Dearly Beloved– Dinty W. Moore

We are gathered here because I officiated my first wedding just a few weeks back: a graduate student in the writing program where I teach was marrying an instructor in the German program.

They married in my living room.

The bride wore blue.

The maid of honor wore shorts.


We are here today – before God – because marriage is one of His most sacred wishes – to witness the joining in marriage of GROOM’S NAME and BRIDE’S NAME. This occasion marks the celebration of love and commitment with which this man and this woman begin their life together. And now – through me – He joins you together in one of the holiest bonds.

I became a minister in the Universal Life Church easily enough: visit a webpage, click a button.  Ordination is simple. Knowing what to say when two people marry is something else altogether.

The boilerplate language italicized above showed up on a website devoted to helping novice officiants like me find the appropriate words, but even such humble a declaration caused me considerable cognitive anguish. It wasn’t clear if both bride and groom believed in God, for instance. I was pretty sure at least one was not on board with the default masculine pronoun. I certainly wasn’t ready to claim that God acted through me.  And to be honest, I doubt that marriage is one of God’s “most sacred wishes,” or that God, whatever that word means, even bothers to notice our silly little organized religious rituals.  He/she/God surely has better things to occupy his/her/God’s time.

But we like to think that we are the center of everything, don’t we? And that someone is keeping track.


With respect for individual boundaries comes the freedom to love unconditionally. Within the emotional safety of a loving relationship – the knowledge self-offered one another becomes the fertile soil for continued growth. With care and responsibility towards self and one another comes the potential for full and happy lives.

Now there’s a mouthful of passive jargon.  “Individual boundaries,” “emotional safety, “the knowledge self-offered one another becomes the fertile soil…”  Perhaps if I had been negotiating a settlement between Israel and one of its neighbors, the language would have suited, but I couldn’t deliver those words to my two friends with anything like a straight face.  I’m a writing teacher after all; clarity of language is my sworn cause.

Still and all, it was my job to offer some sort of advice. My wife helped by repeatedly suggesting, “Don’t mention ‘hard work!’” She was referencing a ceremony we had witnessed many years before where the preacher seemingly talked of nothing else; pointing out in every other sentence that marriage was hard, grinding, bone-wearing, teeth-gritting emotional labor. His wife was in the pews when he said all of this, and I can only speculate what she was thinking.

I eventually came up with a few nuggets of advice I wanted to offer, until it occurred to me that at this wedding, my wife would be in the audience, listening to me, and soon enough every sentence I composed sounded horribly hypocritical.

Renita and I are just about to celebrate our thirtieth wedding anniversary, which is pretty good stuff these days, but goodness knows this didn’t happen because I was good at marriage, or because I held some special key to making my wife’s days happy and joyous. These thirty years have happened because Renita was willing to put up with me, and because she is stubborn, and because I am lucky.

That’s not exactly advice.


Do you GROOM’S NAME take BRIDE’S NAME to be your wife – to live together after God’s ordinance – in the holy estate of matrimony? Will you love her, comfort her, honor and keep her, in sickness and in health, for richer, for poorer, for better, for worse, in sadness and in joy, to cherish and continually bestow upon her your heart’s deepest devotion, forsaking all others, keep yourself only unto her as long as you both shall live?

One other oddity of my first marriage ceremony was that neither GROOM’S NAME nor BRIDE’S NAME was new to the nuptial altar. They had three or four weddings under their collective belts already, and were in no way naïve as to the perils, challenges, and odds.

So what do you tell someone who is not innocent, not wide-eyed, not filled with naïve optimism.  If I promised them that each day would be as wonderful as the first flushes of love had been, that they were entering into a union of perpetual bliss, I suspect the bride would have laughed out loud.

So what to say?

I didn’t tell them much.

I mentioned that marriage is like writing: you need to show up at your writing desk and at your marriage desk.

I mentioned that marriage is not like writing: writing needs to be attacked, relentlessly, while people need to be handled tenderly, coddled a bit.

“Show up, be tender.”  That’s the best I could muster.

The bride and groom smiled and nodded.  My wife did not guffaw.


Lee Martin–Snow

          Once, when I was five, a snow storm came overnight and lingered into the morning. We lived on the farm then, and for some reason I can’t recall, my mother and father set out up the lane in my father’s Chevrolet pickup, leaving me in the care of my grandmother. I dragged a ladder back chair to the front door and stood on it, so I’d be tall enough to look out the glass. I watched the back end of the truck slide a little in the deep snow before finding purchase and going on. My father turned onto the County Line Road, and I was still watching when the truck, nearly to the crossroads, slid into the ditch.

           I still remember the sight of my parents walking back up the lane, heads bent against the force of the snow, my mother’s scarf tied beneath her chin, the skirt of her dress flapping around her legs, the bill of my father’s cap dusted with snow, his cheeks red from the cold.

           Although I didn’t know it, then, this must have been one of the first times when I sensed that my parents lived inside imperfect bodies. They’d tried to move through space and failed. I didn’t know, as I felt the cold they carried back into our home, that this was only one of their many rehearsals for leaving this world.

           Now I think of their footprints in the lane, proof that they once walked upon this Earth—those footprints disappearing even as I celebrated my parents’ return, all sign of them filling in with snow.

Brooding–Michael Martone

Seventeen years ago.  The house in Syracuse, on Fellows Avenue.  A sun porch on the second floor, windows all around, she had painted a pencil yellow, a school bus yellow.  The squat computer, a putty color, sat on the sterilizer table, dialed up, squawked for the first time. Tone and twinkle, hiss and static sigh, ripping zip, twist and ratchet. O. O. O. “Hello.”

In the cloud of trees, canticles of cicada barked, waxed and waned, tinkered with their tuning.




penetrating the rock

sound of cicada







Northern Light…

Alta Vista…




May. Now. Seventeen years later, Brood II emerges in the east.


Magicicada Septendcim

Magicicada Septendecula

Magicicda Cassini.


Cicada, cicada, cicada.  The name (though it is not onomatopoeic but Latin for tree cricket) mimics the song. The long sibilant. The cawing caw. The dada da of the of the of the denouement, a trill falling off, entropic, unable to escape the gravity of, of, of a marble, dribbling on, each rebound lessening, dribbling on a concrete floor.

Just now, just now (another window is open on this machine, a program running) the chirrup of an alert.  As I type this this, a comment has emerged in my timeline.  The comment palimpsesting into place on the Facebook.  Two tones, two tones like like the clicking cricket the nuns (I remember) used to use to time our genuflections.


a cicada chirrs—

there! and there!

stars appear



One billion buried grubs per square mile.  Buried for seventeen years but not asleep, no, no suspended animation, no dreaming dreams of waking, of falling upward.  A lot of rooting around down there.  Rooting for roots.  The earth crawling with them, coiled like the watch springs they are.

All one needs to do is type into a field and enter.  In seconds, millions of returns return in seconds, scores and scores of hits, hints from hither and yon, hinterlands come out of hiding.  The lists and lists come back in instants and after years one wonders no longer about an other, another one.  Another other emerges.  Emerges.

Now that I think about it, the @, the “at” symbol, the ampersat, that balled-up bug, has the look of burrowing bulging-eyed nymph.  Or the @ is a map of absence.  A sink of seeking.  A sink of sought.  All that time circling down the drain.  Screwed.  Worm-holed.  Bored and bored.

Then, the elm trees were still living, and they were scaled with the spent shells, the papered and papery leavings the bugs bugged out of.  I had to pry them from the trunks they were stuck to.  Pointing up the brick siding of my grandparents’ red brick house as well, grappled in the grout, a kind of fossil ivy.  I kept them in a glass jar, a mess of little brittle blisters, those bugged-out eyeless eyes, blown glass, goo goo googly, bulging orbits.  Shifting shifts.  Slit open sleeves.  A thousand thousand-yard stares.  What were they thinking?  Thought balloons configuring their own empty empty-headedness.  And all around me, invisible, was the busy full-bodied buzz buzz babbling of the brooding.


a cicada shell

it sang itself

utterly away



I wonder what happened to her or her or her.  Carol Clay Clay Clay.  The scuffed anthills on the walks home from school.  Nancy Carrollllllll.  The lightning bugs made into ashy jewelry.  Maripat Golf, a estuary of silence after that graduation party in somebody’s backyard where seeing her through the screen of the lilac bush, obscenely in bloom, touch David Esinbarger’s hand (I’ve looked him up—he’s dead, he died after that but before this writing now) I ran back home through the alley ways of North Highlands and the tunnels of screaming sirens, cicadas sawing, seeing what I saw again and again.  Where are you now?  You and you and you.  Why after all these years can this song or that one or this one here not be unsung?


“Over the course of an emergence, male periodical cicadas congregate in huge choruses or singing aggregations, usually located high in trees.  Females visit these aggregations and mate there.  Males of all species have typical calling songs as well as special courtship songs, the latter being given only in the presence of females.  In Magicicada septendecim, the calling song is a prolonged buzz that drops in pitch at the end:  weeeeeee-ah. This song is very low pitched around 1.3 kHz….  When a male approaches a female, she responds by clicking her wings after each song, and he slurs his songs together.”

The Songs of Insects by Lang Elliott and Wil Hershberger


I stare at my screens.  Images of zombies back from the dead staring back at me.  I believe I am to identify with the living in these dramas, but secretly I have much empathy for the re-animated dead.  Their staring reminds me of my staring.  Their predation of brains is done too literally, I think, for the sake of an audience’s visceral response.  I like to think of that hunger more metaphorically, a desire not for the biological nutrient but the virtual one.  There is a mad curiosity I see. “What’d I miss?” Suspended under ground, out of time, as you were, poor zombie.  It is a hunger for the synaptic recording of time, the looping tapeworm of memory.  The past needs to be tapped.  Stare at me now, staring at this screen as I scroll through the searches, searching for what?  What?  What?  My shuffling, stuttered scroll.  My clicking.  My stalling.  My missing.  My finding.


even with cicada—

some can sing

some can’t


Moments of Attention–Robin Hemley

We can never entirely recover what has been forgotten.  And this is perhaps a good thing.  The shock of repossession would be so devastating that we would immediately cease to understand our longing.


Train clacking on its track, blurred landscape, pink trees, misty hills.

La la la la la la

Do you know These are all what happened the night almond trees  blooming La la la la la la la la before last night?


Train clacking on its track, pink trees, misty hills.

“I actually had a heartburn.”

Oh really?”

La la la la la la

Found, rediscovered, when I returned an old computer on loan and its information was transferred to a new computer, the old computer wiped clean.  A dozen or so micro clips several years old, taken by my wife of days I remember broadly and moments I remember not at all.  Their heartbreak lies for me in their resurrection.  Had I never discovered them, I would not have missed them.  But now, viewing the images, I want these lost moments back.  What happened next?  I wonder.  These beautiful children – they’re lost to me forever even as I tuck them in at night, read to them at bedtime, wish them sweet dreams and pleasant dreams as they wish me pleasant dreams and sweet dreams.  My daughter cannot finish the ritual without being the last to say I love you.  If I said I love you, again, she would have to say it, too, and we might go on this way until the moment . . .

Here and Gone.  That’s what it is to be human, I think.  To be both someone and no one at once, to hold a particular identity in the world (our names, our places of origin, our family and affectional ties) and to feel that solid set of ties also capable of dissolution, slipping away, as we become moments of attention

“Daddy, in the olden days did they only wear Afros when they went dancing?”

— Quotes by Walter Benjamin, Mark Doty, Shoshanna Hemley, Naomi Hemley, Margie Hemley, Robin Hemley.