HELEN DEGEN COHEN
When You Finally Marry
When you finally marry your mother
never mind the symbols of land, arbors,
milkmaids prettying the fields
Here she comes, down the steps,
carefully, and enters your soul.
You stare at her.
Poke her like a rubber doll
her jack-in-the box.
Pop, there she is!
Holy binoculars! Is this her life?
Is this what marriage is about?
* * *
When you finally marry your father
he rushes in grinning like a bear
who will never dance
but instead walks around mixing cocktails.
Who are you, daddy?
Finally you marry the who-are-you
and let him have a good-old-time.
Let him sit in the bathroom for hours
reading Michener, shaving and perfuming up.
The man who made you jump in the pool and swim.
The man who never made you
do anything but swim.
O daddy, daddy, make me good,
make me crimson with laughter and evil,
make me a woman.
He sits there watching TV.
Civilized man. A beer in his hand.
Climbs up to bed, climbs down for
God of mythology, voodoo man.
Master of thirty magenta concubines.
Lover of war and corpses.
Who are you daddy?
Honking your horn at other cars.
Decoder of stock markets,
holy scriptures made into daily bread.
O give us. Daddy in your chair.
Daddy in the blue light of the screen,
after the anthem, after the images.
Daddy in the wee hours.
When I married my first father,
I was in love.
We murdered the fat mother in my soul.
It was a beautiful day,
each day my first son was born,
each day my first moonlike daughter
rose like an archetypal symbol.
Zeus shot his diamond arrows,
Innana descended into hell and was saved.
We shed children, like blossoms, in our wake,
they faded into the world and
grew into something else.
When I married my second father,
it was when everyone was writing poems
to appease the self and not the soul.
My mother stood outside, quietly
as if we lived in a palace.
Small as a child,
a rose in her hand.
Orange, purple and gold.
How smooth and satin you are.
He and I, we made a bed of
poetry to lie on.
God of skin, God of recognition.
When I married my third father
I was reading that essay by Donald Hall.
Work on the book, he said.
Pay with thyself as coin
I heard the jangling of a purseful.
Under the bed. On
top of which he wanted to
make love to me. No, that
isn't the word. Release.
The way a tree fades in October.
Lantern; orgasm. Silence.
Autumn is all I know of spring.
Summers I sit on a chaise-lounge, longing.
Summer, the season of what ought to be.
He said, work on the book.
The book? The book.
We went downtown to the movies,
worked on a five year plan,
brought home The Quiet Man,
climbed into bed, and watched TV.
Words popped like bubbles out of soda.
We threw peanuts at the bears.
When I finally married my mother,
I noticed myself, I came away
from myself. Since to marry anyone
is to leave them forever in the box
they want to remember as paradise.
The air turned into onions and carrots,
a chicken squirmed in her arms.
Steam, not mist.
Work & worry.
Not lanterns in October.
Not the daisylike sun
in a child's painting.
The sun warms the walls with such
And it isn't whether you get it or not,
it's what you want that counts,
the image of
an incandescent bride and bridegroom
as if rising out of water.
Lord & Lady, help the unresolved,
keep giving birth to us,
simple as we are.
My father who will never dream,
my mother who will never dance,
how gracefully they touch and change places
and we look up.
© 2001 Helen Degen Cohen
Originally published in Spoon River Quarterly, now Spoon River Review.
Used with permission.