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Stephanie Burns on Kristina Marie Darling & Carol Guess

X Marks the Dress: A Registry

by Kristina Marie Darling and Carol Guess



What happens to the wedding gifts if

                        a marriage dissolves? (30)


X Marks the Dress: A Registry is a unique collaborative project from Kristina Marie Darling and Carol Guess.  In a series of poems focused on the physical gifts in a bridal registry, the story of a marriage unfolds.  The marriage is beset by its own unique problems, of course, in this case an affair and the husband’s secret desire to be a woman.  The voices of the three participants, the wife, husband, and mistress, come to us through the list of items received and given.  Darling and Guess tell the story of the relationship in the book’s first section before a series of small sections of appendices, indexes, and endnotes cataloging the debris left by the marriage.  The book concludes with Appendix C: What Survived the Housefire, a series of poems constructed from the fragments of the poems in the first section of the collection.  These small stark poems end the story with sad longing and loss.


Throughout the story of her marriage, the lace panels of the bride’s wedding dress represent the fragility of the illusion she has created.  Weighed down with expensive accoutrements like pierced tablespoons and pearl-handled letter openers, the foundation of the relationship collapses, just as the lace trim begins to unravel immediately upon walking away from the altar:


                        I’m prettiest in a wedding

                        album, every ruffle on my dress neatly pressed,

                        every strand of my hair in place.


The bride’s concern with the material and superficial prevents her from perceiving the groom’s true desire to be a woman,


                                    There are six of me, at least: two in lingerie, one

                        dead, one busking dime bags off the bascule

                        bridge.  One’s respectable, the one you kiss. And

                        number six? Even I don’t know his story. I

                        married you hoping you’d tell me his name.


It’s this illicit desire on his part that ignites another.  The mistress’s voice comes out in the poems about wedding favors:


                        why only two figurines on the cake?  Aren’t there

                        three of us, layered and endless? Or four, if I count

                        Adele—your other, best self.


Darling and Guess explore this dynamic with delicacy and sadness for the marriage,


                                    Once the M on my

                        license goes missing, our marriage dissolves: two

                        women mean nothing.


This statement can’t be true, obviously, because once Albert (the groom) becomes Adele, she will still have her mistress and those two women must mean something, if only destruction.


The main concern of the collection, however, is that though the marriage itself may dissolve, that is not true of all the gifts given to the couple for the marriage.  These tangible reminders will remain until something more destructive (a fire) disposes of them.  The middle of the book recounts the history of the wedding invitations, the benefits of the marriage (health insurance, public acceptance), and their past up until everything is obscured by the housefire.


It is this last section of the collection that is the most compelling.  Each poem is a direct corollary to a poem in the first section of the book.  Only scraps—words and small phrases—remain.  The rest of the words have been burned away.  The result is a series of small haunting poems that cut to the heart of the desolation and loss:


The veil,            the ring,


dead weight.


The section, and the book, conclude with a poem with just one letter, a number, and a footnote.  “X3” seems to represent the three women left at the end of the marriage, with Albert having burnt away, or unraveled with the lace on the bride’s dress.


X Marks the Dress: A Registry is rich with objects and beautiful language, but it is the emotion that the collection taps into that makes it unforgettable.  Like the wedding dress, each character is fragile and unravels underneath the pressure of their circumstances.  When the fire comes, it’s almost welcome in its cleansing and new things are made out of the old pain:


                                    Flowers in my hair,


                                    a linen skirt



                                                History begins.



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