A Marriage Poem

By Ellen Bryant Voigt b. 1943
1.

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,   
diastolic, inclusive:
to love is to siphon loss into that chamber.


2.

What does it mean when a woman says,   
“my husband,”
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—


3.

In last week’s mail,
still spread on the kitchen table,
the list of endangered species.
How plain the animals are,
quaint, domestic,
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.

Ellen Bryant Voigt, “A Marriage Poem” from The Forces of Plenty (New York: W.W. Norton, 1983). Copyright © 1983 by Ellen Bryant Voigt. Used by
permission of the author.

Source: The Forces of Plenty (1983)

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Poet Ellen Bryant Voigt b. 1943

POET’S REGION U.S., Southern

Subjects Marriage & Companionship, Home Life, Relationships, Living

Occasions Anniversary

Biography

Ellen Bryant Voigt has lived in Vermont for many years; she spent her childhood in rural Virginia, where she grew up on her family’s farm. Her poems traverse the worlds of motherhood, the rural South, family, and music. Her 1995 collection Kyrie: Poems is a book-length sonnet sequence exploring the lives of people affected by the influenza epidemic of 1918–1919. Poet Edward Hirsch wrote of her early book, Claiming Kin (1976), . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Marriage & Companionship, Home Life, Relationships, Living

POET’S REGION U.S., Southern

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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