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Elizabeth Yalkut

 

 

DOWRY

 

The world is wily and doesn’t want to be caught.                                                                                       Susan Mitchell

 

I tell you

I am searching for poetry

for you. That I have not found it.

That I am horribly, horribly afraid that I will have to write it.

I say it casually, teasingly—

 

oh, my goodness, what an awful fate, writing poetry for you.

But I am afraid.

How, I don’t dare demand,

am I supposed to write you poetry

when the touch of your thumb erases all my words? Love poetry is a responsibility

 

and while I am prepared to (clean out

the coffeemaker, leave copied keys with Joanna next door)

tell you secrets I’d forgotten myself, love poetry

demands talent I doubt I have. But what makes me so special

that only you should defy

 

the traditional tribute of the besotted lover—and what

makes you so much more than anything else I have written about?

What in me shies away at the thought of (turning you into language) writing (about) you?

I am not fool enough (to say I love you too much)

to think you more monumental than sunsets, New York City, kissing; I would like

 

to write about you in your proper place,

your own size and shape, show you exactly as you are, who I love;

but that, too, cannot be.

Who you are is not who I love,

I can only love what I know of you, which are not the same thing,

 

not exactly identical,

and I will fail anyway. That is what poetry does—fail knowingly.

The gaps between the poet and the poem

and the poem and you

and the poem and the reader are where the real world, where love, resides (or hides).

 

I will build you a poem like a bridge,

so you can cross over to me and leave yourself behind

for me to write real poems about.

I will hand you sonnets, villanelles,

maps to my affection, because that is what I have to offer, what I can give you.

 

Free verse seems inadequate: the mental scrap of the junkyard

of language; normally I am perfectly comfortable confronting

the thinness of poetry

compared to experience, totally fine with flinging words like paint

onto the walls of the poem.

 

But you deserve something more precise, something you can

understand

without explanation other than what is already there —

two inches on this map equals a kilometer,

this phrase signifies this particular shiver in my stomach when you look at me.

 

To hand you a list of facts: my fingers fit between your ribs

and your humming tilts the salt flats of my nap so I fall back, awake, into the world,

is to give you what anyone could give you,

the truth as I understand it, and that is not what I want to give you;

I want to give you the best of me, want to give you something beyond truth,

 

want to give you poetry.

You say you fell in love with me. I am supposed to be a poet;

I want to give you a poet to be in love with. There’s so little

that tags along with me, it seems the least I can do, but it’s the most

anyone could offer. Ink on paper can be poetry

 

or cash. Value is a hard thing to pin down,

and harder still to claim, presumptuous, arrogant, but someone has to do it.

This is my dowry, this is my love poem,

you are who I love,

and that will have to suffice, because it is what I have for you.

 

 

Elizabeth Yalkut is a writer in New York City. She attended Emma Willard School and Barnard College, Columbia University. Her most recent publication was in Bluestem Quarterly.