by Kip Hanson
Despite the freshly waxed dance floor,
the floral centerpieces and crooked boutonnieres,
the air is redolent with memories of catered buffets,
ancient spilled beer and stale cigarettes,
and the lingering sour smell of sweaty guests
dancing in uncomfortable formal wear,
the ghosts of weddings past. I stand
at this cheap wood-grained podium
the father of the bride, delivering
his obligatory speech. I stare out
at in-laws and cousins, friends of family,
uncles and aunts and withered grandparents,
a bored sea of shiny faces, half of which are unfamiliar
and will hopefully remain so.
The paper shakes, the spotlight burns,
my reader glasses slide down my sweaty face,
yet I’m bolstered by occasional polite laughter
and the two beers I quaffed within minutes of placing
my little girl’s hand into that of the stranger with whom
she’s been sleeping for months.
When the girl’s mother and I were married,
nobody slept together; there were but
occasional urgent moments in the back seat
of a car borrowed from her father,
at least until that night the cops caught us
in the park, tap, tap, tap on the window,
and she lost her nerve forever.
Our wedding reception? It was nothing like this,
with its chocolate waterfall,
potato croquettes, half a cow’s worth,
of carved roast beef, and enough chilled shrimp
to sink a small sea freighter.
All we had at our reception were three cases of beer,
two bottles of cheap champagne for the toast,
a bowl of potato salad and some finger sandwiches,
reluctantly prepared by my new mother in law,
grumbling in the kitchen over her new son in law
how will he ever support her daughter
on his measly salary?
The best man Greg stumbles in
through a propped open fire escape door, carrying with him
a whiff of fine cigars, his face red from the cold,
and a spatter of brown vomit
dangling from his chin. His itinerary carries him to the men’s room
for a long groaning piss, then over to the open bar
for rum and coke number seven,
before moving on to some unnamed bridesmaid,
whose dress I paid for with a portion
of my dwindling retirement account,
which will be cheerfully flung by Greg later that night
to the hotel room floor. The syncopated rhythm,
thumps, thumps, thumps
as the deejay tries to erase the last bit of my hearing.
There they go, dancing, the bride and groom,
thrashing like frantic lovers,
where did she learn to move like that? The disco
ball spins, a headache looms as I
calculate the balance of my 401K,
then take my wife’s hand, and hope
our daughter will be okay without us.
Where is that little girl, she with the skinned knees,
painter of refrigerator Rembrandts,
maker of lumpy pottery?
That girl, who once cried in my arms
on the steps of the elementary school,
afraid of some strange second-grade boy until
I put her head on my shoulder,
whispered her name, and she looked up at me,
smiled, and said I love you Daddy.
Here she comes now, the music has slowed, the lights have dimmed,
she takes my hand, knows I’m no dancer
but still I go, it’s okay,
the dance floor is scuffed with boot marks
like hieroglyphs, warning of the dangers:
small twinkling pools of spilled vodka tonics,
rice like snow and occasional bits
of pink and green and yellow confetti.
We sway to and fro, round and round
in monotonous dwindling circles,
my hip hurts, my knee aches, we bump
into anonymous smiling strangers but we’re so alone,
all alone out there, my little girl and I,
her head rests on my shoulder,
my tears fall into her two-hundred dollar hairdo
but she doesn’t mind, only looks up at me,
smiles and says thanks, Dad. I’m glad you came.