"Betrayal" Poetry Contest Winners / March 2013 (Issue 20)

The Third is a Betrayal

by Sumana Roy

Who is the third who walks always beside you?
When I count, there are only you and I together
But when I look up the white road
There is always another one walking beside you
... But who is that on the other side of you?
’ ~ T. S. Eliot, “The Waste Land”


 Marriage, you once said, was a comedy of manners,
and only that. It’s the way you rest the fork on
your breakfast plate: an embalmed gesture
of a lifetime, like yawning is to boredom.

I disagreed again.

It’s the steam from the teacup –
only cold will give birth to the display of heat.
And so anger and vapour: now both lost lottery tickets.

Not scarlet but egg yolk yellow – the colour of overdose,
of gluttony, of blind-lane travelogues in middle age.
Of adultery.
There’s a stranger in that word. And a train whistle.

Adultery became a street lamp: my nights stayed up with them.
Everything became eating: the marriage a fish;
we took turns to sort out bones. The sea was elsewhere.
We spoke to each other in the mirror – mediated by a third,
not noticing the gaps between seeing and speaking.

Marriage became a marathon as long as your attention span.
The stillness of our lives – was it that you wanted to cut
like paper kites rip the sky’s calm?

Water is always a surprise – hot or cold. And so a third
in a marriage – child or the shadow on the fence.
Both are outsiders.
Only one’s shadow does not disappear with the sun.
The third, the third, the third is a bird whose smell
appears before it does. Perhaps like wrinkles before old age.

Once, things were not thrown. My parents’ attic still has them –
spades without handles; rope, rubber band, ribbon, things that tie.
And broken taps: they might sprout water some day.
Their marriage was a present always wrapped for tomorrow.

Now there are only epigraphs. Yours, from Tagore:
“Pain .... is what error is in our intellectual life”.
Mine, from the tailor.

You and I are now the third – a lifetime’s strangers
without beaks feeding on an iterant holy betrayal.


This is the Third Prize Winner of Cha's "Betrayal" Poetry Contest. Read a description of the poem by Sumana Roy here. [Read Andrew Barker's commentary on this poem here.] [Return to the "Betrayal" section.]
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