Scott Brennan

 

Contentment

How bitterly Vanessa complains about her job at the bank.
I try so hard, but I'm constantly bullied. I want to change,

but it doesn't do any good. I listen to her as if she was my wife,
nod and force myself to say, It'll be okay, darling.

Hang in there. Things are bound to get better. The truth be told,
I don't care as much as I ought to. She's trying to land

yet another job, she tells me, this time at Deutsche Bank.
Every time I talk to her she mentions children.

Don't you think Clarissa is a beautiful name?
It's her biological clock ticking. She has no control over this.

She is carried away by it, helpless. If we were married
I tell her Id say, Just let the kid go! but she doesn't believe

a word. Of course I'd help out, I explain,
but I wouldn't waste my time trying to teach it

that not talking to strangers is a good thing because you can't tell
anybody anything, and besides I'd be too busy with my painting

to lecture. The kid would just have to learn.
Vanessa would be mad at me all the time.

You knew what you were getting into! I'd yell, so she'd divorce me,
run back to her mother. Self-centered, irresponsible--

all I cared about was my Goddamn art. After that
I'd live in a barn. I'd drink a lot,

but who cares? I'd be making money
off my paintings by then. I'll be that painter who lives


in the old Gorman place up the road. Some people
in town will think I'm mean and crazy but others will think

I'm an okay guy. I'll have a few flings with some young arty types
when my drinking is at its peak, and then I'll end up

living with a painter who helps me dry out,
a woman middle-aged like me, a woman I'll recognize

from a dream. There won't be any passion really,
just a quiet understanding. We'll call this feeling love,

though it won't be love. It's called survival. It's called
not going it alone. It's called someone to talk to in bed

and someone to eat dinner with. We'll travel to Europe
and be blown away by Italy. When we get back,

the house I'll have built next to the barn will be crammed
with antiques from the 1930s and people we'll meet at parties

will come over for long weekends and after they get back home
they'll tell their boring neighbors that we were fascinating.

But we aren't fascinating. I'll marry this woman, who is really
just a decent friend, and she'll blow onto my spark

to keep it alive and I'll blow onto hers and we'll make
as much art as we can because we know that soon

were going to die. We won't ever figure out the answer
to the question we so often ask, the question that has plagued us

since we were about 15. "What else is there?" I'll state
in acquiescence. Then, before we know it, we are old and she has begun

to work with pottery. There's a small kiln in the barn.
She has just fired a nude sculpture of me to commemorate

my 60th birthday. I walk out into the fields to paint
every morning now, and it feels like I have always gone out

into the fields to paint, though this feeling is a lie.
We summer in Vermont, and I've taken up landscapes.

The critics applaud the departure in public,
but secretly they believe it is a mistake. I no longer care

what the critics think. Painting is work,
I'll say in the occasional interview, and work brings

its own contentment, a small mound upon which
I can survey the valley of mixed decisions.