old high way of love

what online dating should look like

The Scream


Robert Lowell

First Published in The Kenyon Review, Autumn 1962, Vol. XXIV, No. 4

(Derived from Elizabeth Bishop’s story, “In the Village”)

A scream, the echo of a scream,
now only a thinning echo …
As a child in Nova Scotia,
I used to watch the sky,
Swiss sky, too blue, too dark.

A cow drooled green grass strings.
made cow flop, smack, smack, smack!
and tried to brush off its flies
on a lilac bush—all,
forever, at one fell swoop!

In the blacksmith’s shop,
the horseshoes sailed through the dark,
like bloody little moons,
red-hot, hissing, protesting,
as they drowned in the pan.

Back and away and back!
Mother kept coming and going—
with me, without me!
Mother’s dresses were black
or white, or black-and-white.

One day she changed to purple,
and left her mourning. At the fitting,
the dressmaker crawled on the floor,
eating pins, like Nebuchadnezzar
on his knees eating grass.

Drummers sometimes came
selling gilded red
and green books, unlovely books!
The people in the pictures
wore clothes like the purple dress.

Later, she gave the scream,
not even loud at first …
when she went away I thought
“But you don’t have to love everyone,
your heart won’t let you!”

A scream! But they are all gone,
those aunts and aunts, a grandfather,
a grandmother, my mother—
even her scream—too frail
for us to hear their voices long.

But I’m whining, and I actually have something specific to ask you, which I’m clearly putting off, in the hopes I falter and won’t. But here we go: I am probably breaking all Society of Fellow bylaws in putting this to you—and if you say no, as I imagine you must, it will be totally fine, I promise, I am nothing if not a gentleman—but even though I know you are simply an especially friendly person, even though I know that, given how absolutely lovely you are, you must have a boyfriend for every day of the week and two on Sunday (or girlfriend, this is the twenty first century I keep forgetting!), if I’m wrong and you are somehow single and you think you could be interested, I’d love to take you out on a date sometime. There’s this great little wineshop downtown, for example, that has free tastings every Friday. Again, if you say no (or say nothing), I won’t breathe a word of it again, I promise you. I just figured the only thing worse than asking would be not to. I hope you understand, and I hope you have a nice night!

Everybody Hurts
illustration by Charles M. Schulz :: scanned from The Snoopy Festival :: Holt, Rinehart and Winston :: 1974


Everybody Hurts

illustration by Charles M. Schulz :: scanned from The Snoopy Festival :: Holt, Rinehart and Winston :: 1974

ME: I’m probably visiting my friend this weekend, are you free? 5:10 PM
E: I’m completely booked this weekend. Honestly, I’m so busy right now that I don’t think it would be fair to you for me to get really involved in anything 9:15 PM
E: I’m really sorry if that makes things difficult. I think you’re really fantastic and have been so wonderful to me. 9:15 PM
ME: I respect your decision and I appreciate your candor. But did I do something wrong? I know I came on pretty strong. 9:19 PM
ME: But I meant no disrespect. 9:20 PM
ME: Nor did I mean to put undue pressure on you. 9:20 PM
E: You did nothing wrong! You were such a gentleman. Because you were so great I didn’t want to lead you on to keep seeing you when I’m too busy to be in a 9:44 PM
E: ny relationship now. 9:44 PM
ME: I appreciate your kind words, but I don’t feel you are being entirely frank. I understand how convention works and I am not trying to be confrontational here, but the truth is you’re not interested in a relationship with me? 9:59 PM
E: I’m sorry. 10:13 PM
ME: Me too, Emily. Me too! I really like you. But that’s OK. I had a very lovely time, so thank you for the pleasure of your company. I thought I had a shot, especially since you introduced me to your friends, which was really flattering for a second date, but I was wrong. All the same, thank you for letting me try. I hope you really did enjoy yourself, even if you didn’t enjoy yourself enough. 10:24 PM
Thanks for your note. I’m not going to hold it [canceling on me at the last minute, in favor of someone else] against you, nor am I all that surprised—I suspected you were never interested in meeting me—but I do think, in the future, you should do a better job of knowing what you want and conveying that to the person interested in you, lest you run the risk of leading them on. Not to put too fine a point on it, there is a simple question of fairness to consider. And frankly, at the risk of sounding arrogant, I’m not someone to flake out on. As for the future, I’m not keen on being a backup either, if only for the fact that, again, I am pretty damn amazing. 
It was lovely talking to you, and I hope it works out with your co-worker. Take care!

I like your profile for no other reason that, owing to your username, I suddenly thought of Bacall (but not, I’d imagine, Bogie) dancing to “Hips Don’t Lie.” I’m sure yours no less than Shakira’s (or Bacall’s for that matter), tell the truth, but the compliments you receive on your appearance are surely a dime a dozen, even if I intended it as more of a compliment on your dancing skills. (No one attempts that song unless they can bring it, after all.) And purple sneakers! Promise me you dance in those sneakers.

To be serious (at least for a moment)—and return to classic movies—what’s your favorite CARY and why? Mine is probably a close tie between “Notorious”—the cinematography he and Ingrid Bergman are swathed in is glorious—and “Bringing Up Baby,” because Katharine Hepburn does everything better, and does herself best. I always felt she was the only actor, man or woman, who could ever upstage him in any real sense. 

Speaking of old fast talking movies—and one of the best of them, it seems to me—when I first saw “His Girl Friday,” I realized not only did I aspire to be Cary Grant, as any man of sense would, leaning forward with an askew fedora, a cigarette perched effortlessly between pursed lips, as I shouted into Rosalind Russell’s face a mile a minute, with an uholy mixture of sly love and delighted infuriation, but that those movies, far from being old fashioned, are as forward thinking and fresh as any made today. Hell, more. I mean, TRANSFORMERS? Has Megan Fox really bettered Hildy? Of course not.

How are you? How’s the ukelele going? What the hell is in WV? (Oops, you’re probably from there. Sorry, I’m sure it’s lovely.) Also, are you actually a fan of Salieri? Or F. Murray Abraham’s insane version in Amadeus?

A dinner party between Helen Fielding and Faulkner couldn’t end at well, it’s true. They wouldn’t understand each other’s preoccupations AT ALL, might not even make it through each other’s accents: hers a Yorkshire mess, his a deep Southern one. I really wonder who would be more disturbed? And who would drink more?

You clearly have a story and I’d love to hear it, if you’re willing to share. Project Runway? Impressing Tim Gunn? Abandoning a PhD program? Start wherever you like. For I think your ass, however formidable, is probably the least impressive thing about you.

Jul 9, 2012 – 9:55am

Ha, The Marx-Engels reader! I’m not making fun, really—I admire everything about genuine political commitment—but I couldn’t help but think, a little sadly, of a quote from the late Christopher Hitchens, who wrote in Vanity Fair—on the eve of the Egyptian revolution—“Heroism breaks its heart, and idealism on its back, on the intransigence of the incredulous and the mediocre, manipulated by the cynical and corrupt.” I think of you, and anyone in D.C. like you, as the idealists sometimes…

This is all to say, in a rather unconventional way for here, I imagine, I admire your profile quite a bit, and though it’s only the barest approximation of you, as you note, even the lighter, less serious things evident on it do you credit: your aesthetic tastes, your continued love for NY, your distrust of strip malls and suburbs. (The worst, truly.)

What do you do for the government? Is Momofuku really that good? I know there’s a million of them, but I’ve never been…

Also, read “Never Let Me Go.” It’s the book I cannot stop recommending to people. If it does not devastate you to the pith of your being, it is entirely possible you have no soul.

You are impressive, as far as I can tell, in nearly every measure, as anyone who attends the HuffPo Inaugural Ball must be—and you can write! Do you know how many profiles you can read on here without seeing evidence of style?

In all seriousness, I meet more or less all your moral and temparamental conditions, but really, beyond making my pitch in the hopes that I can get to know you (which of course I do hope), this message is more a matter of saying: keep doing what you are doing. You are whip smart and razor sharp, cultured, driven, together, and your tone—at once warm, personable, and unpretentious—does you enormous credit. The fact you look like some model from the Mediterranean doesn’t hurt either. There, I said it.

You can return to the Amalfi Coast, and I, poor poet and straggler from OKCupid’s rather cheerless flotsam, will resume beachcombing on Staten Island…

:::bows gravely:: You are quite, quite welcome. It was really my pleasure, and more, given my rhetorical gifts, nothing less than an obligation. As you’ll soon come to learn, most messages sent on here aren’t half as good, alas. But then, this place is less about the quality of one’s messages than of one’s suitors and, of course, their suitability, so maybe it is less unfortunate than it seems. Yes, as a close friend of mine once remarked, the power of words is the hardest lesson to unlearn. I pray I never will, however—come what may.

Speaking for my own suitability and quality, I’m sorry to hear you aren’t interested, but I’m not all that surprised. I had a feeling age would be a sticking point, but if you reconsider, do be in touch. I really would love to buy you a drink, for if I’m not at the same point in my life as you in professional or even personal terms, I have an emotional maturity I would put beside anyone twice my age. Oh, and hell, who am I kidding? I’d be happy enough to inspect those bewitching freckles of yours: like flecks of jasper set in standstone.

Thank you for own kind words, then, D—, and given your lack of interest, for responding at all. You’re a peach! I knew it, and I like being proven right. I remember reading, in either a review of the Kantor or Maraniss book, that the President is at his most self-satisfied when he can get his aides to admit they have proposed an idea he himself first suggested. Similarly, I’m at my most self-satisfied when someone is as excellent as I know they are. It makes every sentence, arranged to such fine effect, worth every syllable.