Better to Marry Than to Burn

By Traci Brimhall Traci Brimhall
Home, then, where the past was.
Then, where cold pastorals repeated
their entreaties, where a portrait of Christ
hung in every bedroom. Then was a different
country in a different climate in a time when
souls were won and lost in prairie tents. It was.
It was. Then it was a dream. I had no will there.
Then the new continent and the new wife
and the new language for no, for unsaved,
for communion on credit. Then the daughter
who should’ve been mine, and the hour a shadow
outgrew its body. She was all of my failures,
my sermon on the tender comforts of hatred
in the shape of a girl. Then the knowledge
of God like an apple in the mouth. I faced
my temptation. I touched its breasts with
as much restraint as my need allowed,
and I woke with its left hand traced again
and again on my chest like a cave wall
disfigured by right-handed gods who tried
to escape the stone. It was holy. It was fading.
My ring, then, on my finger like an ambush,
as alive as fire. Then the trees offered me a city
in the shape of a word followed by a word
followed by a blue madonna swinging from
the branches. A choir filed out of the jungle
singing hallelujah like a victory march and it was.

Source: Poetry (July/August 2014).


This poem originally appeared in the July/August 2014 issue of Poetry magazine

July/August 2014
 Traci  Brimhall


Poet Traci Brimhall earned a BA at Florida State University, an MFA at Sarah Lawrence College, and a PhD at Western Michigan University. In her lyric poems, she often merges the everyday with surreal imagery to meditate on themes of sacrifice and transformation. She is the author of the poetry collections Our Lady of the Ruins (2012), selected by Carolyn Forché for the Barnard Women Poets Prize, and Rookery (2010), winner of a . . .

Continue reading this biography

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Living, Marriage & Companionship, Religion, Christianity, Faith & Doubt, God & the Divine, Social Commentaries, Gender & Sexuality

POET’S REGION U.S., Midwestern

Poetic Terms Free Verse

Report a problem with this poem

Your results will be limited to content that appeared in Poetry magazine.

Search Every Issue of Poetry

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

This poem has learning resources.

This poem is good for children.

This poem has related video.

This poem has related audio.