The Chief

The Wed­ding Photo by David Kurby
Reader, this is not one one of those ekphrastic poems
of the kind where you have to know what the painting
looks like to understand the poem and is instead
an extended but, I hope, not too tedious reflection
on that photo I found while cleaning
out the attic after the death of my parents, and there are three

people in the photo, and the one you notice first
is the groom, who is snarling at a woman who
is surely his mother-in-law, and it looks as though
he has shoved his shirt too far into his pants,
which is one of the worst things
that can happen to a man in a crowd of people, because how

can you fix it unless you unbutton yourself
and pull everything out and start over,
but you can’t do that in a church with your whole
family and the bride’s family and fifty or sixty
total strangers staring at you
and saying, “Look, Maggie, Rick’s unbuttoning his trousers!”

and “If you ever do that, Hollis, I’ll never speak
to you again,” and the bride is watching all this,
and the expression on her face suggests that
her mother has just said something along
the lines of “See? See what
he’s doing? I told you not to marry him. You idiot! He’s ruining

your life the way your father ruined mine!”
Who are these people? Not my parents,
whose marriage remains a mystery to everyone
except them, to me, even, though I witnessed
all of it except for the few years before
my birth, though I’m pretty sure I would have remembered it

if my father had said, “Have you prayed tonight?”
like Othello and then “I kissed thee ere I killed thee.
No way but this, / Killing myself, to die upon a kiss”
and guess it more likely that, if my dad seemed wistful
from time to time, it was because he,
like Dr. Lydgate in Middlemarch, had marked how far he had

traveled from “his old dreamland” when his wife
“appeared to be that perfect piece of womanhood
who would reverence her husband’s mind after
the fashion of an accomplished mermaid,
using her comb and looking-glass
and singing her song for the relaxation of his adored wisdom alone.”

Yet my own wife and I wake more often than not
in each other’s arms, the first one to master his or her
powers of speech saying how happy he or she is
to wake next to someone they love so much and then
the other saying yes, yes, he or she
agrees. Then we make coffee and get the papers from the driveway

and get back in bed and read and drink the coffee
and argue about art or politics or who has to shop
for dinner, but in the manner of people who love
each other and have been doing so for a long time
and hope to continue doing so for
a good while to come, though you don’t have to have a PhD

in Third Grade Arithmetic to realize that, barring
astonishing developments in medical science,
the years before us are fewer in number than
the ones behind. Much fewer, come to think of it,
but who’s counting? By now the couple
in the photo have been through the same petty squabbles we have—

that or murdered each other, although, statistically
speaking, that’s an unlikely outcome. Chances
are they’ve made their way past the Scylla
of Whose Family to Visit During the Holidays
and the Charybdis of What
Kind of Sex to Have and How Often and are in a state of settled

contentment, like other couples, though from time
to time one will say to the other, “You made it
too hot in here” or “are you leaving your plate
in the sink for me to wash?” and the other will say,
“Well, what about that wet towel
on the floor?” and in that way remember the day it all began.

More art by Kirsten Rothbart here.

Recommended listening: Cream on Chrome – Ratatat

Links of the Day: Huskies on Ice


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