If I was sent a love poem, how would I respond? Since this is a rhetorical question, the answer is obvious: send a love poem in return. But just because an answer is obvious, doesn’t mean doing it is easy. To begin, you need to have a source of love poems from which to select the response. If your poetry reading has pretty much consisted of “guy” poets like Rudyard Kipling and Robert Service, your choices can appear rather limited.
For it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Chuck him out, the brute!"
But it's "Saviour of 'is country," when the guns begin to shoot;
Or how about:
When you're wounded and left on Afghanistan's plains,
and the women come out to cut up what remains,
jest roll to your rifle and blow out your brains
and go to your gawd like a soldier.
I love it, but where’s the love? How can Kipling compare to the wistful longing of John Balaban’s If Only
The dogs leapt up, loped out to greet him.
this is how it should have been.
Or how about: The House of Dust 3:11:Conversation-Undertones, by Aiken
The question falls: we walk in silence together,
Thinking of that deep vault and of its secret . . .
This lamp, these books, this fire
Are suddenly blown away in a whistling darkness.
Deep walls crash down in the whirlwind of desire.
Clearly, Kipling and Service don’t compete with the intensive, soul searching, poets of love.
I wonder how I ever got started reading poetry in the first place. Pop was an oil field roughneck, then a lumberjack. In the company of hard men and hard workers, Pop wasn’t the hardest man, but he was the hardest worker. He was one of the guys, but he seemed apart. The speech of the men Pop worked with was earthy and graphic; when no women were about, it was purely filthy. Almost every other word from their mouths was the universal Anglo Saxon modifier that begins with an “f”. Pop was unique in this company in many ways, but the fact he would not, could not, use filthy words when he swore impressed the heck out of me. Mind you, he could swear, he was just a lot more creative in his choice of words.
Pop loved to read the poetry of Robert Service and Rudyard Kipling. Poems of men fighting, men dying, working and lazing, loving and losing, pursuing the virtuous and whoring, the glory of the Empire, the gore of the field hospital. Pop loved these poems, and I love them too.
In the age of the internet, I can disturb a few million electrons at the soft stroke of a key, and be transported as instantaneously as my cable connection allows to the complete works of both poets. So it’s funny how I often go to Pop’s books of their collected works, which passed on to me after Pop died, and pick up the book instead of striking the key.
As I turn the pages of the book, my eyes see, my mind absorbs, maybe even my heart feels what Pop once saw, thought, and felt. I know then that Kipling and Service were poets of love too. All that’s required is an expanded view of love that includes the things that they, and Pop and I through their words, found dear to our hearts. The honor driven service of the soldier to God, King, and country. The friend so steadfast that fear of death does not drive him from his buddy’s side. The kind of love that knows no bounds.
Like my love for Pop.