Julie R. Enszer

The Marital Bed


Driving home
after the funeral
I say, I am peckish.
We stop at 7-11 for fuel
and snacks. I want to tell you,
when the grandchildren read
from first Corinthians
Love is patient, love is kind
your aunt leaned over
and whispered,
That was my mother’s favorite passage.
We read it at our wedding.
Here she paused and pressed
the fold in the funeral program.
I would read it to Hugh
on every anniversary
until… well… you know.
Her voice tapered off
and, being in the middle
of a funeral service,
we fell into silence.
I wish I knew the New
Testament better to offer her
words of comfort;
I wish I knew her sacred
scriptures for something to heal
her relational rupture,
but sitting in G-d’s house
we were alone and silent
watching the procession
of another’s faith, the memory
of her life. Comfort ye.
Comfort ye, my people.
I can hear baritones
intone this message
for the holiday Messiah
but here in this chapel
she and I are both waiting.
Comfort ye. I don’t
tell you any of this.

Many years ago, one
of our dogs ate the fitted
sheet over the mattress.
When we came home,
it was tattered and torn.
For three days, he shit
partially digested
burgundy cotton. At the time,
those sheets were new
and the most expensive ones
I’d ever owned.
It took me a long time
to love him again.

My sister is angry
about my father’s affair.
For forty years they slept
next to each other
every night with his lie
between them, she declares
with derision. That is probably
what made her sick,
brought on the stroke.
My sister is not married.
She doesn’t know
the dailiness of sleep
with another. Its necessity.
Its urgency.
How things happen in the bed
beyond explanation.
Sometimes my wife wakes
and shouts in anger;
some mornings,
she wakes in tears,
some days, before dawn,
before the mechanical alarm
beckons, before the cat’s
hungry demands, I wake
with my belly pressed
to her back,
my hand on her hip,
the sheets at our shoulders,
our bodies shrouded with down,
and I listen carefully
to her breath, steady, certain, secure.
Even forty years will never
provide enough days like this.

At the funeral,
I have yet to spend
three weeks in Mexico—
the longest we’ve been apart.
I don’t know
how by my final night away
I will be scheming
about how to organize
our lives so that we never
sleep apart again.
I think about your uncle,
returning home
from the hospital
after his wife died;
how wide and deep
the bed that night.


Julie R. Enszer is the author of Lilith's Demons (A Midsummer Night's Press, 2015), Sisterhood (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2013) and Handmade Love (A Midsummer Night's Press, 2010). She is editor of Milk & Honey: A Celebration of Jewish Lesbian Poetry (A Midsummer Night's Press, 2011), a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award in Lesbian Poetry. She has her MFA and PhD from the University of Maryland. Enszer is the editor of Sinister Wisdom, a multicultural lesbian literary and art journal, and a regular book reviewer for the Lambda Book Report and Calyx. Her website: www.JulieREnszer.com. To read more by this author: Julie R. Enszer on The Furies; Four poems, Spring 2011