Everyone knew it would be epic. The union of Ira S. Murfin a/k/a The Last Bohemian, writer, performance art personage, and raconteur extraordinary and the estimable Emmy Bean, the elfin actress/singer/puppeteer/Jill-of-all performance could be nothing less. Produced as a cooperative venture by the supremely energetic Arlene Brennan, mother of the Groom and her husband Michael; Holly and Reathal Bean, she a minister and he a working New York actor; and the couple’s legions of artist, performer, musician friends it could be nothing less.
And it exceeded every expectation. This was like no wedding you have ever been to. A wedding ceremony reconceived from scratch as a communal event, spiritual in a dozen different, surprising ways.
To begin with the location—The Bridgeport Arts Center located in a hulking relic of America’s Industrial Age that by turns was a coffin factory and the Spiegel Catalog warehouse. Arriving guests were herded into a freight elevator large to commodiously accommodate three 1960 Lincoln Continental laid end to end. It ground its way to the fourth floor where we spilled into an enormous space with exposed rafters, a saw-tooth skylight, and wrap around windows exposing a wide vista of Chicago, the Loop towers in the distance and the green dome of some impressive church in the middle distance.
To the left rows of folding chairs were set up facing an area under a white canopy which hung like an inverted dome and was created and constructed by Collective Magpie, artists Melinda Barnadas and Tae Hwang.
When the two hundred or so guests were finally assembled, the wedding party made their gay entrance, the bride in a gown with a white top and short pale green skirt, the groom in a sort of copper brown suit and green tie. Six members of the wedding party occupied an arc of chairs to the front as John Szymanski sang and played guitar. Ira and Emmy briefly disappeared and returned caring between them a large wooden table laden with mysterious objects including a pitcher, bottle, bowl, and a blue glass jar.
Emmy seated herself at the table to the left facing Ira. Between them a third chair was soon occupied by Chloe Johnson who welcomed us and explained the ceremony’s unique spontaneous and communal nature, explained in the wedding program thusly:
We will be using a chance procedure to determine the order of the ceremony. When a name is pulled from the blue glass jar during the ceremony, that person will come sit in the empty chair at the table, perform a task or a reading, and then pull the next name. At the end, you, our guests will be called to read the text on the reverse side of this page out loud to us, Emmy and Ira. You will marry us.
If this seems anarchistic and subversive, it was. If this seems chaotic, it was not. One by one or in pairs the participants came up as called. They read, they sang, told stories, explained the canopy, and performed certain rituals. There was something that resembled a communion between the two. Emmy’s mom, an ordained minister came up in her turn not to officiate but to participate.
I wish I could explain how movingly and articulately it all came together. It climaxed as Ira and Emmy exchanged their personal vows sitting across the table from one another. Each was brilliant, personal, and heartfelt. Ira choked up. So did Emmy. So did we all.
They reached across the table and exchanged rings. Then we were all called upon to read the following:
By the collective power of our presence
and the wisdom of our cumulative centuries of acquaintance
we affirm the love and joy you have found with each other
and wish to share with your many communities.
We assent to your understanding of yourselves as married
and will share in that reality
for as long as you wish it to be so.
After mutually crushing a glass underfoot in the Jewish tradition, the ceremony concluded.
But not the festivities. To the delightful roots and folk music of Mr. Mayor and the Highlanders, guest moved to a wine, chees, bread, and pickles reception as the ceremonial space was reconfigured as a banquet hall. There was much merriment and conviviality.
As the dinner was drawing to a close, there was the traditional round of toast, naturally all totally untraditional. One highlight was the two elder males of the newlyweds. Reathel Bean played and sang (some of the lyrics) of the Carter Family’s Wildwood Flower in honor of Emmy’s recent appearance as Mother Maybelle Carter, while Michael Brennan tap danced. Eventually they even called on me. This was my contribution to the evening.
The Union of Forces of Nature
A Toast for the Wedding of Emmy and Ira
August 31, 2013
They tell me that when the placid brown of waters of the Ohio
flow into the Mississippi, recently refreshed
by the crystal Missouri,
the two great rivers run side by side
within the same banks for many miles.
You can see it from space or in a color photo
in the National Geographic.
They even have a name for it—confluence.
Somewhere north of Memphis where mere humans
invented the blues,
the waters have finally mingled
and spread wide and inexorable
over the vast valley they have carved
in eons of meandering passage.
Passed the bluffs at Vicksburg they proceed
where, as Mr. Lincoln once said,
“The Father of Waters rolls unvexed to the Sea.”
Whatever the gender it is so.
Let not the foolish old poet belabor the metaphor.
Confluences occur with more or less pageantry
a thousand times a day
and doddering old uncles are appointed
certain minor roles in the rituals.
But most confluences are like the one
where Crow Creek wanders into
the South Platte back where I came from,
you can wade across the joined waters
without getting your ankles wet this time of year.
But this confluence is different.
I give you Emmy and Ira—Forces of Nature