Best way to celebrate your wedding anniversary? Attend a wedding. Especially a wedding between two young people whose future seems so promising, their union seems like a gift to the rest of us.
So when The Mate and I witness these young folks saying “I do,” we’ll be holding hands and getting misty, thinking over our past 28 years together. (Actually, it’s 36 and a half ’cause we lived in sin for quite a while before marrying, but who’s counting?)
We don’t have a role in this wedding except to witness (and eat and drink), so I don’t know why poetry popped into my head. It’s not like we have to read anything out loud. Nevertheless, I found myself thinking, “What would be a great poem to read at a wedding?” and this one floated out of the memory banks.
by John Frederick Nims
My clumsiest dear, whose hands shipwreck vases,
At whose quick touch all glasses chip and ring,
Whose palms are bulls in china, burrs in linen,
And have no cunning with any soft thing
Except all ill at ease fidgeting people:
The refugee uncertain at the door
You make at home; deftly you steady
The drunk clambering on his undulant floor.
Unpredictable dear, the taxi drivers’ terror,
Shrinking from far headlights pale as a dime
Yet leaping before red apoplectic streetcars-
Misfit in any space. And never on time.
A wrench in clocks and the solar system. Only
With words and people and love you move at ease.
In traffic of wit expertly manouver
And keep us, all devotion, at your knees.
Forgetting your coffee spreading on our flannel,
Your lipstick grinning on our coat,
So gayly in love’s unbreakable heaven
Our souls on glory of split bourbon float.
Be with me darling, early and late. Smash glasses–
I will study wry music for your sake.
For should your hands drop white and empty
All the toys of the world would break.
My former AP Literature students should remember this one well. We talked about its irony (“clumsy” in a love poem?!), its beautiful use of onomatopoeia (“all glasses chip and ring”), its sudden shift from criticism to praise (“no cunning with any soft thing/Except all ill at ease fidgeting people”).
“What do you notice about the way the poet uses sentence structure?” I would ask. “Those long, complex sentences, then that one, short outburst–‘And never on time’–like this husband is spouting his exasperation for the umpteenth time. Can’t you just hear them argue? Anyone ever heard their parents argue like that?
“What do you notice about that line “A wrench in clocks and the solar system”? The scale suddenly grows from household size to the whole universe, doesn’t it? What kind of statement is that about the breadth, the everything-ness, of this guy’s love?
“And that last line? If her hands fell white and empty–yes, it means what you think it means–not only would the joy go out of his life, the joy would go out of the WHOLE WORLD. “All the toys” would break. He admits she’s clumsy, messy, late…and he still adores her. Now THAT’s love, right?”
My Mate’s not a poet. If he were, he could easily write a poem like this about me–except for the lipstick part. And if he did, I would swoon. THAT’s love.
But he doesn’t need to write this poem. It’s already written. And this weekend, he’ll find another way to tell me his version of what Nims told his love.
What poem would YOU read aloud at a wedding, I wonder?