Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Wedding Vow by Sharon Olds

This morning I was reminded that one of the things that makes me happiest in the world is poems by Sharon Olds. Taken from The Writer’s Almanac.

The Wedding Vow

by Sharon Olds

I did not stand at the altar, I stood

at the foot of the chancel steps, with my beloved,

and the minister stood on the top step

holding the open Bible. The church

was wood, painted ivory inside, no people—God's

stable perfectly cleaned. It was night,

spring—outside, a moat of mud,

and inside, from the rafters, flies

fell onto the open Bible, and the minister

tilted it and brushed them off. We stood

beside each other, crying slightly

with fear and awe. In truth, we had married

that first night, in bed, we had been

married by our bodies, but now we stood

in history—what our bodies had said,

mouth to mouth, we now said publicly,
gathered together, death. We stood

holding each other by the hand, yet I also

stood as if alone, for a moment,

just before the vow, though taken

years before, took. It was a vow

of the present and the future, and yet I felt it

to have some touch on the distant past

or the distant past on it, I felt

the silent, dry, crying ghost of my

parents' marriage there, somewhere

in the bright space—perhaps one of the

plummeting flies, bouncing slightly

as it hit forsaking all others, then was brushed

away. I felt as if I had come

to claim a promise—the sweetness I'd inferred

from their sourness; and at the same time that I had

come, congenitally unworthy, to beg.

And yet, I had been working toward this hour

all my life. And then it was time

to speak—he was offering me, no matter

what, his life. That is all I had to

do, that evening, to accept the gift

I had longed for—to say I had accepted it,

as if being asked if I breathe. Do I take?

I do. I take as he takes—we have been

practicing this. Do you bear this pleasure? I do.

"The Wedding Vow" by Sharon Olds from The Unswept Room. © Alfred A. Knopf, 2003. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

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