For April—National Poetry Month—I’m trying my darnedest to write a poem each day. I don’t plan to post them here; the poor darlings will be too newborn to be out in the world any time soon. I did, however, want to share the draft I wrote today as it was a direct result of the “ecstasy of looking” I wrote about here. (And it’s also part of the Love Poems series I’ve been working on since last November. At least, I think it is…)
Poem Left in His Pocket on a Page Torn from a Book
I admit you still feel strange to me
in the most ordinary of ways:
how, for example, you look at me
as if I were enough or
how when I put the white tulips you sent
on the kitchen window sill and wait
for the sturdy light of morning
each yellow heart glows
and still, I do not weep.
I wrote this poem in grad school. It’s far from obvious but it’s actually inspired by Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Sonnets from the Portuguese. When I first read the sonnets what I was struck by was how they explore the less romantic sides of passionate love— doubt, feelings of unworthiness, etc. I also thought about how when we’re in love, we can be quite stalkerish and almost want to devour the beloved. Then with that mind, I just let myself go with the language. I think this poem marked a turning point in my willingness to allow more surreality into my work. I’m very thankful to CaKe literary journal for first publishing it, and it also appears in my second chapbook Voice Lessons.
At midnight I loved you with an intestinal thickness that left me dizzy.
At one a.m., I pulled the knife from my arm, used it as a microphone to sing you three love songs.
At two a.m., I loved you with my eyes wide open, my mouth waxed shut. Between my legs night twitched.
At three a.m., I dared the sun to come out. Instead it shuddered then spit on the shrine I’d built to our love.
At four a.m., “Mother, mother” I called. This caused something in my belly to break.
Five a.m., not a creature was stirring. My guilty, clucking heart fled through the house, terrified.
At six a.m., nothing.
At seven a.m., more of the same.
At eight a.m., I couldn’t bear to love you anymore. There was sobbing. There were heavy footfalls. Finally, I beat myself into submission.
At nine a.m., the sun having forgotten to rise for the third day in a row, I screamed bloody murder. I howled at the moon. I loved you.
At ten a.m., the expert from the left declared our love a national holiday. We held a small burial to celebrate.
At eleven a.m., my right hand tricked my left hand into believing it loved you just as much.
At noon, I remembered the time before I loved you. I still had a mouth then, and two good eyes.
At one p.m., I couldn’t help but spread the rumor. Crow laughed as I scratched “I love you” into the loamy skin of my thigh.
At two p.m., our love took a siesta, except in Queens, where it had been assigned to memorize every other line of One Life to Live.
Precisely at three, my love for you went to war with the broad plain of your back walking away from me.
At four p.m., I loved you smugly and diligently—cracked bones and all.
At five p.m., I composed a ballad, the prying off of fingernails its exotic but tinny accompaniment.
At six p.m., I ate my love for dinner. Even the party cannibals grew morose and envious.
At seven p.m., we danced. My hand slid over the bone of your back like a weapon. You bounced my skull back and forth in your hands. I was happy then.
At eight p.m., my love for you became a mouthful. I was constipated with love for you, the belligerent clench of my teeth a delightful contradiction.
At nine p.m., my love for you stretched the corners of my mouth until they bled. I pierced myself with arrows, skipping gaily from baptism to crucifixion and back again.
At ten p.m., it was almost over and oh, how I mourned, my tears ape-like and mucousy.
At eleven p.m., I counted all the ways I’d forgotten to love you, scourged myself accordingly. My hand was heavy and unexpected as God’s. You were well pleased.