Micheline Maylor’s “The Bad Wife” – Her Latest Poetry Collection – AKA The Good Poems!!!

Canadian poet Micheline Maylor, long-listed for the 2022 Raymond Souster Poetry Award

 

From OMEN: CALLA LILIES

                                                                     ...The last
             chickadee on earth flies out of your mouth. You are that perfect. So
                   perfect that birds nest in your mouth, and I am a wolf toothed
                           she-beast panting and wild
                                          on the shore, blood-driven and stirred.


I shred you,
         a whirlwind in a wheat field. All the seeds scatter and bloom tiny
                                    calla lilies
                                                in the sky. I am the
                                                                     big bad,the big bad,
                                            huffingpuffingthehousedown.

Micheline Maylor from The Bad Wife, University of Alberta Press, 2021

I love the implied double entendre I hear in: I shred you. I hear also: I shed you! Some of the delicate wordplay that distinguishes this collection from former Calgary poet laureate Micheline Maylor. Also the lovely echo from a fairy tale. Bringing in the largeness of a myth into the end of a marriage. Nice echo in blood-driven and stirred to James Bond’s famous directive, shaken, not stirred, for a martini! Lots of layering in this collection that adds to its richness.

This is an important collection. It creates the awful “isness” of a marriage breakdown (I have had two) with searing honesty and yet, also, compassion, in spite of the title! It deserves recognition during this book awards season. And it has received its first thumbs up today when it was long-listed for the prestigious Raymond Souster poetry award from the League of Canadian Poets.

Who knows, really, who leaves who, when a marriage breaks. One of them, in the couple, may seem to be the one who breaks it, the bad one, but is it ever that cut and dried? I wonder. Technically, I have been the one left twice but I played my own role and sometimes the one leaving does the one left a huge favour. Frees them for a “better” they did not have the imagination to imagine.

In this new collection by Micheline the speaker leaves nothing to debate. She is the title of the collection, the self-called: The Bad Wife. And in spite of it seeming likely I would side with the “good husband” in this collection I really like “The Bad Wife.” I admire her courage, her wanting something more.


This may seem surprising coming from me, a so-called left-husband, but here are some of the many lines in The Bad Wife that slay me with their life-giving honesty:

I suppose I would have been fine, staying
                                                    But
                                                       that’s different from flourishing.

Then these next lines clinched something for me. Why didn’t I want more in my previous marriages? Demand more? Now, here is where poetry gets real and reading Micheline’s book I read something of my own life. And I say, thank you. Sure, I am looking back fourteen years in one case but dear “Bad Wife” thank you, thank you:

  When I left I said,
                          “for me it’s the difference between a good life and an exceptional one.”

You said,
                                        I’m guilty of nothing,     
                                                               except complacency.”

These lines come from the extraordinary long lyric sequence OMEN: CALLA LILIES that takes up thirty pages of a seventy-page book. It has it all: yes, breaking up is hard to do, it’s complex but is it as simple as bad or good? This book in spite of its grab-you-by-the-neck title is a false flag. Bad Wife, Good Wife, Bad Husband, Good Husband, Bad Spouse, Good Spouse. Yes, there will be some “bad” abusive spouses. But so often there are good people with good intentions that go bad. And I am grateful for the way this book spells it out. Its balance: How I loved you!/ Did you hear that?/It was not a waste.

Also, I appreciate how broken up the form of this poem is. A mirror to the broken marriage. The poem broken up just as this marriage was broken up.

My divorce lawyer asked me for one my break-up poems to give to her clients. I said yes. But now, I would say give them this book especially if they are the one supposedly doing the breaking. By the end they may more compassion for themselves and their other! These lines, :

 No easy cork in the bottle.

                                 And how many times have I replayed the damage
                    That came out of my mouth?
                            How many times have you reheard it?

                                       I’m in your head forever
                                              Know that.
                                           As you are in mine.
                                 I take thee…in ever-after haunting.
                                                I do.

The truth and ouch of this. And the lyric magic of these lines later on in the sequence, especially: I am so dehydrated./I’m bleeding flames:

       When I left I said,
           “for me it’s the difference between a good life and an exceptional one.”

You said,
                 I’m guilty of nothing,     
                                        except complacency.”   

Water seeps out of my cells. Eyes first.
                                        I’m so dehydrated.
                                             I’m bleeding flames.

                                         Out brief candle. Out
                  nd take all your stuff.

                        Take your photos, and collections of impressions.
I recall in a dark hour
         in some other decade when my skin is ice-paper and white.

                                                            White as a calla lily.
                          Small
                                 as a burst aorta.

Micheline Maylor, ibid

The calla lily references anchor the poem. Refers back to her grandmother’s marriage which did not go well (the wedding featured cala lilies as did the speaker’s): the catastrophe of tradition repeating. And again, do I hear an echo of “snuff” in stuff right under the speaker’s reference to the candle? Perhaps. That marriage candle sure got snuffed.

In spite of the sometimes appropriate raw edge to some of the poems there is deep tenderness, too. An understanding of the yes as well as the no in a marriage that ends. This excerpt from the poem INCLEMENT WEATHER, especially shows the tenderness and the yes/no. These are the nuances the words “break-up and divorce” tend to obliterate.

From INCLEMENT WEATHER

I’ve felt the the colour of your mood in my breast.
The ways you despise me now trample down the highway
punch hooves into my chest. But I have not forgotten
your beauty, or the lilies you found at Safeway late on Mothers’ Day,
The sun-bleached Celtic glacial tilt of your eyes. The talks
we hushed in the bathroom, private and loving, while
our children slept in night-dimmed rooms, hallways away.
Safe then, from me. From us.

There is much to mourn and maybe even much more to say.
But now silence needs a length of time, the forge of memory.

And I have not forgotten the way clouds here scud off
mountain tops and shift a whole sky, the same way tides
scramble oceans. You will never be wrong in our children’s DNA.
We will have all of time to sit in those cells patiently together,
All the stories of our past still in synchronicity.

Let all those remembrances be balm enough for what has become
of our bombed-out home, empty of my things and the rhythms
We kept. Tell your son, you loved me, keep “once” inside. All
The sky is still in motion. Did you see the weather shift?
Even now, thunderheads might break into blue.

Micheline Maylor, ibid

I have written poems, too, about a marriage break-up. I think mine could have benefitted from reading Micheline’s first!

I can’t end this blog post without referencing the first poem in the collection: HOW TO BECOME A BAD WIFE. An “instruction” poem with a wry difference. A brilliant beginning. The poem split into two: How a marriage can look good, based on innocence. Then, second part, how it goes dark.

And how I like the deliberate contradiction in the poem’s last two sentences: Here lies. Here lies the bad wife. The strong suggestion that it is a lie about the bad wife. I say, not “bad wife”, I say: we-get-to-see-you wife, brave wife, and I-thank-you wife.

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