Love poems I love

I love poems whose lines I want to catch and cling to and use again.  I love poems that surprise me, poems that catch me off guard, poems that make me laugh or gasp or cry.  I love poems that make me want to read them aloud to whoever is near me, poems I want to send to the people I love, poems that teach me something about what it means to love, poems that teach me something about myself.  I love these poems–these non-cheesy love poems that catch my heart with their humor and their heartbreak.  I hope you love them too…

Note: I don’t own the rights to any of these poems–but if you love them, you should buy the wonderful books or the wonderful magazines that they are published in…because poets and publishers need a little love too..

A love poem about the strange things we love about each other, and the strange ways we show it.

by Matthew Olzmann

Here’s what I’ve got, the reasons why our marriage
might work: Because you wear pink but write poems
about bullets and gravestones. Because you yell
at your keys when you lose them, and laugh,
loudly, at your own jokes. Because you can hold a pistol,
gut a pig. Because you memorize songs, even commercials
from thirty years back and sing them when vacuuming.
You have soft hands. Because when we moved, the contents
of what you packed were written inside the boxes.
Because you think swans are overrated.
Because you drove me to the train station. You drove me
to Minneapolis. You drove me to Providence.
Because you underline everything you read, and circle
the things you think are important, and put stars next
to the things you think I should think are important,
and write notes in the margins about all the people
you’re mad at and my name almost never appears there.
Because you make that pork recipe you found
in the Frida Kahlo Cookbook. Because when you read
that essay about Rilke, you underlined the whole thing
except the part where Rilke says love means to deny the self
and to be consumed in flames. Because when the lights
are off, the curtains drawn, and an additional sheet is nailed
over the windows, you still believe someone outside
can see you. And one day five summers ago,
when you couldn’t put gas in your car, when your fridge
was so empty—not even leftovers or condiments—
there was a single twenty-ounce bottle of Mountain Dew,
which you paid for with your last damn dime
because you once overheard me say that I liked it.
from Rattle #31, Summer 2009

A love poem for our past selves, and the moments that have past by….

Wherever You Are
by Jeffrey Harrison

When I kissed you in the hall
of the youth hostel we fell
into the linen closet laughing
twenty years ago and I still
remember though not very often
the taste of cheap wine in your mouth
like raspberries the freckle
between your breasts and the next day
when we went to Versailles I hardly
saw anything because I was looking
at you the whole time your face I can’t
quite remember then I kissed you
good-bye and you got on a train
and I never saw you again just
one day and one letter long gone
explaining never mind but sometimes
I wonder where you are probably
married with children like me happy
with a new last name a whole life
having nothing to do with that day
but everybody has something like it
a small thing they can’t help
going back to and it’s not even about
choices and where your life might
have gone but just that it’s there
far enough away so it can be seen
as just something that happened almost
to someone else an episode from
a movie we walk out of blinded
back into our lives

A love poem for mothers and kind short-lived spiders…

by Sarah Frelight

I’m driving home from school when the radio talk
turns to E.B. White, his birthday, and I exit
the here and now of the freeway at rush hour,

travel back into the past, where my mother is reading
to my sister and me the part about Charlotte laying her eggs
and dying, and though this is the fifth time Charlotte

has died, my mother is crying again, and we’re laughing
at her because we know nothing of loss and its sad math,
how every subtraction is exponential, how each grief

multiplies the one preceding it, how the author tried
seventeen times to record the words, She died alone
without crying, seventeen takes and a short walk during

which he called himself ridiculous, a grown man crying
for a spider he’d spun out of the silk thread of invention —
wondrous how those words would come back and make

him cry, and, yes, wondrous to hear my mother’s voice
ten years after the day she died — the catch, the rasp,
the gathering up before she could say to us, I’m ok.

A love poem for women, from a woman, who knows how hard love can be…

The Type
by Sarah Kay

Everyone needs a place. It shouldn’t be inside of someone else. -Richard Siken

If you grow up the type of woman men want to look at,
you can let them look at you. But do not mistake eyes for hands.

Or windows.
Or mirrors.

Let them see what a woman looks like.
They may not have ever seen one before.

If you grow up the type of woman men want to touch,
you can let them touch you.

Sometimes it is not you they are reaching for.
Sometimes it is a bottle. A door. A sandwich. A Pulitzer. Another woman.

But their hands found you first. Do not mistake yourself for a guardian.
Or a muse. Or a promise. Or a victim. Or a snack.

You are a woman. Skin and bones. Veins and nerves. Hair and sweat.
You are not made of metaphors. Not apologies. Not excuses.

If you grow up the type of woman men want to hold,
you can let them hold you.

All day they practice keeping their bodies upright–
even after all this evolving, it still feels unnatural, still strains the muscles,

holds firm the arms and spine. Only some men will want to learn
what it feels like to curl themselves into a question mark around you,

admit they do not have the answers
they thought they would have by now;

some men will want to hold you like The Answer.
You are not The Answer.

You are not the problem. You are not the poem
or the punchline or the riddle or the joke.

Woman. If you grow up the type men want to love,
You can let them love you.

Being loved is not the same thing as loving.
When you fall in love, it is discovering the ocean

after years of puddle jumping. It is realizing you have hands.
It is reaching for the tightrope when the crowds have all gone home.

Do not spend time wondering if you are the type of woman
men will hurt. If he leaves you with a car alarm heart, you learn to sing along.

It is hard to stop loving the ocean. Even after it has left you gasping, salty.
Forgive yourself for the decisions you have made, the ones you still call

mistakes when you tuck them in at night. And know this:
Know you are the type of woman who is searching for a place to call yours.

Let the statues crumble.
You have always been the place.

You are a woman who can build it yourself.
You were born to build.

Another love poem by Sarah Kay, this time to a future daughter, from a future mother whose courage is matched only by her vulnerability…


A love poem on the responsibility and the rewards of loving…

How Falling in Love is like Owning a Dog
by Taylor Mali

First of all, it’s a big responsibility,
especially in a city like New York.
So think long and hard before deciding on love.
On the other hand, love gives you a sense of security:
when you’re walking down the street late at night
and you have a leash on love
ain’t no one going to mess with you.
Because crooks and muggers think love is unpredictable.
Who knows what love could do in its own defense?

On cold winter nights, love is warm.
It lies between you and lives and breathes
and makes funny noises.
Love wakes you up all hours of the night with its needs.
It needs to be fed so it will grow and stay healthy.

Love doesn’t like being left alone for long.
But come home and love is always happy to see you.
It may break a few things accidentally in its passion for life,
but you can never be mad at love for long.

Is love good all the time? No! No!
Love can be bad. Bad, love, bad! Very bad love.

Love makes messes.
Love leaves you little surprises here and there.
Love needs lots of cleaning up after.
Somethimes you just want to get love fixed.
Sometimes you want to roll up a piece of newspaper
and swat love on the nose,
not so much to cause pain,
just to let love know Don’t you ever do that again!

Sometimes love just wants to go out for a nice long walk.
Because love loves exercise. It will run you around the block
and leave you panting, breathless. Pull you in different directions
at once, or wind itself around and around you
until you’re all wound up and you cannot move.

But love makes you meet people wherever you go.
People who have nothing in common but love
stop and talk to each other on the street.

Throw things away and love will bring them back,
again, and again, and again.
But most of all, love needs love, lots of it.
And in return, love loves you and never stops

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Birthday essay: 1/31/16


“I count broken umbrellas after every thunderstorm,
and I fall asleep repeating the words thank you.

I will wake you up early
with my heavy heartbeat.
You will say, Can’t we just sleep in, and I will say,
No, trust me. You don’t want to miss a thing.”-Sarah Kay, Love Poem #137


My friend Nancy celebrates her (February)  birthday by jumping into a cold body of water.  She’s in her sixties with long hair, lanky limbs, and a body still strong enough to climb Cascade peaks with mountaineering gear strapped to her back.  She told me that this birthday tradition reminds her that’s she’s still alive, keeping her sharp for the coming year.

One year I was among the friends she invited to jump with her.  The closest body of water was Railroad Creek, a stream that ran beside the mountain village where we lived.  We stood on its bank in knee deep snow, wearing sweatshirts and jackets, clutching towels.  The wind gusted against our bodies as we began to shed layers.  On Nancy’s count we walked into the water, submerging our faces and shoulders beneath it.  For a moment, I felt my body go stone stiff, then prickle in pain.  When I was able to gather enough strength to stand again, sensation rushed to my limbs so strongly that I could feel my blood pumping like a river from my heart to my fingers.

“You’re going to feel like jumping again,”  Nancy’s husband Mark told us, “But don’t.  The second time is always way worse.”


There are people who claim to dread their birthdays.  When I’ve mentioned my upcoming thirtieth birthday, a number of friends and co-workers have responded that they try to ignore their own dates of birth.  It’s a sentiment I struggle to understand:  Has our culture become so obsessed with youth that we’re afraid of our own accumulating years?   Or is it that we know each year we live brings us closer to our death?  Are we burdened by the trips we didn’t take, the money we haven’t saved, or the stories we didn’t write?


Yesterday Peter and I drove to Acadia National Park.  We let the sun wash over our mid-winter skin, warming our cheeks and backs as we scrambled rocks slicked by patches of snow. We climbed Gorham Mountain, walked to Otter Cove, and hiked along Otter Cliffs.  The ocean roared, throwing the smell of salt into the air, and we stayed by its side, unable to stop watching the rising tide as wave after wave enveloped the rocks beneath us, splitting gray water into millions of white bubbles.

I know it’s a luxury to love something so fierce, to safely watch water strong enough to break a boat or sweep a body out to sea, but, still, I find myself seeking summits and seasides.  I need the fierceness of unpaved places to bind the bigness of my worries to the confines of a body whose breath and blood sometimes fall in rhythm with water large enough to wash it out to sea.


My grandmother, whose name was also Nancy, shares a birthday with me.  Although she spent most of her adult life in Metro-Detroit, she grew up near the sea and when she returned to it, she was a slim small figure in a bathing cap, who knew how to match the waves, moving through them like lace.

In a photograph taken shortly before she died (of a brain aneurysm at age 49), Grandma Nancy sits on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean with her legs tucked into her chest and her arms wrapped around her knees. She looks back over her shoulders, with one eyebrow raised at the photographer. Her short hair blows in the wind. The waves around her are white capped and the water is a grayish blue color which matches her pants.


Is it because my grandmother died young that I believe we should celebrate each year we’re given by moving our bodies and visiting places that silence our wandering minds?  I don’t know–but I do know that jumping into Railroad Creek with my friend Nancy was a kind of death and resurrection, a reminder of the pulse of blood and breath that course through us, animating each of our brave movements.  And I hope, as I enter my thirtieth year, I remember to walk and to breathe, to listen to the waves, and scramble the rocks.  I hope I keep running, planning, dreaming, wandering, and remembering the lives that passed before mine.

Tonight Peter and I will drive to Portland for dinner and music.  We will get dressed up in our city clothes and walk sidewalks lit by streetlights.  We will listen to Michigan musician Chris Bathgate play at a Portland theatre, and when he sings “Calvary”, belting the chorus, “ain’t it good to be alive,” we will let the words wash over us–like waves.

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by Barbara Crooker

Another October. The maples have done their slick trick
of turning yellow almost overnight; summer’s hazy skies
are cobalt blue. My friend has come in from the West,
where it’s been a year of no mercy: chemotherapy, bone
marrow transplant, more chemotherapy, and her hair
came out in fistfuls, twice. Bald as a pumpkin.
And then, the surgeon’s knife.
But she’s come through it all, annealed by fire,
calm settled in her bones like the morning mist in valleys
and low places, and her hair’s returned, glossy
as a horse chestnut kept in a shirt pocket.
Today a red fox ran down through the corn stubble;
he vanished like smoke. I want to praise things
that cannot last. The scarlet and orange leaves
are already gone, blown down by a cold rain,
crushed and trampled. They rise again in leaf meal
and wood smoke. The Great Blue Heron’s returned to the pond,
settles in the reeds like a steady flame.
Geese cut a wedge out of the sky, drag the gray days
behind them like a skein of old wool.
I want to praise everything brief and finite.
Overhead, the Pleiades fall into place; Orion rises.
Great Horned Owls muffle the night with their calls;
night falls swiftly, tucking us in her black velvet robe,
the stitches showing through, all those little lights,
our little lives, rising and falling.

This August in Washington, fires bloomed in the Railroad Creek valley where Peter and I lived for two years.  In Michigan, my father’s flaring pancreas sent him to the emergency room twice–and in Maine, Peter and I worked forty, fifty, or sixty hours a week, trying to save money during our states’ busy season.  Peter and I spent our first month of marriage worrying about places and people we loved, while we plodded through the grind of the workweek, too far away to take in friends chased from their homes by fire or to sit shifts by Dad’s hospital bed.  We kept our phones in our pockets.  We studied forest service fire maps and lit beeswax prayer candles at our kitchen table.

Since August, things have gotten better.  Holden Village survived this summers’ fires and Dad is home and feeling healthy.  These days, the air has a brisk snap and Peter and I have woken a handful of times to see frost sparkling the meadow around our cabin.  Peter put our vegetable garden to bed last week, and I’ve been filling the chest freezer with peppers, tomatoes, and apple cider, and stocking the root seller with potatoes, onions, and winter squash.  Summer farmers’ markets are slowing down and by the end of the month both Peter and my workweeks will winnow down to less then thirty hours.  Soon, Peter will start baking bread for a nearby store and I will begin shaping the final assignments for the online class I’m teaching.  It’s October, and I, like Barbara Crooker want to praise things that cannot last. The scarlet and orange leaves…blown down by a cold rain, crushed and trampled [that will] rise again in leaf meal and wood smoke.  I want to breathe the autumn air drifting in my open windows, to hear to the crinkle of leaves catching the wind, and to smell dirt dampened by dew.  I want to put the crock pot on in the morning and walk into my home in the evening to the smell of sweet potatoes and ginger simmering into a soup.  Our lives rise and fall, while we hang onto love, to the changing seasons, to each day that passes, hoping to preserve its shape and story.


Peter in Acadia


a marriage prayer flag our landlords’ gave us, and a hawk one of my students carved last year as an end of school gift



Peter won the green pumpkin in a 5K at the Common Ground Fair


Hiking in Baxter State Park




Autumn looks good on Peter

I’m getting married on Friday!

It’s almost midnight three days before my wedding and I am re-reading Chapter 23 of Charles Baxter’s Feast of Love: the section where one of the novel’s main characters, Bradley, finally meets the women he’ll end the novel with.  The chapter is brief and beautiful and Baxter’s account of Bradley’s feelings is one of the truest narrations I’ve read of the feeling of deep comfort I’ve discovered and held fast to in my partnership with Peter.

Baxter writes:

“Here’s a profundity, the best I can do: sometimes you just know… You just know when two people belong together. I had never really experienced that odd happenstance before, but this time, with her, I did. Before, I was always trying to make my relationships work by means of willpower and forced affability. This time I didn’t have to strive for anything. A quality of ease spread over us. Whatever I was, well, that was apparently what she wanted… To this day I don’t know exactly what she loves about me and that’s because I don’t have to know. She just does. It was the entire menu of myself. She ordered all of it.”― Charles Baxter, The Feast of Love

I love Baxter’s description of love because it’s so countercultural.  It’s not about striving or sex or attaining the unattainable.  It’s not about courting or proving your own worth through the status of a significant other.  It’s about partnership.  It’s about coziness and contentedness. It’s about finding the person whose presence comforts you and claiming them as home.

Friday, I’ll marry Peter–Peter: who shares my love of running and mountains, poetry and food, gardening and afternoons spent outdoors, Peter: who puts my heart at ease with his gentleness and kindness, Peter: whose curiosity fascinates me, Peter: whose energy motivates me, Peter: who has wanted me to be nothing but myself since the first days of our friendship.  We’ll recite vows in front of our friends and family on the slope of a hill beside a Darrows Barn in Damariscotta, Maine.  We’ll leave the ceremony hand-and-hand with our futures and our families legally and spiritually bound together.  I’m so excited and so grateful.



“There is only one question:
how to love this world.”-Mary Oliver

In March there were no snow days or school breaks.  The cold bore down, the snow remained deep–but the days got longer and lighter.  Peter and I stayed busy.  I began running with Peter after school and went to a weekend workshop on food security.  Peter started studying to renew his Wilderness First Responder certification and began working at the creamery where he lives (in addition to his job making soups at Rising Tide co-op.) One weekend Peter and I went to Bangor to visit his aunt and uncle.  One weekend we celebrated our first Maine Maple Sunday.  The days slipped by.

There’s something surprising about the first warm day of spring.  Today the temperature soared to sixty degrees and my students found crocus shoots under the snow.  When I got home from work, my landlords were sitting in plastic chairs on the lawn drinking beer, listening to spring peepers calling in the pond, and watching wild turkeys trotting up the road.  Their dog Suzy rolled on the damp ground and pawed at a sunflower trestle that had recently surfaced out of the melting snow.

The cultivation of hope feels so natural during this season of emerging soil, when trees bud and the smell of earth rises out of the melting snow.  We celebrate rebirth and renewal: spring equinox, running sap, and Easter Sunday.  We begin to believe that we can plant ourselves in something solid and strong.  We look with reverence to the soil–the richness of melting snow, warmed by the early spring sun.

I know next week there’s snow in the forecast so I’m trying to grasp onto the warmth of this afternoon.  I’m hoping that when the temperature drops again I can continue to kindle dreams of fireflies and hummingbirds, crickets and morel mushrooms, wild strawberries and moon-drenched nights warm enough to sit beside the pond with a beer.  Summer is coming–and no matter how busy my life gets, no matter how bogged down with work and wedding plans I become, no matter how much it snows next week–the earth still tilts more toward the sun with each day that passes.


by Mary Oliver

a black bear
has just risen from sleep
and is staring

down the mountain.
All night
in the brisk and shallow restlessness
of early spring

I think of her,
her four black fists
flicking the gravel,
her tongue

like a red fire
touching the grass,
the cold water.
There is only one question:

how to love this world.
I think of her
like a black and leafy ledge

to sharpen her claws against
the silence
of the trees.
Whatever else

my life is
with its poems
and its music
and its glass cities,

it is also this dazzling darkness
down the mountain,
breathing and tasting;

all day I think of her—
her white teeth,
her wordlessness,
her perfect love.

Peter and the goats

Peter and the goats

The kids are trying to nibble on Peter's hair

The kids are trying to nibble on Peter’s hair

Muggle--a kid from Vermont, recently purchased by Peter's landlord Jessie

Muggle–a kid from Vermont, recently purchased by Peter’s landlord Jessie

Spring greeting

Spring greeting



Andre smells spring

Andre smells spring

How weightless words are when nothing will do


When I first began to look for words to describe Detroit, I looked to poet Philip Levine.  In graduate school, I kept his books piled beside my bedside.  Breathe.  Seven Years from Somewhere.  The Names of the Lost.  What Work Is.  A Walk with Thomas Jefferson. I memorized whole stanzas of his work without even trying and kept my favorite passages close to my tongue.

I love Philip Levine’s poetry for breathing life into landscapes I know: Detroit, Belle Isle, and the Packard Plant.  I love how poems like “What Work Is” place anger close to nostalgia, and righteousness close to love.  I love how Levine writes about smokestacks and polluted rivers, angry brothers, and work-torn men.  I love how his poetry makes me feel closer to the world I grew up in and the people who inhabit it.

I’ve always wanted to hear Philip Levine read his poems in person.  I wanted to shake his hand after a reading.  I wanted to tell him how his poems empowered me to write about Detroit.  I wanted to tell him that once I sent a copy of his book to a friend from Detroit who was in prison and that that friend read one of Levine’s poems each day until he was let out.  I wanted to tell him that the semester before I finished grad school I found a signed copy of his 1979 book 7 Years from Somewhere at a library book sale inscribed with the words “with hope for our poems and our lives,”–exactly the words I needed to hear to carry me through my next stretch of uncertainty.

Yesterday, Philip Levine died at age 87 of pancreatic cancer.  I heard the news early in the morning.  I believe that when a life ends, it leaves behind a void, like the stillness after a storm or the piece of a photograph that gets cropped from a frame.  Philip Levine will write no new poems.  I will never hear him read.  The poet who had so much of an impact on me will now be the late Philip Levine, a great twentieth century poet, a voice for Detroit when the city still brimmed with industry.  But with all that loss, I’m also taken aback by how much is left, how many pieces are still in the frame, how many traces of the storm can still be seen.  Yesterday I re-read several of Levine’s books, dog-earring poems that still make me want to read and write about the homes I’ve had and the places and people I long for.  A loss.  A life lived well.  Stacks of books written by a man who loved the same city I do.  I don’t know what else to say.  How weightless words are when nothing else will do.

You Can Have It by Philip Levine

My brother comes home from work
and climbs the stairs to our room.
I can hear the bed groan and his shoes drop
one by one. You can have it, he says.

The moonlight streams in the window
and his unshaven face is whitened
like the face of the moon. He will sleep
long after noon and waken to find me gone.

Thirty years will pass before I remember
that moment when suddenly I knew each man
has one brother who dies when he sleeps
and sleeps when he rises to face this life,

and that together they are only one man
sharing a heart that always labors, hands
yellowed and cracked, a mouth that gasps
for breath and asks, Am I gonna make it?

All night at the ice plant he had fed
the chute its silvery blocks, and then I
stacked cases of orange soda for the children
of Kentucky, one gray boxcar at a time

with always two more waiting. We were twenty
for such a short time and always in
the wrong clothes, crusted with dirt
and sweat. I think now we were never twenty.

In 1948 in the city of Detroit, founded
by de la Mothe Cadillac for the distant purposes
of Henry Ford, no one wakened or died,
no one walked the streets or stoked a furnace,

for there was no such year, and now
that year has fallen off all the old newspapers,
calendars, doctors’ appointments, bonds,
wedding certificates, drivers licenses.

The city slept. The snow turned to ice.
The ice to standing pools or rivers
racing in the gutters. Then bright grass rose
between the thousands of cracked squares,

and that grass died. I give you back 1948.
I give you all the years from then
to the coming one. Give me back the moon
with its frail light falling across a face.

Give me back my young brother, hard
and furious, with wide shoulders and a curse
for God and burning eyes that look upon
all creation and say, You can have it.

Gospel by Philip Levine

The new grass rising in the hills,
the cows loitering in the morning chill,
a dozen or more old browns hidden
in the shadows of the cottonwoods
beside the streambed. I go higher
to where the road gives up and there’s
only a faint path strewn with lupine
between the mountain oaks. I don’t
ask myself what I’m looking for.
I didn’t come for answers
to a place like this, I came to walk
on the earth, still cold, still silent.
Still ungiving, I’ve said to myself,
although it greets me with last year’s
dead thistles and this year’s
hard spines, early blooming
wild onions, the curling remains
of spider’s cloth. What did I bring
to the dance? In my back pocket
a crushed letter from a woman
I’ve never met bearing bad news
I can do nothing about. So I wander
these woods half sightless while
a west wind picks up in the trees
clustered above. The pines make
a music like no other, rising and
falling like a distant surf at night
that calms the darkness before
first light. “Soughing” we call it, from
Old English, no less. How weightless
words are when nothing will do.

Wonder and Other Survival Skills

“The din of modern life constantly pulls our attention away from anything that is slight, subtle, or ephemeral.  We might look briefly at the slant of light in the sky while walking through a parking lot, but then we’re onto the next thing: the next appointment, the next flicking headlight, the next task, the next thing that has to get done by the end of the day.

But maybe it’s just for that reason–how busy we are and how distracted and disconnected we are–that wonder really is a survival skill.  It might be the thing that reminds us of what really matters, and of the greater systems that our lives are completely dependent on.  It might be the thing that helps us build an emotional connection–an intimacy–with our surroundings that in turn, would make us want to do anything we can to protect them.  It might build our inner reserves, give us strength to turn outward and to meet those challenges with grace.”- H. Emerson Blake, Wonder and Other Survival Skills

My landlord's lovely home/studio, all glittering in morning light

My landlord’s lovely home/studio, all glittering in morning light

Snow Day Crock-Pot Soup

Snow Day Crock-Pot Soup

Root Vegetables--smitten with purple potatoes

Root Vegetables–smitten with purple potatoes

Little cabin next to the big glass studio

Little cabin next to the big glass studio

Peter works to wedding plan on our day off

Peter works to wedding plan on our day off