I met a poet in a bar a few nights back, caressing her cold glass of red. This sombre balladeer was known for many a lovelorn word and turns of phrase, and studying her countenance from where I sat, she looked like she was living through her woeful rhymes and metaphoric blues that night.
The hour was late and the people sparse that warm weeknight, and the bearded barman looked from face to face with weary eyes. I’d had a few to drink to nurse the ache in me, mindless of the morrow and the work that waited me. Seeing her—whose words had been my balm for ages—with that old familiar torment in her eyes, I felt a growing tender sisterly affection in my heart. Though I was but half her age, I knew that night we were alike in many ways.
So, I left my seat and, swaying as if to the rhythm of the music playing, I approached the poet with a boldness I did not know I possessed. I said hello and asked if I could join her, but beyond a nod she hardly seemed aware of me, or even care about my intentions of this approach. Nonetheless, I sat myself down on the other side of her chaotic table, once again surprised by my own nonchalance. Then I ventured boldly on and let her know that I’d perused a poem or two that she had written long ago, and I offered my attentive ears to all she had to say to-night.
She looked at me with tired eyes as if to question my sobriety and sincerity and tell me to be on my way, but she simply turned her eyes back to her wine and asked me who it was that broke my heart.
A maiden fair with starry eyes whose soul was pure despite the troubles of her past, this gentle woman with integrity whose heart had great capacity for righteous tenderness and love, this esoteric individual whose intellect had capacities for endless pleasures through discourse, this love of mine whose heart was already complete without my passion, so I told the poet that it was she who broke my heart.
The poet gave me a commiserating look for a stretch of time, and in her eyes, I knew she knew exactly all I meant and all I felt. She bought me my next drink and then recounted to me a sad and lengthy story of her own. She told a personal tale of how she once had her great love, perfect in just about every way, but just like mine, that love was already complete without her passion; nonetheless she pined for that affection that she knew would never come, and her heart fragmented piece by piece and left behind until there was no hope of restoration anymore. In place of warmth that would reside within her bosom, was now only darkness and a frozen stone. What little warmth that she could feel come from the poetry she could wring from that deep and desolated darkness in her heart.
The poet relayed her story with a monotone, as if she’d learned by rote the words she said to me, as if she’d told the story one too many times already. But then she noticed my vague perplexity and gave a little laugh at my expense, and then confessed that the story was nothing more than just a yarn she’d spun for ever. And then her bearing changed and humour left her eyes as she leaned in and told me seriously that love was nothing but a lie. Nobody truly ever fell in love, they only loved the idea of romance, and often times that was enough. She wised up, she told me, long ago after she loved and lost for the very first time.
I asked her if her poetry then meant nothing more than pretty words to her. She turned away a moment as if to conceal unwanted sentiments, and she looked to me again and told me that her words are nothing but fickle imaginings of a woman out of love, that her phrases are desires of a feeling never to be found in her again. She then asked me if her poems meant less to me now, now the mysteries behind the metaphors and similes have been unveiled and nothing profound was revealed.
Instead of answering—for I had not an honest answer to her question yet—I told her that her words meant more to folks in love than out despite the constant themes of heartbreak and dark yearnings, and many would continue to perceive profundity in those metres and rhymes, so any meaning I might get from them meant little, if at all.
You have a love, she said to me, a broken heart, yet you do not intend to mend it. Why?
I felt myself challenged and for a moment I did not know how to answer, but it struck a nerve in me.
She saw my change in countenance and offered me a smile of sympathy. Then she told me that she knew it ’cause she was the same as me. She had a love unrequited long ago, and even with the length of time that’s passed, she has not found it in herself to let it go, and she did not intend to. The pain inside her has become a fountain of a strange delight, and without it how could she compose such lines? She confessed that she was no longer in love with that fellow, but rather in love with the pain and all the sorrow. The age for hope had long passed her, she recognized, yet she would linger on the platforms for the hopeful for the rest of her damned life. She was a martyr for the art, her words a solace for those who’ve lost loves. If she moved on, then that wellspring that eases heartbreaks would dry up and leave a whole lot of sorrow in her wake with no tool to help rebuild a broken heart. Hence, I leave my heart fragmented and unmended, she imparted, so that my words might find your heart if you so wish and help you heal.
After one last smile, she stood and paid her bill and mine, and out the door she walked without a final glance my way, leaving me to sit alone and try to form a coherent impression in my head of her.
I went home not long after, my head still hazy, still intoxicated from the dialogue with the poet. As I lay in bed, I realized I’d found my answer to the question of whether her poems meant less to me, now the mysteries had been dissolved. And yes, they did mean less to me now. She was a hack, pretentious intellectual, a poor man’s Angelou or Plath, pseudo-philosopher, a poetaster. Who did she think she was? The condescending circlejerker! Did she think that I was anything like her? That I would be a lovelorn man, aloof and blind to reality? And why did I ever feel pulled by her ostentatious ballads and haikus? The love I lost, the love I never had, was nothing like hers, and I bet that if I knew I’d never have that love, I wouldn’t be so low and wallow in my sorrows and pretend that I had some enlightenment and pretend that my inadequacies were akin to martyrdom. And I bet that I could write a better poem than her.
Night was slowly transforming to dawn when I got off my bed and sat down at my desk to write a poem.