New York School poet Kenneth Koch (1925-2002) was called “the funniest serious poet we have”. His engaged poetry is often funny, but Koch is serious about his craft. He also wrote short satirical plays and worked very successfully with children. I read a love poem, “To You”.
To YouI love you as a sheriff searches for a walnutThat will solve a murder case unsolved for yearsBecause the murderer left it in the snow beside a windowThrough which he saw her head, connecting withHer shoulders by a neck, and laid a redRoof in her heart. For this we live a thousand years;For this we love, and we live because we love, we are notInside a bottle, thank goodness! I love you as aKid searches for a goat; I am crazier than shirttailsIn the wind, when you’re near, a wind that blows fromThe big blue sea, so shiny so deep and so unlike us;I think I am bicycling across an Africa of green and white fieldsAlways, to be near you, even in my heartWhen I’m awake, which swims, and also I believe that youAre trustworthy as the sidewalk which leads me toThe place where I again think of you, a newHarmony of thoughts! I love you as the sunlight leads the prowOf a ship which sailsFrom Hartford to Miami, and I love youBest at dawn, when even before I am awake the sunReceives me in the questions which you always pose.
It is remarkable how this lyrical evocation of the beloved You is nowhere leading to kitsch. The metaphors are well chosen. The cold murder case in the beginning (will the walnut ever be found?) is a chilling image. It looks like the murderer slit her throat (“laid a red roof in her heart” after the neck was connecting head and shoulders). But I get the idea of a detective that is not giving up, like the boy searching for his goat. I have searched feverishly for things (gifts, condoms) once when I was youthful and in love, to please my lover. It is called obsession. But love is more than obsession – that we learn after the semicolon;
When she is near, he is crazier than shirttails in the wind, like bicycling through an Africa of green and white fields. Nearness and farness lead to a harmony of thoughts when he learns to trust the path that leads him to her. Trust. There you get the image of the sunlight leading the prow. And there, finally, he is always with her because of her questions, that are always present to him.
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