Marriage and Its Everyday Casualties: A Review of Lori A. May's Square Feet

Not to be a nihilist when it comes to marriage, but I think it was Friedrich Nietzsche who said that "It is not a lack of love, but a lack of friendship that makes unhappy marriages." Maybe he has a point, but relationships have varying momentum because people grow at different rates. Lori A. May, author of Square Feet does more than provide an exploration of marriage and its everyday casualties, she gives us insight into its "chipped paint," "dripping faucets," and "crumbs."

May underlines the idea of partnership, or at least the idealized version of partnership, by taking us through love, loss and then the possibility of renewal for one couple. In the poem "ON THE SILL, TO THE LEFT," May writes:

They are dying.

Each aged leaf
has begun to crumple
curling inward
in self-defense.

Each leaf, once young and newly born, now curls inward in defense of its death. It doesn't want to let go, it doesn't want to give up its union with the branch, with the tree. Instead, the "white petals," which are "no longer silk and ripe," start to "grow yellow." They "fall down" and "weep for one/another's loss." Though through the change, which could be described as a new direction in the evolution of their marriage, "leaf and petal/drape against stem." Perhaps the same fear that pulls this couple apart is what also gives them new life, and reunites them to the core of original love. Could it be the fear of losing one another that keeps them "huddling together/to face their fate/united"?

But then in "BRING BACK THE BLANK" there is a change of heart. "Set fire to the letters we exchanged in ignorance," says one half of the couple, and "Close the door to that birth of us." Love is receding. Friendship has waned. The couple has "shapeshifted beyond innocence" as a result of loss. One of those losses includes the death of a child, which "halted this horizon with humility."

Later in "ERASURE," the audience finds out more about the speaker's loss. We learn that "she can't bring herself to dust/ sweep memories away." May continues to write that "the cleanliness too much/in an already sterile space." Her female speaker uses sterility to describe a childless space, a place that is now bare and barren of life; there is no opportunity for new life to exist. But while she faces sterility, the memory remains fertile.

Somehow though, the couple returns to one another despite the detours. In "A FRESH COAT" they "revive the first-date joke" and "wait for a reluctant chuckle." They "open windows" and "vent" themselves. They become "intoxicated with new paint smell," with the new people they have grown into. They look back and realize it was just a dream. "It takes time to clear the air," says the speaker. And, still, on the domestic battleground, the couple faces one another in the still, airy light, and both allow themselves to receive forgiveness.

And at the end, we are left to close the book, to reopen it, and to change with it. We feel as if we have fallen in love, married, separated and re-united. Square Feet invites us along for the journey, and then says, now it's time for your own. And regardless of the time it takes to open our own windows, May reminds us, "I breathe beside you still."

May, Lori A. Square Feet. Lexington: Accents Publishing. 6 Jan. 2014. Print.