for Joan Paul, d. April 1978

No grief goes unrelieved;
some days, half meaning to,
I turn my undefended back
on the grey & snarling scene
of my dissociating pack
and hope.

Some suppose that this post-natal life
where all we have is time, is fetal life,
is where as we bounce and flex in time
our years of moons change us
into beings viable not here
but somewhere attentive. Suppose,
borne down on, we are birthed
into a universe where love’s not crazy;
and that split out of time is
death into a medium where
love is the element we cry out to breathe,
big love, general as air here,
specific as breath.

I want to talk to those outlanders
whose perspective I admire;
I listen often to the voices of the dead, and
it feels like my turn in the conversation.
I want to ask, say, Yeats (or
someone else it would make sense to,
Crashaw, Blake, H. D. who
worked out Sappho’s honey simile,
Joan word-lover you too, all you
who know what English has to do
with a possible answer)

          * * *

And I’d say, to set up the question:
after over a hundred lifetimes
of summers of honey since Sappho’s,
of beekeepers (who set out orchard
rows of nectarplants to bloom
before and after the appletrees,
          who sow alfalfa or tupelo,
          clover or roses,
          “all roses,” all summer,
then break the combs out of their dark
and decant the honey heavy & flowery)
—listen, it’s no different.
Honey’s still dangerous.
Honey’s pervasive.
Hunger for honey scalds if satisfied.
I know; I walk around dry-lipped;
my throat burns, and the August air at noon
ices it as I breathe because
I’ve been eating honey right from the spoon

and (as you, outside observers, can recall)
though petal & pollen nod golden & mild,
honey here burns like gall
and, having burned bitter
          sweet     raw     hot
generates a language for wild
love not limited to pollensoft
couplings of lovers; it generates
the longing to use that language
though there be not any one
to speak it to. Such honey
expressed as if it must be as love
which colors all encounters and lasts
long after one love has gone to seed,
changes the throat of a speaker
till it aches with expectancy
as it asks:

          * * *

WHAT (as at last I ask
          you of the outland honeyed universe,
          you great dead)
what do you do with love
when it is no more sexual
          than I am sexual,
when it is general
—in me, not mine—
and yet shapes the air,
like breath, like a honeyed
breath of air carrying
meaning between
me and everything there is;
when as if it must it defies
my daily exercise of savagery
and cause for guilt;
when it is absolute,
too sudden to disguise,
stubbornly addressed
to any eyes—
though it find me no less slothful nor
in any way more kind or wise?

What but
(since the love is in the language)
call it hope
—that helps a little—
and hope to imitate your inlands of example
by praising the possible;
what then but praise the ripening
cure of language which plays
among questions and answers
mediating even love and grief,
what but
          —as the window the morning
          as the foot the tilt of the ground
          as the river the lights of its city—
praise how the actions of language or honey
seem in their transport to express,
from the collected heat and sweetness
of hearing and speaking,
smaller and more human than belief,
some reason to read these thick omens
as good and those outlands as relief.

Excerpted from Collected Poems by Marie Ponsot. Copyright © 2016 by Marie Ponsot. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

         after Obergefell v. Hodges, summer 2015

I still have a question to ask—
what I don’t know is which words might compose it.

I know it lives, but where it might begin—
I have to squint like I do as it downpours

in the mountains; I cannot read the road.
Driving after dark, we feel the way, the last two

who don’t roam where others seem to—
I have told at least that many I would marry you

but neither sees our names before the code.
We seek no coverage, lower tax,

don’t imagine asking those we love
to stand for something we’d keep privately. I already

swear a dress each day we wake together,
use present tense verbs as often as

they tell the present truth. What I want to ask
is daily. I want to ask it in our houses, in our tent.

I want to find our roads however long they are
as we go, for you to realize my stories

and the details of their slower telling.
Would I say what I say in front of others,

yes. I want to say it all the time
in moments equal to one another, and for time

to unfold continuously, arrive continuously
from each measure as it’s made.

We’ll find a motel tonight if we have to, or sleep
in the car that smells of our bodies unshowered,

fueled by coffee and cheese eaten off the atlas,
nuts shaken in cinnamon—what matters most

is that I might still kill your sense of what is
every time I move into your body

the force it makes me. I want the question
live as it sounds: do you yet want

beyond a promise of anything.
I do not wish to turn from hunger. I could not

marry you absent the jagged world
that multiplies, complicates—may we marry

all grief, all longing, all shapeless dissatisfaction,
all long walks distance from our origins.

Do not leave. Walk as long as you can alone,
push back hard when you object to my position.

Divorce me every moment you decide
who you are and where you should

next be. Make your way. Make it
through me, some days, pushing through my body,

through our ties. Come through yourself
as though you have all the time in the world

even as it’s always subtracting
something from itself. For music, let’s sing

absently—I don’t want to translate even once
what we mean when we stand across

from one another speaking. No symbol
assigning something else. I feel

the dress—I feel its excellence
gelling, multiplying, becoming voluminous

for me and us; I feel it peeling back
transparence as it releases.

Appear, my love, so I can step out of myself.
Make me undressable, make it impossible

for me to clothe myself, make the garments
the lies they are—attend this living

as blatantly as anyone living must, awake
to meanings carried from meaningless things.

That is all I ask. There is no moment
we could exchange our words. We will

repeat nothing, just pray we provoke
each dark as we go, go with all that begs

to marry itself to some ever-casting horizon,
to marry itself to the furthest away thing.

Horizons always move, make an argument
about time, pray something.

Would I too? Is that how I find myself?
Would I bend to recognize

the curve I make around my center, keep
a center, bend toward it equally at every point?

Bend, love, I imagine myself saying,
to where you find me, wherever I may be,

wherever you find that bending becoming
your will and your innate way. I bend and pray

you’ll marry my unfixing, as I will always be,
or draw back from what you believe of me—

that you might bend harder than law allows,
that we might never marry civilly.

Copyright © 2017 by Rae Gouirand. “Not Marrying” originally appeared in the winter/spring 2017 issue of diode poetry journal. Used with permission of the author.


The first time I saw hundreds of fiddlehead ferns boiling in an enormous pot I realized
what an odd person I must be to hear tiny cries from the mouths of cooking vegetables.

Similarly, when you hurt me, I curled like a mouse behind my third eye. I realize what an
odd thing it is to believe as I do in my third eye and the mouse behind it that furls like a fern

and whimpers like a fern being boiled on a monster stove beside its brothers and sisters.
Poor mouse. The things that make a person odd are odd themselves. Think of DNA,

the way it resembles the rope Jack climbed to secure his future and that of his aging Mom.
Or the way a sudden wave can drag a child under, that addiction to adrenalin, her

siblings farther away and more powerless than she ever imagined, the pure and ecstatic
irreversibility of undertow. It’s odd to come back to life, as they say, she came bacto life.

I think I’ll come back to life now. It’s odd to think of something so big we could miss
the elephant we’re living on, like this planet Earth, is she alive and we’re her brain cells,

each one of us flickering, going out, coming back to life? Even Chicago looks poignant
from the top of the Hancock, organized and sincere. Think if we were photographing

Earth, how dear she would be, how we’d watch her shimmer in the shimmering black soup
of the firmament, how alone she’d look and how we’d long to protect her, the way it feels

to protect a woman at the height of orgasm, the liquid giving, the seawater slide of coming
back to life. When you hurt me, I evolved like a backboned sea creature, translucent

nervous system sparking along in the meanest deep where I was small enough to not care
and my passions ran to swimming, gulping, spitting bubbles back into new oceans.

Once when you hurt me I slept at a Red Roof Inn. I double-locked the door and tried to
watch talk shows to keep my mind off sounds like someone suffocating someone

in the next room. I thought I saw blood on the box spring and imagined needles and bulgy
veins, there’s something odd, I thought, about someone whose imagination runs this wild.

So often I dream you’re here and I wake in the middle of a prayer from my muzzled
childhood. Jesus Mary and Joseph, I say, appalled that I’m stuck in 1955 when I need

something profane to see me through. Serrano’s submerged cross. Ginger tea.
The idea that we’re moving between horizons and the Earth is so wise she sends us

Winter and red-tailed hawks when we least expect them. I can do this, I say,
and the planet shifts imperceptibly. From a great distance she appears to be at peace.

“Fiddleheads” from Fibonacci Batman: New and Selected Poems (Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2013). Copyright © 2013 by Maureen Seaton. Used with permission of Carnegie Mellon University Press and The Permissions Company.