My experience with Love
I shrank into myself somewhere, sometime, became keenly aware of my self, my own
critic, eying every move and clumsy attempt. I settled into the roll of “observer.”
Watching myself experience life rather than simply experiencing life. The observer of all
things at arms length, I watched with a skeptical, William Blake, eye: “to believe a lie/
When you see with, see with, not through, the eye.” I would not be fooled.
So it was with Love. Grade school crushes, sure: always aware of myself—a grade
school boy, shy, perhaps a bit dusty and better suited to cleaning out the stalls or
alphabetizing my books. I did not see myself as the kind of person I knew of, thought of,
pictured really being deeply in Love!
I fell in love with poetry, and with the “Love Poem.” I recognized my self in the intensity
behind those pages, a hidden secret intensity that didn’t know how to get out. I could
see myself, or the bits of self I wished were me, in Yeats:
“We sat grown quiet at the name of love;
We saw the last embers of daylight die,
And in the trembling blue-green of the sky
Washed as by time’s waters as they rose and fell
About the stars and broke in days and years.
I had a thought for no one’s but your ears:
That you were beautiful, and that I strove
To love you in the old high way of love;
That it had all seemed happy, and yet we’d grown
As weary-hearted as that hollow moon.”
Oh, that sweet agony! That intensity! I became a slave to that intensity. I found it in
poetry, but only as the observer. In workshop, there were students who really tapped
into it, like Abe Moore: “water isn’t blue when you are this close, but please just dive in
with me because this is life, Babe, and we can’t stay long...” I longed to dive in, felt
painfully aware of myself and the quiet Lack of that intensity in my polite, well-mannered
interactions with the world.
Secretly I knew that somewhere there was a woman who would open that part of me—
to whom I would speak those lines of poetry, “a thought for no one’s but your ears...” but
leaving out the wearisome part where everything becomes faded. Perhaps there sliding
into another proven line. Neruda maybe: “Body of a woman, white hills, white thighs...
you stretch out like the world.” And I waited to meet her, the patient observer, watching.
Not willing to try anything that hadn’t been proven in the canon, nothing that would fall
short of my life in verse as I imagined it. So I waited and kept that safe arms length from
what could have been just an experience.
I don’t know how many experiences passed by while I waited, but it didn’t happen. Like
Pygmalion, I became inextricably attached to the artistic representation of something I
didn’t truly know. I was waiting to say, “Oh hi! I recognize you from the pictures...” The
pictures of flowing water, shooting stars, summer rain, fireflies, sunrises, city
crosswalks, full moons, alabaster, bells tolling—ringing and ringing and ringing.
I saw an ocean of poetic intensity and me sitting on the shore holding a broken paddle,
listening to the mermaids from T.S. Eliot:
“I grow old ... I grow old ...
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.
Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.
I do not think that they will sing to me.”
I was Prufrock growing old, measuring out my life with the mundane while watching for
the mythical! I had to give up on the “Love Poem.”
Possibly the drowning of a close friend was the nudge I needed (Think Eliot again, “fear
death by drowning”) a young guy, like me, but a guy full of life and heart, truly living
each day until he wasn’t. I decided the “Love Poem” was the artistic representation only
of an ideal, the ultimate portrayal of only a dreamed reality. Not real life. Not, at least,
the whole picture. The rest of that picture, as far as I could tell, involved getting a job,
paying bills, raising a family, getting a home and a sensible car with good safety ratings.
Keeping up on your insurance coverage, protecting your assets.
So I resigned myself to fulfilling the part of That story that I could reach. I slipped
comfortably into a marriage, despite early signs of caution, with the promise, eventually
realized, of two kids, two cars, a mortgage, and plenty insurance. I made my life into the
“raising kids” story, and there I would have remained, but didn’t. She had more
language for what we had sacrificed than I had. Not knowing what, exactly, she was
going to find, she left to search.
My identity, father & husband, self-sacrificer, became un-moored, set adrift in a new
sargasso crossing. In my small craft the Old Breton Prayer: “O God, thy sea is so great /
And my boat is so small.” Waves thumped soft and hollow against my hull. Slowly I
drifted closer to my self, the one I had left lost in poem and song. The vast ocean of
experience lay out before me waiting for me to dive. Here was life waiting for me as I
had once waited for life. I had forgotten so much of that huge potential.
I had forgotten just enough of the “Love Poem” that when I met the true love of my life, I
was a blank page ready for whatever colors flowed. I was an empty cup ready to fill and
to drink. I just knew that she and I had a story to share between us. I eased into the
waters. I got to know her as an old friend, familiar and open. We cried together and
didn’t know quite why it felt so...important and right! She brought me back to that
awkward school boy fidgeting in his clothes as if I had known her all along. The poems
were mine, and now, as a man, as a full being, again so aware, I could open to her and
say, “Hi! I see you. I’ve been waiting for you for so long. I’m so grateful you are here!”