29 September, 2009

The Devil Beats His Wife




Look away, Look away, you Godamned fool.
She can sing anything that she wants.
Look away, Look away...
You came from way deep down....
And I smell that brimstone,
On your handsome brow.


I might not wither down.
For to beg for what's gone wrong.
For nothing seems so pitiful as that.


Cain found his blame,
In the sun and the rain.
But, the Devil don't expect his wife to fight back.


Look away, Look away,
'Cus Satan hates your life.
Your rain comes from the Heavens,
He ain't happy in the light.
I'd like to slide a gun to her...
But she don't need the help.
For the Devil don't expect his wife to kill.


Look away, Look away.
Rainbow in the rain.
It's raining and the sun shines bright
Anyway.
And I never thought I'd smile,
To see a man lose his life
'Till I saw the Devil beat his wife.
Then I never thought I'd smile
To see a man lose his life,
'Till I saw, the Devil beat his wife.


Look away...




 This song turned into a kind of "Goodbye Earl" for the Devil's wife.


 Why the Devil's wife?  Well, it goes back to John Pearson again, who I mentioned in the "Ides of March" entry as having been very supportive of my writing.  John's one time wife (no longer, I think) was from Hungary.  But John was from North Carolina.  He had that lovely accent.  He was about the most open faced guy you could ever imagine.  A striking face.  Our friendship began because of a sunset on Lincoln street where he saw me sitting outdoors at a cafe with my hand upon the no longer open, blue hardback original Atlantic copy of Least Heat Moon's Blue Highway's.  Normally that would have had my attention, but he saw me staring with awed affection at the western sky, and in the way of men who have a life long desire to bond with other men in a more sanitary fashion the the old blood ritual: he took the red sky as enough.  He had found my friendship.  I have been lucky my entire life, and John you are no goddamned exception.




 So what's he got to do with the Devil's wife?  Even I sometimes wonder that, but the nitty gritty is simply that where he came from, North Carolina, when it rained and the sun was shining you might hear a person say, "Why it looks as if the Devils beating his wife."  Why? If John told me, I don't remember.  I have never looked it up.  So I will right now, if you'll excuse me... [five minutes later]  well... I found it immediately of course, but spent three minutes looking for a reference to my phrase in this blog.  No dice.  "The Devil is beating his wife." is a Southern U.S. variant of a phrase known the world over pairing a trickster with a intended beloved in marriage, or violence.  It is remarkable that across the Arab world their tricky animal of choice, the rat, is said to be getting married... when the sun shines and it rains at the same time: what Wikipedia claims to be a sunshower.  I have never heard the term "sunshower" in my life.  Since I met John, it's simply the case that the Devil is Beating His Wife.


 I wrote the song a few years ago when I was working closely with a woman who was being beaten by her husband.  She swore me to secrecy and I refused secrecy (to the people that knew her) if she didn't take some kind of action (and ask them for help, or get help.)  It killed me to show this kind of disloyalty to a friend (not that I am some kind of stellar guy) especially since the woman's daughter was simultaneously telling me about her mom's problem with domestic violence.  In a way, as confusing as it sounds, it wasn't confusing at all:  the mom simply loved a guy who beat her and felt she had few options other than him.  It was easy to imagine all kinds of reasons to complicate the situation further than that.  She was a pretty woman too.  So things were not pleasant for me to do the right thing, which was to listen, stay on the side of the wonderful institutions working so hard in our area to help people like her, and try to remember that life is not only unfair but pretty mysterious and dangerous as well.


 Then a few months later I was at the grocery store and I heard a guy and a few women talking while I put my stuff in my car.  I couldn't believe the stuff this completely hotheaded guy was telling this woman, accusing her of.  She had apparently asked a guy a question: a guy that worked at the store. I don't need to tell you that the gentleman who was yelling at her felt that to be the equivalent to cheating, or freedom, or whatever his tiny paranoid brain stem has actual modern concepts translated to.  My nausea was reaching epic proportions and bad feelings were rising that even a couple full blown cheating women hadn't inspired in me.  I knew that if I confronted this guy I'd either get  hurt, find myself feeling like a fool when he shrugged his shoulders, closed the door of his home and went inside to beat the shit out of his girlfriend/ wife/ slave or whatever other legal form of property she so clearly thought she was.



 I took a few deep breaths and closed the trunk of my car, trying not to continue looking in the direction of the pillars of salt walking off toward their own private circles of Hell.  Before long I realized I was going to make it.  I'm a cynical guy. A pessimist.  Hell, I'm an Atheist.  Do I really care?


 With enormous relief (I suppose that I didn't get my ass kicked or kill somebody or whatever) I got in my car and drove my way home.  Looking at the wonderful place I live, the beautiful street that is so often a peaceful counterpoint to the grotesque commutes of people rumored in traffic jams ect. at that hour of the day.  The whole thing was over.  I was having a good night.  Then I looked over to a couple of my favorite Pin Oak's on that street and who was entering on the other side of the courtyard from the trees but Mr. Little Dick and his entourage.  Immediately I was plunged into a strange fugue like state... I don't know what happened.  I still don't know what happened exactly, except that I drove around a bit contemplating a lot of stupid stuff and then drove back to the guys apartment... and called the police.  I told them everything, begging them to at the very least put the address in their database and familiarize themselves with the address.  They were, as they always are, polite and neutral.  Then I called a few of my friends to ask advice and they gave it.  There was nothing to do, but one particular friend said she'd ask around.  She reminded me that it isn't uncommon and while the woman might be murdered the guy probably would rather have her around for obvious reasons.  Yeah.


 So basically "The Devil Beats His Wife" is my fantasy that, though I want to give victims of domestic violence a gun to kill the men who destroy the person everyone used to think of as the embodiment of hope, women don't remotely need that sort of thing.  They are working these things out in ways heroics couldn't possibly respect.  I am just going to have to bear witness and realize my world is just a little less about how I see it for others: there ain't nothing I can do about it. 


 I have always loved mythology.  Not in the sense that you would have found me memorizing Homer while laid up with appendicitis or something.  More in the sense that in this world when I see something that involves Greek or Roman or Norse or Native American mythology, I give it a little time.  That's my privilege anyhow.  But it is surprising how often I see something I read about somewhere.


 Who doesn't love the myth of Hades and Persephone?  It has to be in the top three of the most well known Greek and Roman myths.  Wasn't Persephone unwillingly taken by Hades through trickery or an aphrodisiac or something?  It is a measure of the pleasure that myth and History have taken in the idea of Persephone that how she became Hades companion (in other words why she ever slept with him) is regarded as worthy of the Canon. So many other consorts and lovers of the five overlords of the Universe go nameless.  But the memory of Persephone, as not deserving her fate, is handed down to us as the reason we suffer one of our least favorite fates in the temperate world: Winter.  Who doesn't remember (at least sort of) that Demeter grieved her daughter being taken to the underworld (both one supposes in the manner of any parent losing their child to a relationship, and the down at the heels locale, to say the least, that the underworld basically embodies) and so for one third of the year cursed the land with her grief... the death of Winter.  Its all a bit more complicated than that, with Hades (the god) not being the Devil at all, but who cares.... I bring it up because it is such a wonderful story. 


 At the very least it should be some consolation to people who don't like the family they come from that even Persephone, who's Grandpa was Zeus for Christ sake, had to live in Hades (and with him.)







4 comments:

Ande said...

This was a profound piece, which stayed in my mind. You express a sustainable atmosphere; sand dust and pain. Few poems make this sort of durable impression on me; like a kind of structure which stays in the mind.

I really liked your comments on your song, and your reaction to the whole thing shows a lot about your personality, I think and it’s fun to get to know you through your artistic output in this way.

Jenny said...

Andy,

I admire any writer who is able to deal bravely with difficult and grave subjects and also refuses to trade the substantial content in order to be more pleasing to the reader. This piece is an example of that brave quality indeed.

I have met quite a few women who have been beaten by their men. Their stories are distressing to hear, but it also feels important to listen. Me, being completely unaccustomed to violence (knock on wood!) can only imagine their hell and never claim to understand. The closest I have been to violence was on a bar once, when an unknown and obviously stoned guy completely unprovoked slapped me and two other people in the face.

Andy Coffey said...

Ande,

This is one of my most sweet, and kind of winking songs. The whole time I sing it, I am clearly walking the footsteps of Hillbilly America and the generation after generation of people that so changed the european traditions from which they came. When these folks were discovered again, in the fifties and sixtees, many americans could not believe their poverty (and the beauty of their traditions) could possibly happen in America. It didn't take long, and they all stopped happening.
That's the double edged sword of civilization. A subject that sees to be among your favorite.
Music carries what would otherwise be too terrible to experience, and fills the human soul with the lives of others.
But then so does language such as the words you and your wife have chosen to give me, to share with me. Our song, I suppose.

Andy Coffey said...

Jenny,

Knowing how to believe in a world so cruel as ours is probably more a matter of temperment, and luck, then wisdom. Sayings such as "the Devil is beating his wife," clearly provide the writer a door into a world that otherwise would certainly be "none of her business." But then again, isn't it strange that I can write a story about a child being molested or raped and nobody calls me the person that raped the child, or molested him. Somehow, since ancient times, we have given artists the only permission available in our culture to destroy the very things we relate to: so we might live through the damage, and ask the questions again and again.
I have certainly noticed in myself a weak desire to not keep my heart fresh to the pain of experience. I suppose that is normal. So through music and writing I hope I can "have fun" and find "meaning" in these dangerous worlds that would otherwise find me a hermit, deep in the woods.
Thanks for your words. And I'm sorry you got slapped. I've been slapped, but trust me, I had it coming.