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Not Many Love Poems

Not Many Love Poems

by Linda Chase

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Transatlantic poems of love, loss, and celebration, this compilation features the work of an American poet based in the United Kingdom: Linda Chase. Inspired by paintings, gardening, memory, and love itself, this poetry reflects the author’s demotic style and underscores her voice: gentle, sharp, wry, honest, and curious. Written with wit and poignancy, it also


Transatlantic poems of love, loss, and celebration, this compilation features the work of an American poet based in the United Kingdom: Linda Chase. Inspired by paintings, gardening, memory, and love itself, this poetry reflects the author’s demotic style and underscores her voice: gentle, sharp, wry, honest, and curious. Written with wit and poignancy, it also presents some of Chase’s most harrowing and healing work, which resulted from her personal battle with cancer.

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Carcanet Press, Limited
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Not Many Love Poems

By Linda Chase

Carcanet Press Ltd

Copyright © 2011 Linda Chase
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-84777-951-9


    Our Life

    In the 40s we swam
    like fish in the water-turtle lake.

    In the 50s we went
    together on trains along the Hudson.

    In the 60s we battled
    waves in a storm on Lake George.

    In the 70s I threw you
    an apple from an upstairs window.

    In the 80s I buried
    you, just the once

    though it feels
    like a daily occurrence –

    quick strokes,
    long glides, sculling.

    One Summer Night

    We were fourteen and thought that cigarettes
    were sophisticated, cool as it gets.
    Fireflies were flickering on and off
    that night we sat outside and smoked. Your cough,
    a punctuation in the heavy heat –
    we heard a car, then voices from the street
    and finally nothing made a sound except
    the intermittent cricket chirps that kept
    the night from drifting toward oblivion.
    You took my hand, a simple act of union.
    Nothing happened next. Our holding hands
    was not the start of more elaborate plans.
    It was the only thing we wanted then,
    connecting worlds of women and of men.

    First Thought

           Will you write to me
    as if your life depended on it? Your death too?
    Don't censor, don't delete, don't think things through;
    just let rip straight from your gut, naturally.
    A poor writer might tell little white lies
    to save embarrassment, or else his ass,
    his dignity, his fear, sometimes, his pride.
    But I'm not having it! Open your eyes,
    heart, don't watch what you say, be crude, be crass;
    a true writer is one who never lied.

    The Word for It

    Nothing separates her from him
    or from the warm corduroy of his trousers,
    the even warp and weft of his oxford shirt
    with its tiny mother-of-pearl buttons keeping
    what might fly away, down. Nothing.

    He, in those grownup clothes,
    joins the softness of her in hers,
    her layers of nylon, cotton and tweed,
    her lipstick and perfume, still tentative,
    as their wrinkling shirts untuck.

    Even thoughts of words are stripped.
    Here, open mouthed, stunned by where
    his fingers have been drawn –
    under and inside and inside again
    to that place which had been hers, nameless,
    that alarmingly secret source
    now is blasted open by him
    and she has no idea about anything
    which could be said in any words she knows
    or in any words she used to know.

    He wants her to know the word for it
    but all she wants to do is hide her shotgun face
    in the crook of his arm forever.

    Be Home by Midnight

    We had started unbuttoning on the sofa
    and my hand was nearing your zip
    when a sound from upstairs gathered
    and rolled down on us, halting us
    in the tiny present of only ourselves.
    This other presence throbbed with
    shallow waves of sorrow, saying
    this does not belong to you alone.
    Sighs roamed through the house
    like heartless jewel thieves in the dark
    prising out our private new discoveries.
    The Christmas tree lights were still lit
    and a scribbled note on the table read,
    Please turn lights off when you come in.

    Old Flame

    He turns my hand in his hand
    as if to catch the light,
    separating my fingers
    to see my rings, one by one.
    Questions and answers follow –
    country, stones, when, from whom
    and then my other hand
    because this ritual has been
    going on for fifty years
    and there are no surprises,
    as he counts the parts of me
    and the decorations I choose.

    But today I wear a bracelet,
    he has never seen before,
    knowing that it's to his taste,
    that it will spark new attention
    beyond his routine inspection.
    Between the larger stones,
    lodge dashes of orange abalone,
    keeping spaces in between
    irregular chunks of turquoise.
    He fingers them around my wrist
    and I'm a girl again, fluttering
    through her jewellery and her life.

    Corsican Summer

    Once, driving up a mountain in Corsica,
    you talked about storms in Colorado
    which turned the trees to ice.
    Then wind would make the branches craze
    like crystal chandeliers chiming through the night.
    You were a kid in your bed, listening.

    Tonight, I want you to tell me that story again
    although I know every word by heart.

    Longing for cold has swamped me
    like a huge coat, dragged on the ground.
    It's not my coat, my love, and yet
    I want each seam – each buttonhole,
    the buttons themselves. I want that song
    the ice trees sang in the night to a boy.


    She had no map, no snakebite kit,
    only the name of the mountain
    where he would be looking out
    from the top for smoke or smouldering.

    It was rattlesnake country, bone dry
    and hot and his bed was a narrow bunk
    jammed beside the Fire Service radio.
    His water had been carried up by mule.

    I'm not going to ask you, he whispered
    that night as he drew her in close
    and the length of their bodies kindled
    in bursts before their mouths caught.

    Airstream Bubble Trailer

    Somehow a double bed
    fits across one end
    where in day time, a table might be
    with two benches facing
    and a centre slot for legs.

    This is a tin can miracle
    of convertible space –
    have what you need
    and have it when you need it.
    Airstream stands on its head for you.

    But the table is never up
    since the bed is needed day and night
    and these two can eat and read and write
    on their laps, sidestepping necessity
    to convert to daytime mode.

    Look! She has enough room
    to dance in just her jeans.
    The radio plays. He watches,
    curled up on the bed with a book.
    He reaches out his hand
    and scoops her breast as it floats
    for a second into his space.

    Darwin would be proud of me,
    I can adapt, I will survive, she thinks,
    whirling toward the dance's end.
    Her arms are high, her body spins,
    her breasts rise up through centrifugal force.

    She keeps on going faster
    and then before she knows it,
    she's flung herself beside him on the bed.
    'Read to me,' she says, eyes closed,
    and he begins, 'I saw the best
    minds of my generation ...'

    The Tao tells me to go on loving you

    Still, those long yellow legal pads let
    philosophy tuck itself in beside love.
    I see your letter every day on my desk,
    face up, with the Tao telling me, telling you.

    Your blue ballpoint pen dents the paper yet
    and I remember those big banjo hands
    guiding chisels through wood, gripping a shovel
    to kill a rattlesnake when you had no choice.

    You told me you designed a course around
    the books we read, lazy afternoons in the trailer –
    Miller, Ginsberg, Kerouac and Burroughs,
    their words filling our time between fucks.

    And then they filled your students' time and yours
    and mine again beyond the days of sex,
    the living years, then dying time that even so
    lets a yellow letter lie here still.


    From our room
    five floors up, he swings
    over the courtyard,
    hinged by one hand
    and one foot,
    buff naked, out
    into the night rain.

    His red hair
    is everywhere
    proving its natural
    truth at crevices
    and folds, head hair
    lank with rain, drips
    on his shoulders.

    He straightens
    his arms, higher,
    locks his knees,
    swings out again,
    perfect with Leonardic
    proportions, rain
    streaked, glistening.

    In the circle,
    he was anchored.
    In the square,
    there was no
    assurance. Love,
    I decided would
    be like this,

    only each time,
    one floor up.
    He was the real
    thing, against
    which I measured
    breadth and depth
    of love and rooms.


    Let's talk about death, she said.
    You first.

    And he began with an oak tree, a glade
    a blackbird and rain
    then he nodded to her

    and she began with ribbons on lapels
    scissors and Hebrew prayers
    then she nodded to him

    and he went on with winter
    leaves decaying, breath and emptiness
    and he nodded to her

    and she went on wanting to tear
    her clothing to shreds
    then she nodded to him

    and he went on staring through branches
    trying to count the few leaves left
    then he nodded to her

    and she went on with the fear of
    unravelling threads, looser and looser
    and she nodded to him

    and he went on standing in the doorway
    with the mourner's book in his hand
    and he nodded to her

    and she went on with her ripped blouse
    hanging from her shoulders, shaking

    and he went on with his bare hands open –
    as she fell against him he held her up.

    Let's talk about death
    she said

    and he closed his mouth and arms
    and shoulders around her, refusing.


    He called my name, so I guess I knew him.
    I knelt down on the pavement, looked straight

    across into his eyes, his unkempt face,
    smelled the alcohol, and yes, he looked familiar.

    I touched the sleeve of his army coat lightly
    as I spoke. He didn't resist my questions.

    Yes, he'd been drinking, but just to kick
    the ass of boredom. I can see that, I said.

    But was he getting enough food? Enough sleep?
    Were doorways really warm enough at night?

    My eyes watered in the cold and a tear
    swelled onto my cheek, then spilled.

    His hand moved instinctively, like a lover's
    to catch the tear on the curve of his index finger.

    Nearly at its destination, he pulled back
    the hand and dropped his eyes to the ground.

    How could we have forgotten
    what the two of us were doing here?

    Married Man

    He holds the name
    of his wife like a hand grenade,
    ready to lob at his lover's feet
    whenever she goes too far.

    'Susan and I,' he says,
    'went shopping and Susan bought ...'
    His lover covers her ears,
    and sticks out her tongue.

    She is at risk,
    he is at risk,

    and certainly,
    so is what's her name.


    That night, using his key,
    entering on tiptoe, moving
    closer and closer to the bed,
    peering over them,

    he couldn't imagine who
    that strange man was.
    Even so, he left
    the rolled-up gift behind.

    A Navajo rug
    for his faithless lover,
    the tree of life
    cut down in front of him.

    Oh, giver of gifts, long dead,
    is it too late to say
    she too didn't know who
    that strange man was –

    the one she'd wandered after
    in the dark, afraid
    she might lose you, her love,
    her life, along the way.

    His Book

    She moves his book from table to desk to chair
    to bed, hoping it will become part of her
    just by picking it up, then letting it lie close.

    She wants his sentences and photographs
    to swim in her head, course through her blood,
    then trickle into her dreams and conversation

    painlessly, comfortably, enjoyably
    as if reading were indeed a leisure activity,
    for holidays while sunbathing on the beach.

    She wants to read his new book more than any book.
    She knows what he went through to write it,
    what his subjects sacrificed to let him in.

    Pages 40 and 41 are a double-spread photograph
    and she stays with this image, relieved, relaxed,
    her eyes free to roam without diminishing results.

    She sees a room, stark with three red sofas,
    almost tasteful cushions, white walls, and a man
    with self-inflicted tattoos on his hands.

    It's a place where no one lives, nothing is owned.
    From reading a bit, she knows the man's name and why
    he's alone in the great sadness of this refuge room.

    This book isn't long. It's only 128 pages.
    She flicks them, stopping and starting, back to front
    letting the text pass and the red sofas ease her.


    'My wife left me,'
    said the man who never loved his wife
    and was glad she'd gone. He was
    delighted that her face would never be
    on the pillow beside him again,
    that his parents-in-law would
    no longer be related to him.

    He liked the loose, untidy feel
    of the house, the fridge, his drawers,
    the garage and the lawn.
    He had stopped being a keeper
    of wife, house, appearances,
    but he didn't like the sentence,
    'My wife left me.'


    This part, she said, is yours,
    this part is mine.

    But he reached across her,
    lifted it all at once
    without regard for subdivision.

    Stop, she cried, but it was too late.
    Already he was backing
    through the door with arms full.

    He just couldn't face
    where he was going with it.

    Old Jewish Men

    One's in Camden, playing to a lucky few
    one's in my iPhone, singing the darkness down
    one's on my pull-down train-table explaining work
    one's on the Stockport platform waiting to take me home –

    these touch-stones, these heart keys,
    these love looseners, these joy snares,
    these home holders, these bread bringers
    these grief-laden-history packhorses of
    loss, of sorrow-swells and blind suffering –

    they just tag along with me in recognition –
    my senior railcard, my plug-in headphones,
    my against the odds willingness to believe,
    so I stick with them, they stick with me.


    Was it the horizontal light, the warmth
    or how low the sun was in the sky,
    that so unsettled the ducks yesterday?

    The river kept on going to Liverpool
    all afternoon and the ducks
    pulled upstream just to stay put.

    I wished you could have seen
    the reddening leaves, the bright berries
    splattered against the Wedgwood sky,

    glints of blue, green and silver,
    then tail feathers suddenly upended
    as the Mersey dragged itself through.

    Autumn was begging a debt from summer
    in a kind of devil's payoff. Something
    sacred surely must have been lost

    in the river's surly rush, and then found
    again in that great relief of light.
    This, all of it, is what you missed.


    At Arm's Length

    Not on the tip of her nose
    to spite her face,
    not on her stuck-out neck
    or knowing for sure
    like the back of her hand,
    her inner eye, her sixth sense
    her elbow from her knee,
    a certain feeling in her bones
    the arm and a leg of loss
    a belly laugh of gain
    her Adam's apple stuck,
    a wishbone wedged.
    She grabbed her own blue
    breasts in the dark
    trembling, afraid
    of her own nipples.

    Primary Colours

    Injecting radioactive dye to find the sentinel lymph node

    She had turned blue in parts
    visible and invisible, internal and external
    immediate and time lagged
    to surprise her in the future.

    Red would have been useless,
    fading to pink around her nipples,
    her blood becoming paler day by day,
    her lips losing what redness there was.

    Yellow fades on contact with the flesh
    trailing traits of two-day bruises
    more like shadows than like pigment,
    tinges dying slowly without the sun.

    It had to be blue, truest blue,
    so she resigned herself to let her body
    stain its every process in the hope
    of outwitting it, getting there first.

    How to Make Breasts Disappear

    Be eleven in the summer
    wearing boy's trunks.
    Then swim carefree as a fish.
    Are these breasts?

    At twelve, try a training bra
    to flatten these brash interlopers.
    Nip them in the bud.
    Are these breasts?

    Cover them with your hands
    to hide them from your lover.
    Be coy as armour.
    Are these breasts?

    Harden, as if kapok filled,
    leaking, throbbing, on day three
    after your baby is born.
    Are these breasts?

    Lie on your back
    with your hands behind your head.
    Only gentle mounds remain.
    Are these breasts?

    There are other ways
    to make breasts disappear,
    but for these, you must give up
    your body entirely.

    Ticks and Kisses

    Up to one in ten women over fifty
    might be writing a confessional poem
    about one of her breasts right now,

    though some of these women
    might choose to write about something else.
    Prostate cancer for example, or husbands.

    Others might never write a poem
    about anything, leaving space for
    some women to write about both breasts.

    'Amputation' is not a good subject
    for poetry. That's what most people think
    who were surveyed at a seaside resort last week.

    It had the smallest number of ticks beside it
    though the survey manager was not surprised.
    Enhancements always beat reductions.

    Love got more. Substantially more.
    Breasts got more still, inside bathing suits.
    Fewer when they had escaped their cups.

    The place on the chest where a breast
    once was is not a topic which attracted
    any ticks at all. Nor kisses, nor caresses.


Excerpted from Not Many Love Poems by Linda Chase. Copyright © 2011 Linda Chase. Excerpted by permission of Carcanet Press Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Linda Chase studied creative writing at Bennington College in Vermont and teaches at the Arden School of Theatre in Manchester. She is the author of the collections Extended Family, These Goodbyes, and Young Men Dancing, and is the founding chairperson of the Forum for Tai Chi and Special Needs.

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