11. DUPLICITY




I told my wife about my lover. I felt I ought to as the end is coming neigh. I wanted to tie up loose ends.

I didn't try to sugar coat it, but I miss Jennifer now she's left town, the way I've started to miss my wife, knowing we won't be together that much longer.

My wife is small, independent, part Eskimo, met her in Alaska when I was doing field work. She'll do okay without me, you can't keep her down, but I know its hard.

I'm an anthropologist who writes poetry. And it looks like I won't get far enough in either discipline to make a difference. Not even a footnote in some dissertation which is the minimum we aim for in my trade.

Cancer is eating me away, and I've started to have that thin, gaunt look. I tire easily and dream of Jennifer who tasted like the bread my father used to bake. He'd never let me cut it with a knife, said it had a different flavor when you tore off a chunk with your hands and spread butter into a jagged piece.

He had come so far in life, a master baker, son of wheat farmers in the Midwest. He loved to make bread on weekends, just for himself. Needing it, letting it rise, filling the house with his scent.

I went even further, first son to go to college, then graduate school. 'Why did I need so much schooling?' my parents asked me for the entire five years I was getting my doctoral degree. They never could understand. It gave me such freedom to understand traditions from within, to be able to pick and chose my gods.

There is an old story about Alaska. An anthropologist offended his host when he wouldn't sleep with the Eskimo's wife, as was the custom. It took him days to explain that it wasn't because she was ugly, or that he didn't like her tribe. Finally they compromised; instead she chewed the leather on his parka to soften it. Culture, sex seems so arbitrary.

I've no regrets about Jennifer and the hours I spent with her, savoring her curves, the places in her body that brought me back to the fullness of life. We'd recite poetry we'd memorized to each other like fore play. And after we made love, we'd lie there in the quiet we had created. And then I'd fall asleep, but wake up quickly thinking I smelled my father's oven.

No, I did nothing wrong. And I don't regret it. But what I did wasn't right either. I look at my wife, who rarely cries, and see her eyes heavy with tears. See her trying to justify what I've done, forgive and understand me, before letting herself feel the anger she should feel. And I can't live with myself.

I turn my face and remember us courting in Alaska. It was early spring, only 20 degrees below, and we went for walks in the bright full moon, almost like day light reflecting off the snow, looking for fox and rabbit tracks. We found a cavern, hollowed out by the wind, and kissed with our parka tops flung back. Then we hiked to my cabin in our snowshoes and went to bed for days.

I love two women. In some cultures it's wrong, in others its right.

My wife so practical, in charge, a small whirl wind. My lover well read, insecure, playful, big boned as my Dad used to say.

Even before she knew, my wife never liked Jennifer. Nor did Jennifer my wife. How odd it is that I can contain them both in me.

And now, especially now, I'm glad. I think of them like Indian spirits, the big and little sisters, who come to you and guide you. They are what I'm holding on to, looking for, to take me from this world into the next.






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Last Modified : 4/20/98 2:41:50 AM