Can you feel the wind, shaving the windows?
It is my body that goes around sticking to you,
coursing blood in the dream that scales the buildings,
bitten like the hours and like the snow,
surrendering at last to survival.
Can you feel the wind, shaving the windows?
Come and embrace it,
you will notice my watery hands
writing a caress through your pores,
maps of love, all of life.
Is it nothing you hear now?
That’s me as well,
That wants to
Poemas da Luz e Da Locura
(Espiral Maior: A Coruña, 1992)
I have not looked at Henrique Rabunhal for a long time. I remember that last time I struggled to get past what I saw as macho posturing. I am prepared to give him another go today because, following along with Yolanda Castaño’s project for identity, I have been looking around the internet at masculinism. It has me confused.
What do you make of this poem?
The first thing that really strikes me is that, although the poem is called Dialogue, there is no kind of dialogue at all. What kind of dialogue has the speaker calling out “Listen” so impetuously. It is violent from its inception. The dialogue that takes place here is at the level of touch, not words. The metaphors are violent also, the bleeding dream scaling the building makes the rain on the window into a horrific image.
The full horror of the poem comes through in the final image, however. “Listen!” he commands and then stabs her with silence and words.
This weekend Carmen was in England and I watched a movie, Te Doy Mis Ojos (Take My Eyes). Ay-ay-ay, as they say in Spain. A young woman escapes from her abusive husband to go and live with her sister, then returns to him once he starts going to counselling. She studies to be a museum guide explaining pictures and he goes to see the talk. It fills him with a furious rage to see her so beautiful and so animated and imagines other men looking at her with the same eyes.
At the same time she is explaining a painting of Danae by Titian. Her eyes and her sensitivities open the eyes of the audience, which we can see consists mostly of women. In the painting Danae reclines with her legs open as Zeus descends upon her in a shower of gold coins, looking up longingly to the descending god. I think you get the picture that the title “Take My Eyes” has many levels of meaning in the film.
I was particularly struck by a scene in which Antonio is sitting at the table with Pilar, his wife, explaining what he wants. The only word he can come up with is “normal”. We have a clear sense of what this normality is: when he is forced to court his wife again because she has run away from him, he is all charm; once he has her back in the house, she becomes a domestic slave, bringing him beer at the end of his working day: normal is dull. There is an amusing scene where the psychologist for the group of men to which Antonio belongs tries to get them to imagine something they could ask their wives when they come in the door at the end of the day. Beyond asking what is for dinner they are stumped.
There are some men out there who try to defend this kind of male behaviour with reference to the tired old cliché of the Alpha male. Indeed, there are even women who buy into the game, justifying what in any rational discourse would just be bad behaviour with a whole load of psycho-babble. If you doubt me, read this absurd article in Psychology Today. Sonya Rhodes is a couples therapist: oh dear.
If you raise any doubts about this nonsense as a man, you run the risk of being characterised as Beta. There is a lot at stake in the debate. Well, call me Beta but I am more convinced by the feminist arguments on We Hunted the Mammoth. I live in a village where there is plenty of scope for observation of genuine “We-Hunted-the-Mammoth” opinions and behaviours. These, however, are not educated people who ought to know better. It is profoundly disquieting to have people who have been to university using these retrograde arguments to support their bad behaviour. It always seems to me that, if Alpha means power it doesn’t matter how big your shovel is: if you don’t read you are consigning yourself to a weak postion eventually. You can cause a lot of damage, like Antonio in Te Doy Mis Ojos, but not understanding Titian makes you weaker, not stronger.
There is a lot riding on this. There seems to be a crisis in relationships out there. I was reading one of my favourite blogs The Culture Monk and was as stunned as he was by the conversation he had with a young woman. She admits that the one thing that attracted her to her partner was that he did not want to have sex on the first date. That is rather extraordinary, isn’t it? For men to be prancing around spouting nonsense about Alphas and Betas is just absurd when they can’t even get past the first steps in engaging in a real dialogue with women.
Am I exaggerating? Not in Spain. Look at these appalling statistics for domestic violence. 140 000 reported cases of domestic violence per year is extraordinary. If you watch that movie and reflect on what happens to Pilar in the police station you will probably come to the conclusion that this is only a small part of the problem.
Now, it is unfair on Henrique Rabunhal to plump all of this on the back of what is essentially a love poem. I hope you understand that this comes about through my thinking over what a “project for identity” might be and that I selected Rabunhal, because I wanted to draw attention to how male his “dialogue” is. I am still shocked by his closing metaphor, but perhaps that is the intention.