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The Barbeque by DM Thomas

July 27, 2014

D. M. Thomas, author of The White Hotel, the best-selling erotic novel about Freudian psychoanalysis and the holocaust, has had a complicated love life.

Soon after marrying his first wife Maureen he got a job at a teacher training college and started seducing his students. One of them, having became a teacher herself, wanted a child. Denise would have lost her job if she’d become a single parent, so Thomas divorced Maureen and married her. He claimed it was a temporary marriage of convenience, and for a period divided his time between the two women.  Eventually Maureen remarried and Thomas went through with his plan, and divorced Denise, but he never quite ended the relationship.

After the publication of The White Hotel in 1981, Thomas was rich and famous. He ran erotic writing courses, and had more affairs. Eventually Denise got cancer and when they looked into what provision they had made for their son they discovered the divorce papers had never been properly filed. They were still married, and remained so, till Denise died in 1998. The following year he married the poetry therapist Victoria Field, and in 2005 moved on to wife number four, Angela Embree.

Does knowing all that help us understand this poem? I’ve no idea, but the final three lines are good.

The Barbeque

My soon-to-be fourth wife
is preparing for our first barbecue,
while my third wife
is taking out and packing books
she’d interwoven with mine
in alphabetical order.

Why is there always so much confusion?
My fourth wife is saying she brought twelve steak knives
from Canada, but now there are only nine.
I was hoping a certain poetry book
was mine, not my third wife’s. I think
the barbecue tongs we will be using
are really hers.

I wish my third wife could stay for the barbecue
but my fourth wife would object,
and maybe my third wife would too.
I wish my first wife’s second husband
would let her come to the barbecue,
and bring himself. My fourth wife
would be fine with that. Why are people
so unreasonable? I wish my second wife
wasn’t dead, but could come too.
But then she wouldn’t be happy with my third wife,
and my first wife not happy with my second.
I know my first wife would like my fourth wife.
Many hands make light work,
and I’m hopeless at this kind of thing –
getting the charcoal to light and
cooking chops, sausages and stuff.

by DM Thomas. From Flight & Smoke

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