Anniversary

by Karen Solie

copyright ©Karen Solie 2001

It was the summer some rank fever weed
sunk her bitch hooks in, sowed my skin
to itch and ooze, that we shared a bed
for the first time. It’s not so bad,
you said, looking for a clean place
to put your hands while I stuck to the sheets
and stunk up the room with creams
and salves. You didn’t cringe,
(though in those days my back was often turned)
took your showers at the usual time, rose,
a bank of muscled cloud above
my poisoned field, and blew cool
across the mess. I said, eyes shining
with antihistamines, that you were potent
as a rare bird sighting, twenty on the sidewalk,
straight flush. It was only falling
into sleep that your body twitched away
from mine, a little more each time
I’d scratch, and I knew then we were made
for each other, that you lie as well as me,
my faithful drug, my perfect match.

Notes on the Poem

With "Anniversary", from her 2002 Griffin Poetry Prize shortlisted collection Short Haul Engine, Karen Solie perhaps sets out to undermine romantic love with the less-than-attractive aspects of everyday life. On the other hand, perhaps she has created an unconventionally beautiful love poem - doing the very same thing. Jeremy Richards took on the assignment from the Poetry Foundation to interview four poets on "how to write love poems that don't suck." When he posed his questions to Rebecca Hoogs, she astutely observed:
"A good love poem lives in a tense state. If there’s no tension in the love, there’s no tension in the poem. “I love you, you’re perfect,” no matter how prettily said, is boring."
The narrator of Solie's poem is clearly tense and feeling less-than-perfect, extremely self-conscious about some unfortunate and acute allergies that the narrator's lover can't help but notice. The narrator notes gratefully "You didn't cringe" and praises the lover as something very special "a rare bird sighting, twenty on the sidewalk, straight flush" but later ... "It was only falling into sleep that your body twitched away from mine" Referencing those signs of good luck, is the narrator actually kind of rueful, sarcastic or doubtful ... because while a "straight flush" is a winning card combination, couldn't it also pertain to itchy skin? Solie has uniquely mined ugliness for unexpectedly transcendent beauty before, as in her powerful and unforgettable poem "Sturgeon" from this same collection. As her narrator concludes here "you lie as well as me, my faithful drug, my perfect match." the ugliness might be more than the physical, but whatever it is, it seems that love knows when to expediently ignores certain things. Wryly and perhaps perversely reassuring on one hand, on the other it suggests that this unusual love poem is actually far from over.

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