“But there are other kinds of memory”: Kristina Marie Darling's THE SUN & THE MOON

Laura Madeline Wiseman

Kristina Marie Darling’s new book The Sun & The Moon takes up the metaphor of celestial bodies to contemplate the movement of the bodies of two lovers as they move through the space of their lives. To illustrate the astronomical importance of her undertaking, Darling’s Appendix A offers three illustrations of two famous astronomical clocks. These clocks “show the relative location of the sun and the moon,” as well as planets and constellations. Though these other minor heavenly bodies make an appearance, it is the story of the sun and moon’s relationship to each other where Darling focuses her light.      

The long poem “The Sun & The Moon” consists of numbered prose poems and presents a teleological narrative that is signaled sometimes as one day, a calendar year, or several years of celestial orbit. Darling signals chronology by adopting the numbering system of the illustrated clocks, presenting twenty-two poems and a narrative that follows the seasonal changes created by sunlight received. Darling’s book is also a teleological narrative of a marriage, from the initial first night of the wedding party to a last night after the husband’s departure. In the poem, the speaker watches her party burn, contemplates what her husband brings to their union, and catalogs her own acquiesces to what she witnesses with a scientific, detached horror. Though she “did what she could to keep the house from burning,” she acknowledges that “sometimes things go wrong at parties.” This narrative suggests that couples lack complete power to direct a relationship’s arc, despite herculean efforts. The Sun & The Moon is the wife’s story. Blame and fault is cast on the husband, who “had an odd way of showing affection” and leads in an army of ghosts who polished knives, watched them, took notes, and eventually drove them apart. The husband is also the one who tends the fires and shakes an “empty wine bottle in the air.” Though the wife blames the husband for his destructive role, she owns her complicity. She loves him, says it’s a marriage of “practicality,” one which only began when “we decided we’d generate our own heat.” She admits, “It’s the strangest things that keep me from leaving.” Though the husband/sun leaves, the wife/moon ends the relationship by starting the fire, an act that surprises even the ghosts. Darling writes, “It’s safe to say they didn’t expect me to light the first match.” Like clocks that trace time, teleological narratives posit a beginning and an end, and both remind us to see time, and here, marriage, as linear. Marriage is built with an anticipated end.

Appendix B: What Survived the Fire is an erasure poem of the long poem “The Sun & The Moon.” This appendix asks us to consider memory and the acts by which we re-member the past to create a narrative more reflective of who we are now than who we were then. Here, “The mirror was covered in frost / That was the beginning of marriage” and not the heat the couple created together. Here, the wife wonders “why you left me alone,” having seemingly to have forgotten her firebrand role in the marriage’s destruction. Appendix B ends with “It was like you never left,” a position where blame is erased and replaced with a romanticized nostalgia and longing for what was. In this erasure, Darling points to the ways we metaphorically change the story of a year’s relationships by pushing fault away from the couple elsewhere in the service of selective memory.

Appendix C: Notes and Observations offers yet another narrative on how marriage might end—of the death-do-us-part variety. Written by the wife after the marriage, the wife admits that “my desire to romanticize, I realized, had been a form of grief.” Darling points to the presence of ghosts, who contribute to the marriage’s burning, by writing, “in order for there to be a ghost in the house, someone had to have died—.” Though ghosts chose them and she “tried and tried to please them,” the wife is powerless by this version of marriage’s ending as well—the final one. Darling writes, the wife “wondered how you could leave, to live as a king without his court, without his crown—.” Again, Darling calls our attention to the teleological expectations of marriage in this final appendix.

The Sun & The Moon argues that like the scientifically traceable orbits of the planets and their moons around the sun, marriage too moves in a predictable pattern, with an end, permitting a storyteller to record and remember this narrative in expected ways—mutual separation, abandonment, or death. The truth Darling suggests is that all relationships are stories we tell. They’re socially constructed, metaphorical, and follow predicable patterns. Like her collaborative book, X Marks the Dress, Darling thus calls into question the gendered narratives that mark our lives. To see the sun rise each day, we’re nearly hardwired to see it go. When Darling writes, “I realized you weren’t my husband any more than I had been your wife,” she asks us to consider the narratives that inscribe our most intimate relationships, leaving us to wonder how we want to write our days, and more importantly, suggesting the possibility of other narratives, ones not tied to an end, if we can remember to imagine it.

Laura Madeline Wiseman is the author of twenty books and chapbooks and the editor of Women Write Resistance: Poets Resist Gender Violence (Hyacinth Girl Press). Her recent books are Drink (BlazeVOX Books), Wake (Aldrich Press), American Galactic (Martian Lit Books), and the collaborative book The Hunger of the Cheeky Sisters (Les Femmes Folles) with artist Lauren Rinaldi. Her work has appeared in Prairie Schooner, Margie, Mid-American Review, and Feminist Studies. Currently, she teaches English and women’s and gender studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. www.lauramadelinewiseman.com

The Sun & The Moon
by Kristina Marie Darling
BlazeVOX[books], 2014
$16 paperback, ISBN: 978-1-60964-191-7
66 pages