The first dollar I ever made as a writer was composing a love poem to a boy I’d never met. It sounds strange; I know. It does. But the girl who sat next to me in 8th grade history— the one with the blonde hair, crimped and teased; the one with the Tretorn shoes and the Hypercolor shirt; the one I had an undeniable crush on— she “hired” me to write a Valentine’s Day poem for her boyfriend. Maybe she didn’t know how she felt, or if she did she couldn’t find the words to say it. I was the kid with notebooks scrawled full of teenage angst in verse, so I contracted myself out to her as a freelance Aphrodite. I dribbled out some generic couplets about his eyes (which I’d never seen) and his hands (which I’d never held). I can almost guarantee I rhymed “miss” with “kiss” and made some shitty reference to true love found. She copied those lines in her own hand, delivered them between classes, and let him feel her up in the water fountain alcove. It was fraud. It was also the easiest dollar I ever made.
That was 25 years ago. I never have put the pen down, though my notebooks now are scrawled with an angst that’s decidedly more... middle-aged— same existential dread, but with more bills and less Pantera.
My wife never had to suffer my early scribblings. She never knew the 13 year old me. Though she has, in our time together, suffered plenty of proof reads and rewrites. This June marks our 16th wedding anniversary. The traditional gift of that year is silver holloware— a pitcher, or a sugar bowl, or some other trivial piece of decor that will never be used but only require polishing. She’s not that kind of girl. Sure, she likes things that shine, just not the kind you have to carry.
So, I've brought you this instead, my darlin’, my dulcinea, “my ain true love.” Sure, it’s no silver vase, but it’s not a con job sonnet either. And it might still require polish, but it’s truth, every word.
I go there in my mind sometimes, a crossroads Grange Hall in the dark of winter;
That first Maine winter where we learned to shoulder a cold we could not know in our proud Tennessee.
And they called it a contra dance though it looked a damn sight near an Appalachian square dance to us.
We did not know the songs, the steps, the people, only that the jig and reel is a common language.
Just newlyweds on a white pine floor that bent and bowed like waves under the weight of a buoyant Friday crowd;
Like two shipmates thrown into the swell and heave we did separate, swept along in the tide by direction of a caller,
The conductor of a storm that churned with an ordered lean and lilt.
And did you ever know, I wonder, how it tugged at me to see you go, changing partners, led away by the hand of another?
I moved unmoored and lost until somewhere in a trough, somewhere among the fiddle’s slur and the lowing of the bass I could just make out your voice.
And then, sweat beading on your forehead there above those laughing eyes and bourbon hot on your breath,
You’d be delivered back to me from the swirling currents,
But there was no lifeboat; only a sea of strangers and you holding fast to me held fast to you.
And I did not want for the calm of port; only to drown with you in that night,
Where I am drowning still.