Love Poem to Be Read to an Illiterate Friend

By Tess Gallagher b. 1943 Tess Gallagher
I have had to write this down
in my absence and yours. These
things happen. Thinking
of a voice added
I imagine a sympathy outside us
that protects the message
from what can’t help,
being said.
The times you’ve kept
your secret, putting on
glasses or glancing into a page
with interest, give again
the hurt you’ve forgiven, pretending
to be one of us.
So the hope of love
translates as a series of hidden moments
where we like to think
someone was fooled
into it.
Who was I then
who filled these days
with illegible warnings: the marriages
broken, the land
pillaged by speculators, no word
for a stranger?
This island
where I thought the language was mine
has left me lonely
and innocent as you or that friend
who let you copy his themes
until the words became pictures
of places you would never go.
Forgive it then
that so much of after
depends on these, the words
which must find you
off the page.

Tess Gallagher, "Love Poem to Be Read to an Illiterate Friend" from Amplitude: New and Selected Poems. Copyright © 1987 by Tess Gallagher.  Reprinted by permission of Graywolf Press. All rights reserved.

Source: Under Stars (Graywolf Press, 1978)

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Poet Tess Gallagher b. 1943

POET’S REGION U.S., Northwestern

Subjects Relationships, Friends & Enemies, Arts & Sciences, Language & Linguistics, Love

Poetic Terms Epistle, Free Verse

 Tess  Gallagher


Poet, essayist, and short story writer Tess Gallagher was born in 1943 in Port Angeles, Washington, to a logging family. Her early years were marked by the rhythms of seasonal work, as well as the landscape of both the Northwest and the Ozarks, where her grandparents lived. “I don’t know how many children really get to explore vast amounts of territory like that,” she has said in interviews. “It builds something in you.” . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Relationships, Friends & Enemies, Arts & Sciences, Language & Linguistics, Love

POET’S REGION U.S., Northwestern

Poetic Terms Epistle, Free Verse

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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