Dear You, a combination of poetry and memoir by Wade Stevenson, is one of the most exposed, unrelenting, and heart-breaking pieces on longing that I’ve read. Like Flutes and Tomatoes (also reviewed here on staging-bookscover2cover.kinsta.cloud), named one of the best Indie books of 2015 by Kirkus Reviews, Dear You is a genre Stevenson seems to have created, and if he didn’t create it, he knows his way around the terrain with the temerity of a conqueror. I love the mix of self-reflective recollection and metaphorical lyricism. It rounds out the narrative and answers the nagging questions that straight poetry leaves to the imagination.
The story starts with a breakup (Stevenson’s marriage); a rat (in the apartment of his soon-to-be beloved, Mlle X.); a rescue (by Stevenson of Mlle X. from the rat); a pregnancy (Mlle X.’s by Stevenson); a marriage (being rescued from a rat does not always end in marriage, but in this instance it did); and a birth. In reading the list above you would not guess that the birth would be the most tragic and life altering of the events that transpired, but it was both stunning and life derailing for the author. Even more uncanny, Stevenson knew at the exact moment he watched his daughter’s head emerging into the world through his wife’s legs that their affair was over.
I want to know the splitting event
The decisive moment that drove us apart.
Was it in that white hospital room
When her darling head crowned
Between your bloodied groaning thighs?
Standing proudly at your head, I thought:
You will never see her again in this profoundly
Open way. I had such strong sexual energy
Devoted to an act that is God’s
Cosmic joke, and then you laughed,
Asked why I keep returning to you,
I had only one answer, “It’s instant and love.”
I want to write you a poem
So full of magic and power
That you’ll read it and never leave me.
Stevenson had no empirical evidence to support the conclusion that at the precise moment a new life was beginning a prior life would come to an end, but his inner voice advises him as such, and so, there it is. Life in all its conundrums.
Dear You is simply, achingly, this: a story of a man who loses his wife. The loss is not in the classic sense through death or divorce, although given how abruptly the relationship failed, it may as well have been. A traumatic change of heart? Possibly. A near-death experience in childbirth? Perhaps. Too much pressure to return to the conjugal bed? Could be. Or was the fruit of the union — the child — more than enough emotion for the mother to hold. After all, the process and pain of childbirth is tumultuous, scary, and maybe closer to God than any of us will ever get while still walking around in our human suits. Before modern medicine, women regularly died in childbirth. Even with modern medicine, some women experience a postpartum depression so severe that it may take months, even years before they return to their own selves while the helpless father sits attentive, ready to assist, but unable to cross the great divide between those two disparate selves that are now joined in the body of that tiny beautiful little baby. How can a father compete against such helplessness? How can he suppress such unbridled longing? The answer is, he can’t.
Stevenson tries valiantly, and sadly, fails, but he leaves behind a collection of poems depicting the war he wages against his newfound isolation, punctuated by one of the most despicable, definitive words to pass between lovers: no. For anyone who’s loved and lost, Dear You is your comrade in arms.