Friday, April 12, 2013

Marriage’s Lineage of Imagery and The Poetry of Motherhood

I wrote this post last year, but due to the surreal anguish and ongoing questions (would we be ok? would we be reunited?) I waited. In synchronous harmony, I am preparing to teach Poetry of Motherhood again, but this time, selecting poems from the sun-filled home I inhabit with my husband.

When my husband-to-be flew out to Iowa City to woo me thirteen years ago with all the muscled vigor of a grown man—certainly no longer looking anything like the freckled kid I remembered from sixth grade—and asked me to marry him, his eye was caught by an image on my shelf of Guinevere knighting Lancelot (artwork by Edmund Blair Leighton). That, he proclaimed, should be our theme. 

So we hired a dress-maker; she skillfully replicated the long draping sleeves of Guinevere’s gown, sketched out and sewed to red pigskin the black griffin-like bird of Lancelot’s heraldry to my husband’s tunic. I remember sort of glossing over the metaphor of the entangled love triangle between Guinevere and Lancelot and Arthur, choosing to focus on the parallel spiritual solace Guin and Lance may have found in the later years of their acquaintance.

Our wedding guests arrived adorned in period costume. We hired a harpist who by chance could also fulfill my husband’s request for closing processional by bagpipe; under the canopy of redwoods, we married in a stone amphitheater to the low sweet trill of a hermit thrush. We filled our years with children and jobs and the stresses of our economic times, which lead to my husband taking a second job in a city a flight’s distance from us.

 After two years of the inevitable strain our situation placed on our marriage we found ourselves facing a crisis of trust. I feared irreparable damage. Wriggling under the clarifying purification pain provides, I farmed out my three children and stayed with my aunt in an attempt to gain perspective. Simultaneously, I happened to be on the hunt for poems to use in my Poetry of Motherhood class, grateful for the distraction work lent from the psychic sorting obsessing both heart and head. Tea in hand, from across the room, I spotted the pale green spine of a book titled, “Ireland in Poetry.”

When I slid the book free, I found two familiar figures gracing the cover. In slightly different costume (her dress, blue--not white, his head, covered in chain mail--not bared), but so close to the image we’d used on our wedding invitation, I felt as if the figures were speaking directly to me: All is not lost. But you are, for now, turned away from one another. What relief—I could acceptance our distance. And take comfort in the image of gripped dress sleeve linking the forlorn lovers. Later that night, a poet friend of mine said: Why don’t you advise your husband to forgive himself, and you, do the same: forgive yourself. She was hinting at two equally important halves of forgiveness: forgiving the other person matters little if self-blame runs riot in the background of one's inner monologue.

While my husband and I still had hours of emotional thicket to clear, both the image and the suggestions from my friend (which I voiced to my husband) seemed solid reminders of possible redemption. Another friend chimed in with: The only way through perceived betrayal is through…through the physical grip on the body, through the triggered childhood griefs that attach likes boxcars to the engine of one’s particular train. At least the caboose, vibrant red, has room for two to stand viewing side by side the ground crossed to get here, retreating, retreating.

Notes and further reading:

Book cover: Ireland in Poetry, Edited by Charles Sullivan. Cover image, "The Meeting on the Turret Stairs," by Sir Frederick Burton, 1864. Watercolor on paper. The National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin.
A beautiful collection of poems; for Poetry of Motherhood, I chose for my students, the poem Cliona, by Catherine Twomey, a mother daughter poem graced by the opening lines , "You are letting her go / from you slowly / so gently she hardly / knows."

A plea for compassion for new fathers: Notecard to a Nursing Mother: Let The Husband Be Where He Is (a follow-up to Postcard to a Nursing Mother: Be Where You Are) at Mother Writer Mentor, where I'll be teaching Poetry of Motherhood.

Hope you'll join me for Poetry of Motherhood (April 22). Check out this video I made last year with my daughter's help out on our back deck in the redwoods, "Introduction to Poetry of Motherhood" for a better idea of our class. Also know we aren't strictly in the business of writing poetry. We write to prompts and while poetry is welcome, it isn't required. We had a great time last year.

For a look at the quandaries and intricacies of blogging about the personal and traversing the public/private line, see an interview Edith O'Nuallain (yes, of Ireland) conducted with me earlier this month (posted in two installments): On the Art and Craft of Transformative Blogging and Part 2.



Edith said...

What a brave and honest description of a time of darkness and deep grief, There are many who will read this who will understand your fears and emotions. And the undercurrent of quiet gratitude which runs through it, like a subterranean stream, unvoiced, unseen, but there nonetheless, like a song of hope and yes, even joy!
Thank you for the reference to our interview! And thank you for answering my questions too! :) xxx

Tania Pryputniewicz said...

Thank you Edith. I am glad the gratitude comes through. Seems everything can eventually be seen with a grateful eye, though not always (of course) at the time. Thanks for reading.