Marriage Fragments

Two purple plums hanging from a tree limb.                                Image by andreas N from Pixabay

My brain, like everyone’s, has its ruts. One of the mostly deeply ingrained of these is iambic pentameter: da-DUM da-DUM da- DUM da-DUM da-DUM.  Free verse (poetry without meter or a given form) doesn’t come very naturally to me.

Habits aren’t bad, but experimenting with new patterns is, IMHO, good for the brain. To break out of my habitual poetry patterns, I sometimes mimic other poems to start one of these experiments.

When I read the very fine “Portrait of Reality in Fragments” by George Alexander, I was entranced with the pattern he used and also with the conversation in his poem between the self and a younger version of the self.  I was eager to try writing a fragment poem with bits of memory juxtaposed, and the result is “Marriage Fragments.”

Originally published by the remarkable journal The Sunlight Press. The editors publish poetry, fiction, essays, and visual art. If you’re an artist or writer looking for a place to publish your work, I recommend them.

The Sunlight Press

Marriage Fragments

I wanted to love him
like my fifteen-year-old self:
lips unsplit, nose unbroken,
face without a mark
on it, my tongue tasting
of plums.

*

Seneca thought luck happened
when preparation met opportunity.
I’d like to think it was the plums’ sweetness
that prepared me
to taste the bitterness,
the differences.

*

In this marriage, my mother’s skin was,
assuredly, my own:
craving, drenched with knowing
touch and never enough touch
and never enough.

*

Rivers froze where I grew up,
and spring shattered them.
He liked to say
he un-bitched me.
Maybe so, or maybe fish
leapt from the river as sleet.

*

His father took him fishing
on Ozark rivers under
yellow honeysuckle. I wouldn’t
recognize those rivers, only
his hands, circling
a canoe paddle and his sex.

*

He asked me to marry him
the first time we had sex,
asked so easily, as if it was
his habit. I waited
him out. My river, his spring,
my differences.

***

 

Poetry on Aging

“Old grandmother with gray hair and a wrinkled face closing her eyes in black and white.” by Cristian Newman on Unsplash

Aging is the sort of inevitable, non-negotiable topic that fascinates poets. Birth, school, work, death, in the immortal lyrics of The Godfathers.

Some of us fight aging. Some of us embrace it. Whichever approach is yours, though, aging beats the alternative. In the immortal words of someone.

People in my family die young. Maybe that’s why I’ve always wanted to be old. Or maybe it’s because I’d hoped to be old and wise, to stop making the same foolish mistakes over and over again.

That hasn’t happened yet, but aging has made me lazier, meaning that I now have no energy at all to boss other people around about how to spend their days. It’s all I can do to manage my own days.

One of my favorite poems that examines aging is “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” by T.S. Eliot, even though I harbor great resentment against Eliot for his efforts to turn poetry into an elitist art form.

W.B. Yeats’ poem “When You Are Old” is about aging, but it’s also a love poem, sort of. “Warning” by British poet Jenny Joseph starts with the famous, exuberant line, “When I am an old woman I shall wear purple.”

The poem below, originally published in Poet Lore, is not particularly exuberant.

When It Descends

Winter, tell me how my body
makes changes without me. You know.
Your beautyberry is gone again, eaten by cardinals.

The nights grow longer and call me to their altars:
bedsheets I stroke like a lover’s skin,
bedside table piled with books, breeding

beside a cup of ginger tea.
I pray for sleep, and when it descends,
my two husbands trade places in my dreams,

as if they’re only stand-ins
for limitation, when I know they were more.
Tell me how my body changes without me,

and I’ll tell you how I learned
to speak a loving thought out loud.
If only I’d stopped right there.

Poetry on Marriage

“Elderly man and woman touch foreheads in black and white photo” by Lotte Meijer on Unsplash
The rush and blush of a new love often kickstarts the poetic impulse, but it’s so easy to fall into cliché (at least for me) in one of those I-just-fell-in-love poems.

On the other hand, long-term relationships of any type develop complexity as time passes. That complexity creates a depth and richness that can defy cliché, even when writing of a romantic love relationship.

The Academy of American Poets website has an entire section devoted to poems about marriage and partnership, containing dozens of fine poems. Not all of them are happily-ever-after, but as I’ve heard, marriage is not for the faint of heart.

My second husband and I celebrated our tenth anniversary of marriage this year. I am his fourth wife, so between the two of us, we have a good bit of experience! One of the things I love best about him is that he never tries to censor me — a good habit for someone in a marriage or partnership with a writer.

The poem below was originally published in 2017 in Passager, a journal founded in 1990 in Baltimore, Maryland. Passager only publishes work by writers who are at least 50 years old. They put out beautiful issues, and one of the best things for me about turning fifty was that I could finally submit poems to them.

Marriage Bed

Where sleep renders us equally
introspective and inert, equally

irrational and helpless, unaware
of resentments, or mice rustling,

or branches scraping,
or even of the other’s sleeplessness —

each, in wakeful turn, alone with wakefulness
and envy, astonished at the other’s insensibility.

What luck settles the sleepless partner at last?

The knees unbend as if the body has been lifted up
from face-down prayer. The ligaments extend,

the spine lengthens and the body surrenders
to the heft of the quilts,

to the warmth of the other,
to the mesh of breath,

heft and warmth and mesh tied together
in a poultice, drawing restlessness

from that knot between the shoulder blades.
May we meet in sleep again. Helpless. Disburdened.