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This Was Supposed To Be Your Wedding Poem But Now Is Just An Assignment for My Online Master Class With Billy Collins

by Deborah Thomas

In an email, late this evening, my best friends announced that they had gotten married.  I suspect they didn't mention it beforehand because they were certain I would write a wedding poem. Until now I had never thought about the possibility that my poems might prompt going to extremes just to avoid them.   Note to self: send them a poem about that.

From somewhere else in my computer, I hear the voice of Billy Collins telling me  a poem will take on a unique voice all its own, and the writer simply needs to follow it to where it wants to go.   That's nice. But at this moment words I've saved up for that wedding poem are ricocheting in my head, and at this moment, their voice claims they just want out.

It would perhaps have been nice to attend their wedding.  On the other hand, it could have been a little awkward, given that his  late wife was my best friend, and ink on the poem I wrote for her memorial is scarcely dry.  But this new wife is wonderful. She showed up in the poem I wrote in honor of his turning 70, not all that long ago.  We all know his heart runs fast, and can be unpredictable. At our age, one can't wait around to see if things work out.  Besides, I've never seen him happier.

So Billy Collins says to get a piece of paper and a pen, and write something, perhaps a list of things that happened earlier today, and let the poem decide the destination. OK. Here we go.  I am nothing, if not willing, to allow this poem to tell me what the hell it wants with me this late at night.

This poem declares it's going to celebrate their wedding anyway.  "Who needs them?" it begins.

An  ambiguous first line. It could go anywhere or nowhere. And besides, I do need them.  I don't have that many friends, and they are special, even with this sudden substitution.  His new bride was his late wife's best friend in college. She laughs a lot, and helps me not to miss his other wife so much.  His other wife was also funny and creative. For all we know, she might have left him to her college friend as an addendum to her will.   She was the sort of woman who would do that, knowing he would be completely lost without her.

This poem starts complaining it needs wedding music, and a lot more cadence to the words it's spitting out, and it suspects this writer's not cooperating in the process of this poem's execution.  Now, it wants a bouquet, and some champagne. I offer to go get a glass of something bubbly. The poem scoffs, chiding me, and points out the champagne was just a metaphor.

Billy Collins' voice jumps in: "There is no rush.  Relax." I run to get my hidden single-serving of prosecco,  and I bring it back. I try to find a clear spot on my desk to set the bottle, but the fragments of dead poems are buried under piles of paper, stacked up on the furniture, and often hidden underneath the dog.  Never mind. I take a long drink from the little bottle and I try to concentrate.

This poem reappears and promises it's going to throw rice everywhere.   The two of us, me and the poem, indulge ourselves and drink a bit more bubbly. The poem declares that we will

go away for two weeks on a honeymoon.  This poem, unlike certain so called friends, insists that I go with it. Two whole weeks without a stanza or a rhyme scheme pushing us around. No laptop, what the hell, no Wi Fi and no cell phone.  Just the two of us, alone together, both completely silent. For a moment, we stare at each other, not a word between us. Then I realize the poem is pouting. Now, I'm told, this poem's decided to stay home.  

The recorded voice of Billy Collins mentions online classes for those writers who can't leave their homes without some means of writing poetry, or better yet, for poets, like himself, who are just far too busy gazing out their windows all day to consider going in to work.  This class has fancy graphics, but there is no place to send in a real assignment. This poem is annoyed, and threatens to expose itself to other writers, get some feedback, maybe even introduce itself online to other poets who might run with it, might take it in some much more interesting direction.

I don't think so.  I explain, the poem is not yet ripe enough to come down from its tree,  and it's, as yet, not something one would recognize as poetry. It's just way too prosey, still takes up too much space on the page.  I pause to let it simmer, let some of the excess words evaporate. My new friend, Billy, recommends I take time to observe, to pause, to steep, to recollect.  He forgets to mention drinking.

I look back at my friends' email. I can't help remembering the day my uncle Jimmy got engaged and promised I could be the Flower Girl when they got married.   For six months I dreamed about white dresses, long pink ribbons, and white patent leather shoes, of walking down the aisle and throwing flower petals for the bride to walk on. In my five year old imagination, I spent months rehearsing walking down the aisle all by myself, carrying the basket of all baskets, calculating quantities, the number of small handfuls of sweet shredded roses so I wouldn't run out until I had  reached the steps up by the altar. Every Sunday, church became my runway. Those three steps would be adorned in a white carpet. There would be a bunch of bridesmaids carrying bouquets. My cousins would be merely guests, all jealously dressed up in ordinary party dresses, stuffed into the church pews with their parents.  But not me. Being The Flower Girl made me a star, almost as necessary to the wedding as the bride.

Out of the blue,  that June, when I was tired of waiting for my moment in the spot light,  I demanded to be told exactly when this wedding would take place. Only then was I informed that Uncle Jimmy had eloped. I didn't know what that meant, but the word sounded disgusting. My mom explained that they had changed their plans, and left town to get married.   I explained that they still needed to come back and have a wedding, so we'd better hurry up and buy my dress. My mom explained that now I didn't need a dress. She paused from cooking, looking down at me, and added that at least we didn't need to get a fancy one.

I couldn't breathe. Who did he think he was?  Did he spend even five minutes remembering his promise before he and Martha ruined the best day of my life I never had?  Did this early and traumatic disappointment set the stage for later, when I finally married for the fourth time, never once completely certain anything at all would ever work out, given only certainty that men who promise things to girls might later on decide they didn't have to keep their word?  

This poem wants to throw hard rice at all the filthy bridegrooms who back out of promises they make, especially to Flower Girls. RICE!, Basmati, Himalayan Pink Rice, Brown Rice, Red Rice, Black Rice, Rice enough to fill and overflow the new slow cooker my dear husband thought I'd like for Mother's Day.  Not just a large slow cooking rice machine, but one that's stainless steel; a pressure cooker, too big to conceal beneath the counter.  As it happens, I am terrified of pressure cookers. I assume most people are, and that's why they all disappeared after my grandmother was buried. I have never had one, but my whole life seems to be one.  All my husbands ought to know by now that all gifts I receive are taken gratefully, but always with a grain of salt, because, of course, they're metaphors. So he gives me a pressure cooker????   

If I serve him rice for dinner on our anniversary, he'll most likely miss the point completely.  Men are like that. This poem's getting angry now, though I most certainly am not. I've learned how to stay calm, just  let him go to bed, and then stay up for hours, furiously writing and rewriting Vows, my Words, like those imaginary God Damned Rose Petals, those  mostly empty sheets of printer paper covering my desk, piled on the furniture, and sometimes hiding underneath the dog. Tonight, while my friends sip champagne, I cordially invite all my remaining unclaimed syllables to slide down to the floor, so I can stomp on them proclaiming Words Don't Matter.

As if Deus ex Machina had risen like hot steam escapes the vent of that spanking new impermeable  stainless monster in my kitchen, I hear the gentle voice of Billy Collins. Like Athena, or more aptly, like  Alexa, dulcet tones come from my laptop, suggesting possibly the writer needs to go to bed.

About the Author

Deborah Thomas writes poetry, fiction, essays, letters, and any other genre that allows her to say things she just doesn't know how to say politely in person, or in front of her children. She lives surrounded by the forest, just above the beach, in a village on the Oregon Coast. Her work has been published in The Seneca Review, Poetry Northwest, The Friendly Street Poetry Reader,#1,#2, & #13, Halfway Down The Stairs, and she has accepted invitations to give readings with the Red Sky Series at the Bumbershoot Festival, the Plutzik Poetry Series at the University of Rochester, Writer's Week, in Adelaide, South Australia, The University of Aukland poetry reading series, the Australian Conference for teachers of English. Deborah was awarded the honor, as a winner of a love poem contest on A Prairie Home Companion, to read on the air for a Valentine's Day program and to speak on the air with GK about people who write poems and stories just for the hell of it and rarely submit them to anybody. A third place winner in the Oregon State Poetry Competition, Deborah received a PTA grant to spend eight weeks teaching poetry writing to all of the children at Riverdale School, (Oregon) her alma mater, after which they produced a book, Alphabet Soup and gave a pubic reading. She is currently working on a Public Service Novel about people in her village and their unique preparation efforts for the coming Earthquake 

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