The Secret to a Happy Marriage Is Not What I Thought it Was

 

In July, John and I will celebrate our 25th anniversary. I have sworn that the secret to a happy marriage is separate bathrooms. Really and truly, that’s the only advice I’ve ever shared with newlyweds.

But to be frank, for all but our first three years as a married couple, we maintained separate bathrooms. (Why did we share during those first three years? Was it wedded bliss? No, it was that our first two apartments had only one bathroom.)

As soon as we moved into a place with two bathrooms, I took over one of them. And thus it has stayed — through moves, through pregnancies, through children, through two houses with tiny master bathrooms, the kind we could only share if one person stood at the sink and one sat on the toilet. There is such a thing as too much togetherness.

And then we bought a new house. Built in 1999, this one is the newest we’ve owned. This master bathroom is, in a word, vast. There are two sinks (please applaud). Not only could one person stand and the other sit, but one person could do a cartwheel while the other shaves. Have I tested this theory? Has my husband done a cartwheel while I shaved my legs?

What happens in the bathroom stays in the bathroom.

One month into this new level of cohabitation we’re doing well. We’ve lived together long enough and endured sufficient crises to rise to meet this new challenge. Okay, it might be that after 25 years we’re set in our ways. We shower at different times — him, before work; me, after exercising. The only time we get ready simultaneously occurs before church. Which we’ve successfully navigated so far.

Although, to be fair, I have discovered a privacy option: a walk-in closet.

This is another luxury we have not had previously, except during our first year of marriage, when the only apartment available was a unit built for wheelchair accessibility. But this closet dwarfs that one. It’s so big we moved in our dresser. Because we could, that’s why.

One of the dogs claimed the corner under the built-ins as her den. Heck, both dogs could co-camp in our closet. They’re only terriers, after all. But I bet we could get two Labs in this closet. But then there would be no room for our shoes. However, if we had Labs, they’d eat all our shoes, so there you have it. No Labs, safe shoes, happy terriers.

I have seen bathrooms and closets bigger than ours in the pages of the WACOAN magazine. I have interviewed homeowners for those pages with grander porcelain palaces. Some have not only two sinks, a shower, a toilet, and space for cartwheeling, but also a tub.

Our master bathroom lacks this amenity. If I want to take a bath, I have to walk to the other side of the house, to the guest bathroom. In which I have already taken over a drawer and most of a cabinet. Because some days, even in the midst of halcyon marital harmony, you need your own bathroom.

Poetry Club, day 20

(Originally, this was the beginning of The Joy of Poetry. It’s now the last day of our poetry club.)

 

On New Year’s Eve, I was feeling down. Okay, that’s a lie. I was in utter despair. I had no desire to celebrate the new year. I didn’t even want it to come. At 9:40 p.m., I officially gave up. I knelt by the couch to kiss my husband, John, goodnight.

“The earlier I go to bed, the sooner this year will be over,” I said.

John nodded. It had been an awful year. He kissed me gently. Then he said, “Let’s get drunk.”

I’ve known John for 25 years. He’s never had a drink in his life. He doesn’t even like alcohol.

“How about you get me a six-pack of wine coolers?” he said.

I laughed. I hadn’t laughed in months. “Wine coolers come in packs of four.”

He said, “Then you’d better go. I bet the gas station closes at 10.”

I was already in my nightgown, but I changed clothes and jumped in the car. The nearest gas station was already locked, presumably to provide its employees with a couple extra celebratory hours. So I headed to the grocery store.

There were three of us there at 10 p.m. that New Year’s Eve. One was buying six 12-packs of Dos Equis and several bottles of champagne. The other was buying PowerAde and orange juice, for a celebration of another kind, I guess. And then there was me, with my $3.85 four-pack of Seagram’s Classic Lime Margarita. I picked that one because when John has occasionally sipped my margarita, he said it kind of tasted like limeade, only limeade tasted better.

I returned home, triumphant and, to be honest, a little nervous. He opened a wine cooler, and I poured a glass of shiraz. We clinked drinking implements and said, “Salud.”

“Aren’t you supposed to eat when you drink?” John asked.

“Only if you don’t want to get drunk,” I said.

He looked through the pantry. “Fritos!” he announced. “Fritos and wine coolers. Happy New Year’s Eve!” In a few minutes he eyed me as he opened a second wine cooler. “You’re not drinking yours fast enough.”

“I can’t drink fast. That’s not what I do,” I said.

“Do you want some Fritos?”

I made a face, and he laughed. I couldn’t remember the last time he laughed, either.

College football was on. I was not paying attention to the game, but sitting there, stunned that my until-then-tetotalling husband was enjoying a drink made for teenagers. John was on his third wine cooler and, thanks to the 3.8 percent alcohol in those suckers, still completely sober. The whole thing was crazy. Good crazy.

When the game ended, we still had an hour to go before midnight. John said, “Let’s go to bed.” So we did, and not because we were sad. Neither of us cared that we wouldn’t see the new year until the next morning.

When I awoke, there was an email waiting for me from L.L. Barkat, asking if she could publish one of my poems, oh, and by the way, would I like to write a book? This book. She already had a title and a cover and everything. Maybe the new year wouldn’t be so bad.

Then I made tea (Wuyi oolong), and I read a poem. Because that’s what I do every morning before I write — drink tea and read a poem.

 

The Year

What can be said in New Year rhymes,

That’s not been said a thousand times?

 

The new years come, the old years go,

We know we dream, we dream we know.

 

We rise up laughing with the light,

We lie down weeping with the night.

 

We hug the world until it stings,

We curse it then and sigh for wings.

 

We live, we love, we woo, we wed,

We wreathe our brides, we sheet our dead.

 

We laugh, we weep, we hope, we fear,

And that’s the burden of the year.

 

Ella Wheeler Wilcox

 

Your turn, poetry peeps. Thanks again for joining me this month with your thoughts and observations. May the rest of your year be filled with poetry. And tea.

Poetry Club, day 19

For our penultimate meeting of the poetry club, I’m posting not a poem but something about poetry by that oh so wise bear, Winnie-the-Pooh.

 

“When you are reciting poetry, which is a thing we never do, you find sometimes, just as you are beginning, that Uncle John is still telling Aunt Rose that if he can’t find his spectacles he won’t be able to hear properly, and does she know where they are; and by the time everybody has stopped looking for them, you are at the last verse, and in another minute they will be saying, ‘Thank-you, thank-you,’ without really knowing what it was all about.”

~ from the introduction to Now We Are Six, by A.A. Milne

Isn’t that the standard reaction to poetry (if you can get anyone to listen at all) — “Thank-you, thank-you,” with absolutely no comprehension. Perhaps, like dear Uncle John, we need spectacles to hear properly.

Yes, that’s supposed to be a joke, but it’s also true. We can’t read poetry the same way we read a novel. Poetry is like wine. You don’t chug wine, do you? Do you? I hope not.

Poetry is more like tea. You need time to sip and savor, to smell as well as taste. You need the sort of spectacles that allow you to not only read the words but hear them too. Poetry has rhythm and sometimes rhyme. Don’t chug it. Grab your reading glasses and turn up the volume.

If you’re going to love poetry, you might as well start with A.A. Milne. I did. Now We Are Six is the first book of poetry I ever read by myself — a gift from my mother on my sixth birthday. Milne’s other children’s poetry book is When We Were Very Young.

In fact, if you are looking for some spectacles to hear properly, it’s best to start with Pooh, someone who spent a great deal of time writing poetry and hums. Pooh’s hums are actually songs, but since Milne didn’t include musical notes, let’s just call them what they are: poems.

Turn with me to The House at Pooh Corner, to the story “In Which Eeyore Finds the Wolery and Owl Moves Into It.” It contains some of the best poetry advice ever. The story includes Pooh’s longest hum — with seven verses — to commemorate Piglet’s brave deed in the previous story. It took Pooh a while to create this hum because poetry, as he admits, “it isn’t easy.”

“Because Poetry and Hums aren’t things which you get, they’re things which get you. And all you can do is to go where they can find you.”

True, Pooh. You can’t rush poetry.

“Well,” said Pooh after a long wait, “I shall begin ‘Here lies a tree’ because it does, and then I’ll see what happens.”

A very good place to start. Then he composes.

“So there it is,” said Pooh, when he had sung this to himself three times. “It’s come different from what I thought it would, but it’s come.”

Poems often come differently from what you thought, and those are usually the best poems. A good poem often surprises the reader. In this case, the reader is Piglet.

 So Pooh hummed it to him, all the seven verses and Piglet said nothing, but just stood and glowed.

Never before had anyone sung ho for Piglet (PIGLET) ho all by himself. When it was over, he wanted to ask for one of the verses over again, but didn’t quite like to. It was the verse beginning “O gallant Piglet,” and it seemed to him a very thoughtful way of beginning a piece of poetry.

Yes, it was thoughtful, wasn’t it? That line is actually the beginning of verse 5, so you see, sometimes you have to work your way up to something as grand as O gallant Piglet (PIGLET)! Ho!”

But gallant Piglet soon spies a problem in this seven-verse hum. He was there, after all, and it didn’t all happen exactly like Pooh said. Piglet asks the eternal question: Should poems tell the truth? Or, as he puts it,

 “Did I really do all that?” he said at last.

Pooh has the best answer on truth in poetry that I’ve ever heard.

“Well,” said Pooh, “in poetry — in a piece of poetry — well, you did it, Piglet, because the poetry says you did. And that’s how people know.”

There you have it. It’s true because the poetry says so.

 

Poetry Club, day 18

Earlier this week my current friend and former editor Dayna Avery sent me to listen to Modern Mrs. Darcy’s podcast, What Should I Read Next? The latest episode, “What to read if Google wrecked your brain,” is about poetry. She interviews a poet named Dave Harrity, and he mentioned this poem by William Stafford, which at one point was in The Joy of Poetry. 
We discussed the poem in our writer’s group one time, which led to a discussion of Deer Encounters. (Welcome to the Texas Hill Country!) Most of ours were funny. This one is not, but it stuck with each of us.
Traveling through the Dark
Traveling through the dark I found a deer
dead on the edge of the Wilson River road.
It is usually best to roll them into the canyon:
that road is narrow; to swerve might make more dead.
By glow of the tail-light I stumbled back of the car
and stood by the heap, a doe, a recent killing;
she had stiffened already, almost cold.
I dragged her off; she was large in the belly.
My fingers touching her side brought me the reason—
her side was warm; her fawn lay there waiting,
alive, still, never to be born.
Beside that mountain road I hesitated.
The car aimed ahead its lowered parking lights;
under the hood purred the steady engine.
I stood in the glare of the warm exhaust turning red;
around our group I could hear the wilderness listen.
I thought hard for us all—my only swerving—,
then pushed her over the edge into the river.
~William Stafford

 

Your turn.

Poetry Club, day 17

This one’s another haiku. Such a useful format! The author was 13 when she wrote it. Now she’s a young woman. If you’ve read or seen or had any exposure to the legend of King Arthur, then you will get this poem.

Think of an iconic moment in a classic story. Could you render it in haiku?

 

Arthur

 

I don’t understand.

All I did was lift the sword

from the stone.

 

Sara Barkat, age 13

 

Your turn.

Poetry Club, day 16

Last week of Poetry Club, friends! I’m so happy everyone has played along.

In some ways Julia Kasdorf was the inspiration behind The Joy of Poetry. I took a workshop with her at Laity Lodge years ago, where I met one poet who became a friend, Sandra Heska King, and another who became a publisher, L.L. Barkat.

When I read this poem at The Writer’s Almanac, I printed it because it shows a mother’s weakness and a child’s response to it. There is so much more to this mother-child story than is explained in the poem. The bats in the office — really, bats? — suggest something darker than a flying mammal. The hope is in the beginning of the poem, that somehow all that the child has suffered will mean something “years from now.”

 

Years From Now When You Are Weary 

 

and worn out, wondering how you’ll pay

a bill or make the rent or meet a deadline

 

set by some thoughtless boss—and kid,

such days will come—remember yourself

 

at five: hair light from the sun or just from

being young, new lunchbox pasted

 

with butterflies, how you hung your backpack

on a hook, then wouldn’t let me take your picture

 

on the first day of school, sending me

out of that classroom, to the car, to my job

 

where a pair of bats flapped in the hallway.

Bats may be just bats, but one darted

 

into my office, quick as the boxer’s head

that bobs and weaves and never gets hit.

 

It landed and hung from the drapes, upside

down, as you hung in my body for a while.

 

Bats are not the only flying mammals.

That afternoon in line for the bus, you cried,

 

so tired you thought you’d fall asleep

and miss your stop. Years from now, child,

 

in some helpless dusk, remember that fatigue

but how you made it home to me anyway

 

in the care of a kind farmer—bus driver.

Recall that once I arrived late, your bus

 

gone, and when I found you, carefully seated

by a coffeepot in a corner of a dim garage

 

at the school bus lot, you just said, Let’s go,

Mama. Don’t tell anyone about this.

 

Julia Kasdorf

 

Your turn.

 

Poetry Club, day 15

Obviously, I picked this poem because of the title. And because it says in such eloquent detail how stories like Romeo and Juliet can’t be fully appreciated until we’re old enough to look on our teenage selves with wisdom. But, hey, we probably wouldn’t go back to it if we weren’t introduced to it in the first place, when we were young, star-crossed lovers.

Again, Tania, thank you. Wish I could’ve used it.

 

Teaching Shakespeare

 

They hold no loyalties to the star-crossed lovers,

their books resting lightly in their hands, pencils tapping,

urging me to gallop apace so the two can put themselves

out of their misery.

It’s nothing but a lust story;

he saw her work those curves in some circle dance,

and that was it.

I press: is it possible? Is it remotely

conceivable that they loved?

                                       Hey, we go to parties

and check each other out. We know nothing

about love. But we’d never die for looks

like those morons.

They all nod in agreement, and I fear

the slow, dreadful flowering of the remaining scenes,

the doodling, the glaring out of windows, my own

growing conviction that Romeo would have played the

field

had he lived three more days.

The class genius stares

desperately

at his neighbor’s blonde ponytail, then blurts,

So who’s this Tie-balt?

To her melodious laughter.

I can only look down and smile, remembering my own

foolish fortune,

when I allowed my mind to sculpt itself

around a startling green eye, or a lock of hair hanging

over

a boy’s forehead.

I wish I could tell them, it’s all true—

all of it. We know nothing about love for a long, long

time.

I wish I could tell them how I rode my bike a mile

out of the way to catch a glimpse of Teddy at his

basketball

hoop; how I hid my perfect trig scores from Kevin;

how for David, I ringed my eyes with so much smoky

shadow,

they watered;

how for no love at all I took a little

of my life

every day.

 

Tania Runyan

 

Your turn.

Poetry Club, day 14

If you’ve read The Joy of Poetry, you know I have a note in the Acknowledgments apologizing to people who gave me permission to use a poem that for one reason or another I didn’t end up using. This is one of those poems. Not only did Marcus give permission, but we have the same publisher, who also agreed. So here it is. A science-y love poem.

 

Revolution Day

for Amy Goodyear

 

Under French and Swiss, it loops

straddling resistance and neutrality

in tunnels that are many stories

tall. They’ll accelerate particles.

Who knows what that means—

except their white coats and access keys.

The Higgs particle could be in reach

Signatures of supersummetry, too.

Right. I say, accelerate this family.

Send mom round the rings.

Counter-rotate dad and kids

all of them riding seven trillion

electron volt beams like some carnie

just set it up in a mall parking lot:

“6 tickets a ride, or get a wristband.”

Start the flight that ends with a smash.

We’ll all super-collide to find immensity,

energy, strange answers to strangers’

questions. Asymmetry’s embedded here

in the universe—even families—even moms.

Somebody chose what stays and what goes.

Dark matter, gone. Life, the universe,

everything has 23 per cent dross, so mom

lick your finger, smudge the cheek of all

existence and say, Smile for the camera.

 

Marcus Goodyear

 

Your turn.

 

Poetry Club, day 13

This poem is in the public domain, so there’s no financial reason why I didn’t include it in The Joy of Poetry. But I feel its absence. It’s a poem I think my mom would have liked because 1) It’s addressed to the Almighty, and 2) It rhymes.

I’m posting it today because April 19 is what E.B. White called a “flagless memorial day.” He used the term in his essay “Death of a Pig.” It’s the day that he would always remember because of what it signified in his life. It’s just That Day.

 

No Coward Soul is Mine

 

No coward soul is mine

No trembler in the world’s storm-troubled sphere

I see Heaven’s glories shine

And Faith shines equal arming me from Fear

 

O God within my breast

Almighty ever-present Deity

Life, that in me hast rest,

As I Undying Life, have power in Thee

 

Vain are the thousand creeds

That move men’s hearts, unutterably vain,

Worthless as withered weeds

Or idlest froth amid the boundless main

 

To waken doubt in one

Holding so fast by thy infinity,

So surely anchored on

The steadfast rock of Immortality.

 

With wide-embracing love

Thy spirit animates eternal years

Pervades and broods above,

Changes, sustains, dissolves, creates and rears

 

Though earth and moon were gone

And suns and universes ceased to be

And Thou wert left alone

Every Existence would exist in thee

 

There is not room for Death

Nor atom that his might could render void

Since thou art Being and Breath

And what thou art may never be destroyed.

 

~ Emily Bronte

 

Your turn.

Poetry Club, day 12

Pablo Neruda means a lot to me. If you’ve read The Joy of Poetry, you know my parents met in Chile, and that my dad met Neruda.

I found Neruda’s Cien sonetos de amor at a local bishop in Bonners Ferry, Idaho. The day after we returned home was our 25th anniversary of John and I meeting each other. On that blessed day I gave my love … nothing. I wanted to be left alone for some poetry time.

John’s lived with me for a long time. He kindly gave me space. But I’d forgotten he’d be gone that night. When I finally stopped writing, I missed him. So I picked up my Neruda.

If my parents taught me anything, it was to never take your loved one for granted. Neruda was married three times, but I feel sure he would find ways to celebrate an anniversary without working on a stupid laptop.

Yes, Love, we were home that day, and summer had arrived. We traveled to Canada, not Armenia. Sat beside the Kootenai, not the Yang-Tse. Instead of sailing home across the “crackling sea,” we flew home over the Rocky Mountains. We returned to rain — all Memorial Day it rained, and never were the citizens of our drought-stricken agricultural ‘burg so happy. We may have felt like “two blind birds,” but we returned to our nest, to our wall, to our home.

 

XXXIII

Love, we’re going home now,

where the vines clamber over the trellis:

even before you, the summer will arrive,

on its honeysuckle feet, in your bedroom.

 

Our nomadic kisses wandered over all the world:

Armenia, dollop of disinterred honey—:

Ceylon, green dove—:and the Yang-Tse with its old

old patience, dividing the day from the night.

 

And now, dearest, we return, across the crackling sea

like two blind birds to their wall,

to their nest in a distant spring:

 

because love cannot always fly without resting,

our lives return to the wall, to the rocks of the sea:

our kisses head back home where they belong.

 

~ Pablo Neruda

 

Your turn.