The Making of "The Quality of Kindness"

I wrote "The Quality of Kindness" in Spring of 1997. I don't write much poetry, since it's not the best way I have of expressing myself. I'm not sure if that makes me a prosaic person, but it's the case.

Anyway, there have been very few situations in my life that have made me want to write something in poem form. This one was kind of strange, and I have to wonder if I would have felt the need to do it this way had the person who sparked the poem not been a poet herself.

I thought I was in love. I was certainly infatuated beyond any hope of rational behavior, and I paid dearly for it. Both she and I were in a very turbulent time in our lives. We had both gone through a period of change and upheaval, and it was no time for either of us to get into a serious relationship. But go and tell someone that. It's like telling an adolescent that things will look much different in another few years.

She was a really special person. To this day, I can't figure out what really happened to her. As much as I came to see how my immaturity and unpreparedness was responsible for much of what happened to me in our short and painful relationship, I still can't reconcile the person I first met with the one I finally left. Maybe the woman I fell in love with was just a phase she was going through. Maybe her real self was the one who was so... damaged. And either way, I'll always feel a sense of guilt for not having seen it earlier. She's a Wiccan, you see. As such, she believes that your every act returns to you three-fold. If it's true, she's going to have a lot of unhappiness because of what she caused me. And my staying as long as I did just exacerbated that. I know I'm not ultimately responsible for her actions in any way, but I still should have known better. I should have known when to give up.

Anyway... none of that has any direct bearing on the poem. What happened was that she, like many people, was so afraid of any kind of conflict that she kept very closed about things that needed to be said. She would be upset, and just store up the grudge. She would see something that needing correcting, and never say that it needed to be corrected. She would tell me that everything was fine between us, even when I knew it wasn't true, and it wasn't that she didn't realize there was a problem. She simply felt that it would hurt me to know there was a problem. She didn't tell me that she wasn't interested, but it wasn't that she was trying to lead me on. She just couldn't understand that refusing to tell hard and painful truths is not a favor to the person who needs to hear them.

I remember the day I wrote it. I worked at the time on Lexington and 35th Street in Manhattan. I lived up on 186th Street and what was more or less the equivalent of 8th Avenue down near work. And I just lost it. I was so ripped up, I was grieving so badly, I was so sure that she was misleading me--and more sure yet that she'd never admit it--that I just lost it. I left work. I couldn't even talk. I started walking home. I just... started walking.

I got to about 96th Street, I think. That's a far walk. I don't remember which avenue it was. But I finally got on a subway and rode the rest of the way home. It was March 1997, I believe. I had just returned from a visit back to Israel. To pick up the books and other belongings that I had left behind on the belief that I was going to move back. Plans I had cancelled because I couldn't bear the thought of someone like her just walking out of my life. Mistake number one, folks. Never make that kind of a change in plans on short notice, and never for another person.

Two months later, I would drive out to California with her. But that's another story, and perhaps, if I still have it, I'll post the other poem I wrote for her, but not here and not now.

I got home the day of the Long Walk. I couldn't talk. I totally couldn't. It was like I was mute. When I'm hurt so badly that to express it is to explode, I sometimes go mute. It's probably only happened about half a dozen times in my adult life, but this was one of them. I can write when I'm like that. I'm a different person when I write, kind of. I must use a different part of my brain or something. People who only know me online (like on the soc.culture.jewish newsgroup) think I'm a total cast-iron bitch, but strangely, I'm not like that at all in real life.

So I wrote. I think I may have written an e-mail or two, but I ran out of steam. That wasn't what I needed. What I needed was to find a way to say what I was feeling, and I'd seen that prose just didn't cut it.

It's a weird verse form. I remember once reading about it, but maybe it was in a dream, because I've been trying ever since to find anyone who recognizes it, to no avail. It basically consists of five stanzas, each containing four lines. The fifth stanza consists of the first line of the first stanza, the second line of the second stanza, the third line of the third stanza, and the fourth line of the fourth stanza. It's sort of like an acrostic, in a strange kind of way. And it has to make sense at the end. I modified it only in that I placed the final combination stanza at the beginning as well. Poetic license. <wry look> So to speak...

Anyway, it's really important to me. It's one of three poems that I've ever written. The first and last were written for two different people, and were directed only at those people. This one... this one may have been caused by her, but I wrote it mostly to get the idea out of me. I think it was almost a year later that I finally showed it to her. By that time, I was long gone from her life, and it wasn't that much longer until she stopped even writing to me. She never did respond to the wedding invitation I sent her. I hope she was able to see what I wrote and consider it, and didn't just take it as a criticism, but I never could help her with those kinds of realizations.

Some time after I wrote the poem, when I was out in California with her, I had posted the poem on the Internet, to a couple of poetry newsgroups. Some of the people there told me that it worked better as song lyrics, and one woman even volunteered to sing it if I ever set it to music. Which I did. It's the only song I ever wrote, and probably always will be. The song is in my head, and I'm working on getting it transcribed, using a piece of music shareware I found online. Not knowing anything much about musical notation isn't making it easy, but I'll do it eventually. And then I'll probably put it up on this site.

Return to Lisa's World