On Love and Language

By Jennifer Marcus

Julia Kristeva. Beautiful sounds. Not a sound in the name I don’t love. I remember falling in love with the long O sound. Falling in love with Gertrude Stein: “Milk. A cold nose makes an excuse.” When the meaning’s unclear, the sounds stand out. The long U in excuse is the long U in Julia. Beautiful. I was lost and clinging to sound because nothing made sense. I learned to hear language and wrote some good poetry in those years. I fell in love with the sounds in the name Mario Ruoppolo, the postman in the film Il Postino. Mario Ruoppolo. If you are ever feeling down, just say Mario Ruoppolo.

Those were the years after my divorce. I was in graduate school in a small town in Missouri and only many years later did a friend tell me how risky graduate school is for a marriage. It’s fear of change, fear of becoming. I don’t know if that’s why we divorced, if that was why he said one night, “I don’t love you anymore.” But that’s what I was doing at the time so I took my eight thousand dollar stipend and went apartment hunting. A friend led me to an old white farmhouse that had been converted to apartments decades ago. The owner hadn’t raised the rent in many years (I lucked out with 150 dollars a month). A side stairwell led to three one-bedroom apartments and I got the one I needed, the one that shared a wall with Bill’s apartment. And it was there, in that apartment, perhaps even leaning against that shared wall, that I first read Julia Kristeva.

I will always associate Julia Kristeva and her writings about love with the kitchen on New Street. I thought it was funny that a divorcee’s apartment should be on a street called New. Seems like a good omen though it seldom felt that way. The kitchen was large and a curtainless window above the cast-iron sink let in light from the south. Like a cat I was drawn to the sun in that room. A former tenant had painted the walls light blue and the old metal cupboards a mint green. Green linoleum lay cracked and curled in two long sheets across the floor; a long metal strip covered the seam. My only furniture was a pine bench I’d placed against the wall opposite the sink and window. My ex-husband had built that bench and I had taken it, probably to be obstinate. Think Steve Martin in The Jerk. I was a jerk.

I used to curl up on that bench and cry. I would cry and listen to my neighbor Bill’s baseball games playing on his radio on the other side of the wall. Was it the St. Louis Cardinals? It was the same slow, languid baseball commentary my dad would listen to on our front porch. He’d sit on the porch swing, his AM/FM radio on the deep windowsill beside him tuned to the Cubs. A swing and a hit. Foul ball. I was only somewhat aware that if I could hear Bill’s radio, then he could hear my crying. I don’t know that he could hear me but he was always kind when we’d cross paths in the small hall at the top of the dingy stairwell. What I do know is that lying on that bench listening to Bill’s baseball games through the wall felt like love and maybe that is why I associate that kitchen with Julia Kristeva. She writes, When the starry sky, a vista of open seas, or a stained-glass window shedding purple beams fascinates me, there is a cluster of meaning, of colors, of words, of caresses, there are light touches, scents, sighs, cadences that arise, shroud me, carry me away, and sweep me beyond the things I see, hear or think. The ‘sublime’ object dissolves in the raptures of a bottomless memory. It is such a memory, which, from stopping point to stopping point, remembrance to remembrance, love to love, transfers that object to the refulgent point of the dazzlement in which I stray in order to be.

Time slowed down to the pace of a baseball game, slow and languid like the gentle motion of a porch swing. I needed time to slow down. Perhaps I contemplated the sounds in Julia Kristeva’s words, rolling long vowel sounds and consonants around in my mind against a background of summer baseball, purple beams of light. It sounds sad, maybe, but it’s a good memory of a slow time in an old house.

Jennifer Marcus lives in northeast Missouri with her husband and daughter. Her poems and essays have been published in The Green Hills Literary Lantern and Adanna Literary Journal. She enjoys reading, traveling, and walking on the Katy Trail.