One of my favorite Christian Bale movies is Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, which completely changed the way I see Nicholas Cage as an actor. In the movie he wins the heart of a doctor’s daughter played by Penelope Cruz. Her first love, Mandras (Christian Bale), goes to war before they marry, and returns none of her letters to the front. When I wrote fan poetry about the movie, I composed short stanzas that each represented a letter to Mandras, but I never finished the series. The idea was to chronicle the search for love in words that were never answered, and show how the heroine’s understanding of love collapses into words in a deeply unsatisfying way. Some of the stanzas were much better than others, so I’ve tried to pick out the best and break them up into shorter series.
To write I must step out of my own heart,
letters have come, and none from you. I wait,
and hope my many notes to you impart
a sense of urgency about your fate,
that at your letters you must hesitate
to tell me of the fighting not because
you are in danger – that you dedicate
your thoughts of me to your safety and pause
to describe them not to betray this cause.
I thought your letter would come today and
told your mother so. We have heard nothing.
She does not let me steady her strong hand,
she is too old for useless consoling.
She trembles for you and calls it aging.
She did not seem surprised you do not write.
I understand none of this. Do I bring
you so little comfort in the bare night
with my letters, you deny me outright?
If I’ve grown harder than I mean to be,
you have confused and changed me. But I miss
your stubbornness, the way you gently
show me I am glad when something amiss
shocks me. You bring my head to rest and kiss
me with the weight of my hurt in your hands,
and I cannot be disappointed. This
I can only imagine now, demands
useless, but your pledge to comfort me stands.
after Pablo Neruda
The ideal and loved voices of the lost
find us in our beds, like music at night,
the first poetry of our lives exhausts
its tenderness on these moments, and slight
movements of thought shed a christening light
on the sleeper’s face. What then fades away
is the hurt of loss, and with it the right
shape of the knife, the memory. A day
passes without you and I learn to pray.
Today I heard you have seen the fighting.
The men with you have written home and said
nothing from you. So many are writing,
and if Albania is a hundred
miles away you are farther than most, dead
to my pleading with you to write until
I can see you again, and finally thread
my fingers through your hair, embrace and fill
my arms with you, and prove I love you still.
Enclosed in the fragrant pine walls that keep
our house warm, wide and shadowed, I pass
a boring day pacing walls with the deep
and lingering eyes of a wine filled glass,
wondering what a closed window forecasts,
whether I should open it wide – would light
and its bright reminders of life oppress
the room and disclose your long absence? Night
visits the afternoon inside. I write.
I am a stranger to my closest friend,
my father does not recognize our love.
He’s given me to you but at the end
of my extremity an undreamed of
loneliness stretches between us. To shove
my impatience to see you aside, wear
a more delicate smile and be above
these darkest passions is beyond me. Prayer
disappoints him. He could be unaware.
I confess, I have found a little peace
lighting a candle for you in the church
every day. The ancient myths of Greece
are full of women struggling to search
their hearts for courage, waiting in the lurch,
and on so many altars, empty thrones
and unanswering shores, lay silver birch
adorned with bells, and piled hyacinth grown
for the gods on whose mercy men are thrown.
You volunteers, untamable and yet
compliant in the call to arms, stony-
maned stallions answering rage with a jet
roar and a body for the wounding, knee
bent to the discipline of the gun: see
what you can do but come back whole and keep
your promises to us, to be just, free
of dispassionate murder, and as deep
as a priest in your prayers before you sleep.
To move from thinking of you at church to
thinking of you in the kitchen is hard,
it forces me to believe I know you
well enough to feed you – the feeling jarred
at first because I often tried to guard
my heart from fear of loss by thinking we
are strangers in a way. In your regard
for me I saw impulsive love – I see
at last that you could not abandon me.