Joseph Campbell who wrote The Power of Myth once said there are three categories of things in life. Things that can’t be talked about. Words we use to describe things that can’t be talked about. And the boring blah blah that we inflict on each other every day.
The love poems below fall into the second category. They use words to hint at things that can’t be easily talked about, things all lovers struggle to show one another – fearful, angry, tender things buried deep in their hearts – that can sometimes be glimpsed in a subtle gesture, a fleeting expression, or when you look into their eyes.
by Jan Beatty, in Boneshaker
University of Pittsburgh Press
Early evening, five minutes before
you’re due home, I slam the dishes
in the dishwasher, squeeze rivers
of 409 onto the kitchen floor and
counters, smear it white with too many
paper towels, check the clock, listen
for the doorbell of your arriving—
Love, this is not my dreamscape
my answer to romance’s longing—but Love,
still I grab old food from the refrigerator and sail it into the
trash, call for
take-out with the breathy voice of
a woman in want—burritos again,
with enough jalapeño to make our eyes
water; Strange new world this shape
of our love: the details of our lives
stacked in piles of tabloids, month-
old pretzels in their lonely bag, and yes,
the paint peeling off the porch since spring,
no time now to wash the clothes. I do
the only thing a woman in love can:
clear papers off the bed with a wide sweep,
slide in the video, pour the soft drinks,
so we can eat in our element, our little city;
so we can tear open time to find the heart,
heart enough for us to fill our bellies and
fill our bodies with each other until
we surface to ourselves again, until we’re
the only ones here tonight, and the look
in your eyes looking at me is the beautiful
sight, and my only complaints are two:
that I didn’t make myself ready
for you sooner in life, that
I can’t give better,
Love you more.
by André Anthony Moore,
New York City, March 21, 2006
She startles me in the fitting room with Levi’s shirts.
Long sleeved ones meant for you, she tells me,
with a wink and a well-meaning grin as I frown.
I model each to please her, all four of them:
A green khaki cotton with clouded silver buttons,
a dark somber blue that perfectly matches my mood,
a light-hearted ivory I’d never’ve even glanced at,
and a bright red-orange that actually pleases me.
By now I realize she’s on to something.
You’ve found my look! I tell her as she grins,
her knowing grin, the one that helps me be,
that earnest grin which breathes life into me.
Learning to Float
by April Linder in Skin,
Texas Tech University Press.
Relax. It’s like love. Keep your lips
moist and parted, let your upturned hands
unfold like water lilies, palms exposed.
Breathe deeply, slowly. Forget chlorine
and how the cement bottom was stained
blue so the water looks clear
and Caribbean. Ignore the drowned mosquitoes,
the twigs that gather in the net
of your hair. The sun is your ticket,
your narcotic, blessing your chin,
the floating islands of your knees.
Shut your eyes and give yourself
to the pulsating starfish, purple and red,
that flicker on your inner lids.
Hallucination is part of the process,
like amnesia. Forget how you learned
to swim, forget being told
Don’t panic. Don’t worry. Let go
of my neck. It’s only water. Don’t think
unless you’re picturing Chagall,
his watercolors of doves and rooftops,
lovers weightless as tissue,
gravity banished, the dissolving voices
of violins and panpipes. The man’s hand
circles the woman’s wrist so loosely,
what moors her permits her to float,
and she rises past the water’s skin,
above verandas and the tossing heads
of willows. Her one link to earth,
his light-almost reluctant-touch, is a rope
unfurling, slipping her past the horizon,
into the cloud-stirring current. This far up,
what can she do but trust he won’t let go?
by Ron Koertge in Fever,
Red Hen Press
Lois liked to see the bullets bounce
off Superman’s chest, and of course
she was proud when he leaned into
a locomotive and saved the crippled
orphan who had fallen on the tracks.
Yet on those long nights when he was
readjusting longitude or destroying
a meteor headed right for some nun,
Lois considered carrying just a smidgen
of kryptonite in her purse or at least
making a tincture to dab behind her ears.
She pictured his knees giving way,
the color draining from his cheeks.
He’d lie on the couch like a guy with
the flu, too weak to paint the front
porch or take out the garbage. She
could peek down his tights or draw
on his cheek with a ball point. She
might even muss his hair and slap
“Hey, what’d I do?” he’d croak just
like a regular boyfriend. At last.
You Must Accept
by Kate Light in Gravity’s Dream: New Poems and Sonnets,
West Chester University Poetry Center.
You must accept that’s who he really is.
You must accept you cannot be his
unless he is yours. No compromise.
He is a canvas on which paint never dries;
a clay that never sets, steel that bends
in a breeze, a melody that when it ends
no one can whistle. He is not who
you thought. He’s not. He is a shoe
that walks away: “I will not go where you
want to go.” “Why, then, are you a shoe?”
“I’m not. I have the sole of a lover
but don’t know what love is.” “Discover
it, then.” “Will I have to go where you go?”
“Sometimes.” “Be patient with you?” “Yes.” “Then, no.”
You have to hear what he is telling you
and see what he is; how it is killing you.
I Married You
by Linda Pastan in Queen of a Rainy Country,
W. W. Norton & Company.
I married you
for all the wrong reasons,
charmed by your
dangerous family history,
by the innocent muscles, bulging
like hidden weapons
under your shirt,
by your naive ties, the colors
of painted scraps of sunset.
I was charmed too by your assumptions
about me: my serenity —
that mirror waiting to be cracked,
my flashy acrobatics with knives
in the kitchen.
How wrong we both were
about each other,
and how happy we have been.
By George Bilgere, from The Good Kiss,
The University of Akron Press. Reprinted with permission
When you’ve been away from it long enough,
You begin to forget the country
Of couples, with all its strange customs
And mysterious ways. Those two
Over there, for instance: late thirties,
Attractive and well-dressed, reading
At the table, drinking some complicated
Coffee drink. They haven’t spoken
Or even looked at each other in thirty minutes,
But the big toe of her right foot, naked
In its sandal, sometimes grazes
The naked ankle bone of his left foot,
The faintest signal, a line thrown
Between two vessels as they cruise
Through this hour, this vacation, this life,
Through the thick novels they’re reading,
Her toe saying to his ankle,
Here’s to the whole improbable story
Of our meeting, of our life together
And the oceanic richness Of our mingled narrative
With its complex past, with its hurts
And secret jokes, its dark closets
And delightful sexual quirks,
Its occasional doldrums, its vast
Future we have already peopled
With children. How safe we are
Compared to that man sitting across the room,
Marooned with his drink
And yellow notebook, trying to write
A way off his little island.
by André Anthony Moore,
New York City, November 2004
Fresh from her afternoon nap,
she’d sit at the dining table,
grading her children’s work books,
preparing the next day’s lesson.
I’d sneak looks at her from the solitary sofa,
bewildered, wondering at her simplicity,
as she worked the children’s papers,
Anastasia purring sweetly on her knees.
It eluded me how she attained such pure felicity,
that sweet, delicious, gentle girl,
now become my revere.
by Meg Kearney from An Unkindness of Ravens,
BOA Editions, Rochester, New York, 2001. Reprinted with permission.
I believe the chicken before the egg
though I believe in the egg. I believe
eating is a form of touch carried
to the bitter end; I believe chocolate
is good for you; I believe I’m a lefty
in a right-handed world, which does not
make me gauche, or abnormal, or sinister.
I believe “normal” is just a cycle on
the washing machine; I believe the touch
of hands has the power to heal, though
nothing will ever fill this immeasurable
hole in the center of my chest. I believe
in kissing; I believe in mail; I believe
in salt over the shoulder, a watched
pot never boils, and if I sit by my
mailbox waiting for the letter I want
it will never arrive—not because of
superstition, but because that’s not
how life works. I believe in work:
phone calls, typing, multiplying,
black coffee, write write write, dig
dig dig, sweep sweep. I believe in
a slow, tortuous sweep of tongue
down the lover’s belly; I believe I’ve
been swept off my feet more than once
and it’s a good idea not to name names.
Digging for names is part of my work,
but that’s a different poem. I believe
there’s a difference between men and
women and I thank God for it. I believe
in God, and if you hold the door
and carry my books, I’ll be sure to ask
for your name. What is your name? Do
you believe in ghosts? I believe
the morning my father died I heard him
whistling “Danny Boy” in the bathroom,
and a week later saw him standing in
the living room with a suitcase in his
hand. We never got to say good-bye, he
said, and I said I don’t believe in
good-byes. I believe that’s why I have
this hole in my chest; sometimes it’s
rabid; sometimes it’s incoherent. I
believe I’ll survive. I believe that
“early to bed and early to rise” is
a boring way to live. I believe good
poets borrow, great poets steal, and
if only we’d stop trying to be happy
we could have a pretty good time. I
believe time doesn’t heal all wounds;
I believe in getting flowers for no
reason; I believe “Give a Hoot, Don’t
Pollute,” “Reading is Fundamental,
“ Yankee Stadium belongs in the Bronx,
and the best bagels in New York are
boiled and baked on the corner of First
and 21st. I believe in Santa
Claus, Jimmy Stewart, ZuZu’s petals,
Arbor Day, and that ugly baby I keep
dreaming about—she lives inside me
opening and closing her wide mouth.
I believe she will never taste her
mother’s milk; she will never be
beautiful; she will always wonder what
it’s like to be born; and if you hold
your hand right here—touch me right
here, as if this is all that matters,
this is all you ever wanted, I believe
something might move inside me,
and it would be more than I could stand.