I’ve been thinking long and hard about something. There is lots of talk in lots of circles about how to be a successful artist, you have to put yourself out there on social media in really fancy ways, using algorithms and heart monitors and crinkly little slinky things that measure the exact precipitation in the air, the number of teenage boys who have secretly been in love with one of the Beatles, and the amount of toe jam sequestered between the average centipede’s toes, and crunch these numbers to ascertain the precise moment in the day when you should post a video of yourself knitting to reach out to your followers. If you do it just right, you can have 40,000 followers in a week, and if you do it really, really right, you can ascend and become a guru (with or without a long white beard–facial hair is optional.) Fuck. That. Noise. Good God. Life is demanding enough without making social media and blogging into a full time job. I can’t. I just can’t. I know some people who have fun with this sort of thing, and are really good at it. I admire the heck out of them for it. But no, no, no, that ain’t me babe. The only time I ever went viral is when I got mono in high school after I kissed that weird kid on the sketchy roller coaster. I post things because I think it’s fun, and I want to connect with people, and sometimes, I just want to share a nice photo of my soup. Is that so wrong? To want to show people your lentils? There are serial killers in this world. There are street mimes. There is a Donald Trump, for God’s sake. Do we really need to get so up in arms about tasteful photographs of warm, hearty, healthy winter foods? Do we really need to criminalize posting cat photos at midnight when no one is watching, so you probably won’t even get three likes? I’m terrible at this game. I just want to write things, post videos of kittens attacking bemused, patient crocodiles, and eat my lentils, not necessarily in that order.
When I can’t sleep, because I have to teach a four hour class today, and why would I sleep when I could stay up worrying all night that I might not sleep, I finally give up and write silly love poems. I imagine this will be included in So Speak the Stars, a collection of love poems I’m working on, a tribute to the great love of my life. I have quite a caboodle of them now. They all say the same thing. I became a writer because of this person. I mean I always wrote, but I started getting good at it by trying to say I love you in a way that captured what was actually in my heart. I still haven’t come close, but I’ve sold some books now, so that’s cool.
I wrote this one in response to the weird phenomenon that has been happening (phenomenon is too big a word for this, but whatever) where strangers send me love letters. I think I may have been hacked by the “send people you don’t know love letters” hackers. Maybe they’d ask me for my bank account number if I responded. I don’t know. But anyway, one of them persisted for weeks and finally crowned his flurry of unanswered love letters with a marriage proposal, after which I blocked him. Last night, I wanted to write something because I couldn’t sleep, and my little brain said, “Why don’t you write that dude who asked you to marry him a letter?” So I did.
I’ve been having a revelation lately. I’ve had just about everything a human being can ever have. And nothing, nothing has ever made my life feel like pure magic except for love. Love is where it’s at. Love is the only true treasure. Really, it’s the only thing I want. And I hope that everything I do, say, and think somehow plays into the magic of love.
Last night, I had the joy of sitting next to Karen Joy Fowler at dinner. We talked about how publication doesn’t change your life in any real way, about how you are just the same old you on the other side. I thought I felt that way because I wasn’t a big writer, but Karen is, and she feels that way too. You would think that publishing books and having events that make you the star of the show would make you happy, but it doesn’t, not unless you do it from a place of love. If I go to an event worried about how many people will show up, and if I’ll do a good job, and how many books I’ll sell, it’s about as fun as cleaning toilets used to be when I was a maid. But if I go, and I think, “I don’t care how many people show up. If one person shows up, I’m going to do everything I can to give him or her the love in my heart,” the event is pure magic.
But I digress. This one goes out to the one I love.
I could say my heart
belongs to someone else,
but that would be a half truth, at best.
A quarter truth. A tenth truth. Here
is the whole shebang: Both hemispheres
of my brain also belong to him
as well as my torso, my toenails,
and the prickly bumps on my kneecaps.
My hair follicles are in love.
If you study my fingerprints
under a blue light supplied
by a medium who specializes
in languages spoken mostly
by dead men, you will see
that the whorls spell my beloved’s
name in ten forgotten alphabets.
When I went to the dentist, he asked me
if I had noticed my teeth were buzzing,
and if I had, did I realize
they were humming
my beloved’s favorite song?
My doctor worried when she saw
that my entrails had twisted themselves
into a reasonable facsimile
of the date of his birth. Twice,
my waxer has asked me to please stop
tweezing my eyebrows to replicate
his smile. But I’m not. They just grow
that way. Every cell in my body bends
in his direction. If I were a map,
I’d be a boring one. Of course
every road would end with him.
You’ve heard that one before. And yes,
every river would run into his ocean.
He would be the guru sitting
on the snowy peak
of every single mountain.
The moose in the forests
would constantly bellow
his name. At the heart
of each pyramid, you would find
a mummy, and when you opened
its coffin, a pharaoh him would sit up.
You’d be besotted instantly. A thousand
bucks says you’d love him too, on sight.
Do you get me? I’m a hopeless case,
a goner. Do not resuscitate. It’s done.
I’m his. There is no going back, not when
the bumps of my spine mimic his laugh in braille.
When my therapist asked me why, I said:
“He drives the darkness from my bones.
He makes me walk on water.”
People say I’m rising.
Every time they clap,
line up, ask me to write my name
I remember this plastic bag I saw blowing across the park
back in New York when you and I missed one another by a minute.
Remember? I waited for you all day in a café
watching out a window
terrified you might pass and somehow
I wouldn’t see.
At night I think back, wonder if I jinxed us by being scared
or if I let the devil in when out of kindness
I turned to speak to that man
who wouldn’t leave me be.
I never saw you
just that red bag and
thought it was like me without you
beautiful to look at, ethereal even,
soaring, riding breezes, carefree,
but heading nowhere fast
an iron gate
a sharpened picket fence.
It was inflated
full of wind
full of everything that doesn’t matter
full of nothing.
I watched that hollow thing dance
until it was a red speck on the horizon
It could have been the morning star,
but I knew that it wasn’t.
It was a bit of trash
a jot of mundanity
an empty thing playing at being