A Wedding

By James Tate 1943–2015 James Tate
She was in terrible pain the whole day,
as she had been for months: a slipped disc,   
and there is nothing more painful. She

herself was a nurse’s aide, also a poet   
just beginning to make a name for her   
nom de plume. As with most things in life,

it happened when she was changing channels   
on her television. The lucky man, on the other   
hand, was smiling for the first time

in his life, and it was fake. He was
an aspiring philosopher of dubious potential,   
very serious, but somehow lacking in

essential depth. He could have been
an adequate undertaker. It was not the first   
time for either of them. It was a civil

service, with no music, few flowers.   
Still, there was a slow and erratic tide
of champagne—corks shot clear into the trees.

And flashcubes, instant photos, some blurred   
and some too revealing, cake slices that aren’t   
what they were meant to be. The bride slept

through much of it, and never did we figure out   
who was on whose team. I think the groom   
meant it in the end when he said, “We never

thought anyone would come.” We were not the first   
to arrive, nor the last to leave. Who knows,   
it may all turn out for the best. And who

really cares about such special days, they   
are not what we live for.

James Tate, “A Wedding” from Selected Poems. Copyright © 1991 by James Tate. Reprinted with the permission of Wesleyan University Press.

Source: Selected Poems (1991)

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Poet James Tate 1943–2015

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

Subjects Living, Marriage & Companionship, Disappointment & Failure

 James  Tate


James Tate was born in 1943 in Kansas City, Missouri. He earned a BA from Kansas State College and an MFA from the Iowa Writers' Workshop. He was the author of over 20 poetry collections, including The Ghost Soldiers (2008); Worshipful Company of Fletchers (1994), which won the National Book Award; Selected Poems (1991), which won the Pulitzer Prize and the William Carlos Williams Award; Distance from Loved Ones (1990); Constant . . .

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SUBJECT Living, Marriage & Companionship, Disappointment & Failure

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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