[We married in a taxi]
We married in a taxi in Chica-
go mid- November in the long wind blowing
Our son has autism married in the back
Seat of a taxi slipping in the wind
We’ll never have you said another child
On Michigan and on our left the lake
The long white shadow of the lake in the blowing
Wind and what happens you asked when we die
Who will take care of him the taxi slip-
ping in the wind and on our right the Mir-
acle and on our right the Miracle
Mile ending on our right no miracles
Cheaper hotels but he can’t sleep when we’re
Not there you said how will he get to sleep
I wanted to talk about a recent poem I was lucky enough to come across, and which I just can’t get out of my head: Shane McCrae’s moving poem “[We married in a taxi],” one of a series of “we married” sonnets-of-sorts in his first book, Mule, all of which are about the complexities of being married rather than, as the titles might imply, the ceremony of getting married. “[We married in a taxi]” is a poem whose energy and poignancy come from its constant turning. The language of the poem makes left and right hand turns from line to line (“Chica- / go”), stops and starts (“We’ll never have you said another child”), like the taxi driving through Chicago carrying the speaker: it stutters and careens between the exterior world passing outside the taxi (“on our left the lake”) and the interior, emotional world of a fraught conversation between two parents happening inside the taxi (“Our son has autism”). The subject matter and the poem’s syntactical disruptions are perfectly underscored by McCrae’s use of form: the forcible enjambment, unexpected mid-line indentations and hyphens shatter and undo what is, at its core, a straightforwardly narrative (if not linear) piece.
I love how the form and language of this poem work together, and how they beautifully—almost Cubist-ly—mimic the strange, contemporary phenomenon of having a very private, heartfelt conversation while staring blankly at a landscape passing by as one travels through it via a semi-public vehicle: the odd clash between stillness and speed, aloneness and connection. I also love how the form of the poem echoes the scattered way such a difficult conversation often takes place, interrupted by one’s inability to articulate, sustain or admit to something upsetting or scary, like an autism diagnosis for one’s child.
The whole poem jolts back and forth between exterior and interior, city and thought; the whole poem describes parents asking plain and hard questions (“what happens…when we die / Who will take care of him”); the whole poem uses repetition (like the words “long” and “right”). But I still see a subtle turn in the poem’s last two lines (and rightly so, since it’s a kind of a sonnet) toward a kind of next level of emotional rawness. Something about the simplicity and specificity of the parent asking how the child will get to sleep after the parents are dead—the irresolvable, unanswerable quality of the question heightened by the lack of punctuation following—just breaks my heart.
Arielle Greenberg is co-author, with Rachel Zucker, of the hybrid-genre Home/Birth: A Poemic, and author of My Kafka Century, Given and several chapbooks, including the forthcoming Shake Her. She is co-editor of three anthologies, most recently Gurlesque with Lara Glenum. In 2011 she left a tenured position in poetry at Columbia College Chicago to move with her family to a small town in rural Maine. She writes a regular column for the American Poetry Review on issues and trends in contemporary poetics, teaches poetry out of her home and in the community, and will begin as a core faculty member in the low-residency MFA program at the University of Tampa this winter.
Shane McCrae, [“We married in a taxi”] from Mule. Copyright © 2010 by Shane McCrae. Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of the Cleveland State University Poetry Center, www.csuohio.edu/poetrycenter/