His mouth still felt warm from hers, the night air cold against his lips.
Anna-Marie McLemore, from Wild Beauty
What he imagined it would be like to taste a piece of the sky.
Anna-Marie McLemore, from Wild Beauty
they were two of a kind and now
they live elsewhere
from each other
or just elsewhere
they live in foreign lands,
in lush lands, in rich lands
on both sides of a forgotten country
they call there but never
by its real name, never home
never Home, they don’t know why
I’m one of them,
I am the one who called the other day
the other night
why do you call,
haven’t you anything better
to do but call ghosts
in the middle of my summer?
I’m in love, and there are
a hundred thousand miles
and six hundred and fifty two days
we’re not ‘there’ and never
will be again, why do you call?
I call because
I’m in the middle of winter,
and the stars here have frozen in patterns
you and I never saw ‘there’, and never will
I call because I’m not in love
unless you count ghosts,
I call because I haven’t said Home
in three years and fifty two days,
and now that I’m at it,
here is why I call
we were two of a kind, and you
are the other one, aren’t you still,
aren’t you, but whoever you are, I’ve nothing
better to do, how have you been?
— Kapka Kassabova, from “The immigrant cycle,” All Roads Lead to the Sea
Eros in an issue of boundaries. He exists because certain boundaries do. In the interval between reach and grasp, between glance and counterglance, between ‘I love you’ and ‘I love you too’, the absent presence of desire comes alive. But the boundaries of time and glance and I love you are only aftershocks of the main, inevitable boundary that creates Eros: the boundary of flesh and self between you and me. And it is only, suddenly, at the moment when I would dissolve that boundary, I realize I never can.
Anne Carson, from Eros the Bittersweet
Do you know what I want of life? That I can be with you, you, all of you
And if life repeated a thousand times, still you, you, and again, you.
– Forugh Farrokhzad
All the time I kept you out of my poems,
you found a way into my body instead.
Instead of your becoming another word
for dove or wrist bone, owl or stone,
you’ve become the impulse that has me
raise cairns to mark my way. You’re
what all verbs traverse, a fuse for the urge
to look at what I can’t see within what I can;
also the stillness inside me as wind-riven
leaves are driven over the roof shingles
into the night. Kindled by earth and sky,
you’re the touch of a tongue on my skin,
contingent and mortal; and the shy
reluctant love of faithfulness to what I feel
when at times I think there are no gods.
You are in me what is crucial and crucible
when the soul, in its root-fire, lasers and welds
each fissure and craze line of my loving elusive,
if pervasive, you. How stark it is to be alive–
and, although absence is the form you take
in what we call the world, how durable …
Margaret Gibson, “Not to Remain Altogether Silent,” Not Hearing the Wood Thrush
“If you allow an experienced man of the world to introduce you to passion when you want him more than he wants you, he will own your soul, but you will not own his.”
— Mary Jo Putney, The Bargain
Prose is a clear river, poetry a muddied lake, afraid of too much clarity.
Peter Cooley, from “Window Zuihitsu,” World Without Finishing: Poems
Remembering you …the fireflies of this marsh, seem like sparks that rise
from my body’s longing
Izumi Shikibu, from The Ink Dark Moon
Summer was singing on its favorite rock when you appeared to me, summer was singing apart as we who were silence, sympathy, sorrowful freedom, were sea still more than the sea whose long blue spade was playing at our feet. Summer was singing and your heart swam far from it. I embraced your courage, heard your confusion. Road along the absolute of waves toward those high peaks of foam where virtues sail, murderous to hands bearing our houses. We were not credulous. We were surrounded. The years passed by. The storms died down. The world went its way. I suffered to think it was your heart which no longer perceived me. I loved you. In my absence of visage and my emptiness of joy. I loved you, changing in every way, faithful to you.
René Char, from ”Annals,” Furor & Mystery and Other Writings
Is summer enough, when you see
a forgotten, aching self in faces
struck by other, less gentle seasons?
Kapka Kassabova, from “Associations,” All Roads Lead to the Sea
[…] how could I forget you since I
needn’t remember you: you are the present accumulating. We will
come together without having to approach each other or forewarn
each other, as two poppies make in love one huge anemone.
I will not enter your heart to limit its memory. I will not
possess your mouth to hinder it from opening to the blue of air,
the thirst for leaving. I want to be freedom for you, and the wind
of life that crosses the threshold of always before night turns
René Char, from ”Martha,” Furor & Mystery and Other Writings
There is never a moment in which I do not adore you
– Marie Antoinette
When I speak to you of love
I do not speak as I am
but as I am in love with you
which is better that I am, better
than I can hope to be.
Wendell Berry, section IV of “Sabbaths,” Oxford American
It was still summer, but hardly, and they took turns,
jumping off limbs to let the wind escape them, again
and again. On purpose they fell. Their throats scratched
as they gasped for air, first he, then she. And then he
reached over, put his lips on hers and blew breath,
mouth to mouth, as if she suffered from drowning,
as if her lungs were pails of water instead of dry,
hollow. Until she breathed in, and the wind again
made her feel like tumbling, like tumbling after.
Michelle Menting, from “Jill Falls for Jack,” Leaves Surface Like Skin
I am always moving toward you. On my bad days, I say to myself: “then you,” Sure, this now. But then you.
– Trista Mateer, The Dogs I Have Kissed
So much I’ll
never understand about the reasons
I survived when others didn’t. Years
ago I found a book, like a gift, fallen
between two shelves. Inside, someone
had penciled, Language isn’t sad but
meaning is. I’ve held those words as
close as any I have known, having felt
a pull toward nothingness, toward lack
of anyone or anything that might repair
my ruined thoughts, and just as often
I have stood in shallow creeks, waiting
on my world to end, assured I have no
place, no name, no face, no words to say
the source of what I’m always reaching
toward. I have followed driftwood,
imagined my own dead self assigned
to stir above the silt. I’ve watched
the motions course along through shadows
soon to reach a bend and carry on unseen.
Still, I have a faith that what is next is what
the story most requires so that the shape
of time allotted, ordained to be, can then
reveal itself. Bend, mend—the echo isn’t
lost on me—and giving in to where I’m
being taken has been the way I’ve come
to know my life, to speak its mysteries.
Jeff Hardin, from “Concerning the Shape of Time,” Southern Review
If you really love a writer, [make love to her] her on a coffee table. Find a gravestone of someone who shares her name and take her to it. When her door is plastered with an eviction notice, do not offer your home. Say I Love You, then call her the wrong name. If you really love a writer, bury her in all your awful and watch as she scrawls her way out.
Touching your face, I am like that boy
brought back to his body, steeped
in the moment, fulfilled but unable to speak.
Michael Waters, from “The Inarticulate,” Parthenopi: New and Selected Poems
Like sacred language, what is written comes from no recognizable source, is without author or origin, and thereby always refers back to something more original than itself. Behind the words of the written work, nobody is present; but language gives voice to this absence, just as in the oracle, when divinity speaks, the god himself is never present in his words, and it is the absence of god which then speaks.
Something had unfurled inside her, her own personality that had asserted itself with the certainty that there was something in the world akin to her . . . She’d been taken by surprise: so she could speak of . . . of “that” as if it were something palpable, of her dissatisfaction that she’d hidden in shame and fear . . . Now . . . Someone had lightly touched the mysterious mists from which she’d been living for some time and suddenly they had solidified, formed a unit, existed. Until now all she had lacked was for someone to recognize her, for her to recognize herself . . . Everything was transforming! How? She didn’t know . . .
Clarice Lispector, from “Gertrudes Asks for Advice,” The Complete Stories
Only now did I see that there was a woman in my room whose heart was overflowing with misery and desire, a young flower of a woman who radiated love all around her, blushing shyly because love’s fragrance was so heady and strong.
Hjalmar Söderberg, from Doctor Glas
Now, I demand a love that is stupid and beautiful, like a pilot turning off her engines mid-flight to listen for rain on wings.
Paige Lewis, “Pavlov was the Son of a Priest” published in Ploughshares
You know my desire. I have only one. It has your face and your form and the term of my life.
— Colette, from a letter to Henry de Jouvenel written c. November 1912
The long line of [her] jaw becomes
Too beautiful to bear.
Life achingly said, Do something!
And I didn’t dare.
Frederick Seidel, from “Hotel Carlyle, New York,” Going Fast
Nightingale sings, his face against the glass,
the morning window where I come for words, some streak of heaven thrown across the floor
even on a gray day, today, my starting point.
Peter Cooley, from “In the Bestiary,” World Without Finishing: Poems
He had a duty to see back to how she had been, and to rescue her. But this wasn’t just about her. He had a duty to himself. To see back and … rescue himself? From what? From ‘the subsequent wreckage of this life?’ No, that was stupidly melodramatic. His life had not been wrecked. His heart, yes, his heart had been cauterized. But he had found a way to live, and continued with that life, which had brought him to here. And from here, he had a duty to see himself as he had once been. Strange how, when you are young, you owe no duty to the future; but when you are old, you owe a duty to the past. To the one thing you can’t change.
Julian Barnes, from The Only Story
Another thing he had come to understand. He had imagined that, in the modern world, time and place were no longer relevant to stories of love. Looking back, he saw that they had played a greater part in this story than he ever realized. He had given in to the old, continuing, ineradicable delusion: that lovers somehow stand outside of time.
Julian Barnes, from The Only Story
… believing that things came to us as gifts, through channels of wonder, in the form of signs, in the love of men, in the name of God, rather than seeing them for what they were: strengths that we dragged up from the nothingness of our own depths.
Nicole Krauss, from Seeing Ershadi
I know nothing in the world that has as much power as a word.
Sometimes I write one, and I look at it, until it begins to shine. E. Dickinson
Shepard writes from the thralls of something far deeper and more powerful than infatuation:
I love this woman in a way I can’t describe & a feeling of belonging to each other that reaches across all the pain. It’s as though we’ve answered something in each other that was almost forgotten. I look back on that whole ten years in California & I see myself hunting desperately for something I wasn’t finding. I know the Work point of view is the only true one. That life is inside. That nothing outside can ever finally answer our yearning. I know that’s true but, in some way, finding Jessie has reached something inside me. A part of me feels brand new — re-awakened.
What I knew of love had always stemmed from desire, from the wish to be altered or thrown off course by some uncontrollable force. (…) To call it compassion makes it sound like a form of divine love, and it wasn’t that; it was terribly human. If anything, it was an animal love, the love of an animal that has been living in an incomprehensible world until one day it encounters another of its kind and realizes that it has been applying its comprehension in the wrong place all along.
Nicole KraussSeeing Ershadi
John Keats writes to Fanny Brawne, with whom he had been in love since meeting her the previous year. (Keats wrote his brother shortly after their first encounter, describing Fanny as “beautiful and elegant, graceful, silly, fashionable and strange.”)
October 13, 1819
My Dearest Girl
This moment I have set myself to copy some verses out fair. I cannot proceed with any degree of content. I must write you a line or two and see if that will assist in dismissing you from my Mind for ever so short a time. Upon my Soul I can think of nothing else. The time is passed when I had power to advise and warn you against the unpromising morning of my Life. My love has made me selfish. I cannot exist without you. I am forgetful of everything but seeing you again—my Life seems to stop there—I see no further. You have asorb’d me. I have a sensation at the present moment as though I was dissolving—I should be exquisitely miserable without the hope of soon seeing you. I should be afraid to separate myself far from you. My sweet Fanny, will your heart never change? My love, will it? I have no limit now to my love… Your note came in just here. I cannot be happier away from you. ‘Tis richer than an Argosy of Pearles. Do not threat [sic] me even in jest. I have been astonished that Men could die Martyrs for religion—I have shuddered at it. I shudder no more—I could be martyr’d for my Religion—Love is my religion—I could die for that. I could die for you. My Creed is Love and you are its only tenet. You have ravish’d me away by a Power I cannot resist; and yet I could resist till I saw you; and even since I have seen you I have endeavoured often “to reason against the reasons of my Love.” I can do that no more—the pain would be too great. My love is selfish. I cannot breathe without you.
Yours for ever
From Famous Love Letters. Edited by Ronald Tamplin. Pleasantville: The Reader’s Digest Association, Inc, 1995. p. 96.
Someday if I lose you, how will you sleep without my whispering above you like the linden’s branches? Without my lying here awake and placing words, almost like eyelids, on your breasts, your limbs, your lips. Without my closing you and leaving you alone with what is yours like a garden with a mass of mint-balm and star-anise.
Rainer Maria Rilke, “Lullaby,” The Rose Window and Other Verse from New Poems, ed. Ferris Cook
He thought the world’s heart beat at some terrible cost and that the world’s pain and its beauty moved in a relationship of diverging equity and that in this headlong deficit the blood of multitudes might ultimately be exacted for the vision of a single flower.
Cormac McCarthy, from All the Pretty Horses
I am in superb solitude, where only the breeze can still waft across the terraces of my isolation.
Tahar Ben Jelloun, from This Blinding Absence of Light
Trees heavy with birds hold
the afternoon up with their hands.
Octavio Paz, from “THE TOMB Of AMIR KHUSRU,” A Tale of Two Gardens
Armed with the arms of summer you come into my room come into my mind and untie the river of language look at yourself in these hurried words
Bit by bit the day burns out over the erasing landscape your shadow is a land of birds the sun scatters with a wave
Octavio Paz, from “THE ARMS OF SUMMER,” A Tale of Two Gardens
imposes its tide
and repeats its own midday
Octavio Paz, from “VRINDABAN,” A Tale of Two Gardens