Karl Shapiro





V-Letter

I love you first because your face is fair,
            Because your eyes Jewish and blue,
Set sweetly with the touch of foreignness
Above the cheekbones, stare rather than dream.
Often your countenance recalls a boy
            Blue-eyed and small, whose silent mischief
Tortured his parents and compelled my hate
                      To wish his ugly death.
Because of this reminder, my soul’s trouble,
And for your face, so often beautiful,
                      I love you, wish you life. 

I love you first because you wait, because
           For your own sake, I cannot write
Beyond these words. I love you for these words
That sting and creep like insects and leave filth.
I love you for the poverty you cry
            And I bend down with tears of steel
That melt your hand like wax, not for this war
                      The droplets shattering
Those candle-glowing fingers of my joy,
But for your name of agony, my love,
                      That cakes my mouth with salt.               

And all your imperfections and perfections
           And all your magnitude of grace
And all this love explained and unexplained
Is just a breath. I see you woman-size
And this looms larger and more goddess-like
           Than silver goddesses on screens.
I see you in the ugliness of light,
                      Yet you are beautiful,
And in the dark of absence your full length
Is such as meets my body to the full
                       Though I am starved and huge.

You turn me from these days as from a scene
           Out of an open window far
Where lies the foreign city and the war.
You are my home and in your spacious love
I dream to march as under flaring flags
           Until the door is gently shut.
Give me the tearless lesson of your pride,
                      Teach me to live and die.
As one deserving anonymity,
The mere devotion of a house to keep
                      A woman and a man.

Give me the free and poor inheritance
        Of our own kind, not furniture
Of education, nor the prophet’s pose,
The general cause of words, the hero’s stance,
The ambitions incommensurable with flesh,
       But the drab makings of a room
Where sometimes in the afternoon of thought
                      The brief and blinding flash
May light the enormous chambers of your will
And show the gracious Parthenon that time
                      Is ever measured by.

As groceries in pantry gleam and smile
        Because they are important weights
Bought with the metal minutes of your pay,
So do these hours stand in solid rows,
The dowry for a use in common life.
       I love you first because your years
Lead to my matter-of-fact and simple death
                      Or to our open marriage,
And I pray nothing for my safety back,
Not even luck, because our love is whole
                      Whether I live or fail.