Tag Archives: weddings

Milwaukee, Wisconsin: An Ode to Milwaukee

The author and a friend at a Denny's outside of Milwaukee.

The author and a friend at a Denny’s outside of Milwaukee.


This essay is part of the Great Lakes Review’s Narrative Map project.

O, Milwaukee, we should’ve got out earlier. O, silent L, we tried to make a better poem out of you. O, Lake Michigan, you’re one fat river, and ’Waukee, you’re a godless, Protestant drunk. To us, you were one night and a few blocks’ radius clung to the lip of the lake like a fever blister in summer—the hard slurp of somebody’s tongue that took too long to dry out.

We three came north for a friend we already knew we probably wouldn’t see again. A wedding under a high ceiling. The groom had left our landlocked town—we always knew it was temporary—for law school, Chicago, and a Milwaukee girl. We three, bearing no gifts, we travelers afar. M. and H., complicated Catholics, moved effortlessly through the murmured choreography. I fiddled with the straps of my high heels.

We only knew the groom, and each other. While strangers took pictures, we wandered along the water, which was ninety percent hard wind. We ate cheese because you told us to, Milwaukee. We drank your brand of golden swill; it settled our stomachs.

Maybe we should have left when we started giving our real names. Maybe when we tried to waltz but fell into a windowsill, and H. kissed me on the way down. Or maybe I kissed M. Or M. kissed H. Maybe it was every other way round. Maybe we should have left after H. rhymed labia with Lawrence of Arabia. Maybe, after the second time I failed to flirt a fifth of whiskey to-go! Maybe after the third time M. grumbled fuckin’ sconnie at the flower girl.

Sometime between the father-daughter dance and leap-frogging the parking meter—

Sometime between the red velvet cake and the after-hours polka club—

Sometime between the best man’s toast and the real Germans in the Best Western bar—

Sometime between when the groom asked us to stay and we didn’t—

Sometime between the pretzel salt on my tongue and the white-gravel shoulder where I prayed for puke and deliverance—we should have already been gone.

The next morning, it took us hours to find our way out of Wisconsin. We found Denny’s on the outskirts of the interstate, and a waitress whose nametag read KatieKatieKatie. It was like a tarot card I drew myself in crayon. KatieKatieKatie because I hoped no one north of Madison remembered my name. KatieKatieKatie because last night’s every slur reverbed thrice. And because our waitress kept returning, again and again, to remind me I was both infinite and repeatable as breakwater. M. and H. pledged to start a band called KatieKatieKatie and I wanted it so bad that my head actually felt better, because the greater ache had relocated someplace further south.

There’s nothing new about summer, or the end of it. Nothing new about sing-alongs and highways and knowing something’s over before it is. It remains to be seen whether a poem can be made from this stuff.

Wisconsin, we won’t come back for you. But, O, sweet Denny’s waitress, young woman with hair the color of wheat or chaff or PBR, you who let us nap on the vinyl cushion, who served us scrambled eggs with our chili nachos and didn’t ask questions, you will never see us again. But you were Our Mother of Milwaukee: We burned you down, and we left you your tip in quarters.

Katie Moulton’s prose, poetry, and criticism has appeared in xoJane, the Village Voice, Devil’s Lake, Quarterly West, Ninth Letter, Post Road, among others. Her work has been supported by fellowships from OMI International Arts Center and Indiana University. Born and raised in St. Louis, she lives in Bloomington, Indiana where she works for an historic theater and deejays for indie radio.



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Hell, Michigan: I’m from Hell


This essay is part of the Great Lakes Review’s Narrative Map project.

By Sswonk (Own work) via Wikimedia Commons

By Sswonk (Own work) via Wikimedia Commons

I’m from Hell.  Almost.

Technically, I’m from Pinckney, but I claim Hell.  How could I not?  The winding roads of the area create a playground for motorcyclists.  Teams of Harleys, mostly, can frequently be spotted along M-36, all the way through Pinckney, making the turn on Darwin to Hell.

Yes, that’s right.  The road to Hell is called Darwin.

The final sharp curve opens to two brightly colored buildings, and a giant pole with arrows pointing in all directions gives the miles from here to various locations across the world.  Sixty-two miles to Detroit, 3,683 miles to North Pole, Alaska.  There is a portable marquee that offers puns, or congratulations to brides and grooms getting married in the chapel out back, in big black letters.  My favorite message:  “Welcome to Hell: Now Serving Ice Cream”.  There is mini golf and a boy and a girl devil painted on a piece of plywood with ovals cut out to stick your faces in and take a picture.  I have permanent proof that “I’m a little devil from Hell”, because that’s what we’ve all always wanted to be, isn’t it?  There is a gift shop full of Hell, Michigan branded merchandise that can be sent to friends who couldn’t make the journey to the dark land.  You can buy a thong that says “I’ve been to Hell and back”, or a keychain with a cartoon devil bent over with its pants half down.

Every possible play on the town’s name is printed on something.  The ashtrays, bottle openers and other tchotchkes will certainly spend their entire lives outside of that shop in the back of the drawer in everyone’s kitchen that no one ever cleans out.  There’s a bar next door to downtown Hell called the Dam Site Inn.  It’s exactly like you want it to be.  The floors sticky, the beer cheap, the light from Big Buck Hunter dim in the back corner.  The motorcycles packed three or four deep out front.

When he proposed and I said yes, I immediately knew I wanted to get married in my hometown.  I looked for fields or barns to rent and came up empty handed.  Then I remembered.  There’s a little chapel in Hell.  I met with the man who owns the place.  He once owned the car dealership in Pinckney so though we’d never met, his name was as familiar to me as anything from my childhood.  He rented me the chapel and field next to it.  I was nervous to tell my future in-laws, very conservative Southern Baptists, we were getting married in Hell, but they thought it was great.  They even told their Bible study group.  My dad was often given the response of, “of course Patti would get married in Hell.”  I knew exactly what they meant.  I sent out Save the Date cards from the post office branch there, and the woman behind the counter burned the corner of each one, then firmly stamped “I’ve been through Hell” in the left corner.  It was perfect.

A wedding in Hell. Courtesy of the author.

A wedding in Hell. Courtesy of the author.

We had the rehearsal dinner at my grandpa’s house a few lakes over.  We ate pizza from Zukey, drank beer and went swimming.  I woke up to a rainbow over Bass Lake, my niece and nephew already dressed in their fancy clothes.  The day was here.  “Congratulations Patti and Jason” on the marquee.  The field opened up and created quite a beautiful scene, the rushing river adding to the soundtrack of acoustic guitar and motorcycle engines.  Hundreds of candy colored balloons dotted the landscape.  I wore an off-white lace dress and walked down the aisle on my dad’s arm.  My oldest best friend officiated the ceremony, and when I looked out at the crowd, all huddled under their umbrellas because it was raining in Hell on my wedding day, I cried. It was, again, perfect.  Full of love and just the right amount of levity.  My sisters of blood and circumstance stood to my side with ribbons tied around their waists.  As soon as the ceremony was over, the rain stopped and sun flooded down on my new life.

Under the high peak of the tent were tables set with antique dishes collected over years by my dear friend.  She chose each cup to match each plate so when you looked at them all in a row, another rainbow appeared.  Flowers grown on a friend’s mother’s land, red, orange, yellow tied with tidy little twine bows, stalks of wheat to represent the prairie of my almost husband’s home. Wheat grass sprouted in planters built for me, lined up and creating a low runner of bright green down the center of the tables.  Soft white round lights climbed the seams of the tent and wrapped around the center pole, and as the sun set they played like the stars that wouldn’t come out in the sky.  I got to dance with Dad to the same song he played every time he’d picked me up from the airport, swaying slowly and completely unaware of everything else.  My husband and I smashed cake into each other’s faces, then he smashed it in my five year old nephew’s face which took everyone by surprise.  The little guy got him back, though, I made sure of that.  We listened to A$AP Rocky as loud as possible and danced and danced and danced.  I was home, surrounded by my most favorite people, eating, drinking, dancing, celebrating my love, in Hell.  The kitsch of the town, it just fit.  I was happy.

The marriage lasted only a few months.  Turns out, the little devil wasn’t me.  Back in Hell, I received an official certificate declaring I got married there.  In the legal sized manila envelope was another piece of paper, this one a coupon for a free second wedding if the first one didn’t work out.  They say a marriage that starts in Hell has nowhere to go but up, but even they don’t believe that.

Patricia Wheeler currently splits her time between Ann Arbor, Michigan and Johnson City, Tennessee. She is the The Moth’s Michigan StorySLAM producer and has the honor of studying storytelling in Appalachia. 

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