Should love poems come with warning labels? Well, dear reader, here they are, a stand up tragedy routine gleefully excoriating the ogres who first arrived as our fantasies. Though I knew Barbara Louise Ungar had been through a divorce from hell, I didn’t know she’d make such good use of it until reading her new book, Charlotte Bronte, You Ruined My Life. Of course, anger without humor is hate, but anger with humor is sometimes the best medicine. Before getting to the title poem, let me add that there’s more to this book than the irresistibly smart and comic rages. At times Barbara looks past the Divorce Wars to address the terrible brutalities inflicted upon women by men projecting witch fears. (See “The Brank” about a muzzle like a torture device. I had to put the book down.) Having wrestled with my late mother’s drinking problems that cast her in my memories as a Jekyll and Hyde of white wine, loving by day, terrorizing by night, I must say these poems hit hard. They ‘re forcing me to reconsider. But now back to the fun stuff.
Charlotte Bronte, You Ruined My Life
A work is great, when it ceases to matter that it is bad.
With his big cur and little French coquette,
his blind eye and depraved first wife, his locked
room, malignant mood and dungeon house—
Reader, I married him.
Big Sister of the Shelf, what shy bookworm
would not be staunch Jane and fall for
Beneath the mask, sardonic and harsh:
his brooding sorrow, his sordid
past, his rancid secret, which love alone
can lance. You infected me
as soon as I outgrew my horse books.
Charlotte, how many girls did you doom
to brutes? What could you know
of marriage? Yours killed you
in under a year. Childbed, thirty-nine.
Like Eyre, tenacious of life, I survived,
only I could not miraculously
cure him. Nearing fifty and divorce, I weep
as Orson Welles plays Rochester, those lines
I’d waited all my life to hear—
I had a string under my left rib,
inextricably knotted to yours…
and if we had to part, that cord
would be snapt; and I should take to
bleeding inwardly. Goddamnit, Charlotte,
I married him.