Posts Tagged ‘weddings’

poem is leaning against veil on bench


Song of the Heart

by Cavafy


With you, I think, all that is pleasant smiles on me,

in the mirror of your eyes there is reflected joy.

Stay, my light, and still I have not told you even half

of all that presses down upon my heart so amorous,

that rushes to my lips with just a single look from you.

If you wish it, do not speak to me, or say enchanting

words of love and adoration. ‘Tis enough that you’re nearby,

that I tell you that I want you, that I’m near you, that the morning

dew that you breathe in, I breathe in, too; and if you find

that these too are excessive, ‘tis enough I merely see you!



A few hours before the bride donned this stunning dress, I snuck into her room with “Song of the Heart.” Then I worried. First that somehow the ink from my green Poem Elf stamp would stain the veil, and second that the bride might view the gesture as creepy, her prurient aunt trying to stoke the marital fires with a poem equal parts smoldering and romantic. I was like those old ladies at bridal showers of yore, holding up peignoir sets and lacy teddies, exclaiming to all with a laugh and a knowing wink, “Oh, won’t he enjoy these!” Forgive us old aunties. We love young love.


Anyway I needn’t have worried. The bride loved the poem and thought it “a perfect match” for her own perfect match. Indeed it was, even though she and her husband are private people not given to public displays, a couple whose emotions are less likely to be announced than unmasked by flushing cheeks and small grins.


But they couldn’t hold back on their wedding day, the glow, the big smiles, the “reflected joy” in the mirror of their eyes, the affectionate touching whenever the other was near. This overflowing of love from a couple who have known each other since their teenage years was a living, breathing exhibition of Cavafy’s words.


What I love about this love poem is that side-by-side with the passion—all that breathing and feelings pressing down and words rushing to the lips—is a courtliness. The lover is sweetly considerate of the beloved. The speaker says he’ll speak if you wish it, and if you find these too are excessive, he’ll back off. So polite for a passionate outpouring. This is no gather ye rosebuds while ye may seduction. This lover says, it’s enough to just breathe the same air as you.


I can only imagine how beautiful this poem is in the original Greek.


There’s a postscript to “Cavafy at the wedding.” After the reception, those die-hard celebrators among us carried on at a bar, and there I met a young man on his way to Ireland to get his masters in literature. We talked about his very particular literary taste—Shelly but not Eliot, a little Yeats but not all—and I showed him the picture on my phone of the Cavafy poem. He knew Cavafy and had read the poem before. I was impressed. No doubt the pretty young woman next to him was impressed as well. He expanded the screen to highlight a particular line. “Right there,” he said, pointing. “That’s it.” I wish I could remember which line it was that was it.


But which line doesn’t matter. What matters is the reach, over a hundred years later and thousands and thousands of miles away, of one poet’s words on strangers in a bar late one night, on lovers on their honeymoon, on who knows who else who reads this poem right here and now and remembers a beloved, and feels the beam of passion, the glow of love, who matches Cavafy’s song of the heart with his own.


Us old aunties. We’re hopeless romantics.


I’ve written about Cavafy before and will re-print his biography here. (Link here for the full post with another great Cavafy poem.)


Constantine Petrou Cavafy is Greece’s most highly esteemed modern poet even though he lived only briefly in Greece. He was born in 1863 in Egypt to Greek parents, the youngest of nine children.  After the death of his father, the family fell into poverty and moved to England. There he spent most of his childhood. More financial distress pulled the family to Greece, then back to Egypt, where Cavafy worked as a journalist and as a stockbroker. But the bulk of his professional life was spent at a government agency.


Cavafy was never famous in his lifetime and didn’t seem interested in pursuing recognition. He printed his poems in pamphlets which he distributed to his friends. His lack of interest in publication may have been because some of his poems dealt frankly with his homosexuality and erotic themes. He died at age seventy in 1933.



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poem is under left-hand concrete urn

poem is under left-hand concrete urn



By Lawrence Raab


Years later they find themselves talking

about chances, moments when their lives

might have swerved off

for the smallest reason.

What if

I hadn’t phoned, he says, that morning?

What if you’d been out,

as you were when I tried three times

the night before?

Then she tells him a secret.

She’d been there all evening, and she knew

he was the one calling, which was why

she hadn’t answered.

Because she felt—

because she was certain—her life would change

if she picked up the phone, said hello,

said, I was just thinking

of you.

I was afraid,

she tells him. And in the morning

I also knew it was you, but I just

answered the phone

the way anyone

answers a phone when it starts to ring,

not thinking you have a choice.



(I’m having trouble formatting this poem in WordPress, and formatting is so important here. Apologies. Please see the proper formatting in the photograph below.)



Here’s a poem possible only once upon a time when everyone had a landline and the one way to know for sure who was calling was to answer the phone.


If the couple in this poem had courted more recently, he would have called her cellphone, then texted, emailed and left a voicemail. There would be no we-almost-lost-each-other-forever. Either he would have tracked her down or he would have known she was ignoring his calls.


But even with the outdated technology of the poem, his version is overly-romanticized. We don’t know the whole story, of course, but surely he would have kept trying to reach her after she didn’t answer. Surely there would have been another opportunity to connect before their lives/might have swerved off/for the smallest reason.


Years later, happy years it would seem, she demolishes his version of their love story. It turns out that the single moment when their lives might swerve off course is not the missed phone calls so many years ago, but the telling of her secret this late in their relationship. It wasn’t kismet, she tells him, it was a choice, at first a conscious one formed in fear, and then an unconscious one formed out of habit.


You can just see the poor fellow’s face fall. It’s not devastating news—nowhere close to I’m in love with your brother and I’ll let the IRS agent in on my way out–but it’s deflating. He doesn’t know her as well as he thought. His treasured romantic-comedy relationship is going to have to be re-cast.


It reminds me of the last beautiful scene in James’ Joyce’s The Dead. Gabriel Conroy and his wife Gretta are in their hotel room after his aunts’ annual holiday party. Just before they had left the party he had watched her listening at the top of the stairs to a song played in a distant room. He couldn’t decipher her strange expression but it excited him, made him look forward to a night of intimacy. As he takes her in his arms in the hotel, he asks what she’s thinking about. The song, she says, “The Lass of Aughrim.” Then she throws herself on the bed, sobbing. Blue balls to follow.


She tells him what he’d not known before. When she was a young girl, a sickly boy named Michael Furey had fallen in love with her and used to sing “The Lass of Aughrim” to her. The night before she was leaving for school, he came outside her window in the rain and told her he did not want to live if she left. He died a week later.


After this revelation she falls asleep, and Gabriel is left alone, humiliated, angry, then by turns tender and wistful. Just before the story ends with the immortal lines about the snow falling faintly and faintly falling upon all the living and the dead, there’s this:


He thought of how she who lay beside him had locked in her heart for so many years that image of her lover’s eyes when he had told her that he did not wish to live.

Generous tears filled Gabriel’s eyes. He had never felt like that himself towards any woman, but he knew that such a feeling must be love


That’s marriage, right there, that bittersweet understanding. Maybe I’m putting a more hopeful spin on Joyce’s story than it merits, but understanding that your spouse is not you, and that your spouse is not the person you thought they were early in your romance, can be the beginning of real love and a real union.


Years ago when my husband and I were moving to Michigan and arguing about every house we looked at, our 80-year old realtor, now long dead but at the time long-married, told us that married people are like two trees. She used her forearms to show us the trees side by side. Separate trees, Millie said, but always growing beside each other. She was so right, that Millie. Any happily married person will tell you it takes years of marriage for the old idea of who you married to make room for the actual person who shares your bed and sometimes farts in it.


The title of Raab’s poem covers not just this little vignette of a married couple’s life, but what happens after the poem ends. Yes, marriage can be the bliss of shared memories, but it’s also the negotiation of differing memories. Romance is a construct; marriage is what happens after deconstruction. Or doesn’t. We don’t know where this marriage is headed.


I love how the structure works with the content of “Marriage.” The poem begins with the stanzas going back and forth between the speakers, like dialogue in a story. But after the first exchange, the poem is all hers, the conversation taken over by her secret. As his dream deflates, so do the stanzas, shrinking from four lines to three to a mere two at the end.


I left the poem outside a hoity-toity bridal salon, the kind of store that you don’t step inside unless you’re convinced it’s a good idea to spend half a year’s rent on a dress you wear for a few hours. I didn’t leave it there just to be snarky. The poem sheds light on the reality of marriage, and that’s a better place than fantasy weddings for any bride to begin preparations.


Screenshot 2014-12-04 12.08.34Lawrence Raab was born in Pittsfield, Massachusetts in 1946. He went to Middlebury College and earned his masters from Syracuse. He’s taught at University of Michigan, American University, and these days at Williams College. He’s one numerous awards and grants and has published seven collections of poetry. This poem, “Marriage,” comes from his 1993 collection What We Don’t Know About Each Other.


Raab has also written screenplays and adapted Aristophanes’ The Birds for theater.


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poem is in condiment caddy

poem is in condiment caddy

Wedding Cake

by Naomi Shihab Nye


Once on a plane

a woman asked me to hold her baby

and disappeared.

I figured it was safe,

our being on a plane and all.

How far could she go?


She returned one hour later,

having changed her clothes

and washed her hair.

I didn’t recognize her.


By this time the baby

and I had examined

each other’s necks.

We had cried a little.

I had a silver bracelet

and a watch.

Gold studs glittered

in the baby’s ears.

She wore a tiny white dress

leafed with layers

like a wedding cake.


I did not want

to give her back.


The baby’s curls coiled tightly

against her scalp,

another alphabet.

I read new new new.

My mother gets tired.

I’ll chew your hand.


The baby left my skirt crumpled,

my lap aching.

Now I’m her secret guardian,

the little nub of dream

that rises slightly

but won’t come clear.


As she grows,

as she feels ill at ease,

I’ll bob my knee.


What will she forget?

Whom will she marry?

He’d better check with me.

I’ll say once she flew

dressed like a cake

between two doilies of cloud.

She could slip the card into a pocket,

pull it out.

Already she knew the small finger

was funnier than the whole arm.



I was flying to Fort Lauderdale to meet my mother and some of my sisters. My plan was to leave “Wedding Cake” in the seat pocket, sandwiched between the in-flight magazine and the sky mall catalogue.  But we passengers were sandwiched too, packed so tight that every sniffle and stomach gurgle seemed to originate from a communal body of seatmates, and I didn’t feel like making a spectacle of myself leaning away from the seat pocket to get a decent picture.


’m glad I held on to the poem because I found a better spot for it later in the trip.


One day we heard that the owner of the hotel/condo we were staying in was having a huge birthday bash at the tiki bar downstairs, with a DJ and “Drink Girls.”  The “Drink Girls,” our tiki bar waitress explained, were hookers. None of us middle-aged suburbanites see prostitutes on a regular basis, and we wanted to watch them in action.


The tiki bar, being the last of its kind in Ft. Lauderdale, grandfathered in after beachfront tiki bars were outlawed, was crowded with a young and hormonally fired-up crowd. We had trouble distinguishing between the hookers and the bar patrons.  Young women in fishnet stockings and unzipped Daisy Dukes sauntered around selling shots, delivered with flair and in unusual serving positions. But other young women, dressed almost as provocatively, touched themselves as if they were showering and shook their body parts with an earnest determination to attract the attention of men far less attractive than they. To us it was all Sodom and Gomorrah, but to everyone else, we were the spectacle.  We must have looked like the summer stock cast of The Crucible.


After a while we got tired of the scene. We got up to go just as my mother was served a full beer she couldn’t drink.  No wanting to waste the beer, we brought it to a rowdy table of women at a bachelorette party.



I offered the beer to the bride on behalf of my mother.  “She’s 88,” I told her, “and she was married for over sixty years and had 11 children.  So this is good luck to you from her.”  The table cheered and the bride greeted my mother warmly, albeit drunkenly. As people do at those kinds of milestone parties, the group absorbed the moment into the story of their evening, and my mother became to them what my sisters and I call “Friends Along the Way.” Friends Along the Way are strangers you meet on group outings who bond with you on some deep or joyful level. Friends Along the Way love connecting with your group and in turn are loved and petted.


My mom is pretty cute and no doubt her beer offering was adorable just because she’s 88 and they were young and wild. But the moment was more than that.  Maybe seeing the bride in that atmosphere of hookers and hooking up made us feel protective towards her. Like the speaker in the poem to the stranger’s baby, we each became the bride’s “secret guardian.”   Knowing my sisters and mother as I do, I‘m pretty certain that many silent prayers were said for her, asking she be blessed with a long and happy marriage.  She’ll never know that, which is part of the beauty of the encounter to me.


As luck would have it, on the next day we were seated for lunch at the very same table. Which is where I left the poem.


That’s a long story to show how Naomi Shahib Nye’s “Wedding Cake” is suited to its site. The protective feeling the speaker has towards the baby and the unexpected connection between two strangers are exactly what we experienced with our bride on her “Final Fling.”


On to the poem itself.


Being left with a stranger’s baby on a plane for an hour is a Billy Collins kind of moment.  Like Collins, Nye has a light touch, a droll perspective. But Billy Collins couldn’t have written this poem.  Such situations rarely happen to men, and if they do, it’s all Three Men and a Baby and Do I Really Have to Change This Diaper?!  Mothers, on the other hand, often ask other women to hold their babies—probably not for an hour, but still, mothers need a free hand now and then and sometimes have to rely on the kindness of strangers. But the absurd situation is not at the heart of the poem. “I did not want/to give her back,” the speaker says. A connection has been forged, a connection that goes beyond the physical pleasures of holding a beautiful baby.


Dressed so fancy in her white dress with little gold earrings, the baby seems to me Hispanic.  I mention this because cultural exchange is central to Nye’s work.  In an interview with the online journal Cerise, she offers her recipe for increasing tolerance:

Spend more time with people not your own age. With people from backgrounds which do not mirror your own. With anyone you might consider an “other” — even urban people need to spend more time with small-town or rural people, etc.


The speaker and the baby are traveling in a plane, above borders, free to connect across cultures, age difference, time, language or the lack of it.  Spending time with the baby, the speaker begins to identify with her.  They both cry.  They both wear jewelry.  The baby even wears what looks like a wedding dress, a signature dress in a grown woman’s life. Even without a common language—the baby presumably doesn’t speak—the speaker bonds so deeply with the baby that she can “read” the baby’s curls. They will become part of each others’ future lives.


The poem leaves me with some questions, as poems usually do. Does anyone have idea about these lines:

She could slip the card into a pocket,

and pull it out.

What’s the card?  Did the speaker write this poem on a card and imagine the baby keeping it as she grows up?


I’m also mulling over the end.  I’m interested in how other people understand this:

Already she knew the small finger

was funnier than the whole arm.

I can picture the speaker tickling and teasing the baby with her little finger, or the baby examining her own pinkie.  This is presented as a lesson the speaker has imparted to the baby.  How else do the lines work in the poem? Why do they end the poem?


Naomi Shahib Nye was born in 1952 in St. Louis and identifies as an Arab-American. Her father was a Palestinian refugee and her mother American. During high school she lived for some time with her grandmother in Jerusalem and in San Antonio.


She’s written several books of poetry, children’s books, songs and novels.  She has traveled for the U.S. Information Agency on goodwill tours.  Her anthology for teens, The Space Between Our Footsteps, is a beautiful collection of paintings and poems from the Middle East. After 9/11, she spoke out against terrorism and against prejudice, and in 2002 she published a book of new and old poems she had written about the Middle East.


In 2009, PeacebyPeace named her a Peace Hero.  I didn’t know such a thing existed, but it’s a wonderful appellation and something we can all aspire to be.


She’s won multiple literary awards, including four Pushcart Prizes. She lives in San Antonio with her photographer husband and son.


You can hear her read here, a “found” poem. Her voice surprised me. I had expected a voice soft and gentle like her face, but she sounds more like your best pal in high school talking too loud the morning after you got drunk together.  Gravelly and fun.


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My nephew got married a few weeks ago in a joyful rumpus of a wedding followed by a mellower brunch the next day. I waited till the last minute to poem-elf the couple, and then I was disappointed I couldn’t get in their locked car to hide poems.  But it worked out.  In the absence of rice, confetti and clattering beer cans, I attached two poems to their car bumper for a quieter but more romantic send-off.



The first poem, Coleridge’s “Answer to a Child’s Question”  captures the giddy joy of the couple, who have known each other since grade school and still seem delighted to be in each other’s presence:


At the risk of love overkill, I love the line,  “I love my Love, and my Love loves me!”  Such a simple sentence, but it trips off the tongue like a jumprope rhyme.


In tribute to the bride and groom’s parents, both long-married, I left Grace Paley’s “Here. ”  I left the poem also as a happy forecast for the newlyweds’  future:


I don’t know if the newlyweds much liked this second poem—they removed it and hid it in my sister’s car before they left.  Ceci’s far being a woman “in the old style”—Paley’s heavy breasts, stout thighs and nicely mapped face—but she does have grandchildren on her lap and a husband she still loves.  Let me say to the newlyweds, in case this second poem didn’t please you:  I can’t wish you any better happiness than this beautiful expression of long-married love.


I  like how the two poems work together:  the first is joyful but controlled and structured, like a wedding, like visions newlyweds have of their married life.   Paley’s poem is as loose as her figure.  It speaks of a love just as vibrant as Coleridge’s but one that’s relaxed and settled in.


I didn’t get a picture of the bride and groom in all their glory, but I did get a picture that will give you a good idea of how fun this celebration was:


Yes, it was a pop the pins out of your updo kind of party.  Whosever bobby pins these are sure didn’t miss them on the dance floor.


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My niece and goddaughter got married last weekend in Maryland.  It was a great occasion to celebrate with my family (70 and counting), and a great occasion for poem elfing.



There’s no poem hidden in this picture but I do think I captured one in her expression. Look how she grips her father as she walks down the aisle towards her beloved with such transparent joy.  She can hardly hold it all in.  If I could have placed a poem on her person it would be this, from an unknown Chinese poet:

If I were a tree or a plant

I would feel the soft influence of spring.

Since I am a man . . .

Do not be astonished at my joy.


But I did manage to hide a few poems over the weekend.  I tied a Rumi poem to the bouquet Tricia used for rehearsal:



You can’t go wrong with Rumi for a wedding.



Tricia was a very happy bride, dancing and laughing all night, but at no point did she reach the “disgraceful” or “crazy” stage.  Neither did Poem Elf, I’ll have you know.   Still the poem’s a useful reminder to switch gears from planning to  celebrating.


Tricia didn’t notice the dangling poem until I pointed it out.


I planted another poem in the office of the father of the bride, my brother Donnie.


poem is taped to phone in foreground


I found “The Giving” in a collection of poems by someone named Max Ellison in a used bookstore in northern Michigan last summer.



I’ll reprint the words because I’m sure someone searching on “wedding poem” will want to copy them:


The Giving

by Max Ellison


Who give this woman to be wed?

Her mother and I.

We gave her dawn.

We gave her grace.

We stamped our image

On her face.

We gave her books,

And through the years

We calmed her early

Childhood fears.

We gave her faith.

We gave her prayer.

She walked our road.

She climbed our stairs.

And now in solemn troth

We swear,

We can not give.

We only share.


I love this poem.  At first I had reservations about the whole idea of “giving” a woman to a man or “sharing” her, but in the face of such loving fatherly sentiments, those reservations be darned.  This poem is just flat-out sweet and true.  We are each of us a gift to the world.


Poet Max Ellison was less obscure than I originally thought.   Well-known in his hometown of Bellaire, Michigan, he sold his books on street corners, spoke at Governor Milliken’s inauguration, and may have been—although I can’t confirm—the poet laureate of Michigan. He lived simply in a house he built called “Frog Holler,”  which had no running water or electricity.  His poetry is also simple, in the best sense:  clean and straightforward and honest.  No frippery.


In the goody bags for the out-of-town guests staying at the hotel, I left Dante’s “La Vita Nuova.”



I’ve already written about this poem, so I’ll include the link, post the picture and not say one more word about it:


Poem Elf got fancy with vellum and ribbon


Finally I included this poem (or excerpt from a poem) with the newlyweds’ wedding gift, a lamp.  I forgot to take a picture of the actual lamp with the poem, so I put another copy in my front window:



The poem provides an answer to the question Rodgers and Hammerstein posed in Cinderella:

Do I love you because

you’re beautiful

or are you beautiful

because I love you?


I can’t find a thing on the poet, Fulvia Lupulo, except that’s she’s Mexican.  Tricia’s husband is also of Mexican descent, so I hope this poem finds a special place in his heart.


And here’s the bridegroom himself, with my mother at the rehearsal dinner:



I can’t resist including two more pictures of my mother at the wedding.  First, dancing with one of her grandsons:



And then surprised by her grandsons’ Zou Bisou Bisou:



Ain’t love grand?


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