I thought I knew what I wanted to say about the day
I say “I do” to you, and I sat there smugly on a bar stool
while patrons chattered around us and you asked what
our vows should be: declaration, proclamation, or promise?
I said pledge and planned to pledge my life to yours,
to commit to being your ballast and beam in exchange for the same.
I said it had to be clear that this was for year after year after year,
that I would be here, and you could rest in knowing that
my love is all-weather and all-terrain, and again I hoped
to hear you say something like the same.
But you said, “I think there should always be a degree of uncertainty.”
That’s right--you said I should never feel safe and never rest because
on any given day, I might come home and find you gone, and there will
be no explanation, and if there is, it needn’t be good, because this is a
game of pleaser and pleased, and when the pleaser falters, all bets
are off, which is why we shouldn’t place bets in the first place.
Never gamble what you feel you can’t afford to lose.
You said you love me, for now--that’s obvious--but life is long,
and someday we may look back and see this as nothing more
than a placeholder. I saw you looking at my arms like taut strings,
wound to receive you but snappable with ease for a strong man.
Ok, you didn’t say much of that really. You said,
“I think there should always be a degree of uncertainty,”
and my eyes went blurry until you muttered, “Listen,”
and spoke fresh words to replace the ones I’d dreamed into
existence in the panic of a promise assumed, undone.
You really spoke of couples who are complacent,
passing ships in swollen bodies who forget even the nicety
of a kiss hello. You said you never wanted to stop being better
for me. Better. for. me. Words I could hear but barely believe.
And to pledge your life to me would mean that the promise,
not the living marriage, meant the most, and a promise
without action is just a faded dream of syllables
uttered under a tree when everything was hopeful.
You said you never want to be the man who sits on a bar stool,
like this one, carousing with his friends over the stupid things
wives do, the stupid things I might do, like a superior sultan
enduring the marathon of marriage to a bawling ball and chain.
Well then, I thought to ask, what do you want to be?
“I want to be that scrawny old man with white hair and wrinkled face,
brushing the white hair away from your wrinkled face,
having shared three lives: yours, mine, and ours,
because we never forgot to listen and respond.”
“I think there should always be a degree of uncertainty.”
I think you should say it differently, but together we will find
the combination. We’ll refine this condemnation of promises
and pledges into words which only will approximate
this act of love, this active love, we mean to water and feed.
I saw you looking at my arms like velvet cloth,
supremely soft but sewn with iron thread.