So my wife and I have divorced.
What does one say after such a statement? Nothing is right.
I suppose I could say what I’m doing now, which is reading Zibigniew Herbert’s poem “Fragment” for maybe the hundredth time. I love how the poet begs for peace. I love the sifting through all the carnage and cruelty of humankind in a desperate search for kindness, goodness, and the pleading command for “white clouds.”
[…] not for the stone wreath of Troy do we implore You O Master not for a plume of fame white women and gold but restore if you can to blemished faces goodness and put simplicity into our hands just as you once put iron
send down white clouds Apollo white clouds white clouds
I read this over and over again. I think I was in my first year at grad school when I encountered the poem for the first time. I read it and wanted to scream it out the window. I wanted to take a sledge hammer and crush it into the side of the red brick University lecture hall.
Now I come to it again. Tired. The screaming is gone — replaced with a resigned sadness. And guilt. But also quiet. And maybe a sense of that simplicity Herbert asks for in his poem. Blemished faces are everywhere. And arrows, and “a sky crumpled by curses,” and it seems fate has not left us “much time to weep in their arms” meaning anyone’s arms: mine and hers; the man who helped us split our things; the landlord who bought the sofa and smaller fish tanks and the TV; even the cats which we had to give up. I’d take a cat. And now that we have both moved into our separate places, I call to ask if she remembers packing my phone charger, which she doesn’t, and I end the conversation with “love you” not thinking what it means. Though it means something.
Maybe my automatic “love you” has become an arrow, a chunk of iron, and the time has come to put it down. Let the white clouds descend. Whatever they are. I don’t care about Apollo. I don’t care if the white clouds are really white clouds. I just want to put down the iron and the bow and arrow. “Love you,” I said. I said to her “love you.” As if it means the same as it once did.
But it means something. Maybe those words aren’t iron and arrows, but are themselves the white clouds. Maybe “love you” has become the simplicity and the goodness Herbert wants in his hands again. And what I want.
For now, it is quiet here. I am enjoying a moment alone in my parents house. It’s who knows how late and I’m lying awake on the guest room bed, beside a ninety gallon aquarium that right now contains only fragments of gravel. I will fill it tomorrow. And when the water is clear and ready, I will go to the fish store and buy ten White Cloud Minnows. In the wild they are nearly extinct. They were discovered long ago on White Cloud Mountain in China by some guy named Tan. Locally it was known as Tan’s fish, but now it is more commonly known by its scientific name alba nubes which is Latin for “white cloud.” Thus White Cloud Minnow.
The choice of fish was actually my wife’s choice (is it too soon to say my X?) I asked her to pick out a fish I could remember her by and she found the White Cloud Minnow. She found the one fish that represents goodness and simplicity.