About eight years ago, in a poetry workshop, we read "My Life with the Wave," a prose poem by Octavio Paz. It is in keeping with the magical realism style of many Latin American writers. The poem is about a wave which begs a man to take her away from the ocean. After he is arrested on a train, they eventually end up together in his apartment in Mexico City. At first their love affair is passionate, but, like most affairs, it begins to fade in the routine of ordinary life. He spends more time away and she is trapped at home. He tries to buy her off with trinkets, but they move further apart. He ignores her and she turns cold - symbol of the frigid woman - in fact turns to a pillar of ice. He blames her for this turn of events and he solves the problem by taking her to a restaurant and having her chopped up to be used to chill bottles of wine.
Needless to say, I didn't find this acceptable - the story of a woman who thinks she can find her self worth in the "male gaze" and has no outlet for fulfilling herself. When she becomes angry, she's the crazy bitch who deserves what she gets. It immediately took me back to my mother's rage at being a highly educated woman, stuck in the suburbs in the 1950s, while my father went off to work in Manhattan (her favorite place on earth). So, I rewrote the story from the wave's point of view instead of the man's. You will not find the part in which she discovers her own self-worth in Paz' version! I had to make a few changes to the story to have the train portion of it make sense, but mostly, I just turned the tables. The poems are the same length - about 2,000 words. The photos are not mine - just right off the internet.
MY LIFE WITH THE MAN
by Susan Collier Lamont
One woman’s response to My Life with the Wave by Octavio Paz – sixty years late
On a warm day like any other, my friends and I rocked together gently that day, lapping the beach, as is a wave’s wont in summer. Each time I receded down the sand and my belly slid upon earth’s grainy breast, I felt an inexplicable longing. I yearned for release from the monotony of in and out, over and under, but I could form no image of what might take its place. In the glare of the afternoon sun, a man stood with his feet, wet in our midst, solid and unmoved, shading his eyes. Wrapped in his own thoughts, he did not notice my approach. I thought he might be my chance and, with a surge, I broke upon him, drenching him. My friends tried to pull me back and roiled in agitation at his feet. I pleaded with him to carry me away. He explained that he lived in a city and that I would not be at home there – that I would find myself lonely and trapped. I cried, screamed, hugged, threatened. He apologized. He hadn’t understood the depths of my longing and agreed to take me with him.
He was anxious as we approached the train.He worried that it might be illegal to carry a wave on board. He feared the consequences. I was dazzled by the bustle – the whistles, the smoke, the crowd. He carried me close to his chest, afraid of discovery. People approached and suddenly he pushed me away! Poured me into a water cooler! Never before had I been imprisoned like that – forced to conform to the boundaries of such a strange vessel. I could feel nothing but the cold glass upon which I could gain no purchase.
Men, women, children jostled around me. The man tried in vain to protect me. Some drops of me fell through a hole into a cup. A woman drank me. In her alarm, she spat me out! Hers was the reaction of those who come to swim in me. I ebbed in rejection. Three policemen pushed their way through the crowd and dragged the man away. I was alone! Would I be stranded here forever? I cowered in fear of the hostile crowd. I quivered in dread of a friendless future.
I was tasted again and found to be just sea water – harmless and ordinary. I churned with bitter laughter because they obviously did not know me. I was poured into the train’s engine. It was as dark as the bottom of the sea, where we waves fear to go. And it was hotter than I had ever known. I was scalded and in agony. I cursed my desire to leave my friends in the sea. In my pain, I began to fly apart into a steamy mist. I lost all sense of myself.
I came to as I scattered into the cool night air and fell as soft rain and collected, trembling, into the crevices of the locomotive. The train carried me to the man’s city – far from the sea. In the heat of the mid-day sun, I again began to drift apart. In this strange place, I would have lost myself completely if the night air had not, once more, brought me to my senses. And I drifted down as dew and dripped into a chimney, sliding down and collecting as puddles in a dark and dusty room.
At first I was sad to find myself in such an unpleasant place. I had not come this far, throwing myself on the mercy of a stranger, to end up here – trapped once more – with no one to keep me company. I rocked back and forth in my sorrow and, to my surprise, the room began to brighten. I increased my swaying until every last vestige of gloom had been chased from the dark corners. The sun shone through the windows and I began to sparkle. My loneliness disappeared as I sang and danced.I never tired of the glitter that the sun called forth from me. My frothy skirts swished and swirled and laughter poured from me. I became my own world and my own company was all that I craved – that and the sun. A rainbow of blues fell from my hair. I was clothed in every green known to heaven. And the rays of the sun, as they played on my body, would have blinded mere mortals.
I had no desire but to live like this forever, but after a year the man appeared at the door. A look of pain and surprise crossed his face when he saw me. He was displeased to find me here and cross-examined me. He was unmoved by my story. I found myself receding into a puddle at his feet. The sun hid behind a cloud, but I did the only thing I knew to do. I began to dance. I danced to show him how beautiful I had become – a sinuous, strong, and solitary wave. He smiled and I saw myself reflected in his eyes. Forgetting all that I had been in his absence, I felt that I had never been lovelier than under the full gaze of his attention.
I swayed around him and he soon became caught up in the dance. At first he did not have the rhythms of my friends in the sea. Exuberantly I smacked him in the chest and he lost his footing, tumbled over, and almost drowned. I slid under him and carried him up the walls and down, as the sun joined us – a ménage à trois of warmth and wet and muscle.
Love was our life, a perpetual creation. In ecstasy, we melted into each other and, with our tongues as one, we taught each other songs in a new language. His voice, no longer foreign, replaced the ocean’s roar that had once been my heartbeat. Many hours of every day we spent singing hymns of praise and delight set to the rhythm of a sunbeam. And just as at home I had loosened the stones from the cliffs along the seashore, had broken them down and made them mine, I lapped at his edges and loosened his heart. His feet, once so firmly planted on the ground, began to rise, buoyed by liquid longing. And as he abandoned himself to love, he plunged his hands, his toes, his lips into my sunlit pools and I wrapped his body in liquid lace, growing softer as he grew hard.
But there were nights when neither man nor sun could hold me. Claimed by the waxing and waning of the moon, I was pulled onto distant shores, where I was unknown even to myself. So long had I basked in the heat of the man’s attention that I no longer recognized myself, draped with the beadwork of stars, advancing in feathers of white under the gaze of an adoring moon.
On other days, the sun stayed with us for hours, chasing the moon to a lone corner of the sky and setting our rooms ablaze. The candlewicks drooped, soggy and forlorn – useless in the face of such radiance. Forgetful of his duties, the sun let the streets grow dark too soon. The jealous, platinum moon bided her time and the sulking stars grew resentful as they worked overtime to keep the city lit. Drawn by our glow, people passing on the street pressed their noses to the windows. Voyeurs to the luminescent rainbows created by our union, they were envious of our joy.
When, at last, the sun crept home, the man slept. I cradled him in languorous swells and whispered sea lullabies in his ear. But some nights he grew restless and, as he rocked in sleep between my breasts, he would startle and cry out. Never did I love him more than when I could drink his salty tears, but he would not be comforted.
And in this love, I laid myself bare. Flowed shallow and transparent across his floor until I feared that, vulnerable and mortal, I would evaporate. Sent messages from my heart out in ripples. Would gather myself into a whirlpool and draw him down, revealing my depths, frightening him. My intensity was more than he could bear and he would swim frantically to the surface, breaking free with relief. As he fled from me, I would crash about the room, soaking his books and breaking his dishes.
When, in his fear, he spent more and more time away from the house, I grew bored and lonely, searching the rooms for the wave I had once been. The skies outside the windows became chilly and gray and I along with them. I would wait for his return and would search his face for some sign of his love. I could no longer remember the color of his eyes. Had they always been this flinty gray or were they a reflection of me?
In place of himself he would bring me offerings - starfish and crabs, shells and sailboats, coral and eels. At first amused and delighted, I would gather them round me – my treasures! I played with them or would drape them in my hair, about my breasts or between my thighs. Their caresses aroused me and as, through their attention, I changed from pearl to celadon to aqua, he grew jealous. Some days he sat for hours on the bed, daring me to join him there. I defied him and remained with my playthings. I would only lie down beside him when he slept and now, instead of lullabies, I hummed in his ears of ship-wrecked mariners, bridge-leaping suicides, and cave-trapped pearl divers.
Where once he had rejoiced in being drenched with my desire, he now whined about damp sheets, foggy windows, or sand between his toes. At other times he spat foul names at me, comparing me to sewer water. Occasionally I could placate him, recalling the dance that had so captivated him, but I was a chilly imitation of my former self. At night we lay cold and damp beside each other as the bed sagged in the middle and spilled us together, unable to break free as we continued to disappoint each other.
One afternoon he returned, having been away longer than usual. His trouser legs were damp. Did I smell pond water on him? Jealously, I surged above him, crashing down upon his head. He gasped for air. I surged again, crushing his chest to the floor with the full weight of my being and, as quickly, released him. Sometimes he fought me, frantic, clawing at his throat. Sometimes, oxygen deprived, he begged for a different release, the release of death. I would deposit him on our bed, his bed, and he would sit with downcast eyes, weak, fatigued and humiliated. I soon came to enjoy this power, my ability to bring him close to death and then resuscitate him with my kisses.
One day, he walked out the door, valise in hand, saying he needed some escape. I cried out to him, “Take me with you or return me to the sea, to my friends!” He did not listen and closed the door without looking back. Winter closed in. Snow and ice glazed the windows. Abandoned by man and sun, I was alone. Only the moon remained, held me bound to her rhythms, carried me on tides. I fought her as my voluptuousness transformed into sharp, glittering crystals.I fought her as my little shell teeth became barbs of cold steel. I fought her and waited for the man.
After a month, he returned. The room was bitterly cold and I, trapped, a tower of ice, could not greet him. He lit a fire, opened some wine, and slowly, very slowly, I melted, drop by drop, into a limpid puddle at his feet. He was home, but the moon tugged, the sun refused to shine and the man spent more and more time curled up on his bed of sandstone, eyes closed, asleep or awake, it mattered not. Until one night, drawn into my fatal tide by the light of a full moon, he called for me to submerge him, anchored his legs to the bedpost, and begged me to drown him. With the stars as my witness, I obliged.