Ellen Bryant Voigt
A Marriage Poem
Morning: the caged baby
sustains his fragile sleep.
The house is a husk against weather.
Nothing stirs—inside, outside.
With the leaves fallen,
the tree makes a web on the window
and through it the world
lacks color or texture,
like stones in the pasture
seen from this distance.
This is what is done with pain:
ice on the wound,
the isolating tourniquet—
as though to check an open vein
where the self pumps out of the self
would stop the second movement of the heart,
to love is to siphon loss into that chamber.
What does it mean when a woman says,
if she sits all day in the tub;
if she worries her life like a dog a rat;
if her husband seems familiar but abstract,
a bandaged hand she's forgotten how to use.
They've reached the middle years.
Spared grief, they are given dread
as they tend the frail on either side of them.
Even their marriage is another child,
grown rude and querulous
since death practiced on them and withdrew.
He asks of her only a little lie,
a pale copy drawn from the inked stone
where they loll beside the unicorn,
great lovers then, two strangers
joined by appetite:
it frightens her,
to live by memory's poor diminished light.
She wants something crisp and permanent,
like coral—a crown, a trellis,
an iron shawl across the bed
where they are laced together,
the moon bleaching the house,
their bodies abandoned—
In last week's mail,
still spread on the kitchen table,
the list of endangered species.
How plain the animals are,
but the names lift from the page:
Woundfin. Whooping Crane. Squawfish.
Black-footed Ferret. California Least Tern.
Dearest, the beast of Loch Ness, that shy,
broad-backed, two-headed creature,
may be a pair of whales or manatee,
male and female,
driven from their deep mud nest,
who cling to each other,
circling the surface of the lake.
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