All the things I wanted to do and didn’t
took so long.
It was years of not doing.
You can make an allusion here to Penelope,
if you want.
See her up there in that high room undoing her art?
But enough about what she didn’t do—
was what she did. Plucking out
the thread of intimacy in the frame.
If I got to
know you that would be
—something. So let’s make a toast to the long art
We say the cake is done,
but what exactly did the cake do?
The things undid
in the land of undone call to us
in the flames. What I didn’t do took
and it wasn’t for lack of trying.
Lee Upton, Undid in the Land of the Undone
this poem is for the pillow clutchers/for those looking into the imaginary eyes of the person who fills their mind with sugarplum smiles/for those who have a cannon of dreams ready and waiting to blossom/for the men and the women who want to be understood in that way that only someone who kisses you can understand you/this poem is for you.
this poem is not for the desperate/the pathetic/the lame/the loser/not for the one who hasn’t gotten laid in awhile/not for the one who says they’re “choosing not to date” for awhile/there is no such thing/this poem is for the people who cannot bring themselves to admit that they would give their right leg for any length of time with the person on their mind.
forgive me/I am not a brave woman/I do not know what lurks in the hearts of humans and I don’t really want to know/if what’s there mirrors memories I show in my face on bad days it holds kisses that are long gone/people who have disappeared/and passions that have faded into the ether of the past/nothing lasts/that is the one lesson this coward can say she is able to teach.
this poem is for all those who wish to say “I’m sorry”/I’m sorry I couldn’t love you/you deserve love/I’m sorry I couldn’t give something to you/you deserve to be given to/I’m sorry that for every person that loves somebody/another person just doesn’t want to/and sometimes we’re the lucky ones/right/we get to feel sweet truth in the night/the bodies we reach out to are miraculously there/but I know the despair that comes when they are not/I know the long nights and the doubt and the fear and that crawling back to a womb that just isn’t there/I know intensity’s address and the letdown that rents there/I’m sorry for it/it takes years off your life and it cannot be avoided.
and some times these little words are crutches for the crush that we feel/so this poem is a pathetic vehicle for me to tell you/each one of you/that I love you/in so many ways/in the same ways that stay up nights and days/dreaming up the perfect way to be there for someone/meals you would cook for them/poems you would write for them and the things you plan to say when they say no/well I love you/and you will never know how in the slight of a magician’s hand we could’ve been lovers and grandly in love/could’ve changed the whole game/written words on the horizon/changed the compromise/but you will know something else instead/bitter as bitter ever gets/more bitter than a rotten peach pit/more bitter than a child’s most terrifying nightmare at night/you will know that I don’t reflect what I see in your eyes/will will share some banal recognition/some cordial understanding but have I mentioned that I love you for not lying/so many people lying all the time/I hate them/so I love you/and you will still go home alone/and that is very hard to do.
for all the humans with love for those who aren’t their lovers/I love you.
and so the poem ends because we know that it will/but before it slips away like everything else/I will attempt the only words I can think of that are a fraction as good as a kiss: when you reach out at night and find not someone/but the cold grey light of day that wakes you up like a slap/like a curse/like an insult/I love you/when you stay at home thinking of those who are long gone or those who are getting kisses from someone that is not you/I love you/for those who want what they probably need and whose bodies are starving not for food/for me and for you and for all the people who never knew or understood what you would do for them/I love you/I love you/I love you.
Mary Fons, love poem 2002
I want you and you are not here. I pause
in this garden, breathing the colour thought is
before language into still air. Even your name
is a pale ghost and, though I exhale it again
and again, it will not stay with me. Tonight
I make you up, imagine you, your movements clearer
than the words I have you say you said before.
Wherever you are now, inside my head you fix me
with a look, standing here whilst cool late light
dissolves into the earth. I have got your mouth wrong,
but still it smiles. I hold you closer, miles away,
inventing love, until the calls of nightjars
interrupt and turn what was to come, was certain,
into memory. The stars are filming us for no one.
Carol Ann Duffy, Miles Away
Learning to love differently is hard,
love with the hands wide open, love
with the doors banging on their hinges,
the cupboard unlocked, the wind
roaring and whimpering in the rooms
rustling the sheets and snapping the blinds
that thwack like rubber bands
in an open palm.
It hurts to love wide open
stretching the muscles that feel
as if they are made of wet plaster,
then of blunt knives, then
of sharp knives.
It hurts to thwart the reflexes
of grab, of clutch; to love and let
go again and again. It pesters to remember
the lover who is not in the bed,
to hold back what is owed to the work
that gutters like a candle in a cave
without air, to love consciously,
conscientiously, concretely, constructively.
I can’t do it, you say it’s killing
me, but you thrive, you glow
on the street like a neon raspberry,
You float and sail, a helium balloon
bright bachelor’s button blue and bobbing
on the cold and hot winds of our breath,
as we make and unmake in passionate
diastole and systole the rhythm
of our unbound bounding, to have
and not to hold, to love
with minimized malice, hunger
and anger moment by moment balanced.
Marge Piercy, To Have Without Holding
I don’t remember when
the girl of myself turned her back
and walked away, that girl
whose thin arms
once held this body
and refused to work too hard
or listen in school,
said the hell then
that dark child,
that laugher and weeper
without shame, who turned
and skipped away.
And that other one
gone from me
not even starting to knot
in vein or joint,
that curving girl
I loved to love with,
who danced away
the leather of red high heels
and thin legs, dancing like stopping
would mean the end of the world
and it does.
We go on
or we don’t,
knowing about our inner women
and when they left us
like we were bad mothers or lovers
who wronged ourselves.
Some days it seems
one of them is watching, a shadow
at the edge of woods
with loose hair
clear down the back
and arms with dark moles
crossed before the dress I made
with my two red hands.
You there, girl, take my calloused hand.
I’m going to laugh and weep tonight,
quit all my jobs and I mean it this time,
do you believe me? I’m going to
put on those dancing shoes
and move till I can’t stand
then touch myself clear down
to the sole of each sweet foot. That’s all
the words I need,
not poems, not that talking mother
I was with milk and stories
peeking in at night,
but that lover of the moon
dancing outside when no one looks,
all right, then, even when they do,
and kissing each leaf of trees and squash,
and loving all the girls and women
I have always been.
Linda Hogan, The Lost Girls
to love life, to love it even
when you have no stomach for it
and everything you’ve held dear
crumbles like burnt paper in your hands,
your throat filled with the silt of it.
When grief sits with you, its tropical heat
thickening the air, heavy as water
more fit for gills than lungs;
when grief weights you like your own flesh
only more of it, an obesity of grief,
you think, How can a body withstand this?
Then you hold life like a face
between your palms, a plain face,
no charming smile, no violet eyes,
and you say, yes, I will take you
I will love you, again.
Ellen Bass, The Thing Is
You don’t know what love is
but you know how to raise it in me
like a dead girl winched up from a river. How to
wash off the sludge, the stench of our past.
How to start clean. This love even sits up
and blinks; amazed, she takes a few shaky steps.
Any day now she’ll try to eat solid food. She’ll want
to get into a fast car, one low to the ground, and drive
to some cinderblock shithole in the desert
where she can drink and get sick and then
dance in nothing but her underwear. You know
where she’s headed, you know she’ll wake up
with an ache she can’t locate and no money
and a terrible thirst. So to hell
with your warm hands sliding inside my shirt
and your tongue down my throat
like an oxygen tube. Cover me
in black plastic. Let the mourners through.
Kim Addonizio, You Don’t Know What Love Is
You know, I think more and more often
that I should go back.
Maybe I’ll meet you. And happiness?
Happiness is being sad together.
So I look through the moonlit window
Nothing. A breeze stirs somewhere.
Alone among the leaves - the moon.
Like a golden wheel it rolls
above the windblown leaves.
Such moons, only paler,
shone over the Vistula.
Even the Big Dipper on its course
stops in a tree at midnight,
just like at home. But why here?
Truly, I don’t know.
What’s here? Longing and sleepless nights,
unknown streets and somebody’s verse.
I live here as a nobody:
a Displaced Person.
I think of you. I know I must leave.
Perhaps we can return to our past,
but I know neither what youth will be like
nor where you are.
But I’m yours or no one’s
listen, read this poem
if somewhere you are alive.
Tadeusz Borowski, You know, I think more and more often
Make a list
of everything that’s
on fire –
Your mother burned down to the skeleton
so she could come back, born back from her bed, and walk around the
house again, exhausted
When you look down
what is there?
You are a walking bag of surgical instruments
shining from the inside out
and that’s just
Tomorrow it could be different
When I think of the childhood inside me I think of sunlight dying on
The voices of my friends
in the sunlight
All of us running around
Someone is here
to see you
Someone has come a long way with their arms out in front of them
like a child
walking down a hallway
Make room for them –
they’re very tired
I wish I could look down past the burning chandelier inside me
where the language begins
Nervous System, Michael Dickman
i want to
sit in a bar, dark,
with poets drinking beer.
lovesad’ll do that it
gets you up gets you movin’ i
haven’t written a word in
six weeks and now my
brain’s reeling in fat ones they’re
written before i can pick up
a pen puts you on a bus like
sending you off to camp and
you wake up in arizona makes you
feel righteous drinking liquor in
a room with no one else like my momma
always warned first sign of an
alcoholic got you poppin’ chocolate too,
you need it, some lovestarved hormone
it’s replacing, this is science.
lovesad’s got you nervous changes
coffee to blood makes you jesus
lovesad’s got you singing
smiths songs got you feeling
ghost lips on your neck got you
tugging at your hair like it’s
hiding all the answers makes you
hate all your friends for being
nice to you it’s twisting all
your insides welding
smoke chains to your lips
making sleep a precious fossil and
three times as rare.
Michelle Tea, Lovesad
I like the parts of you
that are not the parts of me,
the furry paws of your knees
and the angular metal of your upper arm.
So often I turn to touch softness
and find taut rope and hard glass.
My body stretches elastic
to meet and hold forum
with the hollow of your back.
I crawl under your thrown face
and find moist refuge.
In such moments
I forget your bones and fingernails.
I surrender to the mud that moves with us,
sinking and rising
in the steam that is our common element.
The Man, Lisa C. Taylor
I’m an idiot because once
before we were married she asked me whether I knew
that we would not be having children
if we did get married, and I said yes.
And because she knew I was lying,
she asked if I was really okay with that.
And because I’m an idiot I said yes again.
And once during a fight, not married
more than two years, she said she felt like my first wife,
and I, like an idiot, assured her that she was.
She worked out at the gym five times a week
and smoked as many packs of ultra lights,
and I’m an idiot because when I asked her why,
She said, Because I hate myself and I want to die.
And I laughed and said something I don’t recall,
something completely and utterly insufficient.
From the roof of our apartment,
I saw 40 or 50 people jump from the towers
on a Tuesday morning—
we used to be able to see them to the south,
just as, to the north, we can still see
(and by “we” I guess I mean now just me)
the Empire State Building,
which still steeps me in gratitude
because I’m an idiot—
out of the smoke with arms flailing.
And I swear I saw a perfect swan.
And I was going to write a poem
about how fire is the only thing
that can make a person jump out a window.
And maybe I’m an idiot for thinking I could have saved her—
call me her knight in shattered armor—
could have loved her more,
or told the truth about children.
But depression, too, is a kind of fire.
And I know nothing of either.
Taylor Mali, Depression, Too, Is a Kind of Fire
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