M.A. Vizsolyi's "[perhaps i think people should not love]"

Thoughts on ridiculousness.

[perhaps i think people should not love]

for Ruth Stone

perhaps i think people should not love

like that she told us & you weren’t

there you were at home & we were dancing

tango & with your tall beautiful blue

shoes you broke both my kneecaps & set

my hair on fire you ate a small salade with

low-fat dressing & poured whiskey on me to

keep the fire going you washed your bowl &

put it away & climbed into the freezer tucking

your legs in & closing the door behind you i

heard you laughing & we laughed for

300 years me on the floor & the bowl

put away i said think how ridiculous we’ll

look by then with our love the way it is

from The Lamp With Wings (Harper Perennial, 2011)


The book this poem is from — The Lamp With Wings — is a collection of love sonnets, like 50 of them. Maybe 100. Maybe 1,000. Probably closer to 50. Each of them unpunctuated, adorned with ampersands, full of amusement and absurdity and desire and love. Love above all else. It was also the first book of poetry my mom gave me. Well, maybe not the first. But she gave me a copy when I was in college. It fit trimly in a USPS-bought mailer. I devoured it. I didn’t know a poem could do what Vizsolyi makes a poem do: surprise and astound, ebb and flow, pull you into the current of it and then drop you off on a different shore than from where you began.

The Lamp With Wings is full of some of my favorite images and lines. Here’s one:

honey this morning take your time with

breakfast strut around like a baby

elephant & pursue me

And another:

love’s kisses know

loss all their lives & bring grave-bound

beautiful every-single-one-of-us to our

knees

And another:

if i gave you the

heavens you’d tear down the roof

And another:

the curtains are up this morning i’m

feeling lazy which is the sexiest thing

you can be at any time

Vizsolyi’s work — and most notably, the aspect of his work that feels so much like play — reminds me of another poet I adore (and who readers of this newsletter know I adore): Steve Scafidi. Consider the final four lines of “The Sublime,” a poem I will never stop loving:

And the stars overhead shine a little—no more
or less than usual—and whether it is daylight and they are invisible
or whether it is night and they are the embers of a blacksmith's
fire, they shine and you are grateful. That love is like a hammer.

I love a poem that cannot resist the desire to dwell in the absurd sublimity and ridiculousness of love. It’s why I’m drawn to today’s poem by Vizsolyi, which, like Donald Barthelme’s short story, “The School,” is a poem that garners so much energy from its willingness to continue to hyperbolize itself. Each image raises the absurdity of the overall image, until you reach the final lines, which I find beautiful and striking and absolutely tender and moving.

Notice how it begins:

perhaps i think people should not love

like that she told us & you weren’t

there

The poem builds itself from this statement — perhaps i think people should not love / like that. The line break there is striking, too, how the like that hangs after a statement that, on its own, is bold and brash and painful even to hear: perhaps i think people should not love. But the poem serves as an affront to such a statement, as if saying: do you think people should not love like this? How about this? Or even this, you say?

And think of the mounting ridiculousness of each image, made even more snowball-rolling-down-a-hill-like by the absence of punctuation and the love of the word and. The first image is of two lovers dancing tango. Normal enough! And then the tall beautiful blue shoes. Yes! I love it! And then, oh my god, kneecaps are broken! What the fuck! Hair is set on fire! A salad spelled salade! Eating it! While the hair is on fire! And then, oh my lord, let’s keep the fire going! And what, what’s next? Oh, we are washing the bowl. Okay. Oh, even putting it away. Some order is restored. But not so fast! One lover crawls into a freezer. Fuck. Is this love? Is it? It must be. Why, you ask? Just read the final lines:

i

heard you laughing & we laughed for

300 years me on the floor & the bowl

put away i said think how ridiculous we’ll

look by then with our love the way it is

In some ways, this poem charts love on a graph of ridiculousness over time. Here, I made a (absolutely and mathematically inaccurate) graph for you:

But what a beautiful way to think of love. To reclaim the oft-negative connotation of ridiculous (think: ridicule) as something more wholesomely positive (think: risible). Perhaps the poem is asking us: if you’re not able to laugh at your love, and with your love, are you really in love?

Such a question is at the heart of a poem by Ruth Stone — who today’s poem is dedicated to — titled “Overnight Guest.” In it, she writes:

You keep wondering why you’re

missing something.

It’s a poem about the ways in which we are often privy to the intimacies of others, and sometimes — because of this — embarrassed both by ourselves and by such people. When love is at a remove — when our culture places the act of love at such a distance — then everything that might be love is also a kind of thing that orbits around shame. It’s un-talked-about. It manifests as so many things, and each object that might resemble something resembling love is stashed away. In the open, it becomes scary, something dashed quickly into the shadows.

This is why some of my favorite choices that Vizsolyi makes as a poet in this poem are the two moments of deep ordinariness. The lover eating a “small salade with / low-fat dressing.” The lover washing the bowl and putting it away. These moments heighten the absurdity of the images that surround them, yes, but they also remind us of the way in which our love exists within and among moments of mundanity. We have to eat, still. We have to put the dishes away. And love exists in these moments, too, doesn’t it? Think of the hand on your shoulder as you wash the dishes. Maybe you, too, have play-fought with forks, have turned the vacuum on your lover’s shirt while they were wearing it, have jumped into a pile of just-laundered clothes. Not even just with your romantic lover, no. Maybe you’ve done this with your son, or your brother, your daughter or your dad. I still think of my dad, and the way he would sometimes take an afternoon nap with me when I was a kid. And how, upon waking, he’d make a big show of it. He’d grunt and spread out, knock his elbows into me. Dad, I’d say, stop being so annoying. But then I’d laugh. We always laughed. Dads can be lovers too. There can be so many kinds of lovers.

To think of love as absurd offers a kind of freedom that comes from resisting the desire to make sense of it in the world at large, or to, as Jenny Diski writes in one of her essays, “make our neuroses fit in with the world around us.” To play at the ridiculousness of love, to reclaim what is ridiculous as what is delightful — well, then maybe love simply becomes delightful. When love is made into complete sense, then so much of love gets left out of the narrative that is described, simply, as common sense. And isn’t that the most heartbreaking thing? To know love but not know the place for it? All love is a little bit ridiculous. That’s part of its joy. It means everything we have no words to say.

I turn to Vizsolyi’s work because it offers that kind of permission, a word that is often on my mind. I didn’t think of this poem — or any of the poems in this book — as permissive when I first read them a decade ago. I thought of them as odd, and striking, and beautiful, and sexual, and streaming in and out of wakefulness and consciousness. The poems are still all of those things today, yes, but they are also acts of generous permission. Hyperbole and absurdity offer an avenue towards such permission. They exist in another world, a dreamier one, where lovers can live for 300 years. You might ask: what does this world have to do with the world we are living in right now? Maybe everything. Maybe such depictions of absurdity allow us the opportunity to look at this world — our world — and hold on looser in some ways and tighter in others. To laugh more often, and more certainly, at what feels uncertain. To feel at once ridiculous and yet okay with feeling so ridiculous.