Alan Dugan, Valentine

February 14, 2013   •   By Jessica Piazza

ONE OF MY favorite songs of all time is “Hallelujah.” Leonard Cohen delivered it in his infamous deadpan in 1984, but it gained prominence via covers, most famously a heart-shattering rendition by the brilliant, ill-fated Jeff Buckley.

I wouldn’t give that song as a Valentine.

But I mention it because my favorite love poem is Alan Dugan’s “Love Song: I and Thou,” and it has a lot in common with “Hallelujah.” Both describe the hair’s thin line between adoration and despair. Both urge us to remember that love is human and difficult and chaotic. Cohen’s “love is not a victory march.” Dugan’s is a hell he plans and covets. Despite blackness and pain, both think love is ultimately worthy of unadulterated praise. As do I.

— Jessica Piazza


Alan Dugan, “Love Song: I and Thou”


Nothing is plumb, level, or square:

     the studs are bowed, the joists

are shaky by nature, no piece fits

     any other piece without a gap

or pinch, and bent nails

     dance all over the surfacing

like maggots. By Christ

     I am no carpenter. I built

the roof for myself, the walls

     for myself, the floors

for myself, and got

     hung up in it myself. I

danced with a purple thumb

     at this house-warming, drunk

with my prime whiskey: rage.

     Oh I spat rage’s nails

into the frame-up of my work:

     it held. It settled plumb,

level, solid, square and true

     for that great moment. Then

it screamed and went on through,

     skewing as wrong the other way.

God damned it. This is hell,

     but I planned it. I sawed it,

I nailed it, and I

     will live in it until it kills me.

I can nail my left palm

     to the left-hand crosspiece but

I can’t do everything myself.

     I need a hand to nail the right,

a help, a love, a you, a wife.

[more Valentine's Day poems]