“We must have faith in our blindness.” ~ Dina Ben-Lev, from “Driving”

Whale Watching in Kaikoura, New Zealand (Wikimedia Commons)

                   

Part of this poem appeared on my tumblr dash, and I loved it, so I went in search of the entire poem. Here it is:

Driving

1

The summer our marriage failed
we picked sage to sweeten our hot dark car.

We sat in the yard with heavy glasses of iced tea,
talking about which seeds to sow

when the soil was cool. Praising our large, smooth spinach
leaves, free this year of Fusarium wilt,

downy mildew, blue mold. And then we spoke of flowers,
and there was a joke, you said, about old florists

who were forced to make other arrangements.
Delphiniums flared along the back fence.

All summer it hurt to look at you.

2

I heard a woman on the bus say, “He and I were going
in different directions.” As if it had something to do

with a latitude or a pole. Trying to write down
how love empties itself from a house, how a view

changes, how the sign for infinity turns into a noose
for a couple. Trying to say that weather weighed

down all the streets we traveled on, that if gravel sinks,
it keeps sinking. How can I blame you who kneeled day

after day in wet soil, pulling slugs from the seedlings?
You who built a ten-foot arch for the beans, who hated

a bird feeder left unfilled. You who gave
carrots to a gang of girls on bicycles.

3

On our last trip we drove through rain
to a town lit with vacancies.

We’d come to watch whales. At the dock we met
five other couples—all of us fluorescent,

waterproof, ready for the pitch and frequency
of the motor that would lure these great mammals

near. The boat chugged forward—trailing a long,
creamy wake. The captain spoke from a loudspeaker:

In winter gray whales love Laguna Guerrero; it’s warm
and calm, no killer whales gulp down their calves.

Today we’ll see them on their way to Alaska. If we
get close enough, observe their eyes—they’re bigger

than baseballs, but can only look down. Whales can
communicate at a distance of 300 miles—but it’s

my guess they’re all saying, Can you hear me?
His laughter crackled. When he told us Pink Floyd is slang

for a whale’s two-foot penis, I stopped listening.
The boat rocked, and for two hours our eyes

were lost in the waves—but no whales surfaced, blowing
or breaching or expelling water through baleen plates.

Again and again you patiently wiped the spray
from your glasses. We smiled to each other, good

troopers used to disappointment. On the way back
you pointed at cormorants riding the waves—

you knew them by name: the Brants, the Pelagic,
the double-breasted. I only said, I’m sure

whales were swimming under us by the dozens.

4

Trying to write that I loved the work of an argument,
the exhaustion of forgiving, the next morning,

washing our handprints off the wineglasses. How I loved
sitting with our friends under the plum trees,

in the white wire chairs, at the glass table. How you
stood by the grill, delicately broiling the fish. How

the dill grew tall by the window. Trying to explain
how camellias spoil and bloom at the same time,

how their perfume makes lovers ache. Trying
to describe the ways sex darkens

and dies, how two bodies can lie
together, entwined, out of habit.

Finding themselves later, tired, by a fire,
on an old couch that no longer reassures.

The night we eloped we drove to the rainforest
and found ourselves in fog so thick

our lights were useless. There’s no choice,
you said, we must have faith in our blindness.

How I believed you. Trying to imagine
the road beneath us, we inched forward,

honking, gently, again and again.

~ Dina Ben-Lev

8 thoughts on ““We must have faith in our blindness.” ~ Dina Ben-Lev, from “Driving”

  1. This poem bothers me – hard to explain exactly why, although I think it has to do with her immersion in the things that bind them – and I felt that the bind is still in the present tense. Why did they give up?
    My first marriage ended in divorce and I could not list five such things/moments…
    It’s not that I ‘blame’ her… it takes two to make a marriage work… and yet…

    1. She doesn’t make it sound bad enough to abandon… but, perhaps this is what we see on the surface, not really what went on between them. The argument is the only hint.

      I remember reading “Eat, Pray, Love” with my book club and people were saying, “Well, she’s the one who sounds loopy,” with me thinking that she can’t put down the width and the breadth of it because – he’ll sue her. Even with someone that you still have some form of like for, I think you have a sort of protection mode where you can’t put it down for the public. You either speak in code, or leave a silence. It’s respect, perhaps, or a mixture of respect and fear.

      1. I am sure you are right – and yet I want to tell her, ‘go back, get back in the garden, fight for the spinach and defeat the slugs. one day the whales will come and sing to you…’ no one ever listens when you tell them they are making a mistake. You can only stand by mutely and watch and grieve for them in silence.

    2. I understand what you and Leah are both saying. But the poem reminded me of my first marriage in that there were whale-watching moments…just not enough to overcome the moments of the complete antithesis. And I did go back in the garden the garden, time and time again, but the slugs eventually won.

      By the way, V., your comment is so poignant.

      1. Thank you…

        I don’t have an understanding of that, of an adult relationship that was once deeply right and intimate where somehow love slipped away. I think it is something one has to experience to grasp (I suspect ‘understand’ is possibly not possible for anyone.)
        My first marriage lasted 18 years, but I knew it was a mistake before it even happened. That connection, that intimacy was never there. And while we were mostly friends (and still are) that absence of intimacy was a gaping hole that gnawed at away at me, grew a deep deep sadness and longing that became an obsession. And the friendship was overwhelmed by my rage.
        And then I met my husband. and fell in love. and fifteen years later we still fall in love every day. And I know we will continue to fall in love every day until we die. I can’t envision what happened to the relationship in this poem happening to us. But then, we are not young. And we will grow to be more and more not young as the years pass. And that may well have something to do with it…

      2. You are very lucky to have found that intimacy the second time. It is the same with Corey and me. In my first marriage, there was love and intimacy, but not enough to overcome the divide that grew and grew and finally left us on two different sides.

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