White Clouds, Simplicity, and Divorce

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.



6 thoughts on “White Clouds, Simplicity, and Divorce

  1. Ryan, I just don’t know what to say. Sending love for you both. We will get together when you get up to Lewiston. Sending a virtual hug through the cold arms of the internet.

  2. I barely have time to blog let alone read other people’s blog posts. I generally scan posts but rarely read the whole thing. I read yours with the pace that I would read a gripping novel. I can feel your pain and loss and sorrow. I can picture you lost right now. In sum…you captured where you’re at right now so well and I thank you for sharing. You have quite a roller coaster ride for quite some time. I am inspired by all of the people I’ve met who have not only embarked on a new and fresh path after divorce, but found themselves sculpted into wiser and more evolved people as a consequence of the dark times they faced. I’m sure you will be no different!

  3. Ryan, Beth and I both read this blog. You always amaze me in your identifying your depth of feeling in general. This one was even more important. The amazement is somewhat in response to the feelings inside you that are there inside me and I have not identified them. So today, you identified and questioned feelings I have had with both of my former wives. The “Love you”. Thank you.

  4. Revealing emotions is harder for me than pronouncing Zibigniew, so thank you for having enough caring to do it. It helps us all, even those of us outside each other’s circles. Whether people are gravel or the 90 gallons worth of space, it’s good either way. We’re wishing everyone a full life full of caring and full of beautiful moments and only very few scrawny court dates. A dandelion is gorgeous. When the golden flower is gone, a few hundred new wishes appear for all. Everyone gets new wishes. Life’s the dandelion, I think, but it might be a new wish we can’t even pronounce. But you’ve learned to live in a foreign language before. ‘s gonna be fine.

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