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.