A Husband Eavesdrops as His Wife Confides in a Box of Matches
By Lauren Berry• 1 Corinthians 14:33, Ephesians 4:31–32
For God is not the author of confusion…
1 Corinthians 14:33
Therefore whatever you have said
in the dark shall be heard in the light.
Some nights I cannot remember what I’ve promised him. Some nights I cannot speak at all. How long will it take to convince him that my mouth contains no open dictionary?
Poet Lauren Berry brings us two beautiful poems that explore the theme of eavesdropping in 1 Corinthians 14:33, Luke 12:3, and Ephesians 4:31-32 in a very intimate way.
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1 Corinthians 14:33
33 For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints.
31 Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: 32 And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.
Of the three Bible verses that have inspired these poems, the most compelling for me is, “For God is not the author of confusion…” from 1 Corinthians 14:33. I am currently teaching Truman Capote’s 1965 non-fiction masterpiece, In Cold Blood, which vividly connects to notions of eavesdropping. In the book, Capote observes a small-town Kansas community whose innocence is shattered when a family of four is mysteriously murdered in their modest country home. No evidence. No apparent motive. When Capote first discovered the tragedy in the newspaper, he telephoned his New York editor and demanded that he board a late-night train across the country so that he could immerse himself in the community’s reaction to the tragedy. In the years that followed, he became embroiled in the act of listening to other’s conversations and quickly became an expert on the townspeople who “found fantasy” in recreating the events of the murder (pg. 5). He studied the electricity of their speculation; how abuzz they were with the churn of the hypothetical, how hungry they were for hearsay. In short, Capote crafted art out of the practice of placing his ear to the hive.
To eavesdrop is to seek the truth— but not in a way that God would condone. We know this, and yet are tempted by the guilty pleasure of overhearing private conversations. I wonder: why are we so desperate? Why do we concern ourselves with the business of others as Capote and the townspeople did in In Cold Blood? The most generous answer that I have is this: human beings are hard-wired for making sense of chaos. We desire the possibility of comfort brought by any semblance of the truth— even if this search for truth results in the proliferation of misperception and boundary breaking. The poems that I offer here engage in this question about the bittersweet pleasure of voyeurism—the choice to transform an act from the private to the public.
In “A Husband Eavesdrops As His Wife Confides In A Box of Matches,” a husband craves the “truth” gained from observing his wife’s dialogue with an inanimate object. When writing, I sought to disrupt the traditional eavesdropping structure by placing an inanimate object where a female friend or relative might appear. In “What I Want The Neighborhood Wives To Say About Me The Next Time I Lose Another Baby,” the disruption of the traditional structure offers not pleasure, but healing for the speaker, as she is able to play the role of puppeteer; she finds power in creating the very dialogue that she wants her community to have about her. In reading both poems, I hope that readers will consider: What are the consequences of this type of voyeurism? What would we gain if we could rip the curtain? Should we?
Lauren Berry received a BA in creative writing from Florida State University and an MFA from the University of Houston, where she won the Inprint Verlaine Prize and served as poetry editor for Gulf Coast. From 2009 to 2010 she held the Diane Middlebrook Poetry Fellowship at the Wisconsin Institute. Her first collection of poems, The Lifting Dress, was selected by Terrance Hayes to win the National Poetry Series and was released by Penguin in 2011. She currently lives in Houston where she teaches AP English Language for YES Prep Public Schools, a charter school whose mission is to transform the low-income communities of Houston through college preparatory education and community service.