My Favorite Essay to Teach: Debra Marquart’s “Hochzeit” — by Dinty W. Moore

DintyMooreI have been teaching Debra Marquart’s stunning flash essay “Hochzeit” for more than ten years, and each time I bring it to the classroom, my students find something new to admire.

Consider, for instance, the rhythm and musicality of her description:

“The two young daughters … patter away at the drums and bass. Their mother, her lips a wild smear of red, stomps and claws chords on the jangled, dusty upright.”

Or here: “The music speeds up, the accordion pumping chords like a steam engine. My father clasps my mother’s hand and pulls her tight. The dance floor flexes and heaves like a trampoline.”

Or look at the circular patterns nested within Marquart’s opening sentence — “I remember circles—the swirling cuff of my father’s pant leg, the layered hem of my mother’s skirt,” followed by creamy half-moons and spinning gold pools of wedding whiskey.

The essay itself is a spinning gold pool at times, whirling us through a wedding ceremony in North Dakota, capturing not just the rhythm and trajectory of the polka, but the sheer exhilaration of the family celebration.

And the essay, of course, ends where it began, closing the circle tightly: “My father secures his arm around my mother’s waist. They spin and reel as they polka circles around the room. If left to itself, gravity could take over, centrifugal force could spin them out, away from each other…”

But what I find most fascinating about this 560-word masterpiece is how Marquart captures the very young Debra’s point-of-view. Not just the traditional way, letting us into her thoughts, but even the visuals. We see the wedding the way a child might see it, sitting on the floor, eye-level with the hems and cuffs of the grown-ups. And the character details are based in the reality of childhood: “A neighbor lady polkas by, the one who yells so loud at her kids every night when she walks to the barn that we can hear her across the still fields.” That’s what a child would notice, how the woman treats her kids, not the more complex adult details of the woman’s life, her husband’s drinking, or the struggle to keep the farm afloat.

There is more, much more, but this admiration is threatening to become longer than Marquart’s essay itself. I could teach a whole semester just picking this amazing gem apart, word by word, space by space, image by image. And even then, I’d probably need more time.

**

Dinty W. Moore is author of Dear Mister Essay Writer Guy: Advice and Confessions on Writing, Love, and Cannibals as well as the memoir Between Panic & Desire, winner of the Grub Street Nonfiction Book Prize. He edits Brevity, an online journal of flash nonfiction, and is deathly afraid of polar bears.

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