Bianca Stone’s Someone Else’s Wedding Vows is a collection in three parts, each loosely documenting a stage in the poet’s recovery from grief–one assumes this grief stems from the loss of Stone’s grandmother, poet Ruth Stone, whom the younger poet loved “severely” (“Ruth Stone” par 1). The severity of this love shows: these grieving stages aren’t of the hackneyed variety so prevalent in self-help quarters–there is neither bargaining nor final acceptance–but are rather a kind of progressive displacement, with feelings of anguish being dislodged, bit by visceral bit, by feelings of love for another.
In section one, the poet combines the bizarre and the banal to create surreal vignettes embodying the numbness and dissociation of paralysis by grief. In “Elegy with Judy Garland and Refrigerator,” whose title in itself is a cleverly surreal admixture, Stone writes, “I open the refrigerator/ staring at the eggs, each in their Styrofoam socket, each / dumbly assembled head bowed” (20-22). While the poet looks on, “the cold driving over [her] knees” (24) signaling isolation, the eggs are of a piece with their environment, so much so that each fits into the carton as a bulb into a socket. Against this hyper-real image, Stone places the parallel image of herself as part of a row of mourners, finding that they cannot belong as the eggs belong: that she and the other mourners are “The Chorus of Greeks spat back out into the trees” (25-27) suggests that she is less than ancillary to the primary action–she cannot participate at all, is rendered speechless. Unlike the eggs, she has no “socket,” no place. And indeed, the speaker of these poems cannot seem to find a place of repose in the face of her grief, not even within her own body. In “Because You Love you Come Apart,” the dissociation is so severe that she experiences “the clear image / of someone beside you who looks just like you / but can get bluebottle fields to land on her finger” (37-39). Here, the flies are an apt synecdoche for death, an experience she can only touch while beside and not within herself.
In section two, the speaker is still an outsider–in the titular poem, she sees others at a wedding as “discreet psychotics / posing for photographs” (53-54)–but there are nonetheless fragile moments of connection, moments where the grief falls away. In “Outpost,” Stone speaks of the fragility of this love, describing it as “one lone blue M&M / on the subway stairs” (42-43), or as “one tendon” (44). Despite this fragility, the description of love as an “outpost” makes clear that the poet finally has an oasis of repose, a place to belong. “Someone Else’s Wedding Vows” acts as the counterpoint to “Outpost,” the speaker clinging to the outsider’s cynicism, unwilling to believe in the myths the wedding itself propagates. She shuns romanticism with lines like “Bring me to the oak out front and tell me you love me / I say to the family dog” (15-16), and yet, by the close of the poem, there is the epiphanic moment where she accepts, though with fear, her own return to loving again as the “ordinary monstrous knowing I love” (61).
The third section opens with a lengthy blason, entitle “Monsieur,” which finds the poet lovingly cataloging the virtues of her lover without quite disposing of incredulity in love as a salve. In the lines “we do not hold each other / and think of the assassin constructing / in the human ego” (106-108), she acknowledges love as a respite from grief and fear while also acknowledging that love engenders its own destruction. While the lovers hold one another, this knowledge is absent, but only during that time. And yet, despite this lingering fear, “Monsieur” represents a reversal in which the mundane no longer isolates the poet from the world but is rather a force of connection, elevated by love: “After we make love / reiterate for me your syllabus” (193-194). Grieving, for Stone, is not about pressing on from anger to complete acceptance, but is rather a process of toggling from one to the other, becoming at home in the liminal space between them. And love is, apparently, that in-between space.