Construction Literary Magazine

January 2017 Writers Respond

Philip Rieff Writing a Letter to Susan Sontag, In the Middle of Divorce Proceedings; Death at Twelve

Philip Rieff Writing a Letter to Susan Sontag, In the Middle of Divorce Proceedings; Death at Twelve
Photograph via Flickr by Ben+Sam

Philip Rieff Writing a Letter to Susan Sontag, In the Middle of Divorce Proceedings

I am ashamed when we make love
or when, mid-lecture, I mention you.

Our death-house, marriage-rug, was
a Greek tragedian’s home.
You delivered your monologues
over the head of our wailing child:

Do you know how many people died today?
You never make love to me anymore.
You’re doing it wrong.

I was your professor.
Now my son wants to be your editor.
Blot his eyes out with your pen.

It is not men’s eyes that you miss;
it is finding your reflection everywhere.
Men were always mirrors to you.

You said,
You’re the first person I can really talk to.
You did not say, with.

Susan,
Keep our love letters.

 

 

 

 
                                                    Death at Twelve

             The child stayed hunched over the coffin panting like a man over a woman.
             Blackberries under sharp leaves. Being carried by the ankles upside down as the grandfather slapped the child’s stomach crying out “fish for sale.” Their laughter breaking the furniture and windows and falling onto people walking outside and splitting their skulls open. His words were clay. Old skin. The child was twelve. The grandfather was a sparrow.
             Sleep and age make the same smell in your mouth. The child won’t brush his teeth anymore. He binge sleeps. Now he regards animals with reverence. He can’t start conversations. He can’t end conversations. The solidity of the old man’s gait. The stubborn wood of the coffin the child implores.
             The child is clinging to it. He knows the mourners watch him as monsters would watch. What they do not know is that in nightmares a bug crawls into the child’s ear and starts a family in his brain. The dream ravages the child’s body. Marriages will not work. Fighting, drinking, cut knuckles and wet palms will not work.
             The child stayed before noon struck and while it struck. The child learned Death’s love was stronger than his own.