Backyard Wedding Reno, Nevada with a line from Adrian C. Louis

Lindsay Wilson
The poet read this poem at Reno’s 150th birthday kick off in the City Center to a
celebratory crowd that included the Mayor of Reno and City Council members.
We’re fifth generation or we moved here last month.
Here? We’re tired of reminding you how to use
your tongue. We’ll say it the right way and hope
you catch on, and those are Mountain Bluebirds,
not Blue Jays, they slipped into the big sky
to remind us of transience. Happiness comes at a price,
and we need animals and a place like Reno
to make it real, and haven’t we all bought the west’s
promise of renewal? New town. New name.
New start. So many reasons to list, and we read
that brochure a long time ago, tucked it under
the driver’s seat where it belongs next to the tire iron,
and that book we keep with us: the Bible, the Koran,
that collection of short stories, some-has-been-celebrity
memoir, that atlas showing all the lines that mean leave,
but we stayed because we’re unafraid of work,
unafraid of rolled up sleeves above the suds,
the dishwasher’s hum, the cook’s face against
the cleaver, leather and saddle soap, work boots
with their shiny scuff of steel toe. We know.
We know the suckers run for the short lines
at the Rib Fest, and tonight the line at their reception
side winds before us in some friend’s backyard.
Cousin Enrike from Boise says, Time moves faster
outside the casino, as we watch the sun complete
its arch tucked like an ace under the snow
white sleeves of the Sierras, which have turned tuxedo
black, early stars in the thin-cool air of May, silver
cufflinks catching the last wink of light. Somebody’s
uncle is tapping a keg. When I say happiness
later, I’ll mean forgetfulness. I’ll mean little boy gathering
the oxtail bones from his family’s bowls, little ellipses
of vertebrae on the table’s white edge. I’ll mean
beer foam. I’ll mean silver ring and Virgin
Valley black fire opal. Here names mean
more than glorious. In fact no one here says
glorious unless they’re up for re-election or trying
to sell you the new buffet, and, anyway, the locals
are all farm to table now. We can’t chime
against plastic champagne flutes to make them kiss,
and even the plates we grip are paper. The Paiute
server adjusts his uncomfortable cumber bun
before returning to his work of keeping the flies
from the pickled tongue, and in this dusk light
he slowly fades invisibly into the background.
You see, I forgot my reading glasses, and I’ve never
been good at seeing what’s right in front of me.
Happiness comes at a price. When I said, transience,
I meant love. We can all find hope in the young
ring bearer, in her first formal dress, skipping
from table to table using her new words to remind us
we’ve all made a choice between the past and future
tense, even if she doesn’t know the difference yet.
We all know, by now, we cannot change what happened
to us, but we can learn to reinterpret the meaning.
Put her on your knee and try to explain the difference.
Never forget you’re trying to give her faith in the world.
It’s okay to tell her the story about the maid
and the horse thief. How the world seemed to tremble
before their lashes. How every day seemed to rise up
like a bucket of well water reflecting the sky’s bright mood.
How every girl deserves a white dress, and a spring trail
to hike before the snakes wake up, leather boots and turquoise.
The days strung out in front of us on the windowsill
like the bleached bones we have found here and pulled
straight from the earth. Happiness comes at a price.
Can you hear them, the fathers haggling with the caterers?
But the mothers are rising now from the tables, for the Electric
Slide, for our favorite songs, whatever they are, a good DJ
knows just when to use the cross fader, and she’s got him by the belt,
pulling him to the dance floor, and they have that look
on their faces we haven’t seen since childhood.
The rug rolled up in the living room. Someone crooning
from dad’s speakers. Listen, do you hear the neighbors knocking?
There’s plenty of room. We can always dance closer.
Invite them in, and turn up the song. Tell them everyone
is sliding in their socks across the hardwood.
Tell them they know the words, lend us your voices.
Dance with us. Tell them we should all be welcome here.
Please, tell me you believe me.
Lindsay Wilson, an English professor at Truckee Meadows Community College, is the
poetry editor of The Meadow. His first collection is No Elegies, and his poetry has
appeared in The Missouri Review Online, Verse Daily, and The Carolina
Quarterly. Lindsay is currently serving as the Reno Poet Laureate, and he will be
participating at the 2018 Nevada Humanities Literary Crawl on Saturday, September 15
in Reno.
Photo courtesy of Lindsay Wilson.