Friday, April 03, 2009

Long Marriage

Text by Leon Wing

Poem by Gerald Fleming
from Swimmer Climbing onto Shore,
Sixteen Rivers Press, San Francisco, 2005

Long Marriage

You're worried, so you wake her
& you talk into the dark:
Do you think I have cancer, you
say, or Were there worms
in that meat, or Do you think
our son is OK, and it's
wonderful, really--almost
ceremonial as you feel
the vessel of your worry pass
miraculously from you to her--
Gee, the rain sounds so beautiful,
you say--I'm going back to sleep.

In the beginning of Long Marriage, you can sense the comfort of the speaker in sleep, who has just woken up, in the long vowels at the start of the line ( “You're worried”). The r sounds somewhat evoke the sensation of snoring, don’t they? The comma in the middle of this line literally disrupts the snoring, by inserting a pause. After this you hear an aspiration, in “so”, which marks the moment of being brought out of sleep. But he remains as sleepy as at the start of the line, as indicated by the alliteration, or rather, the symmetry, playing on y and w of “you wake” and "You're worried". The end-stopping, with “her” has the waker exhaling.

Line two begins with an ampersand, normally used as a short form for and. This inidicates a precipitousness in the waker, so much so that he doesn’t wait to direct his talk towards his sleeping partner beside him. He just goes and talks into the emptiness, “into the dark”.

In the third line, there is an immediacy in the way he puts into question his worry of the first line, by leaving out quotation marks. The “you” at the end of this line breaks for an enjambement or run-on, to “say”, in the next line.  In this next line his worry is so uppermost in his mind that “were” is capitalized without ceremony. We know he is worried, from the alliteration in “Were there worms”.

Further on, in the next couple of lines, we realize he is not really pinpointing just one major worry which happens to wake him up. He happens to possess a few more, like his worry over their son. Then, a comma is again utilized, this time to signal a change in his mood. The run-on “it’s” to “wonderful” of the next line plays down his worries. The w in “wonderful” echoes that in “worry”,”wake”, “Were” and “worms”: we – and he – see how ridiculous all these worries are.

And all this are “almost/ ceremonial”, like their marriage, when he lets his spouse do all the worrying now; a kind of sharing between loved ones, like a vow.  It's interesting, the use of vessel, which is a tube in which bodily fluid circulates.  In  the context of marriage - and sleep and bed - it hints at marital sex.  It is more than "your worry" passing "miraculously from you to her": it's as ceremonial as their wedding night.

The dash of an end-stopping is very strong: the next line echoes the wonderful motif, in an earlier line, with “beautiful”.  

Finally, in the last line, the poet uses, not a comma anymore, but a dash, to signal a break in tone. He decides to go back to sleep, while it is his spouse who is now staying up to take on all his worries.

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