This is what you want.
This is what you hope for
This is what you’ve never had.
You want love to mean necessity
no matter what.
You want love to mean
whatever it takes.
You want love
to be waiting up for you
longing for you
searching for you
carving out a place for you
dying for a moment with you—
sometimes you want love to say
just a minute
to everything but you—
who would give life and limb
to hold such passion in your arms—
to return it
this is what you want
on a night like this
when everything you have to give
is contained inside you
waiting to be wanted
all of it going
to such terrible waste.
“Lady of Shalott” John William Waterhouse, 1888
It feels like I’ve said
almost everything I can
about the way I love you—
the way it feels warm to have you
in the center of my heart—
and how happy I am to wake up
next to that smile of yours
even if it’s just a picture of us
together on our happiest day
being silly and reckless
somewhere in the middle of our lives
which were never
supposed to converge like this
in the middle of nowhere—
and when I took that photo
deep in the woods, my right arm
wrapped tightly around you,
I wasn’t thinking
about the past or the future—
or the ethics of our union.
I wasn’t thinking that one day
I’d need to explain
what I was doing there with you—
that no one else would see what I see
in that joyful photograph—
all the love, beauty, bravery
the depth of feeling
words are powerless to express
We don’t need each other, really,
in a desperate kind of way
like high school kids
dying for just one hello in the hallway—
we aren’t betting everything
that the queen of hearts
will give us her blessing
and a happily ever after—
we just know what feels right
and it happens to be the question mark
our bodies make when we’re still
after making love
and curled up naked and content
beside a fire that is slowly dying.
Painting by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec “In Bed the Kiss” 1892
You were in the right place
at the right time
and offered him a sweetness
which he accepted cautiously
and now, years later, you have him
all to yourself on the trails
and on the water, and even
in the air when you travel to
California or Costa Rica—
and you get to study his mouth
when he says words like bloodroot
and loosestrife and chokecherry—
and you get to see his joy
when the brown thrasher
keeps singing even when summer
has come to its end—
you have a bird’s eye view
of his mission and his passion
and you are allowed to curl up
beside him in the nest of his bed—
but I envy nothing about you
except your proximity to him—
to a creature neither one of us
will ever possess—
and when he wants to fly away
(he will need to fly away)
I hope you’ll kiss him goodbye,
softly, and let him go.
Dearest son—fifteen years is how old I was
when my mother felt too awkward
to share with me the details of our nature.
Words like desire and sex
occupied a vocabulary incompatible
with her hopes for me.
She must have thought that speaking of love
and reputation would be enough
to exempt me from the cravings that exist
long before a marriage, or the kind of union
so holy it could deliver heaven
to the sanctuary of an ordinary bedroom.
I will not tell you to wait for your perfect one—
that she is out there waiting in your future.
I want you to refuse the lie that there is only one body
created to match the contours of yours.
Reject the myth that experience will diminish
your capacity to commit when you are ready.
Let your imagination roam unrestricted in the night.
There is no one judging your fantasies—
which are the purest way to navigate this course
that leads you toward the mysteries of women.
Remember that generosity begets generosity,
and that tenderness is a key which open doors
that have been closed by anger or confusion.
Consent is the rule above all rules,
and next is careful planning.
Babies are for adults who are ready to step away
from the center of the universe and create a new one—
you, my son, are the center of mine,
and to prepare you with these truths
is my duty and my joy.
Remember that love is a privilege never deserved.
It owes us nothing, which is what we are entitled to.
Don’t expect your first love to be your last.
Do not expect the duration of your longest love
to be uninterrupted by boredom or temptation
or the wish to taste the fruit in other orchards.
This is the terrible beauty that sustains us.
Here is the truth that I wish I’d been prepared for:
The full grown heart has many rooms—
and some will conceal passions that are equal
yet opposite to the love that sleeps beside you
in your large monogamous bed.
It was a Buick. Red.
On fire with a kiss.
The stoplight gave them
just enough time
to carry on
with the passion of youth
while it gave me
just enough time
to write the first three lines
of this poem.
Startled by the honk,
I looked up to see
the Buick already
disappearing into the future
when out of the window
a cigarette appeared
on the end of his arm;
a small glow
in the sudden rush of air.