Pretty much everything I write is a love poem. Poems tackling subjects like Hurricane Sandy, rape, domestic violence, and depression might not read as such but the writing of them is rooted in my love for justice, the world, the earth, community, us.
Occasionally though, I do write a straight up romantic love piece. Or one of them writes me because really, poems about love and sex are the ones I find most intimidating. The level of skill it takes to get breathlessness, flutters, the throb, whispers of fingertips and the glow of spirits in synch on a page, to make readers feel it all again or for the first time--well, that is the mark of mastery to me. Ntozake Shange and Nizar Qabbani write poems like Marvin Gaye sings, the types of things that leave you flushed and wishing after reading them. I yearn to be able to do that well but it’s easier to experience love (or so I think) and call friends to giggle than it is to conduct that symphony of electric impulses and translate it into text. How do I write that 2 AM cacophony that made my neighbors look at me slyly when they said “good morning” because they knew it was? Daunting.
All of this to say that I was thrilled when North American Review accepted “Why You’ve Loved Me Ever Since You Started Thinking in English.” I don’t have many love poems published. The title of the piece was a gift from my husband. Once I asked him when he knew he loved me and he said When I started thinking in English. The sheer beauty. A man moving from his mother tongue to the language...tongue...of his lover. Internalizing her rhythms, thinking in her cadence. Yes. A poem had to come from that. Then I thought about everything my English carries--the lost voices, the found ones, the genius of a stolen people. I thought my language might somehow give my husband some of what he sensed was missing growing up as the sole person of color in a village in Belgium. Maybe, I thought, my language connects him to hidden things that the father he did not know past infancy bestowed.
So The poem arrived. A strut of culture and womanishness. I’m grateful it did.