Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Second best

It's really hard being the second wife. It's not as if the first wife drove him to drink or infidelity or divorce, they were happily married: that is to say, they had their ups and downs. Then she died. Suddenly, horribly, in an accident. She stopped being annoying, wrong, demanding, needy or whatever it is that we can sometimes be. Then I stepped in. The problem for me is that she used to keep little mementos like birthday cards from him, her husband who is now my husband, tucked into the pages of books. We have very similar tastes in books - and men, as it turned out - and I periodically find these little bullets between the pages of books, waiting to shoot me in the heart.
Anyway, I'd been writing poetry (on the subject of nature, long autumn walks hand in hand earlier that day) when I was ambushed by a recipe book. A card from him, all love and sweetness, and completely understandable. I am completely wracked with unreasonable jealousy, in fact, we were close friends during her life and I hardly knew the man-in-a-suit that she was married to. They had this lovely romantic story about how she met him when she was engaged to someone else, and nearly didn't marry the other guy, but they were both so young, she married Mr Wrong but never forgot Mr Right. When it all fell apart he was still waiting... and they lived happily ever after until a moment of fate took her away.  It's hard to compete with that. I literally came second.
My problem is, she's smiling in photographs, video, smiling back from her children, and she never gets it wrong. He doesn't look back, he's changed so much because losing a partner like that transforms you (it did me, anyway, many years ago). I'm not sure they would even want each other. If she came back,. which she can't. So why do I feel so insecure? Anyway, I walloped out a poem from previous jealous rants and hope to put it behind me. And yes, it is deeply self indulgent crap first draft but I need to get it out of the way so I can work on chapter 4 and my TMA01 for A363, which still needs a commentary.   


His first wife whispers, pressed
between the spines of books on my shelves,
her Canterbury tales alongside mine, postcard
from him, bookmarking the Knight’s tale.

She never lies now, she never says ‘no’.
Her hands are smooth in memory,
He says he loves her on notes in blue biro.
Jealousy papercuts my soul, stings.

Delia Smith archives their love, florist’s cards
for flowers longer composted than she
sucked dry by the tree, woody fingers exploring
her bones, silver birch dancing in the winter winds.

Birthdays seasoned their lives in  
‘My darlings’ sprinkled like flour, tart tatin
and chocolate brownies, in the Good Housekeeping
Cookbook, love from Mum and Dad (but not mine).

The letters drop from a dictionary, about babies
they conceived, sweaty and earthy nights loving
her and not me. She cradles my children on video,
birth wet, still raw, in her dead arms, blows kisses.

‘My darling’ on a card with forty on it, final
celebration before a Nissan Micra crushed her,
death blown, waxy, a still life in the mortuary
hollowed by death, ageless. I grieved.

I didn’t know then that we would be sharing him.

I keep his letters nested in a wooden box,
when I die, burn them, so wife number three isn’t pierced
by his words, his love, his passion for me
as it browns and shrivels in the winds of winter. 

Coming second sucks.


  1. Wow. I loved that poem, you're a fantastic writer. That must have been pretty difficult to write.

    I often feel like the best writing opens up a new perspective on something. So when you read it, you think 'I never thought about it like that before'. You've done that in just about every line of this poem; as I read it I could feel new synapses zinging in my brain. Well done! And thanks for sharing x

  2. Thanks Rosie, sometimes a poem just has to be written so I can move on! I'm glad it works, it is a pretty peculiar position to be in to be honest. If he just had a proper divorce like a normal person... Worse, I was widowed too, so we both have odd shaped baggage... Hope the writing is going well, I'm enjoying fiction, loving the research module, completely stumped in the theories of writing and creativity.

  3. Hi Reb - been having a wander around your blog - it's either that or start reading Mrs Dalloway! I really admire how you just seem to get writing the whole time - I'm a bit of a procrastinator.

    Amazing emotions in the poem about being the second wife.

    See you next week.

  4. Thank you, Downith. I can't get on with Mrs Dalloway, either, that's what makes me write, I think! I enjoyed your blog, very funny in places, very sharp. I look forward to more posts.