“Headlong”: “Love Poem” by Linda Pastan

Yesterday I worked as an election judge. I was there by 5 am, turnout was light, and the day just dragged.  About 12 hours after I had arrived, I looked up to see my husband walking through the doors, and I felt a surge in my chest, like my heart was flipping. He’d received a mail-in ballot, left it sitting on the printer shelf for a month, and now arrived to do the pain-in-the-ass provisional ballot process. It was absolutely predictable, the way things fall aside and get lost for him—the kind of thing that we squabble about at home. But maybe because I hadn’t expected him to come, maybe because I had left before he woke up, maybe because I was punch-drunk from the long day—for whatever reason, I laughed and happily helped him through the process. I teased him a little, then delightedly told every other judge that this was my husband. I was, for a minute, giddy. I was wifey. A long-lost friend of mine from college once gushed about her crush I would cook for him and we laughed until we cried, realizing that there was no stronger statement from two women who did not cook. That’s where I was–I saw him and was in full I would cook for him mode.

Those are the moments when I wish I could write the poem Linda Pastan wrote, which itself begins with a statement about how much she wants to write the poem she’s literally writing.  The first time I read it, I copied it down by hand. Love poems are often treacly, hyperbolic. But what she says captures the intensity of love-surges, when a creek fills with snowmelt and overflows its banks. She gives me the language of the sublime in nature and love. The poem runs along, quick and intense, unbothered with punctuation, which it would sweep away anyway.

Robert and I have been through it. He’s a cancer survivor, which I’m not getting into now except to say that we’ve been to the most dangerous, ugliest edges together. We’ve had to step back from ground that was about to give underneath us. We hold on with a love that cannot help but contain a layer of fear: What if we lose this? Lose each other?  Sometimes I forget. I get preoccupied, busy, focused on other things. I won’t speak for him, but I can guess he’s say the same. And then at particular moments, I feel like a goddamned Hallmark card. I don’t know if I’ll ever write anything half as wonderful as “Love Poem,” but I know I’ll keep trying.

Love Poem

by Linda Pastan

I want to write you
a love poem as headlong
as our creek
after thaw
when we stand
on its dangerous
banks and watch it carry
with it every twig
every dry leaf and branch
in its path
every scruple
when we see it
so swollen
with runoff
that even as we watch
we must grab
each other
and step back
we must grab each
other or
get our shoes
soaked we must
grab each other

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