Anchoring the image perfectly, the couple slouch into one another, small in the bottom-left corner, blown-out blue taking up the bulk of a portrait composed accidentally and beautiful. Below, a semicircle of rare desert green spreads out grass to the right, a curve of baked dirt road rising to an ancient guard tower opposite the couple, haunting the pair from above its rock pile, echoing them in size and shape, an adobe white block, the triangular cut of the slat roof and a silver metal guardrailórecent, contemporary, meant for a different sort of guarding, of courseógleaming its shape out of the stark pale sky. This marriage has taken place on a cliff, you can tell, but the flat long mountain range in the distance might be ocean, the scatter of white in the sky might be blown by wind, the scene beyond might be lush and fertile and fragrant. I know it is not. This is Yuma, a desert border town, and Yuma's sun flings heat so every part of every day radiates fever back at everything else as if fire were contagious. Which, I suppose, it is.
And the couple? Inscrutable. It's a long shot, their entire selves take only the lower-left quarter of space, so you have to know it or make it up or peer in and guess. The bride's bouquet hangs from a hand, petals pointed down, trailing lace. The couple lean in to one another, her hair loose and long, dry white bunches of baby's breath the only crowning wreath, framing her face as fancy earrings. I know she sewed the dress herself from old curtains and I know she doesn't like how it turned outóher skills with the needle and thread never matched the skills of her sisters, yes, I know, but now in this photograph the dress is undeniably beautiful and true: high-waisted, long lacey sleeves gathered tight at the wrists, the long fall of the skirt and the high cut of the neck turning her into someone made of cakey lace, leaving uncovered only the knuckles of the one hand which clasps the bouquet and the faceóthat face. From this distance it only hints at my mother. From this distance it could be her now.
The groom, too, is buried deep inside his clothes, one arm slung over his bride's shoulder, his hand so hidden by her hair it seems only a curl of her tangly golden locks. His other arm hangs loose by his side, mirroring hers with her dangling bouquet, and he lets a leg hang crossed over the other, candid, so the two long white lines of his pants make an X, like a kid waiting, ready to go, or shy. His pants look white, his big stiff jacket is white and so different from the mean tight leather or his slim dungarees. A corsage pinned at the lapel. A comically outsized bow-tie hidden in the mess of his beard, though I know it's tied there. His hair, that wild untamable mess, is pulled down and parted and darkly full, haloing his head out above hers and all the white, shaped and colored like the roof of the guard tower there in the distance.
There's no band, there will be no dancing. Still, nothing here is dour. Something solid anchors that slouchy lean toward one another, something primary.
I know this is the Yuma State Territorial Prison, I know my father woke my mother on the plane ride over to proudly announce having seen his first palm tree, I know the hired priest took one look at this couple and tossed the simple vows they'd agreed upon in favor of a loose strange hippy rant my mother had to glower through, and I know the night before a man died in a knife fight at the railroad-car dive bar where my father and all his bride's many brothers arrived to celebrate his bachelor's night. Much to guard against, yes, and best to do it together. I know that on the other side of this photograph it is only family, only her family, and that in the next picture my recently orphaned father hides behind my mother like a ghost, that halo of dark hair, that tall head, blending him in, perfect camouflage to become an eerie haze in the thorny bushes and rearing cactus that the cacophony of Crosbys preside before.
But here, now, in this one, stands only the wedding couple on their wedding day: the oldest and the first, out alone and ready on that cliff.
[Forever after at http://eyeshot.net/thecliff.html]
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