THE WEDDING

i

The bride and groom are beautiful,
but then they always are.
He has chosen navy blue velvet
over gray,
with a touch of baby’s breath.
She clings to pink rosebuds,
a woman after my
own heart,
refusing to wear white
or relinquish her bouquet,
marrying a musician
against her parents’ wishes.
They will not come,
weddings are so sad.

She looks just like a bride,
her cheeks quick with color,
even the curves in her clipped hair
seem to yield.
They whisper their vows,
some things do not change,
the grace bestowed upon a bride,
this love more pink than rosebuds,
more delicate than a baby’s breath.

You bring me here with my daughter,
hoping to change our minds,
hoping to make us like weddings,
you should know better by now.
I see only other times,
my life like fading ribbons,
and things it is too late for.
Your friends look through me,
even I have paled,
the flush in my face a dimming flame.
I wrap my arms around my child,
seeing so many things that have passed.
I watch old couples and wonder
what is between this and that?
How am I to fill these awkward middle years,
intended for love and bearing babies,
this time of buds coming to fruition,
this time of basic pumps and solid steps,
my life so untethered, I wonder
how am I to fill these awkward years
intended for living?

This wedding on a grassy knoll
overlooking a busy freeway,
celebrated with Partch music,
all those vibraphones.
I would marry if I could feel those vibrations.
I would marry if I could have Balinese musicians,
preferably in Bali.
I would marry if I could hear
those trembling sounds,
feel the excitement of my blood
changing its molecular composition,
I would marry if I could
have Balinese musicians.

I would marry if I could have a Dixieland band,
someone singin’ Delta Blues,
Ike and Tina Turner, or Booker T. and the MGs.
I would marry if I could dress in black
and take my vows at midnight.
It is the beginning of a new day
and that time made holy
for jazz and poetry.
I would marry if it didn’t mean
surrendering my own rhythm,
silencing the song
I sing to myself.

ii

This wedding on an old husband’s birthday,
one week before our anniversary
it has been twelve years,
and I was an angry bride,
angry at the priest who made me lie,
angry that weddings were carnivals,
not holy occasions at all.
They saw my ways as an assault on convention,
I would not cover my face,
did not want spectators,
insisted on walking down the aisle
with the groom,

His family disapproved of me,
my hair was too long,
my thoughts too strange.
I sat on the floor “like a little Buddha,”
was not Catholic and argued religious philosophy
with the priest.
I cut off my long braids for the wedding,
gave away my ragged jeans,
bought a camel coat with a matching hat,
the winters were so cold then.

When they came to visit
my floors were clean,
my pie crust flaky.
I remembered birthdays,
kept flowers on the table.
They began to weaken,
I had turned out after all.
I was self assured,
but did not let it show
too much.

Barely pregnant, I knitted yellow booties,
I was “My God, the most traditional wife
in the family.”
Playing liar’s poker with my husband
in the labor room,
the nurse, my ally,
biting the blood from her lip,
telling me I have done such a good job,
and this is just what I wanted.
My husband complained that I was
keeping him from business
which needed to be done.
Someone told him to bring me roses,
he came with a dozen red blooms
and a tiny yellow dress,
I forgave everyone everything.

Too late he took up the banjo,
when he left he took it with him,
my life a stinging silence,
I miss the music more than anything.
For six years we lived together,
for another six he came back for hair cuts,
with shirts that needed mending,
business schemes to try out on me
and new girlfriends to talk about.
Now he has a blonde,
at last he is happy.
I think God is in his heaven,
everything is almost all right.
Today at lunch he says
he has never been in love,
I wince but there is no pain.
I say I will probably
never have more children,
he does not expect any either.
An only child our daughter,
an only child of parents
who do not live together,
who do not love.

I was never Catholic,
but I did not believe in divorce,
so I dressed in black,
became a widow.
For six years I have mourned
without knowing,
tending dead buds,
waiting for full blooms,
and only this new summer
shows me all that has died.
But we were too young then
and I knew nothing of biology,
he came from too far north,
moved with a different rhythm,
no union was possible there,
we were too much friends
who didn’t know each other,
there was no union
I have never been married,
how can I be a widow?
Old Valentines and birthday memories,
family connections I tried to make,
but there was no cord to bind us,
my hair the only weaving
my fingers could feel,
my braids cut off around the neck,
so I could make the appearance
of a civilized bride come willing
to adapt to the white man’s ways
and so much has died here,
not between us,
that is not the loss,
so much has died here within me,
the youth,
the hope,
the believing in love,
pink as the rose bud,
delicate as the baby’s
breath.

iii

Sitting in some stiff parlor
with my arms thrown back,
my hand dangling loose,
the fingers open,
the right side lower
but loose and open too,
I see myself and laugh inside
at the gaping bosom,
the round lap exposed,
this hussy undisguised,
among the excessively civilized
with their chamber music and boring talk.
Walking down the street I see myself,
the counterpoint in my body
which tells the truth through juxtaposition,
sometimes moving easy,
sometimes quick,
and happiest when quick and easy
come together in the center
and smile,
seeing the contradiction
to themselves.

A stranger tells me as I move
I just throw things off,
flip them from my fingertips
and I see myself,
surveying men who move through space,
tossing life to the side,
refusing it,
moving to their own rhythm.
I pass a woman on the street
with a pale complexion,
I think if injections can fix a woman’s flesh
why can’t they put color in her cheeks?
At home I stare in the mirror,
the color is gone and a day’s sun
does not bring it back.
When I was a young wife
people commented on the blush in my face,
I did not tell them it was paint.
Now I paint and paint,
and still the sun does not come.
I see myself a woman without color
because she stopped believing in rosebuds.

I ask you what my visible image is,
you say I do not look like a wife,
I am complimented.
You tell me I look like a woman
who holds a position,
I am almost frightened,
this so counter to my belief in motion.
I do not want to hold a position,
unless I can carry it with me as I go.
I prefer my arms free,
coming from a long line of women
who do not want to be confined.
I do not want these things to carry,
these positions to hold.

iv

You bring me to this wedding,
hoping I will learn to like weddings.
You tell me I can dress in black,
you will wear white.
You have stolen my image again.
But I fear you are my brother,
born on the same day to another mother.
I fear you are my brother,
we should not marry,
our blood does not beat the same,
only our words match,
but words not so important as pulse,
I am afraid we should not marry.

My father worries that I do not have a husband,
you worry that I do not have a husband,
everyone worries that I do not have a husband
to keep me in the style to which
I would like to become accustomed.
But no one worries about my politics,
my philosophy, my art.
I believe politics stem from needs unmet,
I am becoming more political,
but my father does not worry about this,
only the mate I do not have.
Perhaps this is right,
perhaps this is what fathers are for.
Perhaps he is right.

My daughter announces that we are a family of girls
and our numbers doubling.
I see us like two corners of a room,
where is the father, where is the son?
Where is the opposite side of ourselves,
smiling back?
We are only two girls with two female cats,
one black, one calico,
one who came uninvited,
one hand picked.
They say calico cats are good luck,
they say black cats are bad luck,
but I only see them as different times of myself,
one too brave, too determined, too restless,
we are all trying to control her,
one older and more defeated,
dressing like a widow.
They say black cats are bad luck,
they say calico cats are good luck,
I couldn’t swear to any of it,
I see them as different times of myself.

And weddings are all around me,
at the Hotel Del we see the bride and groom,
she is still in white lace.
They sneak into the brass elevator
as shiny as a saxophone,
it is so damned romantic I can’t stand it.
Down the hall, the Chicano wedding
with the loud band,
I have never seen so many high heels,
so many red cheeks.

v

You bring me to this wedding,
where the parents won’t come
because she is marrying a musician,
hoping I will learn to like weddings,
but there is so much now to consider,
politics and profession,
genes, ethnicity and national origin,
social class and motivation,
past history and religion.
I have vowed I would never do this again,
when mostly it is blood and rhythm.

You bring me to this wedding
of navy velvet and ivory silk,
of the musician and the woman
who grows roses.
When I leave I say,
“The next time I marry I will be a virgin.”
I think this from one side to the other,
without considering its possibility,
with old adages about buying shoes untried
which do merit contemplation,
still the next time I marry
I will be a virgin.
I will be a virgin in white muslin,
like Japanese pearl divers in plain cloth,
with wooden barrels tied to our feet,
one who dives for pearls,
one who strands them.

The one who walks like a lion,
who made me cry saying the poem
was her gift to music,
has married a jazz musician.
I feel somehow betrayed,
this open admission,
this public statement
that we are not complete.

I would marry if I could
have Balinese musicians,
if I could feel those vibrations.
I would marry if I could
take my vows at midnight,
and it would be all poetry
and jazz.

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