On the Occasion of the marriage of Johnny and Ailbhe

On October 1st Johnny Byrd, our oldest son, married Ailbhe Cormack. It was a wonderful occasion, and together they seem such a remarkable couple. All three of our kids were together, our five grandchildren. Plus brothers and sisters and friends from around the U.S. Bridget Cormack, Ailbhe’s mother, also had her three daughters together—plus sisters and relatives from Ireland and Australia. It was three days of celebration. Ailbhe and Johnny had gone whole hog and paid the postage too. On Friday night outside in the backyard Lee and I hosted a party for relatives, friends from out of town and the good friends of Ailbhe’s and Johnny’s who did much of the heavy lifting of helping. Big sister Susie emceed, brother Andy toasted them, as well as many others. The San Patricios (yerno Eddie Holland, Ailbhe, Johnny and the gang) played Irish music. The next day was a formal Catholic wedding (this is El Paso after all) at the historic Holy Family Church in Sunset Heights, then a six-hour blowout rock n’ roll party with food and wine and beer up McKelligan Canyon, and the whole thing was topped off by a brunch the next morning at Bridget Cormack’s (Ailbhe’s mom) plus relatives from afar hanging out at our house all day long afterwards.

I was very happy, Lee was very happy. The whole weekend was special. I am always being reminded how essential ritual is to being in a human community. Large or small rituals. A wedding or a funeral or a birth or simply breaking bread together with a close friend or a loved one. Saying a prayer together. Holding hands. Being awake to the life force running through us all. “It’s tribal stuff,” daughter Susie told me. I was asking her about how and when she and her friends (glorious men and women all close to 40 years old) would do this circle dance, the music blasting away, and one by one, the dancers would enter the center of the circle to dance. To strut their stuff. To explain through the music and their bodies who they are. She said, “Dad, you used to do that stuff too. You just don’t remember.”

Well, we didn’t exactly do the circle dance, but as a teenager on Friday nights at the Clear Pool in Memphis, the last song—maybe Larry Williams (“Boney Maronie,” “Dizzy Miss Lizzie,” “Short Fat Fannie”) making all the white girls go crazy—was always “When the Saints Go Marching In.” There’d be a long line of us snaking around the dance floor. It was some kind of joyous drunken tribal community. I have always believed that the rock n’ roll and the rhythm and blues music (mostly the music of Southern Black America) saved my life. But that’s a story that goes someplace else.

When Ailbhe’s and Johnny’s wedding weekend was over Lee and I were exhausted. Physically. Emotionally. We had witness and experienced our fill. It was like we had stepped aside like our parents had done before us. And these were our children, these were our grandchildren, these were our friends and brothers and sisters who we’ve grown old with, this was our community. Our children were at the center of all of this. It was our time in so many ways to be witnesses. I’ll be thinking about this for a long time.

I'm not sure who took the photo above, but it's an iconic traditional photo it works for me. Our close friend artist Jill Somoza took the photos of Lee and me. We were so happy. Below the photographs are two short poems I read at the night-before party. I wrote “Memo #6” on a beautiful night 30 years ago. We had only been in our home on Louisville Street for four or so years. Now he’s a few years short of 40. The age I was when I wrote the poem. The other poem is from my recent book—White Panties, Dead Friends & Other Bits and Pieces of Love. It’s a reworking of a poem I wrote in the 80s. I was proud when Ailbhe chose the last part of the poem for the wedding invitations.


Memo #6

When me and my son pee outside in the darkness
He looks at the ground and I look at the stars.

He is eight years old and I am almost 40.
That is the difference.

A Story about Marriage
Once upon a time
a long while ago
there was a man
who received all
blessings under the sun.
Yet, he missed
something essential:
there was no place
to practice his gifts.
So he asked God
for the blessing of death.
God gave to him a woman.
But other peoples
tell the same story
Once upon a time
a long while ago
there was a woman
who received all
blessings from the earth.
Yet, she also missed
something essential:
there was no place
to practice her gifts.
So she too asked God
for the blessing of death.
God gave to her a man.
Because of these stories
babies are now baptized
in their mother's blood.
And from these two stories
did wise Solomon first
create his eternal seal.
So many stories, my love,
quilted together,
are true and real, like

you and me, me
and you, we practice
our marriage

in this little bit of
time and space—apart,


Raising three kids has been for Lee and me the most interesting and exciting thing we’ve done in our lives. A truly remarkable journey. I wish many blessings on them and their families and their communities.