written by Laura Beasley
Every year for an anniversary present, my husband and I find poems to read to each other. It is our island of romance in a storm-tossed marital sea. There are some years when it would be easier to buy a gift.
Our wedding for twenty-five guests at the Deer Park Villa Restaurant cost less than four figures. We had written our own vows, which included some of our favorite poetry and song lyrics. We were lucky with our choice of a minister from the Yellow Pages who advised us, “In difficult times, look at your ring and remember this beautiful day.”
For our first anniversary, I chose these pragmatic words by Amy Lowell: Now you are like morning bread, I hardly taste you at all for I know your savor, but I am completely nourished. Bob responded with e. e. cummings: i like kissing this and that of you. The only time when we selected the same poem to read to one another promising there ain’t no nothing we can’t love each other through (lyrics to the theme of Family Ties) was followed by one of our saddest years.
Expecting absolute devotion, I used poetry to enforce fidelity, insisting that we spend every single anniversary together. After Bob’s return from an optional business trip to Germany, I tearfully read to him I never dreamed you’d leave in summer and now I find my love has gone away (Stevie Wonder). He responded with I marry you all dark and all dawn and have my laugh at death (John Ciardi).
Years later our children joined our anniversary celebrations. In 1990 (after a dinner for four at Burger King), we read our poems in our backyard between breastfeeding and toddler-chasing. I chanted Nibble, nibble, nibble goes the mouse in my heart (Margaret Wise Brown) and Bob read to me, Bob Dylan’s words: If you want me, honey baby, I’ll be here.
I usually wait until the last minute to search for my gift-poem, but in 2000, diagnosed with lymphoma and weak from chemotherapy, I expended my limited energy to find the poem for the next anniversary almost a year early. I put it where Bob could find it after my death: Tell me right now, am I the one who inspires all your dark thoughts, all your sadness? (Nigar Hanim).
Happily, I have lived beyond cancer to share more anniversaries with my high school sweetheart. This year’s anniversary celebration in a bluff-side park included reading more than fifty poems we’ve collected over twenty-five years. After I read, How can I leap to the heights of refrigerators weighted like this? (Ellen Bass), Bob shared John Ciardi’s poem about a marriage that is most like an arch– two weaknesses that lean into a strength.
I never thought we were creating a special tradition. As a young bride, I assumed we would spend hours and hours reading poetry to each other. But now, years later, our marriage has included financial struggles and life-threatening illnesses as well as romance and passion. Even in the darkness of depression, even when I felt more anger than affection, I have read poetry at least once a year to the man I married on August 4th, 1978.