1077: “Something About…” by Peter Kahn

20240319 Slowdown

1077: “Something About…” by Peter Kahn


I’m Major Jackson and this is The Slowdown.

Why is it so hard to write a love poem? Well, I think sentimentality is often the culprit. Often in love poems, language doesn’t rise to the occasion of feeling, and leaves emotion as an idea, an abstract notion rather than a felt experience. So, if I attempt a Petrarchan sonnet, I’ve already submitted to a tradition in which the act of writing about unrequited love is more important than me telling my beloved how awesome she is. The artifice of the poem supersedes the intention.

Maybe, too, those of us who dare climb this mountain also possess a false belief that our heartfelt emotions are distinctive; if nothing else, they are more about the self rather than the beloved. Fatedly, Petrarch fell in love with a married woman, Laura de Sade, on Good Friday. He took the revelation of his muse at St. Clare's Church in Avignon as a sign that God was leading his soul.

Most of the poems are about, well, him; “And my heart trembles with a storm of sighs / When on your beauty bend my burning eyes.” They are all about his ability to feel, about the impact of a woman with whom he never really shared a full conversation, not once. That’s one of the pitfalls of love poetry; it’s often kind of narcissistic.

But then, the tone of a love poem raises questions about the limits of swooning. Petrarch is full of dramatic collapsing: “I freeze and burn, love is bitter and sweet, my sighs are tempests and my tears are floods.”

Today’s poem, by contrast, avoids sentimentality by showing how our perceptions change when we fall in love, how the inner and outer worlds come to reflect each other. This one is a poem destined to be read at weddings this summer, with feeling.

“Something About…”
by Peter Kahn

an alternate left-handed Golden Shovel after John Murillo

Something tilts like a star standing
on its hip. It’s not
about the drift of her eyes. 
The smoke of her smile.
A surge twinkling the water
that 90-percents you. It’s the 
hiss of waves slapping sand, the heat
of her skin. The future
lurking with a long, healthy shadow.
The hum of breath
between breaths when you wake
up next to her sleeping, 
notes spilling like water edging
its way over a tin roof’s lip.

““Something About...”” by Peter Kahn from LITTLE KINGS, © 2020, Peter Kahn. Used by permission of Nine Arches Press.