the middle of a
baseball field, a huge old tree
where the kids played ball, so that they had to
run around it to hit second base, how the coaches
wanted to take it down . . . but there was one old man who fought
for the tree &, though he didn’t win & the tree was cut, whenever
Bruce went home, years later, there was a perfect
field but nobody ever played
there. Is the mystery that no matter what I felt
was missing, there is something
that remains? But he went on, the meat
chewed, the water in the glass
swallowed. Perhaps what I had put on the table tasted
good, perhaps he was appreciating
my efforts, that I had called him, that, as usual, I had
made dinner for us. Perhaps he was concentrating
on something that I couldn’t see—me, so determined
to affect him, to make him pay. Wasn’t there a right
& a wrong here? I remember the time I decided
to move to Pittsburgh
for the job, to stay married but to live
apart. We had gone out to
the Frank Lloyd Wright house, Falling Water,
& we sat by the stream. He confessed
that something in him had been missing
all those years. He talked about his
childhood—the fears, of him being
the only black
boy in that town, & how his mother brought the news
of lynchings fifty miles away
in Indiana & taught him not to touch
the white girls
who flirted. He didn’t present it
to change anything, not for
sympathy but, as it happened, sometimes—if rarely
in our 30 years together—that
we showed ourselves without even a scintilla
of the will
to make things better. & that’s what made it so
terrible & blinding, so

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