This poem imagines the exchange on audiotapes from “the wife” to “the blind man”
in the story “Cathedral” by Raymond Carver. The story is typically taught and
discussed as if the blind man’s relationship with the wife was entirely platonic and
noble, even though the original story suggests otherwise.
Polyester is his favorite, second to snakeskin
and he has taken to pairing them, so you judge
for yourself what kind of impression we make
at the Officer’s Club. We go there Fridays,
which is, consequently, the only night he’s up
for making love, because he gets drunk
and I’m tipsy too, but not as drunk as he gets.
Our bedroom backs up to the road, and so I listen
to the traffic, though it’s late by that time,
by the time we get around to it, so it’s one car
every three minutes. I’m on the side
by the window and the alarm clock, so take this
on good faith: it’s one car every three minutes.
I miss driving you everywhere. With Lenny,
I sit shotgun. I sit shotgun because heaven knows
he’s got to do all the driving. He always did.
He turned sixteen first, so by default of birth
he does the driving. When I offer to drive,
he acts as if it undermines everything.
“You want to drive?” “Yeah, I want to drive.”
“Why?” “You always drive.” “I like to drive.”
“Okay.” Most conversations end with me saying,
“Okay.” No wonder, with all the time I spend
in the passenger seat, I want out the window.
We see Frank in his garage. He runs marathons.
He’ll never go anywhere. He’ll always be
six credits short of a Master’s degree:
a fact Sara reminds him of, right in front of us.
The Mendozas, next house down, keep their garage
and shutters closed. They never wave.
I hardly know them. If I’m lucky, and it’s not
a Friday night, we go through security, and then
we’re off base, which feels like a privilege.
I miss driving you places and not just because
of what you did while I was driving you places.
Though you were very good at what you did.
I never felt like you were doing it just to get
the job done. Though your professionalism
is commendable. You’re an expert.
Your hands were made for there, while Lenny’s
hands were made for, I guess, F-22 Raptors.
You’re very good at it. You know you are.
I can’t say it on the tape. I can’t say that
on the tape. When you say it, it sounds good
but you can’t expect me to say that on the tape
and then go on talking about Lenny. You gotta ask
one or the other thing of me, Robert.
I’m going to stop because it’s five o’clock
and frankly, I don’t want to say anything else
about Lenny and me, and I don’t want
to hear anything else about how inseparable
you are with Beulah. If you’re so inseparable,
where is she when you make these tapes?
I’m going to say goodbye now. It’s five o’clock
and I’ve got to put the casserole in the oven.
Otherwise, we’ll just starve.
Robert, Robert, Robert, oh, oh . . .
How was that? Did you like that? I feel silly
sitting in my apron on the edge of the bed
with the tape recorder and Lenny in the next room
watching M*A*S*H. Pretty silly. I feel like
it’s a lot of work between us when we could
meet up at some hotel like I was telling you.
I could be in Seattle easy since I have friends
living up there. Let me think. Who have you met?
You met Martha, didn’t you? Martha thinks
you’re using me. I don’t tell her everything,
just some things, and she thinks you’re using me.
“What does the blind dude want with you?” she says.
“Maybe I’m using him.” “What would you do that for?”
“Maybe I like him or maybe I like being used by him
or maybe I can do whatever I damn want.”
That’s how it goes with liberated Martha
and her liberated mouth. I don’t care if you are
using me. I’ve got Lenny. Besides, if I hadn’t met you
I’d still be looking for my yoohoo inside my body
when it’s right there on the outside the whole time.
I went to the gyn and asked about it. I said,
“Dr. Jacobsen, mine is located on the outside.”
And he looked at me like I was crazy. “Well yes,”
he said. “Everyone’s is.” So I said, “No wonder
I don’t. The button is on the outside.” And he said
ninety percent of women don’t. Did you know that?
Ninety percent. “They do it anyway,” he said.
They do it looking at clocks and counting cars.
They do it clear through Friday into Saturday.
I don’t have to tell you about it. You know
right where it is. How do you know about it?
Did some gal take your hand when you were
a teen and point it out? Don’t tell me. I don’t want
to hear about any gals, and certainly not the gal.
Martha is still living there near the train tracks.
She got knocked up by that guy from her work
so I’m not sure why she’s passing any liberated
judgment on me. She had the baby last June
and I haven’t seen it yet. I’m the godmother
and I haven’t seen my godson yet.
You see how easy it would be to tell Lenny
I’m going to Seattle for the week to spend time
with my godson. There’s your situation to consider,
Robert, and how you’d work that out, I don’t know.
You said last tape that you’d do anything
to have a visit from me. Well then, do anything.
Of course I love him, we grew up together
so I thought we’d grow closer. I thought
I wouldn’t be able to tell me from him
but I can definitely tell me from him
though I can’t tell him. I don’t know when
it happened. I don’t know how you can grow
apart from someone when they’re right under
your nose and grow closer to someone when
they’re three thousand miles away. I don’t like
living in Alabama, and I don’t like being
an officer’s wife, and I don’t have friends here.
Yesterday we lost hot water. The hot water
went out at our place while I was in the middle
of a shower. I thought and thought of who
to call. I must’ve spent half an hour walking
around in my towel thinking of who to call.
There’s no one. I don’t have anyone to call
when the hot water goes out. I’m not trying
to be sexy here, Robert. I’m being serious.
I’m friends with Lenny’s friends, sure,
I know their names when they come over
to eat dinner, play poker, watch football,
but it’s not like I can call Frank and ask
to take a shower. Believe you me:
that would not look right. I’m not friends
with the wives. Lenny tells me I haven’t made
enough effort. He tells me I have to put myself
out there. You know how I am.
I don’t like putting myself out there.
I’d no more like to put myself out there
than step in front of a semi. You put yourself
out there more than I do. You put yourself
out there a lot for a blind guy. And why
should I make friends with the wives
when I’m not going to know them in a year?
Lenny’s got an assignment in Sacramento.
The wives flocked around me when they heard
about California. “Ooh la la, Sacramento,”
they said. You’d think we were moving to Paris.
They said I’d have to get highlights and
I’d have to go tanning and I’d have to join
a gym and they got me so bent out of shape
over California I about cried. Anyway,
I’m going to leave Lenny. We need some time
apart and maybe we need eternity.
I’m coming back to Seattle. I know you don’t
need a secretary now. I wish I had left Lenny
back then, like you asked, but how was I
supposed to know? If I had known the next
gal that walked into my position
would become your wife. If I had known
you were serious about me. How was I
supposed to know? I thought I had to marry
the first man and Lenny was the first man.
I know you don’t believe me, but he was.
I wasn’t used to anything other than
the regular yoohoo until I met you.
Why do you think it scared the bejesus out of me?
Now listen, I’m sure she’s a good secretary,
and maybe a good wife, but you’re full of shit,
so maybe if you love her so much you should
tell her you’re full of shit. And if you don’t,
then go ahead and keep on keeping on,
but I don’t want to hear any objections
about me moving to Seattle. I’m calling you
when I get to town and I don’t want to hear
any business on how we’ll never work.
I’m not asking for work.
I understand now why you didn’t want me
to come to Seattle, Robert. I get it.
Sometimes when you were talking on the tape
about illusory things, I guess I didn’t pay
much attention. I didn’t realize I was one
of the illusory things you were talking about,
and frankly, I had to look the word illusory
up in the dictionary, and I was none too pleased
to see what it means. I don’t think I’m unreal.
I don’t feel very unreal. I’ve never felt more
real before anyone in my entire life. What is it
about her? What do you like about her?
Is it how she cooks? How she smells?
If you could see her, I know that’s a low blow,
but if you could see Beulah next to me,
I know you’d pick me. It’s a good thing you can’t see.
She’s so boring to look at. She doesn’t know
what to do with her hair. Even I know about hair,
like you got to wash it, comb it, dry it, and do
something with it. She dresses like a grandma.
She has nothing to say. She repeats everything.
I guess a man like you doesn’t need a woman
who has things to say. I guess a man like you
doesn’t need a hairdo. I guess a man like you
just wants someone to stick around. Help you
cross the road. Guide the cake to your mouth.
Well, you got it. Beulah will never leave.
No one else would be blind enough to want her.
Jillian Weise is the author of The Amputee’s Guide to Sex, The Colony, and The Book of Goodbyes, which won the 2013 Laughlin Award from the Academy of American Poets. She teaches at Clemson University.
“Cathedral by Raymond Carver” was originally published in TLR: Women’s Studies