6.03 / March 2011

Five Poems

First Year of Marriage

listen to this poem

Love is the burning point. – Joseph Campbell

You get up from the couch to rekindle
the fire. I ask if you need a match as you

twist the newspaper into a horseshoe
and stick it between dim embers and logs.

You say no, the fire will catch.
Everyone says marriage takes work.

We do our share. We watch the paper;
in the dark night, we wait.

Second Year of Marriage

listen to this poem

Over breakfast and the staggering waft
of jasmine tea and pesto eggs, you say

if it were your job to create the senses
you would have forgotten smell.

I keep my mouth shut, look
intrigued. A link to the limbic,

the olfactory: the pulse-quickening
scent-coffee, green-humid air, exhaust-

of the airport in Venezuela-or the way
the geranium in my living room sends me

straight back to my grandparents’ deck,
those summer lunches. Last year,

I would have tried to convince you
of smell’s virtues. Instead, I let it be.

Later, we fight over the best way to unlock
the car. No matter. Your scent, that wordless

telegram, still takes me apart, like it did
when it first arrived out of nowhere.

The Third Year of Marriage

listen to this poem

A Frenchman in a straw hat,
his white linen shirt immaculate,

calls, Attendez-moi, to his friends below.
He crawls down sideways, bent in half

to hang onto the lone, low rope
strung along 120 vertiginous steps

of the Yucatan’s highest pyramid
with bee-god carvings

and a treetops-for-miles view.
I look down and sway.

My husband positions himself
below and to the side of me, places

my hand on his shoulder, and says,
Let’s go. We lower left to meet right

on narrow, pitted steps, in the implicit
rhythm of the intimate. I’m crazy.

If he goes, I go, but all the way
I hold onto his shoulder, steady.

Fourth Year of Marriage

listen to this poem

At our hotel breakfast table you take the bananas we swiped
for snacks and make them kiss. When they start to hump

and moan, the couple at the next table staring,
I ask you to stop. Then, carefully, you lay the spooned

bananas down and tuck them in gently, napkin folded back
like a sheet. My laugh makes half the dining room turn around.

I think of your penchant for depressive wives-your heroic attempts
to cheer up the last one, and now me-how perfect the clowning

that often embarrasses, sometimes succeeds. How I hope
you’ll never give up. Shhh, you whisper, the bananas are sleeping.

Fifth Year of Marriage

listen to this poem

It didn’t seem dangerous-the white dress,
the trailing red bouquet, the rose-strewn path.

The sun even broke through rain-laden clouds
to shine on my face when I spoke my vows.

The other night I told a new friend I got married
because I wanted to grow, having gone

as far as I could along the wake-up-path alone-
it’s easy to think you’re enlightened when no one’s leaving

clothes on the floor or dishes in the sink. It didn’t seem
dangerous, this decision to build ourselves a paddock

in which to nuzzle, but opening asks for much more
than flexibility-the giving up of every story

about who we are and could be, alone and together.
Marriage-this riding crop, this ground of flames.

Marie-Elizabeth Mali is the author of Steady, My Gaze (Tebot Bach, 2011). She serves as co-curator of louderARTS: the Reading Series and the Page Meets Stage reading series, both in New York City. For more information: www.memali.com
6.03 / March 2011