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Several years ago I overheard a young woman lament that she was never going to love again. I hoped her lamentations were temporary and she’d realize that staying open to love is essential to human flourishing. I wrote this poem as an ode to her heart, its capacity for fire, and its requirement of an open and vulnerable state for proper functioning.
it was you that became the reason
I came out and played with fire
light and heat my customary constants
burned brighter than I could have known
but this fire was not one I ever asked for
now it was all mine to embrace inhale
I drank with abandon fooling this head
only the gallant must play here for sure
then one day it became mine to hold alone
yet I carried it further, my precious light
who can persuade me of its empty hollow?
even when burns replaced the glow
so now I know you run retreat
to your empty excuse of a shell
I’ll go tread places I’ve always been
tending my fires like I’ve done before
perhaps one day I’ll see the burns
seared more deeply than my bargain
maybe I’ll laugh at my own audacity
of letting this skin not fear the sun
precious scars on skin will surely tell
a story that was worth the while
in one short life I’ve burned and brightly
not fizzle in silent safe compromise
Parallelly, over a decade ago, a friend in an unhappy marriage, who found herself trapped only by the bindings of her own imagination, wondered aloud when she could and would move on. I wrote this for her.
look for your chance
don’t say no when she knocks
happiness comes a few times
to our door and holds out her hand
if the voices hold you back
they speak for themselves, for others, for those who crush in the name of peace
never you, never one who stands and says “i matter”
never a dignity you seek, never that which will have us blossom
so turn a deaf ear, grab her hand, walk away
for this life has no grace, no love, no joy
you’ve done what you could
walk away now and grab that happiness
it’s yours, rightfully yours and only yours
but you’ll have to stand up, take it, be seen with it
no shame in that except for the voices
shut them out and step out into the sunlight…
The poems above may seem somewhat adrift but I see them both as about our desire, ability, and need to love and be loved, and our singular imperative to make space for love whether by staying vulnerable or by divesting what keeps us bound in unrelenting chains. I presented them in December as love’s vengeance against an unyielding reality. However, even an incorrigible optimist like me saw her faith somewhat shaken, exacerbated by grief from personal losses.
IIn such times, when we do all that is possible to us and yet our fates hang in an undulating balance, we hesitate to make firm plans, can’t predict travel let alone how high inflation will soar. We ask — who or what can save us? I suggest that the only real revenge in these times is to hold onto love. To love more, more deeply, more truly, and more madly. I don’t allude merely to romantic love but love wherever we find it, whether among family or friends. Love and friendship have the power to comfort us and make us visible and relevant and present. Even as microbes run amuck! As the French novelist George Sand declared, “There is only one happiness in life, to love and be loved.” So yes, a commitment to love in the time of the shapeshifter virus! But this isn’t a call for dramatic moves — unless, of course, a dire situation demands it.
First, let’s just show up, whether in-person, a video call, or just a note to indicate, I am still here. Remembering significant days beyond mere birthdays is another way. A friend recently wrote to tell me she was thinking of me because she remembered my father passed away in December. It lifted my spirits. There are infinite ways to reimagine how we tell loved ones they matter, despite the bounds of time and space. Love too builds bit by bit. Life has a funny way of adding up our small habits, the tiny tales we buy, and how we live daily. The power of compounding works for much more than merely our financial concerns. Even viruses can’t stop us from such gentle yet monumental pursuit. Shall we dance?
Reena Kapoor grew up all over India as an army brat. She has been muddling with poetry for over a decade and Arrivals & Departures is her debut poetry collection. Four plays by Reena were produced by EnActe Arts, a San Francisco Bay Area theater company in 2021.