James McKee

Poem about Love (Not a Love Poem): James McKee

Poem about Love (Not a Love Poem)

The best way to hold on to something is to pay no attention to it. The things you love too much perish.

Dmitri Shostakovich

Around here, I never know how much I’ll have to care
when the next thing fails, or goes missing, or just ends.
For example, along the avenue I walk down every day
I don’t always have to notice that for every tree
there are far more ex-trees: thick amputated columns,
or stubby little stumps, or scraped plots of dirt
the color of cement, or squares of actual cement
where someone just said OK, enough with this.
They pass like boxes checked on some medical form.
So many? That can’t be good.

There’s a way I go sometimes, not often, a sidestreet
I’d say I almost loved, if asked to name my favorite street,
though only children ask such questions and I don’t have kids.
And to admit it’s because of some tree, well, you can imagine
how that’d go. Still, it is why: one tall silver maple,
the grain of whose pewtery bark records how the trunk
arched away from the buildings and flexed up, out,
and over the street, reaching for light and space.
Its posture reminds me every time of Michelangelo’s Libyan Sybil,
though a quick image search shows no resemblance
beyond an excuse to remember a place where I was happy.

Which brings me to Shostakovich. His advice,
like most good advice, is inarguably true
and impossible to follow. Because I know
how one desolating day I’ll finally come upon that tree
freshly cut down, do I avoid this block, start the farewell now? No,
I just forget about it, like I forget everything except
the next thing I need to do and maybe the thing after that, and walk
anyhow, and go on finding myself there, low orange sun behind me,
the non-sybil still not cut down. Time again to wonder if I so love Rome
only because I can’t live there, and what love for his children
did to Shostakovich during the Great Terror, and how much
it has cost me to survive the violent love that is the opposite
of both pretended neglect and real neglect,
and when, at long last, our Earth will have had enough
of whatever it is—call it love—that goes on cutting down more
and more of the trees it didn’t even have to plant, along with those it did.

James McKee enjoys failing in his dogged attempts to keep pace with the unrelenting cultural onslaught of late-imperial Gotham. His debut poetry collection, The Stargazers, came out in the spring of 2020, and his poems have appeared or are forthcoming in The Ocotillo Review, Acumen, New Ohio Review, CutBank, The Raintown Review, Flyway, Saranac Review, THINK, The Midwest Quarterly, Xavier Review, and elsewhere. He spends his free time, when not writing or reading, traveling less than he would like and brooding more than he can help.