The Dangerous Country of Love and Marriage

The Dangerous Country of Love and Marriage

by Amy Leigh Wicks

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A collection of sharp, sensory poems that build a narrative of love and marriage, migration and isolation.‘. . . Tonight marks a thousand dry nights and I wantto show you something. It's a little cavehollowed out by my thirst, a place for you to live.'In this powerful collection, Amy Leigh Wicks takes the reader on a literal journey from New York City to Wellington and Kaikoura, and on an emotional journey from youth into ‘the dangerous country of love and marriage'. Wicks produces sharp, sensory poems that circle around love and commitment, migration and isolation. With a powerful narrative and emotional arc, this collection introduces us to an important new voice in New Zealand poetry.‘The dark ocean from the window is still,the waves are sparkling as in photographsand all I can think is how I wantto cut through the sun setting on the purple horizonwith a pair of big scissors.'

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781776710416
Publisher: Auckland University Press
Publication date: 06/13/2019
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 88
File size: 1 MB

About the Author

New York poet Amy Leigh Wicks was on a road trip when she met a man in Wyoming and fell in love. The two eloped after she completed her MFA at The New School University, and rode motorcycles to California. They sold their bikes for plane tickets to Wellington, New Zealand, and began to build a life together, eventually moving to Kaikoura. After the 7.8 earthquake in 2016 caused unprecedented damage along the east coast of the South Island, Amy Leigh joined the recovery and rebuild project as a communications advisor, while completing her PhD at Victoria University’s International Institute of Modern Letters. She is the author of Orange Juice and Rooftops and her poems have appeared on The Best American Poetry blog, in Sport, Ora Nui, and Ika Journal.

Read an Excerpt



I was alone in the womb breathing the water of God through my little gills.

I came shivering — gasping to the light — my mother
's face a smear of pink.
To be held against a wall with her heart on the other side —
this was my first sadness.

I loved the taste of all my Play-Doh — red was my favourite. Father

fed me pink grapefruit hearts on a tiny silver spoon — I tore each chamber apart with my teeth.


Get the ones that grow up between the cracks my mother says, leaning over the lemon balm.

She is a sweating, garden-gloved goddess with strong arms and I am pulling puny weeds from patio squares

thinking about cloud shapes, and the way that boy touched my back when he walked past me yesterday.

There are peppers, tomatoes, eggplants heavy on the vine but I don't see them. I see dandelions and cement

and I have barely finished two squares when Mom sends me to make sandwiches. Things are growing but I don't see them

until fifteen years later in Island Bay. It took the furthest place from home for me to put on muck boots and feed somebody else's

chickens in earnest. Now I place the tentacled roots of coriander and spring onions in a jar like they are holy, with a little water, facing the sun.


You know my father's name is John — impossible. Look at your little sea with whales smaller than ice cubes!

The sun was cold before you touched it,
and now it rages love.

Why make almost gods of girls like me who hook the fish and stomp the grass and eat popcorn with glistening fingers in the centre row of the theatre?


The first time he stopped by the house we were tall as his belt buckle.

I ride toward the Brooklyn Bridge from Harlem before sunrise.

I want to be clean so I need to be cold.
When my lungs scream and sweat stings my eyes,
it is almost over.

There was no coast to run to so how could we wash?

Cold black morning then grey until the sun blisters the silver buildings

and I am cold, surrounded by water and metal.

His stomach is a barrel.
We are too small to see his face.
His breathing is rats chasing a can in an alley.

Every one that falls (an apple in his yard) is devoured.

I want to be clean so I need to be cold.
When my lungs scream and sweat stings my eyes,
it is almost over.

I am clean and full of salt now.
I am an ocean.


There is no blanket of fog. I am not running through the woods today. Last night I was swimming and could hear bullets in the water around me. They sound like zhzh, a pleasant sound. The night before I could feel a man behind me before I saw the shadow of his hat. He grabbed my arm and I ran and threw myself down in some shrubs. I could hear a truck or a van racing toward me. I woke up safe, but barely. I used to have to watch people die in my dreams. I could hear, smell, feel their blood warm on my shoulders. Bev from high school said that was nothing. Her sister used to attend her own funeral in her dreams, night after night for a whole year. That was after her parents divorced and her stepdad moved in. He was a taxidermist. She showed me the basement of hooks and stretched skins of deer and coyote. We weren't supposed to be down there, drinking her mom's Kahlúa in our milk.


Who doesn't hope for a fishing net to come heavy from the water with an old locked box caught in the net?

You might ask how did the box swim into the net?
And I might say

that is between the box and the net.

Some other secrets come up from the deep.

I have had to open the door — to let out dust of another century.
It floated toward our boat in a sealed urn,
and when I brought it inside opened it like a genie's bottle.

I mean, Great Grandma danced for money and the music still plays after dusk.

I am the woman who dances for free. Lets the piano rattle even after the sun shines through all the windows.

And when I open the door again it's for air, into another country. I can feel her smile

where trees are pink and the lavender sky smells of salt and sea and the box on my stoop is still dripping.


Inside the house where I grew up, black mould spotted the walls. It was years before we knew it was inside us like lichen on rocks.

On a starry night, do I choose the fruit that's ripe or wait alone, for one other human, burning like a roman candle in the dark? There he is,

hands on the other side of the glass, waiting.
There is the question of table or bar, forever or an hour of open doors all leading to the same room.

If I was a real woman walking toward him across the floor —
but the oysters are cold, dead in their shells, us not speaking.
Here I am, floating above the earth as it yawns, limp roots crinkling the air —

Mother's friend Jill is packing my doll house telling Mom what an asshole Dad is (they have never met)
asking, aren't I happy she's free? There I am without a mouth screaming or in bed beside a stranger, waiting for another storm to break.
Great Grandma's china teacups, one fight at a time,
were dropped onto kitchen tiles.

Now the gallery is well lit, my collarbone on display —
I can see the shine of something, waiting in the dark and I can't say if I will run toward it or away.


Once I said, I want to be a lawyer, a doctor,
and a ballerina —

I woke twenty years later writing these poems.


I chose the blue marble with cream in the centre.
I ate the birthday cake but I did not like it.

The cave was not just dark, it was wet and I slid through tight passes like a snake.

What light flickers through my dreams to lead me from one question to another?

I have forgiven the things in you I hated most,
which is to say I have forgiven myself. I know

what it cost to buy that string of pearls. It was full of hope and mistaken. It took me a long time

but I've found what I am looking for and it is not marriage starting over. Here we are, standing

on either side of the lawn, iron horseshoes in hand,
tossing toward different stakes, almost reaching.


The heavy knots of rope and clinking chains on rusted pulleys; the dock at dusk unwrites my plans and sketches a map of the sea on the back of my eyes.

There I am, pushing a child in a white pram through rose gardens. There I am pinching sugar snap peas from the vine, letting them fall into the basket.

I want to be a sailor — no I want to be lost in the boat rescued by a sailor and then shipwrecked on an island with him.

There is the bunting-dressed hotel lobby where guests shuffle from mini crab cakes to
éclairs, dull from nice champagne, dabbing eyes as they dance and grow old and confetti the air with sadness.

Here I am at the edge of a white page large as a living room, trying to write with a pen twice my size. There is a giant hand resting above my head, waiting for me to let go of the pen.

I want it to go like this — no I want to be surprised by the ending but completely in control of how it happens.
The pen flies across the page without me.

What is it about the clairvoyant's dirty fingers grabbing my wrist after breakfast that does not surprise me? We walk toward each other through golden air but we bow to different futures.

There I am, curled up like a child crying out all of my fears. Here I am, wiping my eyes to read each word as it is written.


A shock of dust settles like tiny geese on the cover of my book

and I remember beginning — a dark home without walls, in water. Then

Mother opens the china cabinet, reaches for the cup with faded pink roses.

Two sugars, more milk than tea,
my hands are so tiny, her hands are God's.

Then I am at a payphone when the train stops near Pisa, fingernails scratching through the soft

of my palms and then the fear is gone and the night is breathing on me warm, as if I'm in the mouth of a dog.

Then I am home, it was just a tremor and everything resettles, alive, dead, alive again.


I landed drunk in London, fell asleep waiting for my 11 a.m. train to Newcastle —
God is not above using station attendants to wake his baby up. I got to her in a cold rain still clutching my passport,

so happy I cried.
We left for Northumberland before dawn —
extra layers for rain; red lipstick on my twenty-two-year-old mouth.

I don't know why she took me to sit at the edge of the cliff where water breaks rock into salt.

Down the coast three dogs wrestled in the white surf and were gone,
and it was just us sitting on our hands for warmth, and then she was gone and

it was just me, alone with the bruise of a bad decade, finally asking toward the sky for a little help, shuddering ugly tears until I was dry in the silence of an answer I'm still learning to understand.


His warm mouth in the snow better than the first bottle of pinot noir I finished on the fire escape after Paris.

His coat smells like diesel and pine and soap.
When he walks in the bar I feel the other girls flame.

Come pick me up.

Take me to your castle to your tent to your truck.

I'm light-headed but I won't forget.
I'm messy, but I've been told my eyes are beautiful,
I've got honey under my tongue.
Of course you won't.

I was supposed to be untangled by now.
Tell me where you'll be anyway.
You wouldn't want me mixing you up with somebody else.

He tells me to wait and the lights finally dim before the movie.

One wild mare let loose and all the chariots forget the war.
It's a black and white, I don't know who's starring.

Your skin, my God,
your skin, his thumb traces my jaw.

He sits at the old wooden table under a gas lamp,
and blood taps out a rhythm in my throat.

The only way I can think to slow my breathing is to picture him asleep in my arms, night after night after night.


For Félix González-Torres

What began in the womb continues on the porch twenty-five years later. Did I make myself

the way I am? Staring at the sun until I see black spots. The line where sky meets sea

could be a seam, hiding a zipper, and then what?
Sure I get down on my knees sometimes.

Everybody's gotta serve someone, and some days it's too hard to stand. Some prayers

sound a little like echoes. Some modern art looks a little like my heart, a pile of hard candy

disappearing one colored drop at a time. Who said love was bad? There is still the problem of skin, but

on the other side of sky and sea is a pile —
every sweet little thing that's been lost.


The first time I took the train north to see him it was bitter cold, even the snow was frozen solid.

Does that mean the snow was ice? Does ice sparkle like shingles on a tarred roof under the moon? I was cold on the train the whole five hours thinking about the next fifty years of my life, wondering what I'd make for the dinner at my neighbour's next week. Maybe I'd find mini gherkins, spicy wholegrain mustard, pork, ham,
Swiss, and a loaf of Cuban bread, press it all on the grill like Myrna used to do for staff meals on holiday shifts instead of paying us time-and-a-half for waiting tables on Christmas Day.

I spent Christmas at St Vincent's where I was born, trying to tell if the doctors were lying about Grandpa to make it hurt less,
or if they knew what was wrong with him at all.
Dr Solomon came still wearing his yarmulke, pulling green scrubs on over a red holiday sweater and I felt safe under the fluorescent lights because he was whistling and had a walk that said I'm the guy that they call when they don't know who to call. He told my Catholic family Larry has gone septic and he's sorry to say he doesn't know if he'll make it, but he is going in to do surgery now and we will know soon enough. My parents stayed married for three months after that conversation, they sat beside each other watching Home Alone on the screen above my head. Two hours later, Larry, who hadn't had a drop of water in three days, was drinking Fanta from a straw,
asking for a comb to pull through his thick white hair.

Four days later I was cold on that train riding north thinking about two days earlier when the man I was going to see came to see me and touched my wrist and bought me a strawberry milkshake even though it was snowing out,
because we'd already had a coffee — well, I'd had a coffee and he had a hot chocolate, but it was still early and we were mostly strangers drawn to a diner in town with red vinyl booths and a sign in the window that said open.


After W. H. Auden

He grows up in the valley,
visiting his grandfather's farm, mountains covered with pines, pines covered with snow. The water is always cold in the north country. On the south shore of Staten Island I grow up on fresh mozzarella and Pop-Pop's tomatoes, visit the city on the ferry. Gran says the man beside us is drinking sorrow

from his paper bag. At eleven I learn to wind my hips, drink sorrel with snapper and bammy. At twelve it's Chivas Regal with Valle on his stoop. My throat burns and I'm warm. Valle says Hudson is his city.
Across the river, on the ridgeline of the Catskill Mountains Rip sleeps on his side. He doesn't wake when I land in a snow storm at twenty. The river is hunks of frozen water

moving toward Manhattan alongside the train. Water is everywhere in Venice, holding countless boats just so. Row after row of cured prosciutto, Chianti, ciabatta, I wander the aisles and streets. I get lost and it hurts. At twenty-one he leaves the valley for canyons and rattlesnakes, mountain passes and rowdy bars. I leave Venice for other old cities,

bruised, eyes down. When I get back to my city I am silent for a year. I climb down into familiar water next summer, leaving my tiny mountain of clothes on barnacled rocks. Can you call washing sorrow if there are no tears? I am north of Manhattan Valley by forty blocks, a mermaid, floating between this island

and New Jersey. In my laundromat on 139th, the stainless steel island piled with bed sheets listens to me finally open up. The city wanders through me and knows me. He drives south from Casper to Vail then east. When he finds me, he takes me to the water and we watch waves break all night. I don't know his sorrow or his happiness. I want to touch him. The mountains out west are pink and gold in the morning. No mountains are here. Manhattan, Staten, my beautiful dirty islands are not his. He does not know my sorrow or my happiness but he knows how to hold me. Jersey City is lit up across the water almost beautiful. I might be unravelling.

We are floating on the water when the sun comes up slowly, heavily —
we are drifting further and further from dry land.


I married the man on a motorcycle from out west and left my city, my state, my country for love.
I did not look back. I thought I might turn to salt.

I gave away all my books and received a jar of coffee.
When it rains the grass does not bruise. What came of saying yes to love? Loneliness, a shock of cold air —

I changed my name but kept rose my favourite tea.
I watched the ocean grow dirt and grass and trees and I did not remember my name when we landed.

Memory must be spilled to be full again and I am as much a tulip as a cup, overflowing even without my things. One kind word can build a kingdom.

Some say love cannot tell light from dark.
I say it does. It works in sand around a melting clock.


Excerpted from "The Dangerous Country of Love and Marriage"
by .
Copyright © 2019 Amy Leigh Wicks.
Excerpted by permission of Auckland University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Creation Story,
Psalm I,
Salt and Light,
Log No. 1,
Canticle I,
The History of New York,
Paysage Moralisé,
First Night in Aotearoa,
Psalm II,
when I halve them,
Water Song,
International Orientation,
Learning to Swim,
Where Stars Go,
Kapiti Proverb,
Canticle II,
Log No. 2,
Breakfast Club,
Nga Raukore,
Psalm III,
Log No. 3,
Log No. 4,
Psalm IV,
Canticle III,
Last Picnic in Tawa,
Psalm CXXXIX: In Translation,
Canticle IV,
Everything Ruined,

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