Ars Amatoria: So You Want to Marry a Foreign National
On the flight from Mexico City to Chicago, carry
your love’s birth certificate and the necessary divorce decree
(he was not always your love).
It will read diferencias irreconciliables.
Stuff your suitcase with standard issue souvenirs—
bottles of mezcal, rebozos, talavera mugs.
In the customs line, flash your American passport
and a partisan smile.
A certain nervousness is normal. At such time, you may wish
to recall an image from your trip to the capital—
a red potted flower frowning on his fire escape; amor de un rato.
Veil yourself in the pleasure of names, the exactness of their
Once, lifting your thighs with a violence that embarrasses you now,
he called you gringa, güera, blanquita.
Certain memories are degrading and thrilling.
When the customs agent inquires about the purpose
of your trip abroad, answer voraciously
Grin into the facial recognition scanner.
It is not a crime to carry a Mexican citizen’s documents,
even if he is a Mexican.
In the coming months you will feel like a traitor,
a tragic character and a humanitarian.
The American sensibility betrays an ignorance of scale.
From an airplane landing at dusk, taillights tourniquet the Angel of Independence monument,
like the lit wagons of pilgrims,
or strands of Christmas lights
manufactured by prisoners in a laogai.
It has been said that suffering makes free.
Already you are abandoning the idea of audience.
Already the gauche gold wreath in the angel’s hand
resembles a bribe and the broken chain in the other,
an admission of guilt.
You break it, you buy it.
Months later, before he enters the U.S.
on a tourist visa, there will be some talk about worst-case scenarios.
He might, for example, be turned back at the border,
as if your foreign national were the longest chapter
of a difficult novel about love in a time
of revolution or famine, one
you were reading for a graduate seminar,
discussing with an earnestness that embarrasses you now
the problems of poetics and narrative shifts.
There will be some talk about the best course of action.
If you can afford it, hire a lawyer.
Do not trust the lawyer.
Learn the lexicon—B-2, I-130, I-94, adjustment of status.
The passive voice, as in the papers have been prepared,
connotes a deferral of agency.
Fanned across an I.N.S. agent’s desk,
photos of you and your foreign national
kissing in pornographically blue water; or the warped, refracted image of your joined hands
in the Bean Sculpture in Millennium Park
will resemble aerial shots of a famous heist.
At 10,000 feet, headlights on the ground look like downed stars.
In the waiting room of the third government office,
you will invent your own religion.
If you were raised Catholic, you will equate faith
with martyrdom. Our Lady of the Styrofoam Cups.
Our Father Who Art in the Radiant Air Conditioner.
Like the wooden coffin of a confessional booth,
government offices embody a necessity for self-censorship.
The thing about air-conditioning, he’ll say, is it doesn’t cool
so much as relocate heat.
And air-conditioning will become a covert metaphor
for American imperialism.
In the third government office, it will be easy
to mistake panic for epiphany.
What is marriage, but an official translation?
Are we really pondering the immortality of Octavio Paz?
Excuse me, have we provided adequate documentation?
Is our union bona fide?
At the end of his life, Paz professed a preference
for moral over aesthetic endings.
Please review our application materials.
We trust that your verdict will be favorable.
From an airplane window, a procession of cars
on the ground might be a wedding
or a funeral. Once,
you believed in beauty
as mystery. Once,
you believed that mystery made the moral
invisible. In the third government office, you will realize
your past self was full of shit.
Why are we here?
(Ah, the first person plural.)
Before you can answer: I came here for you,
not winter, not the twenty-minute car rides
to everywhere; not the garish grocery stores
stuffed with unripe fruit.
Permission is not in itself a destination—
every flight ends on the ground.
By now, you will have begun the final descent. Relinquish
your cup and napkin to the stewardess,
who waves a white garbage bag,
like a matador.
Like the last scene of a predictable thriller, when
having narrowly averted biological warfare or a coup d’état,
the two stunning undercover agents kiss and abandon their aliases.
On the ground,
the cars will look like cars.
Can you live there?
Say yes: Breakfast followed by
habitual sex, head-colds, the scrubbing
of pots, the trimming of shrubs;
wine journals, exposed wooden beams,
and learning the language of attachment parenting.
In the coming months, you will discover
that fear of stasis is the inverse of loneliness.
For now, naturalization. For now, ever-after. Let it begin
on the ground, in the September parking lot
outside the government office; in the naked,
unerotic autumn after audience,
a calm like a man and a woman
brushing the first dying leaves from the windshield.
Kara Candito is the author of Taste of Cherry (University of Nebraska Press, 2009), winner of the Prairie Schooner Book Prize in Poetry and Spectator (University of Utah Press, 2014), winner of the Agha Shahid Ali Poetry Prize. Her work has been published in such journals as The Kenyon Review, jubilat, The Rumpus, Indiana Review, and AGNI. A recipient of scholarships from the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference and the MacDowell Colony, Candito is a creative writing professor at the University of Wisconsin, Platteville and a co-curator of the Monsters of Poetry reading series in Madison, WI.