I just this moment read that Maxine Kumin has died (CLICK HERE). I love her poetry. In fact, she wrote The Masochist, my very favorite poem of all time. It was given to me when I was quite young by a woman who – at the time – seemed wonderfully exotic to me, the little boy pretending to sophistication but who had lived in a very circumscribed and white bread world, who had borrowed his attitudes and speech and history from books he’d read. Her name was Tracy and she was from a Caribbean Island and claimed to be a practicing Wiccan of some power and she loved me and, oh my, saw straight through my poses and, more important, the sorrow and fear behind them. She warned me I would not love well and to be wary of the dark-eyed men toward whom I seemed to be drawn, and she gave me a hand-written copy of this:
The Masochist – by Maxine Kumin
My black-eyed lover broke my back,
that hinge I swung on in and out
and never once thought twice about,
expecting a lifetime guarantee.
He snapped that simple hinge for me.
My black-eyed lover broke my back.
All delicate with touch and praise
he one by one undid the screws
that held the pin inside its cup
and when I toppled like a door
–his bitch, his bountiful, his whore–
he did not stay to lift me up.
Beware of black-eyed lovers. Some
who tease to see you all undone,
who taste and take you in the game
will later trample on your spine
as if they never called you mine,
I was never the same. And still, often, pieces of it come into my head. It was clear that Ms. Kumin, like Tracy, could see through poses to the sorrow and pain – to the truth beneath the costumes we all don – including the costumes that she herself wore. By exploring and writing her truths, she exposed for all of us – or, those of us who could and would listen – the truths within us. I needed truth. I needed to hear and witness others explore. She did that with her work. I am grateful.
Thank you, Ms. Kumin. Thank you.