The Truth About Love

By Howard Moss 1922–1987 Howard Moss
It seems to have traveled at night,
Supremely ironic, lighting fires,
Laying golden eggs in the midst of squalor,
Its outer garments, in the latest version,
Sumptuous, its linens more than shoddy,
Drunk, moreover, at a seedy party
The discriminating shunned, and, later, bawdy
In a run-down neighborhood, with whores and sailors
Chosen as companions while the queen went needy.
Now that everything about it is known,
Why does it come up purple or threadbare,
Thrashing all its sunsets in a fit of pique,
Or stripped, in the seamiest hayloft, ready
To repeat dull anecdotes the millionth time,
Its poise unquestionable, its voice unsteady?
It is brilliant, androgynous, and stultifying
With its threats and tears, dissembling always
Its mad obsession with the blurred distinction.
And yet who else
Is so elementary and badly needed
That fifty cultures rise at the merest rumor
Of its presence, and, finally, punctually fall
Whenever it departs, as if on schedule?
Interviewed, Monday, in the city dump,
Which turned, by magic, into a hotel tower,
Shedding poems and paintings for its bath
(It takes ten centuries of running water
To wash it clean), it then emerged, all dirty
Again, in a costume of ferocious splendor,
A hat some milliner in old Vienna
Sweated over, its pumps exchanged for sneakers,
And raced across the city, breaking records,
Just to prove its powers of endurance.
It lies down anywhere, and loves the country,
But is so unassuming it can even flourish
Beneath electric signs and in railroad stations
It goes to for the summer, estivating,
It says, near fountains that escape our notice,
And comes back in the fall, its ribbons flying,
Wheeling through the leaves, singing all the voices
Of every opera in the repertoire
Plus one no one has ever dreamed of writing.
Going about its gigantic business,
It masks itself as any shape or hope,
Appearing as a vicious telephone call,
Or a flat, disturbing message in an envelope.
It praises calmness but adores upheaval,
Is most to be desired when it apes composure,
And much to be distrusted when it boasts it has
The only fingerprint that can be changed at will.

Howard Moss, “The Truth about Love” from New Selected Poems, published by Atheneum. Copyright © 1985 by Howard Moss. Reprinted by permission of Estate of Howard Moss.

Source: New Selected Poems (Atheneum Publishers, 1985)

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Poet Howard Moss 1922–1987

Subjects Relationships, Love, Realistic & Complicated

 Howard  Moss


Howard Moss was the poetry editor of the New Yorker for almost forty years. In that influential capacity, this quiet, unassuming man was one of the key figures in American letters in the late twentieth century, boosting the careers of many young poets by publishing their work in one of the few mass circulation magazines which bought poetry and paid well for it. Writing in World Literature Today, Ashley Brown observed that "it . . .

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SUBJECT Relationships, Love, Realistic & Complicated

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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