September 2, 2014

Mary Block

CROWN FOR A YOUNG MARRIAGE

1

I use the built-in fan now when I cook
things on the stove. I know that mold can sprout
between the tiles at night, so now I look
for it, and try my best to scrub it out.
I’ve found that dish soap cleans a diamond ring
ok, that protein stains like blood and beef
come out with MSG, that everything
we’ve tried to flush away is underneath
the house, just waiting for a heavy rain.
I’ve written several hundred awful lines
for you, and wondered what you stand to gain
by staying here, and wondered if I’d mind
in looking back on how I spent my life
if I was nothing else, but was a wife.

2

If I was nothing else, but was a wife;
If I did nothing else, but could make meals
with scraps and pantry staples and a knife
I got when I was twenty-nine; if real
commitment (an abstract and noble word
before it tangles up with sacrifice)
turns out to mean a smaller life, less heard,
less heralded, less published, and less prized;
if after spending summer days indoors
for several years, and writing frightening verse
I’m eighty-odd and pale and little more
than what I am today, will I be worse
off than my single, roving poet friends?
I doubt it, but you’ll have to ask me then.

3

I doubt it, but you’ll have to ask me then.
I doubt that I’ll be doddering and hunched
and wishing I could do it all again
because I felt I’d missed out on a bunch
of fellowships. And Christ, I love you. Christ
do I remember loneliness, and what
I did for scraps of evenings, what sufficed
for kindness. Offer me a life, a glut
of love, of undeserved reserves of grace
and nice interpretations of my faults.
I’ll still find ways to be unhappy. Face
the facts, though—I’m at home filling the salt
shakers, cleaning the microwave, unknown.
But staunchly, resolutely unalone.

4

A staunchly, resolutely unalone
existence is a windfall, I’m aware.
My mother, widowed young, was on her own.
She sliced a single life out of a shared
one almost overnight. She’d been one thing
at dinner but by dawn was something new,
something that no one envied. Friends would bring
us things to heat up, casseroles and stews,
and whisper thanks to Jesus for their luck
as they drove home. Our quiet, giant house
was stuffed with silence. We watched TV, stuck
our fingers in the cakes. Without a spouse,
with grieving children eating on the floor,
my mother put a brick beside her door.

5

My mother put a brick beside her door
to keep it open. If allowed to stay
inside her room, she thought, she might unmoor.
The hours gaped, a ceaseless chug of days
that pulled us forward, toward no one knew
exactly what. I watch you rinsing fish
fillets for dinner, polishing your shoes
and wonder if I’ll get to keep this. Wish
for independence, you might get it—trains
come rattling ’round their rails, a biker clicks
across a busy street. I can’t explain
the terror of a grieving child, the brick
beside her mother’s door, except to say
I’ve seen how things can change inside a day.

6

I’ve seen how things can change inside a day—
a wife becomes a widow with a word;
a bride becomes a wife. A shiftless splay
of drunken Brooklyn evenings turns from blurred
attempts at living into life, a half-
drunk glass of wine forgotten by the bed.
We laugh at things that used to make us laugh,
we let the laundry bloom, collect the dead
bugs from the window. While we watch TV
you put your fingertip inside the scar,
a shiny crescent divot in my knee.
I stand behind you standing at the bar
to smell your collar while you order beers,
to taste the salt of sixty coming years.

7

I taste the salt of sixty coming years,
our sprawling love asserted in a slough
of gritty flecks—that sour hope that we’re
among the ones who get to get old, tough
out poorer, sicker, worse times and ascend
into a halfness, gnarled together at
the joints. We swagger home before our friends
and watch the air get thick with breath and fat,
a midnight omelette on the stove. You shove
your hair across your shiny brow and I
am rupturing with love. And since I love
in circles like a broken bird I try
to keep this, look for things I’ve overlooked.
I use the built-in fan now when I cook.

from Rattle #43, Spring 2014
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Mary Block: “My writing is informed by my love of the indoors. I grew up in a very large, cold house in South Florida, and my reactions to place are always, in some way, reactions to that experience. The house was the type of place where one could always be alone, and I often was. Since I began reflecting on my childhood, I’ve grown interested in the ways that our house functioned as a family home, and the ways in which my subsequent homes have shaped the lives carried on inside them.” (website)