Someone Else’s Wedding Vows by Bianca Stone, Reviewed by Jennifer Martelli
When I first listened to a podcast of Bianca Stone reading her poem, “I Saw the Devil with His Needlework,” I heard the poet growl the rhythms of this funny, scary poem. And then I pulled out my Smartphone and ordered her book. Someone Else’s Wedding Vows contains 23 poems that feel like a journey through a glass landscape—Brooklyn, Vermont, Long Island, outer space—where “at our core we are vampires (“Elegy with a Darkness in Our Palms” 19). Stone’s husky voice, as alluring on the page as it was on line, seamlessly and deliberately brings us close, and then pulls us away, from an illusive and elusive love.
The title poem, “Someone Else’s Wedding Vows,” is an example of this dilating and constricting view. In the voice of the busy, “dutiful,” wedding photographer, the speaker studies image after image, behind the lens, wanting love and yet fearful of it: “Bring me to the oak out front and tell me you love me / I say to the family dog” (15-16). Animals show up in many of Stone’s poems. Animals are (at times) safer to love because there is less of an emotional price, but they also make love less human, perhaps more dangerous if the animal is wild. This juxtaposition is carried throughout the poem:
I should have gone out to the field every night
to watch black bears growl with honeysuckle.
And where it’s driest I sit down with my wet drink [ . . . ]
for this not being known,
and for the ordinary monstrous knowing I love. (44-45, 59-61).
The “ordinary monstrous” are the moments that Stone both embraces and at the same time needs protection from: “There is the clear image/of someone beside you who looks just like you [. . . ] / in endless reflections of your friends (“Because You Love You Come Apart” 37-38, 41). And yet, the poem ends with the tender image of friendship, “leaving a dark bar with them. / In the cab home you lay in each other’s arms” (47-48). She also has a fascination for the mechanical and scientific: cameras, toasters, “a computer generated father of two” (“You Were Lost in the Delta Quadrant” 24). The love, at times, becomes a cyborg, a golem: man-made, or something other than human, a devil, a vampire.
The book, written in three sections, begins with “A Bewilderment”: “I want to go out / and ride the back of a parable” (11-12). Stone introduces us to the animals that inhabit her book, but also keeps them away from the speaker, in this poem, as a parable. Although the speaker acknowledges the brokenness in her own soul, in “Elegy with Judy Garland and Refrigerator,” she can only acknowledge this while mourning another. Stone writes: “That grief walks barefoot, eternally”; “Grief wants me in good condition. / Grief wants me to remember everything. Imperfect. Clear.” (31, 39-40). The second section, perhaps the most “grounded” in place (references to Brooklyn, the “gnawing” maples of Vermont), begins the painful knitting of the organic and the man-made. In “Outpost,” the speaker describes her love as:
One outpost. Our love
is a helicopter following us home
landing softly outside our window
waiting for us to undress.(44-48)
Stone uses these modern-day lenses to inch closer, and at the same time, to remain a watcher, a voyeur: “Taking VHS into the shadowy back bedroom; / gesturing to blackflies and moths banging at the windows” (“The People of Distress” 13-14). Stone arches herself back to the third section, where, in the final, haunting poem “Practicing Vigilance, ” she returns to the image of the animal, “I’m coaxing the black bull out of my mouth / with a red flag and a beer” (99-100).
If the “other” is a lover/friend (or the devil?) when the book begins, “when we kissed it was two swordfish, vaulting” (“Sensitivity to Sound” 14), by the third section, the other, the “monsieur,” becomes the father/lover. The imagery from lover to father becomes potentially lethal:
My absent father’s deadly electrical storm
Sitting with him
like my feet in a bathtub
with the toaster oven—
I want all my apologies
scattered like burning flecks of a meteor.
(“The Other Forms” 16-20, 24-25)
The third section includes one of Stone’s longer poems, “Monsieur,” an address to a “you.” Stone plays on horror imagery, “in my young gothic wrappings / you come for me” (141-142). The “other,” by the end of the book, is the father, part of the speaker herself, a part she wants to deny:
My father appeared
and began taking my hair
one follicle at a time.
He worked his way to the neural tissue [. . .]
I won’t be mythologized by my father
who moves like an incoherent, boozing breeze
through life’s antechambers. (“Practicing Vigilance” 31-33, 43-45)
The love in Someone Else’s Wedding Vows is a beating “gorilla heart” where
You kissed me in the elephant cage. I said
I love you like a clam. I am asking you
to touch me here and here
and possible pay for my meal. (“My Herd” 3-6)
The poems in her first full-length collection bang and chafe deliciously against each other, “like a bullet made out of silk.” If the devil can do needlepoint, then Stone can “love like a farmhouse, or a grief-/chimney that funnels from the ovens” (“What It’s Like” 3-4). The imagery is always startling, quirky, fresh and spot-on. The husky growl I heard coming from the podcast, the musings of someone walking along, fearful, yet “wanting to recover,” embraces this landscape. It is a place where we all may reside, again and again.
Stone, Bianca. “I Saw the Devil in His Needlework.” Audio pod cast. Tin House Nooner. Matthew Dickman (host). 7 Oct. 2014. Web. 15 Nov. 2015.
—, Someone Else’s Wedding Vows. Berkeley, CA: Tin House Books/Octopus Books. 2014.