Terms of Agreement
Often I find myself creating problems instead of poems.
Though Tweetable, that is no epiphany on my end. I am wise to my own ways, especially in terms of avoidance.
A favorite teacher of mine deplores and defames the poem that ends in epiphany, and I, too, am suspicious of that kind of closure.
However, I don’t mind a certain kind of lifting. In fact, I appreciate it. Something less like the punch of Truth, Beauty and more like the pleasure derived from having mostly cleaned the scorched black bottom of a pan.
Epiphany can seem inscrutable, uncatchable, like a poem or a person fails if one doesn’t achieve it.
I prefer a moment that feels, at the risk of sounding like Hillary Duff’s lyricist, clean. (“Let the rain fall down and wake my dreams,” the goddess spake.)
The first year of marriage (I hope) is one of the hardest.
After long-considering the possibility of marriage (I actually came home crying from kindergarten one day and asked my mother, “Do you think anyone will ever marry me?”), being married itself is, if not an epiphany, an eye-opener. Two minds and hearts meet and become one, but they also must share a toilet and a table, among other mortal disappointments.
A single friend whose parents have been married decades said he respected the memory they share—a sort of hivemind of “going through the muck” together. I felt that way before I was married, too. But shared memory is just one facet of marriage’s prism.
My parents hung prisms in their kitchen window, above the sink. I remember wanting to appreciate each rainbow enough, to ooo and ahhh the appropriate amount.
I would say marriage is less about shared memory and more about a shared series of limitations. Where will you both live. Who showers first on weekdays. Which family’s Christmas will you both attend. What if one of you is Protestant, the other agnostic. How do we act when someone dies. What does alone time look like. Whose turn is it to look in the crawlspace. (Never mine.) Where is the place you both want to go most. Where is the place you end up. What does love look like when you refuse to back out.
But this isn’t quite it either. Not quite, not quite, that negative capability stuff.
Quickly, the mind becomes less private, though its secrets persist, often in dream, especially those its clumsy owner can’t remember or admit, can’t remember or unlock. For now.
The heart, a pushover, a glutton, less private still.
The shared memory, not quite what I thought it meant, but a sum value of these shared series of limitations, excluding what each party’s imagination withholds selfishly. A word problem that results in multiplying hundreds of matrices.
Limitations have gotten a bad rap. Here, think of limitations in the same way you would iambic pentameter or a villanelle: Traditional, not for everyone, hard to do well, but when done well, add to the enjoyment of creation, the ecstasy of tasting bread baked just right. Marriage can provide the boundaries like lines on a basketball court or the line that traces the seam allowance. Think of stops and rests and the black or unfilled notes on a staff. Limits orchestrate the most beautiful moments of my life.
(However, someone may do just as well without them or with fewer: prose writers, long-distance runners, ice cream connoisseurs. And of course, every choice is a set of limitations.)
But marriage, like all choice, exists in a limitless space. Quite literally: the universe. Science confounds me: Holograms, wormholes, wound healing, all the different types of stars. Limits and limitlessness stack like matryoshka dolls. The mind and the heart are said to be limitless spaces, although I feel the burn of frustration when they aren’t. A problem instead of a poem again.
When wrapped up in my own thoughts, limited though they be, hearing my husband singing in the room behind is a distraction, but also a sort of lifting, a sweet, low realization.
You can take anything and shape it into a broom, then sweep away other thoughts with it.
Lindsey Alexander's poems, "In Winter I Watch" and "Reflection on the First Season of a Marriage" appear in Issue 56 of Hayden's Ferry Review.