As an English major at IU (Go Hoosiers!), I had to take a fair amount of poetry classes, none of which stuck with me.
(Pro tip: don’t try and memorize 50+ Victorian-Era Poetry pieces the night before the final exam while mainlining coffee in a Waffle House. It won’t end well.)
I vividly remember one such class where we were reading high-brow poetry – you know, J. Alfred Prufrock and The Waste Land and the like – and we were to keep a journal of our impressions and what we thought the poem was about.
I struggled and soldiered and did my best, as poetry has never come naturally to me, but was proud of my efforts and vague insights. I tried to find that inner meaning, that hidden message, but I often… didn’t.
Then, the following class, the professor TOLD us what the poem was about, and all our impressions and thoughts about it were entirely discounted, as his answer was the only “right” answer.
It was over-taught and over-wrought.
I’ve hated poetry ever since.
But, every once in a great while, a poem will catch me out… Kate Baer’s words… Mary Oliver of course… and most recently, this gorgeous one:
Mouthful of Forevers
I am not the first person you loved.
You are not the first person I looked at
with a mouthful of forevers. We
have both known loss like the sharp edges
of a knife. We have both lived with lips
more scar tissue than skin. Our love came
unannounced in the middle of the night.
Our love came when we’d given up
on asking love to come. I think
that has to be part
of its miracle.
This is how we heal.
I will kiss you like forgiveness. You
will hold me like I’m hope. Our arms
will bandage and we will press promises
between us like flowers in a book.
I will write sonnets to the salt of sweat
on your skin. I will write novels to the scar
of your nose. I will write a dictionary
of all the words I have used trying
to describe the way it feels to have finally,
finally found you.
And I will not be afraid
of your scars.
I know sometimes
it’s still hard to let me see you
in all your cracked perfection,
but please know:
whether it’s the days you burn
more brilliant than the sun
or the nights you collapse into my lap
your body broken into a thousand questions,
you are the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.
I will love you when you are a still day.
I will love you when you are a hurricane.