Why I Don't Write Love Poems
It most likely began with Robert Redford,
my gradeschool heart waiting
with him in the almost dark
for Katharine Ross, so he, unbearably
cool, could make her undress
as he watched
from the bed and the mirror;
skin and curve, and heat
rising like a mirage
from the layers of chalkdust and petticoats
that fell in whispers to the floor.
In the morning, Paul Newman arrives
eyes blue beyond cliché, with a song and a bicycle
not quite built for two, acres of daisies
blooming despite Robert Redford's hypnotic
and spectacular indifference.
Before that, my favorite song was the story
of a woman in love with a man
who was also in love with her, but more
in love with the sea.
And when asked to picture my perfect
husband, he was forever
a fireman, and I knew and loved knowing
he would always be leaving.
Thirty years before
the metallic unwashed smell of you
so close there's no telling
whose dream belongs to which pillow,
before the seconds that pulse through me
at the turn of your key,
when after days and nights of flight
you arrive in the dark hours,
making every waiting day shudder
with a particular perfection—I knew even then
the romance in being left, and leaving.
And there were the Sunday School lessons,
the don't let him touch you here don't
let him there or anywhere
in between, as if a woman would never
ache for what your body has blessed me with.
There were the excruciating verbs
they chose, the necking and the petting;
the Intercourse. There was the day
last summer my mother told me to close my eyes
when Tristan and Isolde were half nude
and kissing. Unfathomable
that an unmarried woman should be allowed
to see, to sympathize, to feel
a woman's desire. And worse, that I might be
tempted to draw my fingers
slowly beneath a man's last rib, to watch him
long enough to feel his breathing catch.
There were the bridal showers, manufactured
by church ladies supervising the assembly
line of near-child brides deluged
with bouquets of cleaning supplies, given pots
and spatulas, given nightgowns
that left everything to the imagination.
Conspicuously absent were all things sheer
and dark: the agonizing thrill of a hand
appraising a tight row of buttons; men
who have learned how and when, and why
a woman moves; nipples that freeze, thighs
that fall open, rise as his voice
buries itself in her name—everything
that might prepare a woman
to undress at gunpoint
for one of the men she loves.