Writing About Love, Day 2
I’ve been trying all day to write a poem about love. Or, rather, instructions in poem form about how to love me. Or not to love me. Sometimes I have to let dull line after dull line thud on the paper in order to get the poem to take a breath. But other times, I have to admit that, at least for tonight, the poem has coded and gone to poem heaven. (Poetry is the only place in which I believe in reincarnation.)
It’s not a failure of ideas, nor of imagination. But a failure of courage. Because what I really have to write about is seeing my Dad in the hospital the Friday after Christmas. My sister and I spent most of the Christmas holiday week on Long Island with one of our aunts. We took the train to New Jersey to see my Dad in the hospital on Christmas Day, and then returned for another visit on Friday. As we left that Friday evening, my sister leaned over my Dad, kissed him, and said, “Love you, Dad.” I squeezed myself into the narrow slice of space at the side of his hospital bed, dropped a mouthful of red lipstick on his cheek, and said, “See you in a couple of weeks, Dad.”
As I lean over my father, the room feels too quiet or too full of people for me to say anything. I feel hollow—which I know now means I’ve pulled way back into myself—and can’t face how the words might sound as they bounce from my mouth. How they might make me feel.
It’s not that I doubt that I love my father. Not anymore. I’ve figured that much out; I do love him. But the actual words are still hiding somewhere at the back of my throat. In the corner of my body where I sometimes lurk, a turtle without her shell, a knight bereft of armor.
You are perhaps going to tell me that my actions speak louder than my words. You are perhaps going to tell me that I will get there, to the place where saying “I love you” doesn’t feel like some bad punchline, doesn’t remind me of all the times I said it to an old boyfriend, when it didn’t mean anything at all, because I was desperate to have someone to say “I love you” to. Because I was desperate to be loved.
We—my father and I—are past that now. The desperation. The hollowness. That’s what I want to believe. That’s what staying silent tells me.