The Owls | A Natural History of My Marriage

Text and Photos by Jill McDonough

The first time I saw her, May 2, 1999, I felt like I had just been plunked down from a future in which we’d been together for decades, and I had to convince her it was me. The first time I heard her name felt like the first time I effortlessly understood overheard conversation in another language. Josey. Of course. Now everything made sense.

I won her over by writing her a poem called “Ghazal for Josey.” Every month when I repay some MFA tuition I feel smug about what a bargain I got.

An open relationship, quickly closing: only nobody you know, only out of town, only one time, only on jury duty, only sequestered, forget it.

When we had been together for six weeks I went to my friend Sudha’s wedding and got drunk and called Josey saying I want you to marry me and I think we should have a big Indian wedding like Sudha’s.

We are neither of us Indian.

On one of our first dates we were in the glass-bricked tunnel of Back Bay Station, on the Orange Line in Boston. And she sang the “O Mio Babbino Caro” aria from Gianni Schicchi because she liked the acoustics there. Mother. Fucker. Strangers cried out Brava!

We got civilly united in Vermont, had all the clerks of North Hero in tears. Party A Name: Josephine Alice Packard. Party B Name: Jill Susann McDonough. Josey made the skirt I wore out of an antique kimono.


I am married to the most competent person I have ever met, good at everything she has ever tried including teaching me how to use a drill, a dremel, a table saw, a jigsaw, a circular saw, a miter box, a powder actuated nail gun, a nail gun, a pneumatic stapler, a putty knife, a trowel, plaster, spackle, grout, wood filler, window glazing, drywall screws, perforated washers, a Boston shaker, a julep strainer, a Hawthorne strainer, a Tap-Icer, and a Lewis bag.


Sometimes she wakes herself up laughing. Sometimes she eats corn chips and drinks bourbon in her sleep. She has a space between her two front teeth that everyone should have between their two front teeth. I am anxious every day that she will die, that someday we will not wake up together.

When I had an emergency root canal and was so scared I was crying too hard for them to start, she came in and held my hand, watched the whole damn thing. And that shit is nasty.

I have a hard time with the word “wife,” which I think sounds like “wipe.” Josey’s my husband, really—look at that list of tools. But ladies can’t be husbands. Not even special-lady smart gays. There is no solution to this gay problem for the married gays. Sometimes I introduce her by saying “This is Josey Packard. She married me.” Or, if I want a bartender to understand that I am important, I will say “I am sleeping with Josey Packard.”

Sometimes a silver hair glints in her curls, or she cuts her eyes to see if she has made me laugh, or I recognize whether or not she’s had coffee yet from the way she moves, and I feel like I got blindsided with a ragged plank of 5/8” Drywall. It makes my nose sting, my eyes well up with tears. If I could have her children I’d be pregnant all the time.

We have a Kwanzan cherry tree that Josey wants to prune. But I want to wait until the branches start to bud, bring them inside and watch them bloom. She said, “Then we have to bide our time, get the ladder out when the snow is on the ground.” In the middle of winter, we’ll fill up this house with whole branches of double-pink blooms.


Jill McDonough thinks a freezer full of casseroles is like money in the bank. She foots the forty-foot ladder for her husband, Josephine Alice Packard, in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts. You can find Jill’s poem “Breast Like Martinis” and a recording of her reading it at the Slate website. Jill’s first book of poems, Habeas Corpus, is published by Salt (click for more info).


The Owls is a site for digital writing projects, mostly writing, some art – cross-posts appear here thanks to the generosity of 3QD. Jill McDonough's work is part of a series, “A Natural History of My _______ ,” edited and curated by Sean Hill. You can become a fan of The Owls on Facebook or subscribe to free updates via email on the sidebar of the main page. As the song says, we hope to hear from you from time to time.