Why Our Marriage Works
You sing songs to the pug in your fake Cantonese
and seem surprised when he doesn’t understand. You make coffee
a party: dark-roasted beans, gleaming French presses, and hand-thrown
mugs plucked from thrift-store shelves. You aren’t pretentious
about fashion, but covet coats like a boy who grew up
always cold. Because once, you gave your good wool coat
to a man in a flop house called the Snake Ranch. You rescue
hummingbird nests blown out of trees and see sculpture
in piles of rubble. Because you love, with equal zeal, begonias
and babies and sheetrock screws. Because you love the world
more than you hate the world. You dislike Christmas
but still twist twigs into wreaths with me. Because everything
you touch – rock or metal or leather or wood –
you shape into beauty. Because you did that
to me. Because we decorate our home with opaque stones
balanced on brass nozzles, and bowls of balled wool, and curly
willow branches hung with blue feathers – pop-up shrines
we build from common objects and we live our life
among them stunned and blessed.
The Widow Sifts Through the Rubble
Any time I had a free hour, I’d drop down
to the basement, try to sort what I wanted
from what I did not. Pulling stuff from closets
and drawers and cobwebbed boxes seemed
to create more stuff: tall teetering piles
labeled with intended destinations.
Goodwill. Garage sale. Jan & Pat.
Stuff overflowed into the crevices
of my life, plugging up my time.
You know what I mean. You stare
at these things from another life,
still yours: yearbooks and diplomas.
Vacation photos. Lace hankies
from dead aunties. Treasure maps
from your past, blocking your future.
How did you get here? You search
the piles for clues, find them
in the florid penmanship of 3rd grade
teachers (Student shows promise
but needs to be more assertive),
in the digits of phone numbers
scrawled on cardboard coasters,
in the marriage license signed
by obliging strangers on a golden
fall day on Mt. Hood. Your beloved
world is outdated, frayed, and faded.
Parts of it smell musty. You find
your mind is a half-filled sack containing
old receipts from Home Depot, two family
Bibles (yours and his), endless coils
of electrical cords, uncirculated
coins from the U.S. Mint. I tried
to remember the life I led, the one
that required a pink pageboy wig,
white leather boots, and gossamer wings.
I tried to remember how he shined
his shoes on Sunday nights, buffed them
with the horsehair brush sitting heavy
in my hands. Over & over,
I sifted through old papers – birthday
cards, car titles, sheet music, love
letters. The piles shifted
and bulged like tectonic plates.
My sister helped sometimes, tossing
his woodworking magazines and
muddy running shoes into the trash.
There, they spooned with eyeglass cases,
broken kites, half-used bottles
of hotel shampoo. Within an hour,
she’d exhume bare floor, cutting off
my protests about social need
and landfills. (Poor people don’t want
this shit either, honey.)
I’d begin again in earnest. Another roll
of blue masking tape. Another set
of garbage bags and boxes. Reaching
through dust to more dust. Excavating
the hardest things: the yellowed
wedding dress, the piece of copper
stove pipe with fluted cap and perfect
green patina that he began to fashion
into a birdhouse for me. The walnut
cane he carved himself, the heart-
shaped pillow from the ICU,
compression socks nested
in an unopened package. Just yesterday,
it seemed, he stocked his cigar box
with sacred objects – feathers
and shells we picked up at Hug Point,
the soft lock of hair he snipped
from my head. I looked for meaning
in all that stuff. But none emerged.
Unless you count the postcard
I found and kept: Mount St. Helens,
before the explosion. Shimmering
water. Wildflower meadows. The magma
below, seeking cracks.