How much do you love me?

The Promise

With the second drink, at the restaurant,
holding hands on the bare table,
we are at it again, renewing our promise
to kill each other. You are drinking gin,
night-blue juniper berry
dissolving in your body, I am drinking Fumé,
chewing its fragrant dirt and smoke, we are
taking on earth, we are part soil already,
and wherever we are, we are also in our
bed, fitted, naked, closely
along each other, half passed out,
after love, drifting back
and forth across the border of consciousness,
our bodies buoyant, clasped. Your hand
tightens on the table. You’re a little afraid
I’ll chicken out. What you do not want
is to lie in a hospital bed for a year
after a stroke, without being able
to think or die, you do not want
to be tied to a chair like your prim grandmother,
cursing. The room is dim around us,
ivory globes, pink curtains
bound at the waist—and outside,
a weightless, luminous, lifted-up
summer twilight. I tell you you do not
know me if you think I will not
kill you. Think how we have floated together
eye to eye, nipple to nipple,
sex to sex, the halves of a creature
drifting up to the lip of matter
and over it—you know me from the bright, blood-
flecked delivery room, if a lion
had you in its jaws I would attack it, if the ropes
binding your soul are your own wrists, I will cut them.

~Sharon Olds, from Blood, Tin, Straw

Cover of

Cover of Blood, Tin, Straw: Poems

I’ve always loved poetry, but Sharon Olds’ poetry was a revelation for me.  I was introduced to it during a literature class about 15 years ago.  She wrote about events and situations that I could identify.  I bought her book Blood, Tin, Straw and read it at least once a year.  She elevates imagery without sounding stuffy or pretentious.  I never really understood until I read her work that poetry could be found in the most mundane of daily tasks using common language.

Ever since reading The Promise I find that I quantify love differently.  This was a poem that literally turned my thinking upside down.  When I was younger I thought love was all flowers and sparklies and being swept off my feet.  When my husband asks how much I love him, I think now that I love him enough to kill him.  I hope that he loves me that much as well.  We recently had to make this decision for one of our pets.  As painful as that was, we could not let him go on in pain and fear.

What you do not want
is to lie in a hospital bed for a year
after a stroke, without being able
to think or die

This line is my nightmare.  I have always been a sharp person.  I have a good memory and enjoy solving problems.  I am terrified that I will be stuck in my head, able to think but unable to communicate with others.  My husband and I have talked to each other about it, and I’ve talked to my parents too.  We still need to get the documents in place, but at least I know that I’ve made my wishes clear.

What about you?  How do you define love, and what condition would you need to be in to ask your significant other to let you go?



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