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You Drive Me Crazy
By Mary D. Esselman and Elizabeth Ash Vélez
Warner BooksCopyright © 2005 Mary Esselman and Elizabeth Ash Vélez
All right reserved.
Chapter OneECSTASY WHEN LOVE ROCKS
Ah, the ecstasy of love. Who wants to settle for anything less? From the first second of our first major crush, ecstasy is what we hope for and dream of, that on-top-of-the-world, giddy, whirly, zing-zangy kaboom of a feeling that squeezes your heart and blows your mind and leaves you wanting to shout to the world, I AM SO IN LOVE SO IN LOVE SO CRAZY COMPLETELY IN LOVE!
Or something like that. Truth is, real ecstasy leaves us so overwhelmingly happy we're usually rendered speechless. We want to express our wild, hungry joy, especially to the person we love, but "I love you" seems so serious and standard, and beyond that, what's left? "You rock"? "Oh, baby"? "Gee, I think we're really compatible"? Ecstasy feels so HUGE, and words can seem so small.
That's why we filled this chapter with the most gorgeous, passion-packed love poems we could find, to help you articulate the ecstasy you feel. Recite one of these next anniversary, or slip a copy into a Valentine's Day card, and you'll melt the heart of your beloved.
Or read these poems by yourself when you just want to feel all warm and sappy about the great love of your life. These are poems to indulge in, like hotfudgesundaes or bubble baths or full-body massages. Because-don't kid yourself-ecstasy comes and goes in a long-term love relationship (good luck feeling blissful about the holey underwear! the ESPN addiction! the secret porn stash!). You've got to relish the passion while you've got it. And even if you have one of those moments, days, or months when you fear the romance has drained from your relationship, stop and read an Ecstasy poem. Let yourself remember how it felt-how it could still feel-to be intimately, achingly in love with your partner.
The first four poems in Ecstasy describe that breathless, unspoken (because we don't quite know how to say it, and sometimes we're scared to) longing to be part of the very fiber and soul of your lover. The speaker in James Laughlin's "I Want to Breathe" utters one long, run-on whisper of desire, so quiet but so potent you can almost feel him nuzzling the skin and inhaling the fragrance of his lover, willing their hearts to beat in unison. He wants to be completely connected, physically and emotionally, as does the speaker in Pablo Neruda's Sonnet XVII, who tells his lover he wants to be "so close that your hand upon my chest is mine,/so close that your eyes close with my dreams." The couple in Sharon Olds's "Sunday Night in the City" shares that same interlaced serenity; "Arms linked like skaters," they lie in bed together, hair ruffled, "long legs crossed like folded/wings."
This is ecstasy at its most seriously romantic- when the two of you exist in your own little world, when you're overcome by that heart-tugging need for intimacy. The lovers in these poems are bound together not so much by sex (even though they're physically tangled together) as by their deep, consuming care for each other. The speaker in Margaret Atwood's "Variation on the Word Sleep," for example, wants to protect and nurture her lover even as he sleeps, even in his dreams. She speaks almost reverentially of wanting to hold him-his being, not his body-"carefully, a flame/in two cupped hands." When we're deep into the ecstasy of love, no closeness is close enough; we can't bear to think that our partner could survive without us. Like the speaker in the Atwood poem, we want to be the very air that our lover breathes-we want to be "that unnoticed/& that necessary."
On the one hand, the desire for that kind of closeness is perfectly understandable and probably inevitable when you're in ecstasy. You're in a love stupor, utterly intoxicated by the sight, scent, and touch of your partner. On the other hand ... yikes! Ecstasy can leave you teetering on the edge of neediness and insecurity. Too much of that heavy-duty "we're the only two people in the world" business can suffocate even the most glorious romance. (Think Heathcliff and Cathy.) Who needs all the melancholy drama when you're supposed to be wildly happy? As much as you want to be one with your lover in ecstasy, eventually you need to develop a little healthy awareness that you two are indeed separate-wild about each other, sure, but separate-individuals who live in a great, big, wide world.
Perhaps that's why we so love the E. E. Cummings poem "i carry your heart with me"-it's fabulously romantic but shout-out-loud exuberant and playful at the same time. The speaker in this poem doesn't quietly yearn to be closer-he trumpets his joy at being close enough. He confidently declares, "i carry your heart with me(i carry it in/my heart)"-separate hearts, carried together. He opens up his world to include not just his lover but also the sun and the stars and "the sky of the sky of a tree called life."
This is ecstasy at its best, we think, when you can loosen up enough simply to enjoy the pleasure of the moment (rather than worrying about the future or longing for more of what you've got). Li-Young Lee's "From Blossoms," for example, is all about the bliss of the here and now. As he and his partner devour "succulent peaches" bought at a roadside stand, the speaker is overcome by pure happiness, struck by his desire "to take what we love inside,/to carry within us an orchard ... to hold/the fruit in our hands, adore it, then bite into/the round jubilance of peach." He celebrates the opportunity to live-if only for one summer day-"from joy/to joy to joy, from wing to wing,/from blossom to blossom to/impossible blossom, to sweet impossible blossom."
In Jacques Prevert's "Alicante" the speaker presents a similar picture-a still life, actually, in one short poem-of perfect ecstasy:
An orange on the table
Your dress on the rug
And you in my bed
Sweet present of the present
Cool of night
Warmth of my life.
So much is left unsaid in this poem, but so much can be imagined: the orange still uneaten, the lover ripe in bed (her dress cast aside as if in the haste of passion). And this is no random lover; this is the special "you" to whom the poem is addressed, the person the speaker calls the "Warmth of my life." Poised in that delicious moment between anticipation and gratification, the speaker realizes he's been given the temporary gift of exquisite love ("Sweet present of the present").
Utter sensual delight, that's what ecstatic love can deliver, an experience so euphoric it leaves the speaker in Langston Hughes's "When Sue Wears Red" testifying like a religious convert (or like a man having an orgasm). "Come with a blast of trumpets,/Jesus!" he exclaims when describing his red-hot love, Susanna Jones, whose beauty "Burns in [his] heart a love-fire sharp like pain." It's hard to say whether the speaker's attraction fuels his love for Susanna or vice versa, but who really cares, so long as both the love and the attraction are there? Who doesn't want their lover to feel this passionate, from first sight to fiftieth anniversary?
Hughes's poem takes us to the heart-or perhaps the loins-of what most people think of when they hear the term "ecstasy" in the context of love: wicked-good sex. Sure, you can have your desperately yearning romantic poems (like the Neruda and the Atwood), and yes, you can enjoy your bouncy, gorgeous love poems (like the Cummings or the Lee), but as Hughes might say, "Sweet, silver trumpets,/ Jesus!" there's nothing like a really sexy poem to drive home the full meaning of "ecstasy." Not that sex alone can give you the complete ecstasy experience- and if you think that's all you need, get ready for a quick ecstasy crash-but a little physical sizzle can keep a strong love relationship hot and healthy. We say, amen to that!
Speaking of Jesus and sex, it just so happens that seventeenth-century religious poet John Donne, author of the Holy Sonnets, also wrote what is arguably the sexiest poem ever produced in English, Elegie XIX: "To His Mistress Going to Bed." The poem is one long striptease, in which the speaker- with great tenderness and humor-directs his lover to undress, one article of clothing at a time. "Off with that girdle," he tells her; "Unlace your self" from that corset (which, he adds, has enviable proximity to her breasts); drop that gown (to reveal a body as beautiful "As when from flowery meads th'hills shadowe steales"); and then "softly tread" into this bed, "love's hallow'd temple." Smooth seducer, the speaker mixes the romantic with the lustful, praising his lover's beauty in order to get her in bed, then playfully asking permission to explore her body as if it's a new land he has just discovered: "Licence my roaving hands, and let them go/Before, behind, between, above, below." Donne may seem daunting to non-poetry lovers, being an old seventeenth-century guy, but he's a dirty-minded, smart, and funny old guy, and well worth the read for all ecstasy lovers.
Like Donne's "To His Mistress," Dorianne Laux's "The Shipfitter's Wife" is an erotic undressing poem-only in this one the wife peels off her husband's sweaty work clothes, unlaces his "steeltoed boots," strokes his ankles and feet, and then "open[s] his clothes and take[s]/the whole day inside," from the "miles of copper pipe" to the "Spark of lead/kissing metal," to the climax of "the whistle,/and the long drive home." Who would have thought the language of shipyard work could sound so sexy? But to the wife, that is what's sexy; the grit and grime of domestic life with her husband. In fact, she says she "loved [her husband] most" when she could soothe and make love to him, despite-or perhaps because of-his "cracked hands" and forehead "anointed with grease."
Sure, roll your eyes, say we're romanticizing the hell out of living with someone day in and day out. But how fun is it to read a really hot poem about married sex (or shall we say, sex between two people who have been committed to each other for a long time)? So many of us tend to think that ecstasy is something you experience only at the beginning of an affair, as in Kim Konopka's "I Want." The speaker in that poem can't wait for her lover to move in, so that she can live her fantasy of playing house, of "cook[ing] naked and drunk," with "kisses bitten between bites."
If you're lucky, you'll experience that kind of ecstasy moment not only when you first fall in love, but throughout many years of being together. Well, maybe you won't necessarily cook naked and drunk, since life isn't always a Hollywood romantic comedy. But maybe, despite the ups and downs of long-term love, despite your most jaded and cynical inclinations, every once in a while you'll find yourself giddy with desire for your partner, grateful for the chance to "take what we love inside," as Li-Young Lee put it, to live "from joy/to joy to joy ... /from blossom to blossom to/impossible blossom, to sweet impossible blossom."
Excerpted from You Drive Me Crazy by Mary D. Esselman and Elizabeth Ash Vélez Copyright © 2005 by Mary Esselman and Elizabeth Ash Vélez . Excerpted by permission.
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