In Jessie Carty’s chapbook An Amateur Marriage (Finishing Line Press, 2012), there is a female speaker’s stoic voice that begins the journey of unfamiliar marital terrain, where even when decorating, she is not sure to place or eat her arrangement of fruit (“Still Life”). And using this voice throughout the first half of the collection, Carty shares the ways in which the modern ideals of newlyweds trouble the speaker (perhaps Carty’s reason for the title and title poem).
There is much to make a marriage, especially a successful or professionally adept one that’s weathered with time and experience. An amateur marriage, however, reflects an amateur couple, especially in the case of this collection, where the amateur wife is first portrayed as a replaced couch that already “waits, / trying to look laid back / with her suede fabric / pressed down by matching buttons” (“The Living Room” lines 3-6). We might be forced to read these lines and much of this poem as cliché, couch matched with the wide TV “pose[d] like a sumo wrestler,” until we realize that the speaker’s concerns of intimacy, change, and aging are subtly handed to us by way of furniture as metaphor for woman—not just wife.
Even with a shift in the speaker’s attitude towards marriage, making the title of wife known in “Preferences,” Carty’s word play in “Marriage Scales” measures the marital relationship. Carty captures us with the sound of what it is to practice self-determination before getting the love right in the following lines:
The young bride felt she was marrying her soul mate. This
thought implied she was a damaged organ; that like a river
bed she was missing the especially well worn rock that could
help her on her way to forming an ox bow lake. (“Marriage Scales” 1-4)
Here amid this river path is the heart of the chap; here shows the irony of love and what anyone must realize if a marriage of any kind is to be successful: that there must be independence alongside partnership, but it comes with hard work and practice. And Carty reminds us that the speaker, and perhaps Carty herself, is “not good at this [being a homemaker/wife] but perhaps / if [she] practice[s]” (“The Homemaker” 10-12), she’ll get it right.
And more than halfway into the marital practice, that stern voice which has led us this far becomes a bit vulnerable, even just a little sentimental (the last three strophes in “If I had a Son” and “Holiday Sweater”). Yet the speaker does get better at domesticity, even as her fears of barrenness and aging amplify, the latter what the speaker dreads to become, “scars / over organs as everything gives in to being unable to repair / against gravity” (“What I fear” 8-10).
Ironically, however, because of these fears and this vulnerability, which seems to stem from a yearning for motherhood more so than marriage, some of the best lines of Carty’s book emerge; and I suspect will linger for a long while. The speaker reflects on what is a true “marriage of souls”—the sharing between mother and child—as she “imagine[s] teaching him the theory of crosswalks / the angles of cathedrals / what angels there are in dark chocolate” (“If I had a Son” 12-14). The amateur marriage that drives the book’s emotional progression forward is no match for this beautifully sophisticated yet delicate, imaginative communication between mother and son that wonderfully anchors the book’s ending. Deep in the river water seen in “Marriage Scales,” where being a soul mate is questioned, I hold onto these lines with all their anticipated sharing of happiness.
Carty blogs at http://jessiecarty.com/blog.