When I was reading J. Bruce Fuller’s Notes to a Husband this summer, I was also moving in with my boyfriend. And while Fuller’s chapbook is about a relationship ending, there is so much wisdom in these short notes from a wife to her husband that rather than finding a guide to ending a relationship, I found reminders of how to be fully in one. And yes, this is a composition of loss, but it’s also a guide to mindfulness.
Published by Imaginary Friend Press (2013), the cover art is printed on cardstock and bound with nearly unnoticeable staples. The cover art is by Tilly Troelstrup, who is, interestingly, a potter, and it is designed by Samantha Popp. There’s something earthy about it; a bulb seems to grow, but only just break the soil. Again, this reminds me not of a relationship lost but of an understanding found, and perhaps in this case, it’s the poet’s understanding of love or the speaker’s understanding of what went wrong (both being equally vital).
The sixteen poems in this chapbook are all equally titled, “Note,” and are in the style of William Carlos Williams’ “This is Just to Say.” The brevity of these poems is much like that of Fuller’s previous chapbook, 28 Blackbirds at the End of the World (Bandersnatch Books 2010).
And what’s so brilliant about these “scratch pad eleg[ies],” as Amy Fleury designated them, is the concise language as well as the white space because it is so often what we don’t say (as much as it is what we say) that details our relationships. Perhaps that’s why one of my favorite poems is
The coffee is on the stove.
It is not the kind you like
but it will do until we get
paid on Wednesday.
I washed your favorite mug. (5)
The speaker is saying, “I’m sorry this isn’t enough,” while at the same time regretting, “I wish it was.” And maybe this moment was enough for the husband who woke up to find warm coffee and his favorite mug cleaned. Maybe he didn’t read the apology, regret, and guilt in the note, and maybe he didn’t ever say, “With you, I have enough.” Perhaps, all the blank page around the poem is space for how the husband should have responded.
Similarly, in my second favorite poem, Fuller writes,
I admire you, husband
because I know
I am not like other wives.
On our trip to the Grand Canyon,
you looked into that red ravine
and saw eternity in deep time.
I looked down
and saw an endless
fall, a bottomless
In this note, she sees something beautiful in his love for her, his love for the world, the possibility he sees in a canyon, but this is a later poem, and she has lost something from the earlier ones. She can no longer believe that washing a mug (or ironing a shirt or buying the right brand of mayonnaise or any of the other small things we do to show our love) is enough. And this repeats in later poems that echo lines like “can’t unsay what is yelled at a turned / back” or “the canyonsides / of our parallel shoulders, / the dry creek bottom of our bed” (11) or “the just-fine dance we did” (14). As the relationship depresses, the iterations of “This is just to say” (Williams) become “What I meant to say was” (16) and “What’s left to say” (17). And still, there is something tender in the final poems, but I’ll let you read them for yourself.
Maybe I think the final poems are tender because I’ve just moved in with my boyfriend. Hopefully it’s because my relationship is new-ish, and my boyfriend and I are trying to live and love each other as we need to be. I also can’t get one of moments from Neil Connelly’s short story “Nine Times I Failed My Second Wife (Selected from an Infinitely Larger Pool of Candidates)” recently published in the Spring 2014 issue of The Southern Indiana Review, which must be affecting my reading of this chapbook. The story is similar to Fuller’s chapbook in that the reader only gets moments of a larger relationship. In the last instance, the husband fails his second wife (and ultimately doesn’t fail her at all) by asking her, in the moment when their relationship might be ending, if he can keep failing her.
And this seems like wisdom; love is wanting to keep saying and not saying and hearing and not hearing and trying again. And I just keep thinking that there must be redeeming moments in all relationships like there is in Connelly’s story, moments when we can say what we haven’t said enough. It’s a stretch to give the husband this chance in Fuller’s Notes to a Husband, but Fuller captures a relationship unraveling in such a way that reader is reminded of his/her relationship and what he/she needs to say.