Monday, February 2, 2009

big love


Though life may sadly be a vale of tears,
love, loyalty, and solidarity
bring to it laughter with three cherished cheers,
restoring to it popularity
that's lost where there is no one else whom you
consider to be likeable and shares
your goals and interests. Life’s a pas de deux
you only dance with somebody who cares
for things you do. You do not dance alone
because you cannot put yourself above
the need for loyalty, a chaperone
to solidarity that leads to love.
Love is the biggest of the three, and when
you’re popular in bed there is no way
you won’t click like computer mice, and men
will know your life is no roman à clef.

This poem is inspired by an article on the NY Times website about one of the shows Linda and I most like to watch, “Big Love”. on the last line of the poem is an oblique allusion to the villain in the show, Roman Grant, played by Harry Dean Stanton. Harold Fish writes in the New York TAimes, February 1, 2009:

Near the end of the first episode of “Big Love”’s new season, Nicki (Chloe Sevigny), the second of Bill Henrickson’s three wives, stands up on the roof of her house in the middle of a block party. She’s been repairing the roof rather than joining the festivities because she feels unwanted in the neighborhood. But when a couple of the neighbor kids make off with her ladder, she can’t take it anymore and she rises up to say her piece: “All I ever wanted was to be off the compound and live a normal life and be truly free.”….
This is an amazing statement. By “normal life” Nicki means a life in a mini-compound (three houses opening up on one backyard) with her husband, her two sister-wives and the eight children Bill has sired. The compound she has fled is led by her patriarch-father, Roman Grant (the great Harry Dean Stanton) and by other male elders who enforce strict obedience to rules they flout and who demand servile fidelity to their every word. (You must be “in harmony with me” is the byword.) The Henricksons, in contrast, practice a kind of participatory democracy (within limits); everyone has a say; everyone has rights; everyone has dreams and at least some space to pursue them. True, the family arrangement is illegal, and a certain amount of subterfuge is required to avoid exposure and arrest, but you can’t have everything. Nicki is truly grateful for the life she now leads and when she finishes her speech the members of the family salute her, bring her down and crowd around her in fellowship. It’s a moment of big love. And then it gets bigger. Suddenly someone says, “O.K., everyone, I’m here on your terms.” It’s Ana, a woman whom Bill (Bill Paxton) has been courting, not for himself, but for the whole family. Ana has been more than willing to have an affair with Bill, but he (in a nice gender reversal) insists that there must be a wedding ring first, which means that she must be willing to marry them all — Bill, Barb, Nicki and Margene, and the eight children. Now she says she is….The heterogeneity of the sprawling cast is reined in and given shape by the core commitment everyone has to the family’s survival and flourishing. External forces are always threatening to break it apart, but they are always repelled and the goodness of life on Walton’s Mountain is always reaffirmed. Each story comes accompanied by a moral lesson, but its didacticism is tempered by a clear-eyed awareness of the travails one cannot avoid in this vale of tears. “Big Love” is the new “Waltons.” It gives more scope to the travails than to the lesson, but the lesson is there, and it is the same one: loyalty, solidarity, love. Indeed, it would be entirely appropriate for the newer series to pay tribute to the older one and end each episode with a round-robin of “good nights.” Good night Bill, good night Barb, good night Nicki, good night Margene, good night Ben, good night Sarah and, maybe (though I doubt it), good night Ana.

© 2009 Gershon Hepner 2/2/09


  1. I'm hooked on Big Love too - couldn't take it at first but it's become something bigger than prurient interest and the family, as involved an unusual as this one, is of endless fascination. The script and acting is great too.
    Your fine poem is interesting to me in that in spite of having absorbed the moral lessons in the NYTimes article, you seem to encompass love as sex, which even in Big Love is justified as a way of reaching heavenly happiness and not just for the pleasure of it. Also the word 'popular' suggests that there isn't just one 'chaperone' (partner?) but several to choose from. So where's the spirituality in that? Oh well.... men!

  2. Thank you, Linda, for your Outlook, but for Latter Day Saints as for other people whose most sacred texts were not written in New York State in the nineteenth century love without sex is not like a fish without a bicycle.

  3. I think you may like A Fish Named Wanda more than gefilte fish!!

  4. Maybe. I like your chopped liver more than either, although if Jamie Lee Curtis were to offer herself to me on a plate I might have to rethink this. Carpe diem and all that.


    The dishes that Jews like,
    though gentiles may have knocked them,
    gefilte fish with chrein that’s sharp,
    or liver that is chopped,
    are great fun to adopt,
    but need a chicken and a carp
    to carpe noctem,
    not pike.

    © 2001 Gershon Hepner 3/14/01