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Love would have...
He stands here before me and says, “I love you.” For what it’s worth, he means it.
For what it’s worth.
A long time ago,
Love would have ridden a horse,
a beautiful golden-brown stallion.
He would have ridden across the country
and met a girl he loved,
and promised to come back to her
and take her away with him,
and have ridden away with the cattle
into the dangerous country-land,
leaving her with a kiss.
And she would have waited,
rising every morning
with his promise in her heart.
He would have ridden,
and have thought of her at sunset,
when he saw the wildflowers in bloom.
He would have gone back to her,
having been mostly faithful
(some nights he would have been lonely,
or needed some comfort),
and she would have run out to meet him,
and he would have saved some money
and could have helped her pack her things.
He would say, “My life is hard, are you sure you want it?”
and she would have kissed him,
and they would have gone away together.
There would have been sicknesses
and pregnancies and long, lonely absences.
There would be hard winters
and good harvests,
and some days when he came home with a dress for her
and some molasses
and some wildflowers he’d found.
Now love can’t ride a horse, nor drive a car. He crosses oceans and continents, and makes no promises.
He says, “When you get the money, you come to me,” and he watches his sunsets with lots of men, making jokes about sex and the women they’ve met, and he thinks of her once in a while.
A long time ago,
Love would have come in through the windows at night,
and spoken in whispers
because her father didn’t approve.
A long time ago,
she would have written notes for him,
and left them for him at work,
and he would have noticed.
Her father would have warned him to stay away,
and it would have hurt her and thrilled her,
and he would have gone, with a look in his eye
that meant he loved her,
that he always would love her.
They would have planned together secretly,
and in the middle of some night,
she would have kissed her mother goodbye,
with promises to visit when her father wasn’t around,
and she would have left father a note telling him
she loved him,
and she would have run away with Love.
They have would married,
and have been happy, and unhappy,
and have fought, and have made love
in the middle of the night,
and they would have been together.
Now love makes no motion to marry, and he says, “I have to talk to your father?” He’s afraid to come in through the windows at night, because he values his sleep, and she’d be too afraid to run away with him, if he’d even offer.
Love was once dressed in sturdy clothes,
rough and not entirely clean,
Love once worked with barbed wire
wearing leather gloves,
climbed through the window at night,
watched her sleep and kissed her to wake her.
Love was once a working man,
who kept a bit of poetry or two on a scrap of paper,
and who read them to her when the moon was full
and he’d had a good dinner.
Love was once a man with secrets,
and a man who’d make love to her gently and violently,
a man who’d look at her silently with clenched teeth
when he was angry.
Now love is emotional, love wears collared shirts or brand-name T-shirts, love wears jeans that tear at gentlest nostalgic touch with barbed wire, jeans that are not denim, that have holes at the knees.
Love cannot stay with her because he has to go home to his parents, has to go to school to become a white-coat doctor or a white-coat lab scientist, or a white-collar worker. Love can’t take risks because he has a beautiful future plan that gets him a good job and a two-story house, and children on the honor roll. Love can’t take risks because he needs security, all the same thinking himself the one to change the world.
Love once realized that his world
could be a hundred miles,
six thousand, in distance,
but that in his heart was one girl,
and in his heart was Love.
But something happened to him.
Somebody, or something,
words, or the modern media,
or the popular culture,
or perhaps simply Time itself,
beat him down
and stripped him of all his decent clothes,
and kept him immobile until his strength flowed away.
It whispered to him promises of cleanliness and wealth, and comfort, and health,
and in his mind her image faded.
In his mind,
she was still wonderful,
but she was not
Something for which he would sacrifice,
Not someone he would,
Not someone he could
Love the way he would have loved her a long time ago.
…. But he stands here before me and says, “I love you.”
for what it’s worth,
he means it.