Jerry Williams’ anthology, It’s Not You, It’s Me, is a collection of poems published by Overlook Press that covers it all: breaking up, cheating, loneliness, all things heart-wrenching. Mr. Williams’ introduction includes details of all of his failed relationships and clues to how he gathered up the particular poems used in this book. With Valentine’s Day approaching with all of its grandiose expectations I thought this would be a great time to feature an anti-valentine collection of poems. I had quite a list of poems to share and I’ve been approved for five so I hope I can cover all the bases in the following:
The Night Before Leaving
By: Linda Gregg
We sit at the kitchen table
waiting for some opening.
For the proper handling
Going deeper and deeper
into the hours,
like slow divers
sinking in their heavy gear.
We look at each other, gesturing
which way to go
through the lamplight,
garbage bags, dishes in the sink
and on the table.
We surface in a kind of dream.
The boat touches the ground.
Grinds onto the rocks.
We get out,
and it floats again.
This poem definitely produces the feeling of awkward silence to me. Two people who know their relationship is over are trying to pick up the pieces without speaking any more than necessary—hence the reference to scuba divers descending into the depths using gestures to communicate. The divers are a unique way to provide a pantomime of a relationship, it really brings about vivid ideas to the couple dealing with the mundane parts of parting ways—dishes in the sink, garbage bags. When all is said and done, you see the reference of a boat grinding onto the rocks, the grating emotions at the end before they part ways once and for all.
By: Ravi Shankar
Between us the vacuum of early evening,
A pot of rice and beans simmering on the stove.
Between us, for now, an easy domesticity.
The way we move past each other without words,
A thin breeze hitched up to bay windows,
Our footsteps rattling on the hardwood floors.
Words are there though, invisible yet sharp
As incisors pulled from a hound’s drooling jaw,
Words we can never have meant to speak,
But did, recanted, then spoke again.
Such words should have died in our lungs.
They have staked between us a fence of teeth.
The ending line is fabulous, in my opinion. Teeth which form words that create harm and build up the impenetrable wall of silence between the pair in the poem. This poem brings to mind a couple that has been together so long that separation no longer seems possible yet they are miserable in their relationship and remain silent on the subject as a result of all the harmful things that come out when they do attempt to speak.
By: Patricia Smith
Ouch. The first hurt is when I see you
standing in the lobby of my hotel, pacing,
hands shoved deep in your pockets. I realize then
that it is already too late, that common sense
is no friend of ours, and I consider saying
“I have fallen in love with you” and
touching the flat of my hand against your
grizzled cheek, just to see whether you would
run, or weep. The wine, of course, is desperate
ritual, a last chance to laugh it off and return,
shaky and solemn, to the clutches of home.
We sip and giggle, our eyes jumping,
and I hungry-stare at your left hand resting
on the table, wondering if it has memorized me.
Ouch. But I am in your arms, pressed against
the door of my room, drinking in all this wrong,
biting and kissing, clutching, but this is not home,
this is not home, this is breath, this is downbeat,
this is, oh my God, forgive me, this is my latest
religion. I fold myself under you, pass through
your skin, introduce my anxious tongues
to the swell of your belly, fill my fists
with soft steel-colored curls. And our kisses
are dirge rhythm then jazz quick, strutting
like bullies on the bass line of us.
My whole body is hurt, then hallelujah,
hurt, then hallelujah again,
regretting then reveling in this deception.
Somewhere it says thou shalt not commit this.
The last thing I want is this stranger inside me.
The next thing I want is this stranger inside me.
The only thing I want is this stranger inside me.
The only thing I want is this stranger.
There are too many of us in this one room. Your wife
stands cool and detached by the window, my husband
sits on the side of the bed with his head in his hands.
We weep and fuck, so sweet slowly, so flustered and
Needing, forgetting to eat or drink, ignoring the screams
from our respective corners. That nagging question,
“What are we doing?” is answered a million and one
times because it is what we keep doing, ouch, it is what
we can’t stop doing, shattering our lives and dancing
barefoot on the shards of glass. When I say I love you
it is the first poem I ever wrote, and when you answer
I love you too, it is the sound that poem makes in the open air.
Ouch. At the sight of us, your wife moans regret.
My husband stops his tears long enough to ask me
how I could do this. I twist my body into goodbye,
squeeze my eyes shut against the sight of you.
Your plane home guns its engines
just outside the window.
If this poem doesn’t make you uncomfortable, you need to read it again. I love that every stanza begins with “Ouch” and instead of titling it what it is: Infidility, it is titled the scene of the crime. Patricia Smith makes me bow my head when reading this, it’s like watching a bad car accident you can’t look away from, it is terrible and hurts and yet you must find out the conclusion. The lovers part knowing they’ve destroyed their relationships at home and the narrator tries her utmost to block out the vision of her infidelity, “squeezing the eyes shut” against him. This poem brings my nerves to a boil, Patricia Smith has done her job well.
The Pure Loneliness
By: Michael Ryan
Late at night, when you’re so lonely,
your shoulders curl toward the center of your body,
you call no one and you don’t call out.
This is dignity. This is the pure loneliness
that made Christ think he was God.
This is why lunatics smile at their thoughts.
Even the best moment, as you slip
half-a-foot deep into someone you like,
sinks through the loneliness in it
to the loneliness that’s not.
If you believe Christ hanging on the cross,
his arms spread as if to embrace
the Father he calls who is somewhere else,
you still might hear your own voice
at your next great embrace, thinking
loneliness in another can’t be touched,
like Christ’s voice at death answering Himself.
This poem has an eerie quality perfect for loneliness. I find it fascinating that he brings Jesus into the poem as a way to illustrate the idea of being and acting alone and feeling lonely in it. The first stanza can make you curl into yourself as you start reading, as if reacting to the poem and the line towards the end “loneliness in another can’t be touched” leaves you nodding to yourself in agreement. Michael Ryan executes the look, the feel, and the thoughts involved in being lonely in a relatively short poem which shows you the power of poetry.
Why I Will Not Get Out Of Bed
By: James Tate
My muscles unravel
like spools of ribbon:
there is not a shadow
of pain. I will pose
like this for the rest
of the afternoon,
for the remainder
of all noons. The rain
is making a valley
of my dim features.
I am in Albania,
I am on the Rhine.
It is autumn,
I smell the rain,
I see children running
I am honey,
I am several winds.
My nerves dissolve,
my limbs wither—
I don’t love you.
I don’t love you.
The idea that muscles unravel like spools is unusual and I like it. It is obvious that the body is being affected by depression and the emotions are dark as “nerves dissolve” and he tells himself “I don’t love you” when it is this love that has brought him to this state. This is the poem I leave you with, a poem that concludes all the negatives that transpire from losing your Love. It is painful and dark, and this poem is perfect for it.
There were several more poems I wanted to post, especially “Fuck You Poem #45” but I can only feature so many. If you enjoyed these sample poems and want to grab a copy for yourself or someone you know, then you may purchase a copy from Overlook Press for $14.95 (not including Shipping & Handling) by using the following link:
Thanks always for reading, may your Valentine’s Day provide a better experience than the poems above, and please click in tomorrow for more Poems Found by Poet Hound…