It is past one on a Monday, my mind still on the evening before. The day before. Mostly because it was quiet. Go to sleep, my sister whispered to me in the afternoon, as if that explained everything. We lie in bed facing each other. And, without any more preamble, she just closed her eyes.

Look, it’s not as if I am an idiot (although I probably am), but obviously I’ve been having a lot of feelings and I think it’s because I’ve let myself become selfish. I might have forgotten all the times people in my life have told me that I’m too much, so here I am again, letting my gob get away from me, as if I’ve chewed too many emotions in one sitting, which is something an idiot (like me) usually can’t handle.

The days feel like the air is heavy with water. I was drowning. But for some reason, Sunday was quiet. Like it was made specifically just so I could exist.

Do you ever get that, the remembering? You have forgotten that there is another side of you, another version of yourself that’s not so bad, but it’s been so long. And then one day, you suddenly remember, and how that blooms in your chest as a pleasant surprise? It sucks out all your breath for a second—then it comes rushing back, and there it is. Yourself that’s not yourself, but that’s also a part of you.

Which is to say: I slept the whole day. When I woke up, the space between the things I’ve done in my life and the person I am seems to be smaller now.

I think, if I stay still for awhile longer, I’ll be able to make it disappear.

The Orange
Wendy Cope

At lunchtime I bought a huge orange—
The size of it made us all laugh.
I peeled it and shared it with Robert and Dave—
They got quarters and I got a half.

And that orange, it made me so happy,
As ordinary things often do
Just lately. The shopping. A walk in the park.
This is peace and contentment. It’s new.

The rest of the day was quite easy.
I did all the jobs on my list
And enjoyed them and had some time over.
I love you. I’m glad I exist.

This is from Serious Concerns by Wendy Cope, published by Faber and Faber, 1992.

Dear M.,

I will find the time to write you a longer letter. But yes, a whole universe of yes, about us finding each other, and the whys of that. I’m lucky to have you, know you. Maybe, in a world of hurts, having you in my life is something that they got right.

I am not sure how I feel about beginnings, because I always seem to find myself in media res — I am certainly fond of places, spaces where something springs into being, but I have had difficulty with the act of starting something. Does that sound terribly crazy to you?

A longer letter. I promise. Until then, a poem.


Exchange of Letters
Wendy Cope

‘Man who is a serious novel would like to hear from a woman who is a poem’ (classified advertisement, New York Review of Books)

Dear Serious Novel,

I am a terse assured lyric with impeccable rhythmic flow, some apt and original metaphors, and a music that is all my own. Some people say I am beautiful.

My vital statistics are eighteen lines, divided into three-line stanzas, with an average of four words per line.

My first husband was a cheap romance; the second was Wisden’s Cricketers’ Almanac. Most of the men I meet nowadays are autobiographies, but a substantial minority are books about photography or trains.

I have always hoped for a relationship with an upmarket work of fiction. Please write and tell me more about yourself.

Yours intensely,
Song of the First Snowdrop

Dear Song of the First Snowdrop,

Many thanks for your letter. You sound like just the kind of poem I am hoping to find. I’ve always preferred short, lyrical women to the kind who go on for page after page.

I am an important 150,000 word comment on the dreams and dilemmas of twentieth-century Man. It took six years to attain my present weight and stature but all the twenty-seven publishers I have so far approached have failed to understand me. I have my share of sex and violence and a very good joke in chapter nine, but to no avail. I am sustained by the belief that I am ahead of my time.

Let’s meet as soon as possible. I am longing for you to read me from cover to cover and get to know my every word.

Yours impatiently,
Death of the Zeitgeist

This is from Serious Concerns by Wendy Cope, published by Faber and Faber, 1992.

Almost one in the morning, am back at my desk working. Listening to Mozart to calm my nerves. I’ve seen less than ten people for the last week, and I’m beginning to get anxious at my becoming a hermit again. My thoughts alternate between joy at what I do and then despair at what I do. Ah, T., get a grip.

Some More Light Verse
Wendy Cope

You have to try. You see the shrink.
You learn a lot. You read. You think.
You struggle to improve your looks.
You meet some men. You write some books.
You eat good food. You give up junk.
You do not smoke. You don’t get drunk.
You take up yoga, walk and swim.
And nothing works. The outlook’s grim.
You don’t know what to do. You cry.
You’re running out of things to try.

You blow your nose. You see the shrink.
You walk. You give up food and drink.
You fall in love. You make a plan.
You struggle to improve your man.
And nothing works. The outlooks grim.
You go to yoga, cry and swim.
You eat and drink. You give up looks.
You struggle to improve your books.
You cannot see the point. You sigh.
You do not smoke. You have to try.

This is from Serious Concerns by Wendy Cope, published by Faber and Faber, 1992.


Wendy Cope

The day he moved out was terrible —
That evening she went through hell.
His absence wasn’t a problem
But the corkscrew had gone as well.

This is from Serious Concerns by Wendy Cope, published by Faber and Faber, 1992.

We talked about intuition and dreams today. Here’s a recurring dream: I am flying, but maybe I am seated. I am looking down. I am looking at my feet, and what is beneath them: clouds, air, land from a distance. Leaves. Water. I am suspended in air, or maybe time.

Two Cures for Love
Wendy Cope

1. Don’t see him. Don’t phone or write a letter.
2. The easy way: get to know him better.

This is from Serious Concerns by Wendy Cope, published by Faber and Faber, 1992.