Ed Madden gives a powerful reading of his poem written in response to Mississippi’s HB 1523–an anti-gay, anti-trans “religious freedom” law which, oddly enough, names poetry as a specific good or service that can be denied.
– regarding House Bill 1523
Dear Mississippi, we visited Quincy just a couple
of weeks back, Durrett Cemetery, a bit south
of Amory, the spot where Bert’s mom rests. We stopped
at the Wal- Mart for silks and stems to add to what
he’d already bought. He arranged the blooms, placed some
on another grave, his aunt’s, pointed out his sisters’
spots, the plot set for himself—a wife, three kids.
While he worked, I wandered over to the fence, the drift
of windblown flowers stuck there in the wire, some tossed
over in the woods, colors fading in the shade
and dead leaves. I asked Bert what he would have been
had he stayed. He said bitter. We both laughed, but thought
about that—what if we’d never met, never married.
Dear Mississippi, it really makes me happy that you
consider poetry among the primary goods and services
related to the solemnization, formation, celebration,
or recognition of any marriage—that is, Mississippi
officially recognizes poetry as a good, lists it
between photography and videography
in HB 1523, poets coming before
florists, dressmakers, bakers, disc-jockeys, wedding
planners, limousine rentals, even jewelry. I knew
cake would be there, embattled bakers the emblem now,
poster children of principled resistance for those who would
refuse to recognize my marriage and others like it.
It’s odd, though, to think of poets among those declining
to provide services to couples getting married;
odder still, I suppose, to think of those couples
paying poets to write something ceremonious,
some lines about love, an epithalamion maybe, an ode.
Dear Mississippi, I think about that plot, my husband’s
spot beside his mother at that Quincy cemetery,
a script that won’t be filled, the wife, three kids.
Mississippi, I forgot to say that his dad’s
not there anymore, still alive, remarried and then
she died, and now he lives nearby, in Carolina. Not sure
where he’ll lie when he’s gone. He had his name
and husband scraped off that ornate double stone,
intent to rest beside his second wife in Amory.
Mississippi, would you let a funeral home refuse
to bury me beside Bert, a gravedigger refuse
to dig the hole, the pallbearers refuse to take hold
of the casket, the mason refuse to carve the stone, since
that would be to recognize the union of two men?
Dear Mississippi, you’re quite lovely in March,
forsythia in bloom, redbuds in the woods, irises
and jonquils coming up in country yards, the sky all white
and wet with light. We met about twenty years ago
on a day like this, and wed ten years later,
the sky clearing just in time for a horse-drawn carriage
and two men in suits and smiles, their calla lily
boutonnières. It wasn’t legal, of course, despite
the minister and church, the vows, the guests, the Elvis
impersonator at the reception. I wrote a poem
for the program, a reflection on what is real and what is not,
memory of working the garden with my beloved, memory
of a niece’s wedding (second? third?), the silk roses
with dewdrops of glue. I thought of that when we got to get
that document, the one that finally made us legal, though
one of us had to sign the box marked bride,
the forms not yet caught up to what the law allowed.
Mississippi, I’m glad you recognize the good of poetry,
just wish you’d recognize the good of this: a man
tending his mother’s grave, his love beside him, handing him
scissors and stems, the wire that binds it all together.
Ed Madden’s a frequent contributor to GMP Poetry. Check out more of his work.
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Photo by Blavou – Wedding Photography/Flickr