Marriage XV

by David Harsent



Now rise from the bath, your hair caught up with a peg.
The water peels back from your breasts like the film from
        a cooking egg.
You cleanly cleave your arse as you lift one leg

to the edge of the tub and start to work the towel
from ankle to thigh, then into the damson bevel
of your crotch, after which you sit, heel to knee,

on a raffia chair, your quim guerning to a scowl
as you slip your foot into the foot
of your stocking. Next, it’s your face coming free

of the summer dress, as you greet
yourself in the mirror. Here’s how it goes after that:
        foundation, powder, eye-
shadow, blusher, mascara,

lipstick pressed to a tissue … that perfectly mute
syllable of love (love, or it could be hate)
that I pick up and pocket to re-read later.

The same summer dress you loosened and dropped with a
        clatter
of tiny buttons on tile as I backed you up to the table,
our first night under this roof, and you The Biddable

Spouse, slipping your foot out of the foot
of your stocking … The same table
you cover with a red checkered cloth, setting the bread,
        the butter,

the plum preserve, and the best we have of china.
Ur-wife. Wife of wives.
I’m close enough for ambush as you pass with your box
        of knives.

Notes on the Poem

What goes awry here? Does David Harsent's "Marriage XV" set out to be one thing and become another, or does it intend from the outset for you to reach an unsettling conclusion? With intimacy almost startling in its intensity, the narrator describes his wife in her most private moments. These observations are clearly the result of a constant attention, but it also has a sense of looking afresh at the same time. Phrases such as "damson bevel" are captivating. Particularly arresting, not to mention delightful, is: "Next, it's your face coming free of the summer dress, as you greet yourself in the mirror." The earthy specificity of some of the language also conveys a sense of possessiveness, as if only the narrator knows and is allowed to describe this woman and describe her in this fashion, like she is his private terrain. Although there are common elements (the same summer dress, the same table, stockings) has something changed between the italicized past and the present of the balance of the poem? The parenthetical "love, or it could be hate" strikes an odd chord amidst the close (or is it claustrophobic?) admiration. Does the last line indicate that the narrator feels self loathing or is aware that his scrutiny could be seen as oppressive ... or that some more than uneasy feeling is mutual between observer and observed?

One Reply to “Marriage XV”

  1. I find the last lines “Ur-wife. Wife of wives.” troubling. The narrator retreats from the individualist of his own wife, backs away from the intimacy of his relationship with her, and turns her into something general and iconic. To me, it doesn’t seem flattering, although the possibility is there, but rather dismissive, as if he is trying to humiliate her with exaggerated praise. That definitely makes me question his real feelings for her. No wonder he is worried as she walks past… !

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