How then could I unite with this wild idolator in worshipping his piece of wood? But what is worship? thought I. Do you suppose now, Ishmael, that the magnanimous God of heaven and earth – pagans and all included – can possibly be jealous of an insignificant bit of black wood? Impossible!

A Bosom Friend, Chapter 10


I’ve been giving some thought lately to the nature of jealousy.

It always struck me as an incredibly petty thing for a God to have.  Sure, gods had always been jealous, but that was part of the problem.  It seems a less evolved response to a situation.

I think it is fair to say this about jealousy:

  1. It is an emotional response to a situation.
  2. It springs from the violation of exclusivity.
  3. It feels like crap.

I’m a middle sibling.  We we raised to share.  Share your toys, share you parents, share your room, share your food, share the bathroom. . .
That was the hardest. Not because I was jealous of the time my sisters got to spend with the bathroom,but because sometimes you just want the bathroom to your damned self.


Sharing and jealousy are not directly connected, but jealousy certainly can arise out of non-negotiated sharing.

My older sister once “shared” her sweater with me in a non-negotiated exchange (ie: I didn’t ask.  I just took it from her closet.)  Now, seeing as how the girl already hated me, borrowing her sweater without asking was an example of pretty lousy judgment.

Wearing it to a dance where I knew she would also be in attendance seems to reflect insanity.  Or arrogance.

A male acquaintance noticed said sweater and told my sister that her little sister was hot.

I love a good compliment.

This compliment probably cost me an additional three years of any sisterly interaction with my eldest sibling.   It ripped her vulnerable teenage heart out and branded in her memory the ignorant cruelty of her stupid arrogant little sister.  This compliment cost me, cost my sister, cost our relationship–and still, I think of this compliment (now some three decades behind us) and think to myself–


I looked cute in her sweater.

What is wrong with this brain?

Yes, given the chance to go back in time–I would not only have not touched the sweater.  I wouldn’t have even gone to the dance.

In hindsight, I would have allowed my older sister to shine in all her brilliant hard as iron sharp as steel glory in her own circles.  In exchange for her love, I would have sacrificed that much.  No question

But when flattered, when complimented, when adored. . .it is a poison I find nearly impossible to resist.

So what to do?

I’m in a rut of examining social relations lately and it really is a ditch I must pull out of because its mud is caking in my wheel wells and burning out my engine.

Is jealousy an emotion we have nurtured to preserve monogamy?  Or is it that monogamy is a practicality maintained by this Cerberus we call jealousy?

There is no doubt it is real.  All I need do is place my own words, these very questions, in the mouth of my husband and the creature flares in all her righteous glory.

the fuse inside her, throbbing 
angrily in the dirt*

There is a Sexton poem I love.  Okay, there are many Sexton poems I love, but this one–haven’t I stood on both sides?  And what I love here–especially hearing Sexton read it in her own voice, is  that on both sides there is an exquisite woman.  A life can be complete, certainly, without being the exquisite woman on both sides. but as I have lived and as I have loved, I have torn at these boundaries which we vulnerable humans have so carefully constructed.

I want to be immune, to survive on both sides.  Isn’t that, ultimately, weakness?

What is wrong with this brain?


For My Lover Returning to His Wife
*Anne Sexton

She is all there.

She was melted carefully down for you

and cast up from your childhood,

cast up from your one hundred favorite aggies.

She has always been there, my darling.

She is, in fact, exquisite.

Fireworks in the dull middle of February

and as real as a cast-iron pot.

Let’s face it, I have been momentary.

A luxury.  A bright red sloop in the harbor.

My hair rising like smoke from the car window.

Littleneck clams out of season.

She is more than that.

She is your have to have,

has grown you your practical

your tropical growth.

This is not an experiment.

She is all harmony.

She sees to oars and oarlocks for the dinghy,

has placed wild flowers at the window at breakfast,

sat by the potter’s wheel at midday,

set forth three children under the moon,

three cherubs drawn by Michelangelo,

done this with her legs spread out

in the terrible months in the chapel.

If you glance up, the children are there

like delicate balloons resting on the ceiling.

She has also carried each one down the hall

after supper, their heads privately bent,

two legs protesting, person to person,

her face flushed with a song and their little sleep.

I give you back your heart.

I give you permission —

for the fuse inside her, throbbing

angrily in the dirt, for the bitch in her

and the burying of her wound —

for the burying of her small red wound alive —

for the pale flickering flare under her ribs,

for the drunken sailor who waits in her left pulse,

for the mother’s knee, for the stocking,

for the garter belt, for the call —

the curious call

when you will burrow in arms and breasts

and tug at the orange ribbon in her hair

and answer the call,

the curious call.

She is so naked and singular

She is the sum of yourself and your dream.

Climb her like a monument, step after step.

She is solid.

As for me, I am a watercolor.
I wash off.