Poem of the Week | September 03, 2018

This week, we are excited to feature a new poem by Tanya Grae!

Tanya Grae is the author of Undoll (YesYes, 2019), a National Poetry Series finalist, and the chapbook Lethe (Five Oaks, 2018). Her work has appeared in AGNI, Prairie Schooner, New Ohio Review, Post Road, and Barrow Street. She received her MFA from Bennington College and is finishing her PhD in creative writing at Florida State University, where she was recently awarded the Academy of American Poets Prize.


As Faithful as His Options

                    We are expected to be pretty and well-dressed until we drop.

                    —Edith Wharton, The House of Mirth


Imagine a circle jerk of cigared & brandied men

        who lament the collar is slipping—a screw, a cog

in the great machine—There are no jokes.

        If literature has taught me anything, it’s that

people evolve, but repeat their mistakes.

        Who calibrates virtue? In the wake of Sim’s candor,

Lily Bart haunts me: the undertaste of feminine

        commodity, the lever edge of laude to laudanum.

Half the trouble in life is caused by pretending

        there isn’t any. Take an object: Question its beauty—

in form, in line, in color. Does it bring you joy?

        A trail in the dust reminds once she’s talked about

she’s done for; & the more she explains the worse it looks,

        how furniture is rearranged, how chairs are

pulled out or taken away. There’s no turning back—

        Would another look as fine in the same position?

Perhaps the seat as better empty as warm?

        Remember the punchline: your old self rejects you

& shuts you out—Lawrence is too late: Lily’s hand still,

        the empty bottle sideways by the nightstand—

the air sick-sweet of her waiting, that violent

        rise in the bile of my throat.


Author’s Note:

Believe it or not, this poem started with Chris Rock. He tells a joke that “man is basically as faithful as his options.” A friend, who cribbed from Freud, loves to say, “There are no jokes.” If Freud is right, what does it mean when men joke about trading up, the trophy wife, or a Stepford-level of compliance? Fast forward to me reading The House of Mirth, talking back to the book. The Ecclesiastical reference in the book’s title even led me to thinking tangentially about Ella Wheeler Wilcox’s “Solitude,” the isolation of nonconformity, and when applied to feminine standards, the constraint. Wharton’s rebellion is against the gendered bondage of manners, appearance, and reputation, not dissimilar to her stance in The Age of Innocence. Aside from how some men think we’re furniture, objectification so rampant, so entrenched, too often we as women reinforce misogyny through insecurity and rivalry. Lily isn’t blameless in this story, but the system closes rank on her in a way that reinforces itself, the collateral damage and sadness in a tyranny of should.