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
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.