Wednesday

Nov. 12, 2008

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)

It's the birthday of philosopher and literary critic Roland Barthes, (books by this author) born in Cherbourg, France (1915). He came down with tuberculosis as a young man. He wanted to become a professor, but since he had frequent relapses and had to spend time in sanitariums, he couldn't hold down a teaching job.

So instead of writing long books about great works of literature, he began to support himself by writing short essays about popular culture. He was one of the first literary critics to apply literary theory to things like movies, burlesque, toys, and wrestling matches. He said, "I have tried to be as eclectic as I possibly can with my professional life, and it's been pretty fun."

It's the birthday of novelist and short-story writer Hanan al-Shaykh, (books by this author) born in Beirut, Lebanon (1945). She came from a strict Shi'a family, and she knew from a young age that she wanted to be a writer, she said, because it allowed her to release anger and frustration at male members of her family, who had the power to control her freedom. She worked as a journalist in the 1960s and '70s, and she published her first novel in 1970, Suicide of a Dead Man, written in Arabic, in which the middle-aged male narrator is obsessed with a young girl.

Ten years later, she wrote The Story of Zahra (1980). She told an interviewer: "I know that it had to do with my bottled-up self, and my subconscious, for when I released the top, everything exploded on paper." The book received great critical acclaim in the West and was banned in many Middle Eastern countries.

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®

 









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