How You Know

By Joe Mills Joe Mills
How do you know if it’s love? she asks,
and I think if you have to ask, it’s not,
but I know this won’t help. I want to say
you’re too young to worry about it,
as if she has questions about Medicare
or social security, but this won’t help either.
“You’ll just know” is a lie, and one truth,
“when you still want to be with them
the next morning,” would involve too
many follow-up questions. The difficulty
with love, I want to say, is sometimes
you only know afterwards that it’s arrived
or left. Love is the elephant and we
are the blind mice unable to understand
the whole. I want to say love is this
desire to help even when I know I can’t,
just as I couldn’t explain electricity, stars,
the color of the sky, baldness, tornadoes,
fingernails, coconuts, or the other things
she has asked about over the years, all
those phenomena whose daily existence
seems miraculous. Instead I shake my head.
I don’t even know how to match my socks.
Go ask your mother. She laughs and says,
I did. Mom told me to come and ask you.

Poem copyright ©2010 by Joe Mills, whose most recent book of poetry is Love and Other Collisions, Press 53, 2010. Poem reprinted from Rattle, Vol. 16, no. 1, Summer 2010, by permission of Joe Mills and the publisher.

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Poet Joe Mills

POET’S REGION U.S., Southern

Subjects Living, Coming of Age, Parenthood, Love, Relationships


Poet and critic Joseph Robert Mills grew up in Indiana. He earned a BA at the University of Chicago, an MA at the University of New Mexico, and a PhD at University of California, Davis.

His accessible, wryly tender poems spring from daily life and personal memory, often using the process of winemaking as a metaphor for life’s possibilities. Mills’s poetry collections include Love and Other Collisions (2010), Angels, Thieves, and . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Living, Coming of Age, Parenthood, Love, Relationships

POET’S REGION U.S., Southern

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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