January 7, 2019

Diana Khoi Nguyen: I’m Diana Khoi Nguyen, and this is PoetryNow. I’ve never been interested in marriage. You know, usually it’s like ‘do you take so and so to be your lawfully wedded wife?’. Which, I don’t know, that just sounds so icky to me. I don’t want to be taken. I had this really nice, organic partnership with my partner, and I didn’t want to put any kind of added cultural/societal constraint on it. But then I realized, I really want to exchange vows. That sounds really nice to actually formally promise. I found myself unexpectedly and spontaneously wanting to propose, and did propose. I basically kept saying ‘I need to ask you something, but I don’t want to ask you’ (LAUGHING). And I think he thought I was breaking up with him because I was so nervous. Eight months after the unexpected spontaneous proposal, we found ourselves on Whidbey Island at the Ala Spit Tidelands with our dog. My mind was just non-stop blown, the whole time. I don’t remember another time where for hours, we were rapt, and in wonder.



It will be windy for a while until it isn’t. The waves will shoal. A red-legged
cormorant will trace her double along glassy water, forgetting they are hungry.
The sea will play this motif over and over, but there will be no preparing for it
otherwise. Water will quiver in driftwood. Sound preceding absence,
a white dog trailing a smaller one: ghost and noon shadow, two motes
disappearing into surf. And when the low tide comes lapping and clear, the curled
fronds of seaweed will furl and splay, their algal sisters brushing strands
against sands where littleneck clams feed underwater. Light rain will fall
and one cannot help but lean into the uncertainty of the sea. Bow: a knot
of two loops, two loose ends, our bodies on either side of this shore where we
will dip our hands to feel what can’t be seen. Horseshoe crabs whose blue
blood rich in copper will reach for cover, hinged between clouds and
sea. It will never be enough, the bull kelp like a whip coiling in tender hands,
hands who know to take or be taken, but take nothing with them: I will marry you.
I will marry you. So we can owe what we own to every beautiful thing.

So often weddings are very contrived, elaborate spectacles. But when we stumbled across the tidelands, all of us, and the dog included, really became lost in the landscape and how it was kind of this non-stop joy, non-stop awe, non-stop wonder. And I said, ‘That is a kind of a wedding. That’s how I want to feel at a wedding. Can this not be a moment like a wedding?’ But it felt like a vow also to life. To stay alive, to be alive, to be alive with this person and to join and combine lives with this person.

Katie Klocksin: That was Diana Khoi Nguyen, and her poem “Vow”. I’m Katie Klocksin, and this is PoetryNow, a production of The Poetry Foundation. For more about this series, go to

Diana Khoi Nguyen meditates on the importance of exchanging marital vows.

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